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Title: The American Egypt - A Record of Travel in Yucatan
Author: Frost, Frederick J. Tabor, Arnold, Channing
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: A MAYAN INDIAN. Frontispiece.]


             AMERICAN EGYPT



             CHANNING ARNOLD




             HUTCHINSON & CO.
             PATERNOSTER ROW



In publishing the present volume, it is our privilege to produce the
first book ever written by Englishmen on Yucatan--that Egypt of the New
World, where, it is now generally admitted, Central American
Civilisation reached its apogee--and to be, for the present at least,
the only Englishmen who can claim to have explored the uncivilised
north-eastern portions of the Peninsula and the islands of her eastern
coast. Mr. A. P. Maudslay, who in 1889 made a lengthy stay at and a
detailed survey of Chichen, has done yeoman service to Central American
archæology by his years of patient work (alas! too little appreciated)
in Guatemala, in the Usumacinta district and Southern Mexico.

Work, and wonderful work, has been done in civilised Yucatan by bands of
earnest labourers from the States, from Germany, and from France. Among
these the most notable is the late J. L. Stephens, the American
traveller, who visited Yucatan in 1842, and who is justly regarded as
the Father of Mayan archæology. In his footsteps has followed, during
recent years, Mr. Edward H. Thompson, one of the most painstaking and
accomplished of American archæologists. France has been represented by
M. Desiré Charnay, and latterly by Count Perigny. Of the German
field-workers the most assiduous have been Professor Seler, T. Maler,
and K. Sapper; while all who wish to see the Mayan problem solved must
pay a meed of thanks to the eminent Professor Forstemann for his
attempts to decipher the inscriptions, even if they feel, as do we, that
he has allowed his enthusiasm to lead him too far astray on a
will-o'-the-wisp path of inquiry and theory.

The problem reviewed in this volume is a profoundly interesting one. The
ethnology of the Americas presents a problem as yet unsolved. The
average ethnologist has been content to label the vast affiliated hordes
and tribes of the two Americas "Mongolian." But the American
ethnological puzzle is deepened by the existence of what is known as the
Mayan civilisation and its many ramifications throughout Central
America. Whence came these building races? What cradle-land is one to
assign to architects whose achievements often rival in grandeur the
monuments of Egypt? How is one to believe that they were ordinary
members, or members at all, of that great affiliated race of American
Indians whose ideas of building were represented in the north by the
snow-house of the Eskimo and the wigwam of the Sioux, and in the south
by the leaf-shelters of the cannibal inhabitants of the forests of

In the later chapters of this volume we endeavour to analyse the
evidence which we and others have collected on this thorny Mayan
problem. We cannot too strongly urge that the time has come to drop once
and for all the Toltec theory. We know that we are thus taking up a
position in direct opposition to four-fifths of the students and
scholars who have worked in the field; but we are as convinced that the
race which built the ruined palaces and temples of Yucatan is not a
vanished race as we are convinced that the Toltec theory is a gross

And if we are obstinate as to the origin of Mayan civilisation, we fear
we must be charged, too, with gross obstinacy in the matter of deciding
the age of the ruins. We would like to believe, with those more
sanguine, that the wonderful structures have a history rivalling Memphis
or Syene. But we cannot believe it, and we hope that those who read this
volume will acquit us of coming to this very disappointing decision on
flimsy grounds. In such matters no grounds but practical ones are to be
trusted, and we claim that an expert builder's careful examination of
the ruins, after due allowance is made for the friability of the
limestone used in such a climate as Yucatan enjoys, will prove to any
open-minded inquirer that the oldest building still standing, so to
speak, intact, has not seen more than six centuries.

In the present volume it has been impossible to do more than "open the
case" for the theory we propound, viz. that America's first architects
were Buddhist immigrants from Java and Indo-China. To attempt to prove
this would require much time and money; but, alas! archæology is not
such a popular and paying science as will allow those without large
means at their disposal to follow up their theories.

We should need many months of careful study in Java, the Malay
Peninsula, Ceylon and India. If investigations there proved
satisfactory, the next step would be to follow the route we have
suggested as that taken by the migrators in a vessel as similar as
possible to those it may be presumed they employed. Along the route a
more minute study of the archæological remains on the islands of the
Caroline and Marshall groups than has yet been undertaken could be made.
Thence the voyage would be continued to the American mainland, where a
thorough investigation of the country between the coast and Copan would
probably yield valuable data. But such an expedition would require an
outlay of thousands of pounds and would occupy two or three years, much
of which would have to be spent under such hardships as only enthusiasts
could contemplate.

                                               C. A.
                                               F. J. T. F.

LONDON, 1908.


                   CHAPTER I                              PAGE
  A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF MEXICO                                1

                   CHAPTER II
  MEXICO CITY AND THE MEXICANS                              23

                   CHAPTER III
  YUCATAN AND HER HISTORY                                   45

                   CHAPTER IV
  FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF YUCATAN                              57

                   CHAPTER V

                   CHAPTER VI
  AMID THE PALACES OF THE ITZAS                             82

                   CHAPTER VII
  VALLADOLID AND AFTER                                     104

                   CHAPTER VIII
  IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CORTES                               127

                   CHAPTER IX
  EL MECO TO PUERTO MORELOS                                143

                   CHAPTER X
  IN SEARCH OF THE MAYAN MECCA                             164

                   CHAPTER XI
  ON THE SOUTHERN SIERRAS                                  185

                   CHAPTER XII
  COPAN AND QUIRIGUA                                       204

                   CHAPTER XIII

                   CHAPTER XIV
  THE ANCIENT MAYANS                                       226

                   CHAPTER XV
  WHO WERE THE MAYANS?                                     242

                   CHAPTER XVI
  WHO WERE AMERICA'S FIRST ARCHITECTS?                     257

                   CHAPTER XVII
  THE AGE OF THE RUINS                                     283

                   CHAPTER XVIII
  HIEROGLYPHICS AND PAINTINGS                              298

                   CHAPTER XIX
  SLAVERY ON THE HACIENDAS                                 321

                   CHAPTER XX

                   CHAPTER XXI
  THE GREEN GOLD OF YUCATAN                                361

                   CHAPTER XXII
  FLORA AND FAUNA                                          368

  INDEX                                                    387


  A MAYAN INDIAN                                 _Frontispiece_

  UNLOADING BANANAS                           _facing page_        20

  RURALES (MOUNTED POLICE) AT VERA CRUZ          "      "           20

  EL CASTILLO, CHICHEN ITZA                      "      "           84

  THE CARACOL, CHICHEN ITZA                      "      "          100

  THE TENNIS COURT, CHICHEN ITZA                 "      "          100

  THE NUNNERY, CHICHEN ITZA                      "      "          120

  EL MECO, EAST COAST OF YUCATAN                 "      "          144

  ARCHED GATEWAY, LABNA                          "      "          196

  THE PALACE, SAYIL                              "      "          196

  THE PALACE, UXMAL                              "      "          202

  BAS-RELIEFS ON ALTAR AT COPAN                   _on page_        209

  FRIEZE, PIEDRAS NEGRAS                      _facing page_        212

  STELA AT COPAN                                 "      "          212

  ELLIPTICAL TABLET IN STUCCO AT PALENQUE         _on page_        217

  BAS-RELIEF OF PRIEST'S FIGURE, PALENQUE          "    "          220

  BAS-RELIEF OF PRIEST'S FIGURE, PALENQUE          "    "          221

  CARVING OF JAGUAR                           _facing page_        240

    CANCUN                                       "      "          240

  MAYAN ARCH                                      _on page_        264

  THE NUNNERY, UXMAL (illustrating elaboration
    of Mayan ornamentation)                   _facing page_        268

  STELAE AT COPAN                                "      "          284

  DAY SIGNS (HIEROGLYPHICS)                      _on pages_    304-307

  MONTH SIGNS (    "    )                          "    "      307-310

  YEAR AND CYCLE SIGNS (HIEROGLYPHICS)            _on page_        311

  FAÇADE OF BUILDING AT KABAH                 _facing page_        318

  TYPES OF MAYAN WOMEN AND MEN                   "      "          334

  HACIENDA CHILDREN                              "      "          356

  INDEPENDENT INDIANS                            "      "          356

  HENEQUEN FIBRE IN DRYING-GROUND                "      "          366

  THE FIBRE MILL                                 "      "          366


  PLAN OF CANCUN RUINS                           _on page_         151

  PLAN OF FIRST GROUP OF RUINS, COZUMEL            "   "           179

  PLAN OF SECOND GROUP OF RUINS, COZUMEL           "   "           181

  GROUND PLAN OF PALACE, PALENQUE                  "   "           215

  MAP OF YUCATAN                             _facing page_         386




Most of us want to do what we are not doing. In the majority of human
hearts, deep down, is an intangible tormenting wish to go somewhere, to
see some land, to do something which is not in the programme drawn up
for us by the inexorable fate of birth and circumstance. Usually the
longing is crushed out by the juggernaut wheels of life's ponderous Car
of Necessity, which drives us all forward towards the Unknown in a set
groove from which the most desperate efforts never extricate us. We long
for the North Pole, we sigh for a trip to the Antarctic regions, we
dream of scaling the Mountains of the Moon, with the unreasoning longing
of children. We feel we shan't be happy till we get there, and ... we
are never happy. We go on longing and ... living in Brixton. Most of us
have not left Brixton; most of us never will.

We--the authors of this book--were not living in Brixton, but in quite
as commonplace a suburb when the torments of unfulfilled aspiration
seized us and shook us, as a terrier might a rat. The demon of
discontent shouted at us, grinned at us, sneered at us. "You hate this
suburb: clear out, go away!" it said. "Throw up your work and duty.
Burst through the fetters of the commonplace!" Well, we couldn't stand
it. We bore it for some weeks, and then "one midnight in the silence of
the sleeptime" we knocked the ashes out of our pipes, as we sat
mournfully facing each other over our suburban hearth, and from the
fullness of our tormented hearts we cried aloud, "We will go to

But our "leaving Brixton" was not suspicious enough in its suddenness to
alarm the tradesmen. Yucatan, that curiously unknown peninsula,
easternmost portion of the Republic of Mexico, which by reason of its
wondrous ruined cities has earned the title of "the Egypt of the New
World," had long been a dream of ours. We had put in years of study of
the very few and scarce books describing some of those ruins, and hard
work on the literature of the problems of Central American civilisation,
before we had the satisfaction of "leaving Brixton."

But everything comes to him who knows how to wait, and at last, in
pursuance of our resolution to shake the dust of the commonplace off our
feet, for a time at least, we found ourselves on a very dingy November
afternoon with two unwieldy packing-cases full of guns and saddlery, and
innumerable portmanteaux, standing on the Prince's Landing-stage,
Liverpool, staring out seaward into the dank mist where an old salt
declared our liner to lie. It was obvious he did not, for in a few
minutes a dropsical tug--it was almost as broad as it was long--fumed up
to the pierside and, hoisting the company's flag, invited us to go with
it trustingly into that mist from which we were destined to pass--though
that looked an impossibility--into the dazzling glories of the Eternal
Carib summer. Having posted our last wills and testaments and dying
wishes to our friends in seventeen envelopes, and given one more
pathetic glance at the sombre grey glories of the Liverpudlian capital
which stood out drear and grim behind us in the fading light, we
surrendered to the captain of the tug, in company with other
apprehensive-looking voyagers.

If you have never taken a long sea-voyage, and the etceteras and
discomforts of many months' travel in a land (the language of whose
inhabitants you have been for weeks trying to grapple with in
unintelligible grammars) loom awesome in your mind, there is something
positively terrifying in standing on the deck of a tender (as all
well-conducted liner-tugs insist on being called) on a damp, dark autumn
afternoon. Its grimy decks and its reek of oil offend you. Its chilly
bareness, its inhospitable, straight-backed wooden seats, the gaunt
nakedness of its wallowing outline, conjure up to your overwrought mind
vague comparisons with the bare, whitewashed execution-shed of which you
have read in the Yellow Press. You feel you are in a Nautical
Executionshed. You stand there shivering. You look back at the fast
fading friendly wooden joists of the landing-stage. You wish you had
never come. You feel as you do when you get into the dentist's room,
having earlier in the day telegraphed to him that you must have the
offending tooth out with gas. You see the deadly chair and the cylinder
of nitrous oxide and you feel that perhaps after all you could have
borne the toothache. Supposing (you shudder at the thought) something
went wrong and you never, never woke up. "There! Now please open your
mouth wide and breathe deeply." Oh no! Beg pardon! "Mind your toes
there, sir, please," from an energetic officer in gold-laced coat, as
the gangway flashes out from the steamship's black side like a snake's
tongue. A grinding, squeaking noise as the dropsical tug affectionately
rubs itself against the fenders which hang on the liner's side--a mad,
foaming maelstrom of grey sea-water, whitened as the screw reverses--a
Babel of orders and counter-orders, and--you are swallowed up into the
floating town; you are on board. You look wildly round: nothing will
save you now. The grim pilot in beaver cap stands on the bridge,
significant official, to see that no hitch occurs in the execution; the
steam whistle sounds mournful through the mist fast settling into fog;
the great engines, which are to work unceasingly for seventeen days and
nights, break out into a long moaning, groaning, thumping, as they start
upon their Sisyphean task, and ... you are off.

Nothing is ever as one expects it. We expected the Atlantic to be at
least riotously playful in November. We expected our boat (she was only
4,000 tons) to be tossed, as you flip an empty nutshell, by one great
bullying roller to another, in their titanic play. Not a bit of it. We
steamed down the Mersey, out into the Irish Channel, and though the good
ship _Floridian_ rolled (Jerusalem! we had to keep our eyes on the
children, for the deck was at 45° nearly all day: it was "All hands to
the kids!" to stop them slipping overboard), we eat and we drank and the
chill air off the Irish coast became balmy, and the mists broke and we
raised our caps to My Lord the Sun, whom we had not seen since the
summer; and, before we knew where we were, deck-chairs were out and
overcoats were off, and officers in white-drill uniforms paced a bridge
shaded by snowy awnings, and we leaned back and smoked dreamily in the
sunshine and rejoiced that we had "left Brixton."

Some nineteen days later we had just serenely entered on the second
course of our admirable daily breakfast when a friendly officer's face
appeared at the companion and uttered the monosyllable "land." It's a
stupid-enough-looking word when it gets itself written, but it can mean
a lot when for nearly three weeks you have not seen anything of it worth
talking about. We had become such sea-dogs; we had grown so used to our
daily prospect of dancing blue wavelets, of the sunbathed infinite
waters, darkling from sapphire to slaty grey at the horizon--our
horizon; we had sat so many nights contented under the awnings in the
moonlight, the exquisite tropic calm of the sea-night broken only by the
periodic music of the ship's bell with its haunting recitative "All's
well!" from the look-out man; lulled by the magic of the eternal Carib
summer, we had all so learnt in this rare fortnight the wisdom of the
lotus-eaters, eating the honey-sweet fruit of the tropic with never one
wish to go homeward, that it came as something approaching a shock to
us, that word "land." Why, we thought it was as extinct as the dodo!
Time and space seemed to have melted for us into a world of infinite
blues and golds and whites, a world peopled by merry porpoises, by
silver-bright flying-fish, and snowy sea-birds. Knives and forks
clattered down on to plates and an eager throng of those "whose island
home was far beyond the seas" dashed for the companion stairs. We rushed
on deck with something of the eagerness the great Christopher must have
felt as he hurried to his galleon-poop when the Spanish sailors saw from
the mast-head, as in a glass dimly, what they took to be the coast of a
New World.

There was not much to see. But stay! What is that which floats,
magically suspended, cloudlike, before the glass? You rub your eyes: you
dust the glass: you look again. Yes! right up in the sky there, as far
above the dark line of shore as the puffy white cloud-spots which dot
the boundless azure, is a triangle of rose-tinted white; and as you
stare the wonder of it all grips you. You see the sun glinting
dazzlingly on its eternal snows; you see the great rents and crevasses
seaming its sides; you see where the cloud-bank blots out and shrouds
its vast shoulders and flanks. It is Orizaba, mighty Orizaba, raising
its majestic head four miles into the infinite blue.

In the enthusiasm of the moment we all agreed, even those of us who had
suffered from the voyage (and they were few) that it was worth coming
six thousand miles to see such a sight; and we were all the better
pleased with ourselves and our luck because our good skipper, who had
sailed to Vera Cruz off and on for a quarter of a century, declared it
was only once in ten times that the great volcano condescended to expose
its marvellous beauties so well.

Vera Cruz is a town in travail. Its labour pains have seized it.
Accoucheur Sir Weetman Pearson at the bedside is assisting at the
delivery of a marinopolis--a City of the Sea. Majestic buildings are
breaking out amid squalid Spanish stuccoed houses, with frowsy
passage-ways and garbage-strewn courtyards, dating from Maximilian's day
and earlier. Quays and wharves, lighthouses and customs offices, plazas
and docks, broad asphalted roadways and stone houses, are rearing
themselves where once, ere Sir Weetman's stalwart navvy-elves did their
fairy work, were naught but pestilential marshes, spawning-ground for
the "Yellow Jack" mosquito, tiny fever scourge-bearer to the
panic-stricken inhabitants. As we steamed inside the great stone
breakwater built of cyclopean masonry, Vera Cruz's first line of defence
from the inroads of the deep, the impression one gets is that of the
incongruity of it all. The new Customs House and Oficina de Correos
(Post Office), palatial piles, stand out seaward on the plain, far away
from the green-shuttered, down-at-heel, ramshackle hovel-town, as if
ashamed of it all. What you do feel is that when the confinement is
satisfactorily completed, Vera Cruz will be a great city. To-day she is
still building-enterprise plus a plaza. Every Spanish-American town is a
town with a plaza: Vera Cruz is a plaza with a town. We will get there
in a minute, but meantime there are ropes being thrown from our liner to
the quaint yellow-faced Mexicans on the quay; the indicator-bell rings
from the bridge, the needle flies round to the magic word "Stop," and
the huge steel muscles of the great panting, tired engines are at rest
at last. It is a glorious day. The coast mists have melted away, and the
whites of the distant houses, the dark greens of the palm trees, the
flags of all nations fluttering on the shipping, make a vivid contrast
in the blaze of sun with their distant background of lofty sand-dunes
rolling westward in a horizon of glistening white towards Mexico City.

The quay at Vera Cruz is a kaleidoscope of international trade-life: a
spectacle unexampled in its way. Great steamships--their hatches burst
open--continuously belch out their many cargoes upon the wooden piers.
The clouds of dust, the reeking smell of toiling men, the screaming of
the steam whistles, the grinding and creaking of the winches, the cries
of the workers, the short, sharp words of command, the hoarse shouts in
a score of languages, and the jangling crash of iron rails or girders or
iron sheeting as each fresh load breaks from the winch on to the
heaped-up mass below, make up a veritable trade-hell. Niggers from
Jamaica and the States, the purple veins standing out like weals upon
their foreheads, strain and grunt under huge bales; Koreans, red-tinted,
flat-faced; Chinamen, their blue wide trousers tucked up to their knees;
Spaniards and Mexicans; Italians and Greeks; the dapper Japs, their
lithe bodies and small faces contrasting with Viking workmen from Sweden
and Norway; Creole lads with raven-hued curly hair and sunkissed faces,
their black velvet eyes alight with the lust of the south;
high-cheekboned, smooth-chinned Aztec Indians, ragged-garbed; sailors of
all races, blue-bloused, guernseyed, naked-chested, cheeks and necks
that golden bronze for which wind and sea are the only cosmetics, jostle
and push, laugh and curse, sweat and pant in their effort to live.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nowhere can one see the inwardness of the harsh struggle for life better
than on Vera Cruz quay. Derelicts, wastrels, beachcombers, sinners and
sinned against, bloodshot-eyed drunkards and leaden-grey opium smokers
and eaters, strong and weak, healthful and sickly, men with faces of
vicious angels, men with faces of devils let loose from Hell, they have
come from the uttermost corners of the earth, these groaning, sweating,
reeking human beings, to fight in blistering sun and pestilential dust
for the right to live. Long, ordered lines of porters wheel their laden
trucks to the bonding sheds; long lines of porters wheel their empty
trucks, like passing trains, back to the gaping hatches of the giant
ships. Under great umbrellas of scarlet, yellow or green cottons,
jutting up like gigantic vari-coloured toadstools, sit portly Mexican
dames, coarse of face, ponderous in bosoms and stomachs, the
trestle-trays at their sides loaded with fulsome heaps of fly-marked
fruits, with sickly terrors of sugar and pastry (euphemistically known
as _pan dulce_, "sweet bread"), and sweetmeats of such unholy colours
that they look as if they had been dipped in the devil's own dye-pot.

There are no cabs in Vera Cruz. If there were it would make no real
difference to the unhappy traveller, for there is no roadway to the
quays' sides, and baggage is shouldered by one of the innumerable
rascally-faced Mexican touts or trundled in huge railway barrows down
the piers and jolted over execrable roads towards the barn-like
structure which does duty as terminus for the Central Mexican Railroad,
one of the most wonderful lines ever laid. A few hours in Vera Cruz is
enough to set the weary Briton humming perpetually the air of "Pay, pay,
pay." Everything in Mexico is a question of money, and everybody has his
or her price. It is often a large one, and a trade union of robbers has
decreed that you must pay a dollar (two shillings) a package to have
your baggage conveyed from quay to station, a distance of a quarter of a
mile. It does not matter how many or how few are your impedimenta, nor
the size of the package. The smallest must be paid for at the same rate,
though in the reverse case you do not score; for a very large package is
charged for at double rates. Unless you are content to drag portmanteaux
through the mob, you must 'foot' this first outrageous bill. A
fellow-passenger of ours travelling quietly with his wife paid
twenty-four shillings for the transporting of his kit.

The Customs House officials are fair-minded enough, and there is little
trouble for the stranger there. Everything obviously for personal use is
"passed" ungrudgingly with the single exception of silver plate or
ornaments. Our only difficulty lay in explaining in execrable Spanish to
_Señor el Aduanero_ (Mr. the Custom House Officer) that with a long tour
in primeval forests and cruises amid archipelagos of islets before us,
20 lb. weight of Cadbury's solid chocolate and two dozen tins of their
cocoa essence were moderate estimates of our personal needs in the
direction of this best of all nutriment. He scented trade; and it was
some minutes before we prevailed upon him to take his eagle eye off the
suspiciously glistening tins which meant such comfort for us in our
wanderings. Mournfully learning that our luggage would cost us sixteen
shillings to move into safety till we sailed again for Yucatan, we
entrusted it to an apparently honest Railway Agent with some misgivings.
Never let your baggage out of your sight at Vera Cruz. The contents are
often stolen in the very Customs House. The luggage porters interchange
their metal badges, too, so that while No. 29 takes your bag and swears
to meet you at the station, if you ever have the luck to see that
number again, you will honestly be obliged to admit to the police
authorities that the wearer is not the same fellow whom you employed and
... well,--the matter rests there and your stolen bag in Vera Cruz.

But here's the plaza, and your first glimpse of Mexican life. It is
dusty and frowsy enough--this stone-paved square with its tawdry green
and yellow-painted houses, its ill-laid roads broken by crevasses and
large holes under the flimsy tram lines where cobble stones have got
displaced; but there is just touch enough of the tropics to make it
fascinating. At its centre is a two-storeyed kiosk--bandstand above,
drinking-booth below. Under the deep shade of giant laurels, evergreen
oaks, tulip trees, palms and orange trees, stands an inner ring of
chairs and round tables; the outer circle is formed of iron garden-seats
backing on to the flower-beds, rich with scarlet-blossomed poinsettia,
twenty or thirty feet high, with yellow and purple bell-flower blooms,
with scarlet tulipans and a pale pink and white blossom of a
jasmine-like shape and size. Overhead in the thick leaves myriads of
_piches_--bright-eyed, sleek-feathered cousins of the English
blackbird--chatter, chatter, chatter till you wonder if they will ever
stop: the Veracruzian tells you they never do. On three sides of the
plaza the houses are arcaded; on the fourth is a hideously meretricious
pile of yellowish stone--the cathedral.

It is but 10 a.m., yet the sun is so fierce that the arcades are
curtained off with sunblinds reaching to the pavement edge. Within these
tunnels of stifling shade, Vera Cruz breakfasts at ten and dines at
five, and drinks all day. Tables for two, tables for four or more,
tables of metal or of wood, stained with ringed stains of wineglass or
coffee-cup are ranged up by the blinds, leaving a passage for strollers.
All day, almost all night at these tables sit men--men of all
conditions. It is the kaleidoscope of the quays, a shade higher and ...
lower. For the filthy, sweating nigger at the hatch-side catches
something--however little--of the majesty of toil. But these men, they
neither toil nor spin. They have come in from plantations where they are
almost kings, and they hold their glasses in fever-yellowed hands, and
leer at the passing women and girls, whose coarse beauty shrouded in
mantilla, whose plump powdered necks, and bosoms heaving opulent under
tawdry muslin frocks seem fitting part, the female complement to the
drink-sodden scene. But stay! there is a pleasanter sight, at that table
over there. It's worth a glance--you are glad to look away from the
wolfish-eyed victims of drink and debauchery at those two hearty English
skippers, tanned and bearded, who take their liquor like men, and talk
of their just completed "runs." They are in the place but not of it, and
somehow you think you catch an envious glance thrown their way by the
gaunt, blear-eyed creature who crawls past them after his fifth

In the streets the picturesque Mexican life is a-doing. The ranchero--so
tight of trouser that it looks as if his legs must have been melted and
run in hot into those grey pantaloons, like bullets in a
mould--silver-spurred, his huge Mother-Shipton-shaped felt hat
embroidered and bound with silver laces, his feet hidden in the great
leather pockets which serve as stirrups here, canters into the plaza on
a white Arab. Round the corner comes the milkman on a mule, his four
jars of milk bulking so large round his saddle that you wonder he can
get on or off. The raucous shouts of the Indians as their waggons jolt
and bump and rattle over the broken cobbles: the "_Mūla-mūla!_" of
the Mexican as he urges on the mules which draw the yellow varnished
tramcars down the rickety lines: the cracked treble note of the old
woman who thrusts her roll of lottery tickets into your face with the
eternal "_Por mañana_," and the loud insistent cry of the brown-faced,
barefoot, rascally-handsome newsboys, mingle into one inharmonious
chorus. On the shady seats of the plaza loll the ever-tired Mexican
workmen, smoking cigarettes. Twelve strikes, and the troop of _rurales_
in grey uniforms, with carbines and heavy revolvers--the mounted
police--ride out from their barracks to take their work of patrolling
the town. The townspeople gather and look, and then they sleep again;
while in their shirt-sleeves, cigar or cigarette between their lips,
Mexican clerks balance ledgers in banks and merchants' offices behind
lattice blinds, and a postmaster in white-drill trousers and coloured
silk vest sells you postage stamps between puffs of smoke.

The last few years have made a world of difference to Vera Cruz. A
decade back for three-quarters of the year it was plague-ridden. In the
dusty street-arteries, up and down which its vicious, frowsy life is
pumped forwards and backwards to its plaza-heart, you might have walked
and scarcely found one doorway without the great splashed crimson
cross--seal of the yellow-fever fiend within. To-day it is growing into
a health-resort, but even now sanitation is embryonic. Dustcarts,
gruesome guillotine-like tumbrils, parade the streets; and "gilded pools
a steed would sniff at" make road-crossings into fording-places where
you must leap from one broken cobble to another and stumble into chasms
of earth and unsightly ruts. But the gods have been good to this evil
little town. For there are armies of unpaid scavengers who parade the
streets, doing their work so silently and so perfectly that the
municipality has passed a law by which an injury to one of them is a
special crime and misdemeanour, heavily fined. These are the
_zopilotes_, as the Mexicans call the American turkey-buzzards,--to kill
one of which costs the murderer at least five dollars. Cadet branch of
the vulture family, in their skinny bald heads, their rusty black
moth-eaten feathers, their great splotchy claw-feet, their torn and
ragged wings hanging loose and low, Nature has given them just the dress
becoming such birds of hell. No! you did not believe birds could be so
ugly, birds could have such hateful eyes, such splay feet, such blotchy
beaks. They are everywhere: they perch on the cathedral towers, on the
balconies of houses: they ride on the dustcarts, fight for the
unspeakable in the gutters, tear at the rotting fish-head and settle in
scores round the carcase of a dog. A score of them amble in front of you
on the pavement, and hop their ungainly, hideous sideways hops as you
spurn them, veritable birds of Beelzebub, Lord of Flies.

But Vera Cruz has good reason to thank heaven for her flying dustbins,
and as they peer sideways at you out of their blinking rheumous eyes
they seem to know it. "We don't fear you, passer," you could imagine
them saying (though one of the uncanniest facts about these awful birds
is that they have no cry: they are as silent as the dead they filch and
feast on), "we are an essential part of this earth-hell: we are the
Devil's bailiffs." You see the birds in other Mexican towns and cities:
you see them in Yucatan perched on the walls of haciendas or in the
woods wrenching at the hide of a rotting cow, but they never seem to
personify evil as at Vera Cruz. And there is evil there! There is vice
in the air. Round the town clings an indescribable haunting sense of
sin--sin which is swinish and foul--not the dazzling vice of a Semiramis
Court, the glorified debaucheries of a Capri, but a dreary,
drink-sodden, fetid sin, clinging to the town like the noisome smell of
a charnel-house. Not that you see it. "There ain't no Ten Commandments"
at Vera Cruz; but you don't see them broken: you simply feel they don't
exist. Outward decorum here, as in most Mexican towns, is a feature.
Street women are banished to a special quarter, and the shops are
cleanly compared with some of Paris in the Rue de Rivoli or the
Boulevard de Montmartre. But the women and men, the girls and the boys,
have such faces and eyes that you feel that anything, everything, is
possible. Perhaps we do "the New City of the True Cross" injustice. All
trade-centres where the foreign sailor comes are much of a muchness. We
simply record our impressions. "Peradventure there be seven good men in
Vera Cruz." There are probably many score more, but one cannot help
wishing the streets did not smell so rancid.

Time was so much the essence of our tour that we decided to travel by
the night train to Moctezuma's capital--where our chief business was the
procuring of passports--despite the lamentations of acquaintances who
assured us we were throwing away the opportunity of a lifetime--the
sight of the train's climb of 8,000 feet in the sunlight. As it proved,
we had perhaps in some ways a really more awe-inspiring night spectacle;
for the moon, which had bathed the tropic seas night after night for us
in such gorgeous silver, had but just passed its full the very day of
our arrival in port.

When the tepid night settled down upon the plaza, we made a hurried meal
and, leaving the crowd still drinking, made our way to the station.
There are two trains every twenty-four hours each way between Mexico
City and Vera Cruz, and a few minutes after we reached the platform the
day train from the capital came lumbering in, the bell on its huge
Atlantic type of engine ringing mournfully. The same train starts back
within a few minutes--the engines only being changed--and the narrow
platform was quite the wrong place for the dreamer during the next few
moments, with the crowds clambering out of the huge corridor cars and a
mob of would-be passengers fighting to get in. In the mêlée one of us
slipped between the train and the platform, while the train was still
slowly moving, but was withdrawn by a friendly arm before the oncoming
bogey-wheel had passed over his foot and put a summary end to
explorations in Yucatan.

Railway fares in Mexico are cheap, and the carriages are nasty. Seats of
green leather with metal arm-rests (invention of railway-devil, surely)
are ranged, like the seats on a bus-top, each side of the car with an
avenue down the centre. A Pullman sleeping and breakfast compartment
always form part of the night trains. Otherwise there are firsts,
seconds, and thirds, the latter wooden-benched contrivances, designed
apparently with the set purpose of getting into the cubic space
available the wherewithal for as much potential human discomfort as
possible. Into these cars the Mexicans and Indians are climbing, a river
of strange colour--blankets of all shades and stripes, straw steeple
hats of every make for the men, the womenfolk bare-headed always--baskets
of fruit and breads, bottles of drink, and queer knotted
handkerchief-luggage reminiscent--without their cleanliness, though--of
those blue and black silk handkerchiefs in which "Jack" brings along his
spare jumper and flannel shirt when he "comes home again." For us in our
lordly "first"--its floors stained with a myriad expectorations, its
cushions bumpy and springless--there is gathering a motley gang of
Mexico's upper ten, among whom the diabolical bowler hat and those
impossible tweeds, which the foreigner, imitating our fashions, raises
God knows where, predominate over the Mexican dress. A minute before we
start our most interesting fellow-passenger arrives--a young man--his
straw steeple hat set rakishly on one side, his red-white-and-blue
blanket thrown round him and under one ear--closely followed by two
dark-garbed Mexicans. He is a prisoner, of whom more later, and, as the
whistle sounds, we see that his companions are engaged in making him
comfortable for the night by mooring him with glistening steel handcuffs
to the metal arm-rest of his seat.

We steam out into the still night air, the heavy train bumping and
jolting over level-crossings where stand groups of Mexican poor,
children, and dogs; past rows of adobe huts, palm-thatched, and frowsy
little _tiendas_ (general shops), where glimpses are caught in the
oil-flare of trays of unspeakable eatables. It is stifling in the
carriages, and we throw up the windows. The moon is rising, the night
air is warm and scented--scented with a strange pungent, spicy scent--an
indescribable perfume--the smell of the tropics. The train rolls heavily
on between dark masses of bush and stunted cactus, topped by waving
palm-leaves, and here and there banana plantations, heavy with the
grass-green fruit. This is the _tierra-caliente_, "the hot-lands," the
great belt of steaming miasmic country stretching some fifty miles ere
we begin the climb up to the highlands of Central Mexico. It is hard to
see much, but that long slope of undulating ground out there to the
left is a coffee plantation, the dark-green bushes dotting the rounded
hillside like tufts of wool on a Bushman's head. Now the train crawls,
as a fly on the edge of a teacup, round a fertile crater-like valley.
You can look right down into its green glories, where mid the leaves the
moonlight touches into quicksilver the boisterous river which bubbles
and froths like a Scotch stream in spate. Now we pass through acres of
forest banking up each side so high that it is all blackness; while
every few miles the mournful tolling of the engine bell heralds us into
a wayside village, the lights streaming through the doors of whitewashed
huts, and Indians, muffled to their eyes in blankets, standing in silent
groups by the railside.

At Rio Blanco we rattle past a great cotton factory, its myriad lights
twinkling into such a confusion of illumination that it looks like a
swarm of fireflies hovering amid the darkened houses and huts of the
town. For hours afterwards we are to see those twinkling lights,
thousands of feet below us in the valley, ever shifting their position
as the train winds its way round and again round the vast wooded sides
of the mountain range. This factory at Rio Blanco is one of the largest
cotton factories in Mexico, and during a recent winter was the scene of
one of those terrible "incidents" which prove how really superficial is
the civilisation of Mexico. The Company objected to their workmen buying
their provisions at the ordinary town stores and started a _tienda_ of
their own, where the goods sold were both more expensive and of inferior
quality. An order was issued that in future the "hands" must deal at the
Company's store. The men objected and went on strike. From the capital
comes down General Martinez, Vice-Secretary for War, thenceforward to be
known as "the Mexican Trepoff," and in one morning his troops shoot down
in cold blood 214 men loitering in the streets of Rio Blanco. Enough
that the "Iron Master" ordered it. No one disputes the yea or the nay of
Porfirio Diaz, maker of Modern Mexico. So the strike is over: labour is
scarce in Rio Blanco for a week or so; and Trepoff-Martinez travels back
to the capital to ride his fine Arab in Chapultepec Park and spend his
evenings at cards in the Jockey Club.

But for the time we lose sight of the factory. We are nearing the limits
of the hot-lands, and as you stare out into the night, barrener hills
and mounds, stone-speckled, are closing in on each side. Beyond them and
above them, blacker distant masses climb into the moonlit sky, ringing
round the landscape ahead till it looks as if our train, land-locked,
will soon have to come to a standstill. The plains, rich with their
harvests of cotton and coffee, of fruits, sugar-cane and olives, have
given place all round to mountains; and as we wind forward, heights,
rising mysterious, magical, wall us in from the rear till we seem as if
we were caught in a black devil's-punch-bowl. And then, like the fitting
knell to the apprehensive traveller's thoughts, the doleful engine bell
clangs sorrowfully backwards and forwards, and the great train rolls
into the station of Orizaba. Here in a bare stone-floored barn-room a
grossly obese Mexican (like the camel, he seems to have two or three
stomachs, his striped leather-belted cotton vest shows such huge
undulations of adipose tissue), assisted by a sickly yellow Indian lad,
swaddled in a red and white striped blanket, serves coffee, good coffee
too, and _pan dulce_, sweet bread, crusted with caraway seeds. And here,
too, the great climbing engines are awaiting us, snorting and blowing
off steam like angered bulls eager to charge the toreador-hills which
blot out the world ahead of us. We need both, for the train is to be cut
into two--one engine will not carry us safely up the perilous slope--and
the Pullman carriages in a few minutes rumble out ahead of us.

We have struck up a friendship with the car-conductor--a half-blood
nigger from Cuba, and a delightful companion, who speaks English well
and has already told us more about Mexico than a dozen encyclopedia
articles, and as, munching a last mouthful of roll, we climb into our
car, he gives us a friendly warning to be on the look-out in some
fifteen minutes for a queer sight, the Pullman half of the train
climbing the mountains above us. If you think of a mountain and then
draw round it in your mind a spiral line as if it was a vast cone-shaped
screw, you will gain an idea of what the two trains were going to do.
They were going to wind up from the valley round and round the scalped
faces of the mountains to a height of 8,000 feet above sea-level. Six
thousand feet of this alpine work is done in fifteen miles of rail after
leaving Orizaba Station during a space of two hours! A gradient of one
in thirteen and a fifth! It is pleasant to remember that this miracle of
engineering skill was achieved by Englishmen, and that in the long years
since, so perfect was their work, no serious accident has ever occurred.

The engine soon gets to grips with its titan task. Over us on the right
we see the vast mountains close,--towering upward as a huge wave looms
above the swimmer sunk in its trough,--those eternal hills up to the
barren fastnesses of which the gallant Cortes and his five hundred
climbed four centuries ago, after he had destroyed his boats at Vera
Cruz that there might be no looking backward. Slowly we wind round the
base of the mountain, then we bend back again on a new spiral till the
lights of Orizaba Station twinkle ahead of us instead of behind us. Once
more round and the cars tilt outward, outward, till it seems we are at
an impossible angle if we are to keep the metals. Two or three more
spirals, and we have won this first hill, and here is our next monster;
and as we bend round the last of the conquered one you look right across
the valley, hundreds of feet deep, to where absolutely opposite is the
meagre metal band running round the face of the still higher hill. Talk
of horse-shoe curves! So acute seems the bend that one wonders how the
most perfect bogey-wheels can take it. But we do take it, till we in the
front cars seem to be looking right into the hinder ones where huddle in
the dim light Indians as tightly packed as sardines in a tin. The
grinding of the brakes; the short sharp pants of the engine, the fierce
glare from its opened furnace, the figures of the stokers silhouetted
ink-black against the flame-red; the slow creak-creak as the wheels turn
and turn again to an ever new curve, make a scene unparalleled. Every
few minutes sinister figures, slouch-hatted, scarlet blankets thrown
round them to chin-height, men who in the dim light look terrifyingly
brigand-like, pass through the cars, in their hands swinging lamps.
These are the brake-men--two to a car--upon whose untiring nerve the
safety of the train largely hangs.

And now as we enter upon a new curve, sure enough right above, like some
giant glow-worm creeping sluggish up the hill, is the Pullman half of
our train. We have just caught sight of it, and it twinkles on the curve
ahead and twists and contorts itself round the hill till it seems to be
doubling back upon us. At one moment we are on the same curve, and not a
quarter of a mile separates the two trains. What if the Pullman brakes
gave? And then it has twisted itself out of our sight, only to reappear
a moving gleam of light in the black woodlands overhead. But look
eastward! What a sight! We have climbed over two thousand feet now, and
far below us stretch limitless the moonlit hot-lands. It is all black,
that distance, save where, a bed of light, the cotton factory of Rio
Blanco steals into view beneath that hill on the right. Now it twinkles
ahead, now behind us. Now we seem running past it again, but infinitely
far away; and then we lose it altogether and bend into a dark curve
between two hills. As we lean out of the windows the car tilts till we
see no permanent way beneath us. We look sheer down into a gorge which
cannot be less than five hundred feet deep. Away down there we see what
are huge trees: they look shrubs; a wide river which seems a brook,
broken here and there by waterfalls over rocks, as large as houses,
which look mere pebbles. Against the silvered sky rise, jagged-toothed,
line upon line of hills, roughly pointed, the cone shape of volcanoes,
and as we twist out of the black gorge--greatest sight of all!--rises
the vast apex of Orizaba, dwarfing the meaner masses around, her snowy
peak silvered by the moon into a diamond-brightness. Looking out across
that world of hills upon that queenly height one understands why men
have worshipped mountains.

But while we have been dodging from window to window like village
schoolboys on a treat-day, the lamps of the car have been shrouded in
green-baize hoods, and our Mexican fellow-travellers, indifferent to
Orizaba's majesty and the angle of the carriages, have stretched
themselves into all sorts of uneasy attitudes on the Procrustean seats,
and sleep. Even our good conductor, weary of cigarettes, has turned up
his collar, and with folded arms nods his peak-capped head till he is to
be roused by the jolting of the train into Esperanza. And it is getting
cold. Blasé with the wonders of the climb, we close the windows and,
unbuckling portmanteaux, gratefully wrap ourselves into rugs and

But our companions are not all sleeping. There are two of them very wide
awake, and they have much reason to be. The prisoner and his guard face
each other, smoking cigarettes, while the odd detective sleeps on the
next seat, his head pillowed on a thick hooded cloak rolled military
fashion. It is an armed peace between the guarded and the guardian, and
it is presently to develop into almost open war. But first a little of
the prisoner's history, and then for a look at him.

Vera Cruz State is rich in criminals, and you can get yourself murdered
very cheaply round about there. This fellow would have done it for you
for the ridiculous sum of two shillings (a dollar); but he can't oblige
you now, for he is going up to Mexico City to be shot. He is only
twenty-eight, yet he has committed six murders "on his own," and has had
as his accomplice in other crimes an older man, already in the hands of
the authorities, who is credited with twenty! This latter criminal, long
"wanted," was locally known as _El Tigre_ (The Tiger), and, cornered at
last, he suspected, as such knaves will, that his young friend had given
him away. So he gave as good as he thought he had got--such information
to the police as has resulted in that queerly small delicate hand over
there being anchored by nasty cold steel to the iron seat.

They are queerly delicate hands. We have seen him stroke his black hair
with the free one, and you would have taken it for a woman's, so light
was the build of the fingers, so small the darkened blue of the nails.
But if his claws are frail, he is a monster in very truth. His six
murders have been callous butcher-work enough. He has shot a pedlar for
the wretched dollar in his wallet; he has battered the brains out of an
aged traveller for half as much again, and for the Indian girl whom he
had made his mistress he had nothing but a knife buried to its hilt in
the soft brown breast which beat with love of this human fiend. Let us
pass down the car under pretext of necessity, and have a good look at
him. A rounded boyish face, black-browed, his dark eyes shaded by rich
black lashes, a full red sensuous mouth, bitten in at the corners in a
way which tells its tale of cynical, sensual selfishness, and shaded by
a boy's growth of moustache, he has just the vicious beauty calculated
to eat its way to the hearts of tropic maids, who like their northern
sisters long to have, but, unlike them, _must_ have. But look at the
shape of the bullet head and jutting brow! See the animal glare with
which he meets your curious stare! There's the murderer. Ye gods! it is
the face of a wolf as it lifts its grey muzzle, blood-spattered, from
the lamb's bleeding carcase. There is no mercy in those eyes: he is the
foe of all, he has ranged himself as enemy of mankind; and the jut of
the skull suggests the truth--how impotent we are in moulding our lives;
how we bring with us, ready written, the chapters of our eternal past to
shape our passing present somehow, somewhere, by hook or by crook, into
an escape into an eternal future. You would not dare say as you saw the
radiant man's health in him, the beauty of his flesh, that he was a lost
soul. But heavens! what a climb he has before him, a climb at which
these climbing engines of our train are as water-babies toddling over
sand-castles on the beach.

It was queer to watch him, to thus spend the night with a murderer, such
a murderer! It was fascinating to try to imagine his thoughts. Really
he seemed to have none; perhaps it was mercifully so ordained. No human
brain could surely bear a realisation of such crimes as his. A mental
numbness, Nature's anodyne, must overtake the brutal criminal, like the
sullen drowsiness of the man-eating tiger in his cage. He sat there,
nonchalantly puffing at interminable cigarettes which his captor handed
him, his red-white-and-blue blanket thrown round his shoulders and
contrasting vividly with the yellow-whiteness of the neck and dead-black
of his cropped head. He knew he was going to be shot.... But stay! Not
so fast! Perhaps he didn't. What's this? The detective leaps up, the
sleeping one wakes: they have sprung on the blanketed figure. What's all
the matter? Simply that as the young brute smoked and chatted he has
twisted and twisted his lithe, small hand till it slips from the
jarvies, and he sits there, as the train rolls heavily onward through
the mountain gorges, ready in a minute to spring out of the car-window
and be lost in the woods. But he is too late. Some jerk of the manacled
arm has aroused suspicion. The blanket is whipped off. The steel band
snaps again on that delicate wrist. The two detectives close up at his
sides. He says nothing; he never flinches, never moves. He has gambled
with his life and lost: now he has lost again, that's all; that and the
ounce of lead which awaits his savage heart in Mexico. He motions that
he will sleep, and as the train rattles into Esperanza and the chilling
air from the mountains makes your teeth chatter, he lies sound asleep,
his cruel face, almost beautiful in repose, pillowed on his rounded arm.

There are more coffee and sweet rolls to be had at Esperanza, what time
the climbing engine is unhooked and car-conductors--their collars to
their ears--stamp their feet and, cabman-fashion, beat their breasts to
keep warm. And then we are off again, this time fairly on the level, for
though we have still two thousand feet to climb ere we reach the dreary
plains around the capital, we have more than 150 miles in which to do
it. It is between one and two, and in the past six hours the temperature
has fallen thirty-five or forty degrees. We are glad to have the windows
closed, save at the quaint little Indian towns where on the low
platforms stand rows of Mexican porters looking for all the world like a
chorus of conspirators in a comic opera, their blankets drawn right
across their faces and mouths, yashmak-fashion, their steeple hats
towering black in the starlight.

For the next two hours or so the uplands roll dark and unbroken around
us. A cloud-mist lies on the country, and the brilliancy of the moon
seems fading. And then of a sudden--or was it that we had slept
awhile?--there climbs into the sky the herald star, Hesperus. Have you
watched many dawns? Have you noticed how Hesperus seems to put all other
stars out, like the lamplighter on his early morning visit to the street
lamps? He glitters so radiantly that positively the heavens seem one
star and a few light specks, and even the moon looks paler. He is
blazing his brightest now, a yellow-golden light like some giant
Brazilian diamond, and there, away there, far across the mountain tops,
the Wolf's Tail sweeps the horizon. The mist is rising, rolling away;
far off the shadowy hills lighten from black to grey, the sinking
cloud-banks are embroidered with a golden fringe, and the dim morning
light steals into the frowsy, dusty car, outlining the sleeping figures,
exposing with an unwelcome frankness the up-all-night look of our
unkempt neighbours, twisted into uncouth positions in their uneasy

    "...And in the East
    God made Himself an awful rose of dawn."

Awful it is in its majesty--this waking of the sleeping world. It is
awful on the Essex marshes or viewed from a mean window in Clapham. But
here, what a spectacle! Heaped up, mass upon mass, the mountains took
the glad signal, blushing their grey tops into rose. Far behind us looms
Orizaba, no longer diamond-cold in her chastity of snow, but roseate
with a delicate pink, the tint of the neck-feathers of a wood-dove. Then
the rose of the sky turns to crimson, and far to our left the twin peaks
of Popocatapetl and Iztaccihuatl, towering above the nearer ranges, don
crimson crowns on their snow. In the months that were to come we were
destined to see many a dawn in many varied scenes. We were to watch from
a small sailing-boat the chill gold gleams steal over the face of the
ocean towards us; camped in some ruined temple we were to see "the swift
footsteps of the lovely light" sweep over miles of grey-green woodland,
reddening the carved porches and façades of palace and shrine, majestic
in their grey ruin; we were to wake in tropic forest to find the first
glories of the sun darting beams at us through arcades of tree network,
turning the myriad dewdrops on the leaves and branches into translucent
diamonds; but the wonder of that dawn amid Mexico's volcanoes has never
had, can never have, for us a rival spectacle.

       *       *       *       *       *

With the light the face of the country altered as if the wand of an
agricultural wizard had been waved over it. The deep rich greens of the
hot-lands had gone. Instead were wide stretches of stony upland, barren
wastes of moor, spotted with swamp, hedged in by great scarped spikes of
volcanic grey stone, and by huge bald bluffs under which nestled here
and there clusters of adobe huts built round the plain white stone
churches standing in gardens shaded by olive and orange trees and bright
with the red-flowered wild pepper-bush. At the side pathetic little
cemeteries, the rudely cut wooden crosses on the graves fluttering their
faded coloured-paper wreaths and withered flowers. And here, waving pale
in the early light, are acres and acres of maguey, the giant cactus
rising more than man's height, from which is crushed out _pulque_, the
national drink of Mexico, a milky liquid tasting like sour ginger-beer.
And between these miles of cactus and stone are fields yellowing with
Indian corn, the picturesque figures of the Indian harvesters, grouped
round a mule-waggon or standing idle, sickle in hand, to watch our
train, brightening the landscape with their scarlet blankets. Mexico's
world is very much astir now, and, as we pull up at the next station,
scores of Indian women and girls, slatterns most, stand perilously near
the wheels, stretching out to the passengers at the passing windows
trays of weird foods, chopped meats wedged between ungainly, underdone
tortillas (the Indian maize biscuit bread), and the skinny, cooked limbs
of very much disarticulated fowls, sour-looking oranges and half-ripe
bananas, with tins of watery milk. On the platforms everywhere stood
_rurales_--country police--cloaked to the chin in bright scarlet
blankets, beneath which showed the tight grey trousers, silver-laced,
and the bright, burnished sheath of a sword, their hats sugar-loaf
shaped felts of grey ornamented with the metal numbers of their
district. In their hand, the butt end resting on the ground, they hold a
rifle. These fellows, in their tight breeches and neat monkey-jackets of
grey tailed at their waists like an Eton boy's, are fine figures, one of
the living testimonies to President Diaz's prudence; for they have one
and all been recruited from the ranks of those hordes of brigands which
thirty years back made Mexico the warmest place in the world to travel



And now we are on the plain of Mexico, ringed round with small
cone-shaped hills, a plain of burnt-up grass on which small stunted
cattle, horses and donkeys were wandering, disconsolate, to find the
greenest spots. Here and there is a swampy place, and round where the
water had dried the slaty blue soil showed up in patches broken by the
giant flat-faced, oval leaf of the Nopal cactus, which is to Mexico what
the rose is to England, figuring in the national arms--viz. an eagle
perched on the Nopal with a writhing snake in its talons. By the rail
side runs a dusty road, and along this trot Indians, the men with packs
on their backs, the women with babies slung on their backs, while shabby
dogs scout around the party. Here is a waggon drawn by two mules jolting
into the suburban markets, and there is a mule loaded with empty
pulque-tins, his master seated literally on the animal's tail, returning
from his midnight visit to Moctezuma's city. It is all very picturesque,
and a little sad, as we rumble past the shabby Indian wayside huts, and
tiny brown boys and girls stand naked in the stony gardens to wave us a
greeting. All the Indians on the plain here look so unprosperous, and
the starved, ignoble nature of the place adds to one's impression of the
desolate life of a once great race.

But now we are nearing the plain's edge. Sparse huts of adobe and the
tents of rags stretched on crossed poles are giving place to stone
houses. Pretentious churches, gardens rich with fruit trees, mills and
factories, sidings occupied by heavily loaded luggage-trains, and the
crowds which board our cars at each station mark our approach to Mexico
City. We rattle on through miles of squalid suburbs, over level
crossings where frowsy gatherings of half-naked Indian women and
children watch, with animal apathy, the progress of the train, till as
eight strikes we enter the city lying within a ring of volcanic hills.

Viewed from the car window there is nothing in the least impressive
about Mexico City. A dreary stretch of commonplace Spanish houses,
flat-roofed, unrelieved by cupola or minaret, by tower or spire. The
station is as dull: a melancholy wooden structure, oval-roofed, somewhat
like the biggest engine-house at Crewe or Swindon. The first hint that
we are in a most unpromising land is the discovery that there is no
refreshment-room where breakfast can be had. But the Mexicans, we
remember, do not breakfast, and a shabby yellow door labelled "Café"
leads into a very squalid room where, at a wooden table, cups of coffee
and a basket of yesterday's or the day before yesterday's rolls are
brought to us by a slatternly big-bosomed Mexican dame, who has not yet
washed or combed her hair, and whose dirty, ungirt, betrained cotton
dress and cloth slippers, trodden down at the heels, make an
unattractive picture.

There are three types of cabs in Mexico City; the blue, the red, and the
yellow. The first charges the unwary voyager a dollar (two shillings)
for one and three-quarter miles, for which the red's fee is but half. In
cleanliness and comfort there is nothing to choose between the two. The
yellow cab is pestilential, as its fluttering quarantine paper flag
suggests. It is ramshackle and verminous, and, having earned an
ill-name, is dying out, destined soon to be as extinct as the dodo. We
hired a red cab, and rattled off through cobbled streets, lined with
small shops, broad, well-pavemented but garbage-littered, into the heart
of the city.



Mexico city is a combination of Spanish squalor and Paris-cum-New-York
civilisation--very lightly veneered over in some places. It is some five
miles across, but its business life centres in a square mile. The
busiest streets are narrow--such as the Calle San Francisco, which is as
narrow as Cheapside and just as full of traffic. Mexico is thoroughly
cosmopolitan, and this is particularly noticeable in the matter of
trade. Thirty per cent. of the large shops and stores are American,
English and French; the greatest trading concerns are run by American
capital; railway and steamship offices, banks, hotels, restaurants, land
and mining companies, are in the majority of cases staffed and
engineered by foreigners. In the main streets typical Spanish buildings
have given way to often quite sky-scraping erections of obvious American
build--eight or nine-storeyed masses of flats and offices.

The most insistent impression one brings away from the city is the
constantly vivid contrast of an ostentatious civilisation (it is as
superficial as the breeding of a parvenu, as forced as the frigid air of
superiority of a suburban grande dame) with an Indian barbarism. Wealth
and luxury rub shoulders with the abject and savage poverty of the
wandering Indian poor. In the city of his forefathers, metamorphosed
beyond all recognition, the Indian lags superfluous--spectral, a very
Banquo at the feast. You walk in the Calle San Francisco on wonderfully
laid pavements, past shops a-glitter with jewels which would not shame
the gem windows of the Boulevard des Italiens, past
restaurants--veritable _maisons dorées_, with ornate porticoes in which
stalwart Spanish doorkeepers in gold-laced uniforms swing open the
portals of these gastronomic paradises for dames of high degree. You
watch an everlasting procession of wonderful carriages, glittering with
veneer, the black or white Arab horses curving glorious necks adorned
with silver and brass chains and trappings, and ... just under your very
nose, crawling out of the gutter to save his wretched blistered foot
from that rubber-tyred wheel, is such a blend of filth and poverty as
only a great luxurious city has the secret of manufacturing. Desolate,
his lank, uncombed black hair smarmed with sweat on his grimy forehead,
a blanket which you would gladly pay a sovereign not to touch thrown
round the stooping shoulders, ragged cotton drawers, tightening at the
calf--coolie fashion--and slit and rent in half a dozen places, showing
the dull, brown-red skin beneath, the thin, hunger-haunted face all
cheek-bones and lustreless black eyes, the descendant of Moctezuma's
warrior shambles and halts down the gutter edge. The Mexican beauty,
stepping daintily from that victoria, enamelled in rich cobalt blue and
black, to enter the French glove-shop, pulls her silken skirts tighter
round her plump figure. Was it for the benefit of that passing dandy, or
did she really condescend to see the Horror in the gutter? It's nothing,
Señorita: just a "noble savage" after a few centuries of civilisation.

In buildings of any really striking architectural beauty Mexico City is
curiously poor. The Iturbide Hotel--once the palace of the Emperor
Iturbide--is a fine example of the best Spanish house-building, with its
carved façade, its charmingly cool, balconied patio and its dignified
pillared stairways. The National Palace, at the gateways of which stand
shuffling, squat, unbusinesslike-looking Mexican soldiers--is a
two-storeyed quadrangular mass of yellow stone with no feature of
note--about as ornamental as the Privy Council Office in Whitehall. It
faces on the chief plaza, and thus confronts the cathedral--greatest
disappointment of all.

Pictures of this huge petrified triumph of Catholicism over Sun Worship
(for the church was built on the site of Moctezuma's gorgeous Temple of
the Sun) give a very false impression of grandeur. We had heard, too,
much of the marvels within. Nothing could be more disappointing. Perhaps
the pile suffers somewhat from its environment. The Grand Plaza is not
grand at all. It has no architectural merits; it is crowded with rows of
tramcars and bordered by mean-looking shops in stuffy arcades. Round the
cathedral run pavements bordered by poorly kept flower-beds and
ragroofed booths, and then within the cathedral close is a yard half
cobble, half mangy grass, wherein squat or sleep innumerable beggars,
fruit-sellers, lottery-ticket vendors, the very riff-raff of the
capital. The railings are broken in places, advertisement posters and
street-boy scrawlings disfigure the church walls, large pieces of the
surface of which are broken away. Polite language forbids a description
of what the surface of this God's acre is like: suffice it to say that
the indescribably filthy habits of the Mexicans render it no place for
the unwary walker. To an Englishman this precinct of their greatest
church, so vivid a contrast with the velvety lawns and cleanly sanctity
of such a cathedral precinct as that at Westminster Abbey, is eloquent
of the Mexican character.

The cathedral itself is a gigantic erection, but there is nothing in the
least pleasing about it. It seems a hotchpotch of architectural styles
(it was near a century a-building), like a dog with no pedigree, or
perhaps with too much pedigree--a little bit of everything and the rest
church. To any one who has stood in the roar of London's traffic on
Ludgate Hill and looked eastward upon the superb grey severity of St.
Paul's, such a building can mean little. But step inside, and it is
worse, far worse. What is it which so often makes the interiors of even
the larger Catholic churches so vulgar? It must be the gilt and colour,
the ostentatious striving after effect, the prostitution of what should
be divinely chaste to the lewd sensuality of the eye. Catholicism is a
sensuous creed. It has been said a million times, and it is a million
times true. The sincerely godly man should be able to worship his Maker
as well on the top of a Camberwell omnibus as in a cathedral.
Catholicism, cynical, knows the sincerely godly are few and far between,
and she holds her children to her by a tawdry dazzle, an incensed
meretriciousness. The interior of Mexico Cathedral was one of the
vulgarest sights it has ever been our misfortune to look on. It was
rankly, irretrievably vulgar. The great reredos towered towards the
domed roof, a shameless sheet of dazzling gold. Your eyes ached at it.
It may have cost £300,000, but to the true lover of churches it was
worth about twopence-halfpenny. The walls blazoned with gold-framed
pictures of the Virgin and Saints, not one, not two, but dozens, like
the ill-assorted pictures in a pork-packing millionaire's dining-room.
The merits of the paintings, if they had any, were lost in the
nauseating gold of their heavy frames. Croesus never loathed the
precious metal as we did, when, shading our eyes, we gazed up at the
abominable background of the High Altar. Smaller altars there were
everywhere around: innumerable saints in tawdry metal crowns fluttered
frowsy linens; coarsely realistic pictures of the Passion made you blush
for your Catholic fellow-creatures. Canopies of satin and brocade over
episcopal stalls and gilded marble pulpits brought to one's mind the
irony of it all: the gorgeous-vestmented priests daring to ape
vicegerency for Him who bade His ministers "go forth neither with purse
nor scrip." "Verily they toil not neither do they spin; yet Solomon,"
etc. Yes, right there on the ill-laid pavement kneels an Indian--his
arms outspread, his fanatic eyes lifted in an ecstasy of faith to the
gilding. He and thousands like him--"the hungry sheep, look up and are
not fed"; but the shepherds take care that the flocks feed them. They
have always got their cut of juicy mutton. Mexico is not alone. Alas!
Sacerdotalism has its dupes in every land. We walked out into the
sunshine, glad to remember that we had stood in the wonderful Abbey
nave, our eyes restful with its glorious grey chastity, our hearts
stilled with that holy calm which seems to bring so much nearer "the
peace of God which passeth all understanding."

But if Mexico is poor in buildings, she has features which certainly
entitle her to be called a great city. The superb Paseo (there are
others, but fine as they are they are dwarfed beside it) would alone
make a capital. Between two and three hundred feet wide, lined with a
double row of trees and beautifully kept flower-beds, its course broken,
here and there, by circuses where stand noble statues centring lawns of
velvety turf, it sweeps northward, a majestic thoroughfare, towards
Chapultepec--the Mexican Hyde Park--where stands the Castle (it does not
look like one), the summer residence of grim Porfirio Diaz. Nothing can
be finer than the view up this noble roadway, and praise is due to
authorities who have ordained that the banal electric tramcars shall
take with them into side streets the blighting vulgarity of their
whizzing bustle. At the entrance to the Paseo the cars turn humbly into
side turnings running parallel with this monarch of highways.

Another beautiful feature are the private houses. Along the Paseo and in
the broad _avenidas_ which branch off it are residences which really
deserve the adjective "ideal." Two-storeyed, flat-roofed, solid and yet
not pawky in their solidity, as most small buildings built substantially
are in danger of becoming; charming in their simplicity of design; the
long windows barred with artistically wrought iron; green sunblinds
drawn within; no basements, no areas, but raised solid some three feet
from the ground-level and approached by a short flight of steps; they
look like summerhouses of cool stone set in the frame of their exquisite
tropic gardens. You never see their occupants (the rich Mexicans,
especially the women, never walk out or show themselves until the hour
for driving in the Paseo or Chapultepec Park arrives), but you envy them
these charming dwellings. They are the very antipodes of the cheap,
run-up-anyhow heaps of bricks and mortar which we are too often content
to call houses.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Mexican hotels are bad and expensive. Strictly speaking, they are
not hotels at all, but large pretentious "doss-houses"; for there are as
a rule no restaurants attached, no attempt made to cater for the
visitors, nor are there any public rooms for reading or writing. You
hire a frowsy room, for which you may quite likely at such a place as
the Hôtel de Jardin have to pay six dollars (twelve shillings) a night,
and the most the management will do for you is to provide a cup of
indifferent chocolate and a sweet roll in the morning, which matutinal
orgy, of course, is not included in the room rent. You must "hunt" your
food elsewhere. This has its advantages, but it has also grave
disadvantages, particularly as Mexico City is poorly equipped with
reasonably cheap, clean, eating-places; and after a week or so you get
restive and long for the coffee-room comforts of those residential
palaces, the English hotels. Nowhere in the world are hotels, surely, so
perfect as in England, so cheap, so homely, the staff so courteous.
Nowhere has the traveller lavished on him so many little comforts and
etceteras of daily life, the sumptuous reading-rooms, the writing
conveniences, all of which he never really appreciates till he is
condemned to live for a while among "hotel savages." We had been warned,
too, of darker horrors in Mexican hotels than the lack of an honest
breakfast or an easy-chair in which to read one's letters. Unbidden
guests shelter in even first-class establishments and nightly feast on
the visitors. So we stayed at the only decent hotel in the
city--according to all reports--the new American Hotel St. Francis at
the city end of the Paseo. This had a restaurant attached, where
excellent food was served to us by a perfectly charming Indian waiter,
whose smile at our attempts to talk to him was "sweetness and light." He
was not handsome--he had all the worst features of the Mongolian
type--high cheek-bones, flattish face; but when that man smiled, well,
you just felt a new optimism in the inherent goodness of human nature
steal on you. The St. Francis was built Spanish fashion with a
courtyard, the rooms facing on to three galleries, the courtyard forming
a lounge. As far as comfort went it was nowhere in comparison with the
commercial hotels in the provincial towns in England, but it sustained
its reputation of being free from vermin, and one's bed linen was
changed every day.

The climate of the city is very trying for any one with heart weakness.
Indeed, to even the robust the rarefied air at such a vast height as
8,000 feet brings a perpetual sense of being fagged out, and a
disagreeably insistent panting at the least exertion. We found all the
English residents suffered from a perpetual malaise, the "tired feeling"
of the tonic advertisements. Curiously enough, too, the immense
altitude, so far exceeding that of Davos Platz, does not protect the
phthisical and weak-lunged. The death rate from lung diseases is
terrific. The days are hot and the nights are often so cold that you
must wear your thickest overcoat or run the risk of pneumonia. A queer
result of this is that the streets are quite empty soon after dark. Till
nine you will see a few Indians, only their eyes visible above their
blankets, straggling along, or a Mexican in closed carriage will dash
past. But later the place becomes a city of the dead. Coming back from a
dinner we walked through street after street and never saw a soul (it
was only 10.30) save the police, who stand in the middle of the roads, a
lighted lantern on the ground between their boots.

The city is patrolled after dark by the Republican Guard, mounted on
sturdy Mexican cobs and armed with Winchesters, heavy revolvers, and
swords. These men stand no nonsense, and the consequence is that
outwardly the capital is one of the most orderly in the world. You
scarcely ever see a brawl, you never hear a voice raised in anger; and
yet the police are not officious. They do not fidget or bustle: they are
everywhere, but they are not obtrusive, and they are certainly most
courteous. We asked the way of one, and he directed us. Some fifty yards
on we heard some one running behind us, and turned to see, with
astonishment, the officer, who with many bows explained that he thought
we might have misunderstood, so he had run after us to personally put us
in the way. Surely politeness could no further go! Imagine a
twenty-stone City constable "sprinting" after a Frenchman who desired to
study the architectural glories of "Ze house of ze Lor Maire"! There is
no doubt we English are phlegmatic.

If a fight takes place in the streets, the police arrest everybody, not
only the principals and their seconds, but all the spectators. Thus a
perfectly harmless paterfamilias trudging back to his home, yielding for
a minute to the curiosity inherent in us all and peering over the heads
of the crowd at the struggling men, may find himself marched off to the
lock-up, where he must spend the night--for there is no bail system; and
next morning he is dragged off before a magistrate as an accessory to a
street row and fined according to the lying capacities of the police
officers concerned. In Mexico you must play the Levite and "pass by on
the other side."

The streets are at all times a human kaleidoscope: the dandy in European
dress; the smart Mexican horsemen in tasselled riding gear clattering
down the road; the trim cowboy with his grey trousers fitting like an
eel's skin, silver-buttoned, a coloured silk scarf round his neck, his
head adorned with steeple felt; the wizened Indian beldames in saffron
or blue cottons squatting at the church doors stretching out skinny
yellow hands for alms; tiny Indian girls carrying still tinier brothers
and sisters, and at every street corner bare-headed Indian matrons at
trestle stalls whereon are sweetmeats and fruits for sale. One of the
queerest sights are the funeral cars. Every corpse must by law be buried
within twenty-four hours of death, and almost all day long the
procession of tramcars is interrupted by the passing of the only type of
hearse they have in the capital, a hideous black and white contrivance
fitted with tram-wheels with three doors in a row admitting to three
shelves upon which the coffins stand. The poorer folk go to the cemetery
thus pigeonholed, the rich have a tram hearse which has a glass cover so
that the coffin can be seen. All day these monstrosities run out of the
city followed by a black-painted tramcar for the mourners. The
cemeteries are many miles out of the city and these mournful trams
follow the ordinary ones, a perpetual reminder to the gay crowds of the
vanity of human joys. At nightfall the streets are picturesque in the
extreme with the Indian handcarts and mule barrows carrying paper
lanterns (for every vehicle must have a light after dark), with the
weirdly quaint muffled figures of the Indians showing up in the fitful

We must say a word about the Museum. It is a building just out of the
cathedral plaza, and is approached through a pretty courtyard filled
with palms and flowering shrubs. But within is the most melancholy
medley and muddle which it is possible to conceive. With opportunities
unexampled, with a wealth of treasures, the very finest of all Aztec and
Mayan relics, the curators, if one must misuse the word so sadly, have
proved themselves about as fit to arrange and govern a national museum
as schoolboys. There is literally no order; apparently no intelligence
at all has been exercised in the cataloguing of the exhibits; and the
elementary precaution of labelling each object with its place and date
of finding has been almost entirely ignored. Thus you come across a case
of ancient pottery obviously of all ages and from all parts of the
Republic, and this is called "Ancient Aztec Pottery," which a large part
of it is certainly not. Case after case witnesses to this ineptitude.
Nothing is labelled; or if it is, the label is patently incorrect. At
the door stand two cases facing each other. One is called "Forged
Pottery"; the other, "Genuine Pottery." Perhaps the egregious gentlemen
who have laboured to spoil what might have been one of the most
remarkable collections of an ancient civilisation existing will be
surprised to hear that they have got forged pottery in the genuine case
and vice versa. A typical catalogue entry is "279. _Fragments of Toltec
column_"; or "281 _to_ 283. _Three stone blocks. It has been supposed
that they formed part of gigantic caryatides_"; or "286. _El Indio
Triste. Strange human sculpture of melancholy aspect_"; or "93. _Aztec
Goddess Citlalinicue, according to Señor Troncoso. A square flat stone
with interesting reliefs on its two chief faces._" How illuminating to
be sure!

Here is the world-famous Aztec Calendar Stone found in the plaza in 1790
during some levelling operations, and the wonderfully carved Stone of
Sacrifice, also unearthed in the plaza a year later. Here, too, is the
much debated Chac Mool statue which Dr. Le Plongeon, of whom and whose
work we shall have occasion to speak later, found at Chichen Itza,
Yucatan. In the galleries above there is a hotchpotch of exhibits
ranging from a dreadfully poor picture of the Emperor Maximilian's
footman, the hair of General D. Vicente Guerrero (it is to be feared
that the world has long ago forgotten that he ever lost it), a "Marble
Bath Tub made of a single block, said to have belonged to the
Archduchess Carlotta," and "No. 63. Wooden Tub made of one piece,
presented to the Archduchess by Col. Juan B. Campos," to a plaster cast
of "the ideal man of Neanderthal," specimens of human skins tattooed,
Japanese armour and two human bodies naturally mummified. In truth, it
is a sorry spectacle, this National Museum of Mexico, and you wander out
of its bewildering galleries full of regret at the reckless way in which
a great chance has been thrown away; for no one can now hope to put
right what has been done wrong or to make the exhibition a good one.

The electric tram service of the city is excellent, and for a few
centavos you are transported miles into the many beautiful suburbs in
which the capital rejoices. Fairest of these is Chapultepec and its
park, where on a Sunday you can sit under the shade of giant laurels and
cypresses and listen to the really excellent music of the band of the
Republican Guard (the Mexican Life Guards). Chapultepec is historic.
There in 1847 the military cadets made their renowned stand against the
Americans, a glorious piece of fighting which is memorialised in a
statue group--the names of the fallen lads engraved on the plinth. The
castle--singularly un-castle-y--with somewhat the appearance of a
glorified hydropathic, stands on a rock about 150 feet high (Chapultepec
means "hill of the grasshopper"), the site of Moctezuma's summer palace.
Beneath it lie the palace grounds intersected by shady drives and
ornamental waters fringed with a wealth of flowering shrubs. From the
height you get an unexampled view, down the superb drive of the Paseo,
of the city ringed round with volcanic hills purpled with a sunny mist.
To the gate of the park an endless procession of trams comes, filled to
overflowing. Sunday is Chapultepec's great day, and all the sunny
afternoon laughing, gaily dressed crowds file through the paths or
linger round the bandstand; while the roadways are packed with slowly
moving lines of wonderful carriages drawn by really fine animals; and on
the shady unmacadamised edges of the carriageways canter as superb a
collection of riding horses as it would be possible to see in any
capital outside a horse show. There is no animal lovelier than a
well-bred horse, and though the Mexican steeds are small, they are--at
least the bulk of them in Chapultepec are--much Arabised and magnificent
creatures. The brilliant gloss of their skins, the clear, soft shining
eyes, the rhythmic power and grace of their limbs, the dainty perfection
of their movements, made the human crowds around them look quite mean,
even in their picturesque rainbow-hued clothes, for sartorial man is at
best a sloven. As we gazed on those proud heads and silky manes, and
watched the play of the muscles beneath the satin coats, we felt the
irony of that human phrase "the lower animals."

Northward from the Castle the country breaks into sunny uplands bordered
ten miles off by majestic masses of igneous rock, scarred and grey here,
there green with sprawling cactus undergrowth and stunted tree. Long
stretches of pampas grass, traversed by dusty roads, dispute possession
of this suburban pleasaunce with plantations of maguey--vistas of dark,
serried green broken here and there by a stone-built hacienda, a distant
patch of dazzling white in the sun's glare, ringed in with laurels and
evergreen oaks. It is a pretty picture, and you forgive the clouds of
dust, which rise at the hoofs of that file of pulque mules and which
envelop that herd of white goats shepherded by barefoot Indian lassies,
for the wealth of sunlight which enriches the landscape. Under the deep
shade of a hacienda portico a withered Indian woman squats Turk-fashion
before baskets of luscious oranges. They are four a penny, these "golden
apples," and with armfuls you perch yourself on the stone culvert of the
little bridge spanning the brook, once a mountain torrent on those
far-off hills, which gently murmurs through the maguey gardens, and
lunch like gods for fourpence.

Burke could not "find it in his heart to impeach a nation," but one is
sorely tempted to forget his advice in writing of the Mexicans. As a
people they are disagreeable. They are fulsomely polite, but it is just
that lip-service which sets the Englishman's back up. In his inimitable
verse Kipling has pointed out how politeness "takes" the English.

    Cock the gun that is not loaded,
    Cook the frozen dynamite,
    But oh! beware my people, when my people grow polite.

It is quite true. The Englishman saves his politeness for his enemies.
The Mexicans are polite all the time, but beneath the veneer of this
nauseating oleaginous manner it takes no shrewd observer to see that as
a people they are possessed of the most unpleasant characteristics. They
are immense procrastinators. The cry of the country is _mañana_
(to-morrow) and _mañana_ never comes, if they can help it. Our visit to
the capital had as its object the obtaining of simple passports for the
exploration of North-eastern Yucatan. Yet, though the British Minister
very kindly interested himself in our tour and saw the President on the
matter, it took eight days for us to get these simple documents. Every
morning we had to waste hours at the Ministry of Public Instruction
badgering the Under-Secretary of State to carry out the very
instructions which we ourselves had heard given him days before by his
chief. The circumlocution methods of our War Office have deservedly
become a byword, but the amiable gentlemen who, like the fountains in
Trafalgar Square, "play from ten till four" in Whitehall, are veritable
miniature Roosevelts in strenuosity compared with Mexican officials. A
typical instance of their methods was witnessed by us. We were waiting
in the anteroom for our turn to see His Excellency the Minister when the
Under-Secretary hurried out to inquire as to a letter sent to the
department but which had never reached the Minister. A distinguished
elderly official, seated at a massive desk, was engaged in smoking a
cigarette and meditating on the Infinite between the puffs. He seemed
quite pained when the Under-Secretary suggested he had forgotten
anything. He had forgotten such a lot in his life that he felt he had a
right to complain that such a trifle as a mislaid letter should be
allowed to break the even tenor of his official hours. The
Under-Secretary returned to his room, and the distinguished official
(his conscience was evidently gnawing) looked suspiciously round and,
believing we did not see, opened a drawer of his desk, out of which he
took a bundle of unopened letters which appeared to represent the
official mail of the department for the past fortnight. With an ivory
paper-knife he ripped open one after the other, recklessly throwing them
back unread into his drawer until he found the one he sought, when he
bundled back the remainder unopened, and with a radiant expression of
pleased surprise, as of a man who had made an entirely unforeseen
discovery, he hastened into the Under-Secretary's room. The philosophic
calm with which he lit a fresh cigarette, on his return, and sank once
more into his padded chair, suggested that he had satisfied his
superior, perhaps even himself, that the blame rested with one of those
rascally clerks who were engaged at the time in a vigorous conversation
on nothing in particular in the courtyard.

Until 1876, when upon his distracted country Porfirio Diaz, innkeeper's
son and born ruler, descended as _deus ex machina_, the state of Mexico
may be summed up in the words "rapine, murder, and sudden death." But
though Mexico has had--and the bulk of her population has had reason
during the past thirty years to thank her lucky stars for him--an "Iron
Master," the quietude of the country is only skin-deep. Law and order is
represented by a blend of a rough-and-ready justice, a sort of legalised
lynch-law, with an official law-administration venal to a high degree.
With every second mestizo a born robber, Mexico is no place for tedious
processes with remands and committals to Assizes. A man caught
red-handed is usually dealt with on the spot. Such a case occurred while
we were visiting the capital. Two days after we had travelled on the
marvellous mountain railway, the guards of the day-train (which by the
way always takes the bullion to the coast and has a carriage-load of
soldiers attached as military convoy) saw, as they approached the
steepest descent, two fellows loitering on the line, presumably
wreckers. The train was stopped and the guards and the officer
commanding the convoy gave chase, and, coming up with the men, shot them
with their revolvers and kicked the bodies down the precipice. The sun
and the vultures do the rest, and on the re-arrival of the train in the
capital the matter may or may not be formally notified to the

Even to the casual observer the difficulty of governing Mexico must seem
inexpressibly great. President Diaz has succeeded not so much because he
does not know what mercy means or because a rifle bullet is his only
answer for those who question his authority, but because he is endowed
with superhuman tact. The iron heel, like that of Achilles, has its
vulnerable spot if pressed too hard upon a people's throat, and so he
has little dodges by which he appears to his subjects to exercise a
judicious clemency. If some redoubtable criminal is captured, some
monarch of murderers, Diaz knows well that among his thousands of
crime-loving fellow-countrymen the brute will have a large following.
His execution will mean the declaration of a vendetta against the
police. So he is put on his trial, condemned to death, and within
twenty-four hours the President commutes his sentence to one of twenty
years' incarceration in the Penitentiary. After about a week there, he
is taken out one evening, as usual, into the prison yard for exercise
under a small guard of soldiers. One of these sidles up to him and
suggests that as the night is dark he might make a bolt for it. The
convict believes it a genuine offer, sprints off, and is dropped at
thirty yards like a rabbit by the five or six soldiers who have been
waiting under the shadow of the further wall. The next morning the
official newspaper states, "Last night the notorious criminal So and So,
to whom His Excellency the President recently extended clemency, made an
attempt to escape while being exercised in the prison yard, and was shot
dead by the sentries." Thus everybody is pleased, except possibly the
convict, and the President, without the least odium to himself, has rid
the country of another blackguard.

Another stroke of real genius was the way in which he has succeeded in
setting thieves to catch thieves. When he became President, the country
was infested with bandits who stopped at nothing; but Diaz erected huge
gallows at the crossways all over Mexico, and the robbers found they had
to stop at those, and stop quite a long while till the zopilotes and
vultures had picked their bones to the blameless white to which good
Porfirio Diaz desired the lives of all his subjects to attain. After
some weeks of brisk hanging-business, Diaz played his trump card. He
proclaimed that all other bandits, known or unknown, who cared to
surrender would be enrolled as _rurales_, country police, and, garbed in
State uniform and armed with Winchesters, would spend the remainder of
their lives agreeably engaged in killing their recalcitrant comrades.
This temptation to spend their declining days in bloodshed, to which no
penalties were attached, was too much for many. Thus fifty per cent, of
Mexico's robbers turn police and murder the other fifty, and acute Diaz
has a body of men who and whose sons have proved, and sons' sons will
prove, the eternal wisdom of this hybrid Sphinx of a ruler.

But there is a comic side to Mexican justice. There is a Gilbertian
humour in the go-as-you-please style in which prisoners are treated. In
one crowded court, when the jury had retired to consider their verdict
the prisoner was engaged in walking up and down, hands in pockets,
cigarette in mouth, while the police, entirely oblivious to their
charge, smoked and chatted in another part of the court. We asked one
officer whether they were not afraid of the prisoner attempting an
escape; "Oh no," he said, "he'll wait for the verdict." Roadmaking is
practically always done by gangs of convicts, and, when they think they
have had enough work, they throw down their spades and picks, and
warders and everybody sit down on the roadside and enjoy a cigarette and
a chat. The British Minister told us that he had recently been shown
over the Penitentiary, in which at the moment there was a bloodthirsty
rascal whose record of crime would have shamed a Jack the Ripper. The
governor of the gaol entered into a long and friendly conversation with
him as to his wife and family, and, as the British Minister humorously
put it, "We were all but presented to him."

The daily life of the Mexicans begins before dawn, when they all get up,
apparently because it is a habit of which they cannot break themselves,
for they seem to have nothing to do except to crouch round swaddled up
in blankets and complain that it is "_mucho frio_." As soon as six
o'clock and daylight come they take their coffee and roll. Most Mexicans
are heavy eaters, but they reserve their gastronomic heroisms for a
later hour. Many, like the Arabs, have but one big meal a day, shortly
after noon, when they _do_ eat; so heavily indeed that the rest of their
day is spent, boa-constrictor fashion, sleeping off the gorge. Many
others eat at 10.30 and 5 o'clock. The cooking is Spanish, only a little
bit more so. Their favourite dishes are appalling stews, the greasy
garlicyness of which would frighten away the appetite of an English
schoolboy. One of the most popular is _morli_, the basis of which is
said to be turkey, but it is very cleverly disguised. Of course, in the
capital, foreign invasion has much modified the national fare, but the
bulk of the Mexican people live to-day, as they have for centuries past,
on black beans (frijoles), tortillas (flat cakes of half-baked maize,
first soaked and crushed), coffee without milk, red and green peppers, a
little pork, and occasionally a piece of very stringy beef. The wealthy
Mexicans never entertain in our sense, even among themselves. Such a
thing as a dinner party is unheard of in non-official circles. This is
probably due largely to their taste for secluding their womenfolk,
though it is not unfair to say that it is contributed to by their
disinclination for hospitality.

The above remarks refer to the Mexicans, not to the Indians, who, as far
as they can, live the lives their ancestors lived four centuries back,
mingling but not mixing with their half-bred Spanish masters. The
Mexican Indians are probably among the dirtiest people on God's earth,
with possibly an exception in favour of the Yahgans of Tierra del Fuego,
the Eskimos, and thirty years ago in favour of the now extinct
Tasmanians. But the average Mexican, too, has the Spanish horror of
water, and though he will keep up appearances like a schoolboy who
washes down to where his Eton collar comes, he will shirk more serious
ablutions whenever possible. The profuse use of scents, especially among
men, is always a suspicious sign, and this is not lacking in Mexico. The
disregard of the people for bodily cleanliness is only matched by their
contempt for those elaborate sanitary arrangements which in most
European countries have done so much to make it possible for us
miserable mortals to forget the humiliating physical necessities of our
daily lives. Throughout the capital there are no public conveniences. An
indignant apologist for Mexico declared to us on the steamer coming home
that urinals did exist in the plaza near the cathedral. All we can say
is that we did not see them. An English friend of ours, far from his
hotel and in temporary distress, approached a passing Mexican señor with
the question, "_Donde es el escusado?_" To his dismay he was told that
there was no such place, but was courteously invited to the stranger's
house, in the course of his visit passing through the sitting-room,
where the wife and young daughters sat at needlework. All over the city
are the drinking-shops (_pulquerias_) where the beloved pulque is served
all day to a jostling, elbowing crowd of tight-trousered and bespurred
vaqueros (cowboys) and of the Mexican-cum-Indian city riff-raff who
stand round the filthy counters. The floor is usually earth, and the
corners of the shop are used by the customers to relieve themselves,
without a murmur from the publican or the slightest protest from any

Nominally Mexico is a Republic: really she is nothing of the sort. There
is a Senate, a Chamber of Deputies, periodic elections of State
representatives, a Governor and Council in each State of the Federation;
but for upwards of a quarter of a century these have all been but pawns
on a chessboard--the player a man of such astounding nature that those
who laughed at Mrs. Alec Tweedie's description of him as "the greatest
man of the nineteenth century" laughed from the fullness of their
ignorance. Porfirio Diaz is an autocrat. He is an autocrat fiercer, more
relentless, more absolute than the Tsar of Russia, than any recent Tsar
has been, almost than Peter the Great himself. He is more: he is a born
ruler. He has played for the regeneration of his country. He has played,
but it is too much to say he has won. Nobody could win; but he has
chained the bloody dogs of anarchy and murder, chained them successfully
for so many years that there are some who forget that he has not killed
them outright. Diaz is literally living over a volcano: he is a
personified extinguisher of the fierce furnace of his country's
turbulence. But when death removes him, what then? The deluge, surely;
and after that one more apotheosis of the Monroe Doctrine, and the very
wholesome, if somewhat aggressive, Stars and Stripes. You must go to
Mexico and live among its people to know all this. It is singular how
little the English people know of the country. Only the other day a
veteran Anglo-Indian officer gravely asked us, "What is the exact
position of Mexico in the United States of America?" We simply gasped:
words failed in such an emergency. Before Diaz came, Mexico's history
was one of uninterrupted rapine, murder, and sudden death. Out of a
morass of blood he has made a garden: out of robbers he has made
citizens: out of bankruptcy he has made a revenue: out of the bitterest
civil strivings he has _almost_ made a nation.

He is nearly eighty: he is as upright as a dart: he has the face of a
sphinx with a jaw which makes you shudder. He rarely talks, he still
more rarely smiles. And yet the whole man expresses no false pride--no
"wind in the head." His icy superhumanly self-controlled nature is too
great to be moved by such petty things as pride and a vulgar joy in
power. In manner and in life he is simplicity itself. He rides
unattended in the Paseo: he comes down to the Jockey Club in the
afternoon, and the members just rise and bow, and the President picks up
his paper and sits quietly at the window reading. He dislikes all
ostentation: his food is simple: his clothes are almost always a plain
blue serge suit and dark tie: and in his winter home in the city he
lives as a simple citizen. But his power is literally limitless. The
Mexicans do not love him: nobody could love such a man. The lower
classes fear him unreasoningly; the upper classes fear him too, but it
is blended with a lively sense of what he means to Mexico. But mark you!
there is nothing of the bully about him. The bully is always weak, a
coward. If Diaz was arrogant, he would be assassinated in twenty-four
hours. He knows that. He knows the blood of the cattle he drives. Nobody
but a madman whips a blood horse; but he must have an iron wrist and a
good hold on the rein. And that is why one can safely describe Diaz as a
born ruler. He instinctively understands his subjects: he has not learnt
it, for he began thirty years ago. He was never educated in statecraft,
for indeed he had no education at all; he was merely the son of an
innkeeper, first sent to a Jesuit seminary, whence he ran away and
joined the army. No! the man's secret is an iron will and positively
miraculous tact. Whatever he does, whatever he orders, is always done so
nicely. Everybody knows it has got to be done. Nobody ever crossed Diaz
and lived to boast of so doing. But he gilds the pills he thinks his
people must swallow, and they gulp them down and look up with meek
smiles into that awful face.

Here is a little characteristic story of him. Some while back there was
an election of Governor of Yucatan. The Yucatecan people have always
been one of the most restive of the presidential team. They nominated a
man disagreeable to Diaz; he nominated a second. The election ballot
took place. The Yucatecan nominee was successful by an enormous
majority. The news is wired to Mexico City. Back comes the presidential
answer: "Glad to know my man elected: am sending troops to formally
inaugurate him." The troops came, and Diaz's man was formally installed.
To the Chamber of Deputies no one can be elected against the President's
wish. For the over-popular Governor of a State Diaz provides
distinguished employment elsewhere. Such a case occurred while we were
in Yucatan. Señor Olegario Molina, of whom we shall later speak more,
has been for some years deservedly popular in Merida, for he has done
much to improve it. President Diaz visited Merida recently, and on his
return appointed Señor Molina a Cabinet Minister. When he arrived in
Vera Cruz Molina found the presidential train awaiting him, and on
reaching Mexico City the President and the whole Cabinet had come to the
station to greet him, and drove him triumphantly to the Iturbide Hotel.
Charming courtesies! how favourably the presidential eyes beam on him!
Yes, but he is banished: as much banished as the shivering pauper Jew
workman turned away from the London Docks. He was too powerful: he is
safer in Mexico City, far away from the madding crowds who would
perchance have made him State dictator. A too popular Cabinet Minister,
again, is sent as Minister to Madrid: another is found essential to the
pacification of a turbulent State of Northern Mexico; and so the pretty
game goes on, and there is literally no kicking amongst the presidential

But there are fiercer exhibitions of autocracy at which people only
hint, or of which they speak in whispers. There is no Siberia in Mexico,
but there are the equivalents of banishment and disappearance for those
who would challenge the authority of the Mexican Tsar. Even criticism is
tyrannically repressed. There is a Press, but the muzzling order has
long been in force, and recalcitrant editors soon see the inside of the
Penitentiary. General Diaz's present (second) wife is a daughter of a
prominent supporter of Lerdo de Tejada, who on the death of Juarez
assumed the presidency, but was expelled in 1876 by Diaz. The alliance
brought about an armed peace between the two men. But they tell this
story. One day an argument arose, and hot words followed. It was at a
meal; and when wine's in, wit's out. Diaz's father-in-law went far, and
half in jest half in earnest said, "Why, Porfirio, you almost tempt me
to turn rebel again." They all saw the President's face darken, but the
storm blew over. That night it is said that Madame Diaz had to go on to
her knees to her husband to beg for her father's life.

Such is the arbiter and autocrat of Mexico. What, then, is the state of
the country politically, and what will be her future? Mexico's great
weakness (she has many, but this overtops all others, and lowers
menacing on her political horizon) is that she is not a nation. There is
no true national feeling, and a moment's thought will show that the
circumstances of her population forbid the existence of such. On the one
side you have the Spanish Mexicans, the white population, representing
the purest European blood in the country. They are but some 19 per cent.
of a population of twelve million odd. Among them, and among them alone,
is patriotism in its highest sense to be expected or found. On the other
side you have the vast mestizo class--the half-castes--some 43 per
cent., and then the purer Indians, forming the remaining 38 per cent. Of
these three classes the characteristics are sufficiently marked to
destroy hope of any welding or holding together. The Spanish Mexicans
are sensual and apathetic, avaricious and yet indolent, inheriting a
full share of that Castilian pride and bigotry which has worked the
colonial ruin of Spain. Brave, with many of those time-honoured traits
of the proverbial Spanish don, they are yet a people inexorably "marked
down" by Fate in the international remnant basket. They have had their
day. Ye Gods! they have used it, too; but it is gone. The mestizos--near
half the population--have all the worst features of their Spanish and
Indian parents. Turbulent, born criminals, treacherous, idle, dissolute,
and cruel, they have the Spanish lust and the Indian natural cynicism,
the Spanish luxury of temperament with the Indian improvidence. These
are the true Mexicans; these are the unruled and unrulable hotchpotch
whom Diaz's iron hand holds straining in the leash: the dogs of rapine,
murder, and sudden death, whose cowardice is only matched by their
vicious treachery. And last there are the Indians, heartless, hopeless,
disinherited, enslaved, awaiting with sullen patience their deliverance
from the hated yoke of their Spanish masters, not a whit less abhorrent
to them because they have had four centuries in which to become
accustomed to it. The heterogeneity of Mexico's population is only
matched by the depth of the antagonism of each class to each in all
their most vital interests. To a common enemy Mexico can never present
an undivided front. Indeed it is not too much to say she can never have
a common enemy; and whencesoever the bolt comes it will find Mexico
unprepared, a land of ethnic shreds and patches, slattern in her policy,
slattern in her defence, her vitals preyed upon by the vultures of civil
strife. Of all lands she might best afford a realistic presentment of
the sad tale of the Kilkenny cats.

The potential wealth of Mexico is almost limitless, but the indolence of
the Mexican nature is inimical to its development. Under the iron rule
of Diaz the country has advanced, it is undeniable, in every direction.
Railway enterprise has opened up unheard-of possibilities in outlying
States; banking, though still crude (the bank rate is about 9 per
cent.), is becoming a feature of Mexican commerce; municipal life is
assuming that beneficent tendency which it has for years possessed in
most European countries; drainage and sanitation are receiving official
attention, and the welfare of the people is a plank, and a big one, in
the present policy. Last but not least, the educational tonic in doses
for an adult, perhaps too strong, is being given to a moribund people
under the supervision of an excellent Minister of Public Instruction,
Señor Justo Sierra. But bulk largely as this programme of progress does,
it is due to one fact and one alone--the supreme wisdom of the President
in welcoming the foreigner and his capital. Behind all the great schemes
of improvement one finds the foreigner. The excellent tram service of
the metropolis was until recently practically owned by the late Mr.
Alfred Beit and his firm; railroads are English or American built and
owned; new towns such as Coatzocoalcos are creations of such mechanical
geniuses as Sir Weetman Pearson. And this brings us to Mexico's second
great danger, which must inevitably shape her future. She may be said to
be largely in the hands of mortgagees. Of these the chief three are
England, America, and Germany; and their mutual positions are pregnant
with prophecy of what must come. The Germans have wrested from their
rivals much of the trade; especially have they worsted the French
retailers. But Germany has probably lent Mexico the last mark she will
ever get. The English are chiefly centred on the mining interests, and
sporadically in land and agriculture, and though the Mexican Government
would eagerly welcome large English loans, it is doubtful, very
doubtful, if they will be forthcoming. But American capital is rolling
in, rolling in like an inexorable tide of Fate. You have only to be in
Mexico a day or two to realise how irresistibly the country is sinking
into the power of the American investor, and how vain--and the more
vicious because of their vanity--are the efforts of Mexicans to avoid
looking upon the Gorgon head of Yankee hustle which is destined to turn
their somnolent national life, such as it is, into stone. If in Mexico
City you say you are an American, you soon find you represent a race
which is hated as much as it is dreaded. English, French, Germans are
all welcome, but Americans!... Mexico has more than a cloud on her
horizon. She has Texas and Arizona to remind her perpetually of her
fate. Never did spendthrift heir struggle more unavailingly in the hands
of Jews than does Mexico in the hands of her great neighbour.

Cassandra-like, we will prophesy unto you. Let us not be rash and
attempt to fix dates; but as certainly as day succeeds night, Mexico
will eventually form a part of the United States. It will probably be
sooner than is anticipated even by the clearest-headed men on both
sides of the Texan frontier. With the death of General Diaz, Mexico will
be plunged into Kilkenny strife. Nothing can save her. The North will go
like a field of sundried barley, fired in a gale of wind: the turbulent
North, where even now a life is worth nothing. Some Englishmen found a
rich claim recently, and sat down to work it. Presently warning came,
"You had better clear. The Mexican miners are going to 'do you in.'"
Well, the English went, and by a circuitous road, and it was a good
thing for them that they did, for a gang of "civilised" Mexicans were
waiting for them on the ordinary road, determined to knife them, not
content with kicking them out of their claim. That's the North to-day,
and the fear of Diaz's name just keeps the pot from boiling over; but
it's on the boil, right enough. Well then, the North will go into open
rebellion, and the situation will be complicated by a rising of the
Indians, who will be against everybody else. Mexico in her present
isolated independent condition needs a soldier ruler. Your Corrals and
Limantours, your Marischals and Sierras are good enough as Cabinet
Ministers, but they are not the men for the awful task which Porfirio
Diaz set himself thirty years back and has brought to temporary
perfection. Those who know Mexico best know there is no successor to
Diaz. The very installation of a new President will only add fury to the
internecine strife.

But Mexico cannot boil her pot as she likes. Other nations have helped
her with too many condiments and too much stock. American troops will
cross the frontier to protect American interests and capital; and when
they are once in they will stop there, as the English have in Egypt. It
will be a Protectorate, the maintenance of which will prove in the best
interests of England, Germany, and every other Power concerned. America
is inevitably marked out as the _dea ex machinâ_ when the social
earthquake in Mexico comes about. A few years, a few struggles, a bloody
civil war, a rising of the miserable Indian slaves in all the States,
and Mexico will vote herself inside the federation of which, despite her
struggles, she is already so completely a geographical part. The
Mexicans have a little weakness for calling their land South America.
Whatever else Mexico is she is not South America, and their eagerness to
alter stern geographical fact only underlines the fear which is in their

When one remembers that by the Nicaraguan Treaty five miles each side
of the canal are definitely annexed by the United States; when one looks
at the ridiculously truncated appearance of the land of the Stars and
Stripes on the Map of the World; when one knows enough of the Mexicans
to foresee what must happen on Diaz's death; when one tots up the vast
amount of American wealth which is at stake in Mexico; when one
remembers that Mexico is without military or naval resources to resist
foreign interference (her army of twenty odd thousand is, as a fighting
force, a negligible quantity, and her navy consists of three old
gunboats and a training ship); when one realises that her difficulties
will find her with an empty treasure chest, living from hand to mouth on
a suicidal policy of a crushing excise system, stifling internal
commerce and forcing her people to look to other lands for countless
manufactures which they could tackle themselves; when one sees that the
last, the greatest resource of every country, an appeal to national
feeling, will be lost on ears deaf with the din of civil bloodshed, it
does not need much acumen to arrive at the conclusion that Mexico as a
separate State is doomed to extinction, and that the Stars and Stripes
will float over all America to the Panama Canal. Yucatan (which wished
to cede herself with Texas in 1845), Guatemala, Nicaragua, they must all
go, and into the atrophying veins of these dying Latin races will be
injected the honest virile life of a democracy triumphant, and Mexico,
for certain, will rise Phœ-like from the ashes of her hybrid
Spanish past.



It has ever been the fate of Yucatan to be misunderstood. Her very
christening was the result of a misunderstanding. Accounts vary as to
the exact place and time, and as to the Mayan words used; but there
seems little doubt that it was Cortes's first question of the Indians
who had gathered on the beach when he landed in 1517 that settled the
matter. He naturally asked what they called their country, and they as
naturally, not understanding a single syllable, returned, "_Matan c ubah
than_," "_Tec te than_," or some such words ("We do not understand"),
which were promptly taken by the invaders to be the country's name and
corrupted into "Yucatan." Bishop Landa, in his _Relación de las Cosas de
Yucatan_ (1556), credits Cordoba with the christening, and says the
incident took place at Cape Catoche, varying the Indian reply as "_Ci u
than!_" meaning "How well they speak!"

But fifteen years earlier Christopher Columbus had blundered worse, for
he had declared Yucatan an island, and the sight of a richly laden canoe
had persuaded the sanguine Spaniard that he had reached Eldorado at
last--hence Yucatan's early name among the Spanish of "Isla Rica." How
bitterly the brave Spanish pioneers paid for this error, laying down
their lives by scores to win a country which was all limestone bluffs
and dense rank forests, will be outlined directly in the brief account
we must give of Montejo's ill-fated expeditions. Here it is enough to
say that as soon as the land's barrenness was known, Spain's great
captains turned their backs on it. Thereafter for centuries Yucatan
passed through a series of misunderstandings, political and otherwise.
In her tangled woods and on her bare sunbaked limestone hills Central
American civilisation had, it is now known, reached its apogee, but more
than three hundred years were to pass before the peninsula reached its
archæological apotheosis. Ignorant and bigoted Spaniards, intent on
serving the interests of that ecclesiastical institution which the late
Professor Huxley once termed "The Bloody Wolf of Rome," swept away
temples and palaces, broke to pieces statues and idols, built bonfires
with bark writings and sacred books (each of which to-day the Trustees
of the British Museum would probably regard as cheap at a thousand
guineas), murdered, pillaged and destroyed, everybody, everything,
everywhere. So that while avaricious Spanish eyes were turned towards
the glittering temples of Moctezuma's capital and the goldmines of
Mexico, Palenque and Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Piedras Negras lay
crumbling and forgotten in their forests. Yucatan passed into a
backwater of history. The ancient annalists refer to her briefly or not
at all: the modern Encyclopedia usually deals with her claims for notice
laconically thus: "YUCATAN: see under MEXICO." Probably not fifteen per
cent. of Englishmen could tell you offhand her exact geographical
position, and of those fifteen per cent. there would be few whose
knowledge extends beyond a vague memory from schooldays that she is
physically a peninsula, and that the rattlesnake, the tapir and the
giant crested lizard--the iguana--haunt her forests.

And what wonder? Porfirio Diaz, sphinx-faced, granite-hearted, who for
thirty years has been dictator of Mexico, wielding a power as autocratic
as that of the Tsar--he, too, if reports are credible, knew little of
the easternmost portion of his realm till, a year or two ago, Yucatan's
Governor, ambitious of presidential patronage and fatally forgetful of
the fable of King Stork, begged the republican monarch to let the light
of his countenance shine for a while on his Yucatecan lieges. And no
sooner was it announced that the great Diaz would go than he received
countless letters, some anonymous, some from Governors of other States,
warning, imploring, declaring the Yucatecans to be little better than
savages and cut-throats, that the inestimable presidential life would be
not worth a moment's purchase when he landed at Progreso. Evidently his
subjects knew as little of Yucatan as did their ruler.[1]

President Diaz went, he saw, and he ... was staggered. Instead of the
uncouth band of savage rancheros, armed to the teeth, he found a
community of sybarites among whom the only difficulty was to find a man
who was not a millionaire or the son of one. Instead of a fever-haunted,
poverty-stricken, one-horse town, he found the "very loyal and noble
city" of Merida, a Paris in miniature for vivacity and luxury. As they
passed within the gates of one great hacienda or farm, the gardens lit
with myriads of coloured lights, Madame Diaz clapped her hands and cried
out gleefully, "Look, Porfirio! Surely we have never seen anything so
lovely!" Well might she so say, for that particular haciendado had
lavished 60,000 Mexican dollars (about £6,000) to dazzle the
presidential eyes for one short evening. But Merida is not Yucatan, and
the henequen millionaires of Merida strained every nerve and even their
Fortunatus purses to prevent their shrewd ruler from seeing, beneath the
surface, the social rottenness of the country. Of the amazing and
amusing efforts they made to throw dust in those terrible eyes we shall
have something to say later. What the President saw, we have seen--the
almost boundless wealth of Merida and the sybaritic life led by the
haciendados. But we have seen more: we have seen the real Yucatan. For
months we have wandered in her wilds. We have shared the huts with the
Indians: we have slung our hammocks in the forests: we have slept in the
palm-thatched cabins of the woodcutters: we have lived the fisherman's
life on the islets of the east coast, round which in the days of Cordoba
and Cortes cruised fleets of canoes, fruit and corn-laden. The primary
reason of our trip was archæological exploration, but the interest which
this volume must have as containing descriptions of those wondrous ruins
which have earned for Yucatan the title of "The Egypt of the New World"
will be, we believe, enhanced by that insight we are enabled to give
into the social state of a country which for nearly all is a "terra

And now for a little history. It was on the 30th July, 1502, that
Christopher Columbus, near the island Guanaja in the Gulf of Honduras,
met a canoe paddled by twenty-five Indians and carrying as many women,
and a cargo of fruits, cotton cloths, copper hatchets, and pottery. The
men wore loin-cloths and the women were modestly draped in mantles of
cotton. By signs the great Spaniard gathered that they came from a rich
land to the westward. Such is the first knowledge the white world had of
Yucatan! Four years later Juan Diaz de Solis and Vincente Yañez Pinzon
sailed for Guanaja intent on completing the discoveries of Columbus.
Reaching Guanaja they steered westward and discovered the east coast of
Yucatan, convincing themselves that it was an island, but making no

On the 20th May, 1506, Columbus, a victim of injustice and neglect,
ended his splendid career in sadly lonely surroundings at Valladolid.
His two successors in the pioneer work of Yucatan's discovery came to
untimely ends, Yañez Pinzon dying in Spain a year later, while Diaz de
Solis was eaten by the Indians of Rio de la Plata. In 1511, more by bad
luck than good management, the Spaniards came again into contact with
Yucatan. Nuñez de Balboa, Alcalde of Darien, dispatched one Valdivia in
a caravel to Hayti for provisions and reinforcements. When nearing
Jamaica the ship was wrecked on the Alacranes Reefs, and the Spaniards,
to the number of twenty, took to the boats. Seven died of starvation,
and the rest, after days of exposure, were washed on to the eastern
coast of Yucatan. Here--though they were warmly welcomed--it can
scarcely be said that the reception accorded to them was one which they
appreciated. The Indians, making a feast-day of their arrival, swarmed
down on the beach and insisted on their coming at once to the village,
where, it is sad to relate, those who had been unlucky enough to
preserve a little adipose tissue in spite of the hardships they had
endured, were accorded the honour of becoming the "pièces de résistance"
at the banquet which the chief had commanded to celebrate their arrival.
The less plump ones were enclosed in glorified chicken coops, where they
were fattened with succulent viands until such a time as the chief
should be "disposed to put his lips to them."

Unwilling to await this distinction, the unfortunate Spaniards found an
opportunity one night of breaking the bars of the coop and taking to the
woods. Several died of exposure, but a few struggled through to the
territory of a neighbouring cacique, who appears to have been more of a
vegetarian. He rejoiced in the name of Hkin Cutz. The Spanish fugitives,
for some reason or other, perhaps because they made praiseworthy efforts
to pronounce his name, were taken into his service and well treated,
though an eight-hour day does not appear to have been part of Hkin
Cutz's programme. As Joshua, he said, "Let them live but let them be
hewers of wood and drawers of water unto my people." Under this system
all died but two, Gonzalo Guerrero, a swash-buckling soldier, as his
name suggests, and Jeronimo de Aguilar, a young priest. Guerrero (one
can picture him the thorough captain of industry, cynical, fearless,
taking his pleasure where he could) took to his new life like a duck to
water: fell in love with a Mayan girl, stripped off his clothes in
favour of a loin-cloth, painted his body and decorated his nose and ears
with stone rings, winding up with a very decent imitation of reverence
for the Stone Gods who had it all their own way in Hkin Cutz's kingdom.

But Aguilar was an idealist, and though, true to his Church's teaching,
casuist enough to keep on the right side of Hkin Cutz, he treasured a
hope of some day, somehow, returning to Spain and its Catholic joys.
With a view to hastening this consummation he so devoutly wished, he
took the Saints into his confidence, and, satisfied of their assistance,
promised at all costs to preserve that chastity which is believed by the
credulous to be still--as it doubtless always has been--the brightest
jewel in the crown of the Catholic priesthood. Aguilar's misogynistic
tendencies do not seem to have much troubled Hkin Cutz; but his
successor Ahmay was distinctly uxorious, and in addition appears to have
been something of a humorist. Aguilar's lack of appreciation of his
maidens worried him somewhat, and he determined to find out whether it
was the lack of opportunity or the lack of taste. When the young priest
was not cutting wood or drawing water, he was sent out fishing, going
overnight to the coast and sleeping on the beach till dawn, when the
fish were feeding. One day Ahmay ordered him to the coast, but as a mark
of his favour told him to take as his companion a very beautiful girl of
fourteen, to whom the cunning cacique gave instructions that she was to
"fish" for Aguilar while he--poor innocent--was seeking his lord's
breakfast. Aguilar did not much care for his girl comrade, but he did
not dare to refuse: so off they started, the chief first loading his
faithful servant with warm garments for the night journey and a sort of
_en tout cas_ bedspread. As the coast was not far distant, and the
travellers had not much to say to each other, they got over the ground
so quickly that the night was not far spent when they reached Aguilar's
fishing "pitch." Seeing his companion was sleepy, he gallantly made a
bed for her in the woods with the wraps Ahmay had so thoughtfully
provided, and then went off to the beach and lay down on the sand. But
the temptations of St. Anthony were not in it with those to which that
Indian minx subjected the young priest till dawn, and thus it is the
more gratifying to learn that he was able to keep his arrangement with
the Saints, whereby he passed into the highest favour with Ahmay, who,
poor weak mortal that he was, was convinced that Aguilar was a very
exceptional young man. This is a Spanish story, and must be taken with a
big pinch of salt.

But to return to more serious history. Undeterred by their predecessors'
misfortunes, the Spanish undertook a third expedition to Yucatan. On the
8th February, 1517, Francis Hernandez de Cordoba, with one hundred and
ten soldiers and three ships, sailed from Cuba, and on the twentieth day
sighted an island. On their approach five large canoes put off. Signs of
friendship prevailed on some thirty of the Indians to come on board
Cordoba's ships, and there such amicable relations were established that
the Spaniards landed, finding to their surprise every sign of a
considerable civilisation. For the first time Europeans saw stone
buildings in America. In the temple, approached by well-laid steps, they
saw incense being burnt in front of stone and wooden idols, while files
of women ministrants chanted near the altars. Hence Cordoba christened
the island "Isla de Mujeres" (Isle of Women). Another version has it
that the Spaniards found gigantic female figures of stone at the south
end of the island, but our careful search of the island and a
consultation of its records do not support this version. Thence he
sailed to the most northerly point of Yucatan, where he was welcomed by
the chief, who came out with his people in twelve canoes and repeatedly
exclaimed, "_Connex c otoch_" ("Come to our Town"), which the Spaniards
believed the name of the place: hence Cape Catoche, as the point is
still called.

The Spaniards, led by the treacherous cacique, landed, and were soon
attacked in a thick wood by a body of Indians armed with stone axes,
bows, and lances of wood hardened by fire, their faces and bodies
painted, wearing on their arms an armour of plaited cotton, beating a
war tune on turtle-shells and blowing horns of conch-shells. Cordoba
lost twenty men, and many of the Indians were killed. Returning to their
ships, the Spaniards sailed on to a point where at the mouth of the
river was a large Indian town called by the natives Kimpech, the modern
Campeachy. Farther on a disastrous fight took place which ended in the
loss of fifty Spaniards and the retreat of Cordoba. He himself received
twelve arrow-wounds, and but one soldier escaped unhurt. Within ten
days of his reaching Havana, Cordoba died of his wounds. This signal
disaster did not, however, deter enterprising Spaniards from looking
longingly towards this veritable will o' the wisp, La Isla Rica. In 1518
an expedition led by Juan de Grijalva sailed from Matanzas. This
resulted in the discovery of the island of Cozumel and a fairly complete
reconnaissance of the coastline of Yucatan. A third expedition,
commanded by the great Cortes, left Cuba on the 18th February, 1519,
made first for Cozumel; and thence, cruising round the north-east coast,
the Spaniards continued their voyage as far as what is to-day the city
of Vera Cruz, where the glittering promise of Mexico once and for all
removed the great Spanish captain from Yucatecan history.

But in Cortes's suite was one Francisco Montejo, a gentleman of Seville.
To him, on the 8th December, 1526, a grant was made for the conquest of
the "islands" of Yucatan and Cozumel. Fitting out a small armada, he
sailed from Seville in May, 1527, with 380 troops. He made first for
Cozumel, where he landed in September of that year, establishing
friendly relations with the chief, Naum Pat. Thence, taking with him an
Indian guide, he sailed to the east coast. With bombastic prematureness
the royal standard was planted on the beach, and amid cries of "Viva
España!" the whole country claimed for the King of Spain. But Montejo
was merely beginning his troubles. A disastrous march through the dense
pathless bush--his troops footsore and fever-stricken, hunger and thirst
their constant comrades--ended in a battle in which, with fearful
losses, the invaders barely held their own. A retreat followed; but,
undismayed, in 1528 Montejo with the remnant of his army marched on
Chichen Itza. The old chroniclers contradict one another as to this
expedition to Chichen. We believe Montejo made but one, though time
would allow for two visits and two temporary settlements there, as some
writers believe. In the metropolis of the Itza tribe a friendly
reception at first was accorded him; but he unwisely divided his forces
by dispatching his captain, Alonzo Davila, with some foot and horse to
the westward. Thus weakened he was soon driven out of Chichen, and
forced to the sea at Campeachy. Davila fared no better. Arrived in the
dominions of a neighbouring cacique, his request for provisions was
fiercely answered by the latter, who said he "would send them fowls on
spears, and maize on arrows." After two years of weary struggle with
hunger and fever, harassed the while by Indians, Davila rejoined his
chief at Campeachy. Nothing had been achieved: Yucatan was still
unconquered. Montejo now returned to Cuba for reinforcements, and, thus
heartened, he made an attack on Tabasco, leaving a few Spanish at
Campeachy. These few, weakened by privations, were after some years
reduced to an effective force of five only. The camp was abandoned.
Gonzales Nieto, who had planted the flag amid such bombastic shoutings
on the eastern beach nine years earlier, was the last to leave. In 1535
not a single Spaniard remained in Yucatan.

Two years later Montejo, whose attempt on Tabasco had signally failed,
returned to the attack, landing at Champoton, where once more the
Spanish flag was raised. The Indians, grown shrewd, left the heat and
General Malaria to do their skirmishing, and when Montejo's camp had
become a hospital, a pitched battle all but drove the Spaniards into the
sea. Worse than this, the rumours of the wealth of Peru and Mexico, of
the dazzling conquests of Cortes and Pizarro, caused desertions (for the
poverty of Yucatan had now become notorious), and one by one Montejo's
men slunk off. Nineteen stalwarts at last were all that were left at
Champoton. Montejo sent his son to Cuba with urgent requests for relief.
In 1539 stores and men arrived, and Montejo, distrusting his own
fortune, placed the conquest of Yucatan in his son's hands. The latter
marched out from Champoton, gave battle to the Indians, and completely
routed them. Advancing into the land, in one day three fights took
place, the Indian dead being so numerous that they literally obstructed
the roadway. After a march of many months, during which his troops
suffered incredible hardships and fought their way almost league by
league, Montejo reached the great city of Tihoo early in 1541.

A preliminary victory ensured the invaders some months of peace. But the
clouds were gathering: the caciques formed a confederation, and on the
11th of June a final battle took place. Little reliance can be placed on
the figures, but if they are anywhere near the truth, the pious
historian, Father Cogolludo of the Franciscan Friars, may be forgiven
for exclaiming, in an ecstasy of faith, "Divine power works more than
human valour!" For the Spanish mustered but 200, while the Indians, it
is alleged, were 70,000 strong! Be that as it may, the Spanish firearms
won the day, and the 6th January, 1542, saw the formal founding of the
city of Merida, built out of the stones and on the ruined site of
Tihoo. The Indians never rallied; and the brutal work of enslaving them
was thenceforth to be pursued with few interruptions. In 1561 French
pirates attacked Campeachy and entered Merida, and in 1575 English
buccaneers sacked the city. Forced to withdraw, they renewed their
attack in 1606, but unsuccessfully. In 1632 the Dutch appeared on the
scene, and two years later British pirates made a descent on the coast.
For the next half-century Yucatan was the prey of pirates, and Merida
was attacked again in 1684. Meanwhile the country had been constituted a
Spanish province under a Captain-General; a see of Merida was created,
and Spanish towns built on the ruins of the Indian pueblos.

The internal history of the peninsula from 1684 during the next century
and a half is a story of Spanish cruelty and bigotry, of Franciscan
arrogance and vandalism. The Spanish settlers, not content with the
conquest and enslaving of the Indians, busied themselves in the
destruction of everything--buildings, books, statues--which had to do
with earlier days. Towns were built on the ruins of Indian villages;
large churches--the majority now in ruins--were constructed, for the
most part, out of the stones of Indian palaces, and the great haciendas
were formed and worked by gangs of miserable natives whose spirit was

In 1824 Yucatan, which had borne its fair share in the War of
Independence against Spain of the previous year, became a Federal State.
Amicable relations with Mexico were interrupted in 1829 and again in
1840, when heavy taxation brought about an armed revolt. In the June of
the latter year the rebels drove the Federal forces out of Yucatecan
territory, and independence was declared. In 1843 General Santa Ana, the
head of Mexico, by a successful campaign forced Yucatan into the
Federation once more. In 1847 a serious Indian revolt occurred, and this
was not suppressed till 1853, when a treaty of peace was signed granting
autonomy to the Indians of the east. A year later trouble broke out
again, but in 1860 an army 3,000 strong attacked and captured Chan Santa
Cruz, the Indian capital. The town was almost at once, however, retaken
by the natives with a loss of 1,500 whites, and until 1901 it remained
in the hands of the Mayans. Of the war which was then declared against
these stalwarts, of the injustice of its inception, and of the barbarous
methods now being employed against them, we shall speak later. The
Mexican Government have done their best to hide from the outside world
what exactly is happening in far Eastern Yucatan, but despite official
discouragement we penetrated the district and are in a position to tell
the whole story.

Of the authentic history of Yucatan previous to the Conquest it might
almost be written as succinctly as in the famous chapter "Snakes in
Iceland": there is none. Even its ancient name is in dispute, though
there is little doubt it was "Maya." Columbus is the first to record
that name. For the first half-century or so after the founding of
Merida, the Spanish vandals were far too busy, in their ruthless
Christian zeal, with the destruction of the Mayan towns and palaces,
with the butchering of men and the outraging of women, to give much
thought to the past of the unfortunate race which they were bent on
degrading and enslaving. Bishop Landa, one of the earliest of the
Catholic bishops of Yucatan, bears terrible evidence on this point. The
Indian chiefs were burnt alive in many instances; women, after outrage
and gross and filthy indignities, were hanged, their babies being hanged
on their feet--thus making gibbets of the mothers' bodies. Landa says
that there is no doubt that until his countrymen arrived chastity was
dearly prized among the Mayans: death being the penalty for both young
man and maiden proved unchaste before marriage. To-day Mayan morality in
all towns and centres where the Indians are in contact, or have long
been in contact, with the whites is loose in the extreme. Prostitution
is terribly common, practically universal.

When, towards the end of the sixteenth century, the task of collecting
historical data was undertaken, naturally enough the Indians consulted
had little to give but a hotchpotch of tradition and legend. With an
alacrity positively suspicious the so-called books of Chilan Balam
cropped up in all directions. Each important township had one of these
almost worthless compilations based on the musty memories of garrulous
old Mayans, who thus sought to ingratiate themselves with the
domineering Franciscan friars. The Mayan hieroglyphics were, as they
still are, undecipherable, the temple records and picture writings had
been burnt, and the oldest Indian assisting at the manufacture of these
tradition books must have been in long clothes or the Mayan equivalent
when Cortes landed. Yet this lack of credibility has not prevented many
who have laboured earnestly and long in the field of Mayan archæology
from spoiling their work by plunging into the muddied tideway of date
and legend and emerging convinced of much for which there is not a
tittle of real evidence. Most of the tradition books agree in ascribing
Central American civilisation to the Toltec nation, and "Toltec" has
become the rallying cry, the shibboleth of those who struggle to unravel
the past of Central America. Learned professors from Berlin and Dresden;
enthusiastic young men from Harvard and other American universities;
foreign and native writers and students, clamber or tumble headlong over
the Toltec fence. With the perverse persistence of the National School
child, whose memory of dates is restricted to "William the Conqueror,
1066," at which moment its infantile mind supposes England, London, the
Tower, the Zoo, and Madame Tussaud's to have come into instant being, so
"648 A.D. Toltecs arrived at Tula or Tulapan" crops up in everything
these good people write. King Charles I.'s head never worried Mr. Dick
half as much as the Toltec bogey worries them.

Where Tula or Tulapan was, is, or ever has been: where the Toltecs
sprang from; what ethnical affinities they possessed; whether they were
kin to those affiliated tribes which have most certainly inhabited the
Americas since prehistoric times; how they came to have cut-and-dried
building specifications in what were equivalent to their breeches'
pockets, they never stop to tell us. One professor glibly remarks,
assuming his Toltec premiss, "While this [the Toltec] race was still
quite at a low stage of civilisation the Aztecs advanced out of the
north from at least 26° north latitude." No conjurer ever produced
rabbit from silk hat with more assurance than the professor produces the
Aztecs "out of the north." That "at least" is distinctly precious. Was
ever such begging of the question? The Aztecs were builders, too! Where
did they get their knowledge? They certainly would have difficulty to
find a hint of it in the vast North American Continent. The truth is
that, stripped of all nonsensical fetish-worship, there is not an iota
of real evidence for this Toltec theory. No Toltec nationality ever
existed; and the explanation of that civilisation which differentiates
the Mayan peoples and their Aztec neighbours from the natives of the
rest of the Americas is to be sought, as we endeavour to demonstrate in
Chapter XV., in an altogether different direction.

Well then, we have no real pre-Conquest history. All that seems certain
is that in Yucatan no kingship in the true sense existed. The land was
ruled by caciques (chiefs), each the head of a tribe or tribal family.
As is natural in such a régime, the predominating power was not always
in the same hands. About 1436 (Bishop Landa, writing in 1556, gives the
date, and this agrees with native tradition) the tyranny of the Cocomes
who ruled over the great city of Mayapan caused a rebellious
confederation of lesser caciques, which ended in the overthrow of the
Cocomes family and the destruction of Mayapan. This--the great event of
the more recent pre-Spanish history of Yucatan--was followed by the
uprise of the chief of Chichen Itza, who thenceforward till the Conquest
maintained predominance. These, the only dates upon which reliance can
be placed, fit in well with the date which we are inclined to assign to
the superb ruins of Chichen, which we describe in detail in a later


[1] While in Mexico City we visited in vain all the map shops
and Government offices in search of a map of Yucatan. All the maps
available were those based on the Mapa de la Peninsula (1887), which we
have proved to be hopelessly inaccurate.



A sea of greengage green, broken by scarce a ripple save where a shark's
fin curves up shiny black in the blazing sun; a semicircle of pale sand,
fringed by brown and mahogany-red boarded barns of warehouses, with here
and there a gaunt brick chimney; a thin belt of palm trees; three wooden
jetties, and beyond, houses stuccoed white and salmon-pink: this is our
first sight of Yucatan's only port, Progreso. There is no harbour, for
the shallows stretch far seaward, and steamers of any draught dare not
come within five miles of the coast.

The outward and visible signs of the town have scarcely come distinctly
into view, and we have barely lost sight in the heat mist of the monster
form of our liner, anchored miles in our wake, when the panting tug has
come alongside the pier and we are for the first time face to face with
Yucatecans. A Yucatecan crowd is a pleasant sight to look upon. Personal
cleanliness, bright-coloured vests and spotless linen breeches are a
welcome change for the traveller who comes from a Mexican port. The
Yucatecan and the Mexican, too, are physically very unlike, and the
difference is all in favour of the former. The crowd which awaits the
tug is a bright, clean-faced, orderly crowd, and as we step ashore, the
luggage touts, many of them remarkably intelligent-looking and handsome
fellows, take your "_No, muchas gracias_," for an answer, which is more
than you can say for the evil-smelling, vulture-faced, blackmailing gang
who throng the quays at such ports as Vera Cruz and Tampico. Alas!
months of sojourn in the land of the Mayans are to alter the first
favourable impressions of that Progreso crowd. Verily are Yucatecans
"Whited Sepulchres"!

And here perhaps it would be as well to define a Yucatecan. The
population of Yucatan, speaking broadly, consists of two classes, slaves
and savages. The former are the Indians, by centuries of brutality
degraded and robbed of that spirit which made them foes worthy of
Cortes's prowess, but still a kindly, hospitable people for whom every
English heart must feel a keen sympathy. The savages are the Yucatecans,
the mongrel people resulting from the early unions of the Spanish with
the Indian women; and if the epithet seems harsh, we would ask our
readers to reserve judgment till they have finished this volume. The
tint of the Yucatecan is that of a half-baked biscuit, but the eyes are
black-brown and often small, and the lank black hair suggests the Indian
crossings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

At the end of the jetty a lofty lich-gate of wood houses _Señores los
Aduaneros_, Messrs. the Customs House Officers. But our passports are
from headquarters and bear a Cabinet Minister's seal, so our baggage is
soon passed. Over the Customs House gate might be written, varying
Dante's terrible line, "All hope of cleanliness abandon, ye who enter
here": for once inside Progreso town you must do battle with tropical
dust at its worst. Through the railway yard, where the sun beats down
with a blistering heat on trucks, mules, and men, you make your way to
the train through filthy little arcaded streets, your boots disappearing
at each footstep in the ill-smelling, garbage-littered compound, your
eyes smarting in the clouds of it you kick up. The station is a barn,
the railway a three-foot gauge, the cars are rickety, low-roofed,
cane-seated yellow wood affairs. From engine to brake van the train is
American-made. There seems little to choose in comfort between the
classes, but for the sake of more elbow-room we "plunge" our three
centavos a kilometre (the usual first-class fare all over Yucatan), a
fraction less than a penny a mile, distinctly cheap if the rolling stock
were better.

As the little train jolts through the outskirts of the town, ringing its
bell, the dust it raises blending with the resinous smoke from the wood
fire of its engine, naked yellow babies look up from their play in the
dirt and scamper into shelter, while female faces peer out between the
iron bars which do duty for glass windows in the one-storeyed-high
flat-roofed houses. Northern Yucatan is as level as an Essex marsh, and
the line runs through miles of country at first glance quite English
with its dense covering of small trees like nut bushes and silver
birches. Nature has been niggard of soil to the whole peninsula, but
perhaps it is around Progreso that you realise most that the Yucatecan
must be content to sow his seed in the "stony ground." The sundried
undergrowth is of cactus, stunted shrubs, and sea grasses. Here and
there this breaks to give way to swamps, rich in purple and white
orchids and golden water plants, fair to look on as the sun touches the
water between the waving rushes, but surely enough the happy
breeding-ground of the "Yellow Jack" mosquito. Then come fields of
henequen or hemp, "the Green Gold of Yucatan,"--the plants like huge
green pineapples with waxy green feathers on top,--enclosed within grey
stone walls like those of Scotland.

As we near the capital (the distance is but twenty-five miles) the
carriages fill up, and you squeeze closer into your caned seat for two
to make room for some fat Yucatecan or his ill-shaped, chalk-faced
powdered dame. In the suburbs of Merida (there are miles of them) the
rail runs between rows of native huts, palm-leaf thatched frameworks of
wood upon which red earth is plastered and then stuccoed or whitewashed.
Each has its garden, evidently the despair of its owner, for dogs, pigs,
and fowls dispute possession of it with tin cans and refuse. But even in
these unfavourable surroundings tropic Nature beautifies with the
greeny-gold leaf of the banana and the heavy-hanging greener crown of
the cocoanut palm. Over all rises a strange vista. Merida might well be
called the "City of Windmills." On each side of the train you see the
horizon literally crowded with air motors for pumping water from the
limestone, and you hear it whispered in a tone of pride by a Yucatecan
to his neighbour that there are in Yucatan's capital 6,000 of these

Merida could claim another alias. "The City of Windmills" might as
appropriately be called "The City of Cabs." And they are curious cabs
too: cabs without sides or backs or fronts; mere frameworks of light
wood with leather tops and cloth curtains all round, which roll up and
button, or roll down and shade the "fare"; spectral four-wheelers, as if
in prehistoric times a London "growler" had emigrated here and
propagated a species of tropical growler, all skin and bones. Dozens of
these hackney phantoms await us in the station yard; the drivers in
spotless loose-flying linen shifts and linen trousers bell-bottomed over
their bare brown feet shod with sandals, their headgear wideawakes of
black or brown felt. The boxes are elaborately ornamented with brass
nails burnished to a dazzling brightness. The back seat (you must not
sit too far back or you will fall out) has room for two, and in front a
shelf like that in a victoria lets down for a third passenger. There are
hundreds of these cabs in Merida, and everybody uses them all the time.
They are not the luxury they are in most capitals, and are quite a
feature of the place. We had understood there is only one hotel in
Merida (it is a libel, for there are three), and, seated in the phantom
car we select, we bowl noiselessly over asphalted roads towards it.

It was on the 6th January, 1542, that amid--one can be sure--immense
bombast of trumpet-blare and drum-beat the first stones were laid of the
"Very Loyal and Noble City of Merida." This is what its charter, granted
by His Most Catholic Majesty Philip II., called it. It is a
double-barrelled misnomer. Merida has no claim to loyalty, for she
revolted from Spain as soon as she conveniently could, and she has never
been loyal to the Republic of Mexico, of which--much against her
will--the country of which she is the capital has formed part, off and
on, since the beginning of the nineteenth century. And Merida is in no
sense a noble city; never has been and never can be. But she is what
perhaps is better--a clean city. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Merida thinks it comes first, and she has let the other virtue lag a
very bad second in her civic race.

But she has not always even been clean. Five years back her streets were
Saharas of ill-smelling dust to your boot-tops in the dry season, and
sloughs of despond in the wet. No one who has not visited Yucatan can
realise the Aladdin-like results of the showers of gold which have
fallen upon this Danaë land as a result of her staple product, henequen;
but directly you enter one of the phantom cabs you come under the spell
of a city which is magically perfect; as unlike any other
Spanish-American town as is possible. The millionaire henequen growers
are so rich that they really do not know what to do with their money;
and so it came about that the ex-Governor Señor Molina conceived the
idea of reupholstering Merida till its founders would never recognise
their handiwork. The shape of the city is much what it was, planned on a
vast chessboard system, all the streets running at right angles and
parallel to one another, forming nine square miles of squat stone-built
houses, almost all one-storeyed, their long windows heavily barred
instead of glazed. But just as a carpet makes a room, Señor Molina saw
that what Merida needed was paving, and so he proceeded to get an
estimate from a French asphalt company. The amount was so huge that his
brother-millionaires on the Council only smiled sickly smiles of
incredulity when he suggested "voluntary contributions." But if their
ill-gotten dollars would not come out of their pockets by fair means,
the Governor determined that they should by foul (at least, that was the
adjective which these much oppressed Crœsuses probably applied to his
methods), and he taxed every bale of henequen loaded at Progreso. In
this way he raised a gigantic sum for the beautifying of the capital,
part of which, no less than thirty million Mexican dollars (£3,000,000
sterling), was spent in paving the streets.

It took between two and three years, and the result is perfection. From
north to south, from east to west, side streets and main streets, for
the full three miles' width of the city, the surface is as smooth as
glass, as clean as marble. Never was there such paving, and never will
there probably ever be again, for there is no parallel to the
circumstances of unforeseen wealth which has come to Yucatan's capital.

We had been favourably impressed by the cleanliness of the Yucatecan
crowds at Progreso, and, as we moved easily and without a vibration down
street after street of well-matched and well-built houses, we rubbed our
eyes and wondered whether we were in a land where it was always
washing-day, for the people on the sidewalks, the people in the passing
carriages, the police at the corners in their trim holland uniforms, the
children playing at the pavement edge, the tradesmen at their
shop-doors, and the boys and girls in their neat linens returning from
school, were so spotless as to beggar all description.

But in the midst of our amazement we reached our hotel, a massive
three-storeyed building in two squares, neatly floored with tiles,
roofless, wide flights of stone steps leading up to galleries from which
was access to the bedrooms, stone-floored, very high-ceilinged, opening
through wooden sunblinds on to small balconies. We were very tired with
our journey, and the coolness of our rooms and the brightness of the
city had such a lulling effect that we were almost persuaded that we had
reached Utopia. There was nothing disquieting in our rooms from the
insect point of view, except a line of harmless-looking small black ants
which were taking an afternoon walk along the tiles at the corner, and
the fact that the small iron bedsteads were enveloped in mosquito-nets.
We had evidently reached Utopia. The air was balmy as we composed
ourselves to sleep that night, and there was not even a mosquito in our

       *       *       *       *       *

Shortly before dawn the next morning (Sunday) we were roused from a
dreamless sleep by a din so terrific that to our half-sleeping wits it
converted itself into a giant tattoo beat on cracked tea trays. We
started up. _Boom-poom_ (a pause). _Pom-m_--_poom-m_. The last was a
ragged-edged sound, as flat as stale soda water, as lifeless as Queen
Anne. Then came a shrill noise such as might be produced by a violent
meeting between a butcher's steel and the treble octave of a "cottage
grand." Then _Pom-poom_ again, and then a noise as if the blacksmith of
"spreading chestnut tree" fame had gone suicidally mad and had spent his
dying fury and the full force "of the muscles of his brawny arms" in one
fell blow on his anvil.

Something must be done; we could not patiently bear this. Perhaps it was
a Utopian form of fire alarm, and we were doomed to cremation in our
mosquito-netting unless we roused ourselves. At this moment our door
burst open, and a fellow-traveller from Vera Cruz, in purple silk
pyjamas, his hair on end, a wild look in his eyes, cried out, "Do you
hear those awful bells?" Bells! Surely--we rubbed our eyes and gazed
open-mouthed at him--surely they weren't bells! What superhuman
intelligence was this he showed at such an early hour. We listened. Yes,
they were (that anvil note again!) meant for--bells; bells as cracked as
any March hare; the cathedral bells too, pounding their awful tea-tray
notes right across the plaza into our windows. We had never heard such
bells; nobody outside Yucatan ever has. It was bedlam in the belfry, and
with our fingers in our ears we walked on to the balcony to see how the
Utopianites were bearing them.

Merida was up, and did not seem to mind the bells a bit. Perhaps they
are an acquired taste; the people in the streets seemed not to notice
the noise, and there was as much crowd as there was din. This bell
scandal was evidently the rift within the Utopian lute; and presently,
thank heaven! the music _was_ dumb, and we were able to watch in peace
from our point of vantage the life of the awakening city. It was a
picturesque scene. The street was alight with bright colours and pretty
faces. The women of Merida were going to early mass. Here were a knot
of palefaced maidens in muslins, rainbow-hued in their variety, pale
blue, rose pink, saffron, heliotrope, white or green--hatless, their
raven-black hair decked with flowers, their service books clasped in
small hands. These were the upper middle-class femininity of the city
(the wealthiest women never walk at all). But a prettier picture still
were the Mestizas (half-castes, the name given by the wealthier
Yucatecans to their lowlier sisters), the beauties of the people, whose
soft skins were coloured a sweet brown by their Indian blood. Their
dress was a long spotlessly white softly-flowing shift of linen,
bordered at neck and hem with embroidery, cut open low round the neck,
and with no sleeves and exposing their bare feet and ankles. It was a
costume which framed their charms in quite a perfect style. And with all
these mingled the Indian women and girls, their complexions a warm
reddish brown, their black hair draped in cotton wraps of blue or brown,
green or pink, thrown sari-fashion round the head and falling over the
shoulders; their bare feet, innocent of shoe tortures, small and dainty,
if a little broad. There were few men and boys about, but those looked
cleaner than ever--spotless in their linens, with felt hats or panamas;
the laddies, in their tight linen knickerbockers with their plump bare
brown legs, looking the picture of boyish health. As the hour wore on,
Indian dames passed on their way homeward from the early market,
balancing on their heads large flat baskets filled with oranges,
bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, eggs, large slices of salmon-fleshed
melons dotted with black seeds, small pineapples, lemons, limes, green
and red peppers and garlic, and often in the midst of this market medley
sat a small hen or two, as contentedly as if they were brooding over a
sitting of eggs.

A wealthy Yucatecan who has travelled much is credited with saying,
"After Merida give me Paris." There is really much to be said for his
patriotic view. Merida is a beautiful city. The vista down the long
street from our balcony, with the gay colours of the girls' dresses, the
snowy whiteness of the men's clothes, the smart brass-decked skeleton
cabs, the soft yellow of the houses (all houses in Merida are by order
painted yellow to prevent the unpleasant sun-glare which white walls
would mean), here and there a waving crown of green peeping over the
housetops from some garden-patio, made a right pleasant picture against
the deep blue of the cloudless sky. But Merida owes none of her
undoubted beauty to her buildings. There are but three worth mention,
and this not from any architectural merits but solely because of their
historical interest. These are the cathedral, the bishop's palace, and
the house of Francisco de Montejo, conqueror of Yucatan. They are all in
the Plaza.

The cathedral is a gaunt pile of plastered mediocrity, with naked façade
flanked by two turreted towers, lair of the accursed bells which had
marred the tropic beauty of the morning. It was completed in 1598 and
cost some £60,000, equivalent to-day to perhaps a quarter of a million.
Within, there is little worth seeing except the twelve immense columns
which support the roof. The hangings and drapings are as tawdry as is
the much begilded altar. The pulpit is dusty, dirty and old, and is
reached by wooden steps literally rotten and in holes. But if there is
nothing worth seeing there is something which is very astonishing. On
each pillar is hung a notice which reads: "_Sirvanse no Escupir en el
Pavimento de este Templo_" ("You are requested not to spit on the floor
of this church"), and on the flooring of the plain yellow-wood seats,
and all along each aisle at the entrance to the pews, are spittoons!
Yes, it sounds incredible, but they are there--right up to the
altar-rails a vista of earthenware abominations such as disfigure the
sanded quaintness of the bar-parlour of an old village inn. In a later
chapter on Yucatecan manners we shall have more to say of the habit thus
officially countenanced by the Church. That perspective of spittoons
from door to altar-rail in Merida Cathedral has probably no parallel in
any country.

The bishop's palace adjoins the cathedral, and bears the date 1757. It
is so hideous in its flat stuccoed plainness that it is really wonderful
that even the Yucatecans do not rebel and raze it to the ground. Beneath
it entrance is obtained by a large double wooden doorway to a
vestibule--opening into the bishop's garden--which forms a Lady Chapel,
where on a trestle, such as those upon which the cocoanut and sweetstuff
men do their roaring trades on Bank holidays at Hampstead, an iron tray
covered with small spikes is provided for the faithful to stick a tallow
dip--value one centavo (a farthing)--in front of a plaster image of the

The house of Montejo--now the property of one of the many branches of
the Peon family, the wealthiest of all Yucatecans--bears the date 1541,
and is thus the oldest building in Merida. The façade is fine, and the
doorway is a typically Spanish representation of militarism plus
bigotry--two knights, armed cap-à-pie, being engaged in the congenial
occupation of trampling underfoot two Indians who "take it lying down,"
as, alas! their descendants are still doing.

Life in Merida is as artificial as--indeed more artificial than--that of
Mexico City. The latter, owing, as we have said, her fashions and her
veneer of civilisation to Paris and New York, is assisted by her size in
still being much herself. Not so Merida. No self-respecting Yucatecan
wants to be himself. All of them are pathetically striving all the time
after a culture which they do not understand, and which fits them as ill
as his dress suit fits the hired butler at a suburban dance. "Scratch
the Russian and you find the Tartar." Most Yucatecans are the vulgarest
of parvenus, and by the least scratching you find the savage. They are
ashamed of their Indian past, and by an exaggerated class-arrogance they
try to widen the gulf between themselves and the Indians, as the
purse-proud woman thinks she will be mistaken for a lady if she calls
every servant a "slut." They love to emphasise their superior wealth by
dubbing their lowlier brothers and sisters mestizos and mestizas. The
truth is the Yucatecans form but one class, and they are all mestizos.
There are few pure Indians in the capital, and those are the domestic
servants of the wealthy families.

You do not see the great contrasts of wealth so marked in Mexico City.
The whole town has an air of prosperity, and it is not an air merely--it
is a fact. During the past twenty years the group of large henequen
growers--about a score--have divided among themselves as a result of
this "green gold," no less than 800,000,000 Mexican dollars. And this
vast sum has percolated through the whole place. Merida is a Monte Carlo
for extravagance and extortion. There is no social standard but £ s. d.
A man is or is not great socially in proportion to his banking account.
Nowhere in the world probably is money so absolutely God as here. We
shall show later what moral effect this fact has had upon the citizens,
and through them upon the whole of so-called civilised Yucatan.
Corruption and venality are rampant. Few races have stamina enough to
resist the corroding influences of sudden wealth. The silver mines of
Mexico proved the knell of Spanish imperial greatness. Lord Beaconsfield
said once, "Only a great man can stand power." In Yucatan wealth is
power, the only power, and the Yucatecans stand it very badly.

In this city of mushroom millionaires everything is naturally very dear.
Food is practically all imported. We had been told that at our hotel it
was impossible to get a square meal for less than five dollars (ten
shillings). It was not quite so bad as that, but for half that sum it is
true enough you could only get just such a snack as an honestly hungry
Briton would regard as a wholly inadequate
quick-lunch-talk-business-while-you-eat style of meal. Few of the
Yucatecans eat out of their own houses, and thus restaurants--at any
rate of the cleanly and better class--are few and far between. Those
which do exist are literally dens of robbers. The traveller in
Yucatan--as indeed in all Mexico--has to learn what to a Briton,
accustomed to more or less trust his fellow-man, is a very unpleasant
lesson, namely that you can trust no one. The only safety on ordering a
meal is to first drive a bargain. You must know down to the smallest
roll or condiment what your repast is going to cost you. No Merida
hotels or restaurants ever attach prices to their menus. They know a
trick worth two of that. Each restaurateur is a gastronomic Procrustes
who cuts his prices according to "the cut" of his customers. An article
served at twenty-five centavos to one diner will at the next table boom
to fifty at the discretion of the subtle waiter. It is very hard to
always remember to do this unpleasant bargaining before you take your
place at a table. But you are literally lost if you do not. On this
glorious Sunday morning we were successfully caught in a place where
they charged four shillings for three glasses of lemonade and three or
four fly-blown cakes. The cakes you would get anywhere for a penny, and
lemons could be bought in the street outside at six a penny.

The streets of Merida are full of life and bustle, the cleanliest of
bustle. Even the blind beggars (blindness is rather common) who crouch
against the walls, with their plaintive cry of "_Pobre Ciego_," are as
neat as a new pin. Smartly varnished mule-drawn tramcars tinkle their
way to and from the suburbs. Outside the railings of the cathedral sit
all day a line of Indian women in front of baskets filled with cakes,
flattish, appetising-looking, sometimes as much as two or three feet
across. Under the arcades of the Municipal Palace, which forms the north
side of the plaza, is a motley scene of life. Here are tiny
cigar-booths; small drinking-counters whereat are dispensed hour after
hour to thirsty crowds "_refrescos_," drinks of squashed fruits--the
deliciously sweet guanabana, limes, cocoanut water, pineapple or
whatnot--and iced waters; withered beldames with baskets of sweets;
lottery-ticket sellers and itinerant booksellers; while at the small
round tables set in the doorways the Yucatecan loafers drink coffee or
the native spirits, and from within the shaded rooms is heard the
eternal _click-click_ of billiard balls (billiards, the French game
without pockets, is a mania in Yucatan) as the young Yucatecans crowd
round the green tables. The edges of the arcaded pavements are occupied
by large chairs on daises; lolling in the chair the Yucatecan lad who
will polish your boots for fifteen centavos. The Yucatecan _jeunesse
dorée_ are dandies if nothing else, and this must be the reason why
there are more bootblacks to the square mile in Merida than in any
capital we wot of. But the lordly bootblack who waits for you to come to
him is not half as picturesque a figure as the peripatetic bootboy. All
day long these little roguish-eyed rascals wander round the plaza
carrying their boot boxes and begging you to let them kneel in front of
you and make your boots like looking-glasses. The boys are all so pretty
and have got such winning smiles that you are insanely inclined to have
your boots blacked every quarter of an hour. Joking apart, boot-blacking
has been reduced to a science in Merida, and the operators put out of
joint the noses of the London Boot Brigade.

Time was when Merida was far more picturesque than she is to-day. In the
old city, when few of the citizens were grand at reading, streets were,
as indeed they were once in London, known by their signs. Thus at one
corner there was a wooden image of a flamingo; this was Flamingo Street.
Another was the street of the "old woman," the corner being decorated
with an effigy, highly coloured, of a bespectacled dame. There was a
Tapir Street adorned with a representation of that queer pig-deer which
still haunts the swampy forests of Southern Yucatan and Chiapas; a Crane
Street, and so on. But all this is a thing of the past. America has
invaded Yucatan even to her street-naming, and Merida, with her 48th and
63rd Streets, with the street-numbers reduplicated on the corners thus:
503, 62nd Street, 503, is as maddening and intricate as New York. Only
one of the old signs remains, that of the elephant.

As you cross the plaza towards the market, it is difficult to picture
what the old city must have been like when roads were not roads and the
plaza, now a wonderfully kept square of grass, flowers and stone, was a
mangy patch of leprous grass dotted with trees, to which were tied mules
which had brought in produce from the country.

But the alterations in Merida are surface alterations. The only wonder
is that the city is as healthy as it is, for there is no attempt at any
general sewerage system, no main drains, and every householder is a law
unto himself on this vital question. Each hot season there are
outbreaks, sometimes very serious, of yellow fever. But the city is a
healthy city; there is no doubt about that. There is a general avoidance
of well-water for drinking purposes, and as a substitute the most
elaborate arrangements are made for storing every drop of rain-water
during the wet season. This is done by every house of any size having
enormous cemented tanks under their patios, the water-pipes from the
roofs connecting with them. Thus the two huge quadrangles of our hotel
were nothing but gigantic reservoirs tiled over. The rainy season
practically never fails Yucatan; and, though not as regular in its
advent as the Indian monsoon, keeps up year by year its average of
supply. Surface refuse is dealt with summarily by the most picturesque
set of road-sweepers imaginable. Neatly uniformed in white drill or
brown holland, they wear pith helmets adorned with metal badges bearing
their number, and look like soldiers. In front of them they push by
means of a long handle a tin shovel, some four feet long, which runs on
neat little wheels. These men are everywhere, and take very good care
that garbage is nowhere. The water-carts, too, are worth a mention:
gigantic wooden hogsheads painted in yellow stripes. These generally
work at night, and take up their supply from huge water-taps which jut
out from the walls of buildings, and upon which the men tie brown
holland piping in the most primitive fashion to fill their carts.

The evenings at Merida are the gayest times, for then all folks, rich
and poor, come out to spend the cool hours in the plaza. There is very
little twilight ever in the tropics, and as soon as the sun is down and
it is dusk enough, the wealthy Yucatecans have a queer habit of sitting
in rocking-chairs outside their houses. A whole group of ladies will
thus take the air in front of the huge doorways of the biggest houses,
surrounded by two or three cavaliers. Later on the carriages are
ordered, and sleepy-eyed beauties drive round and round the plaza in the
dark, apparently enjoying this rather queer form of carriage exercise.
In the centre of the plaza itself the town band assembles, and this is
a signal for a nightly promenade of the humbler Meridians. Nothing can
be more picturesque or typical. The seats are filled for the most part
with the older people; fat old men, linen-suited and besandalled, armed
generally with an incongruous ill-rolled umbrella, smoke and doze;
beside them solid-looking Yucatecan matrons with gold chains round their
necks from which hang gold coins and a metal or ivory crucifix; at their
feet a baby or two, dressed in the shortest of shifts, play about.

But young Merida walks. Yet here again there is something which attracts
the English eye, for there is a complete separation of the sexes. The
girls walk together in twos, threes and fours one way, and the young
dandies, in their spotless white-linen bell-bottomed trousers, belted
with ornamental belts, over which are hung blue and white striped cloths
reaching to their knees like butchers' aprons put on sideways, gaudily
coloured silk-cotton vests and over these white-linen coats, walk the
other. All the youths have a pretty habit of going hand in hand, or with
arms round each other's necks. They are there to see the girls, and in
the hope that the girls will see them. But the curious thing is that you
never see them look at one another. The groups of chatting youths and
maidens pass and repass one another round and round under the trees, in
and out of the paths, and watch as hard as you like you will never see
an ogling glance or catch a hint of that coarse chaff which is
inseparable from such a congregating of lower-class youth of both sexes
in a city like London. It really is quite extraordinary, the naïveté of
it all, the determined way in which the eternal sex problem seems
tabooed here. We sat for hours watching the orderly crowds, and never
once did we see a girl stop in her walk to speak to a man or any youth
attempt to speak or to walk with a maid. It was decorum _in excelsis_.
It reminded one of the famous description of Boston as the place "where
respectability stalks unchecked."

But respectability is usually perilously near being a synonym for
mawkish dullness. Here it was not so. You had absolute decorum; there
was no suspicion of noisy horseplay or hooliganism; there was not the
slightest need for a policeman (as a matter of fact none appeared during
the whole evening) to keep order; and yet the crowd was as perfect a
specimen of the brightest popular life any city could show. They had all
come out to enjoy themselves, and they enjoyed themselves like
children, with a simple unaffected gaiety which was very infectious.
With all their faults the Yucatecans have the saving grace of good
temper, not from a geniality of disposition so much as from a physical
apathy which makes them reluctant to the effort which losing one's
temper involves. And this merry, laughing crowd in the plaza, the simple
unadorned beauty of the dark-eyed lassies, the knots of handsome youths
arms-linked, the plump babies contentedly playing in between the legs of
the strollers, the old people dozing in the shady seats, and the mellow
light from a huge electric standard dappling with a moonlike radiance
the exquisitely cleanly pathways, made such a picture of pleasant
contentment as was quite Utopian. In the darkened roadways the wealthier
beauties of Merida drove round and round the plaza like bats circling
round a lamp. But though there were many of them whose lascivious beauty
would have made most men forswear their most cherished convictions, our
hearts were in the plaza with the chattering, happy crowd, and we were
quite sorry when the band, which, with an extraordinary display of
energy, had played four tunes in two hours, struck work and the folks



Unless one is endowed with the appetite of the proverbial ploughboy
there is surely nothing which puts you off your food more than having
too much on your plate. One's sympathies go out to the irritable old
gentleman at the London club who, having ordered a plate of beef and
getting beef and a plate, snapped out angrily to the waiter, "Do you
think I haven't eaten for a month?" The next worse thing to having too
much on your plate is to have too much on the table. Every traveller
knows the bewildering effect of those breakfasts served on the Paris and
Mediterranean Railway, when seven dishes are placed before you, with
fifteen minutes in which to eat their contents. But though there is no
time-limit for feeding in Yucatan, you have got to get accustomed to the
whole meal, in all its courses, being placed before you at once.

We had brought with us to Merida several letters of introduction, and on
the Monday we presented one of these to a Yucatecan millionaire whom we
ran to earth in his office (he was mayor of the city) transacting
official business. After our preliminary greetings he said, "We
Yucatecans never ask anybody to our houses, but I should like you to see
the interior of a Yucatecan home. Therefore, will you breakfast with me
to-morrow at 11.30?" In fulfilment of this engagement we turned up the
next day in his patio at the appointed hour. The house is one of the
finest in Merida, and is so typical of the people as to be worth a short
description. Entering through the patio, bright with flowering shrubs,
with orange trees loaded with the golden fruit, with palms and
evergreens, you ascend a short flight of stone steps into a long central
tiled hall forming a kind of glorified verandah on two sides of the
courtyard. On the tiles are thrown a few cheap coloured mats. Ranged in
two rows facing each other are eight or ten American bentwood
rocking-chairs. On the walls hang a few oleographs. Here we were
received by our host in a linen suit, and his Señora, a celebrated
Meridian beauty, daintily dressed in a pink muslin frock, the mother, as
we afterwards discovered, of seven children, though she herself looked
little more than out of her teens. One or two other guests, male
relatives, all in cool linens, having arrived, our hosts lead the way to
the further end of the hall, out of which opens the dining-room. Not at
all such a dining-room as we English associate with the sacred
occupation of feeding. It is really nothing but another tiled annexe to
the hall with huge doorway, but without doors (there are no real doors
between the rooms in Yucatecan houses), at which the chickens and
turkeys from the back yard are congregating to see the fun, hopping,
cackling, out of the way of the half dozens of Indian women servants who
are pattering in with bare feet from the kitchen of which you catch a
glimpse down a vista of tiled yard.

But here's the table, and what a spread! There are only eight of us to
breakfast, for it is the children's school hour, and thus they are not
present; but if there were eighty-eight of us we feel, as we look at the
groaning board, that the Indian maids would be able, when everybody's
appetite was satisfied, to gather up of the fragments that remained many
basketfuls. As we take our places, our host perhaps detects the
amazement in our eyes, for he says with a wave of his hand, "I wished
you to have a Yucatecan meal. It is always our custom to have everything
on the table at once." There is certainly everything, almost everything
you can think of. There is a dish of steaks; a stew of rabbit; a great
plate of pork sausages; chickens stewed and chickens roasted; turkey
minced with egg and turkey in _puris naturalibus_; a greasy mess of pork
joints; a great heaped-up mass of venison; a vast soup-tureen of beef
broth; a dish of chopped eggs and tortillas; a huge salted sausage in
red skin, a favourite food of all Yucatecans; a minced mess of meat
known throughout Yucatan as _Chile con carne_; a plate of veal cutlets;
a large boiled fish, the famous red-snapper of the Mexican Gulf; and
last but not least, turtle steaks. And for vegetables there are dishes
of tomatoes, of green and red peppers, of garlick and onions, of black
beans (frijoles) squashed into a greasy dark purple pulp, of snowy
pyramids of rice, of boiled plantains, of sweet potatoes, and boiled
Indian corn. But the sweets are here too; jellies and stewed fruits,
cranberries squashed into a luscious disguise of pipless semi-liquid
jelly fringed round with cream; pineapples stewed in thick slabs, and
peaches floating in a wine-tinted syrup. And among all these _plats de
jour_ (the wonder is that the Indian maids have found room to place them
on the table) are china baskets of fruits, apples from California,
oranges from our host's farm, bananas and banana-apples, peaches and the
purple-brown _caumita_, which looks like a cross between a rosy-cheeked
apple and a nectarine and has a white soapy flesh with a taste which is
somewhat like that of a green fig soaked for an hour in a lather of
delicately scented soap. And to wash down this Gargantuan feast there
were three cut-glass short-stemmed long-bodied goblets beside each
breakfaster, which were kept filled by the Indian maids with red and
white wines, aërated waters, iced lemonade made from the limes from the
patio, fruit drinks, or iced milk.

Bread-throwing at school, if we remember aright, was an offence
punishable with the sixth book of the Aeneid to write out and the loss
of a half holiday as the minimum penalty. In Yucatan it is all the
fashion in the highest circles. No sooner had we taken our places at the
table than an Indian maid brought in, holding them in her brown hands, a
towering pile of soft white doughy tortillas, each about as big as a
large Abernethy biscuit. These she placed at the side of our hostess,
who at once began to throw them to us all. It was so adroitly done that
before you had recovered from the amazement with which the mere act
filled you, you found yourself admiring the exquisite dexterity of the
gentle thrower. Those of our readers who have visited Monte Carlo and
admired, as every one must, the marvellous precision with which the
croupiers flip the golden Louis to the lucky "punters," will be able to
imagine something like the dexterity of our hostess. A tortilla whizzed
circling across the table under your very nose, and landed with
exquisite softness, like a tired dove, at the side of your host's plate.
Whizz, whirr! here comes another! Why, it's like boomerang-throwing, for
this last, you'll swear, circled round you before it sank nestling under
the edge of the plate of steaming pork-stew in front of you. The air is
thick with these doughy missiles. Nobody is the least surprised except
us, and we become quite absorbed in watching the friendly bombardment.
Our host engages us, as the newspapers say, in "animated conversation";
enquires the purposes of our tour, and our theories as to the origin of
the Mayan people. It is hard to give him our whole attention, for we
feel we are losing all the fun. For the tortillas are whizzing over the
table now and round it just like boomerangs, and then the hostess's
supply is exhausted. But here is a plump Indian maid with a fresh
supply, snowy white and softly fluffy, such as would fill a London
muffin man's heart with envy. It is all very funny, and the climax is
reached when your host peels an orange of some very rare flavour, and
offers you the juicy dripping quarter in his fingers, following this up
with a like exhibition of his hospitable wish to share with you his
apple and his peach.

We had defended ourselves as well as we could from the unbridled
hospitality of our host, but all the same we felt like boa-constrictors
who had made an injudicious meal of goats whole, when we packed
ourselves into a skeleton cab to pay a visit of inspection to the Merida
prison, which is one of the sights of the place. The drive thither was
through one of the finest thoroughfares in the city, lined with
substantially built bungalow-houses of stone and stucco, each standing
in its picturesque tropical garden, a mass of bloom and waving
fan-palms. This street debouches upon the broad Avenida de Paz, a
wonderful stretch of asphalt running the full width of the city and
forming its western frontier. Beyond this opens out the really fine
Plaza de Porfirio Diaz, a great oval of lawn intersected by broad paths
of asphalt meeting in a large central space ornamented by a small
artificial lake with fountain. The Penitenciaria Juarez fronts upon the
plaza, a long low building of limestone stuccoed, one-storeyed save over
the central doorway, where a turreted second storey forms the residence
of the President, as the governor of the gaol is called. This official
met us at the doorway. He was a Mexican of about forty, a tall,
handsome, military-looking man, swarthy-skinned, with a big black
moustache. He impressed us very favourably, for there was in the face a
certain charm of frankness and straightforwardness which is not
characteristic of the Mexicans, and is almost wholly lacking in the
Yucatecans. His smile was quite kindly, though behind it it was not
difficult to detect a certain official grimness which suggested a man
capable of anything if duty demanded. He had been imported into Yucatan
because of his reputation as a specialist in the governing of gaols, and
what we saw of the administration of the building under his control
suggested that Yucatan had been very wise in her importation.

Armed with an ordinary walking-stick, in linen suit and a panama hat, he
led the way across the central hall, where loafed half a dozen soldiers
in holland uniforms ornamented with green and white braidings and
wearing a cap of the French kepi type, to the interior of the prison.
The iron gates were unlocked by a convict dressed in a red and white
striped shirt, the President explaining that all the short-term and
good-conduct men wore these, while the more desperate characters have
blue and white striped shirts. From the gateway three long corridors
branched off, and we passed down each in turn. Out of these opened on
each side the cells, small cubicles of stone, their only furniture a
wooden shelf, some three feet wide, let into the wall about three feet
from the ground and supported by two wooden legs. Upon this shelf the
prisoner sleeps, his bed-clothes the simple blanket universal throughout
the country. In the corner of the cell was a small gutter and drain for
washing down the cell, which was ventilated by a small grated window in
the corner furthest from the corridor. At the end of the central passage
was a large stone room where convicts in blue striped shirts were busy
making hammocks. The place reminded one of a hop garden in Kent. There
were long rows of posts, two to each man, between which were stretched
the rough string frameworks of the hammocks, the men passing up and down
between the posts threading the strings backward and forwards like
carpet-weaving. Passing through this, we came into a large garden
quadrangle at the further end of which, in a big shed, scores of
red-striped convicts were busy carpentering. At a signal from the
President's stick the buzzing of lathes and saws stopped, as if by
magic, and the men stood at attention. The superintendent-carpenter was
called up, and explained everything to us, and the President called one
or two of the men to him and asked particulars of their cases. One of
these was a nigger who rejoiced in the British name of John Williams.
With a broad grin which showed his white teeth to the gums, he told us
that he was serving a month's sentence for fighting a man in the street.
All the men looked well cared for and contented.

On the other side of the courtyard was a large washhouse with baths for
the men and big sinks in which the prison washing was done. Close by was
a blacksmith's shop where a score of men were engaged in all sorts of
iron work, much of it quite artistic, the chief job at the moment being
the designing of railings for the outside of the Penitenciaria, which
had been opened only a short time. Here the President told us that much
vigilance had to be exercised to prevent the more desperate men from
using their opportunities to make less innocent things than railings.
Only a few days before our visit one of the workmen had been found in
possession of a bloodthirsty-looking knife which he had manufactured
with the purpose possibly, as the President coolly said, of trying its
metal upon him. Close by, sitting in the garden, were a row of men busy
weaving sacks from henequen fibre. Crossing the yard, we were shown the
kitchens. Here were two or three large circular blocks of masonry, into
each of which were let several coppers or ovens, the fireplaces beneath.
The whole building had a businesslike and cleanly air, and a couple of
convicts were engaged in manufacturing a stew which had a very garlicky
Yucatecan smell. We complimented the President upon these kitchens,
which would certainly very favourably compare with those in even a
first-rate British barracks.

After having inspected an excellent miniature hospital which formed an
annexe in the rear of the gaol, we were taken by the President to his
private room, where from a safe he produced the prison books. These were
most interesting volumes from the criminologist's point of view. To each
prisoner was devoted a page, headed by a photograph of him, stripped to
the waist and with head shaved. Thereunder were entered details of his
crimes, birth, parentage, age, health, weight, and any physical
peculiarities. They do not go in for fingerprints in Yucatan. Two or
three facts struck us as we turned the pages of these truly human
documents. First, there appeared to be no Indians in the gaol. Secondly,
the clean-shaven presentments of the culprits emphasised to a startling
degree the physiognomical lowness of the Mexican type. The majority of
the men--certainly of those imprisoned for the more serious
offences--were Mexicans, and not Yucatecans. Some of them were mere
lads, but one and all had features which suggested the atavism of crime.
They were born murderers. And thirdly, as was logical enough,
four-fifths of the offences chronicled in these books were homicide or
robbery with violence. It was a curious sidelight into the condition of
even this peaceful corner of the Mexican Republic--"that purple land
where law secures not life." We were astonished, too, to notice that the
maximum penalty for murder appeared to be fifteen years' imprisonment.
The President explained that as a rule capital punishment was not
inflicted, but was reserved for parricides and murderers of the most
brutal kind. We ventured to suggest that, in such a land, this was a
somewhat ill-judged leniency. But the President shook his head. He
probably thought that it would make too serious an inroad upon the
population of the Republic if every murderer was shot. The supreme
penalty of the law here, as in Mexico, is always by the rifle bullet,
never the rope.

The President explained in detail the administration of the prison, and
the regulations seemed to be quite Utopian in their mildness. Thus each
prisoner is allowed to see his relatives once a fortnight, and they can
bring him food. During these visits the utmost vigilance is needed to
prevent the smuggling-in of contraband articles, money and so on. As
illustration of this, the President took from his desk a broken tortilla
into which had been kneaded two half-dollars and the tortilla then
cooked. The ruse had been discovered, and now the rule is for every
tortilla brought into the gaol to be broken in two by the guards. The
Gilbertian element, which we had noticed so much in Mexico, was
represented here by the truly astonishing provision of a gaol band,
which discoursed sweet music to the culprits every afternoon. Evidently
our friend the President firmly believed, with Congreve, that

    "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast."

Another benevolent regulation was that by which the prisoners received
on their release all the moneys which they had earned by industries, the
only deduction being for the purchase of materials and the upkeep of the
working sheds. The President took us out to a gallery where were stored
a quantity of really excellently made pieces of furniture, tables,
writing-desks, wardrobes, washstands, chairs, and carved cupboards. In
this way a prisoner on his release is sometimes entitled to as large a
sum as six hundred dollars (£60). Having inspected the school department
where the humanising effects of education were tried upon the criminals,
we were taken up to the roof of the prison to view the method of
guarding it. Between the outside street wall and the inner wall of the
building was a moat some thirty feet wide. In this were stationed at
intervals soldiers armed with rifles. On the outside wall, some two or
three yards broad, paced more armed sentries, who thus commanded an
entire view of the whole prison. In bidding the President good-bye we
said, what we felt, that he was the head of an establishment which did
him the utmost credit, and from the humanising and rational system of
which the English Prison Commissioners might take many valuable hints.

There is a Museum in Merida, a poor affair and badly housed in three
dark rooms; but there were several things we wanted to see specially, so
we made our way thither after leaving the prison. With some
difficulty--for our driver did not appear, with true Yucatecan
stupidity, to know that his city contained such a very unnecessary
adjunct--we ran the national treasure house to earth in a back street,
where a small brass plate on a decayed-looking doorway announced itself
as "El Museo." The director, a middle-aged Yucatecan, whose amiability
was only equalled by his archæological ignorance, was routed out of his
hammock by his little ten-year-old son who opened the door to us, and
sleepily proceeded to do the honours of the place. It is a great pity
that, with such limitless wealth and such boundless opportunities,
Merida has taken no pains to establish a Museum worthy of her position
as the capital city of the Egypt of the New World. What we saw, if it
had not been so sad, would have been really comic. Absolute confusion
reigned. There was no catalogue, the smiling director forming a
peripatetic one. Exhibits bore numbers which were thus meaningless to
every one but himself. It was Mexico Museum over again on a humbler
scale. Wretched pieces of Spanish carved stone-work from the interiors
of churches or from the façades of seventeenth-century houses, were
jumbled up with really marvellous pieces of Indian workmanship, figures
in bas-relief of gods and animals and warriors in feathered dress. But
the good director had not been content with making a hotchpotch such as
one sees in the shop of a dealer in marine stores and scrap-iron. He was
guilty of archæological crime, for on the top of a Spanish church pillar
he had actually cemented a carved Indian head from one of the temples.
In another corner a slab of stone, an eighteenth-century Spanish
coat-of-arms, had joined forces by means of cement with a wonderful
Indian frieze. The result was ludicrous in the extreme; but when we
expostulated with him, he smilingly explained that he had done it to
"prevent them from falling about"!

There was, as far as quantity is concerned, an excellent display of
Indian pottery, incense-burners, water-pots and domestic utensils, and
small stone figures of gods. But these were all lying haphazard in a
case with Spanish pottery and tile work. One of the most interesting
exhibits from the archæologist's point of view is the much disputed
"Cozumel Cross." Found on the island of Cozumel in the seventeenth
century, it was brought to Merida and placed first in the patio of the
Franciscan Convent, then in the Church of the Mejorada, whence it was
removed to its present position. It is a very ordinary stone cross,
standing some three feet high with a two-foot cross-piece. On it, in
half relief, is an image of the Saviour, made of plaster, coloured, with
the hands and feet nailed. Chiefly upon this relic has been based a
ridiculous theory that at some remote date Christianity had been
preached to the Indians and that the worship of the Cross was found to
exist in Yucatan by the Spaniards. The truth is, as the American
traveller J. L. Stephens showed years ago, the "Cozumel Cross" is
nothing but a poorly sculptured piece of ornamentation from the first
Catholic church built in the island of Cozumel by the order of Cortes.
The director made vigorous efforts to convince us of its Indian origin,
but one look at it was enough; and we passed on to an exhibit which was
the special object of our visit.

In Guatemala, around Copan and Quirigua, skulls have been unearthed from
time to time the teeth in which had in some instances been ornamented
with tiny discs of polished jade. The workmanship was of the most
exquisitely precise nature, and the object had evidently been adornment
and not dentistry. When these skulls were submitted to expert dental
surgeons in America, they declared the work so excellent as to be
unsurpassable even with the present-day mechanical devices and
instruments. Since these finds, archæologists have been searching for
years in Northern Yucatan for some skull which exhibited a like dental
ornamentation. A few months before we arrived in Yucatan their
persistent hopes had been fulfilled. About twenty miles to the
north-east of Merida, at a town called Motul, during casual excavations
at a hacienda, a skull was found which now lay before us. Several teeth
in the upper and lower jaw were missing, but in the former two of the
front teeth had let into their centre tiny discs of bluey-green jade so
firmly done that, after the lapse of centuries, the stone still formed a
surface flush with the enamel of the tooth. Since our return to England
we have seen in the British Museum a skull from Ecuador, in which some
of the upper teeth are ornamented in the same way, but with gold.

Only one room of the three was devoted to Indian antiquities, and after
the director had made a special point of showing us a gigantic broken
stone phallus which appeared to interest him and his little son more
than any of the other exhibits,--(characteristically enough, for the
Yucatecans are nothing if they are not phallic worshippers),--we spent a
few minutes in rambling round a medley of cases containing such
incongruities as fœtal monstrosities in bottles of spirits of wine,
pistols which in their youth had had the honour of dangling round the
waist of Yucatecan heroes, a model of a gas engine, examples of
sixteenth-century ecclesiastical furniture, moth-eaten collections of
bugs and beetles, examples of the coinage of all nations (very faulty
collections), and some battered Spanish armour. There is a great deal of
Ego in the Yucatecan Kosmos, and these rooms represented
self-complacency run amuck, with its mementoes of persecuting Catholic
clerics, pseudo-heroes and municipal nonentities; with the tag-rag and
bob-tail of their wretched relics, their chairs, their wigs, their
coats, their walking-sticks, their slippers and their snuff-boxes. On
the walls were a series of ill-drawn pictures representing poor (!)
Spaniards being disembowelled, hanged, quartered, and burnt by ruthless
Indians; and as we made our way to the door, our cicerones pointed out
to us four large wooden wheels which had supported the truck upon which
Dr. Le Plongeon had had the Chacmool he discovered at Chichen, and which
we mentioned in describing Mexico Museum, brought to the coast. If
Merida had not got the statue--and in the circumstances she has probably
not lost much--she at least had the genuine cartwheels.

The attitude of Mexico towards foreign archæologists is that of the "dog
in the manger." This is more particularly noticeable in her policy
regarding the comparatively recent activity of German and American
students in Yucatan. We were the first Englishmen to approach the
Government for permission to cross the Peninsula, but we found ourselves
somewhat the victims of the indiscretions of foreign rivals, whose
conduct during the past few years has gone some way to justify the
churlishness of the Mexicans. The Mexican or Yucatecan is, as a rule, an
illiterate sensualist, who cares not a jot about his country's past and
is incapable of differentiating between a magnificent ruined Indian
palace and the stuccoed carcass of a hideous eighteenth-century church.
Too mean and too indolent to enter upon researches for themselves, they
regard with suspicion and dislike all who would study the ruins. The
passport granted us was none too generous, and its wording made it clear
enough that our archæological enthusiasm was scarcely welcomed.

In accordance with its terms, we had reckoned our most important
official duty in Merida was to call on the Conservator of Monuments. We
expected an Ancient of Days whose talk on Mayan problems would be a
treat. But nothing is as you expect it in this Gilbertian land. We found
the Conservator gently rocking himself amid the orange trees of his
patio. He was a sleek, self-satisfied, shiny-booted, white-waistcoated
young man, good-looking of the barber's-block style. He languidly
informed us that he had never seen the ruins of Chichen: a confession
equivalent to the Keeper of England's Regalia admitting that he had
never set eyes on the Koh-i-noor. Our amazement was so obvious that he
apologetically added that he had photographs. It was irresistibly
reminiscent of poor Dan Leno as private detective, tired of watching the
suspected house, taking a photograph of it and sitting at home in
comfort watching that.

Months later we learned that a bitter battle had been waged in Mexico
City by contending bands of German and American archæologists to
influence the Federal Government to appoint their respective nominees to
the then recently created post of Conservator. What might not result
were the work of guarding and studying the marvellous ruins of Yucatan
in able and competent native hands? The Germano-American battle had
ended in a compromise. As they could not get their special candidates
appointed, they had agreed that it was safest to have a nonentity. The
Federal Government had certainly granted them this favour.



By all means let the sluggard go to the ant, if he feels equal to the
journey; but on no account let him go to Yucatan. For if he ever arrived
at Merida he would never get further. It is only the early bird which
catches a Yucatecan train. Bradshaw would find himself in Yucatan one of
the unemployed, for there is no need of railway tables. All Yucatecan
trains start at dawn, one from each terminus, east, south, and west.
With the rising of the sun there is a setting of railway activity, the
only remaining excitement of the day being the reception of the incoming
train from east, south, or west, which has also started at dawn. Early
rising is accounted a virtue in most countries; in Yucatan it has become
a vice. It may have something to do with sleeping in hammocks.
Everybody, rich and poor, sleeps in hammocks in Yucatan, and until the
last year or two a bedstead, even in Merida, was scarcely known as a
curio, and even now the few existing are restricted to the hotel and one
or two American houses. For even the energetic to get out of a bedstead
"with the sun" is an undertaking, an enterprise, demanding real moral
courage and iron will-power. But the hammock is so different. You give a
sharp twist of the body to the left, raise your feet clear of the
blanket, and, before you know where you are, you are up, or, to speak
more accurately, you are down, for there are falls in plenty for the
uninitiated in hammock-sleeping. But whether it is due to hammocks or
not the Yucatecans are all early birds, though they seem to have no
designs on the early worms; for they simply sit about in the dark and
shudder with cold.

The stars were still bright and it was pitch dark when, cursing the
unearthly hours of Yucatecan railways, we tumbled out of our beds and
into our top boots on the morning of our leaving Merida. There are many
pleasanter occupations than putting the finishing touches to one's
baggage for a long journey in the wilds in a gloom which is almost
Cimmerian. The worst of the Yucatecans is that, having forced you, by
the intemperance of their railway methods, to leave your bed, they do
nothing for you in the way of providing food. Though the barbarians are
all up themselves and the markets opening, you could not get a square
meal for love or money. We were due to catch the dawn train going
eastward, and the irritability born of dressing in the dark had
developed into a sullen despair by the time we reached the station. It
was deadly cold, that penetrating coldness which is typical of the
tropics before dawn, and, as the little ramshackle train jolted through
the suburbs, we wondered at the obstinacy of a people who will get up
early and will not breakfast.

This eastern railway, which now runs as far as Valladolid--a small place
which we shall describe later--had only just been completed on our
arrival in Yucatan. Its total length is some eighty miles. At first the
scenery was much what we had seen in our journey from the coast.
Desolate, flat, stony country, all grey walls and henequen. After about
ten miles of this, the little ill-laid single line enters the forest,
which it thereafter never leaves, except at the clearings for the
stations. Some of these are primitive enough, the platforms merely
mounds banked up at the side of the rail. The monotony of the journey
was broken by one or two humorous incidents. The slowness of Yucatecan
trains is such as to make applicable Artemus Ward's sarcastic suggestion
in regard to the American trains of old times, "that it's no use having
a cow-catcher on the engine, for we shall never catch up a cow. It ought
to be at the rear to prevent the cows from boarding the train and biting
the passengers." We did not literally face this peril, but we did suffer
the indignity of being chased by a pack of barking dogs, and at one
point we had to slow down for a herd of cattle which had blundered from
the woods on to the track and galloped, tails in the air, in front of
the engine for about five miles. After we had been delayed for some
time, further on, by the wood fuel, stored on the tender of the engine,
catching fire, we eventually reached Citas, whence it is some eighteen
miles through the forests to the famous ruins of Chichen Itza. Citas is
a dirty village with a large church. There is something pathetic about
Yucatan's churches. They are all too big for their towns, and look as
much out of it as a boy of sixteen at a child's party. The smallest
village in civilised Yucatan always possesses a large church and a
small official with a big name, _el Jefe politico_, "the political
Chief," a kind of mayor without the sables and the chain of office.
Citas's mayor had very little on but a panama hat and a shirt, but he
was an intelligent fellow to whom, as strangers in a strange land, we
felt gratitude, for he had provided horses and an Indian guide.

It was our first experience of a Yucatecan road, and we were not
impressed. Even the best roadways resemble a Scotch trout stream with
the water dried up. Ledges of rock a foot or more high; stretches, a
quarter of a mile at a time, covered with boulders but a few inches
apart, make riding an absorbing exercise. The horses of Yucatan have
learnt to take matters quietly (they certainly would not last a week if
they fussed), and your mount will balance himself on a rocky promontory,
like a chamois, and deliberately look about for the best place for his
next hoof-step. A hold on the rein in case of a stumble, but no
steering, is the best rule for the rider in Yucatan. If you try to steer
your mount, you come to grief four out of five times; he knows best. The
light was fading with tropical quickness as we rode through the Indian
village of Piste, a ruinous settlement, thrice the scene of battles and
raidings in the native wars of last century. Thence less than a league
lies Chichen, and the road, deep embowered in trees, looked like a
cavern's mouth ahead of us till the moon rose.

We had been riding forty minutes or so, when of a sudden the trees
parted. Looming up, momentarily blotting out moon and sky, rose a mighty
pyramid, rearing its vast mass of ink-black shadow into the silver sky.
As we rode towards its western shoulder, the moon touched with a
glinting light the flat stones of its southern slope and struck on the
huge plinths and door-lintels of the temple which crowned it. Around us,
as our eyes became used to the light, we saw, rising gaunt above the
tree-tops, the crumbling walls and façades of palaces and temples. It
was Chichen! Chichen the magnificent! and this the "Taj Mahal" of
Central America, down the steep steps of which the solemn procession of
priests and victims had passed in their journey to the scene of the
sacrifice! Reining in our horses, we sat there gazing up at this grand
relic of a dead people. Instinctively, one almost held one's breath;
there was something so sublime, so awe-inspiring in this imperishable
monument to perishable gods. What did it all mean? The tyrant priests,
majestic in their bejewelled and befeathered robes, standing at the head
of those now crumbling steps, with supplicatory hands uplifted to the
starlit heavens; the mighty lord of the Itzas, at whose command tens of
thousands had toiled at the building for years in the blistering
sunlight; the gods, to appease whom the blood of human victims had
perchance flowed in rivers before their grotesque idols; all dead,
unutterably dead, impotent, discredited! As we sat there, from the dark
woods echoed the weird long-drawn cry of the Mayan night-jar--the
pubuy--like a spirit-wail over the fallen race.


The history of Chichen Itza before the arrival of the Spaniards is as
vague and as untrustworthy as all else concerning the ancient Mayans. In
a later chapter we shall review the evidence available as to the date of
its building. M. Desiré Charnay labours needlessly to prove that the
city was inhabited at the time of the Conquest. Of that, at least, there
is no doubt. Even if no credence could be given to the report of the
expedition thither of the elder Montejo in 1528, there is a sufficiency
of Spanish documentary evidence to show that the city was not only
inhabited, but the centre of a vast and powerful population in the
twenties of the sixteenth century. But there is no reason to doubt the
truth of Montejo's account of his sojourn there which has been outlined
in Chapter III. He found Chichen the metropolis of the vast tribe of the
Itzas. The Spanish historian Herrera asserts that Montejo had a return
of the population taken with a view to apportioning the Indians among
his soldiers as slaves, and that each Spaniard became master of between
two and three thousand. Montejo's troops possibly numbered on his
arrival at Chichen some 350, and this would make the census of Indians
work out at something like a million. This is obviously a gross
exaggeration, for even if there was any evidence that Montejo succeeded
so completely in subjugating the Itzas as to be able to enslave them, we
are quite certain from a careful personal survey of the district, that
the country around never could have supported, any more than it could
to-day support, so many inhabitants.

But as a matter of fact it is thoroughly clear that though Montejo
succeeded in making a lodgment at Chichen and possessed himself of the
principal buildings, occupying these for something like two years, the
vast horde of Indians were not in any sense conquered, but had simply
temporarily withdrawn into the surrounding woods and village suburbs of
the city. Unable in the face of firearms to recapture their palaces, the
natives played a waiting game, setting about slowly but surely to starve
the Spaniards into submission. Weakened by months of privation, with
every square mile of woodland thick with his enemies, Montejo's position
became at last desperate, and there was nothing for him but to evacuate
the city. This was done in a picturesque way. Choosing a dark night,
Montejo collected his men, keeping the sentries on the walls till the
last moment, and then, muffling with cloths the horses' hoofs, he tied a
dog to the bell-rope attached to the clapper of a bell, putting a piece
of meat a few feet away, but just out of his reach. Stealthily the
war-worn Spaniards moved off into the woods, and naturally, as the dog
saw them going, he pulled at the rope, thus ringing the bell. When they
were actually out of sight the dog presumably scented the meat, and
thereafter throughout the night made efforts to reach it, ringing the
bell the while. This ruse entirely succeeded, the Indians believing
their enemies still in camp; and it was not until their suspicions were
aroused by the continuous ringing of the bell until dawn that they
approached the buildings and found them deserted. But it was too late,
and the Spaniards on their horses were able to make good their escape to
the coast.

At the hacienda a kindly welcome awaited us from Mr. Edward Thompson,
Consul-General for America in Yucatan, who has for some years been the
owner of the property. A keen archæologist, he pluckily entered into
possession of the estate some fifteen years ago when the neighbourhood
had long earned an unenviable reputation. The last two haciendados and
their families had been massacred by the revolted Indians and the house
pillaged. Even to-day Chichen, which practically stands on the
borderland of the disaffected eastern district of the Peninsula, is not
as peaceful as it looks. A fortnight before our arrival a village some
thirty miles off called Xocen had been raided and burnt. But these
outbreaks do not distress Mr. Thompson, whose sympathies are with the
Indians, and who, speaking Maya like one of them, is beloved by all
around. An experienced traveller himself, Mr. Thompson gained our hearts
at once by introducing us, as soon as our greetings were over, to a
palm-thatched bathhouse in his garden, where in a stone trough we
revelled for some time in the pleasures of cold water after our dusty,
burning ride.

With the dawn we were up and out at El Castillo, to use the stupid
Spanish name of the great pyramid. It loses none of its majesty in the
daylight. It is a truncated pyramid close on 100 feet high, squared
almost to the four cardinal points, but not, we believe, orientated; the
northern side being the front because in that direction lies the Sacred
Cenote which we shall describe in a moment. The four base lines are
each, as near as can be, 200 feet long. On each of the four sides were
gigantic staircases. That on the west, still in fair preservation, up
which we must climb directly, is 37 feet wide. That on the north was 44,
but this latter and that on the east are so entirely destroyed as to be
barely traceable. The stairs on the south, about 40 feet wide, are much
broken and overgrown by cactus and shrub. The pyramid is built of rubble
and earth, and was completely faced with flat-hewn slabs of limestone
about 5 feet by 4 and 4 to 6 inches thick. In places these are still in
position. This is particularly the case with the south front. The four
corners were evidently once dressed with rounded stone blocks from top
to bottom.

It is difficult to exaggerate the magnificent appearance the mound must
have once presented. The stairways, which are so steep as to appear in
some places almost perpendicular, were balustraded, each balustrade
ending on the ground in those gigantic carved stone serpent-heads, the
jaws wide gaping, which we find again and again in Mayan ruins. The
climb of the 120 steps, on the average about 9 inches high and 8 broad,
is an undertaking before which any one not a practised Alpine climber
might be excused for quailing. Pausing for breath at the eightieth step
and looking downwards, your head reels; for the edges of the steps
appear to merge into one another by reason of their steepness, giving
one the feeling of being perched, fly-like, on the face of a grey cliff.
On reaching the top step, a few feet of platform separates you from the
temple. Climbing as you have been from the western side, the real
one-time grandeur of the sanctuary does not strike you. It is not the
front, and you must pass to the north, where was the state entrance to
the Holy of Holies. This is 20 feet wide and the lintel of the gigantic
doorway is supported by two pillars, 8-1/2 feet high, carved with a
snake pattern and once ending at the base in snakes' heads,
open-mouthed, the now empty eye-sockets having once been filled with
brilliantly painted stone or pieces of polished jade. These heads are
broken up, and only enough remained for the tutored eye to reconstruct
the whole. Entering, you are in a now roofless room running the full
length of the building east to west, 40 feet long and 6 broad. In front
of you is a second doorway, its massive door-posts carved with life-sized
figures of warriors in full ceremonial dress. By this you enter the
central room, 20 feet by 12. Two pillars, each 1 foot 10 inches square,
carved on every side with life-sized figures of warriors or priests in
feathered costumes, support beams of sapota wood, once carved, but now
too decayed to permit of the designs being traced.

There is no doubt that the building formed a temple. The religious
nature of the Castillo must be indubitable to any one standing in front
of it. Whether the bloody rites which are known to have been celebrated
by Moctezuma's people in honour of Huitzopochtli, God of War, on the
pyramids of Mexico had their equivalent on Chichen's mound is a very
different matter. There is really no proof for or against. And if it
were argued that the fact that there is no altar stone within, as is the
case, goes far to prove that there were no such rites, there would be no
value in such negative evidence. If bloody deeds in honour of a
Sun-Deity were here enacted, possibly the flattened serpents' heads at
the outer door, which would have been in view of the congregated
thousands on the plains below, formed the butcher-blocks upon which the
victim's palpitating heart, after his breast had been sliced open with
the silex knife, was torn from its tissues to be burned as an offering
to the god in the inner Holy of Holies; while the body, scarcely
lifeless, was pitched (as some writers who value the picturesque rather
than the accurate would like us to believe) down the steps to be
sacramentally eaten by the worshippers. On the other three sides of the
building runs a corridor 6 feet wide, three doors with sculptured jambs
facing almost due south, east, and west.

A woodland path, in places wide enough to merit the title of road, and
here and there showing signs of an ancient cementing, leads from this
grimly majestic shrine of fallen gods to perhaps the grimmest pool in
the world. Yucatan is peculiar in being riverless and lakeless. Rivers
and lakes there are, but these are all subterranean, generally from
fifty to two hundred feet beneath the surface. But dotted over the
Peninsula are deep holes or water-caves, reservoirs carved by nature out
of the limestone and fed by these underground sources. For these the
Mayan Indian name is "cenote," and they are often huge. Two of the
largest are at Chichen. Indeed the very name is due to them; for "_chi_"
is "mouth" and "_chen_" is "wells." Thus _Chichen_ was the city at the
"mouth of the wells."

But only one of Chichen's natural wells served as water supply. This
flower-bordered path we follow leads to the Sacred Cenote, round which
grim rumours have long collected; rumours which it is now our privilege
to confirm as facts. As we approach, the trees on either side give a
denser shade. A few yards further and the path debouches into a small
semicircular space with tiers of stone running round it to the left,
suggestive of a tiny amphitheatre. In front of you is a small stone
building, one-roomed, possibly the scene of the penultimate acts of the
terrible dramas played so many centuries back in this tropic woodland. A
step more and you are on the brink! Hold the branch of that sapota
sapling fast, for the fall is sheer! Seventy feet below you in a huge
limestone basin, two hundred feet or more in diameter--so nearly a
perfect circle that as you look into it you find it hard to believe it
has not been engineered by man, that it has worn thus from the
infinitely slow corrosive action of the rainfall and natural drainage
water--seventy feet beneath you lies the black, still water. It is an
inky black. High above it on the limestone sides of the great hole
sprawl ferns, cactus, and orchid; higher still, fringing its verge,
thorn-bushes and pale-green acacias, the grey-barked sapota, and the
heavy-leafed ceibo-tree raise their branches into the sunlight. But the
sun never touches that gruesome, deadly still, pitchy lake. Its very
glassy stillness sends a shudder through you. In its sepia depths what
wonder that Mayan priest and people saw the home of the terrible Rain
God, at whose will the land might smile with plenty or the spectre of
famine lay his bony hand on the shrinking townsfolk?

From the earliest days of the Spanish invasion to the present time
rumour has been busy in circulating many gruesome stories of the exact
sacrificial uses to which this terrible pothole in the limestone was put
by the ancient Mayan Indians. If Montejo the elder, during his stay at
Chichen in 1528, was cognisant of human immolation in the cenote, he has
left no record of it. But this is no evidence that he was not, because,
like most of his fellow-adventurers in the New World, he left no
chronicles at all. The probability is, however, that he knew nothing
accurately and certainly witnessed no sacrificial rites, for during the
foreign occupation of their city the ritual of the Indians would almost
certainly be in abeyance, or at any rate practised with the utmost
secrecy. The first actual written Spanish testimony to the sacred
character of the pool appears to be that of Bishop Landa in his
_Relación de las Cosas de Yucatan_ (1556). He writes: "A good wide road
led to a well into which in times of drought the natives used to throw
men, as indeed they still do, as an offering to their deities, fully
believing that they would not die, even though they disappeared.
Precious stones and other valuable objects were also offered; and had
the country been rich in gold, this well would contain a vast quantity,
because of the great veneration of the natives for it.... On its bank
rises a small building filled with idols in honour of all the principal
deities in the country, exactly like the Pantheon in Rome. I cannot say
whether this is an ancient practice or an innovation of the aborigines,
who find here their idols to which they can bring their offerings. I
also found sculptured lions, vases, and other objects, which from the
manner they were fashioned must have been wrought with metal
instruments; besides two statues of considerable size of one single
block, with peculiar heads, earrings, and _maxtli_ round their loins."

The bishop's remarks were based, obviously, on an actual visit he paid
Chichen and upon such tittle-tattle as he could obtain from the Indian
peasantry. A more serious notice of the cenote is contained in a report,
clearly inaccurate in detail and based on hearsay, which was drawn up in
1579 by the Spanish Governor of Valladolid and transmitted to Madrid. It
runs as follows:--

     "Eight leagues from this town stand some buildings called
     Chicheneca. Among them there is a _Cu_ (Maya name for pyramid) made
     by the hand of hewn stone and masonry, and this is the principal
     building. It has over ninety steps and the steps go all round so as
     to reach to the top of it; the height of each step is over
     one-third of a _vara_[2] high. On the summit stands a sort of tower
     with rooms in it.... This _Cu_ stands between two zenotes of deep
     water. One of them is called the Zenote of Sacrifice. They call the
     place Chicheneca after an Indian named Alguin Itza who was living
     at the foot of the Zenote of Sacrifice. At this zenote the lords
     and chiefs of all the province of Valladolid observe this custom.
     After having feasted for sixty days without raising their eyes
     during that time even to look at their wives nor at those who
     brought them food, they came to the mouth of the zenote and at the
     break of day they threw into it some Indian women, some belonging
     to each of the lords, and they told the women that they should beg
     for a good year in all those things which they thought fit, and
     thus they cast them in unbound; but as they were thrown headlong in
     they fell into the water, giving a great blow on it; and exactly at
     midday she, who was able to come out, cried out loud that they
     should throw her a rope to drag her out with, and she arrived at
     the top half dead, and they made great fires around her and
     incensed her with copal, and when she came to herself she said that
     below there were many of her nation, both men and women, who
     received her, and that raising her head to look at some of them
     they gave her heavy blows on the neck, making her put her head
     down, which was all under water in which she fancied were many
     hollows and deeps; and in answer to the questions which the Indian
     girl put to them, they replied to her whether it should be a good
     or bad year, and whether the devil was angry with any of the lords
     who had cast in the Indian girls, but these lords already knew that
     if a girl did not beg to be taken up at midday it was because the
     devil was angry with them, and she never came out again. Then
     seeing that she did not come out, all the followers of that lord
     and the lord himself threw great stones into the water and with
     loud cries fled from the place."

During the succeeding centuries there is no record of any effort on the
part of the Spaniards to solve the mystery surrounding the well. This is
not at all surprising, for from the first they took no kind of interest
in questions affecting the Indian past of the country, and their innate
avarice was not awakened by any well-founded suggestion that jewels and
the precious metals had been cast as offerings into the Zenote. The
mineral poverty of Yucatan was so obvious as not to permit of such a
belief gaining currency, as is clear from the quotation given above from
Bishop Landa. But there was another and a stronger reason why the pool
should hold its secret fast. This was the extraordinary mechanical
difficulty of dredging operations. As has been said, the height from
the brink of the cenote to the water-level is seventy feet, and the
basin is a complete and precipitous circle all round; there thus being
no means of reaching the water except by some elaborate contrivance of a
crane nature. M. D. Charnay in 1881 provided himself, in anticipation of
his visit to Chichen with two automatic sounding machines, one of which
was capable of bringing up half a cubic metre deposit. Owing, however,
to the height of the cenote walls, the depth of the water, and the
enormous detritus of centuries, he could do nothing. It has been
reserved for our good friend Mr. Edward Thompson, whose earnestness is
only matched by his persistence and his contempt for difficulties, to
wrest from this ugly hole the full measure of its secrets. Some twelve
months back he had set up an elaborate crane apparatus worked by
hand-winches which, projecting considerably over the cenote, and moving
in a large half-circle, supported a heavy iron dredger. By means of this
machinery dredging over the whole surface of the well-bottom has been
done to a considerable depth.

The water, regarded still by the superstitious Indians as fathomless, is
at present thirty feet deep, but was probably deeper once. The dredging
operations have disclosed the bottom of the cenote to be an accumulation
of earth and vegetable refuse, into which Mr. Thompson has been able to
probe to the depth of over thirty feet. These investigations have once
and for all established the fact that the pool was the scene of
countless human sacrifices. The quantity of skulls and bones brought up
by the dredger admits of no other explanation. For if it was urged, as
it may be, that such "finds" point possibly to the cenote having been
put to a sepulchral use, the answer is provided by the character of the
skulls and bones. In a pool which was regarded in the light of a
national Valhalla the majority of the skeletons would almost certainly
be those of men, and men, too, of advanced age, chiefs and war-worn
tribal heroes. But this is not the case. With scarcely any exceptions,
the bones are those of the young. We were privileged by the courtesy of
Mr. Thompson to see and handle many of the skulls, and our examination
of them satisfied us that they were one and all those of young females
between twelve and sixteen years of age. The disarticulated bones all
exhibited a like immaturity and sex. From these facts only one deduction
is possible, namely that sacrifices in the cenote did occur, and that
such sacrifices were of young girls who were hurled by the priests into
the chasm, possibly after defilement by the high-priests in the small
building at the pool's edge, thus symbolising the simultaneous surrender
of virginity and life to the Rain Deity.

It is of course impossible to say for how many centuries before the
Spanish Conquest this practice prevailed, but allowing for the natural
tendency of the bodies to entirely decay during anything like such a
vast period as some writers would suggest is represented by the life of
Chichen as a city, the quantity of skulls found in fair preservation
seems to indicate a comparatively frequent repetition of this cruel
rite; probably many maids each dry season. These grim mementoes of the
pagan past are not the only "finds" the cenote has yielded. While the
dredging has more than corroborated Bishop Landa's supposition that the
mineral poverty of Yucatan forbade the hope that countless ounces of
gold and silver lay hidden in the pool's muddy bottom, many
archæological treasures have been recovered. There is much reason to
believe that, aided by these, Mr. Thompson will be able to give the
world an absorbingly interesting reconstruction of pre-Conquest life in
Chichen, pieced together with that painstaking zeal which has
distinguished all his previous work in other parts of Yucatan.

To these "finds" we shall have reason later to refer more in detail, but
of one thing we would speak here. An enormous quantity of lumps of
copal, a resin obtained from several small trees or shrubs of tropical
America with compound dotted leaves, known to botanists as the order of
Burseraceae, have been dredged up. This copal was used as incense in the
Mayan temples, and it is certain that it was regarded as very precious,
for there is evidence that tributes to overlords were paid by vassal
tribes in so much weight of this resinous gum. There thus seems little
doubt that part of the ritual at the cenote edge was the casting in of
lumps of copal as offerings to the god, and it is more than likely that
this custom is referred to unconsciously by the Spanish official
reporting in 1579, when he says that "all the followers of that lord and
the lord himself threw great stones into the water and with loud cries
fled from the place." The pieces of copal recovered are in some cases as
large as a human head.

About one hundred and thirty yards to the south-west of the great
pyramid is the building known as the Tennis-Court. Running north to
south are two immense parallel walls 274 feet long, 30 feet thick, 25
feet high, and 120 feet apart. At each end, some 30 yards from the
walls, stand buildings roofless and wall-less on the Tennis-Court side.
That on the north still shows traces of elaborate carvings from floor to
roof, and on two pillars, where was once a doorway, are figure carvings.
The building to the south is not so richly decorated. The clue to the
purpose of this vast enclosure is given by a massive stone ring
projecting from the eastern wall 20 feet from the ground. A
corresponding one on the west side has fallen and lies among the bushes.
We found its measurements to be 3 feet 11 inches in diameter, 11-1/2
inches thick, and the diameter of the ringhole 1 foot 7 inches. The ring
still in position is obviously of the same measurements: it can be seen
in the photograph reproduced. On the flat surface and on its edges each
ring is carved with two serpents intertwined. These rings formed an
essential part of a ball-game, which seems to have been common to the
Mayan peoples in Yucatan and the Aztec subjects of Moctezuma in Mexico.
The native name for this pastime was _Tlachtli_.

The Spanish historian Herrera, in describing the amusements at the Court
of Moctezuma, has a detailed account of the game. He writes (we follow
the translation adopted by J. L. Stephens): "The King took much delight
in seeing Sport at Ball, which the Spaniards have since prohibited,
because of the mischief that often happened at it; and was by them
called Tlachtli, being like our Tennis. The ball was made of the gum of
a tree that grows in hot countries, which, having holes made in it,
distils great white drops, that soon harden, and, being worked and
moulded together, turn as black as pitch. The balls made thereof, though
hard and heavy to the hand, did bound and fly as well as our footballs,
there being no need to blow them; nor did they use chaces,[3] but vy'd
to drive the adverse party that is to hit the wall, the others were to
make good, or strike it over. They struck it with any part of their
body, as it hapned, or they could most conveniently; and sometimes he
lost that touched it with any other part but his hip, which was look'd
upon among them as the greatest dexterity; and to this effect, that the
ball might rebound the better, they fastened a piece of stiff leather on
their hips. They might strike it every time it rebounded, which it would
do several times one after another, in so much that it look'd as if it
had been alive. They play'd in parties, so many on a side, for a load of
mantles, or what the gamesters could afford, at so many scores. They
also play'd for gold, and feather-work, and sometimes play'd themselves
away, as had been said before. The place where they played was a ground
room, long, narrow, but wider above than below and higher on the sides
than at the ends, and they kept it very well plastered and smooth, both
the walls and the floor. On the side walls they fix'd certain stones,
like those of a mill, with a hole quite through the middle, just as big
as the ball, and he that could strike it through won the game; and in
token of its being an extraordinary success, which rarely hapn'd, he had
a right to the cloaks of all the lookers-on, by antient custom, and law
amongst gamesters; and it was very pleasant to see, that as soon as ever
the ball was in the hole, the standers-by took to their heels, running
away with all their might to save their cloaks, laughing and rejoicing,
others scouring after them to secure their cloaks for the winner, who
was oblig'd to offer some sacrifice to the idol of the Tennis Court, and
the stone through whose hole the ball had pass'd. Every Tennis Court was
a temple, having two idols, the one of gaming, and the other of the
ball. On a lucky day, at midnight, they perform'd certain ceremonies and
enchantments on the two lower walls and on the midst of the floor,
singing certain songs, or ballads; after which a priest of the great
temple went with some of their religious men to bless it; he uttered
some words, threw the ball about the Tennis Court four times, and then
it was consecrated and might be play'd in, but not before. The owner of
the Tennis Court, who was always a lord, never play'd without making
some offering and performing certain ceremonies to the idol of gaming,
which shows how superstitious they were, since they had such regard to
their idols, even in their diversions. Moctezuma carry'd the Spaniards
to this sport, and was well pleas'd to see them play at it, as also at
cards and dice."

This account by Herrera of the temples surrounding the playground would
be as accurate if it purported to be a description of Chichen instead of
Mexico. The two roofless buildings which we found north and south of the
court certainly suggested temples, but a more elaborate confirmation of
the religious element in this ball-game is found at the southern end of
the eastern wall, where stands another building larger than either of
those described. This is called "The Temple of the Tigers," from a
frieze design, marvellously lifelike, of jaguars (always called tigers
in Yucatan) pacing after one another. The building is built to the same
level as, and indeed forms part of, the wall of the Tennis Court. Its
position, with serpent-columned doorway, facing the arena, indicates
that it, too, figured in the ceremonies of the ball-game. Of the front
room nothing remains but the two columns and the back wall, out of which
latter a doorway leads into an inner apartment. Here are the most
remarkable Mayan paintings so far discovered. They cover, or, to be
accurate, they once covered (for they are much mutilated), the whole
wall space. The colours used are green, red, blue, a reddish brown (the
colour of the human skin in all Mayan paintings), and yellow. The
designs are coarse in outline, the colours are faded, the plaster is
chipped; but the humanity of it all holds you. The method employed in
these mural paintings was that of placing one layer of pigment over
another. Thus a green shield with yellow bosses studding it was depicted
by the shield being first painted entirely over with green, discs of
yellow chalky pigment being then placed on the green background. This
method, which at the time of the actual painting obviously must have
added to the glowing realistic effect, has its grave disadvantages in
the detaching of these superimposed layers of paint by crumbling during
the passage of centuries. Thus much of the original skill of the design
is for ever lost to us.

But it is all very human. Life as it was lived, loved and struggled for;
life with all its work and its play, its lights and its shades; the
drama of life in those far-off Indian days, is here pictured for you.
The long-dead past lives again in that crumbling fresco. By the magic of
even that crude draughtsmanship you are transported back through the
centuries into the living city. Close at hand you seem to hear the weird
chanting of the priests, to smell the resinous incense; from the
steaming plain below rise the sounds of hut-life, the grating of the
stone rolling-pin (universal sound in every Indian village) on the
_metate_ or stone tray as the housewife crushes the maize, the cries of
playing children, the barking of the housedogs, the crowing of the
cocks. You seem to catch the echo of sharp words of command, of the low,
long-drawn, grunting cries of the toilers as they drag huge plinths up
the newly banked sides of the pyramid; while from the distant quarry
comes the incessant "tap-tap-tap" of nephrite chisels as the masons
shape the vast blocks of limestone. On the other wall the artist shows
you warriors, shields and flint-headed spears in hand, in the full crash
of battle; while above them the women have come out upon the
battlements of the city to watch the struggle. Truly is there nothing
new under the sun. To one's mind come those lines of Matthew Arnold:

    "Men shall renew the battle on the plain;
    To-morrow, as it hath been, it shall be;
    Hector and Ajax shall be there again;
    Helen shall come upon the walls to see."

Scrambling down the broken wall to the ground-level, at the back of this
painted room is another looking towards the pyramid. The back wall, all
that remains, is covered with figures of warriors carved so closely that
it is hard to follow the design in the blaze of sunlight.

But there is one figure which demands attention. In the centre of this
bas-relief is the presentment of a man who is distinguished from those
around by the fact that he wears a beard. This is very curious and very
important. Beards were never worn by the ancient Mayan Indians, as
indeed they are never worn to-day. In fact, physiologically the Mayan
cannot grow a beard, or at least a beard of anything but the mangiest
and most scrubby nature, a fact which is evidence of that Mongolian
blood which he shares in common with the American Indians of the North
and South. But beards are said to have been worn by the priestly caste
attached to the worship of the Mexican deity and culture-hero
Quetzalcoatl. This divinity, it has been believed, can be identified
with the Maya god Itzamna, and this belief certainly gains support from
the appearance of this bearded figure on the sculpture of Chichen, the
work of a beardless race.

In front, where the doorway of this temple once stood, are two square
carved pillars, not monolithic, but built of slabs a foot or more thick;
but the topmost slabs have come away and lie on the ground. Between
these pillars, the back hollowed as if for a ceremonial seat, is the
much broken form of a tiger (jaguar). Between this building and the
pyramid are heaps of fallen stones, and in the dense bush we find and
photograph huge slabs of limestone 3 or 4 feet square and more than a
foot thick, upon which are carved quite brilliantly lifelike
representations of a much bewhiskered jaguar and a parrot eating a nut
of the mamey tree. Among these littered stones are, too, many serpents'
heads and pieces of a curious frieze decorated with skulls and

Standing on the top of the Castillo platform, looking northeastward, one
sees shining white amid the trees the pillars of what is known as the
Temple of the Tables, so called in allusion to its chief feature, a
series of tables, huge stone slabs supported on Atlantean figures. These
latter are of extraordinary interest. They have the square, severe
Egyptian headdress and fillet, and so closely resemble in features and
general appearance the Sphinx-forms of Egyptian mythology that one
starts back in amazement on first seeing them. One curious thing, too,
is that a close examination shows an extraordinary diversity of feature.
Whoever the sculptor was, he was not content with producing a
stereotyped face, but actually aimed at and obtained a series which one
might reasonably guess to be portraits. But of these squat figures, more
when we come to our conclusions as to who the Mayans were.

Away to the north of the Castillo, but a few yards from the path which
leads to the Sacred Cenote, is a small ruin known as the Temple of the
Cones, because in front of it are perhaps a hundred small cone-shaped
stones about 2 to 3 feet long, looking for all the world like the
10-inch shells fired from modern artillery. Some writers have found a
suggestion of phallic worship in these, but the close inspection we made
convinced us this is not the case.

To the east of the Castillo in the dense woods are an extraordinary
series of short columns, the difficulty of explaining which has so far
defeated all students. Hundreds of these columns, now broken and
scattered, built, as all the columns at Chichen are, of square slabs
mortared on to each other, appear to have stood in rows five or six
abreast, and some 12 feet apart each from each, forming the sides of an
immense square. These columns would seem to have been finished by plain
square capitals which lie about here and there. The most reasonable
suggestion offered in explanation of these groups of pillars, none of
which evidently exceeded 6 feet in height, is that of M. Charnay, who
was at Chichen in 1881. He believed them to mark the site of the
market-place of the ancient city, and found in the columns the supports
for that low colonnade which, he pointed out, was known to have bordered
the market-places in Mexico at the time of the Conquest. He quoted
Clavigero, who wrote: "In Mexico the judges of the commercial tribunal,
twelve in number, held their court in the market buildings, where they
regulated prices and measures and settled disputes. Commissioners
acting under their authority patrolled the market-place to prevent
disorder." The position of these strange columns at Chichen, in the very
heart of the old city, as they must have been, within a hundred yards of
the Castillo, certainly seem to support M. Charnay's guess, and there is
no difficulty in believing that a large arcade supported by rows of five
columns abreast ran round the market-place to afford shelter from the
sun to those who, like the judges mentioned by Clavigero, had by reason
of their duties to be there all day. M. Charnay, however, does not
attempt to explain what has become of the roof of such arcade, for there
is no sign of it among the littered stones. The explanation undoubtedly
is that the roof would have been formed not of stone but of a framework
of light beams thatched with palm-leaves, the thatch periodically
renewed, as is the case to-day with every Indian hut where the thatching
lasts little more than a year. This roofing of the arcade would have of
course long ago entirely rotted away.

In the woods to the south-east of the Castillo are a series of ruins
which, while intrinsically interesting, are perhaps of most value in the
discussion as to the actual age of Chichen. We shall refer to them in a
later chapter, and at present would content ourselves with saying that
we believe them to represent an older Chichen than that which flourished
at the time of Montejo's visit. They consist of a series of mounds some
30 feet high, crowned with now ruined buildings. In their midst are two
temples. The first is very remarkable. Its roof has gone, but the
majestic carved pillars, 10 feet high, which supported it are still for
the most part in position. Here Mr. Thompson recently unearthed a
life-sized recumbent statue of the Chacmool type to which a reference
was made in our description of the Museum at Mexico City. Its head is
half turned, and its features and headdress are those of the Atlantean
statuettes. A hollow in the body between the navel and ribs, three
inches wide by three-quarters of an inch deep, suggests a receptacle for
incense-burning; the figure probably being altar and idol combined.

To the immediate south of this, with the walls nearly adjoining, is a
second temple, now roofless. Against its southern wall stand three
carved pillars some 10 feet high, but the peculiar feature is a platform
3 feet high and 5 feet wide and 12 feet long on the north side which has
all the appearance of an altar; while a second feature, which we saw
nowhere else in Yucatan, was a terraced ledge at the eastern end about
4 feet wide running the full width of the building and approached in its
north-east corner by a flight of five stone steps well laid. Still
further to the south of these twin temples were two mounds parallel to
each other about 50 yards apart. Owing to the dense growth of bush
accurate measurements were difficult; but each appeared to be between 40
and 50 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 25 to 30 feet high. Excavations on
the second one showed three small stone houses, apparently

In the woods to the south of the Castillo are a group of large and
well-preserved ruins. First the "Red House," a literal translation of
the Indian name _Chichanchob_, in allusion to the extensive colouring of
the inner walls. The building, which is 43 feet long and 23 deep and has
a richly ornamented cornice, stands on a low mound 62 feet long and 50
odd wide, approached by a stairway 20 feet wide. It has three doors
admitting to a room running the full length of the building; and out of
this again there are three doors to three inner rooms. Along the top of
the wall of the front room runs a tablet covered with two lines of
hieroglyphics. They are much worn, and we found it impossible to get a
satisfactory mould of them. The paints on the walls are still vivid, but
no pattern is traceable; the only striking feature being that "red
hand," which we found in far better preservation at a city we discovered
some months later in the island of Cozumel, and of which we shall write

To the south-east of the Chichanchob is a most puzzling building, unique
as far as Yucatan is concerned. The Caracol, or "Winding Staircase,"
stands on two rectangular stone-faced terraces reached by steps. The
lower terrace measures 220 feet north to south, 150 feet east to west,
and is 20 feet high. The masonry is very rough, and may have been
plastered. At one end are the remains of four small pillars, and around
the building we found at intervals carved heads hollowed in the crowns
to serve as incense-burners. The stairs are on the west side, and are 45
feet wide; the broken remains we found suggested there had been serpent
balustrades. The second or upper terrace is 60 feet east to west, 80
north to south, and 12 feet high; the steps being a continuation of the
lower flight. The building is a large squat turret of about 40 feet
diameter and about 25 in height. Upon this turret a smaller one, now
largely fallen, stood. The main turret consists of two concentric walls,
enclosing two annular rooms and a circular core or pillar. The walls
are some 2 feet thick. There are four doorways facing the cardinal
points of the compass in the outer, and four facing the sub-cardinal
points in the inner, wall. The core is about 7 feet thick at the
floor-level and 8 feet at ceiling. The roof of each of these annular
rooms ends in a very pointed arch. Facing the north-east door is a small
opening in the core about 4 feet from the floor and measuring about 28
by 24 inches. J. L. Stephens in 1842 abandoned the attempt to explore
this, but we were luckier. By a total disregard of our clothes and of
the probability that the passage sheltered at least one rattlesnake, we
squirmed through and came out at the side of the topmost turret some 10
feet from the top. Undoubtedly this was once a stairway, for we could
feel (it was too dark to see) the broken edges of the steps. It is
reasonable to surmise that this unique winding-stair building was in the
nature of an observatory, though whether in connection with Sun or Star
worship it is of course impossible to say.



To the south of the Caracol stands a ruin of remarkable beauty and in
wonderful preservation. The Spaniards called it "_La Casa de las
Monjas_" (Nuns' House), and there is much reason to believe that this is
a thoroughly appropriate title, and that this building did actually
house those virgins of noble birth of whose dedication to religious uses
we shall have to speak at some length in a later chapter, when reviewing
the whole subject of Mayan religion. The peculiar feature of the
building is the manner of erection. Apparently at first it stood on a
solid foundation of masonry 30 feet high and of the same size as the
building itself except to the north, where there was a platform 30 feet
wide. At some period, whether during erection or after completion it is
impossible to tell, the architect must have come to the conclusion that
the building was top-heavy, and decided to strengthen it by continuing
the northern platform all round. This new wall was not spliced and
mortised into the other as one would expect. A wall was built to the
outer dimensions of the support only 2 feet thick, and the space between
this and the main building was filled up with rubble and loose building
waste. The abutment on the northern side, down which thirty-four steps
lead to ground-level, was built in the same manner, giving it an
unsubstantial lean-to appearance. But we shall have more to say upon
this mode of building when attempting to date these structures in a
later chapter.

The buildings on the platform are two in number. The larger is 104 feet
long and 30 wide, and contains seven rooms, the largest on the south
side measuring 47 feet by 9 feet wide, its inner walls bearing traces of
figure paintings from floor to roof. The space on the northern side
corresponding to this room has apparently been filled up. The niches for
the doorways exist, but they are sealed to the lintel with masonry,
whether because sepulchral or to give support to the building above, it
is impossible to say. On either side of this closed space are two
smaller rooms and two more in corresponding places on the south side,
while at the east and west ends a room runs from north to south. The
lintels of the three sealed doorways, both underneath and on the
facings, are covered with hieroglyphics, as are also those of the doors
on either side, and the fact that none are found on the southern chamber
suggests that the sealing was for an important reason. Returning to the
north side and climbing sixteen steps, you reach the second platform, on
which stood a second house now merely a heap of stones. It was
one-roomed with two doors, looking north and south.

As we came down the steps we disturbed a huge iguana, which darted up
the face of the ruin and ran along its edge, stopping motionless at the
corner to peer over at us, its grey dewlapped head and hideous blinking
eyes making it look like some animated gargoyle. Once more on the
ground, we turned towards the eastern annexe of the nunnery, containing
five open and two closed rooms. Its façade has scarcely a parallel in
Central America. The twining-serpent frieze, the "elephant trunk," the
diamond pattern, and other designs common in Mayan ornamentation are
lavishly used, as can be seen from the illustration, while in a central
arched niche is a bust with a headdress of feathers. Over the door are
twenty curious cartouches, five in a row, and over these are six
ornaments like capital T's stuck into the building by their stems. As we
approach, two or three asses, startled from their grazing at the
doorways, clatter off into the stony woodland. Lizard and wild ass!
Could better illustration than these desolate, gaping palace chambers be
found for Omar Khayyam's lines:

    "They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
    The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep;
    And Bahram--that great hunter--the wild ass
    Stamps o'er his head, but cannot break his sleep"?

We sat awhile amid the fallen blocks of masonry in what must have been
the nunnery courtyard, watching the swallows as they flew in and out of
those timeworn doorways. Here and there amid the stunted wiry grass rose
clumps of cactus and coarse thistle-like plants, while over all climbed
a large blue convolvulus, its centre striped purple-red, making Nature's
perfect harmony of colouring with a dainty butter-yellow foxglove-shaped
flower which filled the air with a subtle musky perfume. Huge
butterflies of orange and sulphur, of striped black and scarlet, of
black and white, flitted among the blooms; while over us blazed the sun
in a sea of blue, the rich blue of the eternal Carib summer.

A few yards south-eastward of us stood Akad-zib, "House of the
Mysterious Writing," eighteen-roomed and unique as being the only
building in Chichen not on a mound. Its façade--a contrast to the
palace--is severely plain, but the building has importance. In the room
looking south, over the dark lintel of a doorway leading to an inner
chamber, are two rows of hieroglyphics,--the best preserved in
Chichen,--while on the ceiling of this doorway, carved in relief and
seated in front of what appears to be a basin of incense, is a figure in
full-feathered dress, a right angle of glyphs running round to its left.
Southward beyond the Akad-zib we could just see that greener patch of
woodland which marks where lies the huge cenote whence the Itzas drew
their water supply. Approached by a winding path which runs to the
water's level, the broken sides of the chasm admit the sunlight, and the
blueness of the water and the golden green of the palm-leaves make a
true tropic picture.

And so the reader has wandered with us round two square miles of
woodland, and glanced at the wonders of a city which in the days of its
greatness numbered its citizens by scores of thousands; a city which
architecturally, though possibly not culturally, remains the greatest
monument of Central American civilisation.


[2] _Vara_--a linear measure used in Spanish America, equal to
thirty-three English inches.

[3] _Chaces_--an old-time form of spelling "chases."



There are two kinds of brigands in Yucatan. There is the honest fellow
who cuts your throat without apology or waits behind a tree and puts a
bullet into your back at a ten-yard range; and there is the oily-tongued
"_con permiso_" (detestable phrase! ever on Yucatecan lips) rascal who,
permission or not, will see to it that your last centavo is his, if he
can manage it. At Valladolid, whither we went from Chichen, we made our
first serious acquaintance with the latter. One or two pleasant little
episodes had occurred at Merida, but they were only in the nature of
dress rehearsals.

Valladolid--railhead, frontier-town--is the back of beyond in Yucatan.
To-day it is the most important township on the border-line dividing the
enslaved Indians from those few thousands who are still maintaining
their independence against the criminal-recruited forces of Diaz. In the
revolt of 1847 and in all the lesser Indian risings it has been the
jumping-off ground for the rebels. It is a long dirty street of shabby
houses, ending in a weed-choked down-on-its-luck sort of plaza, at one
side of which is a huge gaunt stuccoed church surrounded by tumbling
three-foot walls. The whole place has a shamefaced, seen-better-days
kind of air; and if it is indeed true that it has claims to be reckoned
a health resort, one feels, as did the martyr to gout, when recommended
to a very dull town for its baths, that "one prefers the gout."

It was on the 28th of May, 1543, that Montejo founded the town on the
sight of the Indian settlement of Chanac-há. This native name means
"large water," in reference to a great lagoon of sweet water on the
northward. It was the fertility of the country around due to this swamp
(for it was nothing else) which had attracted the Spaniards. But this in
turn betrayed them, for, ere a year had elapsed, the place had proved
so malarious that it was determined to move the town to the neighbouring
Indian pueblo of Zaci. There on the 24th of March, 1544, the Valladolid
of to-day was founded, its plaza being on the site of a huge Mayan
temple built on a lofty pyramid. Not a stone or trace of the Indian work
now remains, but tradition relates that in the temple was an idol of
pottery, regarded as of great sanctity and to which the Indians for
miles round made pilgrimages for adoration.

There is some reason to believe that this idol was in the form of the
tapir, in Maya called "_tzimin_." There is no doubt that the queer
"pig-deer," which is still found in the southern forests of Yucatan and
in Chiapas, held an important place in Mayan mythology; and the account
of this idol of pottery at Zaci worshipped as Ah-Zakik-ual, "Lord of the
East Wind," which is described as being shaped like a huge vase moulded
in front into an ugly face, suggests that there was here a temple
dedicated to that tapir god replicas of whose image have been found
moulded in vase form in many parts of Southern Yucatan, and especially
in Guatemala. The interior of the huge vase was not probably used for
the burning of copal, the figure thus being, as appears to have been so
often the case, idol and altar in one.

We had left Chichen, as we had reached it, in the dark. But this time it
was the darkness before dawn, and, with no moon, the Castillo looked
gloomy and awesome in its setting of black woods. With our pockets full
of oranges from the hospitable trees of the hacienda and our hearts full
of wonder at the ruins amid which we had spent so many interesting days,
we turned our horses' heads once more towards Citas, where we were due
to catch another early train. It was perilous work picking your way in
the gloom amid the boulders of the "camino real," as the Spaniards
euphemistically call these execrable highroads. One wonders what a sham
"camino" would be like, if this is a "real" one. But the dawn was worth
seeing in those dark woods, dripping with the heavy tropical dew.

The glorious sun came, and the slate-greys and blacks turned to silvers
and lustrous greens, and the dank sodden boughs changed to fairy wands,
trimmed with diamonds as the sun touched them. And the sombre sky turned
into such a blue, and the reds and ambers, the azures and the greens, of
birds and butterflies as they woke for another day were so wonderful,
that one caught the infection of it, the magic of God's tropic woodland,
and we forgot the troubles of boulder-strewn roads and horn-pommelled
Mexican saddles.

We found Citas the same dirty little place we had left it a week past
and the people as stupid as ever. But after some difficulties with our
baggage, we did eventually reach Valladolid towards midday. To the Jefe
Politico there we had a letter from the Governor of Yucatan, bidding him
treat us "in a very special manner." The Jefe was a feeble, melancholy,
epicene little man, who wore spring-side boots, carried a lady's
silver-topped umbrella and a fan, and perpetually smoked straw
cigarettes. His hair was dyed and his manner was wistfully bored. He was
fetched from his hammock to receive us, and extended a damp bird-like
claw of a hand. He offered us no hospitality but led the way down the
street to a filthy shop, in the rear of which was a barn, furnished with
two hammocks and an enamelled bowl perched on an empty soap-box, serving
as dressing-table and washstand. For food he directed us to a reeking
little drinking-den. Having thus exhausted his energies in this "very
special manner," he retired, promising to return in the evening to
assist us in the purchase of stores for our journey through the forest.

There was very little to see in Valladolid. The Spanish vandals had
taken care of that. All traces of the old Indian domination had been
effectually wiped out. At the Jefetura, the Court House or Town Hall in
the plaza, signs were not lacking of the troubled state of the country.
Bands of soldiers were loitering under the verandahs cleaning rifles and
smoking cigarettes. We call them soldiers, because that is what they
call themselves; but they were certainly the sloppiest, most
ill-disciplined body of men who ever disgraced that name. They were
dressed in loose flying cotton shifts and cotton trousers, rolled up to
the knee. Their feet were sandalled, and on their heads were queer
pudding-basin-shaped straw hats with red ribbon lettered in black 5 Bat.
G.N., which means 5th Battalion, National Guard. Ever since the war of
extermination, some of the iniquities of which we shall presently
relate, was started, Valladolid never knows quite where she is.
Raiding-parties of Indians loiter in the woods to the eastward, and make
periodic descents upon outlying houses and Government convoys. We
attached to us a Yucatecan lad, sadly enough far advanced in
consumption, who, unlike his fellow-citizens, was frank and
pleasant-mannered and anxious to please. With him as our guide we
visited a neighbouring cenote, the water supply of the ancient Indian
city. This was very unlike those at Chichen, for it was not very deep
down and was of open approach. In a basin some hundred feet wide lay the
water, grass-green with water-weed, and far over it jutted a natural
roof of rock, from which hung stalactites, a row of grey stone icicles
some thirty feet long, like a fairy fringe over the pool. We made our
way down the steep rocky side to a narrow ledge of rock which ran half
way round the cenote, some twenty feet above water-level. Here there
were caves where we were told jaguars sometimes sheltered.

The Jefe Politico was due to join us at eight o'clock, and on our return
to the town we waited with what patience we could for him. But he never
appeared. So we made the best of a bad bargain and a tour of the shops,
succeeding in being swindled over each item of our commissariat. On the
morrow, anxious to be starting, we walked over to the Jefetura to wake
the Mayor up. There under the verandah in a ring sat the "rude
forefathers" of this Yucatecan hamlet, the ancient Jefe in the middle.
There is a local proverb, "_Hay mucho vago en Valladolid_" ("There are
many loiterers in Valladolid"), and no better realisation of its truth
could there have been than this band of venerable officials, drowsing
their morning away. We were invited within the "magic circle," but even
our execrable Spanish failed to rouse them. They had nothing to do, so
they sat in the shade and did it; and the street crowd had nothing to
do, so they hung on the verandah railings and stared at the first
Englishmen reckless enough to visit the City of Dolittles. But smoking
cigarettes and endeavouring to remember the past and future tenses of
irregular Spanish verbs pall as occupations, and, losing all patience,
we informed the somnolent Mayor that unless our wants in the matter of
horses and a servant were promptly satisfied we would make a complaint
to the Governor of the State. This threat galvanised the band of
Vallado-littles into a frenzy of energy. Soldiers were summoned and came
forward at the salute with fixed bayonets. Two were dispatched to get us
hammocks; a third went off to seek a horse-dealer; while a fourth,
actually the sentry on duty, under the directions of the Jefe, solemnly
laid aside his rifle and set to work to peel a plate of oranges which
had been produced to assist in our pacification.

The hammock-seeking warriors returned with a string of Indian women,
each nursing "a special line" of hammocks. Of course prices had rushed
up at the mere rumour of us, and having been assured in Merida that
hammocks, a staple product of the town, were cheap in Valladolid, we
were naturally disappointed to find that the commonest of those brought
to be shown us were about three times their normal value. But hammocks
we had to have, so we bought a couple of strong cloth ones at an
exorbitant price, and a portion of the National Guard were told off to
string them.

Then came the horse-dealers with all the maimed, the halt, and the blind
of equine Valladolid. The prices asked for these chargers were truly
tropical, and had grown to a great height. But no Englishman had ever
visited the town before, and it was far too good a chance to be lost. We
do not want to libel the somnolescent Jefe, but it was probably as much
as his place was worth to refuse to "cock the blind 'un" on the frauds
which his fellow-citizens were attempting to play on us. He was no man
for half-measures in such a delicate matter, so he retired into the
Mayor's Parlour to take a nap while we argued. None of the mounts were
in the first flush of their giddy youth, and some looked Methuselahs.
There was a horse with a sore on its back as big as a cheese plate,
which the owner resolutely declined to part with for less than a hundred
dollars; while another steed, badly spavined, was so precious to its
lucky proprietor that with tears in his avaricious eyes he assured us it
would break his heart to accept for this peerless mount less than double
that sum. Fortunately we knew something about horses and were able
slowly but surely to weed out the "crocks," though the rapacious crowd
did all in their power to fool us. It ended in our giving a hundred
dollars too much for the three horses we selected; but they were at
least sound in "wind and limb," though the strongest, a stallion, was
blind in the right eye. The Mayor, having been waked up by a soldier,
then regretfully took an active part in the proceedings. To prevent
horse-stealing, the purchase of a horse in Yucatan is attended by the
utmost official ceremony. If the occasion had been an auction of
blood-stock at Tattersall's these fatuous Yucatecan officials could not
have made more fuss. Armed with note-books they waltzed round our sorry
purchases, marking down their peculiarities. We did not see the books,
but it is quite likely that they were entered as having "four legs and a
tail." At any rate it took the united efforts of the Town Council to
make out the official receipts, which bore so many stamps as must have
crippled the resources of the local G.P.O. for some weeks.

But it is one thing to buy a Yucatecan horse, and it is quite another to
load him with portmanteaux sewn into sacks. The stallion, which, as the
strongest of the trio, we had selected to carry the heaviest of the
baggage, had not "signed on" for any such nonsense; and fixing us with
his one eye, which rolled as viciously as it could in its deserted
state, he signified intense dissatisfaction with all loads and
portmanteaux in particular by letting out his heels at the Mayor, and
then rearing up and pawing the air, Pegasus-fashion, over a knot of
sloppy becottoned troops who broke and ran in all directions. He was
really quite a nice horse. We afterwards nicknamed him Cyclops, in
affectionate allusion to his ocular defects, and grew to be quite fond
of him. But he was not at all nice on first acquaintance, and a crowd of
jeering Vallado-littles--far too scared to come within the lash of his
hoofs--collected at a respectful distance to watch the fun. The Mayor
had half an hour before presented us with a soldier servant who owned
the name Contrario, and rejoiced on all occasions in deserving it by his
obstinacy. We had come into the country expecting to find every man a
Buffalo Bill; but these troops were very disappointing; they were so
obtrusively foot-soldiers. They evidently agreed with the Psalmist that
"a horse is a vain thing for safety," and Contrario, told to hold
Cyclops, absolutely refused. But the crowd was growing with our anger,
and it was no time for mutiny, so by sheer physical force we made the
poor shivering wretch carry out our orders. Again and again we tried to
get the baggage on. No sooner did Cyclops feel the first pressure of the
load, which we adroitly brought up on his blind side, than he plunged
and bucked like the veriest broncho, throwing the baggage into the dust.
Disappointed in their malicious hope that we should have to give it up,
one or two of the crowd began to take a friendly interest in our
efforts, and one man, a big fellow for a Yucatecan but obviously as
timid of horses as our soldier servant, volunteered to help. This time
we got the twin sacks well over the stallion's back before he plunged,
and a rope, adroitly thrown round, kept them in position till he quieted
down and made up his mind to the inevitable. It was all over except the
jeering, and, fearful as we were of mounting our saddle horses and
leaving the recalcitrant Cyclops with his hated load to the feeble
management of Contrario, we ignominiously led the horses out of the
horrid little town amid an accompaniment of this from the citizens. But
it was such an infinite relief to turn our backs upon the city of
do-littles and brigands that we could have calmly borne twice the
mockery hurled at us by that yellow-faced shambling crowd.

Our way lay for the next few days through forty-odd miles of a country
densely wooded but traversed by a fair road. This latter had earned a
bad reputation of late as being infested by bandits, Mexican criminals
shipped from Vera Cruz to serve against the Indians, who had deserted
and betaken themselves to the woods with their rifles. Only a few days
before our arrival a gang of them had murdered three Indians who were in
charge of a drove of pigs. It had been such collar-work inducing the
Do-littleians to do even the little they did that it was wearing well on
to four o'clock before we found ourselves out into the open. Once past
the outlying huts of Valladolid, the dust of the rock-strewn road
changed into a brick-red loam. In many parts of Yucatan for scores of
miles at a time the tracks through the forest are red like this,
suggestive of nothing so much as a rough cart road to an English
brick-field. Once you have seen one such road you have seen them all,
for they are as like as two pins. The dense woods hemmed us in on each
side, and the monotony was only broken now and again by meeting
straggling parties of Indians, naked but for breech-cloth, with rough
plaited straw hats, their long guns slung on their brown backs, a linen
hunting bag at their waist, on their way to shoot in the woods.
Throughout Eastern Yucatan every Indian is out at dawn and sundown to
pick up something for the pot. Their guns are for the most part
antiquated muzzle-loaders, single-barrelled, sometimes of obviously home
manufacture. They are poor sportsmen from the English point of view, for
they are out to kill, and they think nothing of following a bird up for
a mile or two till they can shoot it sitting. They were a very different
breed of men from those Indians we had seen nearer Merida, and some of
them even looked truculent. But they gave us a very civil "_Buenas
tardes!_" ("Good afternoon!") as they stopped to rest on their guns and
gaze with wonder at such an unusual spectacle as two khaki-clad
Englishmen and the three laden horses.

We were not able to make much progress before the sun was near setting,
and we kept our eyes open for a likely spot to make our camp. Shortly
before six we halted on the Tizimin side of the small Indian village of
Cursuc. We cut our way some fifty yards into the wood and with axes made
a clearing of some twenty feet square, slinging our hammocks between the
trees. Tethering the horses to stout saplings, we sent Contrario to the
village for water; but before we had got our saucepans boiling, darkness
was on us, and we had to make the best of a meal eaten in a gloom which
made it impossible to tell a spoonful of black beans from a spoonful of
egg till you tasted them. In this Cimmerian darkness we managed to make
the deplorable discovery that we had forgotten to provide cups, and we
found ourselves in the ludicrously Tantalus-like position of having a
saucepan, too hot to drink from, of boiling Cadbury's cocoa, and nothing
to put the precious liquid in. Then one of us had the happy inspiration
of utilising the saucepan lid. A great deal of real fun can be got out
of drinking boiling hot cocoa from a saucepan lid. It is so
aggravatingly shallow, so infernally hot to hold, and so top-heavy. But
we were far too tired with the dusty tramp, after our long day's battle
with the detestable inhabitants of Valladolid, to make mountains out of
molehills. If we had had cups we should have got through the precious
draught far too quickly, we reminded ourselves. Pleasure is
anticipation; and waiting in the dark, seated on a boulder by the fire
we had built in the red road, for your turn at the shallow draught was a
real joy. We got outside our precious Cadbury, the black beans, and the
eggs, and then we rolled ourselves into our hammocks, making cocoons of
ourselves in our Mexican blankets, and, with our soldier servant
stretched on a blanket on the ground between the two of us, we were soon
fast asleep.

Each day of our march through this forest country was much the same as
the last. We waked in the bitter cold of the early dawn, huge drops of
dew falling from the trees overhead upon the rubber sheeting which we
had had the foresight to take with us to act as counterpane. Each night
we camped afresh in the forests, making a clearing some little way from
the road; and despite the alarmist rumours which had reached us in
Merida and elsewhere of the dangers attending such forest campings, we
had but one serious alarm. We had been asleep some hours, dead-tired
with our day's march, when we waked to find the fire, which we had left
on the roadside mere embers, flaming three feet high. We did not know
why we waked and we do not know now, for there was no noise to disturb
us, and it was quite an unusual thing: as a rule we slept like logs. All
we know is that we did wake and to our astonishment saw the fire, which
we had carefully stamped out on turning in, blazing high. We were
wondering what this could mean, when in the rear of us we heard stealthy
footsteps, the brushwood crackling as if some two or three people were
creeping in upon us. It was a very dark moonless night, and altogether
the position was decidedly uncanny. We reached for our revolvers, which
always hung by their belts at the hammock head, and sat up waiting.
Whoever it was had seen us move, for all was still at first, and then,
after a few minutes of dead silence, we distinctly heard the footsteps
retreating. Possibly, as our horses were tethered on the side nearest
the road, the robbers did not care to venture in that way, but made up
our fire that the glare might guide them in a wide detour through the
wood in rear of us. They had no doubt hoped to find us asleep, to have
dashed in upon us and given us a slash over the head with their long
knives, and then ransacked our baggage at their leisure. Finding that we
were awake, however, and that they would have to fight for this
privilege, they decamped.

But brigand alarms, though the most dignified, were not our only
troubles in the forests. All Yucatan, wherever there are cattle, is
cursed with an insect pest--a cattle louse known as the _garrapatas_. In
these first days we suffered much from them. To look at they are like a
cross between the ordinary bed-bug and a sheep-tick, but they often have
markings on their backs like those on a garden spider. They get on to
coat-sleeve or riding-breeches, often tiny as money-spiders, in scores
at a time. They hang in brown patches upon the leaves and branches of
shrubs and bushes, and if you just brush against these, before you have
time to notice almost, the insects have climbed all over you, in a few
minutes fixing themselves in the flesh and digging their way in till
nothing but the rounded tops of their backs are visible. Their bites are
not at first painful, but become intensely irritable after a day or two
and cause troublesome swellings, if in any great numbers. It is nothing
uncommon to find fifty or a hundred of these tiny plagues on one after
a day's riding through the bush. Cleanliness is no prophylactic against
them. The only thing we found any good was to make a strong solution of
tobacco and smear this well over legs, thighs, and arms when dressing.
This keeps some of the less hardier ones at bay; but the really big ones
(we found one as big as a threepenny piece fastened on to the hinge of
the lid of a box-tortoise in the woods at Chichen) stop at nothing, and
no pulling will get them out. The only thing to do is to let them work
their wicked will of you, when, after a day or two, they fill up with
blood and turn a deep purple colour like a black Hamburg grape. In this
aldermanic condition of repletion they are very easily detached, ... and
alas! squashed.

The Yucatecans are a cleanly people and bathe a great deal, the poor as
well as rich; but nothing astonished Contrario more than our rubber
bath. This, which we had bought in London, folded into so small a space
that it was a treat to watch his face when we first unfolded it and he
saw an admirable bath four feet in diameter, spread out as if by a
conjuring trick. If we stopped early enough and the sun was still up, we
would send him down to the nearest well and have a glorious time
splashing about and sponging cool streams of water over ourselves, while
gorgeous butterflies of blue, scarlet, and amber fluttered round us in
the thicket, and green parakeets and the bushy-tailed grey squirrels
perched on the trees to watch us. Though probably as immoral as any race
in the world, the Yucatecans are singularly modest, and, though he saw
us minus everything but a smile revelling in the cool limestone water
and he would sit mournfully by trying to pick the garrapatas out of his
legs and thighs, nothing would induce him to take advantage of our
rubber bath, presumably because he feared we might look while he was in
the "altogether."

The villages we passed were monotonously alike: squares of
palm-leaf-thatched huts round a plot of wiry grass centred by the
village well with gibbet-like uprights and cross-piece of wood over which
hung the bucket. At all hours of the day there clustered here knots of
Indian women and girls, the _cantaros_ (earthenware water-jars) balanced
on their left hips as they pattered to and fro to their whitewashed huts
with the precious liquid. We generally called our midday halt between
these settlements, as we found that our arrival was hailed with the
same popular excitement as that which welcomes a circus in an English
village; and it is a trifle disconcerting, even if your menu is not very
varied, to eat one's lunch in the centre of a serried circle of
bright-eyed children and women, and grinning, wondering men. But the
fourth day at the little village of Pokboc we were so much tempted by
the wonderful shade of a large ceibo-tree which stood by the huge ruined
church, inside the gaunt staring walls of which a whitewashed Indian hut
now did duty for such infrequent services as were held, that we broke
our rule. Though we were now deep in Yucatan's cool season, the heat had
been blistering all the morning, and, steering as we had been due north
on a fairly straight road, the sun on our backs had made us feel quite
sick. Thus the deep shade offered by the giant tree, the leafiest of all
trees found in the country, was an irresistible temptation. The horses,
too, had suffered, and stood as meek as lambs to be unsaddled. But
before we had got far in our preparations for a meal half the village
was round us, to make way in a second for two men, one about sixty, with
a long tufted beard of grey, growing from the extreme limit of his chin,
the other some twenty years younger. They cordially introduced
themselves as the village Jefe and his son; the latter insisting upon
calling himself "el secretario." They kept the store and public-house of
the village, and, in the absence of customers, had filled up their time
by serving themselves so liberally that they were quite merry. They
insisted that we should come to their shop and take some of their "_agua
ardiente_" (fire-water: and it lives up to its name too); but we
explained that we were teetotalers.

At this moment there came racing across the plaza a perfectly lovely
little laddie, bare-legged and bare-headed, with the scantiest of cotton
vests and black-cotton knickerbockers on. El Secretario introduced the
little fellow as his son, "_Cipriano, su servidor_" ("Cipriano, at your
service"), and told us he was ten. We had a bottle of acid drops with
us, and diving in our saddle-bags we in a moment won Cipriano's heart
and cemented our budding friendship with the family by filling his
pretty little hand full of the sweets. By this time a baby sister had
arrived, and we found it impossible longer to resist the pressing
hospitalities of the Jefe. We were anxious, too, to taste the national
drink, which has the alias of "_anise_" and is made from crushed
sugar-cane and aniseed. So we temporarily threw our teetotal principles
to the four winds (or at least to where those most desirable elements
successfully hid themselves, for there was not a breath of air) and
walked over to the store. Once there, large glasses of the clear white
liquid were poured out, and our hosts, enchanted at the excuse for more
tippling, began drinking our healths in such lavish style as was ominous
of the great difficulty we should have in getting away from their
bibulous friendliness without the risk of a quarrel. We had just sipped
at our glasses, which was all we ever intended to do, when fortune came
to our aid. Looking across the plaza, we saw a stray village horse
biting our stallion's neck. With a hurried word of excuse, we rushed out
of the shop, our hosts shouting to us to return after we had righted
things. But we never did; and the somnolent effects of the last
"bumpers" of anise they had drunk were so complete that we were left to
eat our lunch in peace. By the time we had finished it was the siesta
hour and the village had crept into its hammocks. As we rode past the
store, we caught a glimpse of our friend the Jefe stretched full length,
fast asleep, on his own counter.

From Pokboc it was some three leagues (all distances in Yucatan are
measured by the league, which is not the well-conducted league of
Europe, but, like the French verbs, irregular to the verge of
impropriety) to Calotmul on a road which seemed redder and hotter than
ever. Calotmul is a town run to seed, a ruinous unwieldy place with a
plaza of mangy grass as big as Trafalgar Square, a long stuccoed,
arcaded building in one corner of which served as the Jefetura where
loitered some of Contrario's brothers-in-arms. Big as these decayed
Spanish-Indian villages are, there is never any attempt at an inn, the
very rare travellers by the roads being local Yucatecans who are sure of
having one or more kinsmen in each village. So knowing no one and having
been sated with Yucatecan interiors at vile Valladolid, we pushed on
through the town, preferring the freedom of our woodland hotel. Our
obstinacy much alarmed Contrario. He knew that Tizimin, the town to
which we were steering and which was to serve as the base for serious
exploration, was fourteen miles further on, and he thought we intended
to try and reach it that night. But he became easier in his mind when we
unhooked from the saddle our tripod boiler, which had throughout the
journey served as a pail for fetching drinking-water, and sent him back
to the well. By the time he had overtaken us we had selected a
camping-ground about half a mile from the village, the horses were
feeding quietly by the roadside, the baggage had been carried into the
woods and our hammocks slung.

We always made a practice of one of us seeing the horses properly
watered, while the other stayed in camp. As soon as Contrario rejoined
us it was time for "watering order"; and one of us started out on
Cyclops, while Contrario led the other horses, tied together. We had
given him the kettle and one of the water-bottles to carry. The well was
reached safely, the horses watered, and some corn bought at the local
store; but on return to camp Contrario was only carrying the kettle. He
had already annoyed us by the slow pace at which he had kept the horses
going and by loitering to talk with some of the National Guard. We were
tired and not in the best of tempers, and somewhat testily demanded to
know where the water-bottle was. He gabbled away in Spanish some
sentences we did not understand, but did not attempt to produce it. We
thought he had left it at the well and tried to say so, ordering him to
return for it. He entirely misunderstood, and believed we were accusing
him of stealing it. The fellow was a fool but he was genuinely honest,
and the most we were accusing him of was carelessness. But he would not
be pacified, and wringing his hands and in a snivelling whine repeating
again and again "_Yo soy no robo!_" ("I am no robber!"), he gathered up
his traps, and, regardless of pay, was about to leave when suddenly by
the firelight one of us detected the water-bottle, lying hidden in the
shadow of a boulder where he had set it down and forgotten it before
going down to the well. We were really sorry to have hurt his feelings,
and he saw it, and with almost childish pleasure accepted our apologies.
It was like a thunderstorm, it cleared the air; and as, after our frugal
meal of black beans, boiled eggs, tortillas, and Cadbury's cocoa, we sat
round the fire smoking, we became quite "chummy" with the soldier-lad,
who, delighted at the rehabilitation of his character, talked nineteen
to the dozen till hammock-time, when we cemented our new-found
friendship by giving him one of our blankets to aid his own flimsy
Mexican wrap in keeping him warm during the cold night.

The next day, in sunlight which was positively grilling, we completed
our journey to Tizimin. It was siesta time when we rode into the plaza
under the shadow of the gaunt walls of the hideous ruined monastery. The
town was quiet, almost like a city of the dead. The shops were closed;
and at the long grated window-spaces sunblinds were drawn. The grass had
invaded the streets; the whole place looked like a Rip Van Winkle city
which had got badly "left" in the race of civic life. Stretched in the
thick dust a mangy dog or two lay panting; here and there under the
shadow of a wall dozed an Indian, crouched on his haunches. We rode up
to the Jefetura, and there from a yawning soldier we learnt that the
Jefe was taking his morning tub, so we had some minutes to wait before
we could expect an official welcome. Meanwhile we had time to glance
round us. The plaza was of much the same size as Valladolid. In front of
the Palacio Municipal, where the becottoned National Guard were drowsing
in the verandah-shade, was an avenue of orange trees loaded with fruit.
On the other side of the square stood another of those huge stuccoed
churches we had become so accustomed to seeing. The seventeenth-century
Spaniards in Yucatan certainly had no taste in building. Nothing could
be more distressing than these great piles of stucco, flat-faced as any
Hottentot. Their bigot builders certainly preferred quantity to quality.
Even when new, these ecclesiastical eyesores must have always been such.
But now, ... with plaster peeling off, with tufts of rank weeds growing
from gaps in the walls, surrounded by a courtyard half cobble, half
leprous grass, the enclosing walls tumbling in ruin, the church gate
sagging on its broken rusty hinges or perchance replaced by a hurdle,
they admirably typify the bedraggled down-at-heel ceremonial which
masquerades throughout Yucatan as religion.

By this time our arrival had attracted representatives of the
Tiziminians in the shape of three of the fattest boys we had ever seen
outside a show. They were pretty fellows, too, about thirteen years old;
but they would have been a good deal prettier if they had possessed less
adipose tissue. Their tight holland knickers seemed on the point of
giving up the task of enclosing the luxuriant opulence of what one might
politely call their southern façades; while their bare brown legs were
so ludicrously plump and rounded that they looked as if they had been
blown up with a bicycle pump. The boys gazed at us and we gazed at the
boys; it was hard to say which of the two sets of gazers was most
astonished. But by this time a shuffling among the troops heralded the
approach of the Jefe, coming like a giant refreshed from his bath. He
was a great contrast to the epicene bird-like creature who had lorded
it over the civic fortunes of Valladolid. A grand old man of good
height, swarthy skinned, with a snow-white full patriarchal beard
reaching nearly to his waist, he greeted us with true Spanish courtesy,
with a hospitable wave of his hand inviting us within the cool stone
room, where above the row of rocking-chairs hung a life-sized coloured
print of the great Diaz. It was a most humiliating moment. Dusty, dirty,
sweaty, covered with garrapatas, with many days' growth of beard, we
were grieved indeed that this should be the snowy-haired Don's first
sight of England. We indicated as best we could that this was not the
normal condition of Englishmen, and that we should be more than grateful
if he would allow us to wash first and talk afterwards. But he insisted
upon hearing our plans, and when we told him of our intention of going
through the country to the eastward his face bore a look of alarm. He
declared the country "_muy peligroso_" (very dangerous); that the
Indians were hostile to the whites; that even for the contents of a
water-bottle travellers were killed, as in fact had actually happened to
two Yucatecans but a few weeks before. We were too much in need of a
wash to be much depressed by his pessimism, and were glad when he made a
move to find us lodgings. These we found without much difficulty, a
young Yucatecan being fetched and offering us a house for four dollars
the week. It was only a few yards away, nothing really but two or three
lofty whitewashed barns _en suite_, stone-floored, the walls decorated
with hammock-pegs. But the great advantage was that it possessed a small
paddock, rankly overgrown with shrubs and grass, which would serve as an
excellent corral for our horses. A well too, there was, and before the
genial Jefe had bade us "_Adios!_" we had our rubber bath out and were
preparing for a glorious wash.

We were now in what is known as the Kantunil district, and in touch with
the north-eastern branch of the independent Mayans. For Tizimin is the
last outpost of Yucatecan authority. Even the Indians living within the
town are a very different breed from the haciendado-ridden ones of the
Yucatan which lay behind us. And this is perhaps the best place to give
some idea of the physical appearance of the Mayan Indians generally. The
whole race throughout the Peninsula is still singularly homogeneous,
though it is in the Kantunil and eastern coast district, where crossings
with the whites or even inter-tribally are unknown, that the purest
types are found.

The Mayan is stoutly built and muscular, but seldom tall. His colour is
a rich dark reddish brown--a beautiful tint remarkably distinct from
that of the American Indian race in general. His hair is invariably
raven black, lank and coarse. His eyes are black or black-brown, usually
small and somewhat cunning-looking; straight set as a rule, but
occasionally with a suspicion of obliquity. The nose is well formed,
straight or slightly aquiline, and at times somewhat Semitically heavy
at the tip; but scarcely ever pyramidal in the pure Mayans. The noses of
the women one would almost declare their best feature. The hair of the
women, worn gathered in a knot at the back of the head, is often
luxuriantly long; but men are fairly closely cropped. Of baldness we
never saw a trace, though grey Indians of both sexes are fairly common.
Both sexes have a Mongolian lack of body hair; legs, arms and chests
being rarely hirsute. The teeth are always good, and add to the charm of
the sweet smile which at the least provocation comes to rob the faces of
both sexes of the rather sullen expression characteristic of them. Many
of the children are extraordinarily pretty, and young girls of twelve
(at which age they usually marry) are often fascinating pictures of
youthful bloom, quite statuesque in their grace, their exquisitely
developed figures showing through the clinging folds of their one
chemise-like linen garment.

Mayan women age rapidly; but between puberty (about ten) and their
twenty-fifth year they are remarkable for matronly health and strength
and their graceful carriage. They incline to flesh, and before forty are
often unwieldy to a degree which is really ludicrous; such "too, too
solid flesh" scarcely harmonising with the severely scanty lines of the
_huipil_. This--the universal dress of all Indian women throughout
Yucatan--is really nothing but a sheet, folded double and sewn down the
sides and a half-moon cut out of the middle of the fold. Through this
the head goes, and round this yoke runs back and front a flowered
border, stamped coloured cotton among the poorer, elaborately
hand-embroidered among the richer, women. The hem of the garment, which
reaches rather more than half-way down the calf, is also often
ornamented with embroidery. This shift or chemise--for it is little
else--is sleeveless; and the only attempt at underclothes is a plain
cotton petticoat; but many women and most young girls do not wear this.
In some of the wilder districts we visited the girls are stark naked
till puberty, while the old women and many of the young matrons wear
nothing but a short cotton kilt from waist to knee. Round her neck the
Indian woman wears a chain (though this habit is less common among the
independent Mayans than among the Indians of Merida and the north-west
district), oftenest of gilt or glass beads, with some small gold coin,
gewgaw, charm or crucifix attached. Large gold earrings, too, are much
worn. Round her shoulders she throws, when out of doors, a wrap of
cotton or silk, brought up over the head and then allowed to hang down
over the other shoulder. These wraps, which serve a practical purpose in
protecting from the sun, are most picturesque. In Merida, as we have
said, you see all colours; but a dark indigo or rich copper brown are
the most common in the country districts. Almost without exception the
women go barefoot, and their feet, though small, have from long
shoelessness become broad.

The Mayan man dresses in loose white-cotton trousers, which he usually
wears turned up to the knees, and a loose-fitting shirt of white cotton
tucked in at the belt. As often as not the shirt is discarded while at
work or in the bush, and the trousers give place to the _maxtli_, a
broad loin-cloth. A pudding-basin-shaped straw hat, home-plaited, and
sandals made of a single thickness of tanned hide cut to the shape of
the foot, with a piece of cord coming up between the first and second
toe, passing over the instep and through a string loop on either side of
the heel and then twisted round the ankle, complete his outfit. Every
Indian wears belted round him in a leather sheath the _machete_, the
native weapon universal throughout Central America. It is a sword-like
knife, the blade about thirty inches long and two broad, with a plain
hand-grip of bone or wood about four inches long. These are
fearsome-looking weapons even when, as is usually the case, the blade is
straight; but they are positively blood-curdling when they are, as one
sees them sometimes, scimitar-shaped or ending with an ugly hook, like
the finish of an English billhook.


The Mayans are a singularly healthy people, and free of skin complaints
and those other blood diseases which so often affect native races in a
low state of civilisation. But they are not constitutionally strong, and
die off like flies when exposed to an epidemic. Though so thoroughly a
tropical people, they are cold-blooded with sluggish circulations, if
one is to judge by the coldness of their hands, which, even in the
children, are froggy in their chilliness. They are a clean race, and the
Mayan labourer on coming in from his work would not dream of squatting
before his frugal evening meal of tortillas and beans till he has had a
hot bath. This he takes in a large shallow wooden trough, exactly like a
butcher's tray magnified four times. In this, one end resting on the
ground, the other raised on a low log of wood, the Mayan squats and
sponges the water over himself with a bunch of henequen or other fibre.
In this tray, too, the babies are bathed and the family washing is done.
It is always washing-day with the Mayan women, and the hut gardens are
always a-flutter with billowy white huipils. The Mayans are a singularly
modest people, and, sharing their huts, we were again and again
astonished at the decency which triumphed over the fact that a large
family of all ages shared the same sleeping-room and slung their
hammocks from the same beams.

With Tizimin as our base we explored the Kantunil district. The roads
marked even on the official maps in Mexico City no longer exist,
probably never existed. Overgrown and rendered impassable by luxuriant
vegetation, such as there are have become mere trails which even the
Indians can only use in single file. Thirty miles to the eastward of
Tizimin begins the region of unbroken primeval forest. The road, which
starts a good width, dwindles down into a mere path by which the Indians
from Chansenote and Kantunil come into Tizimin to buy powder or shot or
a new gun. Growing their own maize, raising cattle, pigs and poultry,
spinning and weaving their clothing, braiding their hats and netting
their hammocks, arms, salt, and luxuries such as women's finery or
spirits are all they need to buy. They come into Tizimin not in crowds
but one or two at a time, so as not to create suspicion, and meet their
friends outside with their purchases. Of these Indians some five
thousand are said to still exist in this north-eastern corner of the
Peninsula; but the Mexican authorities, after butchery as ruthless as it
has been fruitless, have been forced to retreat, and there is thus no
way of obtaining accurate statistics. The Jefe Politico of Merida
himself told us (we quote it as a proof that the Indians have triumphed
thereabouts) that his family property near Kantunil had not been of any
profit for years and was never likely to be again, as the Mayans denied
his agents access to it.

It was at Tizimin that we first realised the positively amazing
ignorance of the Yucatecan as to his own country or even his own
district. No definite information as to the road we should take, or
whether indeed we could reach the coast at all, was available. As it
proved, this was impossible. Between Kantunil and the sea stretch miles
of uninhabitable swamp which is impassable for horse, mule or man except
possibly in places at the end of the driest of dry seasons. When we were
there an average of three feet of water covered the coast lands. A
change of plan was thus essential, and we had to go first more directly
north and then take an eastward course. Meanwhile we employed some days
in exploring the north-easterly district. The road to Chansenote shows
signs of the struggle which has ended, at any rate for the present, in
the triumph of the Indians. Here and there the gaunt walls of ruined
haciendas, half hidden by luxuriant tropic weed, stand as silent
witnesses to the cowardly retreat of the Yucatecan landlords. A cruel
war of extermination has laid its desolating hand on all around, and the
hungry forest has swallowed up again _milpas_ (cornfields) and fruit

The Indians themselves we found friendly enough if treated fairly and
kindly. The children would watch us solemnly from the hut-doors, and the
boys and men followed us at a respectful distance in our wanderings
through the woodlands in search of buried cities. We found little save
littered stones, but our excursions satisfied us that no Chichens exist
in this part of Yucatan. Chansenote itself, once a flourishing Indian
town, is now a group of mud-plastered huts with possibly three dozen
inhabitants. Kantunil is a larger settlement, strictly Indian now as it
always has been; the government vested in an Indian chief. Here the
Mayans live pretty much as did their ancestors four centuries back,
cultivating their milpas, rearing their farm stock, nominally Catholics
but really without religion, save a jumbled mass of superstition in
which Christian Saints and pagan gods are, after the long lapse of
years, inextricably mixed.

Due north of Tizimin the country is still for the most part in the hands
of the Yucatecans; but the cultivation of it is handicapped by a dearth
of labour, for here the Indians do not submit to the conditions of
serfdom existing in so-called civilised Yucatan, but will only work for
fair wage, and often not long for that. Kikil, some miles from Tizimin
on the north, is a straggling settlement of such working Indians, once
the site of a large Indian town before the Spaniards built Tizimin. Here
there were said to be extensive ruins, but we were disappointed as
usual. Nothing is more disheartening than the glib way the idiotic
Yucatecans send one on wild-goose chases after ruins which prove to be
hideous Catholic churches of the late seventeenth or early eighteenth
centuries. The Indians, too, are untrustworthy guides in such matters,
for they have a perfect indifference to the architectural skill of their
ancestors, and speak of their productions as "_xlap-pak_" (old walls).

Christmas week is a grand time for Tizimin, for it heralds in the great
local _fiesta_ of the year, a feast which lasts from Christmas day till
the New Year. Though synchronous with our Yuletide, it is not in
celebration of that, but in honour of the local patron saint. The great
feature of this gala are the bullfights. It is really doing them too
much honour, though, to give them this dignified name; for they are
really nothing less than a series of cowardly baitings of young
bullocks. Ichabod! Ichabod! The glory of the bull-ring hath departed from
Yucatan. We shall have more to say of this decadent torturing of
domesticated animals in a later chapter. But the people "see blood," and
in this respect the Indians are as bad as the mongrel usurpers of their
country, and crowds flock in from the settlements for miles round. They
bring with them their wives, their children, and packs of dogs; the
babies astride their mother's hips, the bigger children clinging to her
huipil; while the men bend under huge loads of basket-baggage slung on
their backs, but the whole dead weight of which is on the man's
forehead, the broad plaited string of the basket passing just above his
eyes. This is the queer way that all the Mayan Indians carry loads; and
as you pass them they look up at you from under the strings, their
uneasy attitude giving their eyes a quite unfair appearance of sneaky

This fiesta week, then, we had the local life of Tizimin at its
brightest. The plaza turns itself into a fair, with rows of tiny wooden
booths whereat cheap gewgaws and tasteless finery in cottons and
tinsels, necklaces of beads and the inevitable rosaries hung with cheap
gilt crosses, bankrupt the Indian wife; while her lord fuddles himself
with liquid poisons at the drinking-shops. Foodstuffs leap up to famine
prices. The skinny fowl which would have cost you a dollar (two
shillings) "booms" to three; eager crowds surround the butchers' stalls
where from dawn are trays, none too clean, piled up with blood-boltered
lumps of meat (they never cut their beef in joints in Yucatan)
calculated to rob an average tom-cat of his appetite. Trays of
unspeakably sticky sweets reek in the sun, surrounded by eager-faced
children. Strung like onions, hundreds of tortillas hang festooned on
strings round the shops, as if some huge type of yellow mushroom had
been utilised for decoration. Hour after hour gallop into the dusty
plaza _caballeros_ from the local plantations--fine young dandies these!
who fancy themselves, intent on conquests among some of those black-eyed
girls who stare from the shaded doorways as they clatter past. The
three-muled waggon, too, huge-wheeled, shaded with green canvas, rolls
its lumbering way into the town, bringing some family from Espita or
Valladolid; and the tired mules, released from their rope and leather
trappings, look about for the dustiest spot in the plaza and roll and
roll and roll, backwards and forwards, in an ecstasy of freedom, to
presently regain their feet, shake themselves like a dog from the water,
and look about for the much desired drink.

The people come in to enjoy themselves, and perhaps they do. But there
seems little or no real gaiety in the crowd. The drunken Indian is at
best a maudlin creature, often quarrelsome and never merry and
boisterous, and his women and children are the most silent of beings;
while over the whole scene hangs the mephitic atmosphere engendered by
that mischievous superstition, mainstay of a sickeningly hypocritical
ecclesiasticism--that web of priest-cunning which Catholicism has woven,
spider-like, round the race she has enmeshed and degraded. And so you
see the poor bewildered, stumbling Indian drunkard wasting his last few
centavos on a dirty melting tallow dip which, with many genuflexions, he
places before a plaster St. Andrew or St. Peter. Yes! the Church is
there, and makes high holiday. It is the padre's great harvesting (later
we will describe an amusing "corner" made in candles by the Tizimin
"curer of souls"), and hour after hour the Yucatecan sacristan climbs to
the belfry to summon the faithful. But the Indian faithful are made, the
wise padres know, the more faithful by a little liquor; and so outside
the church doors are little drinking-shops, and the devils of
superstition and drink, hand in hand, work their evil will on the
weltering crowd. All the burning day the people sit huddled in the dust
of the plaza, and when the chill black night settles down, the light
streams from the gaping doorways of the church, where the whining
sing-song of the priest and the treble voices of the boy choristers make
one long inharmonious chant, punctuated with the metallic ring of
cymbals, while beneath the ink-black shade of the church walls the
Indian families squat, shivering in their blankets, around small fires.

Our final preparations for the journey to the coast took some days, and
the fiesta was in full swing before we were ready to leave. Owing to the
swamps, we thought it well to cut our baggage down to vanishing point.
Having thus almost attained "that consummation devoutly to be wished" by
all good travellers,--the toothbrush and blanket state,--we rode out
from Tizimin late in December. Contrario had gone back to Valladolid,
and we had hired an Indian boy. Our route lay for nine miles over a fair
road to Sucopo. Thence a narrower path led to Zonotake, whence after
eighteen miles through the jungle we reached the old Indian settlement
of Occeh. Here we made a day or two's stay at the hacienda, and
discovered a series of sepulchral mounds, each crowned with the ruins of
a building. Below one mound we found, hidden by the tangled
thorn-bushes, what appeared to be the mouth of a cave. It was little
more than two feet wide, and looked uninviting. But hoping it would
prove a passage to the centre of the mound, and first taking the
precautionary measure of throwing in a stone to disturb any snake which
might be sheltering, we wriggled in. It was only a cave of fair size; at
the back a mass of limestone had lately fallen, blocking up any
passage-way, if indeed any existed. In Mayan burial mounds the corpse
was nearly always deposited in a well sunk from the top, and often
extraordinarily deep.

Between Occeh and the sea lay forty miles of forest. As we approached
the coast the land became low and boggy till the whole country seemed a
swampy wood. The animals were often floundering up to their bellies in
water and black mud. In places a stretch of water looking like a river
formed the path ahead of us. When night came and the moon rose, the
forests seemed a piece of water fairyland. The mule-track we followed
lay between woodland so thick that it seemed like an ebon wall on either
side save where the moon, glinting through the overgrowth, speckled the
path with silver light. A great silence reigned, broken only by the cry
of some night bird or the whispering rustle of the palm-leaves. Here
and there the trees parted a little, as we reached some clearing where
the moon was reflected in the pools and struck upon the sapota trees,
making them, with their smooth grey barks, look like granite pillars.
Now and again the animals waded through shallow swamps around which a
thousand fireflies flitted, and from the edges of which white ibises
splashed and fluttered up, a ghostly flock, at our approach. On reaching
the coast a kindly welcome was accorded us at El Cuyo, a tiny port, by
the Cuban superintendent of a wood-cutting company which has its
headquarters there.



On the coast from El Cuyo to Cape Catoche and round as far east as
Contoy Island are mounds, sometimes many miles apart, averaging about 50
or 60 feet in height. We examined some of these. They are obviously
artificial, quite roughly built of earth and unhewn stones, and, there
can be little doubt, were erected during the later years of the
fifteenth and the early years of the sixteenth centuries as "look-outs"
to warn the tribes of the interior of the approach of the Spaniards.
Around them are no traces of buildings. From them smoke-signals by day
and fire by night doubtless served as a perfect means of collecting the
tribes at any threatened point.

From El Cuyo, recrossing the salt lakes which for twenty-four miles
fringe the swampy forest coast lands at this part, we took a directly
east course for sixty miles. Profitless as this part of our tour proved
archæologically, it was geographically of interest. We have been enabled
to prepare a map of this north-eastern corner of Yucatan, which attains
an accuracy no map heretofore published has attained. This district is a
dead level of primeval forest, untrodden, unknown, stretching for forty
miles inland and fringed by swamps which are anything from five to ten
miles wide. Here and there we discovered traces of Indian towns, in no
case suggesting much size, the settlements of those sub-tribes which
ranged this woodland and probably looked Chichen-wards for their supreme
chief. This belt of forest land forms the gigantic concession of a
Yucatecan trading concern, "La Compañía Agricola," founded in 1902; but
a really infinitesimal part comparatively has been brought by them under
cultivation, working with imported labour, chiefly from Cuba and Mexico.
From the officials--all Cubans--we received the most perfect courtesy
and the most generous assistance in forwarding our progress along the
coast, and we shall directly describe a pleasant stay we made on their
chief sugar plantation.

The days in the forest were monotonous enough. We followed a mule-track
used by the woodcutters. Mile after mile the scenery was the same. There
is nothing majestic in the Yucatecan forests. You see no giant trees, no
mighty fathers of the woodland towering up. The highest is the sapota,
from which the gummy sap _chicle_--basis of all American
chewing-gums--is obtained. The characteristic of the forest is its
deadly stillness. Thanks to the riverless nature of Yucatan there is
little animal life. The swamps afford a haunt for the black duck, for
wild geese, spoonbills, ibis and flamingo; and now and again you hear
the hoarse cry of a parakeet, or a wild pig bustles through the
undergrowth. But practically the forest is dead, flowerless, dark;
matted, tangled underfoot, matted, tangled overhead; the long snake-like
lianas hanging like fairy ropes from the highest, or weaving a network,
like the web of some monster spider, between the shorter, trees.

On the site of the ancient Indian village of Labcah La Compañía Agricola
has built itself a settlement which it has rechristened Solferino. On
our arrival there we had the kindest welcome possible from the Cuban
superintendent, who entertained us at a hastily improvised lunch what
time he insisted on sending on in advance of us a message to the
officials at the sugar plantation some ten miles off to prepare them for
our visit. The company is one of the richest in Yucatan, chiefly owing
to the great saline lagoons over which we had passed, from which is
extracted rough salt, for the sale of which they practically have a
monopoly throughout Northern and Western Yucatan, exporting large
quantities as well to Vera Cruz and other ports on the Mexican gulf.
They have also undertaken chicle-cutting, and at Solferino are opening
up many acres of woodland for plantations of cocoa, cotton, and banana.
This latter settlement showed every sign of their growing prosperity,
being quite the model village, with trim huts fronting on to large
corrals filled with cattle and mules. Thence late in the afternoon we
started for their sugar farm, which is the industry latest initiated,
but in which, as we afterwards learnt, there is not so much profit as
their enterprise deserves, because of the cheap American sugars which
are rapidly becoming a vast import throughout Yucatan.

Heading northward again, we were soon once more among the swamps, the
forests thinning off and giving place to a low-lying country, just the
steaming hot, miasmic soil for sugar. A few miles further and we entered
the first plantations, each side of us stretching acres of the
rusty-green rush-like plants topping the purple yellowy canes, each
plantation marked with a board bearing the date of planting and the
number of _mecates_[4] in the patch. Ahead of us we soon saw the tall
brick chimney of the sugar mill, and then, as far as the eye could see,
sugar-cane stretched on either side of the track till we entered the
settlement. First a street of wooden huts, each built up on a platform
two feet from the ground, and reached by a few wood steps like those of
a bathing-machine, and then a wide clearing; on one side the sugar mill,
a huge shed-like erection, on the other the large one-storeyed bungalow,
built of Mexican cedar, the administrative building of the plantation.
Here we were greeted by the chief administrator of the Company with such
courteous kindness as made us feel deeply the disadvantage we laboured
under in being such poor Spanish scholars. Señor Sanchez was but fifty,
though he looked an old man. The stooping shoulders, the thin wasted
figure, the hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, the dried yellow skin, told
only too sadly their tale of bitter battle waged with the fever fiend.
For here where sugar grows men wither, and the little cemetery, lying a
mile seaward behind the mill and established but a few years, could
already boast a larger census than the settlement.

We were invited within to a room which was roomy enough, but not
room-like in that it had no furniture, save half a dozen rocking-chairs.
The walls were bare, and the boarded floor was innocent of carpet or
matting and unseemly with a myriad expectorations. Here we were
introduced to the staff, a group of Cubans, rough, bearded men in
flannel shirts and leather-belted linen trousers grimy with coal dust
and engine grease. These were the engineers; most of them men who had
worked on plantations in Cuba before the Spanish-American War but had
found their occupation gone owing to the dislocation of plantation work
there, and so had come across to Yucatan. They were rough enough, but a
real relief after the hypocritically civil Yucatecans, who had so far
done their best to ruin our tour. After a general conversation, if
indeed it deserves that adjective, seeing that we had to shoot the
Spanish conversational rabbit as it dodged from rocking-chair to
rocking-chair, a move was made to view the engines. The chief director
of the Company is a henequen millionaire and shipowner, and no money had
been spared to make the plant perfect. A powerful American type of
vertical engine of the very latest make worked the huge crusher and the
centrifugal machine which separates the sugar from the molasses. It was
Saturday afternoon and the mill was not working, but the "hands" were
loafing round, and we were struck with the number of Koreans. The
administrator told us that he had quite a village of these. They are
good workmen, easily satisfied, and stand the climate well. Another
figure that attracted our attention was a huge bewhiskered nigger, who
on seeing us was all smiles. He proved to be from Belize, British
Honduras, and of course spoke good English. He was almost childishly
proud of his rights as a British subject, and told us that he had served
in one of the West Indian regiments. He said he liked the English
soldier, and that the officers were always kind and treated the black
man well. As we shook his hand in parting, we were glad to learn that he
was happy, liked his work, and was fairly treated. The bulk of the men
employed are Mexicans. As the administrator explained, the great
difficulty of the Company is the dearth of labour: "_Poca gente_, _poca
gente_," he kept on repeating ("There are very few people"); for the
Indians around, who have been terribly thinned off by Mexican massacres,
will not work. These Mexican labourers are a good-for-nothing,
discontented, idle lot, and the _calabozo_, or prison-hut, close to the
engine house, usually contained one or more of these recalcitrants.
Drink is the great evil among them, and the most severe restrictions are
in force limiting the amount of liquor they can obtain from the
Company's store during the day. At sunset dinner was served in an inner
room opening out upon the filthiest yard imaginable. There pigs, dogs,
cats, turkeys, ducks, and chickens ran riot and trespassed into the
dining-room to see what good things the Señores had for dinner. Nothing
is stranger than the Spaniard's disregard for those comforts of
cleanliness which can fill even the humblest home with "sweetness and
light." Here was our host,--a Spanish Cuban of good birth, with the
manners of a prince, courteous, kindly, cultured,--content to dine off a
tablecloth so stained and filthy and thick with grime that a Pickford's
van boy would resent such a cover for his humble board at Café Lockhart
or Pearce-and-Plenty. It was nothing to him and his genial, intelligent
subordinates that the mustard-pot was dark with dead flies, and that
ugly grease spots decorated the cloth, which was ringed with the stains
of myriad wineglasses. They were all living like pigs and indeed with
them, for the porkers came in and rooted under the table for the crumbs
that fell from the rich men. And we were rich as far as food was
concerned, for they gave us an excellent dinner of chicken and rice,
beef, pork, omelette, boiled plantains and sweet potatoes, with
pineapple as desert, the waiters being two Mexican boys who wore their
straw hats and blankets all through their dinner-duties.

The next morning we took our coffee with the administrator, sitting
round the same fly-marked cloth. It was a lesson in Spanish dignity and
how a man may tower above his surroundings to hear this grim
fever-stricken Spanish gentleman talk history and politics in an almost
stately old-world fashion amid such squalor. He insisted that we should
stay to take breakfast with him at eleven, and we were glad we did, for
we witnessed a curious scene well worth seeing. The previous evening the
men had received their week's wages. As we had sipped our coffee we had
heard the young Cuban clerk eternally calling "Antonio Rodriguez,"
"Lucio Perez," and such names; and then the chink of Mexican silver as
the money, hard enough earned in those steaming hell-hot sugar swamps,
was paid through the little iron-barred pigeon-hole. But there was one
of these fellows who had gone away discontented. Each man is paid
according to the amount of cane he cuts. This fellow, who had only been
employed a fortnight, had cut none because he declared he had been
engaged as an overseer, not a hand labourer. But during the two weeks he
had had food and drink supplied him on credit, and now he had come up
for pay. The clerk told him, naturally enough, that he would be paid
when he did some work, and not before. So shortly after breakfast the
man appeared before the pay-office to once more air his wrongs. The
clerk referred the case to the administrator, who was talking with us,
and the latter crossed over to the office. A minute later we heard angry
voices, and then, to our amazement, the administrator dashed out of his
office through the room where we sat and simply rushed at the grumbler.
The latter backed off as Señor Sanchez made for him, apparently to kick
or strike him.

Calling out threats, he disappeared, and we thought the scene was over;
but it was obviously only a dress rehearsal, for he presently reappeared
brandishing his machete. It was really quite exciting: the man was
evidently going to run amuck. He was a sturdy fellow too, bullet-headed,
bulldog-jawed, evil-eyed: just the man for mischief. There was quite a
panic in the office. One old clerk picked up a long pole, the
administrator seized a workmanlike walking-stick; but the coolest of the
lot was a young Cuban who, with hands in his trouser pockets, went
forward to parley with the man. It seemed that the outburst of the
administrator had been due to the man's personal insolence, and that he
had then ordered him to surrender his machete. This he was now
brandishing, and it certainly looked like murder; but it was soon
obvious that there was more cheap melodrama than business about the
fellow. He went down on one knee and appealed to heaven to witness that
he would rather give up his life than his machete; and then, as the
young unarmed Cuban approached him, he got up and retreated a few steps
further. But in such matters he who retires is lost, and slowly but
surely round him were extending, like the horns of a Zulu impi, a
semicircle of officials, in the centre the administrator, his
fever-yellowed face grey now, but with anger, not fear, his whole
emaciated figure expressive of an almost demoniacal rage. So the fellow
made a bolt for it to his hut; and when, some half an hour later, we
started for the coast, we saw him, as we looked back, disarmed and being
led in by the plantation police to cool his heels for forty-eight hours
in the calabozo.

The few miles which separated the sugar plantation from the sea were a
kind of tropical saltings, mud and sparse grass alive with small
land-crabs which galloped in hundreds to gain the shelter of boulder or
fallen tree-trunk as we approached. With the utmost courtesy Señor
Sanchez had insisted upon providing us with a boat for our journey to
Holboch, lying four miles from the little rickety wooden quay which
constitutes the Company's port of Chiquila. Holboch--sixteen miles long,
low-lying, narrow--is quite the island of one's tropical dreams, a
harmony of sparkling sand, blue sea, and palm-trees. An avenue of palms
leads to the fisher-settlement, a square of wood huts, painted bright
blue and white, built round a plaza of sand. We had the bad luck to
arrive at the moment when the fisher folk were about to launch
themselves upon a sea of dissipation in celebration of the New Year.
Thus there were few who wished to launch on the other sea. But
Yucatecans will do anything for money, and we soon found a boat, a dory
of three tons, "La Esperanza," and a captain. Short, stout, bow-legged,
with rolling rollicking walk and eyes twinkling under shaggy eyebrows, a
big flap hat worn rakishly over one eye, he was such a ludicrous mixture
of the truculent and the comic that we christened him "the amiable
smuggler." But no Yucatecan can keep his word, and our new friend's
amiability was not proof against this racial failing. Thus, having
settled the terms overnight for the boat which was to take us round Cape
Catoche, we were astonished to find him at our hut-door the next morning
declaring he must have another four dollars a day. It was all the fault
of the New Year festivities. The poor fellow wanted to get drunk, and he
felt that if this could not be, he must receive heavy compensation. We
compromised the matter by adding one dollar to the daily pay and
agreeing to postpone our sailing till the New Year was in. We very
foolishly advanced him and the two other Yucatecans who were to form our
crew thirty dollars, and paid for our mistake by being obliged to spend
the rest of the day watching the dipsomaniacal trio to check their
Gadarenic descent into senselessness.

The Holbochians were not quite replicas of those proverbial South Sea
Islanders who gained a precarious living by taking in each other's
washing; but their relations were, if anything, even more intimate; for
everybody appeared to be everybody else's brother, sister, cousin or
aunt. We were told that the whole village--some three
hundred--represented the ramifications of practically only two families,
and the sickly pallor of some of the boys and girls suggested that this
inbreeding was already making its evil influence felt. There was not an
Indian in the place. It was a community of Yucatecan fishermen, as
indeed are most of the inhabited islands as far south as Ascension Bay.
They lead an easy-going, loiter life; swinging the sunny hours away in
their hammocks, and loafing the evenings away drinking in the tiny
spirit-stores presided over by a huge, bloated Dutch immigrant and his
equally fat frau, or love-making among the thorn-bushes on the beach.
Occasionally they fish or take a job as one of the hands of the small
trading schooners which ply from Progreso to Cozumel; but life is cheap,
and they do as little honest work as they reasonably can.

This indeed is the average Yucatecan; an easy-going creature, fond of
women, fonder of drink, and fondest of dancing. If there is anything
which awakens the Yucatecan soul, it is the charms of _la baile_ (the
ball). The Holbochians took it rather hardly that we had descended upon
them at such an intempestive moment. They would have so much liked to
have given themselves wholeheartedly to the congenial task of dogging
the footsteps of "los Americanos," as they insisted upon calling us, and
jeering us at intervals; but they really had scarcely time to spare, for
the whole village was agog over the New Year's Eve Ball. Most Yucatecan
villages have dancing halls; Holboch had. It was a large
palm-leaf-thatched open shed at the corner of the plaza, wood-floored.
Round it were ranged wood benches; from the centre roof-pole hung two or
three oil lamps, and the decorations were flags. Dancing began at about

The American traveller Stephens was loud in his praises of Yucatecan
dancing. Perhaps it has altered in the last sixty years. It certainly
seemed to us the dullest performance we had ever witnessed. Those
mechanical toys, metal trays upon which are fixed several couples of tin
figures which, when wound up, go slowly round and round in a melancholy
way on the same spot, give about the best idea of a Yucatecan dance.
There is no life, no spirited movement, no gaiety in the entertainment.
Perhaps this is really the fault of the orchestra. It is difficult even
to speak of Yucatecan music without a shudder. It is curious that a
people so devoted to dancing, even if it is only of the humming-top
type, should have no music in them. They seem to be ignorant of air,
tune, or time. Their dance music is one long droning chant, flat, stale,
and unprofitable, absolutely maddening in its reiteration, reminiscent
of childhood's jest about "the tune the cow died to." The band at
Holboch consisted of a kettledrum and a concertina. There was no fixed
orchestra; anybody who was handy beat the drum, and everybody in turn
had a go at the concertina; each performer adding his little best to the
musicless horror of the noise. There appeared to be no fixed step; some
couples hopped round, some went round with a sliding slither, and others
seemed to be walking round rapidly. As long as the music lasted the
men's faces bore a look of concentrated earnestness, the girls' that of
submissive boredom. When the music stopped, the girls were placed on the
benches, and the men walked out into the plaza and stood staring at
them. We were much interested in one performer, a young fellow of about
twenty. We had seen him earlier in the day engaged in bathing in a pail,
a method of ablution requiring much persistence. And now, in the most
spotless of linen breeches and coloured cotton vest, he had thrown
himself heart and soul into the evening's enjoyment. He danced as long
as the drum beat, and then he put his partner upon the shelf, and came
out into the plaza and mopped his forehead till the drum began again.

We bore with the scene for some hours, because we held a "watching
brief" in the interests of the cruise of the "Esperanza"; for our
"amiable smuggler" was very drunk, and we hoped, by keeping an eye on
him, to prevent him from becoming drunker and passing into a comatose
condition. He delivered himself into our hands, for he came up and
invited us to dance with him, and as we were due to start soon after
midnight we made this outrageous proposal an excuse for putting him in
charge of the Jefe, who promised to see him into his hammock for a few
hours' sleep before we wanted him. The second man was so far gone that
there was no reasoning with him. We had to let him lie where he was in
the plaza and trust to the night air to bring him round by the time we
sailed. With the third sailor, who was sober, we took the boat round to
where the deeper water allowed of her being ballasted and loaded.

By the time the boat was ready it was fast approaching midnight. The
dance was over; the girls had left their shelves and gone home to their
hammocks; the lamps were out; and a few belated revellers were
straggling about or lying senseless on the sand, which glistened
snow-white in the moonlight. We found our skipper in his hut. He had
pulled himself together, and he came with us to find the first mate. The
latter was in his hammock in a drunken sleep, and refused to answer to
our repeated knockings. We were for starting without him; but the
amiable smuggler said he had advanced him ten dollars and he had got to
come. He evidently knew his man, for he called out some opprobrious
words in Spanish. We did not catch what they were; but a well-trained
ferret never made a rabbit bolt from his hole as quick as those choice
epithets brought the toper from his hammock. The hut door burst open,
and before the captain could realise he had overdone it, the fuddled
Nicolas rushed at him and hit him full in the face. In a moment all was
disorder. The wives of the combatants rushed out to act as seconds, and
half a dozen neighbours tumbled from their hammocks and rushed over to
see the battle. But a Yucatecan prize-fight under Queensberry rules did
not form part of our programme, and we successfully intervened, seizing
the struggling men, and held on to them till they had spluttered out the
worst of their rage, when the storm ceased as suddenly as it had begun
and they fell upon each other's necks, calling each other "_bueno
amigo_" (good friend). Escorting them down to the boat and leaving them
to get the sail up, we returned to our hut, shouldered our baggage, and
carried it to the beach. As the New Year came in, we were thigh-deep in
the tepid water, a pale eau-de-Nil in the moonlight, wading backwards
and forwards to the "Esperanza." It was nearly two, however, before we
got under way, and the dawn of the New Year's Day found us but some ten
miles down the coast.

The shores we now explored were historic indeed. We were retracing the
course of Cortes as he cruised round from the island of Cozumel, whither
we were bound. But if they were historic, they were singularly
uninteresting. The woods come down to within a few feet of the beach,
woods which never deserve the title of forests and yet are so
impenetrable that no one who has not tried to cut his way through would
believe it. About midday we made a landing near to where it was said
ruins existed, and cut our way through two miles of bush. Ruins we
found, but they were of no moment, and if they were Indian they were
certainly post-Conquest. It was a broiling hot day, and our eyes
suffered from the sand-glare. On reaching the beach again, we were
tempted to have a bathe, though this is risky work at any part of the
coast of Yucatan, for there are more sharks to the square mile than
there are probably in any other part of the world. But it was far too
hot for us to be very prudent, and we had a delicious plunge, coming out
none too soon though, for while we were putting on our shirts we saw
Master Shark showing his fins a yard or two from where we had been
revelling in the green water.

We made many landings, but they were quite disappointing in their
results. Cape Catoche itself is a low spit of sand separated from the
mainland by a shallow channel about a quarter of a mile wide. Here a
light has been recently installed. The whole region for miles round is
desolation. Just beyond the cape the coastline breaks into a large bay,
an immense wooded oval of shallow water, guarded seaward by a natural
breakwater of sand and entered by two narrow waterways, east and west.
This great inlet, framed in thick woods, its sunlit, gently rippling
surface dotted with beds of reeds and straggling water-flowers, is the
haunt of the sea birds. As we stole into their solitude, vast flocks of
ibis, of gulls, black duck, sandpipers, and the hideous brown pelicans
rose and made off; while, fairest of all sights in the brilliant light,
was a flight of flamingoes, a pink cloud passing overhead.

There can be little doubt that this bay was the scene of that first
landing of Cortes on the American mainland which was destined so largely
to shape the future of Central America. It was curious to land and
wander in the desolate woods, the battle-ground of four centuries past,
picturing to oneself the romance of it all. Further eastward we put in
to examine some ruins which showed above the trees. They proved to be
those of a Catholic church and monastery, probably eighteenth-century
work. The church was full of bats, which fluttered down from the
mildewed walls frightened at the unwonted intrusion. Here and there
along the coast southward from the cape we found signs of ancient Indian
settlements. The ruins were in no way majestic, but were probably relics
of outlying fisher settlements, and only interesting because significant
of the building zeal of the pre-Conquest Indians. This great sweep of
coastline must have ever been what it is to-day--swampy and impassable;
in no way inviting to the establishment of large cities such as Chichen
and Uxmal, but used rather as a vast hunting ground by the tribes of the

Even in typical tropic weather there is much discomfort in life in a
three-ton boat. So far the weather had been perfect; and once round the
cape, we got the full benefit of the trade-winds which blow here all the
year round. As Dryden in his _Annus Mirabilis_ writes:

    "But now, the Cape once doubled, fear no more;
    A constant trade wind will securely blow
    And gently lay us on the spicy shore."

Our "spicy shore" was the fruitful island of Cozumel, of the fertile
beauty of which we had heard such glowing accounts; but once round the
cape, our troubles proved by no means over. After a few days the weather
broke. The night was perfect. A full moon bathed the quiet sea and the
wooded coasts in a wonderful silver light, and as we stared up into the
sky from our bed of sand-ballast sacks in the bottom of the boat, it
seemed as if the stars had never shone so brightly. But with the dawn we
ran into the fringe of what is known in the Gulf of Mexico as a
"norther"; and the weather ahead looked so dirty that we took refuge in
a tiny islet called Isla Arena (Sand Island). It was an ideally lonely
Robinson Crusoey spot. A few deserted huts marked it as the occasional
home of passing fishermen. We swung our hammocks in that which had the
most water-tight thatch, and then walked round the island with the guns
in search of duck. In the centre was a touching little cemetery; a
square of sand humbly marked off with sea-shells; the graves--six of
them--each with a rudely fashioned wooden cross; and black
spirit-bottles, which had once served as flower vases, stood around. It
is a wild life these Yucatecan fishermen often lead, and as we stood
bare-headed by this "Garden of Sleep," those haunting lines on
Stevenson's Samoan tomb came to our minds:

    "Here he lies where he longed to be.
    Home is the fisherman, home from the sea;
    The hunter home from the hill."

Here they rested, lulled by the eternal sigh of the ocean so long their

The weather had scarcely improved when towards dawn we made a start for
Isla de Mujeres. Had we known what was ahead of us, we should have made
Sand Island our home for yet another day, till the sea had had time to
quiet down. In the deep gloom which heralded the approach of another day
we tacked round Cayo Sucio (Dirty Point) and passed Rat and Pelican
Keys, two miniature isles. The sea was rough and choppy, and a mile or
so out a nasty squall came up and we hove to, taking in all sail, the
little boat pitching and tossing like a walnut shell, while we crouched
under mackintosh sheets to keep as dry as was possible. Thence, when the
sky cleared, we had a straight run down the coast. The amiable smuggler
had ominously talked of a _via angusta_ (narrow way); but our Spanish
was so limited that his explanations were lost on us, and his
uneasiness, as he stared weatherwards, we took for the nervousness all
Yucatecans show in any risk.

It was about an hour after dawn that away to our left--so far that it
sounded like the last thunder-mutterings of a storm long past--we heard
a low murmuring. We looked seaward, and the captain pointed to the
horizon with the words "_las rocas_." Across the dreary waste of water,
its night-grey yielding to a sickly green in the chill morning glare, it
was at first hard to see anything. Then, as we stared, we saw at first a
long, thin, black line, white-topped, starting leftwards some five miles
off and running in till its end was lost in the rollers ahead. Evenly
marked it seemed, like the black and white painting on a giant ship's
hull. And then, in the minutes as we neared, the white became broken
into cloudlets, showing up quick in succession like smoke of an engine
above the edge of a railway cutting. And quickly the murmuring turned
into a booming, like the hum of a great city's traffic heard from afar;
and the booming into a low intense thunder. And as we passed into the
tumbling waters, the even lines were gone and we saw an endless belt of
black coral rock closing our whole horizon. The "Esperanza" was heading
for the reef at seven knots. We ran to within half a mile; and the
thunder of the Atlantic, as it broke upon the demon-shaped jags of
coral, bursting in clouds of spray forty feet high, was like the dry
roaring of wild beasts. The tiller went round, and we veered a point or
two more into the wind; and then straight ahead we saw why the amiable
smuggler had steered up so close. To our right a smaller line of reef,
some two hundred yards long, bent out from the shore to meet the
three-mile leftward curve. Between the shore and the coral was no safe
way even for boats of three feet draught such as ours. Ahead lay the
only way--between the deadly corals.

It was _la via angusta_, and to us landlubbers it looked like the gate
of a water-hell; an ocean fiend's cauldron of bubbling, leaping grey
water. As the two lines of rock closed in on us, the sea rolled down
from the seaward reefs in great slate-coloured foamless rollers. From
the level of the little boat they looked like moving hills. The wind was
blowing fresh on the quarter, and the skipper had put the boat towards
the bigger reef lest we should be blown clean on the smaller. There was
not a dog's chance for us if we capsized, and an inchtwist wrong of the
helm and we must. One second we sank low between rollers, looking down a
lead-grey alley-way of water. The next we were flung up, light as an
egg-shell, on the crest of a wave, balancing there long enough to
measure with straining eyes the distance between us and the hell of
coral. The next half-hour seemed the longest we had ever lived. It
looked as if nothing but a miracle of seamanship could save the boat. We
heard the captain mutter a prayer to the Virgin, and the sailors, their
yellow faces now ashen-grey, crouched for'ad clinging to the shrouds,
the spray soaking their thin cottons. When we ran once more into the
open Atlantic, we cared not for the fiercer waves which charged us,
breaking over the bows and drenching us, for we had faced what was worse
than open sea. These reefs, the "graveyard of the Yucatan Channel," are
the terror of the locality; and when, wet and numbed, we reached the
picturesque little pueblo of Dolores in Isla de Mujeres three miles
further on, the Yucatecan fishermen collected, amazed, on the beach to
hear how an open boat had lived through the deadly passage on such a

We had risked much to visit the island; but archæologically it was not
worth it. Here it was that the Spaniards in 1517 got their very first
sight of those stone buildings of Central America which were as much a
marvel to them as they are to us to-day. The historians of the Conquest
describe a temple of stone, surrounded by fruit trees and sweet-scented
shrubs, and approached by well-laid steps. Within, the air was heavy
with the smell of incense which burnt in stone and earthenware vessels
before female idols clothed in cotton petticoats with the bosoms
"decently covered." Before these images were well-ordered files of
women-ministrants, who served in the temple. Hence Cordoba called the
island Isla de Mujeres--Isle of Women. But all this old-time glory has
disappeared. The only village edges with its whitewashed huts, their
doors painted a light blue or green, the shallow semicircle of sand
which forms the islet's only anchorage; behind this row of cottages the
tiny cross-streets are almost knee-deep in its pale yellow glitter. Away
southward stretches a barren waste, six miles long and never much more
than a mile wide, of rock and sand, over which clambers a coarse-leafed
sea-vine, a coarser thistly plant, with here and there a clump of
fan-palms. Only at the extreme southern end on a rocky bluff stands a
relic of the dead people. It is a solid-built structure about 18 feet
square on the outside, and containing two rooms 14 feet by 6 each. There
is no ornamentation or hieroglyphics on it, but outside, facing east,
are two stone ledges, like plinths for statues, upon which, local rumour
has it, once stood two gigantic statues of women. Near at hand is a
small Spanish watch-tower, all to pieces, a contrast to the
well-preserved Indian stone-work.

We intended making the island a base for further exploration of the east
coast, and hired a hut which stood at the end of the village on a steep
rock. The reefs had so completely shattered the nerves of our crew that
they declared it impossible to proceed to Cozumel in the "Esperanza."
Our belief in the proverbial halcyon calm of tropic seas had also been
much shaken by our morning's experiences, and we were inclined to agree
with the frightened sailors. So, paying them up to the next morning, we
discharged them, determining to hire a larger boat for the rest of our
cruise. But this was not the dénouement which the amiable smuggler hoped
or wished, and he insolently declared that we must pay him for so many
more days as it took him to return to the island of Holboch. When we
refused, he muttered something about reporting us to the Jefe and
disappeared. We thought no more about it, and busied ourselves in
settling in to our new quarters. About half an hour later we were
sitting in our hammocks polishing our top boots with soft soap, when a
long scraggy-looking man arrived who declared himself to be a policeman.
He certainly did not look like one, but he brought a message from the
Jefe Politico that "_los otros hombres_" (the other men) were to appear
before that functionary at two o'clock. This was altogether too much for
our British blood. We had so far throughout our tour borne the Yucatecan
fool as gladly as we could, but now our cup was running over. In an
outburst of Spanish, utterly ungrammatical, but very much to the point,
we consigned him and all Jefes to an even warmer place than Isla de
Mujeres, and bade him return with all speed to his chief and tell that
gentleman that we were not "the other men," but British subjects,
bearing passports from the Federal Government; that nothing would induce
us to appear at two or at any other hour, and that if the Jefe wanted to
see us he would have to come to us, not we go to him. We were very
angry, and the miserable Yucatecan creature backed out of our hut

We considered the incident closed, and continued polishing our boots.
But about half an hour later, noticing a commotion at our hut door we
looked out and, to our amazement, found a dense crowd assembled led by a
fat Yucatecan, wearing a pith helmet. This was Señor El Jefe, and behind
him, ranged in the order of their rank, were all the officials of the
island. In the background stood the scraggy policeman, who certainly
thought that we were now about to meet the due reward of our temerity in
flouting the thunderbolts of this Caribbean island-Jove and to be
hanged, drawn and quartered to "make a Yucatecan holiday." We invited
the Jefe into the hut, and in a few sentences explained that we intended
no personal affront to him, seeing that until that moment we had never
had the pleasure of clapping eyes on him. But that the insolence of the
message was such as, in Dogberry's words, was "most tolerable and not to
be endured"; and that we therefore could not apologise for our refusal
to obey it. The Jefe, as we afterwards learnt, was a thorough old rogue,
but he had a fund of common sense. In a few minutes we had explained to
him that the amiable smuggler had already been paid his full wages and
we were shaking hands all round, the Jefe assuring us that the message
had been misdelivered: that he had used the word _supplica_
(supplicates), not _manda_ (demands), in citing us to his court. It was
delightful to watch the evident chagrin of the policeman and the
barefooted crowd who had hoped to see "los Ingleses" haul down their


[4] _Mecate_--a Mexican square measure equal to about one-tenth
of an acre.



Across the shallow blue harbour of Isla de Mujeres and a four-mile
stretch of the Yucatan Channel, clear as crystal, its small rippling
waves flecked to foam by the trade winds, lies the eastern mainland of
Yucatan. Here on the low wooded shore, in direct line with the southern
point of the island, are the ruins of El Meco. Our new boat was some two
or three tons heavier than the "Esperanza." Our captain and its owner
was a Yucatecan fisherman, Lucio Sanchez, who some years before, to
avoid service in the National Guard, had migrated to Key West and become
an American citizen. He had now returned to his native island, had taken
unto himself a Yucatecan wife, and was the happy father of four
children. In all our dealings with him, which extended over several
weeks, we found him scrupulously honest, and in all ways a marked
contrast to his detestable fellow-countrymen. If this were the result of
two years' residence at Key West, it is surely a happy augury of the
improvement which is likely to take place in the Yucatecan people when
they form, as they inevitably will, a portion, however unworthy, of the
Land of the Stars and Stripes.

Besides Lucio our crew consisted of his half-brother, a handsome
black-eyed lad of sixteen, who looked far older and rejoiced in the
girlish name of Dolores, and a middle-aged Yucatecan sailor whose name
was Pedro Paz. With a new stock of provisions, and with a welcome
addition of elbow-room compared with the "cabined, cribbed confinement"
of the tiny "Esperanza," we made our start in the highest spirits. The
run across took less than an hour, and opposite a sandy bay a mile north
of the ruins we anchored. The coast for the most part here is shelving
coral rock, and even small sailing-boats dare not go right in; landing
always being a matter of wading. We could see the main ruin, a pyramid,
showing above the woods some little way inland, and as there are no
paths hereabouts, and we knew we should have to cut our way, we were all
armed with machetes. We stopped under a clump of cocoa palms on the
beach--one of our sailors shinning up for the green fruit--and had a
delightful drink of the water; and then tramped down the rocky shore
till we came opposite the ruins.

But we had no sooner plunged into the woods than we discovered we had
not got them to ourselves. They were thickly populated, and the natives
were the most savage and inhospitable we had yet met. The air was simply
filled with mosquitoes, which evidently regarded our arrival as the
occasion for a "_dia de fiesta_," and started stinging our faces, hands,
and arms till their pestilent persistence nearly maddened us. If there
is anything to urge you to work in such a spot where the least movement
causes the sweat to run down you in rivulets, it is mosquitoes. While
your machete is at work and the bush tops and branches fall around you,
the midget fiends keep off a bit. Thus goaded into frenzied activity, we
were not long in reaching El Meco.

It is a pyramid faced with stone, but, unlike that at Chichen, it is
built in perpendicular terraces, each smaller than the one below, giving
its sides the appearance of a gigantic stairway, save that the ledges
are not of equal height or width. On the east side there had been a
staircase, now ruined. We scrambled up, clinging on to the gnarled roots
and branches of trees growing from it, and once on the top a refreshing
sea breeze greeted us, for the time driving our persecutors away. To
make anything like accurate measurements the dense overgrowth had to be
first cut away, and we stripped off our coats and revolver belts and set
to with a will. The building, which our energetic assault on the
vegetation disclosed, was now roofless. It had consisted of two
rectangular rooms running north and south. At the top of the stairs on
the east, forming the doorway of the first chamber, stood two pillars 18
inches in diameter. The inner room had two stone platforms about 4 feet
high, probably altars: for there is no doubt that all the strictly
pyramidal buildings of Central America were religious in character. We
say "strictly pyramidal" to differentiate these temples from the other
buildings of Yucatan which are, almost without exception, erected on
mounds. While making our measurements one of us, tape in hand, nearly
touched a snake which was hiding in a crevice in the wall. He was quite
small, of a ringed black and brown colour, but Lucio declared him one of
the deadliest of all snakes. He called it _calom_. We tickled the
reptile's tail with a machete, and he squirmed deeper into the wall and


A queerer occupant of this ancient temple was a huge hermit crab, which
by a miracle of persistence had climbed the pyramid and was hidden under
a tree-root. These uncanny creatures are everywhere on the islands and
along the coast of Yucatan. They live in large whelk-shells, moving from
one to another as their growth demands a larger tenement. All you can
see of them is a great red hairy claw, which is used to close the
entrance of the shell. When disturbed they make a shrill noise like the
faint chirping of a bird--by rubbing, it is said, the ridged surface of
the last joint of the right great claw against the sharp edge of the
second joint. The woodlands of the islands were full of them, and of
course they were frequent on the beaches; but it did seem curious to
find this big fellow so much up in the world. His family removals,
necessitating a descent of the pyramid and a journey of at least half a
mile through the bush to the beach, where he would have a choice of
whelk-shells, must have been undertakings before which all but the
stoutest crab hearts would have quailed.

Climbing out on to the face of the ruin, we found its height to be 48
feet. Descending, we discovered on the south side of the pyramid on the
ground-level a tiny chamber 5 feet high and 8 feet long, the door about
3 feet high and 2-1/2 wide. Remains of such a room existed on the left.
In other ruins we were struck again and again with the smallness of the
doorways and the lowness of the roofs. There are so many buildings of
the kind in Yucatan that a ludicrous belief is current among the natives
that the builders of the ruins were dwarfs. There is of course nothing
in such a theory. These tiny rooms at El Meco were probably
sleeping-chambers for the guardian priests. In the woods around we found
three other buildings much ruined, the pillars formed of rounded
monoliths each some 6 feet high. Our investigations had taken some time,
and it would be quite unsafe to estimate how many times we had been
bitten. Some idea may be gained of the number of mosquitoes "engaged" by
the fact that we counted over three dozen on one coat-sleeve. We were
right glad to reach the shore and get on board, though with smarting
faces and itching hands.

A run of an hour down the coast brought us to the northern end of Cancun
Island. Seaward, owing to surf and coral, it is difficult to land, but
it is separated from the mainland by a series of narrow channels opening
into several broad bays, almost land-locked sea lakes. At the entrance
are sandspits running out from island and shore, forming the narrowest
of channels, perhaps six feet wide. It is such difficulties of
navigation and the discomforts of small-boat life which have kept other
travellers away and permitted us the privilege of being the first to
thoroughly explore these islands. Once past the sandspits you enter a
truly tropic creek. The water is a beech-leaf green and clear as glass;
the laurel-hued mangrove trees grow far into the stream, their brown
snake-like roots showing feet above the water. Perched upon these weird
trees are wild-fowl and fishing-birds, while, where the mud has silted up
between the roots and formed a ledge, lie alligators blinking their
evil-looking eyes in the blazing light. Below you in the green crystal
depths you see turtle floating, and the giant picuda, with pike-like
jaws, chasing the little fishes.

This picuda, full-grown specimens of which weigh their fifteen or twenty
pounds, makes exciting fishing. There is no science about it, for he is
a regular sea glutton, and with a fresh fish (the picuda insists on
this: he is no refuse-eater) as bait on a string quite ropelike in its
thickness you are almost certain to hook one just about here. The
monster comes on board with a regular hullabaloo, flapping and leaping
like a veritable tarpon and inflicting ugly bites if you give him the
chance. The sailors kill him by hitting him over the head with a wooden
mallet; but this weapon proved ineffective in the hands of the lad
Dolores, who, apparently in the hope of hastening the fish's escape from
his sufferings, pressed his two brown fingers into the creature's
eye-sockets. We were ashamed of the cruelty of the action, and motioned
to him to stop. But Yucatecans have no humanity, and the boy, his
handsome face lit up with a bewitching smile, went on gouging out the
fish's eyes.

We had a shot or two at an alligator and bagged a few birds as we sailed
out of this creek into a wide stretch of water, its thickly wooded
shores making it look like an English lake. Towards evening we ran into
another channel, and there at an inlet, tree-shrouded, we ran the boat
into the boggy bank. The only inhabitant of the island is an old Indian,
a regular Mayan Robinson Crusoe, nearly blind through a splinter of wood
flying up into his face while he was chopping. We were greeted by the
barking of some half a dozen dogs which came bounding down from the hut,
followed by their master who could only just distinguish night from day,
and yet made his way to the water edge with extraordinary confidence. He
welcomed us with true Mayan hospitality, and in a little time we were
dining like princes off roasted picuda, biscuit and rice, washed down
with Cadbury's cocoa. There was one drawback to our new quarters: the
mosquitoes were in possession.

Cancun is a sixteen-mile stretch, mostly dense bush; at the northern end
one of the artificial mounds, examples of which we examined higher up
the coast by Cape Catoche. Our old Mayan host was called Patricio Pat,
quite probably a descendant of the cacique Naum Pat with whom, it will
be remembered, the Spaniards made such friends on their first visits to
Cozumel. He had two huts in a clearing near the water edge, surrounded
by a grove of cocoa palms for the fruit of which a dory came
periodically from the other islands. There was a certain distinction
about the old man's face as he crouched in front of the fire on the
earth floor of his hut and held his lean brown hands out to where he
could half see the red flame. He had queer stories to tell of haunted
ruins in the bush here; of how he had heard his name called several
times, and cocks crowing and all the other noises of a village; and how,
long ago, a Yucatecan fisherman, wantonly breaking up a stone that had
fallen from an Indian palace front, had been struck from behind by an
unseen foe, and after hours of unconsciousness had crawled to the sea
beach and for weeks had been on the point of death. It was all very
quaint, and the old man's droning voice and his clearcut, wizened,
hairless face in the glare of the fire made just such a figure as must
have crouched round the fires when Naum Pat was lord hereabouts and the
caravels of Spain had yet to be sighted from the wooded shores. We early
tumbled into our hammocks, but long after, in the flickering light of
the fire, Robinson Crusoe squatted in front of a small stool on which
stood an earthenware pot, into which he laboriously scraped and squeezed
with a broken fragment of cocoanut shell the meat of a pile of cocoanuts
from which he was thus extracting the oil.

We were up at dawn hoping to steal a march on the enemy; but even at
that early hour the insect curses of the tropics had taken down the
shutters and started business. While we breakfasted, Crusoe squatted on
his haunches in true Mayan fashion, meditatively rubbing his thin hands
and giving us the best directions he could for our coming hunt in the
bush. By seven, accompanied by Lucio and Pedro, we were off. As we dived
into the woodlands at the back of the hut, the old fellow, machete on
shoulder, in sack shift and patched striped cotton trousers, surrounded
by a pack of leaping, barking dogs, started for the eastern shore, where
he expected a dory to fetch a cargo of cocoanuts.

Our road led up a winding path, where the mosquitoes were "plentiful and
strong on the wing," to the crest of the island, which was divided into
the eastern side, all sand and low heather-like plant, sea-thistle and
stunted cactus; and the western, all jungly woods. For some miles we had
to keep to the eastward. The sand was soft and deep, and the roots of
the plants sprawling around gave one no foothold. In anticipation of the
difficulty of changing even small paper money in the island _pueblos_,
we had filled a money-belt with two hundred Mexican dollars (£20), each
in size nearly as big as an English five-shilling piece. This belt had
always, so far, been a bit of a white elephant; to-day it was a positive
cross. We realised for the first time what is described so eloquently as
"the burden of wealth"; and before we had staggered and floundered our
first mile in that relentlessly yielding sand we both, as our turn came
to carry it, cursed a civilisation which had created the necessity of
bullion and fervently wished we had not a copper in the world.

Following Crusoe's suggestion, we started cutting into the woods at a
point where some cocoa palms stood. Though we thus lost the sand we
found the mosquitoes; and nobody but the keenest of ruin-hunters would
have stood the earthly hell through which we passed for the next hour.
In a wood too high and thick to admit air, but too low to shade you from
the scorching sun; with every second bush bearing thorns an inch long;
your legs entangled in bines and creepers so stout that once caught no
struggles, however heroic, would free you; too hot to wear your flannel
shirt-sleeves down, and too pestilential with mosquitoes for you to dare
expose an inch more skin than was necessary; bathed in sweat, stumbling,
stooping, creeping, leaping, over, under, in and out; cutting your way
foot by foot,--you need the true explorer's zeal not to sit down and
give it up. But we had not come six thousand miles to give it up; and
after we had made two false detours we "struck" a ruin which well
rewarded us for our sufferings.

Deep in the thickest bush, the trees around shrouding them with a
curtain of speckled green, stood a group of buildings upon which we were
probably the first white men to look, as there is no record of a Spanish
landing in Cancun. At such a moment the most matter-of-fact being must
yield to a certain feeling of solemnity. You are gripped by the romance
of the quest after a vanished civilisation. But in Cancun at least there
are winged fiends who serve as a very practical reminder that you cannot
afford to day-dream but must get to work at once. While our men lit a
palm-leaf fire to keep the mosquitoes at bay, we cut through the bush to
see how many buildings there were and where to begin. There were four,
and the first we tackled was an oblong building, 26 feet by 10, erected
on a platform built up some 4 feet from the ground-level, making a
terrace all round varying in width from 12 to 16 feet. On the west were
two small doorways, and on the east three. These were so small that it
was necessary to crawl through. Digging down, however, we found under a
foot of earth the true flooring. This was a cement of lime and sand, and
was two and a half inches thick over the entire floor. The interior of
the building was in the same style as those of the mainland, having what
is known as the Mayan arch, running up almost to a point, the rough
corners of the stones standing out like steps inverted, a slab being
laid across the two walls, thus making a narrow ceiling. The outside
walls were built up to the same level as the pointed roof, and the space
between was filled with rubble, making a flat roof now entirely
overgrown with cactus and trees. Above the centre door was a gap where
the wall had fallen and where once stood what must have been more than a
life-sized figure. On the platform below we found the head and
shoulders, a fine piece of carving: legs, body and arms were smashed
almost past recognition, and the feathered headdress had entirely
disappeared. The head and bust was so heavy that it took the four of us
to carry it a few yards and set it against the pyramidal mound near by
where we could photograph it, and where it could be for the future out
of the line of fire of falling stone.

We next visited the pyramid. It was approached by steps, but the temple
which once crowned it had fallen and was a mass of stones, none of them
apparently carved. But the most extraordinary ruins were what had
evidently been two pillared halls standing about fifty yards apart. That
on the south was the largest, and stood on a stone platform 90 feet long
and 33 feet wide. The building itself measured 60 feet by 17 feet, and
in two rows down the centre, ten in each row, were immense pillars, many
monolithic and some as much as 8-1/2 feet high. These had originally
supported the roof, now fallen and making a rooting place for trees and
undergrowth which covered the whole platform. Around the platform on the
ground-level was a paved walk, 16 feet wide, now buried under the fallen
walls. The building on the north was no better preserved. It was exactly
the same except that it had three rows of pillars running the length of
the building, in their broken state looking like grey-barked trees
severed by an axe. When newly erected these twin pillared halls must
have been really magnificent. The architecture of all the buildings was
rougher but more solid than that of those of the mainland. A noticeable
feature, which we remarked again in Cozumel, was the prevalence of the
monolithic pillar, which we found nowhere on the mainland among the
richly decorated ruins such as Chichen, Labna and Sayil, where the
pillar, almost always carved in relief, is square and built in sections
a foot or two high. Of mural ornamentation there was no sign; and the
general appearance of these Cancun ruins showed cruder workmanship than
the rich façade work and carvings of Chichen and Palenque.

On our way back to the shore we discovered a small group of ruins, a
mound and two or three houses, in hopeless decay. The isolated position
of the island and its difficulty of approach perhaps explain the fact
that no Spanish landing in the sixteenth century is recorded. Thus time
and time alone has been the enemy of this city. Shattered as they were
by the ravages of time, these Cancun buildings suggest--nay, they demand
as their only explanation--a multitudinous population. The mere erection
of the pillared halls by hand labour must have been a colossal task, and
how the monoliths, many twice the height of the average Indian, were so
perfectly hewn without metal tools seems almost a miracle. Cancun is a
limestone island, and there is no doubt that the stones were quarried
somewhere on its surface, though we were unable to find a suggestion of
a quarry anywhere for miles around.

[Illustration: PLAN OF CANCUN RUINS.]

At the extreme southern end of Cancun, whither we now sailed, we
discovered another small ruin of no great interest, but further
suggesting the once dense population of the island. Here, too, was a
fisher-hut, four poles stuck in the sand with two cross-poles covered
with palm-leaf for roof. Round this Cancun point, known as Nisuc, are
turtle in plenty: both the green turtle (_Chelonia midas_), beloved of
aldermen, and the hawk-billed turtle, the caret (_Eretmochelys
imbricata_), which provides the commercial tortoise-shell. It is this
latter which the Yucatecan fishermen chiefly hunt, for they can get as
much as eight dollars a pound for the shell. For the flesh of the turtle
they have no taste; an example of the truth of the saying that what we
have we never value. The beaches of these Caribbean isles, around the
fisher settlements, are often littered with the rotting carcases of
turtle, spectacles of wilful waste sufficient to break the stoutest
aldermanic heart. The preparation of turtle soup demands a culinary
artist, and no Yucatecan is this. Their kitchen methods are ever those
of the sloven cook who throws meat into a pot anyhow. But they begin to
learn that there are people who prize the flesh of turtle, and a certain
trade is done in the green reptilian with the captains of American
trading schooners which come across the Gulf from Florida and the
Eastern States. Thus a feature of the villages are the turtle "crawls,"
enclosures built some few yards out from the water edge, made of stakes
driven in in the form of a small square bound together by lianas. Here
the turtles swim about until they are wanted. At the "crawl" in Isla de
Mujeres there were some two dozen, many of them monsters weighing four
hundred pounds or more.

At this hut on Nisuc Point we met two young Yucatecan fishermen,
handsome fellows in spotless cottons, their feet sandalled. They, too,
were from Mujeres and they joined us in our evening meal, which we ate
in picnic fashion at the water edge. But the mosquitoes were also
feeding, so at sunset we put out into mid-stream to avoid their pressing
attentions, and fished for picuda till dark. These Yucatecans are quite
Arab-like in the simplicity of their sleeping habits, and it was quaint
to watch at sundown the five men wrap themselves, head and all, in their
coloured blankets, as if they were going to send themselves by parcels
post, and fall asleep in little packets all over the fore deck. All
night they sleep in the same attitude in which they lie down, a
dreamless sleep like that of a cat on a sunny window-ledge. And it is a
good thing they do, for the few inches of gunwale would not save them
from a ducking if they twisted a hand's breadth.

With the dawn, after cocoa and biscuits, we sailed down the coast once
more towards San José de Bega, near where it was rumoured there was a
ruined cenote with remarkable carved figures. San José is the
headquarters of a Mexican wood-cutting company which has a paper
concession of the whole east coast from Cape Catoche to Vijia. We say
"paper concession" deliberately, for these Mexican trespassers on the
independent Indian territory live in a state of siege, and of their
nominal holding of about 4,000 square miles the administrator of the
Company told us that his chicleros (chicle-cutters) were only able to
work fifteen square miles just round the settlement. Thither from the
rickety little pier we travelled up by mule-drawn trolley car on the
plantation railway, the seats empty sugar-boxes, through swamps haunted
by alligators. As at La Compañía Agricola, the administrator and the
chief officials were Spanish Cubans, the "hands" all Mexicans. A dusty,
dirty garbage-littered street of boarded shanties; in the midst the
stuccoed administrative building. At one end a palisaded corral for the
mules; at the other a desolate square of clearing, which looked as if it
had never known any other use save its apparently present one of a
gigantic rubbish-shoot, surrounded by wood cabins built up a foot or two
from the ground. This was San José, and here we were received with a
courtesy as kindly as that we had experienced at La Compañía Agricola.
This Mexican company is known as La Compañía Colonisidora, and we shall
have something to say directly about its finances in the sketch we are
going to give of the war of extermination in progress hereabouts. The
officials knew nothing about ruins, and cared less; but they were
politely tolerant of our enthusiasm, and the administrator kindly
dispatched a cowboy, dressed in leather from head to foot and armed with
rifle, revolver and machete, a bandolier of cartridges slung round him,
to a distant part of the estate to fetch a chiclero who could act as
guide. Meantime we sat down to breakfast with loaded Winchester rifles
leaning against the wall behind us, and every man with a revolver belted
on him. They take their life of siege very easily; the Company owns a
tramp steamer which comes round from Vera Cruz once a month with
provisions; and after the meal the administrator showed us a stone fort
which he had had erected in case of a general attack.

As it was now midday and no start could be made for the ruins till next
morning at dawn, he proposed we should go out peccary shooting, and we
sent down to the boat for our guns. Our hosts donned the most wonderful
Mexican shooting-boots reaching almost to their waists, decorated with
tassels of string. They had some half a dozen fine boarhounds, one of
the dogs, a redoubtable hunter, bearing many a scar from duels with
jaguars and the wild pig, the male of which latter, always heavily
tusked, often accounts for two or three dogs before he is bagged. It was
a picturesque afternoon we spent in the woods. The five Spaniards were
keen sportsmen, if a trifle reckless in the angles at which they held
their guns. The beating through the dense undergrowth was something of a
"follow-my-leader," and we spent most of the time looking down their
barrels, realistically literal personifications of "the man behind the

The peccary were not at home, but one of the party bagged a superb
specimen of the _hoco_, as large as the largest gobbler turkey, with
crested head, its feathers all of gold and bronze. While we were supping
the leather-clad _vaquero_ returned with the Mexican workman who was to
act as guide, and who, under severe cross-examination, seemed to sustain
the reputation of the rumoured cenote. So it was arranged that at dawn a
whole party of us should make a day of it, the administrator prettily
assuming a positive archæological zeal (alas! he will never do so again)
and giving generous orders for the preparation of the picnic baskets.

It is sad to reflect that man's pleasure is so largely dependent upon
untimely deaths in the animal world, and we fear that the arranging for
our archæological woodland junketings of the morrow was answerable for a
porcine tragedy which was enacted while we took our coffee. The
stone-floored room in which we supped opened out into the kitchen yard,
and, in the friendly way to which we had now become quite accustomed,
chickens, turkeys, and pigs ran through the room at intervals; one of
the latter affording the dogs quite a boar-hunt between our legs and
those of the chairs. We had dined both wisely and well, and were
contentedly smoking the strong Mexican cigarettes when piercing shriek
after shriek rent the night air. A poor pig was going the way of all
flesh at the hands of the Mexican cook, not at a respectful distance
from our Lucullus-like feast but actually at the door with its head in a
pail; and its piteous cries, ending in a last gurgle as the knife did
its brutal work, like the writing on the wall of the banqueting hall of
Belshazzar, shook our nerves.

We had some reason to think on the morrow of poor piggy "butchered to
make an archæologists' holiday," for we were destined to a fiasco as
complete, to a disappointment as bitter, as any in our tour, and there
were many. While it was still dark, the finest mules in the corral were
saddled and brought round. Mexican cowboys, in all the glory of leather
jerkins, hung wicker baskets, bursting full of cold meat and fruits, of
flasks of cognac and flagons of red wine, over their saddlebows. The
administrator's zeal had not evaporated with the night, and he appeared,
booted and spurred, to preside over the coffee which was served to us
just as the light was beginning to do successful battle with the
slate-grey of the before-dawn sky. It was a most imposing cavalcade
which started off a little later. All the shanties emptied their human
contents among the rubbish on the clearing to give us a fitting
send-off. First, in true military fashion, there were the Mexican
guides, as scouts, on foot and mounted. Next came the administrator,
commanding-in-chief, then came the archæological heroes of the occasion
(not, alas! long to be heroes); and then some eight or ten sleek mules,
in leather and braided string trappings, bearing Mexicans and Cubans
eager for the cenote.

Everything was sunshiny at first. The forest was exquisite in the early
morning sunlight. And then ... after a few miles a "change came o'er the
spirit of our dreams." Long before the hour came for broaching those
flagons of wine and sampling the contents of those ample baskets, "the
travellers had returned" to San José, a very dispirited train of men and
mules. The ruins were the fullest-grown, most phenomenally robust type
of archæological failure possible. The cenote was a small surface cave
with no suspicion of carvings or figures; the building was a
post-Conquest erection of absolutely no merit. Our humiliation was
complete. It was really quite a good thing that we were not alone with
that guide, or we might have been sorely tempted to avenge with our
revolvers the wrongs of hoodwinked archæology. With exquisite courtesy,
the administrator waded into the cenote cave in his eagerness to "save
our faces" and discover those obstinately invisible figures. But it was
all no good. It was obvious, as he turned his mule's head San
José-wards, he thought us fools, Probably, with Mr. Pickwick, he would
have gone further and declared us impostors. The pig was avenged!

Twenty miles southward from San José is the Company's port, half a dozen
huts and a jetty where provisions are landed, and such slender export of
chicle, as it is possible to make from the limited area of forest the
Indians permit the chicleros to work, is loaded. This is Puerto Morelos,
and, as we were now in the district where war is--despite all official
contradictions--actually in progress, it will be well here to tell
briefly the story of perhaps the most iniquitous attempt at race
extermination in modern times.

The Indians of the east coast have ever been independent. There is no
doubt about that. Neither the old Spanish nor the modern Mexicans have
ever conquered them; and when in 1872 some Mayan raidings on British
Honduras boundaries brought a protest from England, Mexico's answer was
equivalent to "These Indians are independent. Deal with them direct as
with a separate State." Well, England did. She made an agreement with
the chiefs which was amicably abided by. For years past these Indians,
though bitterly resenting the presence of any white man on their lands,
have been friendly to the British authorities, and have proved
themselves a peaceful, self-supporting, industrious people who only
asked to be left alone. They hate the Mexicans and Yucatecans, and with
sound reason; and troubles occurred whenever there was a collision
between the two. In 1893 the trading of the Mayans with the British
attracted the jealous attention of Mexico. This jealousy took the form
of a protest against the alleged selling of arms and ammunition by
English traders in Orange Walk (second biggest town in Honduras) to the
Indians. But though England promised to do all she could, matters did
not improve; and when Mexico discovered that the Indians were turning
the mahogany, logwood, and chicle in their territory to profit, she
sought an excuse for starting the war which has now lasted for eight

The Mexican Government attempted to stop the Mayans from dealing in
their own wood; and, when this failed, they tried to levy a tax on all
lumber and goods going out of the Territory. The Indians flatly refused
to pay, and when the Mexicans feebly urged that, as inhabitants of a
geographical portion of Mexico, the Mayans should pay taxes and thus
support the Federal Army and Navy, the latter said in effect, "We don't
want your forces to protect us. If our land is threatened, every man
and boy of us is ready to fight. We aren't doing you any harm: we simply
ask to be left alone."

The Mexicans then played another card. They proclaimed their absolute
authority over Eastern Yucatan, and granted concessions of the
wood-cutting lands to Mexicans. Such proclamation was in direct breach
of the Treaty rights of the Indians, and in contradiction of their own
deliberate statement to the British Government that these Indians were
independent. It was a Machiavellian scheme, and succeeded. The Indians
naturally resented the companies' trespass, and, after due warnings,
killed the trespassers. This was just what Mexico expected, and wanted.
Talking blather about unprovoked outrages, cannibals, and a menace of
savages to the Republic, she started a war of extermination. From the
first it was as cowardly a war as it is now. Troops were sent before
dawn to surprise defenceless villages. Men, women, and children were
butchered as they slept. In one case, that of Chansenote, a settlement
of many hundreds was so successfully wiped out that when we visited the
district the inhabitants numbered about thirty. To the south of the
Peninsula the same policy has been pursued. The Indians have been
ruthlessly massacred, whenever a cowardly opportunity offered. The
Mexican troops have invariably got the worst of it in such open fighting
as the country permits.[5] Their actual invasions of the Indian
strongholds have always resulted in their withdrawal without the
slightest permanent success. The Indians are now concentrated at Tuloom,
on the mainland opposite the island of Cozumel. Three times the Mexicans
have taken this place, and three times have been obliged to evacuate it.

The position is a curious one. Scarcely any one probably in Mexico, even
including the members of the Cabinet, knows the truth except President
Diaz. The general who has had the conduct of the war throughout is an
octogenarian, Ignacio Bravo, a ruthless, bloodthirsty old soldier who
rejoices in the Gilbertian title of "Inspector-General of Primary
Instruction." He is an old comrade-in-arms of Diaz, and he has probably
his orders, though it is said that the President is most anxious not to
have the Indians killed. If you ask officials, they tell you the war is
long ago over; and when you ask them how they know, they say, "Why,
Bravo says so!" It is very much indeed to Bravo's interest to say so. He
has made the Territory of Quintana Roo, as Eastern Yucatan has been
called since the war started, his pocket property. He has amassed there
since he took over the command a fortune of many millions of dollars,
and his methods can be guessed at from his own cynical confession that
he is "the sleeping partner of every merchant in the Territory." For him
everything is subordinated to £ s. d. A slight but very significant
instance of this was his reception of a proposal by an archæologist that
he should give his permission for the blowing up of old ruined Spanish
churches in the Rio Hondu district. The request was dictated by the hope
that in the foundations might be found, buried by the Franciscans, some
ancient writings of the Mayans which would assist in the deciphering of
the hieroglyphics. The General gave the characteristic answer that he
would permit the demolition of the churches on the understanding that
the "finds" were sold and he got half. Utterly unscrupulous, venal and
self-seeking, the last thing Ignacio Bravo desires is any direct
fighting which might lead to unfortunate defeats and eye-openers for the
Mexican people. Under his able management the war has been whittled down
to the occasional hanging of an Indian driven by starvation to
surrender, or the "potting" of them in the bush. From Cape Catoche to
Tuloom, he has no more authority than the man in the moon. We can give a
good proof of this. While we were there he received a warning from the
Indians that on the 16th of January they would attack and burn the
chicle woods around Puerto Morelos. What did Bravo do? He feebly sends
up a message to Puerto Morelos saying "The Indians will probably attack
you on the 16th." As a matter of fact the Indians came that night, fired
the woods, and we ourselves saw them burning for two nights. No! Bravo
has given it up. He shirks all open fighting, and in his lifetime at
least the subjection of the Indians will never be an accomplished fact.
He skunks at Bacalar or Santa Cruz in the south, or, surrounded by a
battalion of troops, gallops from Bacalar to Peto and travels thence by
rail to Merida.

To this method of campaigning is due the disastrous state of the
Territory, through a part of which we passed. The Mexican Government,
presumably for economy's sake, sends the criminals from the Mexican
gaols to fight the Indians. While we were in the islands a shipload of
eighty of the worst specimens of half-bred Spanish gaol-birds passed on
their way in a Government transport to Bravo's headquarters. Many of
these men desert, and the forests around are infested thus with fellows
who will murder you for a dollar. With these Mexican cut-throats come
gangs of women, the most degraded and miserable manufactures of Mexican
debauchery. The conditions of life in the barracks at Santa Cruz and
Ascension Bay are such as literally defy description. The barracks are
mere filthy sheds; the half-starved soldiers, their toes rotting off
from jigger fleas, their skins foul with disease and vermin, and their
miserable women companions, some dying of malaria or venereal disease,
some far advanced in pregnancy, some mere girls not far in their 'teens,
sleeping on sloping boarded benches all huddled together. There are no
attempts at sanitary arrangements, and the details of the lives of these
wretched men and women are really unfit for publication. Such men are
not worthy of the name of troops; but they serve the Mexican purpose of
hired slaughtermen in the Indian shambles which Mexico has created in

Starvation and starvation alone will bring about the absolute subjection
of the Indians of the east coast. The Federal Government has been lavish
with its concessions; but they are not worth the printer's ink expended
on their gazetting in the official newspapers of Mexico City. One land
company has smashed, and La Compañía Colonisidora is living simply on
credit. So large a sum as 400,000 dollars has, it is said, been advanced
by the National Bank of Mexico to keep it going. The deduction from this
is obvious. The Government, having made worthless concessions, must take
steps to hoodwink the shareholders by squandering the revenues. As we
have said, we have it on the authority of the officials on the spot that
out of the 4,000 square miles of their concession, they were at the time
of our visit working but 15 square miles, and there was little hope of
materially increasing this profitable area. The "war" is now as far as
possible restricted to the occasional "potting" of an Indian and the
burning of his _milpas_ or maize-fields. In the extreme north-east, as we
have stated in Chapter VII., the Indians have for the time being
asserted their independence and are left in peace. The Mexican
Government have no effective control of Eastern Yucatan, and they can
never have save by a policy of merciless extermination unworthy of a
Government which calls itself civilised.

And while this ruthless extermination of a noble race is being enacted
in the extreme east of the Mexican territories, General Diaz's
Government is disgracing itself by its cruel treatment of the Yaquis, a
tribe of brave Indians in the State of Sonora. As lending complete
corroboration to the story of horrors we have related, we think it worth
while to quote the long and admirable account of this infamous campaign
from a recent issue of a United States newspaper. It runs:

"Americans in Mexico have made a formal protest to President Diaz
against the wholesale massacre of Yaqui Indians. They back this protest
with affidavits asserting that shiploads of the unfortunate Indians,
men, women and children, who are supposed to be deported are actually
dumped into the sea as a means of riddance. In the present age of
much-vaunted civilisation this seems incredible, but there is
corroboration. Señor Rapael de Zayas Enrigues, a well-informed resident
of Mexico, tells a story that bears the stamp of straightforward truth,
and it is well worth perusal. It is evident he has deep feelings on this
subject, for he exclaims: 'Poor Yaquis! poor race of heroes!'

"On the far north-west of the Mexican Republic is the State of Sonora;
in the extreme south-east is the peninsula of Yucatan. There still exist
in Yucatan the diminishing remnants of the most civilised nation of the
pre-Columbian epoch of our continent. They are the Mayans, who for more
than half a century have been forced to take up arms to defend
themselves against the tyranny of the whites. In Sonora, in the small
region lying between the Ihayo and Yaqui rivers, exists another race of
Indians, the Yaquis, who have not builded magnificent monuments as have
the Mayas, but who are intelligent, industrious, faithful, vigorous, and

"The Yaquis had always lived peacefully and submitted to the Mexican
authorities, but without fusing with the whites. They conserved all
their racial characteristics under the direct leadership of their own
caciques. Both races, the Mayans and the Yaquis, are distinguished by
their insuperable love for the small region they call fatherland, which
has been from very ancient times their own, which they have defended
against the invasion of other tribes and against the whites, to whom at
last they submitted, retaining, however, always possession of the land.
The Yaquis are a strong, useful, and industrious race. They furnish
nearly all the 'peones' or land workers to the farmers of Sonora and
Sinaloa. After the harvest these peones returned to their land and
devoted the rest of the year to the cultivation of their own soil.

"The Yaqui region is favourably situated, well irrigated, and the soil
is extremely fruitful. The white men coveted the region and tried to
despoil the Yaquis of what they had owned for centuries. The red men
naturally became angry, enraged, and finally they rose, not in
rebellion, but to defend and safeguard their homes, property, and
families. Thus the origin of the Yaquis' struggle--a real struggle for
life--was a despoliation perpetrated by the white people.

"A few years ago President Diaz wanted to put an end to the long
warfare, and he accomplished his purpose. A pact was signed with the
Yaqui chiefs by which their properties were returned to them, with the
guarantee that they should never more be molested or deported. Peace was
re-established; but it was of short duration, being more a truce than a
permanent peace, and it was so not because the Yaquis did not fulfil
their obligations, but because the white men wanted to work their
nefarious schemes again. With this end in view, they dexterously got rid
of the chief Indian leaders and took every necessary measure to destroy
the whole Yaqui race at the first sign of trouble. The Indians scented
the plot a little late, but still in time to avoid being exterminated.
They took the field again, forced to do so by the treachery of the

"The above is an epitome of the history of the Yaqui war, and it will be
seen that justice and right are on the side of the Indians. The world
does not know how the merciless war is carried on; but to give an idea
of the ways and means used it will be enough to say that all the
barbarous methods of the Spanish Captain-General Weyler during the last
Cuban insurrection are civilised compared to what is being done to the
Yaquis. There is no cruelty, torture, infamy, to which they are not
subjected. Prisoners are condemned to a fearful martyrdom, and they
suffer it with the sublime stoicism characteristic of their race.

"Men, women, and children are sacrificed with the same cruelty. To
prevent non-combatants from becoming hostiles, the Mexicans seize them
and transport them from their fertile soil and benign climate to the
death-breeding climate of Yucatan, where they are delivered as slaves
to the landlords, who buy them at so much a head. The men who commit
this crime make the public believe that they are performing an act of
mercy, that these non-combatants are prisoners of war whom they forgive
and send to work as free men, intending to civilise and protect them.

"These wretched beings, far away from wife and children, from their soil
and sky, in slavery, ignorant of the language of their masters who speak
Spanish, and the language of the natives themselves who speak Maya,
become homesick and die or run away, forgetting in their longing for
freedom the immense distance of thousands of miles that separate Yucatan
from Sonora. Homeward they flee, to perish in the lonesome woods from
hunger, thirst or fevers, or to be devoured by the wild beasts that
swarm in those regions.

"History does not register anything superior to the heroism of this
race. Not even in the glorious times of Sparta were enacted scenes of
intrepidity or deeds of self-sacrifice that surpass those of the Yaquis.
One of the chiefs of the tribe was once pursued by a detachment of
Rurales, a special body of cavalry very similar to our Rough Riders. The
Indian chief was an excellent sharpshooter, as all the Yaquis are. He
fired from behind a rock, killing one of his enemies with each shot. In
the end he was surrounded by the Rurales. Then when a mounted officer of
the detachment rushed at him, sabre in hand, he parried the thrust,
jumped upon the back of the horse, pinioned the arms of his adversary
and spurred with his heels the flanks of the horse, making it gallop at
full speed towards a precipice near by. When the horse reached the edge
of the abyss, it stopped suddenly, but the Indian plunged his knife into
the animal's haunch. Neighing with pain, the animal cast itself headlong
over the precipice, carrying with it the two men. Two cries were heard,
one of terror shrieked by the Rurale, another of triumph emitted by the

"For what are these patriots fighting? To retain their small fatherland
within the great fatherland: to live on the soil where they were born
and where their ancestors are buried: to have the right of living in
peace. They have not denied the rights of the Government: they have not
rebelled against the local authorities. The Government has denied their
rights: the local authorities have persecuted them.

"At present they are living in the mountains, constantly fighting. They
are outcasts, pariahs, less than pariahs. They are treated as wild
beasts; tracked and killed, hanged on the trees to be the food of the
carnivorous birds and a warning to their fellows. Really, these corpses
hanged on the trees are the shame of a society that boasts of being

"Poor Yaquis! poor race of heroes! destroyed by the infamous and
unpatriotic ambition of a group at whose service is a nation of braves
indifferent to what they are doing with their brothers of Sonora."

We hold no brief for the independent Indians, whether they be Yaquis or
Mayans. They have many bad traits. The Mayans certainly are cruel, and
they have become crafty and treacherous by long centuries of brutality
and persecution. They have been guilty, too, of bloody reprisals; but
mark that word! The story of the Spanish domination of the whole of
Yucatan is a story of bloodshed, of basest cruelty, of the most hideous
lust. In the name of Christ, the white race has ground down the rightful
owners of the soil; evicted them, robbed them, murdered them, beaten
them, defiled their women and even their children. Are not reprisals,
then, fair? In a later chapter we raise the corner of the curtain on as
black a story of slavery as the world has ever known, the blacker
because of its cowardice and hypocrisy--the slavery of so-called
civilised Yucatan. For that great cancer "Surgeon" Diaz is said to be
sharpening his operating knife. And in this far-eastern portion of
Yucatan, because might is right, the last pure descendants of those who
had attained a great and (if Spanish historians are to be trusted) a
noble civilisation are to be brutally crushed out. If Mexico values a
fair name, if she wishes to be reckoned a civilised Power, she will yet
turn back. She will refuse to write the last chapters of that story of
blood of which the Spanish wrote the first four centuries ago.


[5] A Central News telegram recently published in the London
papers read as follows: "A surprise attack by a band of Maya Indians was
made on Mexican troops encamped in their district. A sharp fight ensued,
and as the Indians were superior in numbers, great difficulty was
experienced in driving them off. A Mexican lieutenant and eight men were



The island of Cozumel lies twelve miles from the easternmost shore of
Yucatan in the Caribbean Sea between 20° and 21° north lat. and 86° and
87° west long. Its name in Mayan means "Isle of Swallows," in allusion,
tradition relates, to a Mayan deity _Tel Cuzaan_ (the swallow-legged)
who was here chiefly worshipped. But the history of the island
contradicts this tradition, for Tel Cuzaan appears to have been quite a
minor god in the Mayan Olympus; while a religious importance, exceeding
that of any other spot in the Mayan countries of Central America, seems
to have attached to this island.

According to the earliest Spanish chroniclers of the Conquest it was
_Isla Sagrada_, the Sacred Isle of the Mayan race. To it four centuries
back the tribes from the mainland of Yucatan, from Tabasco and Chiapas,
from Guatemala and what is to-day British Honduras, made yearly
pilgrimage. In its centre rose--say the Spanish annalists of the
sixteenth century--a grand temple, the Mecca of the Mayan race. Towards
Cozumel we had always eagerly looked because of this undoubted ancient
sanctity, and because we hoped that deep in her impenetrable forests,
this Holy of Holies might still exist. Cortes, in 1519 (Bernal Dias is
the chronicler), destroyed a towered temple, and threw down the idols;
but it is more than likely that this was not Mecca, for the Spanish
account does not admit of doubt that the shrines so destroyed stood upon
the beach, and there is some evidence for our belief that the Mayan
Mecca was in the heart of the island. Moreover our hopes of a "find"
were strengthened by the knowledge that the Spaniards never thoroughly
explored the island; that to this day it has never been explored. Four
centuries back it was practically what it is now--one vast dense virgin
forest, through the gloomy tangle of which even Indians could scarce
find their way.

On our return to Isla de Mujeres from our explorations of Cancun and the
adjoining coast, misfortune overtook one of us in the shape of a sharp
attack of malaria, doubtless contracted as a result of our combats with
mosquitoes in Cancun. Mujeres was about the most unfortunate place in
the world for such an illness, as it was absolutely barren of all fruits
or fresh food, and our dietary consisted of tea, biscuits, and rice. But
we had to make the best of a week or more's delay, till the fever
abated, when, giving up all idea of covering the fifty-four miles of
open sea, which lay between us and Cozumel, in the small open boat we
had so far used, we hired a 25-ton schooner for the voyage. The hold of
this vessel was fitted up with a bed for the invalid, and early one
morning we made a start.

The communication between these islands of the Caribbean Sea is very
erratic. A regular postal system does not exist, and any passing boat is
pressed into the service of the Post Office and made to carry any
letters or papers which may be waiting delivery. On our voyage from
Holboch we had been raised to the dignity of mail-carriers; and now we
learnt that our little schooner was to be coolly used as a general
passenger boat. For when we got on board we found in addition to our
crew that the Jefe had calmly saddled us with four passengers in
addition to the mails. But if he had tried to make an excursion steamer
of us, we really should not have objected, for it was such an intense
relief to see the last of Mujeres. Our enforced sojourn there had been a
real martyrdom. Napoleon at Elba was really not in it with us. Perched
up on our rocky-terraced hut with a westward view of the coast around El
Meco, we had been literally like rats in a trap; no books, no papers,
nothing to see, nowhere to go; sand and fan-palms, rocks and more sand.
The Israelites never longed for the Promised Land, for the Canaan of
milk and honey fame, as we had for Cozumel and our escape from the Isle
of Women. Thus when we found that only four Yucatecans were to be made
happy by getting something for nothing (the Ultima Thule of all the
devout of their race), viz.: a passage at our expense--our only feeling
was really one of wonder at the Jefe's moderation.

With a fair wind Cozumel can be reached in twelve hours from Mujeres;
but the trade winds hereabouts seem to drop as the sun gets high, and
midday saw us lying idly by, our sails flapping gently as the boom
swung backwards and forwards in time with the rocking of the vessel on
the long, slow underswell which was scarcely noticeable on the almost
oily-still surface of the water. The blistering heat was so intense that
it seemed to draw from the water a mist-like steaming vapour. For hours
we lay

    "As idle as a painted ship
    Upon a painted ocean."

But with the afternoon, sure enough, there came a gentle gusty breeze,
rising from nowhere. The brown sails for a moment belly out like
well-filled corn-sacks. The boom swings over with a creaking, jerky,
grating noise. The dark, clear, oily blue water breaks up into little
gentle ripples at our bow, and we are once more moving. As darkness
falls and the clear azure of the sea turns to a leaden grey, we run past
Cancun, this time to seaward, at five or six knots. But it is dawn
before we see the coast of Cozumel, which is what sailors call "raw" and
is not one to be approached at night time if it can be avoided. So we
stand off until the morning; for if one cannot describe the island's
shore as one "whose foot spurns back the ocean's roaring tide," it is
true enough that that "foot" is fearsomely shod with coral. As you make
your way into the little natural bay and peer down through fathoms of
water clear as crystal, you see those ghastly spikes, those evil-looking
spires and towers, rising from the bottom, their blackness in the clear
water suggestive of their murderous meaning for mariners. As we anchor
some five hundred yards from the shore the little island town of San
Miguel rings the bay. A few palm-thatched huts, a wooden store, an open
space, a custom house with a flagstaff, a few small boat-shelters of
palm-leaves to save boats from cracking in the sun, and a jetty, three
feet wide, running out into water waist-deep. Northward a grove of palm
trees; southward stretches, as far as the eye can see, the rocky coral

At the end of the eighteenth century Cozumel, desolate, uninhabited, was
the headquarters of the pirate Molas, terror of the Carib Sea; and its
rock-and reef-bound coast, broken here and there by tiny land-locked
inlets, the water at the entrances discoloured by the sunken corals,
looked the ideal shelter for a pirate horde. We were not long in
starting for the rocky bay of San Miguel in the crazy dug-out which
served as longboat for our schooner. A quarter of a mile lay between us
and the shore: and it looked certain we should be swamped, for, with two
Indians, our packing-cases and guns made a top-heavy cargo. But these
islanders are born sailors, and the way they manœuvred us over the
swell towards the small landing-stage was extraordinary. As we neared
the beach the swell broke up into rollers, and once or twice it was
nearly all up with us. A shark, grasping the situation, swam in after
us, showing his ugly eyes above the green water; but he lost his

Cozumel is a veritable Garden of the Hesperides--an Eden without the
serpent, for curiously enough the snakes, so plentiful on the mainland
and on the other islands, have died off here. It has a beauty quite of
its own; not the bewilderingly sweet, exotic charm, the impatient
luxuriance, of the damp-hot Antilles. Rather are you impressed with the
serenity of Nature, her queenly quietude. A great peace lies on the
forest, and on the sunkissed paths which girdle the island's coastline.
Sixty years back, when the American traveller Stephens landed, the
island was uninhabited. Now there are but two villages, San Miguel and,
ten miles southward, El Cedral; and only around these and along the
western coast is the land cultivated. There gardens and ranches are rich
with oranges and limes, pineapples and sugar-cane, bananas and
banana-apples, grape-fruit and the delicious soapy-fleshed guanabana,
with groves of cocoanut palms, with figs, with the white starry flowers
of tobacco, with the fluffy bursting pods of cotton, and vari-coloured
spicebushes. If Cozumel could be cleared in all her fifty miles length
and fifteen breadth, what a garden of the gods she would become!

To bargain well one must be a good actor. We were eager to unearth some
of the treasures of the island, and eager to find some one whose
services as guide in our search would be worth hiring. Avarice is the
besetting sin of all Yucatecans, and we knew that if we were to get any
native help at anything like reasonable rates we must pretend an
indifference which we did not feel. The Yucatecans do not understand
archæology; they think it a cloak for less innocent treasure-hunting.
Molas was not the only pirate in the eighteenth century who resorted to
Cozumel, and there is no doubt that many a goodly pile of doubloons, of
silver ingots, and perchance bags of Brazilian diamonds, are buried on
its shores. Some few years back a band of enterprising Americans did
actually unearth such a treasure, enclosed in an iron-bound box, and
buried in the woods surrounding an ideally piratical cove half-way
between San Miguel and El Cedral. Thus suspicion attached to us at once,
and nothing we could say would persuade the islanders that a couple of
apparently sane men would take the trouble to hire schooners and make
long journeys for the sole purpose of measuring old stone walls and
digging up beads and broken potsherds. We met this mistrust by hiring a
hut and settling down to quiet housekeeping and a survey of the island's
coast, confident that we should hear something sooner or later as to the
existence of the traditional temple we were seeking.

We did not have to wait long. The Yucatecan will do anything for money,
and the report that we were ruin-hunters soon brought to our hut
Yucatecans "on the make." There were not many whose tales were worth
hearing. Nobody knew anything definite; perhaps half a dozen of the
inhabitants had crossed to the eastern coast. Finally we did unearth an
old ranchero who was said to have declared that, when a lad out hunting
in the forest, he and his brother had come across a temple on a pyramid
approached by steps, and decorated with blue and red wall paintings. We
expected the holiest of Mayan shrines to be thus simple, and unadorned
with carvings or figures. Was this Mecca? It was fortunate for us that
the old fellow was away on his ranchito near El Cedral, for in our first
excitement at getting what looked like a corroboration of our belief
that the Mayan Mecca actually still exists, we might have shown such
eagerness as would have sent up his price to a truly tropical figure. As
it was we greeted the informant with a carefully simulated indifference,
and promised that when we were over at El Cedral we would look Don Luis
up and hear the story from his own lips. Meanwhile we had ample work
before us in first examining the immediate neighbourhood of San Miguel
and then making a tour of the island coastline.

Of the buildings which were found around San Miguel by the Spaniards
under Grijalva in 1518, not one stone remains on another. The itinerary
kept by Grijalva runs: "On the 4th of March we saw upon a promontory a
white house.... It was in the form of a small tower, and appeared to be
eight palms in length and the height of a man. The fleet came to anchor
about six miles from the coast.... The next morning we set sail to
reconnoitre a cape which we saw at a distance, and which the pilot told
us was the island of Yucatan. Between it and the point of Cucuniel we
found a gulf into which we entered, and came near the shore of
_Cuzamil_, which we coasted. Besides the tower which we had seen we
discovered fourteen others of the same form." The Spaniards landed 100
armed men, and came to the chief tower, where they found no one. "The
ascent to this tower was by eighteen steps; the base was very massive,
180 feet in circumference. At the top rose a small tower of the height
of two men placed one above the other. Within were figures, bones, and
idols which they adored.... The village was paved with concave stone.
The streets, elevated at the sides, descended, inclining towards the
middle, which was paved with large stones. The houses are constructed of
stone from the foundation to half the height of the wall and covered
with straw. To judge by the edifices and houses these Indians appear to
be very ingenious."

Of these temples not a trace now remains around San Miguel save at the
north end, where a path through a plantation of cocoanuts leads to such
a scene of vandalism as might be calculated to rouse the indignation of
even the Conservator of Monuments, if he remained awake long enough to
reach the spot. Here what had obviously been a minor temple has been
broken up and converted into a quarry. Heaps of stones, broken past
recognition, lie in a confused heap with smashed Indian pottery. The
largest stones have been carted into the village, and formed a pathetic
hotchpotch in a garden close to our hut. One of these was a remarkable
carving representing a figure of a god seated cross-legged, in true
Buddhist attitude, in a niche.

Stephens in 1842 merely landed in the bay of San Miguel, and made no
attempt at any survey of the island, and states its length quite
incorrectly as thirty miles. Cozumel is roughly rhomboidal in shape, and
from its extreme north-east to its extreme south-west is as near as can
be fifty-four miles. Its breadth varies, but on an average is about
fifteen miles. At each corner of the island there are ruins, those on
the north-east being the best preserved. The group consists of two
buildings still intact, one practically on the beach and the second a
few yards in the bush. They are but small, and might easily answer
Grijalva's description, being simply one-storeyed, unornamented with
hieroglyphics or figures. These ruined structures at each corner of the
island certainly suggest that in the years long past the coasts were
sacred and all landing was challenged.

At El Cedral we were told that there were ruins intact, and we made
arrangements at once to ride over there. The road is just the winding
coast-path which girdles the island. At no part more than a yard or two
wide, it leads at first over the flattened ledges of coral which divide
the beach from the woods. Then as the woods thicken to the water edge,
you ride through tunnels of greenery, where the road traverses the
wooded bases of the triangles of coral which at intervals jut out from
the shore like the spikes on a dog's collar, to emerge again on to level
stretches of golden sand, the palms bending rustlingly over its
glittering surface. Here and there, where the coral promontories lay
close together, were quiet bays, the trees growing far out on the little
capes making horseshoe-shaped green frames for the sapphire-blue water
lying almost pond-like in its stillness.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the beauty of this sunny ocean-path,
playing, in its long arbours of woodland, hide-and-seek with the sun and
the sea. The long stretches of sand are everywhere rich with perhaps the
most beautiful shell in the world, that giant gasteropod technically
called _Strombus_ but commonly known as fountain-shell. It is the
largest gasteropod known,--the shell sometimes weighing four or five
pounds,--and the much expanded outer lip, which earns it the popular
nickname of "wing-shell," is coloured the richest rose pink, shading off
towards the inner curve of the shell into an exquisite and delicate
salmon tint. These shells are so lovely that it is hard to believe their
inhabitants feed on dead and decaying animal matter. On this Cozumel
shore they are not numbered by twos or threes or half dozens, but are
literally scattered in myriad profusion. The natives break up the shells
with machetes and eat the fish. In the little coral coves it is nothing
unusual to see the whole surface of the rocks littered with this
wonderful rose-pink debris.

Don Luis Villanueva, whose name had been mentioned to us in reference to
his alleged discovery of a temple in the bush, owns the little rancho of
San Francisco, some six miles north of El Cedral. We arrived there about
midday, very hot and very hungry. Don Luis proved to be a wiry little
sallow-faced man, small-featured, with keen small eyes, short grizzled
hair, drooping straggly moustache, and one long tuft of grey growing
from the extreme end of his chin like the beard of a billygoat. His
farmhouse was simplicity itself, formed of wood-stake palisading
thatched with palm-leaves. Within, the only furniture were string
hammocks, two or three low raw-hide-seated stools, a trestle-like table
formed of unhewn poles bound together, raft fashion, with lianas,
supported on four small unbarked tree trunks. The floor was just the
natural earth, and in one corner of the hut a fire burnt. Every
Yucatecan builds his fire on the floor inside his house in this way,
with no arrangements for chimney, and the wonder is the huts are not
oftener burnt down.

In the further corner were piled bales of tobacco-leaf and sacks of
rough cotton. From the rafters hung open baskets filled with tortillas,
green and red peppers, onions and fruits, and here and there hung a
bunch of bananas ripening. Don Luis is a widower and his housekeeping
was done by his daughter, a pretty brown-skinned girl of about twenty,
whose single thin garment of cotton only accentuated the plump
attractiveness of her figure. As all Yucatecan women always are, she was
at the _metate_ or tortilla-tray when we entered, but left her work and
came forward prettily to greet us. The other inhabitants of the hut were
Don Luis's two grandsons, healthy, black-eyed, intelligent-looking
little rascals, and a host of terribly emaciated dogs and puppies,
melancholy half-fed brindled cats, so thin that they looked as if they
had not got a purr in them, and the inevitable chickens and pigs.

After we had had some food, Don Luis saddled his horse and led the way
through the woods to El Cedral. He made a picturesque figure ahead of
us, the quaint little wiry brown-legged form in its loose cottons and
big soup-plate straw hat, his bare feet deep in the Mexican stirrups,
his right hand eternally swinging the loose end of the lassoo rope
fastened on the saddlebows. Yucatecan horses are good goers, but they
want understanding. It's a case of spare the rope and spoil the horse.
Every Yucatecan rider swings his lassoo rope the whole time. The horse
does not want to be beaten; it's enough that he sees the rope going
round, and then he keeps going. We reached the village while the sun was
still blazing high. A cluster of palm-thatched huts grouped round a
square of wiry grass--these Yucatecan hamlets are as like as peas in a
pod. The male villagers streamed out to welcome us with a cordiality
which was quite overwhelming. We really thought that at last we had
found the exception which proved the rule of Yucatecan avarice and
inhospitality. El Cedral received us with open arms. El Cedral walked
behind us in its fifties, applauding our attempts at Spanish civilities,
laughing when we laughed, grave when we were grave. El Cedral begged us
to stay with it; indeed would take no refusal. El Cedral insisted that
to us should be paid the meed of honour due to such distinguished
visitors, namely that our hammocks should be slung for the night in the
_Casa Municipal_, the village town hall; a distinction much as if
London's Lord Mayor gave you leave to sling your hammocks in the
Guildhall between Gog and Magog. And El Cedral developed an inordinate
interest in procuring for supper just what might tickle our palates. But
we were doomed to disillusionment.

First, we started to inspect the ruins. They were singularly
disappointing. The chief one was a two-roomed house standing on a mound
some 20 feet square. There were no statues, no bas-reliefs, no
hieroglyphics. It was desolate enough, but it had had, we learnt, its
modern uses; for five years back when a terrible hurricane had swept the
island the whole village had been blown away, and this Indian ruin was
for days the only shelter of the disconsolate villagers. Next, an almost
violent discussion occurred among our score or so of self-appointed
guides. It seemed on the point of developing into civil war, when we
luckily gathered that our old friends the garrapatas were the cause of
all the trouble. The villagers wanted to show us another ruin, but they
were so distressed at the thought that we should get covered with the
insects in our walk thither. It took some minutes to persuade them that
we were quite accustomed to this etcetera of travel in their country,
and then, with half a dozen men and boys whipping with twigs the bushes
on each side, and sweeping the path before us, we made our way through
the bush to a fine arched doorway hopelessly overgrown. Another such had
stood some yards away, relics evidently of a once considerable building.
There was nothing much worth seeing now, but we concealed our
disappointment as well as we could, for the El Cedralites were really so
friendly that we were ashamed to let them think that we viewed our
journey as a fiasco. As we returned into the village a little lad, after
a shy consultation with his father, sidled up to one of us and picked a
garrapatas off our shoulder, blushing at his boldness.

We supped in an Indian hut, and then in the moonlight sat out on the
village green, talking astronomy, of all things. Despite linguistic
disabilities, we prevailed upon the Yucatecan villagers to believe that
the glorious moonlight was borrowed. But the children did not care about
solar or lunar problems, and they romped round us with the dogs,
tumbling over one another in the ecstasy of their play, content that
they were young and happy, and that chubby brown legs were made to run
with. It was quite Arcadian--this little village, with the homely lights
streaming out from the white-faced huts, the merry laughter of the
youngsters, the caressing warmth of the night air, and the blackness of
the rustling trees flashing into a myriad ever-shifting points of light
as the fireflies flew from bough to bough. We slept well in the town
hall, the village clock of large American make, brightest jewel in the
municipal crown, ticking in homely fashion behind us. But with the dawn
we were disillusioned as to the hospitality of Arcady, for we found we
had to "foot" quite a large bill for our entertainment. This is really
one of the most difficult problems in Yucatan. You never know whether
you are a paying guest or not. The head of a village orders your meals,
accompanies you to them, and sees that you lack for nothing. You
naturally regard him as your host; but if he is a Yucatecan this is the
last thing he intends. The difficulty lies in the fact that the true
Spaniard is hospitable, and would never forgive the insult of money
offered for a meal, and you never quite feel safe in assuming that the
half-bred don expects you to pay. He may just have Spanish blood enough
to resent the offer of money.

Our ride back to San Miguel was uneventful. Before leaving Don Luis we
cross-examined him as to the ruin he had seen forty years back, and
arranged that he should come on in a day or two to help in the search.
He described it as being approached by some fifteen steps, about a foot
wide each; as having two doors, ceiling of stone, floor of cement or
stone; no seats or ornaments within, no figures, carvings or
hieroglyphics, but the inner walls painted in blue scrollwork. From the
eastern doorway he remembered seeing the sea plainly over many miles of
woodland. As we were dismounting outside our headquarters at San Miguel
a terrific to-do occurred in the village street. There were cries of "El
toro! el toro!" and the women rushed out from the huts to gather the
children together and take them into shelter. We thought at least a wild
bull had come down from the woods and was disembowelling the Jefe. A
minute more and, to our surprise, there came round the corner an
undersized black steer, one man in front hauling on a rope round its
horns, and another behind with a long pole. It was just such a youthful
bullock as an English country lout would have spanked out of his way in
the farmyard. Gallant Yucatecans!

We spent the next few days arranging our plan of campaign for the search
for Mecca. It was quite astonishing how little anybody knew of the
topography of the island. They were all content to live on year after
year and never venture more than three or four miles into the forest.
Don Luis knew more than any one, and, having stumbled, quite by accident
in pursuit of a pig, over a remarkable ruin, he had been content to let
forty years pass without attempting to revisit the spot. Roughly Cozumel
is divided into three half circles; a belt, on the west coast, of
cultivated ground; an inner belt, but a few miles wide, of woodland in
which cattle roam, more or less intersected by Indian trails; and then
the forest. In the work before us horses were no good; every foot of
ground must be won from the relentless vegetation by axe and machete. We
arranged that Don Luis and his four sons should hunt Mecca on his clue.
Avarice is the besetting sin of all Yucatecans, so we agreed to pay him
a daily wage, and tempted him into assiduity by the promise of a large
lump sum if he found the temple. It was worth anything to us if we
succeeded; but we did not let the shrewd-eyed knave know that. Our own
search party consisted of our two selves and an excellent Indian, whose
knowledge of the forest seemed "extensive and peculiar." We drew a map
of the island, marking a "probable area" whereabouts tradition suggested
Mecca lay, and then we plunged, compass in hand, into the bowels of

We steered first to the east coast. An Indian trail leads thither to
where, some few miles from the beach, is a spring of fresh water and the
relics of an Indian town. Attracted by the water supply, an attempt had
been made in recent years to clear the ground there. But vegetation in
Cozumel is luxuriant, and the space cleared one season is by the next
four feet high in undergrowth. This well was known as San Benito. We
rechristened it San Mosquito, for the fury of the Cancun insects paled
before the winged inhabitants of this spot which we chose for our
headquarters for the next three weeks.

The man of science will tell you that there are two types of mosquitoes.
There is the one which, out of the pure high spirits generated by
getting at you, stands on its head and waves its hind legs in the air
before it samples your gore. This is the _Anopheles_, which "travels in"
malaria and elephantiasis. And then there is the more sedate
self-controlled type which keeps, one might say, an even keel on
alighting. This is the _Culex_, which makes a "special line" in yellow
fever. We should like to venture on an entirely new and strictly
psychological division of these midget fiends, and class them as "the
Dervish mosquito" and "the philosopher mosquito."

When one gets several thousand miles away from mosquitoes, it is quite
curious how sympathetically one can reflect upon the disappointment
their life must often be to them. Their life is very brief--a week or
so; and their normal diet is insipid in the extreme--a drop or two of
the juice or moisture of fruit. Now a mosquito yearns for blood as an
old maid does after a husband, and for Nature to condemn it to a week or
two of life sustained on the moisture of plants is like feeding a lion
on bread and milk. One's sympathies are all with the mosquito so far.
There is no hell like unsatisfied longings; and if one good long drink
of blood means one more mosquito happy, only a churl would grudge it.
What one does feel that one has a right to demand is that mosquitoes
should study to have "a good bedside manner." This is just what they
lack. One would find it hard to forgive a dentist who, forceps in hand,
danced a wild cancan before you as you writhed in anticipation in his
chair. Yet this, in effect, is just what the Dervish mosquito does. It
comes at you with the speed of a rocket, with the whizz and whirr of a
racing motor. It hurls itself at you with the rage and energy of a
fanatic. It bustles and flusters you, when it really ought to soothe you
by its gentle approach, so that your better nature might get the mastery
and incline you to say "drink, pretty creature, drink." This is all very
shortsighted of the mosquito. One feels as did the French general at
Balaclava, as he watched the charge of the Light Brigade, that "it is
magnificent but it is not--'cricket.'"

But the mosquito cannot help all this. It is a sublime enthusiast. It
chucks good manners and caution to the wind. Think of its damp and
dreary past, its blighted life in a dank forest, nourished on the
moisture of plants! And then, like a bolt from the blue, comes a human
being! Along the serried ranks of mosquitoes the signal runs, "Blood!"
The mosquitoes "see blood." They are metamorphosed into fanatics as
wholehearted as the Dervishes who, spear in hand, see the joys of
Paradise and its black-eyed houris before them. If a mosquito was not a
fanatic, it would not make such a noise. A fanatic always dies
shrieking. There is nothing which prevents the Dervish-mosquito from
alighting quietly and getting to work long before you knew it was there.
The philosopher-mosquito does. It lights on you with such elastic tread
that the most sensitive skin would not feel it; and then it gets to work
with the cold, calm, cynical assurance of a practised dissector. But
this has its drawbacks too. The philosopher-mosquito is in danger by
reason of its own absorption. Concentrated upon its long drink, it gets
killed in a humiliating way, like a man on whom a five-ton chunk of
stone falls from a steam crane while he has his nose in a can of beer.
The Dervish-mosquito, on the other hand, falls fighting, brandishing its
spear, its wild battle-cry on its lips. One cannot help admiring the
Dervish-mosquito the most.

There were two or three old palm-thatched huts at San Benito, and we
slung our hammocks in the best-preserved one. If we lived a century we
should never forget our nights there. It is ridiculous to call them
nights. They were not nights at all; they were orgies of blood and
death. The mosquitoes flew at us, shrieking like rockets; and we
hammered them to death on one cheek or wiped them off from the other.
The persistence of those insects was truly appalling. We tried
everything. We had heard that if you let mosquitoes alone they are
content with one bite. Either there is nothing in this theory or the
insects of San Benito were the exceptions which proved the rule. With a
patience worthy of a racked Galileo we lay quite still and invited them
to become "free fooders." We prayed them to "bid us good-bye and go."
But they would not go. They found parting such sweet sorrow. Never did
Mary Jane's young man linger with such persistence in the hall over his
adieus as did those insects. They were not content with "one stroke and
divide." They flew off to the woods--at least a few of them did--and
brought a lot more. From free fooders they turned into whole-hoggers.
They had no gratitude, these winged gluttons. They were overdoing it. It
was not really kind, we felt, to encourage them in thus laying up the
seeds of disease for their old age. So we "called time" and started on
new tactics.

We had no nets; but we covered ourselves up with our blankets, and for
a few pleasant moments we cynically enjoyed listening to the shrieks of
the Dervishes as they threw themselves upon the wool. Then there was a
lull and silence; and after a time, as it was stifling hot, we had to
put our heads out to breathe, and then ... oh, Lord! then we realised
the persistence of the mosquito. It is the "bitter beast, which bides
its time and bites." It did bide its time. It mounted guard like a
policeman on point duty, and when we appeared it seemed to shriek, "Now
I've got you!" as it hurled itself forward. The reckless courage of
those insects simply compelled admiration. They did not care about
death, they did not care how heavy your hand was, they did not care if
in their eagerness they got inside your hammock and you rolled on them.
They only wanted blood; your blood, and they died happy, drinking it.
Death was sweet to them if they could reach you. Like the bees of whom
Virgil sings, "_Animasque in vulnere ponunt_," they joyfully left their
lives in the wound. We blasphemed so shockingly that we lost all respect
for each other. As the tropic night wore on our language wore out. We
racked our memories for the foulest words, the most blood-curdling oaths
we had ever heard, until at last we reached such a point of desperation
that we felt like leaping from our hammocks, firing a feu-de-douleur
from all six chambers of our revolvers, and then committing suicide by
hurling ourselves down the well. Seriously though, during all the days
we spent at San Benito we never got a good night's rest; and with the
dreary diet of tortillas, rice, and eggs, one has to be a very
enthusiastic ruin-hunter not to get thoroughly sick of the work.

To those who ramble at will through the sunlit forests of England,
France, or the Tyrol, who know no other, no real conception of the task
before us is possible. Byron in _Childe Harold_ sings: "There is a
pleasure in the pathless woods." Aye, and there is a terror--not the
terror of hunger or of cold, not the terror of thirst or death, but a
terror which strikes you dumb, which makes you cringe before the awful
majesty of Nature. As we broke into the dread stillness of those woods
through which no white foot had ever passed, there came upon us an
inexpressible dread, not of physical dangers, for there were none; of
something, we knew not what, as of haunted men. As we hacked our way
foot by foot, a darkness not of night but of a dim, shadowy world,
peopled by the fantastic shapes of trees, which had tortured each other
into twist and gnarl in their fight for light, came on us. Work!
Heavens, how we worked! It was our only refuge from the dread. We worked
like the proverbial niggers; and the sweat poured down our faces,
dribbled into eyes and ears, marked great stains on our khaki, and
moistened the handles of our axes till it was hard to hold them firm.
Outside a myriad birds chorused in the blaze of sunshine we had left.
From bush to bush the glorious cardinal bird, red from beak-point to
tail-feathers, flashed its miracle of colour; green parrots circled and
screamed; red-headed woodpeckers beat their insistent beats on the
hollowed tree-trunk; the tchels, plump bodies electric blue, heads and
wings ebon, clustered in chattering groups amid the sugar-cane; and
humming-birds of purple, green, and russet, winged lightning flight
around the blossoms. Within for us was stillness--the majestic, awful
stillness of God's woodland. No creature moved, no sound broke the
silence, no ray of sunlight filtered in upon us through the black canopy
of leaf. Only--weirdest of all--day after day there fluttered round us
wherever we went a butterfly, a monster of exquisite blue, five inches
at least from wing-point to wing-point, dancing in the gloom from
tree-trunk to tree-trunk like some mascot. It pleased us to imagine that
it was the same butterfly, that it was a mascot dancing before us to
show us the way to Mecca. It was a pleasant conceit, but it led to
nothing. The butterfly had not any right to be out of the sun in a
pitch-black wood; and for us at least he never "cut any ice." He simply
fluttered round us and did no good, for as far as Mecca was concerned
our almost savage efforts to find it were abortive.

For weeks we searched. Our only way of retracing our path was to notch
the trees as we cut. Night by night we crept, wearied and blistered and
torn, out of the forest. Day by day we started again cutting and
recutting, crossing and recrossing, east to west, north to south, at
every half-mile sending the Indian up some tree to spy the land.
Meanwhile, our little friend Don Luis and his four sons had joined in
the chase, and they worked hard too. They came over to San Benito with a
pony loaded with tortillas, and encamped in the other hut, whence at
dawn they started each day with a dozen dogs to ransack that part of the
forest where Don Luis declared the temple was. But, expert woodmen as
they were, it was all no good. Some five years back a terrific hurricane
swept over Cozumel, and this, Don Luis declared, had changed the whole
face of the forest. He found himself a very tyro at woodmanship in this
great black eight-hundred-square-mile patch of woodland, its undergrowth
fenced and littered with the trunks of fallen trees, now veritable
snares for the unwary, buried in dense shrub. Don Luis richly earned his
daily pay. He did not care about temples, but he did care immensely
about the lump sum which, as the carrots in front of the donkey, we had
dangled in front of his Yucatecan avarice. We would have trebled that
sum if he could have succeeded; though we did not tell him so, when,
with almost tears in his cunning eyes, he formally confessed failure,
because to have told him so might have really driven him to suicide.


He had hunted in a set area, and we had wandered at will over the forest
in all directions and explored Cozumel as it had never been explored
before. Thus it would have been a marvel if we had not found something.
We did. We found a ruined city lying at equal distance from San Miguel
and San Benito towards the northern end of the island. The ruins were in
two groups about three-quarters of a mile apart, and suggestive of a
once quite considerable town. The first group consisted of two buildings
standing a few yards apart on small terraces about 8 feet high and
facing south-east. Both two-roomed, they each measured 40 feet by 27, a
small platform extending towards the south-east making each terrace a
solid block of 40 feet square. On the outside they are both
unornamented, but the inside walls of the one on the north-east are
ornamented from the floor to where the roof commences with that curious
decoration which is met with again and again in so many Mayan
buildings--the red hand. It was the best preserved of this kind of
decoration we had seen in the islands or on the mainland, and by the
curious formation of some of the marks it is certain that they were not,
as is supposed, impressions made by dipping the hand in colour or in
blood and then stamping it on the wall. They seem rather to have been
made with a straight five-toothed instrument like a painter's
graining-comb. Around this whole colouring was a scrollwork pattern of
the same tint, giving it the appearance of a frame.

Fifty yards in front of these two buildings stood a third facing west
and measuring 80 feet by 30 and consisting of a small one-roomed house
and a pillared temple, the roofs of which had both fallen. Here, as at
Cancun, we were struck by the prevalence of the rounded pillars.
Half-way between the first and the second ruins were the remains of two
more buildings, but these were so shattered as to defy any attempts at a
suggestion of what they had been like. At the back of the first set,
standing isolated in the bush, was a remarkable monolithic rounded
pillar close on 9 feet high.


The second group of ruins stands away some three-quarters of a mile
through the woods to the westward. We were attracted thither by the
appearance of a gigantic clump of trees towering up above the others as
if marking the spot of some ancient mounds. On arrival there we found
that it did not consist of one mound but three, all joining at their
base and of rough unhewn stone. They averaged about 40 feet in height.
On the ground-level at the side of them stood a small one-roomed house,
probably the home of a priest or custodian whose duty was to watch over
these pyramids. These mounds were remarkable not only by the fact of
their queer juxtaposition but for the fact that on careful examination
we found no trace of a building of any sort upon the top of them. That
they were artificial there can be no shadow of doubt. That they were
look-outs like the mounds examined by us on the coast is impossible, for
in the heart of the island they could have served no such purpose. What
we would suggest is that Cozumel formed at one time a Mayan Valhalla
where, by reason of the intense sanctity of the soil, the bodies of the
greatest caciques and the most revered of priests were brought from the
mainland to be buried in the sacred isle. Thus these three mounds we
believe to be simply sepulchral, the excavation of which--a gigantic
task--would probably prove of the greatest interest. We had heard a
rumour of the existence in the northern woods of a large stone and
cemented dome-shaped building, doorless and sealed all round. We tried
to find this but failed. This, too, was probably a tomb.

About a hundred yards to the north-east of this trio of mounds stood a
castillo on a pyramid, the two-roomed building on the top being reached
by a stairway on the south-west. The temple was unadorned by any
paintings, ornaments or hieroglyphics, but was remarkable for the
extraordinary smallness of the apertures which apparently served for
doorways. The ground-plans of this ruined city which are reproduced will
give some idea of its size.

Again and again in the woods we encountered the remnants of what
appeared to be a series of concentric walls. They were certainly
artificial, and their building must have entailed immense labour, for
the stones were often very large. These wall fragments resemble nothing
so much as a breastwork or hastily improvised fortification. We have two
theories about them. Either the island was originally very carefully
apportioned and the Holy of Holies was surrounded by a series of
complete walls, at distances from one another of about a mile and a
half, which served as a series of milestones for the pilgrims making
their way to the shrine from all the coasts of the island; or, on the
first alarm of the Spanish invasion, stone fortifications were roughly
improvised around Mecca so that, if the foreigner ventured into the
forests, each wall could be defended, thus delaying, if not actually
preventing, his reaching the temple. The first theory gains a certain
support from the fact that in some places we found suggestions of a
small ruined house attached to the wall, which might have been a kind of
tollhouse where the pilgrims paid a tribute to the Mayan hierarchy for
permission to pass.

The little finds we made in the shape of stone axes, pottery, beads, and
so on, were no solace to us for our disappointment. We had sought Mecca
in vain. We had spared neither money nor energy; and we had just this
comfort, that we had done more in the exploration of the island than
anybody before us. Still it was as beaten men that we returned after our
mosquito-ridden semi-starvation sojourn in the forest to San Miguel.
There the carnival was at its height. Little the Yucatecans recked of
ruined temples and Mayan problems. It was enough for them that the sun
shone, that they had habanero and anise to drink, and that there were
girls to dance with and make love to. Tin-tray music and a charivari of
drum and horn fought for mastery over wild whistlings and cat-callings
and the "loud laugh which spoke the vacant mind." The few horses of the
island had been requisitioned to carry ludicrously drunk Yucatecans in
paper caps and masks up and down the beach and round the plaza. Those
who could not ride found satisfaction sufficient for their senseless
mirth in running behind and shouting. We were hungry to escape from this
very unsatisfying gaiety, and we wanted to cross to the mainland where,
exactly opposite Cozumel, lie the ruins of Tuloom. But this proved
absolutely impracticable. As we have said in the previous chapter, the
Indians are encamped there, and, thanks to the brutal treatment they
have received, they shoot white men at sight. No boatman could be found
to cross to the shore, even though we offered such record prices as a
hundred dollars for the ten miles. We had sent a message down to
Ascension Bay to General Bravo telling him of our wish to land on the
coast hereabouts, and asking for the escort which had been promised us
by the officials in Mexico City. The General's answer was a polite
shuffle. He did not want us to visit his headquarters, and he knew that
if he gave us an escort not a man of it would survive to return to
Ascension Bay. He delayed answering our letter until he felt certain
that our patience was exhausted, and that we should have started on our
return journey for the north coast. As a matter of fact his letter
followed us to Merida, and was such a tissue of prevarication as proved
how anxiously he guards the secrets of his ineffective campaigning.

In truth, his position was a difficult one, for the dangers to which we
asked permission to expose ourselves and demanded that he should expose
his escort are very real indeed. An attempt to explore this portion of
the eastern littoral would be about as safe as jumping in front of an
express train travelling at sixty miles an hour. Should an enthusiastic
archæologist endeavour to traverse the country, there is little
uncertainty as to what would be his fate. Committed to impenetrable
forests, trackless, waterless save for pools in the limestone rock,
hidden under matted leaves and undergrowth, defying better eyes than his
to find, he would stumble on, tripped up by lianas, wounded by thorns,
through an arboreal darkness and thickness too complete for his eyes to
see ten yards. But every inch of his halting progress would be watched.
Not for a moment would he escape the eyes of his enemies. The end would
soon come; it might be in days; it probably would be only hours. Most
likely while, wearied out, he rested on a fallen tree-trunk (for
centuries of Spanish bigotry and cruelty and the mercilessness of
latter-day Mexicans have robbed the Indian of all claims to be called
"noble savage"; to-day he is no sportsman, but shoots his game sitting),
a shot, fired twenty-five feet from him in the bush, would be the last
sound he would ever hear. His body, rifled, perchance mutilated, would
be left to rot where it lay--food for the myriad cleanly ants and
earth-beetles which swarm the matted, tangled bed of a tropical forest.



Carriage exercise in Yucatan is no joke. It is not the gentle fiction,
the make-believe of exertion played at by indolent women and invalids,
to which we are accustomed. The doctor who ordered it would lie under
the grave suspicion of being in league with the local undertaker. The
invalid who took it would need nothing further save a shelter in the
nearest cemetery. The most inveterate Oliver Twist would not "ask for
more." It is all the fault of the roads and natural selection. The roads
are unspeakable, and they have evolved an unspeakable vehicle. None but
a carriage which has lost all respect for itself and its passengers
could survive an hour on a Yucatecan road. The Yucatecan road is not
meant for carriages. It is meant for chamois goats and those black ants
which have plenty of time on their hands, and consider that the only way
round a blade of grass is to climb up one side and down the other.

Time is really what you want on a Yucatecan road. You have got to take
it quietly and pick your way. But this is not the programme of the
Yucatecan carriage. It is always in a hurry. It is a hurry-skurrying,
give-you-no-time-for-repentance desperado of a conveyance. It takes you
in and does for you. It blacks your eyes, breaks your ribs, bruises you.
It gives you "bloody noses and cracked crowns." It does not care. It has
nothing to lose. It is made of huge wheels, stout poles and rough cord,
with a rabbit-hutch on top swinging on the cords. You go inside the
rabbit-hutch and you try to stop inside. The carriage tries to get you
out. That's the game. You can play it as long as you like, as long as
you have a bone unbroken or a breath in your body. The carriage does not
mind. It is always there, and the rocks in the roads are always there;
and the two-inch long thorns on the hedges are always there to scratch
your eyes out. So that all day long you can play at carriage exercise
in Yucatan until you are reduced to a bruised and bleeding mass.

This demon vehicle is called a _volan coche_ (flying coach). It is quite
indigenous and home-grown. It is not even known in Mexico, where the
roads are bad but have not reached that pitch of villainy to which the
Yucatecan roads have attained. It is drawn by three mules abreast, the
centre one in the shafts. When they come to a very large boulder and the
wheels stick, they pull, pull all they know, and very slowly the wheel
of the volan climbs that boulder, reaches the summit, tips you to an
angle of forty-five degrees on the non-boulder side, and then comes down
with a sickening thud over the precipice edge of the boulder and, if you
are not careful, shoots you through the rabbit-hutch side. Nobody need
suffer from liver in Yucatan. A little carriage exercise, and the most
rebellious liver which ever made a hell on earth for a mortal would
"come to heel."

We tried volan riding. We had to. On our return to the mainland there
was no other way for us to cross the country except by buying fresh
horses. Our volan was a nice volan as volans go. It had a mattress in
it; a tempting-looking soft mattress which persuaded you that, once
inside the rabbit-hutch, you would really be quite comfortable. But
alas! it was a delusion and a snare. That mattress was in league with
the volan. It was the piece of toasted cheese in the volan mousetrap.
You could not lie on that mattress, or squat on it, or kneel on it, or
sit cross-legged on it, or indeed sit anyhow on it. You had to tie
yourself up like those rubbery contortionists at the music halls, and
you had to hold on to the iron stanchions which support the rabbit-hutch
roof or you would not have had a whole rib left.

In our "Little Ease" we started from Tizimin on our return journey to
Merida by a western road which traversed a portion of civilised Yucatan
new to us. This is the Espita district. Espita is a prosperous little
town, the centre of a quite considerable tobacco industry. Thence we
entered once more the henequen country, steering for the village of
Xuilub (pronounced Schweeloo), where the women came to the hut-doors
dressed, or rather undressed, as we had seen them nowhere else. Nothing
on but a short kilt from waist to knee. It was a long ride, and it is
sad to think that we swore the whole way. Fortunately the Yucatecan
driver suffered no moral damage. He did not understand a syllable of our
blasphemy. He probably thought we were talking about ruins, and that
archæologists were habitually excitable and shouted and screamed when
they talked about ruins. It is a melancholy fact that we really did not
care about ruins any longer. We were far too absorbed in our attempts to
stop inside the rabbit-hutch and in our collation of all the swear-words
we could remember. Finally we did arrive at Merida very tired, very
dusty, and in stained khaki suits which we felt to be a positive
disgrace in that spick-and-span town. We were veritable Rip Van Winkles.
We had been away from Merida close on four months. During that time no
letter or paper had been able to reach us. It was quite a queer feeling,
and there was news in plenty--some of it, alas! sad enough--awaiting us
in the foot-deep pile of letters which our good friend Señor Primitivo
Molina of the Banco Yucateco handed us.

We had accomplished our purpose, that of exploring the hitherto unmapped
and untraversed north-eastern portions of Yucatan and her eastern
islands. Negative results are very often quite as valuable as positive
results. As we shall later show, a great deal hangs, as far as our
explanations of the origin of the Mayan civilisation are concerned, upon
the question, until now undecided but raised by Stephens more than sixty
years ago, of how high a degree of perfection the buildings in
North-East Yucatan had attained. Our tour has satisfied us that we have
once and for all an answer to that question. Our results are negative.
We have proved that students of the Mayan problem need waste no time in
expeditions to the north-east. Ruins there are, without doubt, which
time and the denseness of the vegetation prevented us from discovering;
but those ruins, if found and carefully studied, would not add an iota
of value to the mass of evidence for and against the theories which have
been advanced in explanation of the Mayan problem. For the future, work
must be concentrated, if it is to be of any value, upon the extreme
southern districts of Yucatan and the Guatemalan border. The troubled
state of that country, the hostility of the tribes which range it, its
physical difficulties, must for some years to come render investigations
extremely hazardous and unsatisfactory. But when eventually the
districts south of Lake Peten are opened to archæology, immense progress
may be expected. Under the ægis of Mexico the opening up of this country
cannot, we venture to believe, ever become an accomplished fact. But
when the relations between the governing class and the Indian tribes
have assumed that fitting aspect of benevolence and mutual good-feeling
which they will assume so soon as Central America forms a portion of the
United States, the whole of that archæologically rich district will
yield up its secrets--probably to American students, who are already
showing that they grasp the importance of Southern Yucatan.

We had always intended, if time permitted, to travel to the south of
Merida and view for ourselves the wonderful group of ruins of which the
chief are Uxmal, Labna, Kabah, and Sayil. Thus, after a day or two's
rest and before we threw off our uniform of khaki and returned to the
normal collar-and-tie state of civilisation, we started out for Ticul.
This is the most important town on the southern branch of Yucatan's
railways. In the very heart of cultivated Southern Yucatan, it lies
under the northern slope of that chain of limestone hills or sierras
which runs across Yucatan from Maxcanu in the north-west to Tekax in the
south-east. Some ten miles after leaving the southern suburbs of Merida
is the pueblo of Acanceh, near which are the remains of an Indian city.
Here an elaborately carved wall has been discovered.

Then the railway passes through the desolate plains of Mayapan. For some
miles vegetation is sparse or nonexistent, and as far as the eye can see
is a desert of grey stone, here and there broken by small treeless
hillocks, the obvious sites of Indian buildings. If tradition is to be
credited, the city of Mayapan was the most important of all the Indian
cities at or about the middle of the fifteenth century, and its
overthrowal by a confederation of caciques (about 1462) forms the most
important certain fact of Mayan history in the century immediately
preceding the Spanish invasion. Professor Eduard Seler has laboured to
show that the name "Mayapan" is Mexican, though he is obliged to confess
that "pan" in Maya means flag or standard. But he puts aside this very
simple etymology, and wants to find a purely Mexican origin for the word
he translates "among the Mayas." This is hair-splitting. Mayapan was the
"flag" city, the chief city of the Mayans, just as the flagship of a
fleet is its chief vessel; and it seems to us that the name itself
affords the fullest proof that Mayapan was what tradition declares it to
have been, the headquarters of the predominant cacique at the end of the
fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries. Stephens, who
made a fairly careful survey of the ruins in 1842, discovered a mound 60
feet high and 100 feet square at the base. Four staircases, each 25
feet wide, ascended to an esplanade within 6 feet of the top. This
esplanade was 6 feet wide, and on each side a smaller staircase led to
the top. The summit was a plain stone platform 15 feet square. There
were no signs of building on it. Stephens somewhat rashly assumes that
this was its normal condition. It is far more probable that there was a
building on the top, precisely like that of the castillo at Chichen; and
either by the Mayans themselves at the destruction of the city or by the
Spaniards, it was thrown down. The latter are the most likely offenders.
Mayapan is but ten leagues south of Merida, and the fact that around the
base of the mound Stephens found mutilated stone figures of men and
animals with diabolically distorted faces, obviously idols, suggests
that Catholic vandals had been at work.

Beyond the plain of Mayapan the rail runs through a rich henequen
country, the towns and villages of which are connected by good
roads--for Yucatan--and ringed with neat gardens of orange, lemon, and
banana trees. Here and there at the wayside stations tiny sets of
metals, on which stand small open tramcars of green, yellow, and red
painted slatted wood--each drawn by a mule--branch off to haciendas of
which the white walls and lofty arched gateways, flanked with
substantial stone pillars, suggest the entry to a Spanish abbey grounds
rather than to a money-making house and factory. The approach of the hot
season and the fact that we are travelling practically due south are
evidenced by the far larger number of naked children seen, and at one
hut-door a little maid of seven or eight stands quietly, as naked as she
was born, to watch the train's progress. The men, too, who work in the
gardens or drive the henequen wagons wear nothing but the breech-cloth
and soup-plate straw hats.

Ticul, which we reach in about three hours, is architecturally as
uninteresting as are all these Yucatecan towns. It has an air of
considerable prosperity, the majority of the houses being of stone, the
flat-faced, flat-roofed type which is so monotonous in Spanish America.
Its centre is a great plaza, a rambling square of grass, one side of
which is occupied by the church and monastery. The church is a fine one
as far as size goes, and is in good preservation. It is connected with
the monastery by a corridor from which opens that portion of the latter
which is now used as the padre's house. It is quite possible to believe
the reports that reached us of this ecclesiastic's prosperity, for his
residence approached nearer than anything we had seen in the country to
the comfort and substantial neatness of an English rectory. Stephens
described the monastery as "grand." We were disappointed. A rambling
square of stucco, terraced and arcaded round three sides and approached
from the street by a narrow flight of a dozen steps, the building, even
in the added dignity of its ruined condition, is nothing but a plastered
monstrosity, as typical of the execrable architectural taste of the
Franciscans as of the ugliness and arrogance of their religion.

The inhospitality of these Yucatecan towns to the "stranger that is
within their gates" really beggars expression. We knew nobody at Ticul,
but we wanted shelter for the night and food, and the possibility of
arranging for the hire of horses for the morrow. But the Yucatecan does
not care what you want. His one idea is what money have you got which he
can wrest from you. That is what he wants. If you look dusty and
travel-worn, he concludes that you will not be a good payer, and any
inchoate interest which the arrival of a foreigner-fly in the immediate
neighbourhood of his web may have aroused dies down, and the Yucatecan
spider returns to his hammock. Thus it was that we found ourselves as
the night fell wandering through the streets of Ticul, almost as
mendicants, begging for bread from door to door. Nobody was going to
take the bother to prepare a meal for a fair price or to give shelter
for the night to two foreign madmen who were demented enough to be
interested in "old walls" and obstinate enough not to wish to be
"plucked." Finally a Yucatecan woman, with an almost intolerable
condescension, agreed to supply our humble wants. We were dead-beat, and
our wanderings among the hospitable Indians had somewhat lulled us into
forgetfulness of the golden rule that in Yucatan you must bargain with
every robber before you enter his cave. We did indeed ask how much the
supper would cost; but the woman's reply, that prices at Ticul were not
exorbitant like those at Merida, was given with such artless guile that
we dropped the subject. When the meal came, it was ill-made coffee, a
worse-cooked omelette, a chicken stew and rice, and the price demanded
was about that of a first-class dinner at a London restaurant. But we
had had enough of this sort of thing, and had not spent so long in the
country without having reached that point of exasperation at which the
long-suffering worm found his proverbial patience exhausted. So we
placed a half of the price demanded on the table, and giving our hostess
to understand that this was equivalent to the price in Merida, shook the
dust of her inhospitable dwelling off our feet.

Riding horses proved, curiously enough, unprocurable, and we had had
more than enough of volans, so we determined to make a walking tour of
our exploration of the Southern Sierras. Ticul is a town of gardens, and
it would be difficult to imagine anything fairer than our tramp the next
morning through its long straggling suburbs of neat mestizo huts, each
framed deep in its setting of the rich green of orange tree, palm and
laurel, interspersed with the red of roses, with the scarlet
trumpet-shaped tulipan blossom, and the purples, pinks, and whites of
the climbing convolvuluses. The road we followed was the main road to
Peto, broad enough and dusty enough to deserve the title "highroad," and
rock-strewn enough to be thoroughly Yucatecan. But the country had
altered. We were in a very different Yucatan from that through which for
months past we had travelled. Here was no dead level of dense
forest-land where views were at a premium, but a wooded undulating
country over which you could see for miles as you slowly climbed towards
the range of limestone bluffs shining white in the sun, each tufted with
clumps of trees, the landscape looking for all the world like a piece of
Aberdeenshire. On each side the road ran roughly built grey stone walls,
and you felt that you had only to peer over these to see a frothing
brown stream leaping down over the boulders. But there the delusion
stopped, for the Southern Sierras of Yucatan are as deadly dry as the
northern plains of the Peninsula; and though the climb was perhaps not
more than six or seven hundred feet, the blaze of the sun made the white
dust of the road almost intolerable. Our walk lay for twelve long miles
to the village of Tabi, where we had been told that food would be
procurable. Having started our walk on the not very generous diet of
black coffee and tortillas, we were desperately hungry by the time we
saw signs of the village ahead of us. But our hunger was nothing in
comparison with our thirst. It was a five-dollar one, and a jaded toper
living a dipsomaniacal city life would have probably made us a "sporting
offer" of three times that amount for it.

Our bodily needs led to a most characteristic exhibition of the vivid
contrast between the Indian and Yucatecan natures. At the very first hut
in the village we sent our Indian servant to ask for what we needed
most--water. A gentle-looking Indian mother, two or three brown toddlers
hanging on to her huipil, came to the door, and then smilingly
disappeared, to reappear in a second with water in a calabash, the dried
rind of a large gourd which throughout Yucatan is used by the Indians as
water-dipper and drinking-cup. Had it been that "draught of vintage,
that hath been Cooled a long age in the deep delved earth" of which John
Keats so eloquently sings, the clear, cool limestone water "with beaded
bubbles winking at the brim" in that earthy-smelling gourd could not
have tasted more like nectar. We must have almost drunk away the good
wife's day's supply, for the gourd held close on a pint, and we each
drank three, and our servant drank two. Yet when we offered a few
centavos in return for our splendid drink, the Indian woman shook her
head and would not take them. We insisted, but she was obdurate until we
suggested that at least she would let us give them to the black-eyed
_chiquitos_ who peeped shyly at us from behind the shelter of her cotton

From her hut we walked on to the village store, the usual filthy
earth-floored warehouse; its stained wooden counter crowded with
habanero and anise bottles; its roof garlanded with strings of onions,
green and red peppers, and tortillas; its floors littered with sacks of
maize, rice, pepper, and black beans. Here presided a fat Yucatecan, who
to our inquiries as to whether he could prepare us a meal made the reply
which with a maddening reiteration one hears all over Yucatan: "_No hay;
no hay_" ("There is not"). But we were too hungry to take "no" for an
answer, and we urged that surely he could cook us some eggs, make
coffee, and boil us some rice. At first he demurred even to this, but we
injudiciously showed such eagerness that he presently did retire into
the inner shop, whence, after a consultation with a woman, he emerged to
tell us that eggs, rice, and coffee could be served. The man looked such
a blackguard that we thought it only wise to ask what the price of this
sumptuous meal would be. To this question at first he would give no
answer. At last, with a surly shrug of his shoulders, he said, "_Quien
sabe?_" ("Who knows?")

"Who knows?" indeed! Who does not know what eggs, rice, and coffee will
cost? The impertinent frankness of the rascal's intentions was too much
for us. If he could have only got us to have eaten the food, he meant to
charge us about five times its value. With a curse at the limitless
dishonesty of Yucatecans, we left his filthy store, preferring hunger to
such a host. We walked fifty yards down the village, and then, as we
came to a likely looking Indian hut, we knocked at the door and asked
the woman, who came from the washing-tray to answer us, whether she
could give us any food. With a gentle apologetic smile she said she had
very little, but we were welcome to all that. She invited us in, gave us
the seats of honour in the hammocks. In a minute or two a pot of coffee
was steaming on the embers, she had made up the fire, had sent a child
out to the garden where the hens were to find an egg or two, and with
rice and tortillas served us a meal which, to our sharpened appetites,
was as tasty as a Guildhall banquet. When we had done and were leaving,
with many a shy smile and gesture of distaste for charging anything, she
asked ... twenty-five centavos--sixpence!

Here you have in epitome the Indian and the Yucatecan. The Indian woman
at the beginning of the village, who had toiled at dawn to bring from
the village well her household's daily supply of drinking-water, glad to
give all we asked for nothing. In the centre of the village the great
coarse, unwieldy Yucatecan shopman, the "snubnosed rogue" whose dirty,
mean mind was centred upon the wretched gains of his cheating life. And
then this kindly Indian hostess who gave us her all and asked but a
pittance in return for the clearing of her larders. Savages and slaves!
If we wrote ten thousand words they would surely not be so convincing as
this eloquent incident at Tabi.

From Tabi the distance to the ruins of Labna is some twelve miles. At
Tabi you have reached the top of the first range of those sierras which
command the vast valley lands around Ticul, stretching northward toward
Merida. The road leads for the first few miles between luxuriant hedges
to the hacienda of San Francisco (where we stayed the night); and thence
it plunges into a really beautiful wooded, hilly country, the thick
foliage climbing up the sides of the bluffs which range each side of the
roadway, rearing their bare limestone crowns above the trees. It is a
forest world, very different from the desolate and dark woods of the
north-east, and as the underwood crackles beneath our feet, deer break
away from the coverts at the roadsides and bound up the wooded slopes.
At the seventh mile from the hacienda a ruin shows on a hill to the
right. It looks worth a climb, and with axe and machete we make our way
to it. It had been a two-storeyed building, but the upper portion was in
hopeless ruin. The lower storey consisted of six rooms entered by six
doorways, the front ornamented by a now much broken row of pilasters
half rounded, their attachment to the building being on the flat side.
Above these was a second row of smaller pilasters about a foot long, and
above them a coping as edging for the platform, once smooth stone, now
hopeless earth-tangle and débris, upon which the upper building stood.
Between the third and fourth doorway a flying arch still supported the
remnants of a staircase some 10 feet wide which led up to the upper

Two miles further on through the woodland and the country opens out on
the right into a large clearing locked in on all sides by high limestone
hills, just the ideal site for the fine city Labna must have been. The
ruins form a scene of complete but grand desolation. The north side of
what was once the great city square, now a tangle of jungle undergrowth,
is occupied by the ruins of a superb palace. Standing on a terrace 400
feet long and 150 feet deep, the building is of such a bizarre shape
that it looks as if its builders had been playing a gigantic game of
dominoes with stone and mortar. Beginning at the eastern end of the
building, for about 200 feet it faces south. At this point the front
turns at right angles and runs back some 90 to 100 feet, facing west.
Another angle is formed here, the building once more facing south for
some 200 feet, almost at the end of which a narrow block projects in a
line with the first corner turning, forming a three-sided courtyard, the
fourth--the south--side being open. This gigantic building is divided
into a series of low narrow rooms, the doors an equal distance from one
another, and the whole front alternately formed of flat-hewn stones and
pillars, the latter, like half tree-trunks, mortared flat upon the
building, slightly barrel-shaped and never monolithic: many of them
broken into two columns by two or three small rounds of stone. This
curious façade, the like of which we had not met with in the north-east,
was crowned by an entablature some 3 feet deep running the whole length
of the building, the architrave elaborately carved in rectangular
designs interspersed with rosettes, leaves, lozenges, and diamonds, the
corners ornamented with gaping alligator jaws in which are carved human

The upper storey of this extraordinary building was reached by a
central staircase now in ruins, and stood far back upon a terrace. All
two-storeyed Mayan buildings have this peculiarity: the upper storey
never forms one sheer face of stone with the lower as in ordinary
house-building, but always stands back on a platform more or less wide.
Here at Labna this platform was some 25 feet wide, and had once been
stone-paved throughout its whole length. At about the middle of it was a
circular hole between 2 and 3 feet in diameter. This led to a vault-like
chamber about 4 feet deep with parallel walls and triangular arched
ceiling, a doorless replica, in fact, of the other rooms of the palace.
This subterranean room was built in the solid part of the terrace which
formed the roof of the first storey.

Stephens mentions that the Indians of his day were very superstitious
about the hole and believed it haunted. This is not surprising, for even
to-day, after sixty years' further contact with civilisation, weird
stories are associated with most of the buildings. There are other of
these secret rooms with entrances from the top both at Labna, Uxmal, and
elsewhere. The ancient use of these _chultunes_, as the Mayans call
them, has been much discussed, and Stephens, we think quite rightly,
rejected the idea that they were reservoirs for the storing of water. It
is far more probable that they were storerooms for grain or other
eatables, or possibly treasure-houses; though we incline to the belief
that they may have been prisons; a suggestion which we think we are the
first to advance.

Standing at right angles to the eastern end of the palace, facing
westward, is a second building, one-storeyed, divided into eleven rooms.
It is a solid structure in fair preservation, and in singular contrast
with the palace in being almost entirely devoid of decoration or
carving. But the most remarkable building at Labna stands on a mound
about 50 feet high, its slopes now a mass of shrub and débris. It
consists of a two-roomed structure which, by reason of the perpendicular
wall that rises up some 30 feet above the roof-level, is one of the most
extraordinary in Yucatan. Most curious is the effect of the isolated
position of this wall, which towers above the ruined rooms of the south
side. It is slotted with narrow perpendicular apertures like the window
openings so often seen in a Norman castle wall. It is elaborately carved
with designs in deep relief, now so ruined that it is next to
impossible, at the distance at which one is obliged to stand from the
wall, to follow the original scheme of ornamentation. Along the top was
once a row of death's-heads. Beneath were two lines of human figures, of
which only arms and legs now appear. Over what was the centre doorway
are the remains of a colossal figure with beneath it what certainly
looked to us like a phallic emblem. The whole of the wall still bears
trace of the colours with which its extraordinary carvings were once
painted. There can be little doubt that, like the Castillo at Chichen,
this building was of a religious nature, and it is one more proof of the
extraordinary versatility of the ancient Mayan architects.

Right below this mound to the westward stands the most beautiful of all
the ruins at Labna, an arched gateway, our photograph of which we
reproduce. This archway is remarkable as being the nearest approach so
far discovered in Central America to the classic archways; but as will
be seen by our illustration it is still distinctly Mayan with its narrow
roofstone. Through this archway you pass into what formed once a
quadrangle. Each side of the arch and all round, doorways lead into
chambers 12 feet by 8. Over each doorway had been a square recess in
which were the relics of a carved ornament which, as Stephens says,
looks like the representation of a rayed sun. Right and left of this
archway the building of which it formed a grand entrance ran out for
some distance, and when complete it must have been a striking example of
architectural majesty and grace.

The distance as the crow flies from Labna to Sayil (our next
destination) is but a few miles. But the cross-country journey, the
whole district studded with limestone hills, is an impossible one, and
thus we had to return to Tabi, whence it is some sixteen miles, taking
the hacienda of Santa Anna on the way. In many ways Sayil is a replica
of Labna, but on a grander scale. We should almost despair of giving any
adequate idea of the majesty of what must have been the palace of Sayil
if we were not able to reproduce on the plate opposite our photograph of
it. The building is immense, sublime in its immensity. Even in its
ruined state it strikes one dumb with wonder. To-day no less than
eighty-seven rooms can be counted, and there once were probably upwards
of one hundred and fifty. What it must have been like when its triple
terraces were perfect, and its three columned storeys, carved and
decorated, housed their ancient inhabitants, one must leave to the
imagination. In the centre of the building was a grand staircase 32
feet wide which ascended to the top of the structure. This staircase and
the right-hand portion of the building are in hopeless ruins, but enough
remains to prove the grandeur of the conception of these wonderful
Indian architects who, working without metals or tools of precision,
were able to plan and raise a pile which in its majesty and size is
fitting to rank with the architectural wonders of the world.

[Illustration: ARCHED GATEWAY, LABNA.]

[Illustration: THE PALACE, SAYIL.]

The palace measures on the ground-floor 265 feet in frontage and 120
feet in depth. The second storey was 220 feet long and 60 feet deep. The
third storey is 150 feet long and 18 feet deep. The general design of
the façades, those of the lower two having been columnar, as seen
clearly in the second, was identical. The façade of the upper terrace
was plain. The entablatures of the first and second were elaborately
decorated with carvings, among which the most remarkable is the figure
of a man supporting himself on his hands with his legs bent wide apart
at right angles to his body in an attitude which certainly cannot be
said to err on the side of delicacy. The building is to the rear much
what it is in the front, though the platforms of the back terraces are
narrower. The rooms vary in length from 23 feet to 10. In the second
range to the northward there were ten doorways sealed up with masonry
like those we had earlier found in the Nunnery building at Chichen.
Stephens in 1842 broke into these and discovered that there were ten
rooms, 220 feet long altogether, each 10 feet deep, filled with solid
masses of mortar and stone. The most extraordinary fact disclosed by him
is that the filling up of the rooms must have been done in the course of
the erection of the building; for as the stone fillings rose above the
top of the doorways the workmen could not have entered the apartments
through the doors to complete the work of filling in.

The only way of explaining the means by which these rooms could have
been thus made solid is to assume that the work was done from the top
before the ceilings of the rooms were superimposed. Stephens is at a
loss to explain this feature of the building, for, as he says, if the
filling up of these ten rooms was necessary to strengthen the supports
of the third terrace, "it would seem to have been much easier to erect a
solid structure at once, without any division into apartments." We think
he missed the simplest explanation of all. It is quite possible that the
palace as first designed was to be two-storeyed. Indeed this is most
probable, as this marvellous palace at Sayil is one of the few Mayan
buildings which have three habitable storeys. When the building
operations had reached the second terrace the cacique, impressed with
the grandeur of his work, determined to give the building the added
glory of a third storey. But the master architect had his doubts as to
whether the foundation work would bear this added weight, and to guard
against any "settling" stayed the completion of the rooms in the rear
and filled up these ten before the roofs were put on. Surely this is a
very natural and very simple explanation of what is otherwise

From the terraces of the palace towards the north-west we see a high
wooded hill surmounted by a building. The densest wood covers the
intervening space of about a quarter of a mile, and the "going" was of
the hardest. But the actual climb of the hill was really the most
difficult job; and slipping and sliding, with bleeding hands and torn
clothes (for the whole surface is spread with cactus and acacia-like
shrubs with thorns two or three inches long and a quarter of an inch
wide), we deserve to reach a remarkable building. We do not get our
deserts, for it proves to be a much ruined three-roomed house, the only
remarkable feature being a carved face of life size over the centre
door, and within the print of the red hand. From the terrace the view
into the valley below, with the mighty palace breaking the endless
woodland, evoked our enthusiasm despite our breathlessness.

At a distance of about half a mile to the south of the palace stand the
ruins of a building like that described by us at Labna. On a mound an
ordinary building 40 feet wide and flat-roofed is surmounted by a
perpendicular wall some 30 feet high and 2 feet thick. This had the same
oblong openings like small castle windows which we had seen at Labna,
and bore on it the remnants of carved human figures and varied
ornamentation. To the S.S.W. of this Stephens discovered yet another
remarkable building 117 feet long, 84 feet deep, and divided into
sixteen rooms. This stood upon what he describes as probably the largest
terrace in Yucatan, from north to south at least 1,500 feet in length.
With only one Indian we had to give up the idea of piercing the woods in
this direction; but we had seen enough to feel satisfied that Sayil was
once a city of first-rate importance. The immense palace alone must have
entailed a continuous labour of thousands of workmen for some years.

Three miles from the hacienda of Santa Anna, where we stayed, are the
ruins of Kabah. There is every reason to believe that these ruins
represent the remains of what was once, though probably only for a short
period, a large and powerful city. As far as it is possible to piece
together from traditional history the records of this group of cities of
the Southern Sierras, it would seem to be fairly certain that the ruins
we find to-day represent a vigorous recrudescence of building
immediately after, and as a result of, the destruction of Mayapan by the
confederation of caciques. Doubtless Labna, Sayil, and Kabah existed as
cities before this great victory. But just as the downfall of the
overlord of Mayapan was, we believe, the signal for that temporary
supremacy of the Itzas, what we might call "the golden age" of Chichen,
so it heralded in a period short of a century during which this group of
Southern Sierra cities enjoyed an hitherto unknown prosperity. We shall
later try to show what exact connection we believe existed between the
art of these sierra towns, of fifteenth-century Chichen, and Copan and

This architectural period, which is perhaps best of all represented in
Kabah, is essentially florid and, though highly adroit in its intricacy,
distinctly barbaric. The most notable feature at Kabah, as at most of
the ruined cities of Yucatan, is the huge mound or teocalli some 80 feet
high, now a mountain of loose stone rubbish and overgrowth, though once
stepped all round and crowned by a building. North-eastward on a terrace
200 feet wide by 142 deep (these are Stephens's measurements) stands one
of the only two buildings of Kabah which are in any sort of
preservation. The structure had a frontage of upwards of 150 feet, and
its façade is so remarkable for its ornamentation that we reproduce at
page 318 Stephens's drawing, which will give a far better idea of the
design than any description. Over the doorways had been a cornice of
which remnants remain, and which, as Stephens says, "tried by the
severest rules of art recognised among us, would embellish the
architecture of any known era." This building had been surmounted by a
sort of elaborate stone combing extending the full length of the front
and reaching a height of about 15 feet. The interior was planned on the
usual arrangement of rooms found in these Mayan cities, each doorway
admitting to a front room which in turn gives admission to an inner
chamber raised a foot or two above the ground-level of the first and
reached by a step. In the centre apartment at Kabah this usually simple
step had been replaced by two stone steps carved out of a single block,
the lower step being in the form of a scroll. The sides of the steps
were carved, as was also the wall under the doorway.

To the north-east stands a second palace, three-storeyed, which must
once have been a smaller replica of the majestic building at Sayil.
Although hopelessly ruined and silted over with débris, the plan of the
building was obviously the same in all particulars, even to the
staircase by which ascent was made to the topmost range of apartments.
To the westward of these ruins, Stephens, in 1842, found two buildings
erected on a great terrace some 800 feet long and 100 feet wide. The
first of these houses, with a 217-foot frontage, has seven doorways,
each opening to single apartments, except the centre one, which led into
two. The doorways had had wooden lintels, which had disappeared. The
other house, with a 143-foot frontage and 31 feet deep, was
two-storeyed, with a wide staircase in the centre leading to the topmost
range. Here Stephens discovered a wonderful carved lintel consisting of
two beams, the outer one split in two lengthwise. This constitutes the
best example so far discovered of Central American wood-carving.

Tradition relates that this city of Kabah was contemporaneous with the
most prosperous days of Uxmal (pronounced Ooshmal), which city we shall
now shortly describe. Between the two ran, says tradition, a great paved
way of pure white stone, serving as a highroad of communication for the
two allied chiefs, upon which their messengers passed bearing letters
written on leaves and the bark of trees. Uxmal, at once the largest and
the best preserved of all the ruined cities of the Southern Sierras, is
between fifty and sixty miles to the south-west of Merida, and stands on
the hacienda of Don Augusto Peon, who, however, has not visited it, he
told us, more than two or three times during the past nine years,
because of its extreme unhealthiness as a place of residence owing to
the malaria-breeding swamps. The ruins cover about half a square mile,
and consist of five principal buildings. These are the pyramid temple, a
castillo such as that at Chichen; a quadrangular edifice which
archæologists have agreed to call the Nunnery; the House of Turtles,
named from the nature of some of the decorations; the House of Pigeons,
from the high, pierced combing which has some likeness to the front of a
long dovecote; and the Governor's Palace.

The latter-day names of Mayan ruined buildings are usually
unsatisfactory, and perhaps those of Uxmal are the most unsatisfactory
of any. Taking the pyramid first, as being at once the largest and the
most prominent feature of the ruined group, we find it to consist of a
mound upwards of 80 feet high, 240 feet at the base and 160 feet wide.
The platform-top of the pyramid measures about 23 feet by 80. The
pyramid is built of rough stone and rubble, and was faced with stones
flat-hewn, some of which are still in position. On the east side a
stairway, steeper than that of Chichen, ascends to the top. The pyramid
is crowned with a temple which measures some 70 feet by 12 and is
three-roomed. This castillo at Uxmal is distinguished from those at
Chichen and elsewhere by a unique feature, namely the building-out of a
small edifice or temple some 20 feet below the level of the platform
summit of the mound, and having its roof level with it. This building
stands on a projecting platform of its own, on the west side of the
pyramid, and originally communicated with the ground by a stairway 24
feet wide. It has one doorway, and its façade is more richly ornamented
than that of any other building in the group, notable being the colossal
"snouted mask" over the doorway. This rests upon a pedestal with two
jaguar heads looking each way. The door lintels are sapota beams, which
are to-day still in their places, as they were when Stephens visited the
city in 1842.

Separated from the pyramid by what appears to have been a small
courtyard, is the Nunnery, a group of four buildings roughly forming a
quadrangle, with passage-way at the corners; really four distinct
buildings forming the sides of a large courtyard. Three of these
edifices present a solid front externally, while that on the south, 279
feet long, has as its centre a gateway spanned by an arch, 10 feet 8
inches wide and some 15 feet high. The whole four buildings, though on
slightly different levels, may be roughly said to stand on a terrace
some 300 feet square. All the buildings have the walls plain and the
entablature elaborately sculptured. That on the east had a centrepiece
above the cornice; while that on the north was adorned with a false
front, consisting of a series of triangular gables. In the scheme of
decoration, the most notable features are the so-called snouted mask,
which we found at Chichen, and the feathered serpent design. Between the
Nunnery and the Castillo Stephens found what he called the House of
Birds, because of its exterior being ornamented with rude
representations of feathers and birds. To the south of the Nunnery
quadrangle still stand the ruined walls of what was a tennis-court, such
as we have described and illustrated at Chichen. Still further south
stands the Governor's Palace, about 300 feet long, 40 feet wide, and
some 25 feet high. It has eleven doorways in front and one at each end.
The interior is longitudinally divided into two corridors which are in
turn partitioned off into oblong-shaped rooms, the chief of which, in
the centre of the building, are 60 feet long. There is nothing notable
in the actual building of this palace, which conforms to the designs
common at Chichen and elsewhere. The rear of the building is unbroken by
doorways, but has two arches towards each end let into the building. The
full length of the entablature is elaborately carved in a lattice-work
pattern, with ornamentation superimposed, in which the snouted mask is a
leading feature. Over the doorways the ordinary design is broken by
specially elaborate carvings which usually take the form of a V shape
bordered with a lattice pattern and small projecting squares. To the
north-west of this palace is the so-called House of Turtles, which gains
its name from the curious frieze on which turtles are the chief
ornamentation. It has a frontage of 94 feet and is about 30 feet deep.
The east and west ends are much ruined, and portions of the roof have
fallen. It is remarkable as entirely lacking the profuse ornamentation
of the Governor's Palace and the Nunnery.

To the south-west of this stands the building, in shape a quadrangle, to
which the absurd name of House of Pigeons has been given in allusion to
a series of nine gables, of which eight are still standing, which form a
false front, each gable pierced with thirty rectangular openings in
seven horizontal rows. The whole building is 240 feet long. In the
centre of the front, which looks northward, is an arch 10 feet wide,
leading into what was once the courtyard of the building. The other
wings of the quadrangle are in hopeless ruin. To the south of the House
of Pigeons is another small courtyard enclosed once on the east and west
by buildings, with a mound on the south side up which runs a
well-preserved stairway. At the south-west corner of the Governor's
Palace is a large truncated pyramid between 60 and 70 feet high and
about 270 feet at the base. The top is about 70 feet square, and some 15
feet from it on the north side is a ledge or terrace which suggests that
the buildings which once stood on this mound were similar in design to
those which we have described as still standing on the mound called the
House of the Dwarf.

[Illustration: THE PALACE, UXMAL.]

Around Uxmal no excavations of any moment have been made. The owner of
the land, Señor Don Augusto Peon, very courteously told us that if we
were able to delay our departure he would grant us all facilities for
spade-work among the ruins. Unfortunately we could not alter our
arrangements; but undoubtedly there is a large field for work here,
which will amply reward archæologists in those days when the "dog in the
manger" policy of the Mexican "Jacks in office" is a thing of the past,
and intelligent land-owners such as Señor Peon can assist students in
every way instead of having their hands fettered by absurd Federal
rules. But though no excavation work has been done, many pieces of
sculpture have been unearthed from a surface layer of débris. Such was a
column 5 feet high tapering toward the base, where it had a diameter of
20 inches while at the top it measured 28, and ornamented with two rows
of hieroglyphics. Another sculpture, found by Stephens, is a seat or
couch carved out of a single block of stone and measuring 3 feet 2
inches in length and 2 feet in height. Its design is a double-headed
animal of the jaguar type, but which Stephens thought to represent
lynxes. Its interest lies in the fact that the representation of some
such ceremonial seat was found at Palenque, as we shall presently show.



Time did not allow of, nor indeed had we ever contemplated, a visit to
Guatemala and the ruins of Copan and Quirigua, or to those scarcely less
important ones in the State of Chiapas and around the Usumacinta River.
But these are so intricately connected with the problems of the origin
of Mayan civilisation and with those views which we venture to advance
in a later chapter, that we have thought it best to give here some
account of the results of the exploration and excavation work among
these groups.

The ruins of Copan are situated in the frontier country of Guatemala and
the Republic of Honduras on the east bank of the Copan River, which
flows into the Motagua, finally emptying into the Bay of Honduras near
Omoa. The name Copan seems to be strictly that of a district or
province; but it is now used as the title of a village which has sprung
up among the ruins. Of the history of Copan in the century immediately
succeeding the Spanish Conquest, somewhat confusing accounts are given.
The truth is that north-westward of the ruins, right in the heart of
Guatemala proper, stands a town "Coban," and the past of these two
places would appear to have become a good deal mixed. The Spanish
historian Francisco Antonio Fuentes y Guzman relates that a town of the
name, which he places in the old province of Chiquimula de Sierras, was
besieged by Hernandes de Chaves in 1530.[6] A desperate resistance was
made by the Indians in defence of an entrenchment formed of strong beams
of timber, the interstices filled with earth, with loopholes for the
discharge of arrows. Finally a Spanish horseman blundered through at one
weak spot and the Indians were routed. The account of this battle cannot
very easily be reconciled with the description of ruined Copan given by
J. L. Stephens and Mr. A. P. Maudslay. Stephens describes it as
surrounded by a wall of cut stone well laid, and of what seems the
incredible height of a hundred feet. But allowing for any exaggeration
of enthusiasm (he was there in 1839, and it was the first Mayan ruin he
had ever set eyes upon), it seems certain that the old Copan was a
powerful and well-fortified city, and Mr. Maudslay is probably right in
his suggestion that it had been abandoned before the Spanish Conquest.

This is certainly suggested, if not actually corroborated, by the only
Spanish account of the ruins extant. Writing at the time of the
Conquest, Licienciado Diego Palacio, an officer of the Audiencia de
Guatemala, reports to King Philip II. of Spain on the 8th March, 1576,
as follows: "I endeavoured with all possible care to ascertain from the
Indians through the traditions derived from the ancients, what people
lived here or what they knew or had heard from their ancestors
concerning them. But they had no books relating to their antiquities nor
do I believe that in all this district there is more than one, which I
possess. They say that in the ancient times there came from Yucatan a
great lord who built these edifices, but that at the end of some years
he returned to his native country, leaving them entirely deserted. And
this is what appeared to be most likely, for tradition says that the
people of Yucatan in time past conquered the provinces of Uyajal,
Lacandon, Vera Paz, Chiquimula, and Copan, and it is certain that the
Apay language which is spoken here is current and understood in Yucatan
and the aforesaid provinces. It also appears that the designs of these
edifices are like those which the Spaniards first discovered in Yucatan
and Tabasco." It is quite certain that Copan was in ruins in 1576,
because Palacio's letter continues, "On the road to the city of San
Pedro, in the first town within the province of Honduras called Copan,
are certain ruins and vestiges of a great population and of superb
edifices and splendour as it would appear they could never have been
built by the natives of that province."

The ruins are, as we have said, on the river-bank, and Stephens
concluded, judging from the dispersal of the stone remains found
throughout the woodlands, that the city had a river frontage of some two
miles. On the western bank the only ruin is one on the top of a mountain
2,000 feet high, and it seems probable that this was an isolated shrine,
and that the city did not extend to the western bank. A very important
feature of Copan--one to which we shall have to refer in a later
chapter--is the absence of all remains of palaces or private buildings
such as we have described at Chichen and Uxmal.

The existing ruins consist of pyramidal structures and terraces, but
apparently without any relics of buildings crowning them. The chief ruin
is that which Stephens calls the temple. It is an oblong enclosure, the
river-wall of which is no less than 624 feet long and varies in height
from 60 to 90 feet. It is built of cut stones from 3 to 6 feet in length
and 1 1/2 broad. The other three sides of this enclosure consist of
ranges of steps and pyramidal structures varying in height, measured on
the slope, from 30 to 140 feet. Near the south-west corner of the
river-wall Stephens found a recess which he suggests was once occupied
by a colossal monument fronting the water. Beyond are the remains of two
small pyramids between which he found traces of a gateway, probably the
chief entrance to the city on the riverside. The south side of the
enclosure has in its eastern corner a huge pyramid 120 feet high on the
slope. To the right of this are other terraces and pyramids with what
was probably a gateway into a quadrangle 250 feet square. Here Stephens
found many sculptured stones, notable among these a series of gigantic
sculptured heads ranged in rows half-way up the side of one of the
pyramids. These he took to be death's-heads, but he afterwards
reconsidered this decision and suggested that they were intended for
apes' heads. For this view he found corroboration in the remains of a
colossal ape carved in stone which lay fallen near by, and which
certainly seems to suggest that the early occupants of Copan may have
reckoned a monkey deity in their mythology. Remarkable, too, was the
carving of a head and bust which appears to be a distinct effort at

Facing eastward, 6 feet from the pyramid base, he found the first of
those many stelae, the upright stones which give Copan its special
interest in the Mayan controversy. We here reproduce his representation
of it. It is 13 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 3 feet deep, and is
sculptured on all four sides from base to summit. It had originally been
coloured, the red paint still adhering in places. Some 8 feet away there
was a large block of sculptured stone, easily identifiable as an altar.
On it was carved, in the front, a full-length figure; on the sides are
hieroglyphics. These stelae and altars are the peculiar features of the
Copan ruins. Nothing like them has been discovered so far in Yucatan,
and from them it is possible to draw certain deductions, as we shall
endeavour to do later. A little further on, Stephens found another stela
of the same size. The eastern side of the enclosure consists of an
almost continuous pyramid-shaped structure, broken here and there by
isolated pyramids. At right angles to it, a confused range of terraces,
ornamented with death's-heads, branch off into the forest. This plan of
building appears to have continued throughout the north side till the
river-wall was again reached.

Stephens says that he found no entire pyramid, each mound consisting of
at most two or three pyramid sides, and joined, Siamese-twin fashion, to
erections of the same kind. The outer side of the pyramidal mound, which
thus appears to have formed a confused and rough continuous border for a
huge square, littered with stelae and their altars, was broken here and
there by stairways, the steps about 18 inches square. These stairs had
originally been painted. The interior of this enclosed space was
occupied by a series of smaller pyramidal mounds and many stelae. One of
the most remarkable of these latter is notable as being, though about
the same height as the last shown, shaped differently, being broader at
the top than at the base.

Near it is a most remarkable altar. Like the stelae, the Copan altars
are monolithic. Each one, Stephens reports, appears to have special
reference to its stela, the carvings differing. The four corners of this
monolith had been carved into ball-shaped feet, upon which the altar
rested. The whole was 6 feet square and 4 high. The top is carved with
hieroglyphics. The four sides are sculptured, each with four human
figures in bas-relief, and it is noteworthy that this is the only
example of such carving found by Stephens; all the stelae and altars
being in bold alto-relief. The west side of the sculptures appears to be
the chief one, for there the principal figures are represented as
addressing each other, while on the other sides the figures are seated
as if mere attendants at a ceremonious meeting between chiefs. It will
be noticed in the pictures reproduced that the figures are all seated in
a peculiar cross-legged fashion, suggestive of nothing so much as the
attitude of the figures on the Buddhist stupas. Each man appears to sit
on a cushion which displays a glyph, probably his name or office.
Between the two chief interlocutors is carved a pair of glyphs. It is
remarkable, as Stephens points out, that the figures do not appear to be
armed. This is quite the exception among Mayan monuments, and if
Stephens is correct in believing that there is no representation of
weapons in any of the ruins at Copan,--and he is corroborated by Mr.
Maudslay, who made a careful survey,--he would seem to be certainly
justified in his conclusion that the ancient inhabitants were not
pre-eminently fighters. We shall show that another most important
conclusion is possible.

Close to this altar Stephens found the ruins of two towers at each side
of a staircase. Half-way up was a pit, lined with stone, 5 feet square
and 17 deep. At the bottom was an opening leading to a chamber 10 feet
long, 5 feet odd wide, and 4 feet high. At each end of the chamber was a
niche. It was clearly a sepulchral vault, and a Colonel Galindo, who, in
1770, was the first man to visit Copan with a view to archæological
investigations, put this beyond dispute by his discovery on the floor
and in the niches of a number of vases and dishes of pottery, more than
fifty of which he declared were full of human bones packed in lime. He
also found several sharp-edged and pointed knives of _chaya_, a kind of
flint, and a small head carved in jade, its eyes nearly closed, the
lower part of the face distorted, and the back symmetrically pierced
with holes. There could be no doubt as to the use of this curious
carving. We have ourselves seen in Yucatan exquisite pieces of jade cut
into face form and pierced. These were talismanic plastrons, worn by the
priests on their breast much as the Lord Mayor of London wears the City
Badge. We shall suggest later that these badges constitute valuable
evidence as to the origin of the building civilisation. In the
reproduction of the elliptical tablet from the palace at Palenque on p.
217, just such an amulet is seen decorating the breast of the deity
there figured. Colonel Galindo also found many jade beads and large
quantities of periwinkle shells. It might be here worth mention that we
ourselves found in a ruin we were examining on Cozumel island, a large
conch shell filled with charcoal which was actually embedded in the
outer wall. Its position forbade the idea of it or the charcoal having
got there by mere chance.



Just above this sepulchral vault Stephens found a passage-way opening
through the side of the pyramid, and running as far as the river-wall,
where there was an oblong opening which has caused the ruins to be
locally known as _Las Ventanas_ (the windows). The passage-way was just
large enough for a man to crawl through on his stomach. Stephens looked
in vain for any remains of buildings. Juarros,[7] the Spanish historian
of Guatemala, quoting Fuentes, declared that between two of the pyramids
at Copan "was suspended a hammock of stone, containing two human
figures, one of each sex, clothed in Indian style. Astonishment is
forcibly excited in viewing this structure, because, large as it is,
there is no appearance of the component parts being joined together; and
though entirely of one stone and of an enormous weight, it may be put in
motion by the slightest impulse of the hand." For this Stephens also
looked, but in vain, though he found an Indian who declared that his
grandfather had spoken of such a relic. The whole account sounds

Stephens discovered the stone quarries of Copan, a range of hills some
two miles north from the river, running east to west. Out of the side of
the hill the pre-Columbian masons had cut the materials for the many
stelae, pyramids, and steps which lay in the plain below. Stephens found
many blocks which had been quarried and then rejected for some defects;
and in one ravine leading towards the river was a huge monolith, larger
than any used in the ruins, which had been left thus half-way on its
journey to the city. How such huge masses of stone were carried over
even two miles of woodland must always remain one of the greatest of the
many puzzles which the erection of the cyclopean Mayan buildings
presents to baffled archæology.

To the south of the enclosure described, Stephens found within terraced
walls a group of stelae and altars. He thinks that these walls and their
statues formed an annexe of the large enclosure which he is probably
right in calling the main temple. The stelae were quite close together
and are of such interest both artistically and archæeologically that we
cannot resist the temptation of reproducing some of them from Stephens's
excellent plates. The monoliths averaged 12 feet in height, and are such
masses of ingenious ornamentation as would arrest attention even if
found as relics of a race the civilisation of which was perfectly
understood. But here we have a series of the most intricate alto-reliefs
undertaken with such success that they can be accurately copied after
many centuries. Stephens found at the Copan quarries blocks of
half-prepared stone with hard flints embedded in them. These blocks had
been rejected by the workmen for the very excellent reason that their
only tools were flint chisels, and with these, of course, they could not
shape smoothly the side of the stone which contained flints. At the back
of one of the stelae Stephens found that flints had been picked out,
leaving holes which formed flaws in the sculpture. Nothing can more
plainly indicate the limitations imposed upon these wonderful artists by
the circumstances of their culture. They were in the Stone Age, but it
was a Stone Age so glorified by their skill that it would put to shame
many modern nations armed with tools of precision. Mr. A. P. Maudslay
visited Copan in 1884, and in the course of his investigations excavated
one of the mounds. He corroborates the statement of Stephens that the
monuments of Copan show no traces of buildings such as are found in
Yucatan. The mound excavated ran almost to a point. On the east side
were the remains of steps. The upper part was formed of rough blocks of
stone interspersed with layers of cement and sand. The lower part of the
mound was formed of stone and earth, and below ground-level, digging 12
feet down, he found nothing but solid earth. Some 6 feet from the top of
the mound he came across a vessel of pottery containing "a bead-shaped
piece of green stone, pierced, with a diameter of 2-3/4 inches; six jade
beads (the remains of a necklace); four pearls and small rough figures
cut out of pearl-oyster shells; the jade whorl of a spindle; some pieces
of carved pearl shells. At the bottom of the pot was some red powder and
several ounces of quicksilver."

A foot or more above the pot Mr. Maudslay found traces of bones, but he
does not say whether they were human or animal. On the ground-level were
more bones mixed with red powder and sand, and a bead-shaped stone 3
inches in diameter. Eight or nine feet below ground-level he unearthed
the skeleton of a jaguar beneath a layer of charcoal. The teeth and part
of the skeleton had been painted red. This is very curious. It is
obvious that the animal had not served as a burnt sacrifice, or the
bones would have been charred. The flesh must have been stripped off and
the painting done before burial. Mr. Maudslay does not explain this
strange find. Might it not be that the animal was sacrificed on the
altar of the neighbouring stela as a dedicatory offering to the god in
whose honour the mound was about to be erected; a kind of consecration
sacrifice which had as its purpose the obtaining of the deity's blessing
on the new undertaking. The flesh may have been eaten or possibly burnt
after it had been removed from the bones, the skeleton being painted red
before entombment as a compliment to the colour of the deity's own
stela. Such burial of a victim after sacrifice to obtain a blessing upon
a new undertaking is a very common rite among savage peoples. Thus the
Dyaks and other peoples of Malaysia killed a slave and buried his body
in the foundations of a house.

In another small mound Mr. Maudslay found fragments of human bones, two
small axes, and portions of a jaguar's skeleton and some animal teeth
which he suggests were dog's, but which were probably jaguar's. In yet
another mound stones carved into death's-heads were found and small
stone serpents' heads. He speaks, too, of figures of jaguars carved on
either side of the stairway of one of the pyramids, and on the top step
"a human head in the jaws of an animal." He believes that he found
traces of glyphs on the facings of the steps; and the edges of many of
the stairways were elaborately carved, usually with entwining snakes.
His reports make it obvious that Stephens had not exaggerated in any
degree the wonders of Copan. It is indeed very doubtful if the Spaniards
at the time of the Conquest ever came across the ruins, though, as
Stephens points out, Cortes in his memorable journey from Mexico to
Honduras must have passed within two days' march of the city. This fact
certainly goes far to prove that in Cortes's day Copan was already
deserted, or he would have heard of it and turned aside to subdue its
cacique. But after all, this is but theorising. The Spaniards may have
seen Copan in all its wonder of carving and paint, and been so little
impressed as to leave us not a line about it. For, as even the ever
amiable Stephens admits, "the conquerors of America were illiterate and
ignorant adventurers, eager in pursuit of gold and blind to everything

The ruins of Quirigua stand on a level plain covered by dense forest, a
little more than half a mile from the left bank of the Motagua River
near En Cuentros, some five miles from the town of Quirigua. They
consist of monuments almost identical in shape and arrangement with
those of Copan. Mr. Maudslay, to whose patient and scholarly researches
there for several years archæology is indebted for the remarkable
detailed account contained in the _Biologia Centrali Americana_, says
the site must have always been subject to inundations, and that the
level of the ground would appear to have been raised since the monuments
were erected.

    (From a photograph by Herr Maler.)]


He describes the ruins as consisting "of numerous square and oblong
mounds and terraces 6 to 40 feet high." Most of them are faced with
worked stone, and approached by steps. In the central space around which
they are grouped stand thirteen carved stelae. Six of these vary between
3 and 5 feet square, and 14 to 20 feet high out of the ground. The
altars in front of these stelae are described by Mr. Maudslay as oblong
or rounded blocks of stone shaped to represent huge turtles or
armadillos or some such animals. The largest altar found by him was
shaped like a turtle, weighed about 20 tons, rested on three slabs, and
was roughly a cube of 8 feet. He says that the carvings on the stelae
and altars are human heads or faces of animals, and that plants or
leaves never occur though there is a free use of plumes and feathers and
occasionally a plaited ribbon. Mr. Maudslay's account supports in the
main Stephens's short account of the place. The stelae the latter
describes as being twice or three times as high as those at Copan, and
always monolithic. One of which he gives a drawing is carved on the
front with the figure of a man, on the back with that of a woman. The
sides are covered with hieroglyphics in low relief just as at Copan.
Another stela stands 26 feet out of the ground, and, as Stephens said,
has probably 6 or 8 feet buried. It is notable as leaning 12 feet 2
inches out of the perpendicular. The side towards the ground is
ornamented with the figure of a man.

As has been said, the general type of the ruins is identical with those
at Copan; but the monoliths, though much larger, are carved in lower
relief, and the ornamentation is distinctly less rich in design.
Stephens's supposition was that Quirigua is older than Copan. Mr.
Maudslay believes that the whole site was once paved. He notes that the
carvings exhibit no weapons. This, as we have mentioned, was specially
remarked by Stephens at Copan. There is much significance in this fact,
though we scarcely think that it justifies the presumption to which it
seems to have led Mr. Maudslay, who in a paper he wrote for _Nature_ in
1892, declares the colossal figures on the stelae of Copan to represent
female deities exclusively.


[6] _Recordación Florida_--an MS. account of the kingdom of
Guatemala, written in 1690, and still preserved in the city of

[7] Domingo Juarros, _Historia de Guatemala_, written between
1808 and 1818.



The ruins of Palenque stand shrouded in the dense forest about one
hundred miles south-east of San Juan Batista, the capital town of the
State of Tabasco. Their ancient name is unknown. For years they had been
called by the Spaniardised Indians _Casas de Piedras_ (Houses of Stone).
They lie about eight miles from the village of Palenque, from which they
take their present generally accepted name. Apart from the fact that
they are, beyond dispute, culturally the most remarkable of all the
groups of ruined cities so far discovered in Central America, they have
a very special interest in having been the first "discovered" to
archæology, and the first to fire that train of enthusiastic research
which, during the many years which have elapsed since the first romantic
accounts of them penetrated to Europe, has borne such rich fruit.

The Spanish vandals had taken good care to destroy on the sites of the
newly founded cities, such as Merida and Valladolid, all vestiges of the
ancient grandeur of Mayan buildings. If anybody troubled to remember
that in the earliest years of the Conquest the caciques of Chichen,
Uxmal and so on had proved troublesome foes, there was certainly no one
intelligent or energetic enough to bother himself with a journey to
these dead cities. And so it was that when in 1770 some stray Spanish
travellers stumbled across Palenque, the news of their discovery burst
like a bombshell in archæological Europe. It was not until 1776,
however, that the King of Spain ordered an exploration. On the 3rd of
May, 1787, one Captain Antonio Del Rio was commissioned to investigate
the romantic report of the hidden city. In his official account he
writes that on his first attempt, owing to the thickness of the woods
and a fog so dense that it was impossible for the men to distinguish
each other at five paces, the principal building was completely
concealed from their view.


After a delay of a few days, occupied by him in collecting several score
of Indians to clear the woods, he was enabled to make a survey. His
written report for some unexplained reason was for years buried in the
archives of Guatemala, not seeing the light until 1822, when the
original MS. somehow fell into the hands of an English traveller who
published it in London in that year. Meantime in 1807, by the order of
Charles IV. of Spain, a Captain Dupaix visited Palenque. It was not
until 1835, twenty-eight years after his expedition, that the report of
Dupaix was published in Paris in four folio volumes at the price of
eight hundred francs.

Before Stephens's investigations the wildest reports as to the extent of
the ruins were current. These varied between sixty miles and twenty
miles. Stephens once and for all gave the lie to these fairy tales, and
showed that the ruins did not cover a square mile. But this fact does
not weigh against the assumption, so soundly based upon the grandeur and
artistic glories of the buildings, that Palenque was once a great and
powerful city; for, as elsewhere, the hundreds of dwellings which
clustered around its temples and palaces were houses of perishable
materials which long ago rotted away in the forest. The largest ruin is
the palace, which stands on an oblong mound 40 feet high, 310 feet long,
and 260 feet wide. This gigantic mound was once faced entirely with
stone. The building on it faces east, and has a frontage of 228 feet, a
depth of 180, and a height of 25. There were fourteen doorways, each
about 9 feet wide. It is of stone throughout, though the whole front was
once stuccoed and painted. The spaces between the doorways were carved
with bas-reliefs. The chief doorway is approached by stone steps. Along
the cornice outside, which projected about a foot, holes had been
drilled through the stone, which suggests that by their means an immense
sun-curtain was sometimes lowered to cover the fourteen doorways. Two
parallel corridors run lengthwise on all four sides of the building, and
it is upon the corridor to the east that all fourteen doors opened.
These corridors are about 9 feet wide. The floors are of cement; the
walls 10 feet high and plastered. The inner walls are broken by
apertures about a foot long, doubtless for the ventilation of the
interior. Some of these window slits were cross-shaped, some T-shaped.


From the outer corridor there is but one door leading to the inner
corridor, through which in turn thirty steps lead down to a rectangular
courtyard 80 feet long by 70 feet broad. On each side of these steps are
figures in bas-relief 9 feet odd high. On each side of this courtyard
the palace is divided into apartments, the arrangement of which,
intricate in the extreme, will be seen from the reproduction we make of
Stephens's ground-plan. A second flight of stairs leads out westward
through two corridors, and by more steps to a second courtyard 80 feet
long and 30 wide. So far the arrangements of the palace are much those
of other Mayan buildings, though on a grander scale. But the peculiar
feature is a tower on the south side of the second court. At the base it
is square, and has three storeys. Within it is a smaller tower, separate
from the outer one and containing a staircase also of stone so narrow
that only a small man could ascend. This staircase ends dead against a
stone ceiling, from which the last step is only six or eight inches.
Such a deliberate cul-de-sac stair is so incomprehensible as to defeat
one's efforts to even suggest an explanation. The Chichen Caracol
stairs, which we explored, scarcely in our view offer the same
difficulty, for they did appear to have once opened on to the platform
of an observatory turret. But Mayan buildings are indeed full of
features which are whimsical in the extreme, and suggest that either the
builders were often demented caciques or that buildings such as the
Palenque palace represent the architectural efforts of several
generations of chiefs, and that the later ones by their additions
rendered nugatory, perhaps deliberately, the designs of the first

East of the tower is another building with two corridors, one ornamented
with pictures in stucco, the centre of its wall bearing a curious
elliptical tablet here reproduced from Stephens's picture. The faces of
the figures are notable for the pronounced profile which is found here,
at Piedras Negras, and at Copan, but as far as we could see not at all
at Chichen or at other of the ruins in Yucatan proper. This tablet is,
Stephens says, the only stone carving in the palace except those already
mentioned in the courtyard. Under it once stood a table. At the end of
the corridor containing it an opening in the floor leads by steps to a
series of subterranean apartments, with windows opening from them above
the ground, thus forming a ground-floor below the level of the
corridors. Here are several more stone tables.

At the extreme south-west corner of the palace, connected with it by a
subterranean passage, is a pyramidal structure, which once had stairways
on all its faces. The sides are very steep and measure about 100 feet on
the slope. The building is 76 feet long and 25 deep. It has five doors
separated by six piers. The front is richly ornamented with stucco
designs and hieroglyphics at each end, ninety-six glyphs in each tablet.
The centre four piers are carved with human figures, two on each side
facing each other. These are very interesting, for they are, we believe,
of a design elsewhere unknown in Central America--representing women
with children in their arms. The front corridor is 7 feet wide and is
divided from the inner corridor by a massive wall having in it three
doors. At each side of the centre door is a tablet of hieroglyphics,
each 13 feet wide and 8 high, and divided into 240 glyphs. Each tablet
projects three or four inches from the wall. In the rear corridor to
which these three doors give admission is another tablet 4 feet 6 inches
by 3 feet 6 inches covered with hieroglyphics. Stephens says that the
building was called by the local Indians a school; but the padre of
Palenque suggested that it was the court-house, and that these
hieroglyphic tablets were the tables of the law. Who shall say?

To the east of this Court of Justice, if such indeed it was, is another
pyramid 134 feet high, measured on the slope, with a building on top. It
has a frontage of 50 feet, is 31 deep, and has three doorways. The whole
front is of stucco ornamentation with hieroglyphics on the piers.
Divided into two corridors, this building is probably the most
remarkable of all Mayan buildings, by reason of the altar tablet in the
inner room. It was 10 feet 8 inches wide and 6 feet 4 inches high, and
consisted of three separate stones. The middle one had been removed
before Stephens's visit. He found it lying near the stream which runs
through the group of ruins. The right-hand stone had been quite
destroyed. Stephens conjectures, probably rightly, that it was covered
with hieroglyphics like that on the left.

This is the famous "Table of the Cross," the most wonderful inscription
so far discovered in the New World; and it is well to say at once that
the title is misleading. The so-called Cross, it is suggested, is a
cosmogonical symbol of the Mayans representing the tree of life growing
out of a cube-shaped world, having as its base a fantastic head. This
may be so, though we venture to think it may have quite another origin,
as we suggest later.

Close to this building are two more which are also obviously temples.
The three have been named Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Cross No. 2
(according to Mr. W. H. Holmes), or of the Foliated Cross (according to
Mr. Maudslay), and the Temple of the Sun. In each is found the same
alleged cosmic sign, the Tree of Life. Each was doubtless a temple. The
second two buildings are almost identical in structure with No. 1. In
the Temple of the Sun is an altar-slab quite as remarkable as that in
the Temple of the Cross. It is 9 feet wide and 8 feet high, and it is
composed of three separate stones.


A comparison of these extraordinary carvings shows great similarity in
the pose and dress of the figures; but in that of the Temple of the Sun
the figures stand on crouching fantastic forms, and between them is a
rectangular table curiously adorned and resting on two more crouching
figures. From this table project two crossed lances, the point of
intersection being hidden by a grotesque face which Mayan students have
agreed to regard as a symbol of the Sun. The main figures would seem to
be priests, or perhaps a priest and his assistant. They hold in their
hands what look like human figures for sacrifice. The key to these
wonderful bas-reliefs lies in the glyphs. Professor Forstemann would
have us believe that these are but a compilation of month and day signs,
that, in fact, the tablets are much like those almanacks which a country
grocer presents to his customers, an attractive picture in the middle,
surrounded by the days of the month. We do not believe it, we never
shall be able to believe it; and in the chapter on the glyphs we shall
attempt to show that the Professor has been run away with by his own
theories. It is far more likely that these wonderful calculiform letters
enshrine a dedicatory prayer to the presiding deity of the temple, with
perhaps a full description of the god and his attributes.


On the piers at each side of the temple are stone tablets carved in
bas-relief each with a figure, of which we reproduce Stephens's drawing.
They undoubtedly represent priests in full ceremonial dress. The
drawings form their own commentary. Noteworthy in the second is the
appearance of fishes in the headdress, which appears to be composed of a
bird holding a fish. Some fifteen hundred feet to the south of these
temples is yet another pyramid crowned by a building 20 feet long and 80
feet deep, which Stephens found in almost complete ruin. The most
remarkable feature of it is a bas-relief which once represented a couch,
formed of a two-headed jaguar, some portions of the figure once seated
still remaining. Of this couch design we shall have more to say when we
come to our arguments as to the origin of Mayan architecture.

Near the Temple of the Sun, Stephens found the only statue so far
discovered at Palenque. It is 10 feet 6 inches high, 2 feet 6 inches of
which is in the ground, and the sides are rounded while the back is of
rough stone. Many have been the visitors to Palenque during the
sixty-eight years which have elapsed since Stephens explored it, but
little or nothing has been discovered which would justify a reversal of
that famous archæologist's finding, viz.: that the stories of the vast
area of the ruins are mere fairy tales, and that in the buildings here
briefly described we have the relics of the only important stone
structures of a once great and powerful city. That it was desolate at
the time of the Conquest is more than likely, for it is absolutely
certain that Cortes in his march to Honduras passed within less than
thirty miles of its site; and had it then been in that full zenith of
power which the splendour of its buildings irresistibly suggests it once
enjoyed, it is incredible that the Conqueror of Mexico should not have
met its cacique in a pitched battle.

Between seventy and eighty miles to the E.S.E. of the ruins of Palenque,
on the south-western bank of the Usumacinta, are the ruins of Menché.
Some attempts have been made in recent years to identify this with that
Phantom City of which the cura of Santa Cruz del Quiche gave Stephens in
1839 an entrancing account. He (the cura) when young "had with much
labour climbed to the naked summit of the sierra from which, at a height
of ten or twelve thousand feet, he looked over an immense plain
extending to Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and saw at a great distance
a large city spread over a great space, and with turrets white and
glittering in the sun." Apart from the fact that the excellent padre had
probably allowed his imagination to run riot, there is really no ground
for aggrandising Menché at the expense of the neighbouring Palenque,
which was once undoubtedly the larger city. This portion of the
Usumacinta lies within the tribal area of the Lacandone Indians, who
still maintain their independence, and thus it is quite possible that
the city which is to-day represented by the ruins, was inhabited to a
much later date than the cities of Yucatan. M. Charnay visited the ruins
in 1880, and endeavoured to saddle them with the name "Lorillard City,"
in complimentary allusion to Mr. Lorillard, the chocolate millionaire
who had defrayed the chief cost of the French archæologist's tour. The
honour of their discovery really belongs to that earnest and unselfish
archæologist Mr. Maudslay.

The ruins consist of temples and palaces of a construction very similar
to all those buildings which are found at Palenque and around; but
Charnay says they are smaller and less richly decorated than those at
Palenque. They seem for some reason to have suffered severely from
weather-wear, for all trace of outer decoration is gone. The chief ruin
is that of a palace built on a high pyramid in six blocks, forming a
rectangle. Such is the account M. Charnay gives of it, but he states
that though the outline can be traced, the whole of the building is now
in complete ruin. About 150 yards from the river on a pyramid about 120
feet high is a building 68 feet long and about 20 feet deep, which has
three doorways. Its interior is remarkable only for the fact that it
contained a huge stone idol which is unique of its kind. M. Charnay
describes it as "a figure sitting cross-legged, the hands resting on the
knees. The attitude is placid and dignified like a Buddha statue; the
face, now mutilated, is crowned by an enormous headdress of peculiar
style, presenting a fantastic head with a diadem and medallion topped by
feathers ... the dress consists of a rich cape embroidered with pearls,
a medallion on each shoulder and in front, recalling Roman decorations.
The same ornamentation is seen on the lower part of the body, having a
much larger medallion and fringed maxtli. The arms are covered with
heavy bracelets." Around the idol M. Charnay found clay incense-burners
moulded into face forms such as have been unearthed again and again on
the Usumacinta and in Guatemala and which have proved to be in actual
daily use to-day in the temple of the Lacandone Indians. The walls of
this temple M. Charnay describes as being blackened, doubtless from the
smoke of offerings. Above the cornice of the buildings is a stone
lattice-work 14 feet high almost identical in design with that which we
have described in our account of the House of the Pigeons of Uxmal.

Close to this temple is a building 65 feet long by 52 deep. To the
south-west of this on another pyramid is a second temple, noteworthy for
the carved lintels. These represent scenes of sacrifice like those
described at Palenque; but there is more animation in the figures of the
second one, which represents a kneeling priest passing a rope through
his tongue, while over him stands another ecclesiastic, in his hands the
crozier-like wand of office which again and again occurs in Mayan
ceremonial carvings. These lintels, which were discovered by Mr.
Maudslay, were by him with infinite trouble carried to the coast and
shipped to England, and are now in the British Museum among other
exhibits of which he has been the generous donor.

This passing of a rope through the tongue represents a form of worship
of which Sahagun (_Historia General de las Cosas de la Nueva España_)
writes:--"They pierced a hole with a sharp itzli knife through the
middle of the tongue and passed a number of twigs, according to the
degree of devotion of the performer. These twigs were sometimes fastened
the one to the other and pulled through the tongue like a long cord."
Torquemada also speaks of these penances as occurring in Mexico: "The
priests of Quetzalcoatl provided themselves with sticks two feet long
and the size of their fist, and with them they repaired to the main
temple, where they fasted five days. Then carpenters and tool-workers
were brought, who were required to fast the same number of days, at the
end of which time they were given food within the precincts of the
temple. The former worked the sticks to the required size while the
tool-makers made knives with which they cut the priests' tongues. More
prayers followed, when all the priests prepared for the sacrifice, the
elders giving the example by passing through their tongues four or five
hundred twigs, followed by such among the young who had sufficient
courage to imitate them. But the pain was so sharp that few went through
the whole number; for although the first twigs were thinned out, they
became stouter each time, until they attained the size of a thumb,
sometimes twice as much."

In the neighbourhood of Menché a further group of ruins, those of
Piedras Negras, show abundant signs of the high level of culture which
is associated with Palenque and Menché, as will be seen by the
photograph which we are able to reproduce through the courtesy of the
accomplished and indefatigable field-worker and scholar, Herr Teobert
Maler, to whom, we believe, belongs the honour of being the first to
make known the extent and treasures of this group.

What is abundantly proved by his, Mr. Maudslay's, and other students'
researches in the Usumacinta district is that the whole country around
is rich in ruins, and many more, besides those so far located, may
possibly be discovered in the future. And here a further puzzle presents
itself. Such evidence as exists in the Spanish records seems to point to
the fact that all these cities were in a deserted, or at any rate a
decadent, state on the arrival of the Spaniards. The evidence is not by
any means conclusive, as little or no reliance can be placed on the
Spanish chroniclers, who are silent upon so much else. But such as it
is, it deserves weighing.

Granting for the moment, then, that Palenque and these other centres
were ruins at the Conquest, why was this so? An explanation might be
found in the supposition that the militant Aztecs had made extensive
raids as far south as Honduras, and had proved themselves entirely
superior to the Mayans, scattering and slaughtering them, and, possibly
after a short occupation, had returned northward, leaving the conquered
citizens too broken and fearful to attempt a restoration of their grand
centres, dreading further raids. Dr. Gann, British Commissioner at
Corosal, told us he found in Honduras wall paintings of undoubted Aztec
origin; which discovery would seem to support this view. It certainly
seems to us a more reasonable explanation than the one some students
have adopted, viz. that the cities of the Usumacinta represent an age of
culture between which and that of Northern and North-Eastern Yucatan
stretches a gap of many centuries. Any Aztec raids Honduras-wards would
certainly follow a route well south of Yucatan, and through the
Usumacinta country.

Yet another explanation might be that the victories of Cortes had the
result of driving large bodies of Aztecs southward; that these possessed
themselves of many Mayan cities; and that later, on Cortes advancing
south, they deserted them and took to the dense surrounding woods. It
must also be remembered that even if the Spanish conqueror passed within
eight or ten leagues of such a city as Palenque, and did not hear of its
existence, it might yet well be that it was still inhabited, as none of
the Indians met on the line of march would be likely to volunteer any
information to the hated whites.



There is no field of inquiry in which the imagination of students could
roam further or more uselessly than in the reconstruction of the life of
a vanished people from their ruined monuments. In attempting, as we
shall in this chapter, to place before the reader a concise sketch of
the political, religious, and social life of the Mayans at the time of
the Spanish invasion of Yucatan, we cannot too strongly emphasise our
conviction that the marvellous buildings which we have described in the
preceding pages are not monuments of a vanished people. The Mayan toiler
to-day in the milpas or the henequen fields is, we are convinced, the
lineal descendant of the Mayan architect who was capable of creating a
Chichen or a Sayil.

The history of Yucatan is the history of Egypt save for one fact. When
Europe first interested itself in the architectural wonders of the Land
of the Pharaohs centuries of darkness had overwhelmed the Copts and the
Fellaheen and the arts of their ancestors were entirely lost to them.
But when the white man first set foot in Yucatan the civilisation of her
people was an actual living civilisation, though the key to the origin
of it has yet to be discovered. The half-century which elapsed between
the first discovery of the Peninsula and the establishment of Spanish
authority sufficed to render desolate the mighty cities which covered
its surface, to scatter and decimate its vast populations, to extirpate
and suppress the native religion, and by the substitution of a new
creed, a new polity, and a new social organisation so completely to ring
down the curtain upon the Mayan past that the Indian victims of Spanish
brutality and bigotry seemed separated from their ancestors by a gulf
which even the most remarkable archæological acumen would find it hard
to bridge. But though much archæological acumen has been exercised and
many writers have laboured to aggrandise the Ancient Mayans at the
expense of their descendants, it has really been labour lost. The life
which the Mayans were found by the Spaniards to be living was probably
in its minutest detail the life which they had led for centuries before.
And thus in presenting here a short account of their civilisation,
pieced together from the haphazard writings of those Spaniards who were
not entirely absorbed in the congenial task of massacring and
destroying, we are safe in assuming that we are giving the reader a very
fair and accurate idea of how the builders of even the oldest ruins
lived and loved and died.

Politically Yucatan was divided into a number of provinces, each ruled
by a cacique. These provinces at the time of the Spanish invasion appear
to have numbered nineteen. The power of these caciques within their own
territory was so absolute as to amount to a virtual monarchy; though
kingship in its true constitutional sense would appear to have never
existed in Yucatan. The caciqueship was hereditary, and passed from
father to son. Females appear to have been excluded from succession. If
a cacique died leaving a son who was a minor, his eldest or most capable
brother succeeded as cacique, and actually held the position after the
heir had reached full age; the nephew being obliged to wait until his
uncle's death before he attempted to claim his heritage. If the cacique
left no brother, the priests and chief elders elected a successor who
held the government for his life, the rightful heir only acceding at his

Each cacique maintained a small bodyguard; but the army for the defence
of the State was the whole body of citizens capable of bearing arms. The
cacique himself does not appear to have been commander-in-chief, but
delegated this post to two subjects, one of whom held his military
leadership by inheritance, transmitting it to his son, and the other
being elective every three years. This latter official combined with his
military duties certain sacerdotal functions, presiding at the feast of
the War God, and during his term of office leading a hermit's life,
maintaining complete chastity and abstaining from intoxicating liquor.
The weapons of the soldiers were bows and arrows pointed with stone or
fishbone, stone axes, and lances, swords and daggers of wood hardened by
fire. They carried shields of plaited cane covered with deer-skin, and
wore an armour of thickly woven cotton. Having no horses and no draught
animals of any kind, each soldier had to be commissariat waggon for
himself, and this difficulty of providing food for a long campaign made
the wars short and sharp. Ordinary captives were usually reduced to the
condition of slavery, but the general or cacique who was made prisoner
was sacrificed to the War God as a thank-offering.

The centre of each town or village was occupied by the chief temple,
around which were built the houses of the priests, the palace of the
cacique and those of the chief men. Outside this sacred pale lived the
poorer people in huts of the same type as those inhabited by the Mayans
of to-day. Close to the temple was ordinarily the market-square, where
stood the town hall in which all public business and reunions of the
tribe took place, and justice was administered. Here presided a special
functionary who ordered public festivals and ceremonies, and took the
chair, so to speak, at general meetings of the people. As a matter of
fact he appears to have rejoiced in the name of _Holpop_, which
according to D. G. Brinton means literally "head of the mat," because at
the tribal meetings when the elders squatted round on the mats, the
_Holpop_ sat at the end. He appears also to have been Master of the
Music, and to have had in his keeping the musical instruments of the
tribe--namely the _tunkul_, which seems to have been a small drum of
wood, trumpets of conch-shell and flutes of cane. The _tunkul_, which
produced a melancholy note, was used to summon the people to worship, to
give notice of dances and festive meetings, to call together the
warriors, and as an alarm signal in case of sudden attack. Thus the
_tunkul_ was in a special sense the sacred national instrument of the

Justice was administered in a summary manner by the cacique, who
personally heard plaints and disputes and gave such judgment as he
thought fit. In the matter of damage to property the guilty party was
made to compensate the injured by payment of his own goods. If he had no
property, his relatives had to pay for him. This penalty of fining was
the usual punishment for accidental homicide and unintentional arson and
in the case of conjugal quarrels. Adultery was regarded as a grave
offence when committed with a married woman. Accusation of adultery
having been notified, the cacique, accompanied by the tribal elders,
held a court, when with the greatest solemnity, and in the presence of
the injured husband, the adulterer was tied hand and foot to a post of
infamy. He was then at the disposal of the injured man. The latter could
pardon him if he wished, or could take his life there and then by
smashing in his head with a stone. The woman in fault suffered no bodily
punishment, but was branded with infamy and usually repudiated by her
husband. It is obvious that much respect was shown to women, for the
penalty of death was meted out to any man who was guilty of outrage or
rape, technical or actual. The cacique always condemned the offender to
be stoned, and the penalty was inflicted by the whole village. Nobody,
not even the highest noble, appears to have been able to escape the
rigour of this law.

For murder the penalty was death, either by order of the cacique; or, if
the criminal escaped, he could be pursued by the family of his victim
and killed wherever they found him, his crime thus making him an outlaw.
In the case of murder by a minor, the penalty of death was not inflicted
nor could the injured family pursue him. But he became their slave for
the rest of his life. Unintentional homicide was less rigorously
punished. A fine either in goods or a slave was usually the penalty
imposed. Other accidental injuries, such as the unmalicious firing of
houses or crops, were made good by fining. In the case of intentional
arson, however, the culprit was put to death; and the supreme penalty of
the law was also inflicted on traitors.

Enslavement was the punishment of all robbers, who could only regain
their liberty by restoring the stolen goods and making good the damage.
So severe were the laws as to robbery that no excuse was found in
circumstances of extreme want. The man who stole because he was starving
was reduced to the condition of a slave just the same as the wanton or
violent robber. Robbery and war were the chief sources of recruiting the
ranks of the slaves. But if a theft was committed by a cacique, priest,
noble or official, an exception was made in their favour. They did not
become slaves, but were obliged to submit to a public degradation. The
popular assembly was summoned, and there, before the eyes of all the
people, the culprit was branded on both cheeks, from chin to forehead,
with figures symbolical of his crime, tatooed on in paints with

There were no regular prisons or houses of detention. Indeed they were
not needed, as justice was in all cases summary. Where possible the
offender was brought before the cacique forthwith. If, however, the
arrest took place during the night, or the carrying out of the sentence
had to be delayed for some hours, the criminal was imprisoned in an
enclosure of stakes. If the penalty was death it was executed
immediately, except in those cases where the criminal was reserved for
sacrifice, and then he was kept caged up until such day as the priests
had ordained. A murderer condemned to slavery became the property of one
of the chief men, if there was no kinsman of his victim to whom he could
become servant.

There was a very marked differentiation of classes among the Mayans.
There were the nobles, the priests, the people, and the slaves. The
children of these latter inherited their parents' status and _ipso
facto_ became slaves. A free man who married a slave woman lost his
freedom. Thus were class distinctions sternly maintained. Even sexual
intercourse between a free man and a slave woman was severely punished
on the first offence, and, if repeated, the man lost his liberty and
became a slave to the owner of the girl. There appears to have been a
regular slave-market in each large Mayan city. The Spanish chroniclers
endeavour to denigrate this system of servitude, declaring it to be a
cruel debasement of human beings to the position of beasts of burden.
But though all slavery is detestable, there seems to have been little or
no cruelty in the system in vogue among the Mayans, and it is quite
obvious that it was untainted by that basest of all advantages which are
taken of a slave class--namely, the using of them for immoral purposes.
Spanish writers should recollect, in view of this very black page of
their own history, a homely little proverb which begins "those who live
in glass houses."

As has been said, the Mayan city had as its centre an open space where
stood the temple and the chief houses. Thence branched off paths (they
were not roads) connecting this central plaza with the houses of the
nobles and middle class, the outlying suburbs of the city being occupied
by the poor and the slaves. The richer people lived in stone houses, but
those able to afford these were always few, and the average Mayan city
consisted of huts built just as they are to-day by the modern Mayans;
palm-thatched, oval-shaped enclosures of stakes bound together by lianas
and sometimes plastered over with earth. The huts were of various sizes
and shapes. The majority were oval, some were nearly round with a
diameter of twenty-five feet, while a very few were rectangular. They
were often divided into two apartments, a sleeping and a living room.
There was no attempt at or need for foundation, the natural earth
forming the flooring, as it does in the huts to-day. Each hut stood in
its own garden, in which were cultivated plum-trees, the _mamey_ and the
_sapota_ for their fruits, and other trees and shrubs, possibly a little
cotton and henequen, and such flowering plants and sweet-scented herbs
as wormwood, sweet basil, white and violet irises, and a small white
flower, much like the English jasmine and strongly perfumed, which one
sees growing everywhere in the woods of Yucatan to-day. Outside each
city were the clearings devoted to agriculture, the chief products being
maize, frijoles or black beans, a kind of pumpkin, sweet potatoes,
cotton, and maize of different kinds. When the harvest was abundant it
was stored in granaries as a reserve for bad years.

The Mayans had few domestic animals. They kept turkeys, which were
indigenous to Central America, and they probably early domesticated the
wild pig or peccary. They had a type of dog which one chronicler
declares was incapable of barking, though an excellent hunter. These
dogs were often fattened to form a dish at the feasts, being regarded as
a great delicacy. The women and children appear to have made pets of the
small Yucatecan racoon, the _coati_ or _pisotl_, as the Indians call it,
and birds were tamed and kept.

The Mayan family, irrespective of sex and age, all slept in that portion
of the hut that was set aside as a sleeping apartment. They slept on
beds of rushes loosely strewn or woven into mats. The hammock was
unknown in Yucatan until the arrival of the Spaniards. It is a very
common mistake to believe that the hammock was indigenous to Yucatan.
Columbus is the first to mention the hammock, and he found it among the
West Indians. It is said to have originated in San Domingo; but whether
this is so or not, it is quite certain that the Mayans did not sleep in
hammocks until the Spaniards introduced the custom. These Mayan rush
beds were sometimes raised from the ground on a sort of rough table made
of sticks bound together and supported on four legs. In the poorer huts
this is quite a common form of bedstead to-day. As bed-clothes they had
cloaks of cotton of varying degrees of thickness according to the wealth
of the family.

The farm lands belonging to the city were cultivated by the people in
common. A special portion of these public lands was set apart each year
for the support of the cacique and his family, and it was his subjects'
duty to cultivate and reap his crops and carry the harvest to his
granaries. A like apportionment of land was made to the highest nobles
and functionaries of the State. Hunting grounds were also allotted to
the cacique and his chief nobles, and anybody trespassing on these was
punished. The Mayans were great hunters, going out in large parties into
the woods after attending at the temple and praying for good sport from
the gods of the woodland. The quarry were the several birds of the
pheasant family which haunt the Yucatecan woods, the marvellously
beautiful ocellated turkey and other members of the gallinaceous family,
deer, rabbits, the wild pig and, last but not least, the jaguar. A tithe
of the "bag" was presented to the caciques. Of fisheries, where
available, the cacique and his nobles also got the pick. Fish were
abundant, as they are to-day, along the whole coast of the Peninsula,
and the Mayans caught them with nets or, when the water was low, by
shooting them with arrows. The fish were dried in the sun, and thus kept
for many days, and carried twenty or thirty leagues into the interior.
The Mayans also hunted the shark, manatee, and the turtle. The manatee
they hunted with harpoons, wading out into the estuaries and following
it when wounded in their canoes. It was valued for the sake of its fat
as well as its flesh. Before starting out to fish they made supplication
for good luck in one of the temples which it was the custom to build for
this purpose on the beach. Those caciques who held territories on the
coast obtained salt from the saline lagoons, which are found in many
places on the coast of Yucatan. At the end of the dry season, when these
marshes were nearly waterless and it was possible to cross them on foot,
expeditions were made for the collection of the salt which formed a
crystal crust on the mud.

Thus it is obvious the condition of the ancient Mayans was far from
being an unhappy one. They had plenty to eat and they had not to labour
much to obtain that plenty. The race was what it is to-day, healthy and
strong and free of disease. The men were fine examples of muscular
development, and the women were often quite beautiful, even according to
a European standard, and were certainly in youth objects of grace and
sweetness. But the Mayans did not leave well alone, and were in many
ways the victims of cruel fashion or foolish superstition. Thus it was
regarded as a mark of the highest rank for girls to be cross-eyed, and
Mayan mothers cut their daughters' hair on their foreheads so as to hang
down over the eyes and make them squint. The heads of children of high
rank were often flattened, and huge earrings of stone were worn; while
the septum of the nose was pierced and adorned with a spindle of stone
or a feather. The habit, too, which the Mayan woman still has of
carrying her youngster astride her hip tended to create bow-leggedness.

The Mayans wore no hair on the face at all. They daubed their cheeks
with a red earth on occasions of ceremony and when going into battle; at
which time their only ordinary garment the wide loin-cloth (Mayan _Uit_)
was supplemented, at any rate in the case of caciques and nobles, by
long square-cut cotton mantles fastened on the shoulders. Mr. E.
Thompson has given a good picture of a chief dressed for festival or
war. He writes: "A penanche or frontlet encircled his forehead, above it
waved plumes, while from beneath it on each side the long black hair
fell until nearly touching his shoulders. Perforating the lobes of his
ears were huge round ear ornaments, generally of the precious green-jade
stone. His arms were bare save for armlets and bracelets. A richly
worked loin-cloth protected his loins, while his legs were covered with
leggings of quilted cotton elaborately worked and coloured, fastened in
front by a series of rosette-like ornaments. Two-thonged sandals
protected his feet, while the mace of authority, the _acatl_ or dart
sling, and the terrible two-handed serrated sword of obsidian or flint
were his weapons. His large round shield was painted with his heraldic
devices." The dress of the priests was still more elaborate, and in
their case at least was substituted for the cotton robe a deer or jaguar
skin. This is clearly seen in the plates reproduced from Stephens on
pages 220 and 221.

The women wore the chemise-like garment which all Mayan women wear
to-day, with the headcloth we have previously described. They smeared
and scented their bodies with an unguent made of a favourite resin, and
their long hair, parted in the middle, was worn either in a thick plait
or loose over the shoulders. The Mayan woman was as much the head of the
domestic household as members of her sex are in civilised countries. The
chief food of the Mayans was always maize, with which the housewife made
_atole_, a thick porridge mixed with honey, still a favourite dish of
the Indians to-day. This and the tortillas formed the morning meal.
Sometimes a mess of ground black beans was added. There were two meals a
day, the chief one being the evening meal, when venison, birds, and
fresh or salted fish figured in the menu of the richer people. The
family did not eat together: the men having their meal separately from
the women. The Mayan drinks consisted of a maize-water called _keyem_
and fermented liquors made of honey, fruits, and pepper.

Marriage was an important matter among the Mayans, and the arrangements
were left in the hands of the parents; sometimes in the hands of a
professional matchmaker. A union having been arranged, the day of the
ceremony was made the occasion for a great feast. There seems to have
been a great deal of poetry about the Mayan nature, for flowers figured
largely in the decorations and the Mayan word for marriage is poetical
and allegorical in the extreme: _Kamnicte_--literally, "the reception of
the flower of May." The actual ceremony appears to have been nothing
more than the formal handing over of the bride to the groom by the
priest, after he had satisfied himself that they knew their own minds.
Thereafter there were feasting and dancing, lasting well into the
evening, generally ending in the fermented drink being far too much for
the men of the party, who had to be helped home to their huts by their
wives and daughters.

After the wedding the bridegroom lived with his father-in-law for five
or six years, working for him. This appears to have been a custom very
strictly enforced, the son-in-law thus repaying with his personal
service the honour granted him by being admitted to the family. If the
young husband refused this personal service, he was ignominiously
expelled from the house and the marriage was dissolved. The marriages of
widows and widowers were very simple affairs. There was no feast,
comparatively no religious ceremony, and no gathering of relatives. A
widow had merely to receive a widower in her house and give him food,
for a legal marriage to be constituted. The visiting lists of old and
undesirable widows must have been very limited indeed. One wonders
whether the elder Mr. Weller could have found language to express his
views at this terrible facility. No doubt the Mayan "mere man" learnt,
as did the old coach-driver, to "beware of widows." But every cloud has
its silver lining, and if the Mayan became the property of a
neighbouring widow by simply taking a cup of afternoon tea with her, he
had really only himself to blame if he found his fetters irksome. For
it appears that he had only got to walk off in order to dissolve a union
of which he had wearied.

Little or no trouble was taken over the education of children, who,
girls and boys, ran wild and naked till about their fifth year. At
puberty the sexes were strictly separated; the girls being confined to
their parents' huts, and the boys going to live in a large house where
all the unmarried youths dwelt in common like soldiers in a barracks.
Here they lived a life of their own, having little or nothing to do with
the older men. As soon as a youth married, he took equal rank with the
fathers of families; but it was only nominally equal, for a
characteristic of the Mayans was the great respect shown to age, and the
younger men were expected to defer to their elders in all matters. The
youths living in the communal house were distinguished by their
face-paintings of black, in contrast with the red used by the grown men.
Men bore their parents' name; but the maids appear to have been, until
married, practically nameless. For they were not entitled to bear their
fathers' names. In the matter of inheritance, too, they were passed
over, the property of their father, in default of his leaving sons,
passing to their uncles or nearest male relatives.

Indeed no relationship was traced through the female line; and while
marriage was prohibited with any relative who bore the paternal name,
there were no restrictions as to unions with those on the mother's side.
Marriage was forbidden between a man and his sister-in-law, the widow of
his brother, his step-mother, and the sisters-in-law, aunts, and sisters
of his mother. Though polygamy was apparently never approved by the
Mayans, they repudiated their wives on the most frivolous pretexts,
forming a series of new unions. This fickleness seems to have developed
a shrewishness among Mayan women, who, usually docile and obedient,
avenged themselves upon their husbands for the least infidelity by
personal violence, scratching their faces and tearing out their hair.
After all, women are much of a muchness all over the world; but, apart
from these very natural outbursts of passion, the Mayan women really
appear to have been model wives and mothers and to have devoted
considerably more attention to the education of the girls than the
fathers did to that of the boys.

Mayan women do not appear to have taken part in the sacrifices at the
temples, whether of human victims or otherwise. The ceremonial dances,
too, which appear to have often been of an indecent character, were
never attended by them. Indeed it appears that the sexes rarely if ever
danced together. The Mayans were passionately fond of dancing, which was
of two kinds: the sacred dances at the temples and the public dances on
occasions of festival or ceremony. One dance only, called _Naual_, there
was which was danced by men and women together. Otherwise the women
danced separately from the men, as they ate separately from them. The
Mayan women indeed seem to have borne themselves modestly in every way,
and drunkenness, the greatest vice of the men, was almost unknown among

The Mayans appear to have been, at any rate in later times, great
traders. Cortes encountered them trading round the coasts of the West
Indian Islands, and they certainly trafficked with the tribes of Mexico
and Honduras. Trade was carried on principally by means of barter. Their
exports were salt, cotton cloth, dried fish, and resins; their imports,
the cocoa bean, stone beads, nephrite stone from the highlands of
Mexico, mineral paints and obsidian, of which they made knives or
lance-heads. From Guatemala, too, they got jade. There may have been
also a traffic in slaves. There was no standard coinage, for metals were
almost unknown; but more as counters than as money were used the cocoa
bean, tiny bells, and rattles of copper and stone beads. Sales do not
appear to have been evidenced by writings. One chronicler states that a
bargain, especially in the sale of slaves, was clinched by the two
contracting parties drinking together before two witnesses. The Mayans
had many industries, chief among them being those of the potters and the
carpenters. The men who carved the wooden, or moulded the pottery idols,
lived under severe rules, passing a hermit's life in a hut on the
outskirts of the city, dividing their time between work and fasting. To
them once a day food was taken by a member of their family, but it was a
strictly vegetable diet, as all flesh was forbidden them. A continuous
vigil was enjoined upon them until each special task was complete.

The Mayan doctors and medicine men treated their patients with herbs and
enchantments. They were in much request at confinements and in cases of
snake-bite. They were also employed to divine the future and to
pronounce a benediction on new houses.

As we have said, land was held to be common property. There was no
strictly proprietary right. Its products belonged in each case to the
first occupier; but occupation itself gave but a precarious right which
lasted only for the full term of one agricultural season. After harvest
the land reverted to public use. This community of land was traditional
among the Mayans, and was doubtless largely due to the character of the
soil, which did not permit of its being cultivated more than two years
running. After two harvests it was exhausted, and had to be allowed to
lie fallow. The lands of the caciques and nobles were cultivated by
slaves; but the common people helped each other in their sowings and

The Mayans were always--they are to-day--a laughter-loving race. It is
the easiest thing in the world to make one of them laugh, and their
merriment is from the heart, an ingenuous joy in life, a child's glee.
And thus every important event in their lives, public or private, was
taken advantage of as a fitting occasion for a dance or a feast. Public
feasts were given by the caciques or in their honour. At these banquets
much ceremony was observed, and, when departing, each guest was
presented with a beautifully woven cotton mantle, a carved wooden stool,
and a painted drinking-gourd. These guest-gifts were as much an
essential part of the entertainment as they are in Japan, where indeed
they take an even more practical and rather embarrassing form: for the
happy diner on getting into his rickshaw may as likely as not find a raw
fish wrapped in tissue paper or a dainty Satsuma bowl filled with lily
bulbs packed away there for his delectation during his journey homeward.

At the Mayan feasts rude mummeries were often presented to amuse the
banqueters. These as often as not took the form of crude mystery plays,
and were of course supplemented by the music of the _tunkul_ and reed
flutes. Dancing was what the Mayans liked best; even to-day they will
dance from sunrise to sundown if they get the chance. There were set
dances assigned for every ceremony, public or private, in the Mayan
city. The two chief dances were the dance of _canes_ (Mayan _lomche_)
and the dance of flags. The first was a dance by four youths painted
black from head to foot, and adorned with feathers and garlands. It
lasted all day, with short intervals for drinking and eating. In the
dance of banners several hundreds took part.

The Mayans had no cemeteries. They buried their dead or burned them; but
they had no common burial grounds. Corpses were usually buried inside
the huts, which were thereafter taboo and abandoned. This was the
custom for the ordinary citizen; the chiefs and the priests were buried
in sepulchral mounds such as we have before described. In cases of
cremation the ashes were collected, placed in urns of clay or wood,
buried, and small mounds erected over them. Sometimes, in the case of
the very great, the urn formed the nucleus for a temple which was built
over it. Sometimes, instead of urns pottery figures were made and the
ashes deposited in these, which were then placed in the temples.
Sometimes, before burning, the scalp of the defunct was stripped off;
part of the body was burnt and part buried, the ashes being put in an
image of wood through the top of the head, which had been left open for
the purpose, the image being then completed by the placing of the scalp
on it as a cover.

The Mayans appear to have believed death to be caused by evil spirits,
and if the medicine men with their herbs and their charms could do
nothing, the afflicted relatives showed their grief by sitting round in
silence awaiting the fatal moment, convinced that the sick man was about
to be taken possession of by a devil. Mourning lasted for many days and
nights and took the form of wailings and groanings. The hut was usually
abandoned, the ground around being left uncultivated for many years as a
sign of mourning. In cases of burial the corpse was shrouded and the
mouth was filled with ground maize, and with it in a vessel were placed,
as a provision for the needs of the dead in the next life, a supply of
the small stones or beans which served as money. There were usually
added some objects indicative of the rank or occupation of the deceased:
with the priests sacred books, with the medicine man his stone charms,
and so on.

The Mayans believed in the immortality of the soul, and in future
punishment and reward. Their heaven was a happy hunting ground where
life was a continual round of pleasure. The chief characteristics of
their hell were perpetual hunger and cold. Over this lower world they
imagined a sovereign-devil ruled, whom they called _Hun Ahau_. The
Mayans were essentially polytheistic, and they worshipped many gods and
goddesses, each with different attributes, the idols of which, made of
stone, wood or pottery, were adored in the temples. There were also
family gods which had their place in the houses, and which were
bequeathed as heirlooms by the fathers to their sons.

Despite these many deities, the Mayans seem to have retained a belief
in an abstract Supreme Being whom they called _Hunab Ku_, "The One
Divine." He was regarded as omnipotent and was represented by no idol.
To him was attributed the creation of the world and of all living
things; and he had a son, _Hun Itzamna_, "Dew of the morning," a Solar
deity, dwelling in the Eastern sky. He was alleged to be the inventor of
the Mayan alphabet. A lesser god, _Cum Ahau_, thought by some writers to
have been the tapir deity, appears to have been much confused, if not
actually identified, with Itzamna. Waldeck, in his _Voyage pittoresque
dans l'Yucatan_ (1838), says he recognised the tapir snout on various
masks and statues at Palenque, and adds that he found the animal still
venerated by the Indians. Landa says the tapir was only found on the
western shore of Yucatan near the Bay of Campeachy. The myth of the
tapir would thus seem to have been imported from Tzental territory,
Chiapas and Tabasco. D. G. Brinton believes the tapir came to be a
symbol of the Solar deity Itzamna, despite its dull swamp-loving ways,
through an ikonomatic method of writing. The Maya for tapir is _tzimin_,
and thus, due to a similarity of sound with i-tzamna, the animal was
selected as the god's symbol. It looks as if Dr. Brinton were confusing
cause and effect here.

The principal minor deities were the gods of War, Poetry, Music, and
Trade; the goddesses of Painting, Medicine, Virginity, and Weaving. The
Mayans believed that the earth was held in position by four great forces
whose homes were situated in the four points of the compass. These
forces were worshipped as controllers of the winds and as storm gods.
There was also a god of Agriculture, _Chac_. He was believed to have
lived on the earth as a giant. Mayan mythology was much affected, too,
by ancestor worship, the chief legendary hero being _Cuculcan_ (Cocol
Chan), "feathered serpent," who, it is possible, may be identified with
the Mexican _Quetzalcoatl_. In addition to these many gods in common,
the tribes had gods peculiar to themselves. Thus at Campeachy a god of
Vengeance, _Kinch Ahau Haban_, was worshipped with human sacrifice; and
at Cozumel _Tel Cuzaan_, whose idol had the figure of a man, the legs
representing the wings of a swallow, and _Hulneb_, who was represented
with an arrow in his hand, were deities peculiar to that island.

The Mayan priests were greatly feared. Their influence was profound, as
is not surprising when one recollects that they monopolised all
learning in a race which was practically illiterate. The most popular
and the most venerated of these priests were the _Chilans_, exorcisers
of spirits and diviners of the future. With them were associated lower
orders known as _Chaques_ and _Nacomes_. The former were four old men
annually elected to an office which was equivalent to the Christian
sacristan. The latter acted as the assistants at the sacrifice. The gods
were worshipped by fastings, by vigils, by continence, by the burning of
copal and the offerings of flowers and scented herbs, and, of course, by
sacrifice. Sacrifices were generally of animals. Self-mutilation, the
piercing of ears and lips, the lacerating of tongues and other
self-inflicted tortures, formed part of the ritual. During sacrifices
women and girls were excluded from the temples. In each temple were two
stones of sacrifice, one in the holy of holies and one in the vestibule.
The solemnities surrounding human sacrifice were extraordinarily

The year of the Mayans began on the 16th of July, when the principal
feast, that of the New Year, was celebrated, preceded by a period of
fasting which varied in length in different localities. The whole
population took part in this festival, which was in the nature of a
public holiday. On the 22nd of August were celebrated the feasts of the
priests. In every Mayan festival a functionary was elected who presided
over the ceremonies other than those of the temples, and who provided
the banquets. This official was elected annually. Following immediately
after the feasts of the priests was kept the feast of the medicine men.
On the 1st of September the feast of hunters occurred, and on the 12th
that of fishers. On the 4th of October was the feast of bees, with which
was associated no kind of sacrifice; the occasion being evidently one of
Mayan "sweetness and light." The 1st of November and the following five
days were dedicated to the festival of Cuculcan and the memorialising of
the legendary origin of the Mayan race. This festival appears to have
been only local.



In December there were three feasts--one in honour of all the
goddesses, a sort of All Saints' Day; one a flower festival; and one a
dedication of idols. At the first the custom was for everything to be
painted green, from the service-book of the priest to the housewife's
distaff and the agricultural implements of the men. The lads and lasses
took a special part in the ceremonies of the day, being collected in the
temple, when the priest gave each child nine playful blows on each
joint, praying that the goddesses might grant them dexterity and success
in all they undertook in after-life. During January the _Chaques_ or
priests' assistants had their special day, which was also the occasion
for the medicine men to give their chief prognostications, for the
repair of the temples, and for the writing of the mural inscriptions
recounting the chief events of the past year. In February the hunters
had another celebration, but this time a fast, not a feast, when
offerings were made by them of the beasts and birds that they had
hunted. Festivals of agriculture were celebrated in April and May, the
chief features of these harvest thanksgivings being the offerings of the
first-fruits of the crops. The last feast of the Mayan year was that of
the War-God, _Pacumchac_, which was kept in the month of May or June.
This was celebrated always in the capital city of a caciqueship. There
were five days and five nights of preparation; and then sacrifices to
the God, followed by orgies of eating and drinking which were continued
without much cessation until the New Year, a period of nearly two
months. Thus it is not surprising to learn that none but the richest men
in a province could afford to be elected to the very onerous post of
"patron of the ceremonies," who had to foot the bills for these
gargantuan feeds.



At the beginning of the last chapter we stated it as our conviction that
the marvellous buildings which we have described are not monuments of a
vanished race. The Mayans who to-day inhabit Yucatan, Chiapas, Tabasco,
Guatemala, the Hondurases, and sporadically Southern Mexico, are
undoubtedly the lineal descendants of the building Mayans.

Who, then, were these Mayans?

Either they were totally unrelated to the peoples on each side of them
inhabiting North and South America (from whom they were so strangely
differentiated by their astonishing skill as architects) and invaded
Central America, bringing with them from their cradle-land a knowledge
of building; or they were akin to all the other tribes of American
aborigines, and derived their building capacities from outside sources.
We believe that the latter is the truth; and in this chapter we shall
endeavour to show what their affinities with the other peoples of
America were, following this up by an inquiry into the question of the
origin of their architecture.

In the comparison we drew in the last chapter between Egypt and Yucatan,
we dwelt on the fact that, while in the former the students of history
and archæology found a land which for centuries had been overwhelmed
with an intellectual darkness so complete that the people had forgotten
they had ever had a civilisation, in Yucatan an actual living
civilisation was found by the Spaniards. But the impenetrable darkness
which shrouded Egypt's past proved really a blessing to those who set to
work to piece together the ancient national life. Once the key to the
mystery was discovered in the Rosetta Stone, students could go steadily
ahead, undistracted by the will-o'-the-wisps of legend and tradition.
Not so in Central America, where every earnest inquirer, whether he
would or not, has found himself befogged by a myriad historical fairy

The majority of those who have striven to throw light on the Mayan
problem have been about as successful as the boy who tried to find the
end of the rainbow by walking towards where it seemed to rest on the
hillside. It was a long journey they had before them, and they did not
bother to think, but rushed into Dame History's stable and vaulted on to
the back of the horse Tradition. He is certainly a most attractive
mount: a superb animal, yet quiet to ride and drive. Just, in fact, the
easy-going, well-fed, showy park hack, from the well-worn saddle of
which the most inexpert rider need fear no falls. There is a raw,
nasty-tempered creature in the next stall, but nearly every one has
fought shy of him. This is the horse Facts, as hard as his name, with a
mouth like iron, and the very devil in his rolling eye.

Just like the park hack he is, Tradition has ambled with its riders up
the row and down the row, and carried them nowhere. We will try to
saddle Facts and see where he will take us.

The horse Tradition has been taught one trick. He takes the low Toltec
fence like a practised hunter; and his delighted riders put him at it
again and again, never tiring of taking their turn at clearing it on the
back of their noble mount.

"Toltec" has become the password, the shibboleth which admits one to the
freemasonry of Mayan archæology. Without it you are a lost soul, a
heretic fit only for the rack and stake of the archæological
Inquisitors. Among the good people who worry round the Mayan problem,
this Toltec rubbish has become a veritable bogy. We are now going to do
our best to "lay" this spook once and for all.

But first, what is the Toltec theory, to which whosoever will attain
archæological Nirvana must subscribe his "Credo"?

The Toltecs are a people who dropped from the clouds into Mexico at or
about the seventh century of our era, bringing with them building
specifications, and, being mysteriously possessed of a high
civilisation, dotted Mexico and the nearer parts of Central America with
marvellous palaces and temples. Tradition has it that they came to
Mexico (no one bothers to say whence) in 648 and founded the city of
Tula, supposed to be identical (in site at least) with the present town
of that name, about forty miles to the north of Mexico City. They
flourished for many centuries, increasing and spreading over the whole
of Mexico, numbering at the height of their prosperity some four or five
millions. Through famine, pestilences, and wars waged on them by other
nations of the north they gradually diminished and were finally driven
down into Chiapas, Guatemala, and Yucatan. During this enforced
emigration they are supposed to have built the city of Palenque and
those on the Usumacinta in Tabasco; the many buildings found in Western
Guatemala and Southern Yucatan. Finally they reached Chichen Itza,
whence they later migrated down the eastern coast of Yucatan to Copan
and Quirigua in Eastern Guatemala.

A minor controversy has raged around the question of the site of their
cradle city, Tula. Some theorists have held that it was somewhere on the
coast: they generously give you the whole eastern seaboard of Mexico
from which to choose. One of the enthusiastic Tulaites, deeming it well
to hedge, suggests three possible sites, one on the Pacific coast,
another on the Gulf of Mexico, and a third on the Atlantic coast of
Guatemala, south of Honduras. Toltec bogy or not, this egregious
theoriser has at least the satisfaction of knowing that with three sites
so far apart he cannot very well help being on the right coast.

The plain truth is, as we wrote earlier, that this Toltec theory
represents a myth bred of a confusion of historical facts which, if
critically examined, flatly contradict it. In his _Myths of the New
World_ (1868), the late D. G. Brinton, than whom no one has given a more
wholehearted and enlightened attention to the problem, writes: "The
story of Tula and its inhabitants the Toltecs, so currently related in
ancient Mexican history, is a myth and not history." In a paper entitled
"_Were the Toltecs an Historical Nationality?_" read before the
Philosophical Society of America on the 2nd of September, 1887, provoked
by a monograph written by M. Déesiré Charnay to defend the theory, he
wrote: "As a translation of this work has been recently published in
this country, it appears to me the more needful that the baseless
character of the Toltec legend be distinctly stated.... What Troy was to
the Grecian poets the fall of Tula (the Toltec capital) was to the
singers and story-tellers of the Anahuac, an inexhaustible field of
imagination for glorification and lamentation.... Let it be understood
hereafter that whoever uses these names in an historic sense betrays an
ignorance of the subject he handles, which, were it in the better-known
field of Aryan or Egyptian lore, would convict him of not meriting the
name of a scholar."[8]

The shortest way of dealing with this farrago of myth is to take the war
at once into the enemy's camp. Let us take the point upon which all the
Toltec enthusiasts agree, namely that the Toltecs came "from the north."
Now let us look at this vague north, and see whether there exist in that
direction any such traces as we should expect these highly civilised
Toltecs to have left behind them. No; there are none. Scour that north
as vigorously as you will, you find nothing save the ruins in Arizona
and Colorado, which are mere heaps of unmortared stones and of such
crude workmanship as to date themselves (even to the satisfaction of the
most shortsighted inquirer) well into historic and post-Spanish times.

There are no actual building evidences, then. Let us next see whether a
study of the tribes massed from earliest times in that vague north will
help us at all. Let us review the groupings of the barbaric tribes which
inhabited America north of Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest,
and see whether we can find the smallest ethnic loophole for these
Toltecs and their civilisation, almost rivalling that of Egypt, to have
wriggled through. Taking the north-west first, the particular quarter
towards which all good Toltecites gaze with awe as being the direction
from which the Toltecs came, what do we find? From time immemorial this
north-west had been inhabited by the vast Athapascan stock, stretching
from the Canadian Rockies down to Mexico. One of their largest tribes,
the Shoshonees, occupied North-West Mexico. Of these Athapascan peoples
it has been written, "They are nearer the brutes than probably any other
portion of the human race." It is obvious that there is no comfort for
the Toltecites in this direction.

Well, let us take the north-east. Who lived there? The Apalachians lived
there, "a loose confederation," says Brinton, "embracing most of the
nations from the Atlantic coast quite into Texas." The majority of the
tribes forming this family, such as the Creeks, the Choctaws, and the
Seminoles, were nomadic hunting peoples, a few only stationary, and
those with no record of any civilisation. The Apalachians then are as
hopeless as a source of comfort for the theorists as the Athapascans.
Wedged in between the Athapascans and the Apalachians were the
Algonkins, essentially a hunting race of strictly nomad habits. Thus the
three great peoples who formed the impenetrable ethnic frontier of
Mexico at the time of and no doubt long anterior to the Conquest, are
clearly seen to have been uncultured peoples, their only dwellings the
wigwam, their chief occupation the chase, redoubtable fighters but
undistinguished by those "victories of peace" which, as the poet sings,
"are more renowned than war." It is fairly certain, then, that these
much-talked-of Toltecs could not, nay, did not, come overland from the
north. Driven thus from all hope landwards, the unfortunate theorists,
having rashly embarked on the sea of myth, must now launch on a far
rougher sea, namely the Atlantic or Pacific. Their heroes must have come
from the Ocean. Venus-like, they arose perhaps from the foam. Seriously
though, such a proposition is nearly as complete a fairy tale as the
Greek legend of the Goddess of Love. When one sees the maintainers of
the oversea route obliged to say, as Dr. Ph. J. J. Valentini does, that
any one of the points of the compass may have been the direction from
which this remarkable people came, one is face to face with arguments
too vague to be worthy of being called arguments at all. There is no
dealing with such rash generalisations. One must leave their amiable
employers to get what comfort they can from them, with just this
reservation: the Toltec tradition and its dates demand the acceptance of
the postulate that the Toltecs arrived in Mexico in considerable
numbers; for between 648 A.D., the generally accepted date of their
traditionary landing, and the twelfth century, when they were expelled
by the Aztecs, there is not time for a mere handful of immigrants to
have metamorphosed themselves into a nation numbering many millions, as
the Toltec story insists on our believing.[9] They must therefore have
landed in great quantities, and such an exodus as this presupposes,
well within historic times too, must have left, no matter what land
they hailed from, some record behind it. No such record exists in any
quarter of the globe of an exodus of even approximate date.

So far then these Toltecs are veritable spectre people, coming from
nowhere, going nowhere; like the coffin of Mahomet, suspended in the
mid-air of Mexico's traditionary history. Let us now pass on to Chapter
2 of the Toltec romance. This is concerned with the arrival in Mexico of
the militant Aztecs. Now who are the Aztecs? D. G. Brinton, Dr.
Richardson, and all students of American ethnology agree in believing
them to have been a branch tribe of the savage and warlike Athapascans.
This view is unassailable on physical and philological grounds. Their
arrival in Mexico is probably fairly accurately given by their
traditions as towards the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the
thirteenth century. Every one is agreed that at the time of their
invasion they were simply barbaric warriors. They brought no building
specifications with them. Nothing, in short, but a thirst for battle and
new lands.

Now whom did they find in Mexico? They found a race whom they at once
nicknamed "Toltecs." Here then, at last, we are getting to grips with
these mysterious folk. "Toltec" is a pure Aztec or Nahuatl word, which
is believed to have had a primary meaning of "those who dwelt at
Tonalan," "place of the Sun" (some authorities, following the _Codex
Ramirez_, derive it from _tolin_, "rush," _i.e._ "the place of the
rushes"); but which in later Nahuatl, according to Dr. Otto Stoll,
undoubtedly had the meaning of "skilled craftsman, artificer or
builder." The Aztecs had never seen a building before, and they just as
naturally christened the race they had conquered by an allusion to their
chief characteristic,--their strange building skill,--as the coalition
of Germanic tribes in the third century gained the name "Franks" from
their chief characteristic, their love of freedom. What could possibly
be clearer? "Toltec" is a local name, having no existence at all till
the arrival of the Aztecs; a mere nickname, we shall hope to prove, for
the Mexican branch of the vast family of affiliated tribes which had
from prehistoric times inhabited Central America, and, a fact most
important of all to grasp, inhabit it to-day. In a word, the Toltecs are
the Mayans.

When you have realised all this, it is surely very easy to see how the
Toltec myth, which has proved the undoing of so many earnest students,
arose. The Aztecs came "out of the north." There is at least no doubt of
that. More, there is every reason to believe that they came from the
north-west, the very quarter so fanatically urged as the direction
whence came the Toltecs. It is doubtful whether they could speak the
language of the race they ousted; in fact it is by no means a bold
assumption to declare they could not. With them they undoubtedly brought
many traditions. When you grasp all this, and realise the further fact
that Tula, the much-talked-of Toltec city, that place which is, it is
suggested, identifiable with the present-day town forty miles north of
Mexico City, became the first Aztec capital in their new land, and
remained so till, under Moctezuma's leadership, they advanced and
founded Tenochtitlan, the present city of Mexico, the blindest and most
obtuse can surely see what the truth is. The whole Toltec imbroglio is
the result of a confusion between the histories of two peoples. The
Aztecs came from the north: the Mayans were architects. Though they were
first and foremost fighters, the conquerors appear to have taken very
kindly to their conquered neighbours' civilisation. Becoming in their
turn architects, nothing would be more natural than that the arrogant
Aztecs should have at last arrived at such an identification of
themselves with the Mayans that the traditions and histories of the two
races became once and for all inextricably mingled till they formed such
an indivisible tangle as to defy the efforts of chroniclers to

The confusion between the story of the two peoples just as naturally
resulted in the Tula portion of the Toltec myth. It was in all
probability the first place at which the Aztecs saw the buildings which
so astonished them, as it certainly would seem to have been the place
which they chose as their early capital. The importance thus attached by
them to it would very naturally in the course of time give it an
importance in the history of the Toltec-Mayans who had been expelled
from it. As the early stories of the two peoples became confused, Tula
would be traditionally believed to be the first city of the Toltecs as
well as that of their conquerors. That it was not the first city built
in Mexico by the Toltec-Mayans we have not the slightest doubt. We do
not go so far as D. G. Brinton: we cannot agree with him that it was
built by the Aztecs or Mexicans. It probably was a town in existence at
the coming of the Aztecs, though quite a small settlement of a race
which had by that time dotted a large part of their present territory
with far greater cities. That it had any greater significance to its
founders there is not a tittle of real evidence. It was simply the first
town to which the Aztecs came, and around it and its past imagination
ran riot. The tendency of semi-civilised peoples to exaggerate some fact
of no importance into a great feat or epoch-making event is exemplified
again and again in history. Thus it is natural enough that Tula should
have attained a traditionary importance out of all proportion to its
real place in Toltec-Mayan history. The only ultimate authorities for
the Toltec theory are the two chroniclers Ixtlilxochitl (a Mexican
native) and Vietia (a Spaniard), both of whom wrote their histories
subsequent to the Conquest. There is no reason to believe them wilfully
misleading. They simply recorded traditions then and always current.
They had at their disposal the whole existing writings and traditions of
their times. They had the picture-writings, and doubtless consulted the
oldest and most intelligent of the Indians.

But what of these sources of knowledge? The picture-writings were simply
the compilations of the Aztecs, and were of no great date.[11] Indeed it
is certain that most of them were not written until the century previous
to the Conquest. As to the Indians, it is obvious that such oral
tradition as they had to communicate could be of very little real
service to the historian. They were one and all enslaved and degraded by
the Spaniards, and traditions, if not got from unmolested, unconquered
natives, are always unreliable, as has been proved again and again by
the missionaries working among subjugated races. Under such
circumstances it is notorious that natives will tell any "fairy tales"
which a fertile imagination, or a desire to ingratiate themselves with
their new masters, dictates.

Such then is the flimsy foundation upon which the whole Toltec structure
has been reared. Now who were the people whom the Aztecs nicknamed
Toltecs? We have already declared them to have been the ancestors of the
present Mayans of Yucatan and the surrounding countries--in a word,
Mayans themselves. Let us see if we can get some way on the road to
proof of our assertion.

That a people were living in Mexico before the Aztec invasion cannot be
doubted; but if, as these Toltec enthusiasts would have us believe, they
were apart from any and all other American peoples, where are they
to-day? From the Land of Ice to the Land of Fire, there was not a spot
that was so thickly populated at the discovery of America that a weaker
tribe need have been wiped out. America was so sparsely inhabited that a
conquered tribe could always find some direction to flee and form a new
settlement. But if we accept the Toltec myth, we have to believe that a
nation numbering some four or five millions in the eleventh century had
at the time of the Conquest, four centuries later, disappeared. It is
just possible, but it is most improbable. But if they did not disappear,
where are we to look for this mislaid nation? Tradition says they went
south. But was the country to the south of Mexico uninhabited then? For
if these Toltecs were not strong enough to withstand the attacks of the
Aztecs in their own strongholds, it is scarcely reasonable to suppose
they would be of sufficient strength or in sufficient numbers to possess
themselves of and conquer the inhabitants of a country along the fertile
plains of one part of which, Guatemala, they would have found, it may be
reasonably supposed, as dense a population as the Spaniards found later.
The Toltec theory presumes that the expelled architects went south and
found vast empty spaces where they continued their building operations.
This is presuming altogether too much. Yucatan, Chiapas, Guatemala, were
all inhabited at that time: what the Spaniards found there proves that

But if you accept our suggestion that the Toltecs were but an outlying
branch of the great Mayan race which possessed all Central America from
Arizona and Texas to the frontier line of Nicaragua, then the miraculous
disappearance of the Toltecs is not miraculous at all. They fled south
among their own people, and became absorbed by a natural process in the
various parts of Mayan territory, where they found buildings as great
and greater than any they had built in their northern Mexican home. Far
from the fugitives from the militant Aztecs being the founders of the
wonderful cities in Yucatan and Guatemala, they were at the time of
their flight probably much less civilised than their cousins at Chichen
or Palenque.

But who were these Mayans, and where did they obtain their knowledge of
building? No race can develop the art of building in stone without
leaving well-marked traces of its slow growth. First, there is the rough
stone building, which would be traceable in heaps of crumbling
rough-hewn stones where they had fallen. Next, would come that stage
when they would learn to mortar the stones together, perhaps adding rude
ornamentation on the exterior walls. Very slowly the roughness would
give place to better-hewn stones; patterns in the ornamentation would be
evolved; and finally you would get the same ornamentation all over the
country, identical as is the decoration of such cities as Kabah,
Chichen, and Uxmal. But there is no crude work in Yucatan. The
unornamented buildings, such as the Akad-Tzib at Chichen, are obviously
of the same date as the ornamented structures. They have the same form,
the same finish of stone; and everything points to the fact that the
plainness of buildings was deliberate and in some way in keeping with
the purpose of the edifice.

We have searched for the early stages of the Mayan building civilisation
in the caves of Yucatan, where traces, if anywhere, of the embryonic
efforts of the architects might be expected, but we searched in vain. Of
those caves that have been inhabited there are but few that have any
signs of building inside, and none with any traces of carvings. A
typical cave of those which had been built in we found in Cozumel
island; but it was almost certain that it had not been used as a
habitation for any long period. Its front, which had stood exposed to
weather and the intrusion of wild beasts, had been built up, with a
doorway in the centre. Its floor of earth was found some four feet
beneath the débris that had blown in and collected since its ancient
occupiers had deserted it; and just under this level was found a small
jar of beads and scattered around were potsherds in a layer of charcoal
where the cave-dweller had done his cooking. It is the opinion of Mr.
Henry C. Mercer (_Hill-Caves of Yucatan_: Philadelphia, 1896), who in
1896 examined most of the caves of the Southern Sierras, that they were
not dwellings but mere halting-places of a wandering people. He could
find in them no trace of an evolution of stone-building. Of those that
had any kind of carving, he says "they are random, sketchy figures, many
of which suggested pictographs of North American Indians. With a few
exceptions there was little of the mannerism of Yucatan about them; and
if they had been inscribed on a cliff-side on the Sasquehana or in Ohio,
few of them would have seemed out of place."

The objects which he found, and the depth at which he found them, only
went further to prove that his conclusions were correct. Bones of
animals which had served as food, charcoal, and potsherds, with earth of
sometimes a foot deep between the layers, went to show that the cave was
inhabited and evacuated, and then left for some years before it was
again occupied. From the fact that horses' teeth were found in many of
them, but always of course in the topmost layers, it may be assumed that
the caves were in use (perhaps only when a rout was taking place) after
the arrival of the Spaniards. But the fact that none of the potsherds
discovered in the caves are like those usually found among the ruins,
and especially the fact that no vases with hieroglyphics on them are
found, go to show that the caves in Yucatan were but little in use, if
at all, among the building Mayans. From all this it would seem safe to
conclude that if these caves were ever permanent habitations, it was at
a period anterior to the great building age of the Mayan race, when
their civilisation was in the crude stage to which many of the North
Americans had attained. This conclusion is certainly supported by the
fact above referred to, that the coarse carvings at Opichen are almost
facsimiles of those of the pictographs of the Northern tribes.

Thus everything would seem to point to the conclusion that, whoever
these Mayan builders were, their knowledge of architecture was not
slowly evolved by them, but came to them, a veritable gift of the gods,
already developed, from some foreign source. What that source was we
shall endeavour to show in the next chapter. The point to be dealt with
here is, What were the ethnical affinities of the Mayans themselves? To
what branch of the great American family do they belong? We have
endeavoured to show that the mysterious disappearance of the Toltecs and
the traditionary account of their flight south point very clearly to the
conclusion that the country south of Mexico was at the arrival of the
Aztecs inhabited by the kindred of these so-called Toltecs.

A curious corroboration of this is to be found in the existence of a
tribe known as the Huastecas, who form a colony around the Panuco River
in the east of Mexico, and on the adjoining coast of the Gulf. Every
ethnologist agrees that these people are pure Mayans; but the puzzle has
been to explain their presence in Mexico, where to-day there are no
other pure Mayans. The usual explanation is that they represent a
solitary migration from Yucatan. Is this at all likely? Is it possible
to believe that a mere handful of emigrants could have succeeded in
making a lodgment on the Mexican coast in the face of the certain
opposition they would have met with from the militant Aztecs? It would
have been almost an impossibility; nor does the piece of country held by
the Huastecas possess any of those features which might be expected to
attract immigrants. It seems to us far more likely that these Huastecas
represent a remnant of the original inhabitants of Mexico expelled by
the Aztecs; that while the bulk fled southward, a small band moved
eastward unnoticed, and established themselves on the Panuco River, the
Aztecs being too occupied with their conquests in the south to trouble
much about them. Thus with some years to consolidate their position,
they either remained unmolested or were actually able to hold their own
against the Aztecs till the Conquest. This seems a far more reasonable
explanation of the presence of these undoubted Mayans in the east of

As the Aztecs pushed their way into the north of Mexico, the vast
majority of peaceful Mayans, no match for the warlike strangers, fled
naturally south, save these few Huastecas, who, going eastward, were
either strong enough to repulse their foes or took refuge in lands which
did not attract the Aztecs so much as the rich valleys of Central
Mexico; and thus formed a permanent settlement on the east coast, while
their kinsfolk joined the Mayan populations of Yucatan and Guatemala.

But when you have assumed that the Toltecs were Mayans, you are still
confronted by an ethnological problem. It has proved curiously difficult
to classify the Mayans among the other peoples of America. The Aztecs
are satisfactorily accounted for as Shoshonees, a tribe of the
Athapascans; and some ethnologists have tried to prove that the Mayans
are also of the same stock. These efforts have proved futile. All
available evidence is against such a conclusion. Physically the two
peoples are quite separate, even to-day. The most casual observer,
travelling in the two countries of Mexico and Yucatan, must be struck,
as were we, by the marked distinction in features and general physique
between the two. But a still more cogent proof of their separation is
afforded by a study of the two languages. They are quite different in
structure, vocabulary and everything.

But this very question of language has enabled D. G. Brinton to track
the Mayans to their stock. By a careful comparison of one hundred
Natchez (an Apalachian tribe) words with their equivalents in the Mayan
dialects, he has proved a very remarkable affinity between the two
languages. "Of these hundred," he writes, "five have affinities, more or
less marked, to words peculiar to the Huastecas of the River Panuco;
thirteen to words common to Huastecas and Mayan; and thirty-nine to
words of similar meaning in the latter language." This linguistic
similarity would be remarkable by itself. But when you find that
physically such Apalachian tribes as the Seminoles and Creeks are
strikingly like the Mayan type, and when you realise that this
Apalachian stock was all round the land of the Mayans, it is difficult
to resist the conclusion that the Mayans must be ultimately referred to
this stock. The Apalachians joined Mexico on the north-east; they
stretched down the peninsula of Florida, and probably originally
inhabited Cuba and some of the West Indian islands, before the arrival
there of the powerful Arawak people, who were found in the islands by
the Spanish.

Being thus all round Mexico and Yucatan, it would be curious if some of
the Apalachians were not found in those countries. Ethnological data are
woefully lacking in all questions affecting the vast congeries of
peoples which go to form the aborigines of the two Americas. But it
would certainly seem that philologically, physically, and geographically
we here have such evidence as points very clearly to the Mayans being a
remote offshoot of the Apalachian stock.

But if they are Apalachians, they certainly did not derive their
building skill from their ancestors. Florida and the Eastern States are
devoid of all ancient buildings. The much discussed mounds of the
Mississippi district have not the remotest relationship with the temples
and palaces of Yucatan; but are probably totemic symbols, nothing more
or less.

On this subject Professor Cyrus Thomas, in _Problems of the Ohio Mounds_
(Washington, 1889), writes: "Mexico, Central America and Peru are dotted
with the ruins of stone edifices, but in all the mound-building area of
the United States not the slightest vestige of one attributable to the
people who erected the eastern structures is to be found.... Though
hundreds of groups of mounds marking the sites of ancient villages are
to be seen scattered over the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf States,
yet nowhere can there be found an ancient house."

It is true that the island of Cuba has never been really thoroughly
explored; but enough has been done to show that there are no building
"finds" likely there. Señor Andres Poey in a paper on "Cuban
Antiquities," read before the American Ethnological Society in 1855,
speaks of the great scarcity in the island of relics of stone. Only four
statues, very rude representations of anthropoid ape-like animals, had
been found. As monkeys were not known to have ever existed in Cuba, it
would certainly seem as if these carvings had been brought over from
Yucatan, with the Mayan inhabitants of which country it is certain that
the Cuban Arawaks traded. The stone implements and earthenware vases
found have also, for the most part, been attributed to the same source.
Of stone buildings the Arawaks had none. "The villages consisted," says
D. G. Brinton, writing in _The American Archæologist_ of October, 1898,
"of ten to twelve communal houses, always perishable; none having been
heard of as stone."

If then the Mayans are akin to the Apalachians, there is no trace among
their kindred of such elementary forms of building as would have
certainly been found if the architecture which has made them so famous
had been naturally developed. Thus we are bound to conclude that it was
exotic; that they learnt it from some foreign visitors to their
territory long after they had split off and migrated thither from the
Apalachian centre.

Who those foreign visitors were we will try to prove in the succeeding
chapter. Here let us summarise the foregoing pages as follows:--

1. The Toltec theory is myth, not history.

2. The Toltecs were never an historical nationality.

3. The word "Toltec" was a nickname given by the invading Aztecs to the
race inhabiting Mexico on their arrival.

4. The Toltecs were Mayans, the ancestors, with their kinsmen further
south, of those Mayan peoples to-day, as at the Spanish Conquest,
inhabiting Central America from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Southern
Mexico to the frontier of Nicaragua.

5. The Mayans are of the Apalachian stock, and had long been settled in
Central America before the invasion of the Aztecs.

6. The architectural skill of the Mayans was not developed by them
naturally, but was introduced from a foreign country some centuries
before the Aztecs invaded their northernmost possessions.


[8] The value of the Tula tradition is best gauged by a
comparison of the dates given by authorities. Thus Sahagun (_Historia de
la Nueva España_) places its destruction in 319 B.C.; Ixtlilxochitl
(_Historia Chichemeca_, iii. cap. 4) brings it down to 969 A.D.; the
_Codex Ramirez_ gives it as 1168 A.D.; and so on. There is an equally
amazing variation about the date of its founding.

[9] Ixtlilxochitl, in his _Relaciones Historicas_, says
Topiltzin was the last king of Tula; that Toltec sovereignty extended a
thousand leagues from north to south, and eight hundred from east to
west; and that in the wars that attended its downfall 5,600,000 persons
were slain!

[10] According to Dr. Brinton, the name Nahuatl, which of late
years scholars have agreed to use in the place of Aztec, does not belong
to the latter people. It is an Aztec word meaning--first, to speak
clearly; second, to order or command; third, to speak as one with
authority. Hence it gained the sense of "astute," "superior," and
Nahuatlaca were the Superior People. Dr. Brinton thinks it was another
name given by the Aztecs to the dispossessed Mayans, and that as the
years passed and the legends of the two races became hopelessly
confused, the Aztecs adopted the name themselves.

[11] Of Mexican traditions Dr. Brinton (_A Review of the Data
for the Study of the Prehistoric Chronology of America_: 1887) says: "It
is extremely doubtful if their earliest reminiscences refer to any event
outside the narrow valley parcelled out between the petty states of
Tenochtitlan, Tezcuco and Tlacopan.... The chronicles of Mexico proper
contain no fixed date prior to that of the founding of Tenochtitlan in
the year 1325 of our era."



The proposition that the Mayans were taught to build by foreign visitors
involves three postulates.

1. Such foreign visitors came from a land where the knowledge of
architecture had reached a considerable degree of perfection.

2. They landed in Central America well within historic times.

3. They belonged to none of the so-called White Races.

These postulates very materially narrow the area of the globe in which
we can profitably look for their home; and a task which at first sight
appears to rival the proverbial one of looking for a needle in a
haystack becomes, if approached by the light of common sense,
comparatively simple.

Common sense cannot be said to have distinguished most of those who have
striven heretofore to crack this architectural nut. Broadly speaking,
there have been two contending bands of theorists: those who were
determined at all costs to claim the architecture of Central America as
home-grown; and those who, figuratively speaking, shut their eyes and
with a map of the world before them and bodkin in hand, pricked some
spot, opened their eyes, and triumphantly declared "There's the place."

As for the first, we have done our best in the last chapter to show that
they have not a leg to stand on. As for the second, they have defeated
their efforts by their own vagueness. They have wandered over the
earth's surface and chosen in turn any and every country which at any
period of its history has been known to possess an architecture of its
own. Thus have the Egyptians, the Scandinavians, the Phoenicians, the
Chinese, the Japanese, the Tatars, the Polynesians, all in turn been
suggested as the originators of America's native architecture; east,
west, south, north, races in nearly every continent have been
commandeered to act either as the parents of the whole Mayan people or
as their foreign tutors in the art of building.

The most remarkable of all theories was that advanced by Dr. Le
Plongeon, who invited the world to believe that the Mayans--or Mayax, as
he insisted upon calling them--were the first of all races in the world
to become architects, and that they taught the art to the ancient
Egyptians and everybody else. In pursuance of this perfectly lunatic
suggestion, he dated the civilisation of Central America 11,500 years
back. This preposterous proposition was received with the Homeric
laughter it so richly deserved. But really there was something to be
said for the poor doctor's point of view. He belonged to the class of
theorists who at all hazards wish to give America the glory of having
produced the very remarkable building skill shown to have existed in her
central territories. The only difference between him and his
fellow-theorists was that he had the courage of his convictions, and
they had not. A few thousand years were trifles to a man who could
theorise so bravely as Le Plongeon; and courage is always admirable. The
good doctor was at least no craven, no timorous,
afraid-of-his-own-shadow type of theorist; he was a Titan among the
theorising minnows, a genius in the art; for he possessed the genius of

The others of the "indigenous" school have proved halfhearted and vague.
If you insist upon their coming to the point and saying whence the
builders really came, they try to parry your insistence by asking a
question in their turn--"Whence came the African Negroes?" To this the
correct reply, according to Professor E. Morse, is "From Africa, of
course." "Originally?" "Yes, originally: they constitute the African or
Negro sub-species of Man." This is a mode of arguing which is
fundamentally unsound for the excellent reason that the cases of the
African and American races are not analogous. For even if the aboriginal
peoples of America could be assumed to be as strictly indigenous in
their habitat as the negroid peoples are generally held to be in theirs,
you have still to explain an isolated outburst of civilisation in
Central America marking off an extraordinarily restricted area,
comparatively speaking, from the vast continental expanses north and
south. But the ethnical problems of the Negro and the American are not
even so far analogous; for, as all the world knows, the generally
accepted theory as to the American race is that it must be ultimately
referred to the Mongoloid division of mankind, and that the New World
was in prehistoric times peopled from Asia.

But if this view, supported as it is by a physical resemblance in some
cases so remarkable as to quite stultify the suggestion of coincidence,
were upset, you would still be confronted with the unanswerable
question: If American architecture is of home-growth, why was it
restricted to one very small area? For the proposition that it is
indigenous almost demands the postulate that it evolved at such an early
date in some form or other as to allow time for it to spread far into
the north and south of the New World. If any deduction is possible from
its singular localisation, it is surely that it was introduced from
outside and at so comparatively recent a date before the arrival of the
White race in the Americas as not to have permitted time for it to
spread far.[12]

Everything then points to the exotic nature of American architecture.
Whence came its originators? Our postulates enable us to narrow the
inquiry to Egypt, Japan, China, India, Ceylon, and the Malay Peninsula.
Let us take these possibilities in this order.

Egypt has been a great temptation to many, and in truth it is difficult,
when you are first face to face with such very Egyptian-looking statues
as the Atlantean figures which we found at Chichen, and which are
described on p. 98, to resist the thought that there must be some
connection between the stone marvels of the Nile Valley and the palaces
of Yucatan. But putting aside the extraordinary difficulties in the way
of mapping a possible route by which the connection between the two
peoples could be effected, all available evidence is against you. The
buildings of the two races are unlike in structure and design, in
ornamentation and decoration; and if this dissimilarity could be
explained away, and an attempt made to link the two ethnically, there is
not a shred of evidence, physically, mythologically, philologically, or
such as might be derived from a community of manners and customs, to
help out the effort.

With Egypt gone, we have to deal with the different parts of Asia
mentioned. Asia has been popular with many theorisers. Lured on by the
recollection that the greatest ethnologists agree that America was
peopled from Asia via the Behring Straits, they see no difficulty in the
Mayan architects coming that way too. Indeed these Straits are a very
tempting spot: the narrow neck of land where the two continents almost
join. It is less than 36 miles across between East Cape, Asia, and
Prince of Wales's Cape, America; and on those rare days when the
atmosphere permits (it is almost always foggy thereabouts), one can see
across with the naked eye. Between the two capes are three small (now
uninhabited) islands, and the deepest part of the channel is but 30
fathoms (180 feet). Before Behring's expedition to this region in 1728
it was thought that the continents did actually join; for Deschnev, the
Russian who is said to have sailed these waters in 1648, was regarded as
an inventor of fables when he stated that a passage existed.

The affinity of the Eskimos to the Japanese has long been a favourite
theme of ethnologists, and Dr. Torrell, who devoted much time and study
to this question, thinks he has proved past all dispute that the two
peoples are kinsmen. But be this as it may, and whether one accepts or
not the peopling of the Americas from Asia via the Behring Straits, it
is as good as impossible to maintain that the builders came into America
by this route. Were this so, we should most certainly find traces of
their march south to the chief field of their activities. The most
fanatical of the theorists must surely admit that the fact that we do
not is an insuperable objection to their theory. That a migrating race
of architects passed through the whole length of North America and kept
their art a profound secret till they reached the centre of the New
World, is literally unthinkable.

No; if America was peopled from Asia, it was in times so remote that the
inhabitants of Asia did not themselves know the art of building. The age
of American Man has been a keenly debated question. Nothing has yet been
found which can be reckoned a proof that he existed previous to the
present geological epoch. Dr. Lund, who has devoted much time to the
problem, states that he found but one trace of man among those of the
extinct mammalia, and this was dubious, for there were signs that the
strata where they were discovered had been disturbed within some recent
period during which the human remains had possibly been buried. But
American Man must at least be prehistoric; and being so, he is all too
early, if he was to bring the knowledge of building with him. And if it
is urged that the mysterious architects came in well within historic
times, after the New World was already peopled by their kinsmen, the
lack of traces of them and their art is more than ever a full answer.
That the builders came from Asia we are convinced; but they came direct
to Central America by sea.

Taking Japan as first of the Asiatic countries from which the builders
may have come, there is much made of the close similarity of the objects
found in the shell-heaps of North America and the upper Amazon on the
one hand, and on the other those of North and South Japan, especially
those of Omori. The pottery is much alike: you have the crenellated
fillet and the cord markings. But these features of prehistoric pottery
have been shown to exist among many peoples. Again, there is a close
resemblance in the stone implements found; but Sir John Evans in his
_Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain_ points out that stone
implements are identical in most lands. He instances those of the Nile
Valley, which are so precisely like those found in the Kentish oolite
that the most experienced archæologist could not tell them apart. But if
there is nothing in this positive evidence, there is much in the
negative evidence available. The architecture of Japan is derived from
the Chinese, and is of a comparatively recent date. It is in all ways
dissimilar to that of Central America. Further, that the Japanese early
possessed the potter's wheel is proved by their ancient mortuary
vessels. There was not a potter's wheel in America. Again, the Japanese
ritual of the third and fourth centuries, as contained in the Kojiki and
Nihonji, have no analogy with Mexican ritual. Again, in Japan and Korea
we find bronze mirrors and bells unknown in America, and an early
knowledge of tempering steel in Japan is quite lacking in the land of
the Mayans.

What about China? Here there are vague resemblances between the
buildings of the two peoples; but at most they are those features in
which one might trace a similarity between the productions of any two
building races. As in Japan, ritual and customs are all distinct from
those found among the Mayans. Those who would have us believe that
Central American civilisation was of Chinese origin have been much
influenced by that fable promulgated by the Chinese historian Li Yen,
who lived in the seventh century. He states the existence of a country
which he calls the "Land of the Fusang," and which he declared lay
40,000 li eastward of China. Li Yen had the tale from a Buddhist priest
Hwui Shan; but the curious point is that the latter described himself as
a priest coming from the "Land of the Fusang," and says nothing as to
how he got there, or how he became a Buddhist in this unknown country.
In an article in vol. lv. of _New Annals of Voyages_ entitled
"Researches regarding the Country of the Fusang," H. J. von Klaproth
points out that this could not have been Mexico because of the horses
and carts mentioned, and these were of course unknown in Mexico in
pre-Conquest times. He says Japan was the place, and this he supports by
showing that it was early called Fusang (beautiful). The distance as
given by Li Yen is, according to Klaproth, no difficulty, as the "li"
was a very variable measure, quite apart from the fact that the priest
would have no accurate means of measuring. His 40,000 li may be on a par
with the mulberry trees thousands of feet high and the silkworms 7 feet
long which form part of his fairy tale, as Professor E. Morse points out
in his pamphlet _Was Middle America peopled from Asia?_

In a problem like this small proofs are often most valuable, and if all
else were lacking, the absence in Central America of the glazed
roofing-tile so common in China from 2000 B.C. is very significant
seeing that pottery-glazing had been brought to a high point of
perfection there. Again, in China the potter's wheel and the plough were
in common use from the earliest times, but there is no trace of either
in Central America. Indeed, no one has been able to produce a piece of
real evidence for the theory that the Chinese endowed the Mayans with
their art of building.

But if in Egypt, Japan, and China we have not been even "warm" as
children's forfeit-games have it, when we turn to India and the Malay
Peninsula we are growing distinctly "burning." In such a problem the
evidence most valuable is perhaps afforded by the opinions of those who
have not worked in the special field of archæology, and are thus
untrammelled by theories. Let us start with one or two such opinions,
and then we will pass from this general to the particular evidence which
to our minds proves that America obtained her architecture from this
part of Asia.

Mr. R. Spence Hardy in his book _Eastern Monachism_ (London, 1850),
after seeing drawings of the monuments of Yucatan, on p. 22 writes, "The
ancient edifices of Chichen in Central America bear a striking
resemblance to the topes of India. The shape of one of the domes, the
apparent size, the small tower on the summit, the trees growing on the
sides, the appearance of masonry here and there, the style of
ornamentation, and the small doorways at the base, are so exactly
similar to what I have seen at Anuradhapura that when my eyes first fell
upon the engravings of the remarkable ruins, I supposed that they were
represented in illustration of the dagobas of Ceylon."

Writing in _The Edinburgh Review_ for April, 1867, another author says,
"The great temple at Palenque so closely corresponds in its principal
details with that of Boro Budor, in the province of Kedu (Java) ... as
to place beyond all reasonable debate the common purpose and origin of
both. Both were elevated on a series of graduated platforms or terraces;
and are reached by successive flights of steps, facing the cardinal
points. The chambers in both are disproportionately small, with no
apertures, except the doorways, for the admission of air and light;
their curved ceilings, formed of stones overlapping each other,
triangular-wise and constituting what is known as the cyclopean arch,
are precisely alike."

Other authors might be quoted to show that the general appearance of the
two sets of ruins is so similar as to attract the attention of the
casual visitor; but we will now pass to our particular evidence. As will
have been seen from many of our illustrations, the buildings of Central
America were, with but a few exceptions, built on pyramids. Now it is a
fact that wherever Buddhism prevailed in ancient times we find the
truncated pyramid, either of the square or round form. As at the temple
of Boro Budor, these pyramids generally had buildings on the top. They
were built of earth and rubble covered with a layer of bricks or hewn
stone, the whole then plastered over with stucco which, according to
Spence Hardy, is composed of lime, cocoanut water, and the juice of the
paragua. The ruins of Chichen, Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Labna and all the
others we visited were built in the same way. The pyramids are
invariably built of earth and rubble covered over with a layer of hewn
stone slabs of various sizes. The walls of buildings, as in the Tennis
Court at Chichen, often had a section in the centre filled up with
rubble. And in most cases the whole had been stuccoed over.

Now let us take that most characteristic of all features of Mayan
architecture, the so-called Mayan arch. In the strict sense it is not an
arch at all. It never reached the stage of being curved, but was a
series of inverted steps rising to the roof and crowned with a slab, as
will be plainly seen in our illustration. Sometimes the steps were hewn
off so as to give an even surface on which plaster was smeared. Now this
peculiar arch is found in ancient Buddhist structures and nowhere else
in the world. John Crawfurd in his _History of the Indian Archipelago_
(3 vols.: Edinburgh, 1820), in vol. ii. p. 200, when speaking of the
interior of the buildings there, writes: "The stones overlap each other
within so as to present to the eye the appearance of inverted steps of a
stair.... The builders of Bramhanan had possessed the art of turning the
elliptical arch and vault, for the entrances and doorways are all arched
and the roofs vaulted. A circular vault or arch, however, is nowhere to
be found among the ruins; and the principle of turning an arch is
nowhere carried to such a length as to convey the impression of grandeur
or magnificence." This might as appropriately have been written of the
Mayan buildings. Where in the very few instances the arch was continued
along more than one side of the building, as in the Castillo of Chichen,
it does not make a circular turn, but comes to a corner and then goes
off at right angles. The only circular turning arch we saw was the
continuously rounded one in the Caracol at Chichen.

[Illustration: DIAGRAM OF MAYAN ARCH.]

Next, let us take the interior wall paintings of the buildings of both
countries. Most of the inner walls of the buildings in Central America
bear traces of paints on the plaster. The biggest room at Chichen, that
on the south side of the Nunnery, 47 feet by 9, was once covered with
paintings from the floor to the apex of the roof. So were the smaller
rooms. But owing to vandalism and natural decay of the plaster, they
cannot now be properly traced. There is, however, enough to show that
they represented the inhabitants of the city. Again, in the House of the
Tigers, standing up gaunt and majestic on the wall of the Tennis Court,
the everyday life of the builders is depicted by the artist in blues,
greens, yellows, and a reddish brown.

Now turn to the ancient Buddhist edifices. Spence Hardy (_Eastern
Monachism_, p. 230) says: "The whole interior, whether rock, wall, or
statue, is painted in brilliant colours, but yellow much predominates.
In one place the artist has attempted to depict part of the early
history of the island, beginning with the voyage of Wijaya, which is
represented by a ship with only the lower mast, and without sails;
alongside are fishes as large as the vessel. In representing the
buildings of the great dagobas of Anuradhapura, the proportions are no
better preserved and these artificial mountains appear to be little
larger than the persons employed in finishing them.... The ornamental
paintings, where proportion was not of paramount importance, are very
neat, and all the colours appear to be permanent and bright." This lack
of proportion in the human figures is very noticeable at Chichen, the
figures often entirely dwarfing the huts in which they are supposed to
be standing.

Next, let us take the isolated example of decoration, about which there
has been much controversy, the Red Hand. We have before spoken of this
strange mark on the walls of Mayan buildings. It looks like a hand that
has been dipped in a reddish-brown pigment, almost blood-colour, and
then pressed upon the wall. This in many cases it undoubtedly is, for
the actual lines of the hand can be discerned. Now Le Plongeon, in his
_Vestiges of the Mayans_, was the first, we believe, to call attention
to the fact that _The New York Herald_ of April 12th, 1879, in
describing General Ulysses S. Grant's visit to Ram Singh, Maharajah of
Jeypoor, says, "We passed small temples, some of them ruined, some
others with offerings of grains or fruits or flowers, some with priests
and people at worship. On the walls of some of the temples we saw the
marks of the human hand as though it had been steeped in blood and
pressed against the white wall. We were told that it was the custom,
when seeking from the gods some benison, to note the vow by putting the
hand into a liquid and printing it on the wall. This was to remind the
gods of the vow and prayer, and if it came to pass in the shape of rain,
or food, or health, or children, the joyous devotee returned to the
temple and made offerings."

Stephens, in the appendix of vol. ii. of _Incidents of Travel in
Yucatan_, gives a communication from Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who writes:
"The figure of the human hand is used by the North American Indians to
denote supplication to the Deity or Great Spirit.... In the course of
many years' residence on the frontiers, including various journeyings
among the tribes, I have had frequent occasion to remark the use of the
hand alone as a symbol, but it has generally been a symbol applied to
the naked body after its preparation and decoration for sacred or
festive dances. And the fact deserves further consideration from these
preparations being generally made in the arcanum of the medicine or
secret lodge or some other private place, and with the skill of the
priest's, or medicine man's, or juggler's art. The mode of applying it
in these cases is by smearing the hand of the operator with white or
coloured clay, and impressing it on the breast, the shoulder, or other
part of the body. The idea is thus conveyed that a secret influence, a
charm, a mystic power, is given to the dancer, arising from his sanctity
or his proficiency in the occult arts. This use of the hand is not
confined to a single tribe of people. I have noticed it alike, among the
Dacotahs, the Winnebagoes, and other Western tribes, as among the
numerous branches of the Red Race still located east of the Mississippi
River above the latitude of 42 degrees who speak dialects of the
Algonquin languages."

There is thus no doubt that the "red hand" of the Mayans had its analogy
among the tribes of North America; and thus by itself it is of little
moment in the present argument. But we have made a singular and most
important discovery. On the friezes of the Stupa of Bharahat in India,
found in 1873 by Sir Alexander Cunningham--the date of the building of
which is accepted as approximately 200 B.C.--are rows of hands carved.
These hands are precisely similar in shape to those we discovered in
great numbers on the ruins in the island of Cozumel, and to those we
saw on other Mayan ruins. There can be no doubt as to the identity of
this symbolic decoration, and we believe that here exists a most
important link in the chain of evidence connecting America and the East.
There are those who will at once declare that the very fact that the
symbol can be shown to have had a wide use in North America forbids the
idea that it came from the East. This is clearly not so. If the date
which we shall suggest as the likely one for the arrival of the Eastern
immigrants in Central America be even approximately accurate, there
would be ample time for the symbol to spread sufficiently into the north
for Schoolcraft in the middle of the nineteenth century to find it
broadcast among very distant tribes. Among such a proverbially
superstitious race as the American Indians, such a symbol would rapidly
"catch on," and the fact that a very extended trade existed between the
natives of Yucatan and the tribes around the Gulf of Mexico from early
times makes its introduction a very easily explained fact.

Next, let us make a brief examination of the architectural ornamentation
of the ancient buildings of the Buddhist East and those of Central
America, and see if there exist any similarities which are of a nature
to help the proof of the connection. Much has been made of that peculiar
feature of Mayan decorative art, the "snouted mask" or "elephant trunk,"
common on the buildings of Palenque, Chichen and Uxmal, and many other
cities. This is shown in many of our illustrations. It is a trunk-like
projection which is used as an ornamentation on the cornices. In this
some have eagerly found a reminiscence of India's elephant. There would
not seem to be the least reason for these zoological speculations. An
examination of the ornament reveals a rudely carved face on the wall
behind; and if we turn to the _Codex Cortesianus_ we find recurring
therein the figure of a deity with a peculiarly elongated nose, an exact
miniature of this much discussed architectural ornamentation. Thus there
can be little doubt that the "snouted mask" was the symbol of a deity,
possibly the Tapir-god, who is always represented with a snout which is
a parody of that of the real animal.

But if there is nothing in the elephant theory of the so-called "snouted
mask," there is a very curious type of ornamentation in some of the
Mayan buildings which may prove of great import in this connection. At
Labna, at Copan and elsewhere, are found, as the finish of cornices,
alligators' heads--the one we saw at Labna having a half-curled
"elephant trunk,"--with jaws agape, from within them a grotesque face
peering out. This is so peculiar a design that it must be admitted that
a parallel to it in any land would be at least suggestive. We have found
an exact parallel where we should most have hoped to find it. Heads of
the alligator's congener, the crocodile, exist in large numbers at Boro
Budor and in the ruined Buddhist cities of Ceylon. In his _Cambodge et
Java_ (1896) M. Albert Tissandier gives illustrations of the gargoyles
decorating the terraces of Boro Budor, showing them to be the fantastic
heads of crocodiles, surmounted by a half-curled elephant trunk. He
writes (we translate): "This type of crocodile, ornamented with the
trunk of an elephant, appears to be of Singhalese origin. I have
remarked numerous examples at Anuradhapura in Ceylon, the building of
which is much more ancient than Boro Budor, and also at Polonnaruwa....
The arcades (at Boro Budor) end at the base in a head of a crocodile
like the gargoyles I have described above. From out the open jaws of
these monsters peers in each case a little demon with grinning face." It
is difficult indeed to believe that so singular a design and detail of
decoration should have been evolved at once in ancient Buddhist India
and among the American Indians of Yucatan and Guatemala.

An exhaustive comparison of the ornamentation of Mayan and Eastern
buildings would doubtless yield valuable data; but when we state that
there are many hundreds of patterns of decoration employed on the
buildings of Yucatan, it will be seen that this would need a volume to
itself. Broadly speaking, the decorations of the two types of
architecture are dissimilar; and if one reflects, this is really no more
than one would expect. As we have said, the Eastern introducers of
building could not bring with them much knowledge of detailed
ornamentation. The actual decorative designs on Mayan structures might
be reasonably expected to be developed in the country. Only in spots
where the invaders had their actual settlements should we find any
characteristic designs. And this is exactly what we do find at Copan and
Quirigua, which we shall presently try to show were among the very
earliest, if not _the_ earliest, of their locations. At these two places
the ruins consist chiefly of stelae and altars, and the decorations of
these are un-American and Oriental in character.

[Illustration: THE NUNNERY, UXMAL.]

But if there is little similarity between the minuter architectural
details of the Mayan and Buddhist buildings, we believe that, carefully
studied, the former, and particularly, as we should have expected, those
at Copan and Quirigua, exhibit distinct survivals of Buddhist influence.
Mr. Maudslay, in his superb series of photographs of stelae (_Biologia
Centrali-Americana_), shows clearly in the hands of nearly every figure
what he calls a "manikin staff"--a short stick surmounted by a human
figure issuing from feathers or leaves. He cannot explain it, but we
believe that it may be nothing less than a much corrupted survival of
the sacred lotus held by Buddhist images. In photographs of carvings at
Bharahat and also at Boro Budor, the Buddhas and their attendants appear
to hold just such short staves, really the rubbery stem, surmounted by
the lotus-flower, out of which seems to issue in some instances a kind
of face. There appear, too, in the grasp of many figures on the friezes
at Bharahat short sticks surmounted by manikins seated on bannerets. The
"manikin staves" at Copan may be a blended memory of these two
Buddhistic symbols.

Again, Mr. Maudslay noticed a detail of Mayan decoration which has
escaped other students. He points out that at Palenque and elsewhere is
represented a plant which he calls a water plant because fish are seen
feeding on the flowers. "The leaves and flower-buds," he writes, "are
very clearly drawn, and have somewhat the appearance of those of a water
lily." He is probably right: it is a water lily--the Buddhist
lotus--which figures, often with fish swimming round, in almost every
carving at Boro Budor and the ruined Buddhist cities. The drawing he
gives of the Palenque carving is so exact a copy of the Buddhist lotus
as to be quite amazing.

The figures on the stelae at Copan and Quirigua, in many instances have
across their breasts what looks like a broad band. We believe this to be
another Buddhist survival--viz. the ola or palm-leaf book which Buddha
is nearly always shown holding, and which appears in the famous rock
statue of King Parakrama in the ruins of Polonnaruwa (see H. W. Cave,
_Ruined Cities of Ceylon_), exactly as portrayed in Guatemala.

The headdresses of the stelae statues are most reminiscent of the triple
tiara of Buddhist images. The large square or round ear-ornaments at
Quirigua are precisely like those in the sculptures of Boro Budor and in
the island of Madura, a report on the ruins of which latter was
published in 1904 by the Dutch Government (_Archaeologisch Onderzoek op
Java en Madura_). A plate in the latter work represents stelae found in
Madura in feature and decoration so amazingly like those of Quirigua
that one might be forgiven for thinking one was looking at one of Mr.
Maudslay's superb photographs. The latter noted at Copan curious
forehead marks which suggest to us the sacred Buddha markings. On the
north face of the gigantic monolithic turtle at Quirigua is a
cross-legged figure which in Mr. Maudslay's plate exhibits in the
fullest manner many Buddhist survivals.

At Palenque, again, there are the very peculiar Temples of the Cross and
the Foliated Cross, which appear to have no parallels in other Mayan
ruins. We suggest that here too is a Buddhist survival, namely that the
"Crosses" (it is more obvious in the foliated one) are crude
representations of the Sacred Tree of Buddhism, the "Tree of Wisdom,"
traditionally a pippul-tree, beneath which Gotama attained Buddha-hood,
and which occurs again and again on the Boro Budor friezes and on all
the ancient Buddhist carvings, and around which figures are grouped in
adoration as are those in the Palenque reliefs. As the Palenque tablets
suggest that the "Cross" is the direct object of worship, it may be
worth while here to mention that in the oldest Buddhist sculptures
Buddha himself is never represented directly, but always under a symbol;
either the sacred footprints--Buddha-pats--or the tree beneath which his
meditations led him to divine knowledge.

But the faces of the statues will take us a step further: for they seem
to be representations of those human types peculiar to Cambodia, Siam,
and the Malay Peninsula, as will be seen from the illustrations. They
have the elongated, somewhat oblique eye of those peoples; they have not
the American, but the Siamese nose. They are beardless (for this reason
some have declared them to be women), and they wear an Oriental
headdress such as is found in none of the admittedly Mayan ruins, and
which we believe we have identified as the ancient Indian turban shown
clearly in the carvings at Bharahat.

But we must revert directly to the all-important evidences afforded by a
study of Copan. Here, following up our argument that the peculiar
characteristics of the invading builders would tend to weaken as they
mixed more with the Indians, or as their lessons, perhaps after their
deaths, were adapted to purely native ideas and designs, we find an
illustration in point in Piedras Negras, a ruined city on the Usumacinta
discovered by Herr Teobert Maler. Here, some way from their first
settlement, the distinctly Oriental influence is on the wane, but it is
still strong. A carving there unearthed by Herr Maler is so reminiscent
of Buddhist monuments that it must appeal to the most undiscerning. The
figure of the seated god is, in truth, the best the sculptor could do
from memory.

Again, at Palenque the influence of the East is fading still more from
the work; yet is there some remaining. The figures have the
characteristic features of the Americans, and the native headgear; but
the attitude is the typical Buddhist one, and there is moreover one
figure which takes us back to the purer orientalism of Copan. "The
principal figure," says Stephens, "sits cross-legged on a couch
ornamented with two leopard's heads; the attitude is easy, the
physiognomy the same as that of the other personages, the expression
calm and benevolent.... The headdress differs from most of the others at
Palenque in that it wants the plume of feathers" (_Central America,
Chiapas and Yucatan_, vol. ii., p. 318). In the Buddhist carvings Buddha
is often represented seated on a couch carved in the form of a tiger or
lion, or really two, for the body is double-headed. This seat is spoken
of in the Sanskrit as _Simhasana_, literally "the seat of lions," so
called from the crouching animals, which, however, appear in all
carvings as only two. Too much must not be made of this singular
circumstance, perhaps, because such animal seats have been found at
Persepolis, and again in the island of Cyprus, and the Greeks got the
idea from Assyria. Stephens found one of these animal couches at Uxmal,
but on this there was no figure. There may not be anything in the
occurrence of these seats in America; but we think it at least

At Palenque in the Cross Tablets we have the chief figures standing on
dwarf crouching human forms. At Tikal, north-east of Lake Peten, a carved
wooden lintel discovered by Mr. Maudslay depicts two figures standing on
two crouching bodies which he believed to represent prisoners. Elsewhere
in Mayan ruins the design prevails. Now in the Indian, Cambodian, and
Javanese ruins recur again and again these crouching figures, acting as
footstools for the chief personages of the sculpture. Sometimes they are
human, sometimes apes or demons. They are the equivalents--it is
believed--of the Hindu Garudas, who took in Hindu myth many forms; and
we suggest that the Mayan fondness for this queer design was another
heritage from their architectural tutors.

In our description of Palenque we have mentioned one of the most curious
of all the reliefs--that representing, according to Stephens, women with
children in their arms. The Oriental survivals would seem to be
specially strong at Palenque, and it would not surprise us if in these
women-figures there is hidden a cogent proof of the origin of America's
first architects. In _Buddhist Art in India_, Professor A. Grünwedel
writes: "At Sikri, Yusufzai, excavated by Major H. A. Deane in 1888, was
found a statue of a woman accompanied by three children, one of which
sits astride of her right hip in true Indian fashion, and which she is
about to suckle. Among sculptures at Lahore Museum is a statue of a
woman completely draped and holding on her left arm a child. It is
suggested that these are forms of Haritri--'Mother of the Demons.' She
was the mother of five hundred demons or yakshas, to feed whom she daily
stole a child. Buddha rebuked and converted her. An image of her was
found sitting in the porch or in a corner of the dining-halls of Indian
monasteries holding a babe in her arms." Why should not the Palenque
figure be a representation of the Hindu goddess Haritri?

A still more remarkable similarity is illustrated by a tower-like
building at Yaxchilan into which is let at about the middle a huge human
face. This queer edifice has probably replicas as yet undiscovered in
the forests of Guatemala. If it could be shown to have a counterpart in
the Malay Peninsula, that would be a connecting-link between the two
civilisations which would need some explaining away, would it not? Well,
we have traced such a counterpart just where it ought to occur, if our
theory is to hold good, viz. in the forests of Cambodia. At Angkor there
are several such structures built of large blocks of hewn stone. Of
these extraordinary towers M. L. Fournereau in _Des Ruines d' Angkor_
(Paris, 1890) gives some excellent photographs. It would need a bold man
to say that the fact of these Cambodian towers having such a striking
replica at a spot near the earliest settlements of our supposititious
Oriental architects is due to coincidence.

Then there are the curious figures carved on the walls of the Nunnery at
both Chichen and Uxmal and on other Mayan ruins. They sit cross-legged
in Buddhistic fashion in niches in the walls surrounded by an
oval-shaped ornamentation. These are like the images in the niches of
the temples of all great Buddhist buildings; the oval-shaped
ornamentation may easily be, it really looks exactly like, the aureole
which invariably surrounds the figure of the Buddha at Boro Budor and
elsewhere. Moreover these figures in Yucatan have a nimbus too, just
like the Buddhas. We are not of course endeavouring to show that the
Yucatecan figures represent Buddha; but we are suggesting that the
Oriental pattern and designs for religious statuary had sunk deep into
the Mayan mind.

Though the sculptures of the two civilisations are not, as has been
said, strikingly alike in detail, they are similar in subjects. They
represent, for the most part, when not strictly religious, processions,
battle-scenes, and pictures of the daily life of the people. There are,
too, bas-reliefs showing the conquered submitting to the conqueror, the
details being much like those of the famous carving on the rock at
Behistun. There is not much in such similarities, as the carvings of any
race would tend to be stereotyped in a common form. Where valuable
evidence would be looked for is in the fields of religion and mythology.
So far, wherever we have been able to show similarities between the
architectures of America and the East, Buddhism has been the prevailing
religion of the part of the latter in question. Do we then find any
likeness between the religion of the Mayans and Buddhism?

In entering upon this part of our inquiry, we must remember that the
religion of a mere handful of invaders, as we must presume the Oriental
builders to have been, would not appeal to the natives so much as would
their arts. When you have admitted the conservative tendencies of all
peoples in matters religious, it gives an added weight to any genuine
parallels which are traceable between two religions in such an argument
as the present. We believe we can show such genuine parallels; but first
we must refer once more to the suggestion that the elephant was sacred
to the Mayans. We have shown that no reliance can be placed on the
zoological deductions made from the so-called elephant-trunk ornaments
on the Mayan buildings. But on the general question, the fact that the
elephant has apparently never been indigenous to America would seem to
settle the matter. No race has ever been shown to have worshipped an
animal they have never actually seen. Some writers have tried to prove
that the elephant or its congener, the mammoth, existed in America
contemporaneously with man. Professor Newberry, in an article "The
Ancient Lakes of Western America" (_U.S. Geological Survey Report_,
Washington, 1871), writes: "The elephant and mastodon continued to
inhabit the interior of our continent long after the glaciers had
retreated beyond the upper lakes, and when the minutest details of
surface topography were the same as now.... It is even claimed here as
on the European continent that man was a contemporary of the mammoth and
that here, as there, he contributed largely to its final extinction."

For this view there would seem little real evidence. The so-called
elephant figures dug up during the excavation of mounds in Wisconsin and
Iowa in 1880, although declared by their finders to be miniature
representations of elephants, have no tusks and are far more like the
tapir of Central America. This is the American animal nearest
approaching in form the elephant of Asia. That the tapir was worshipped
by the Mayans there is no doubt: ample proof exists. It is certainly
possible enough that this was an indigenous cult, and cannot be held to
be reminiscent of an earlier worship of the elephant. What would seem to
militate against such an explanation is the nature of the tapir.
Animal-worship undoubtedly arose in the majority of cases from one of
two motives: fear or gratitude for utility. The former motive is
illustrated in the adoration of the larger carnivora; while the worship
of the whale, the horse, and the cow are examples of the latter. But the
tapir is neither feared (he is very shy, has no tusks or other means of
offence, and lives entirely in the swampy woods, never willingly meeting
man); nor is he of the least use, though it is possible his flesh has on
occasions been eaten. With this, we will finally leave the elephant-cult
question, with the suggestion that the tapir being the nearest approach
to the elephant in the New World, may have been adopted as its successor
by the invaders and afterwards became a deity of the Mayans.

Now let us see what are the parallels between Buddhism and the Mayan
religion, whether in legend, doctrine, or ritual.

The Buddhist priests lived during certain parts of the year in
monasteries. They had no food but what they received from the people;
were not allowed to marry; fasted on certain days; and spent their time
in meditation, writing up their religious records, and teaching the
people. This is almost the precise life led by the Mayan priests. They
lived apart from the people in separate houses, and, most noteworthy of
all, Acosta in his _Historia de los Indios_ says that they lived
entirely by begging, or rather from the voluntary contributions of the

Of the Buddhist monks, Sir Monier Williams in his _Buddhism_, p. 312,
describing their daily life, writes: "Arranging themselves in line, they
set out with the abbot at their head to receive their food. Silently
they move on through the streets, fixing their eyes steadily on the
ground six feet before them, meditating on the vanity and mutability of
things, and only halting when a layman emerges from some door to pour
his contribution of rice or fruit or vegetable into their alms bowls."

The Mayan priests were not only bound to celibacy, but they were never
allowed to come into contact with women. This was the Buddhist rule,
though slowly to be much relaxed. Sir Monier Williams, p. 152, says,
"There is evidence that among certain monkish communities in Northern
countries the law against marriage was soon relaxed. It is well known
that at the present day Lamaseries in Sikkim and Thibet swarm with
children of monks, though called their nephews and nieces." A further
curious parallel is that women took part in the ritual of both Mayans
and Buddhists. Gautama had an early order by which women were admitted
to nunneries under the same rules as men. Among the Mayans, women were
ministrants in the temples, as at Isla de Mujeres, while at Chichen,
Uxmal and other cities, there were large nuns' houses.

Sir Monier Williams on p. 83 says, "The eating at midday the one meal
and at no other time" was the custom of the Buddhist priests, and they
"fasted on prescribed days." H. Bancroft, in his _Native Races of the
Pacific States_ (1875-6, New York), says that among the priests of
Mexico "fasting was observed as an atonement for sin, as well as a
preparation for solemn festivals. An ordinary fast consisted of
abstaining from meat for a period of one to ten days, and taking one
meal at noon; and at no other hour could so much as a drop of water be
touched." Sir Monier Williams (p. 313) says, "When the midday meal is
over, all return to work. Some undertake the teaching of the boy
scholars. Others read the texts of the Tripitaka with their
commentaries, or superintend the writers who are copying manuscripts.
Some of the older members sink into deep meditation." Father
Torquemada, a leading historian of Mexico, tells us that the priests
"passed much of their time in contemplation and in writing the annals of
the country." It may be here worth mention that the Zapotecan (Mayan)
priests obtained their inspiration by a species of auto-suggestion
terminating in an ecstatic trance. This would certainly seem to be a
parallel to the Buddhist trance.

Sir M. Williams on p. 506 says, "Everywhere throughout the Buddhist
countries the supposed impressions of the Buddha's feet are as much
honoured as those of the god Vishnu by Vaishnavas.... No true Vaishnava
will leave his house in the morning without marking his forehead with
the symbol of Vishnu's feet." The Jains worship the footprint on Mount
Parasnath in Bengal; while there are sacred footprints of Buddha at
Bharahat, Sanchi, Amaravati, and the famous Adam's Peak in Ceylon and at
Phra Bat in Siam, the latter two supposed to represent the right and
left feet respectively as he stepped in one stride from Ceylon to Siam.

Now it is a very strange fact that there is this legend of sacred
footprints in America, and more curiously still, the legend associates
itself with the East. In his _Hero Myths_, p. 220, D. G. Brinton says,
speaking of the arts of the Muycas of New Granada, "The knowledge of
these various arts they attributed to the instruction of a wise stranger
who dwelt among them many cycles before the arrival of the Spaniards. He
came from the East.... In the province of Ubaque his footprints on the
solid rock were reverently pointed out long after the Conquest." A
second footprint was found by Dupaix at Zachilla, the ancient capital of
the Zapotecs, a Mayan tribe; while a third which Brinton examined in
Nicaragua, an account of which is given in his _The Ancient Footprints
in Nicaragua_, was simply the footprint of an ordinary man impressed on
volcanic rock before the lava hardened. Brinton points out that the foot
which made the mark was sandalled, showing that it was done by a native.
But that these legendary marks had very commonplace origins does not
affect the curious community of legend which thus appears to have
existed between Central America and Buddhist lands.

Many minor habits and customs might be cited to show how strangely alike
the Mayans were, and still are, to some Buddhist peoples. Thus all Mayan
mothers carry their babies sitting a-straddle of their hips, though
other American Indian women carry the little ones Apache-fashion in a
cradle-board, or in a bundle like the Mexican Aztecs, slung on their
backs; and this carrying on the hip, peculiar to the Mayans, is the
invariable manner of carrying the child in India, Burma and Siam to-day.
Another point is that the manuscripts in both countries are folded
peculiarly, namely in a zigzag way. Dr. Brinton says in his _Maya
Chronicles_ (1882), "The Maya MSS. consisted of one long sheet of a kind
of paper made by macerating and beating together the leaves of the
maguey and afterwards sizing the surface with a durable white varnish.
The sheet was folded like a screen (_i.e._ zigzag) forming pages about 9
× 5 inches. Both sides were covered with figures and characters painted
in various brilliant colours. On the outer pages boards were fastened
for protection." This might be an account of the Buddhist olas as they
exist to-day and as doubtless they have always existed.

Again, the system of Castes--peculiar to the East and unknown to the
North American Red Indians--existed among the Mayans, as we have
described in Chapter XIV. The ancient Mayans, too, had two
languages--one for use in addressing superiors and one for inferiors,
and this was the case in Cambodia and Java.

Many minutest customs of the two peoples show parallels which are hard
to explain except as the result of intercourse. Thus baby-girls in Java
wore a string round the waist, from which hung a shell, the removal of
which during maidenhood and until the marriage night was regarded as
sinful. This had its exact replica among the Mayans, whose girl-children
often still wear the shell. The Mayan carvings of priests' figures
always show a carved medallion of jade or stone worn hanging by a chain
round the neck. Almost without exception this badge-like ornament hangs
round the neck of the ancient Buddhist figures sculptured in the East,
and is said to be still worn by the priests in Siam and Burma to-day. In
the East, as in Mexico, the points of the compass were represented by
colours, though it is not proved they followed the same sequence. In
Buddhist countries a piece of green jade is sometimes buried with the
dead, and this has been proved to have been a Mayan custom, the stone
being thought to have magic properties in speeding the deceased to
another world. Such minute similarity of custom and belief as is shown
by these examples cannot be mere coincidence. Taken separately, there is
not one that would prove the affinity between the East and America; but
when taken together, they certainly form striking evidence.

But there is one thing yet lacking, a missing link in the chain of
evidence binding together the Buddhist East and Tropical America.
Professor E. Morse, in his paper _Was Middle America Peopled from Asia?_
has justly pointed out that "to go straight across the ocean (Pacific)
is one matter, but to go from latitude 30° on one side of the Pacific
almost to the Arctic Ocean and down on the other side nearly to the
Equator is quite another exploit." Most truly said, for such a voyage is
possible, but most improbable. Those who would have us believe that
Middle America was peopled from Asia have agreed in assuming that it was
via the Behring Straits or the Aleutian Islands. We agree with Professor
E. Morse (if we have read his pamphlet correctly) that if some means of
getting Eastern invaders across the Pacific and not round it were shown,
it would go far to prove the Asiatic origin of Central American

The Japan Current (Kuro Siwa) has been the route accepted by all who
believe that Central American civilisation hails from Japan and China.
It runs swiftly along the coast of China and Japan towards the Behring
Straits, and there bifurcates, one part running into the Arctic Ocean
and the other turning down and running parallel with the coast of
America. This current has proved irresistibly attractive, for it is
certain that those swept on by it would have land in sight the whole
way, and Charles Waldcott Brooks has shown in his report to the
California Academy of Science on the _Japanese Vessels wrecked in the
North Pacific Ocean_, that ships from Asia could easily reach the Oregon
and Californian coasts by drifting, as he has proved in the case of
several derelicts.

This Japan Current is such a simple solution of the thorny transit
problem for those who favour the Asiatic theory, that they have all
agreed to adopt it, and have never been able to tear themselves away
from it for a moment and look elsewhere. What if there were other
currents? What if there was a direct current communication between the
Malaysian portion of Asia and Central America? We take no credit for
discovering currents. We have simply looked to see whether, if our
theory is otherwise good, the invading architects would have an
advantage of a current in their long voyage. And we _have_ found one.

The prevailing winds blow six months of the year west to east, and the
currents would seem at first to be coast currents. But all are not so.
There is the great Equatorial Current rising on the Peruvian coast
(where it is known as the Peru Current) between south latitude 30° and
40°. For a time it keeps by the coast, running in a N.N.W. direction
until it reaches the Equator, where it turns and runs in an almost
direct line across the Pacific between the Equator and 10° south
latitude. This powerful current will not, of course, serve the purpose
of our argument, as it goes in the wrong direction. But there is another
current known as the Counter Current, running north of the Equator east
to west. It is first noticeable among the many small island currents in
the Indian Archipelago, and then takes a course to the E.S.E. of Borneo
and south of the Philippines and out into the Pacific. On its course it
runs through the Caroline Islands and the Marshall Group. At between
160° and 170° longitude west Greenwich it is reinforced by a branch of
the southern Equatorial Current which runs swiftly round Christmas and
Fanning Islands and turns on a backward course. On an average its rate
for the whole distance is about two knots per hour, or nearly as fast as
the Japan Current. It spends itself on the coast of Central America
between the Equator and 10° north latitude, part of it turning south
until it is swallowed up again by the Equatorial currents, the other
half turning north and eventually merging into the Mexican Current
coming down from the north. This current fulfils all the requirements of
our argument. It would naturally land emigrants from Malaysia on the
coast of Central America between 10° and 14° north latitude.

The most ambitious of Sea Migrations in early times are perhaps those of
the Polynesians. Starting, it is assumed from their own traditions, from
Samoa, their present distribution over the Southern Pacific shows that
they did not hesitate to make immense sea journeys under circumstances
which to our modern minds seem almost impossible. For the Polynesians
had no boats but the open canoe or dug-out still used by the islanders
to-day. These Polynesian migrations are fact, not theory; and thus when
we come to reflect upon the problem of a migration from, say, Java to
Central America, we begin to see how really practicable it all is. For
the ships in the East were not dug-outs, but were actually built of
planks. The Chinese traded with India and the Malaysian islands during
the fifth and sixth centuries, and used decked boats for the trade. They
knew of the compass from the earliest times, and actually used it for
navigation from the third and fourth centuries onward. From them the
peoples of India and Malaysia learnt shipbuilding, if they had not
already developed it. Thus our migrating architects would, in all
probability, have quite decent-sized vessels in which they could make
the voyage to America.

But it may be asked what impulse to migration these peoples could have
had. If our dates are accurate, the case is a fairly clear one. Buddhism
started, as every one knows, in India. During the fourth and fifth
centuries the persecution of the Buddhists began, and ended finally in
their being driven out of India. As an early result of the movement
which was bringing about their expulsion, they established themselves in
Burma. Buddhism was acknowledged in China, as the third religion of the
Empire, as early as 65 A.D. The religion spread into the Indian
Archipelago soon after it reached Burma and the Malay Peninsula, and the
building of the Buddhist Temple at Boro Budor in Java was begun between
600 and 700 A.D., though, owing to wars and invasions, it was not
finished until about 1430.

But the course of Buddhism did not run smooth in Java. The Buddhist
settlers were involved in wars with neighbouring Malay peoples, and the
building of the great temple was, it is certain, much interrupted. The
disturbed condition of their tenure would tend to drive some of the
settlers into fresh migration. Probably about the eighth century a band
of these undertook a voyage in search of a new home. There is ample
evidence to show that the disturbed state of Malaysia was such at this
time as to cause constant kaleidoscopic changes of population. On the
mainland in Cambodia, Angkor Vhat, which, as we have shown, resembles
the ruins of Central America, was probably at that time inhabited. The
Khmers who built it have never been properly traced. They were possibly
swallowed up in the great racial cataclysm which was then taking place
thereabouts. Some of them may have been driven into the islands, and
were possibly the designers of Boro Budor. Perhaps the band of
immigrants who reached America were Khmers; but this, of course, must
remain mere surmise. Our theory involves the assumption that some
Eastern people professing Buddhism, and skilled in the type of
architecture associated with early Buddhist buildings, did reach Central

We have tried to show that such a voyage was possible, and now let us
follow their route. Taking Java as their starting-point, we have shown
how the currents cross the Pacific to the Caroline Islands. This group,
lying directly in the course of a migrating people, would be certain to
be a resting-place on their journey. They might, perhaps, stay some
weeks, perhaps months there, possibly leaving some of their number
behind them when they finally started out again. Here, then, one would
expect to find some trace of their culture, and that is exactly what we
do find. There are architectural remains in the Carolines, though these
have never yet been properly studied. But there is evidence that they
are just such relics as we should expect of the men who were to be the
tutors of the Mayans. F. W. Christian, in his book _The Caroline
Islands_ (London, 1899), says on p. 80, speaking of the ruins on the
east coast of Ponape, "Somewhat similar in character would be the
semi-Indian ruins of Java and the Cyclopean structures of Aké and
Chichen Itza in Yucatan. A series of huge rude steps brings us into a
spacious courtyard, strewn with fragments of fallen pillars, encircling
a second terraced enclosure with a projecting frieze or cornice of
somewhat Japanese type." The tradition of the Ponapeans in regard to
these ruins is, Mr. Christian tells us, "Two brothers, _Ani-Aramach_,
Godmen or Heroes, named _Olo-chipa_ and _Olo-chopa_, coming from the
direction of Chokach, built the breakwater of _Nan-Moluchai_ and the
island city it shuts in. By their magic spells one by one the great
masses of stone flew through the air like birds, settling down into
their appointed place."

From the photographs reproduced by Mr. Christian it would seem that the
ruins were distinctive of no special type of architecture, but were such
as one would expect to be put up by those who had only made the islands
their home for a very short period, or, as is far more likely, did not
even stop to build but imparted a slight knowledge to the natives, whose
subsequent productions would be thus uncouth. Their next halting-place
would be the Marshall Islands, but whether there are any ruins there we
do not know. It is almost next to certain that intelligent search would
reveal such.

The distance between Java and the coast of Central America at the point
which we wish to indicate as the likely landingplace is about 9,000
miles. The Caroline Islands are about 700 miles from the south-east
corner of the Philippines, the last sight of land a people migrating
from Java by the route we adopt would get. The Carolines would be in
their route for 1,500 miles, as this archipelago is a specially
widespread one. From the Carolines to the Marshall Islands is about 450
miles; and then on to the American coast is about 6,000 miles, with the
smaller unnamed islands lying north of Christmas Island between
longitude 160° and 175° west of Greenwich intervening for about 1,000
miles of their course. Between this point and the American coast would
be the longest stretch of open sea the migrators would have to face.

We do not suggest that they would come over in great numbers. They
followed the course of the current to America, and would be thrown on
the coast where it struck in its greatest force. The Pacific Counter
Current turns off into two branches on nearing the coast at about 10°
north latitude, part going to the south and part north. If they took the
southern branch they would come in contact with the Equatorial Current
coming up from Peru, and inevitably be carried out to sea again. On the
other hand, if they took the northern branch, they would be carried for
some miles along the coast until about latitude 13°, where the current
runs in closest, and there would be the most probable spot for them to


[12] The argument of localisation is not upset by the existence
of ruins in Peru. Native traditions claim no great age for the things
there, which are acknowledged to be of a very crude type. Garcillaso de
Vega (_Comentarios reales de los Incas_) says that, according to Indian
tradition, the first Inca King, Manco Capac, established his empire only
four centuries before the Conquest. The Peruvian ruins probably date
from the later years of the fifteenth century.



The very natural temptation to assign a romantically great age to the
ruins of Central America has proved too much for most writers and
students of the subject. We, too, would like to think that these Mayan
buildings rival in antiquity those of Egypt; but we have been unable to
blind ourselves to certain facts, which are as commonplace as they are
convincing. The proper way to judge the age of a building is not to
stand in front of it in an attitude of reverence like a pre-Raphaelite
before an Old Master, but to look at it with the critical eye of a
mason, if you can. If you are not a mason, or know nothing about
masonry, then you should take an expert with you. If the many students
of Mayan edifices had taken the trouble to put them to this very simple
test, noting how they were built, and then making due allowance for the
friability of the material and so on, we should have heard less of the
fairy tales which have gained undeserved currency in past years.

If the theory which we have put forward in our last chapter is as sound
as we believe it to be, it would seem satisfactorily to fix a maximum
date for Central American buildings. But we cannot too emphatically
point out that our view as to the age of the ruins has not been evolved
to suit our theory as to who were America's first architects, but is
based upon entirely practical tests which are by their nature final.

We have imagined that the architects reached the coast of Central
America at about 13° north latitude. It is probable that they would not
begin to build directly they landed, but would first look for a suitable
site on which they might found a settlement. They possibly numbered two
or three hundred; more than this is most unlikely. In such small numbers
they could not possess themselves of any likely spot irrespective of the
American tribes already inhabiting the country. The chance is that it
was some little while before they finally founded a city. But somewhere
within reasonable distance of the portion of the coast where they would
be most likely to land, we ought to find ruins having all the chief
characteristics of their architecture, with figures for the most part
typical of their race in face and feature, in costume and ornament, and
such ruins should be very distinctly differentiated from those deeper in
the country, and erected after the invaders had been some time in
contact with the natives, whose own mode of living and disposition would
modify the orientalism of the designs.

And this is precisely what we do find. We find that Copan is well within
150 miles of the site of their probable landing. Here, as we pointed out
on p. 268, are carvings so strikingly Oriental that one cannot doubt
their origin. The faces of the figures on the stelae are the faces one
can see to-day in Cambodia and Siam. The dress, the ornamentation, the
turban-shaped headdress (found on no other carvings but these) are all
purely ancient Indo-Chinese. Couple all this with the fact that nowhere
else have the counterparts of the peculiar monuments of Copan been found
in Central America except at Quirigua, which, but a few miles distant,
was probably almost synchronous in its building, and it must be admitted
that there is much in our suggestion; and that here we are able to
locate one of their earliest, if not actually their earliest,

The traditions of the Mayans all agree that Copan was built by the
Itzas, the tribe inhabiting Chichen, who had temporarily migrated
thence. If this tradition is true, then why do we not find the same
characteristic monuments in both places? As far as architectural
ornamentation and monuments are concerned, no two sets of ruins could be
further apart. At Copan we find a uniform type in costume and feature.
There is not a single sign of a warrior or the feathered headdress
common in all the monuments of Yucatan. The battle scenes characteristic
of Mayan carvings are entirely lacking. But what of Chichen? In all the
carvings there you do not find one that resembles in the least those at
Copan. The features are the features of another race; and there is not a
suggestion of the Copan headdress, but all the figures wear the
befeathered American-Indian type. The scenes in the bas-reliefs and
paintings invariably depict warriors in battle array.


In regard to the monuments themselves, a peculiar feature of the ruins
of Angkor are the gigantic heads without bodies which stand in the
woods, and which have their counterparts in the heads found at Copan,
one of which, according to Stephens, measures about six feet in height.
The carvings at Copan reached a height of elaboration and nicety of
execution such as has obviously never been reached elsewhere in Central
America. Wonderful as the carvings at Chichen, and Palenque even, are,
they are not nearly so artistically wonderful as those at Copan. Yet if
we are to believe tradition, Chichen of to-day was built on the return
of the Itzas after they had founded Copan. To our mind the only way to
explain the peculiar and intricate art of Copan is to assume that it was
the first settlement or one of the first settlements of the invading
builders, and thus that it is where we have their art in its purest and
most unadulterated form. There is sound reason to think that most of the
carvings in the ruins of Central America were done by the hands of
American Indians. There is no room for such a belief as to Copan and
Quirigua. No American Indians could have carved the stelae there, if
their general work is to be taken as a standard of the excellence they
attained. No; the invaders carved and built Copan themselves, and
probably they were watched at their work by the neighbouring Indians who
crowded in to see the new wonder and learn the art.

What the shapes of the buildings at Copan and Quirigua were it is
impossible to say. But the ground plan of the former at least can be
fairly accurately traced, and it affords valuable evidence of our
theory. According to Stephens, the main ruins consist of an oblong
enclosure 624 feet long and some 500 feet broad. The river wall of sixty
to ninety feet in height is of cut stones. The other three sides of this
enclosure consist of ranges of steps and pyramidal structures. Near the
south-west corner he found a recess once occupied by a colossal figure
and beyond traces of a principal gateway, while other gateways existed
on the other sides. Of the Buddhist ruins of Brambanan, Java, Crawfurd
(_Hist. Indian Archipelago_, p. 196) writes: "They occupy an area, which
is an oblong square, of 600 English feet long and 550 broad. They
consist of four rows of small temples, enclosing in the centre a greater
one, whose height is 60 feet. The temples are pyramidal buildings, all
of the same character, covered by a profusion of sculpture and
consisting of large blocks of hewn stone. To the whole group of temples
there are four entrances facing the cardinal points of the compass, and
each guarded by two gigantic figures." Such an identity of ground plan
is surely most suggestive.

It is but in perfect consonance with the age which we have assigned to
Copan and Quirigua that their edifices should have fallen to pieces.
That they had fallen at the time of the Conquest is clear from the
letter of Diego Garcia de Palacio, a member of the Audiencia de
Guatemala, addressed to Philip II. of Spain on March 8, 1576. It runs:
"On the road to the city of San Pedro, in the first town within the
province of Honduras, called Copan, are certain ruins and vestiges of a
great population and of superb edifices of splendour as it would appear
they never could have been built by the natives of that province." From
this it would seem that not a building was intact at Copan in the
sixteenth century. To-day the remains are crumbling heaps of pyramids and
terraces overgrown by luxuriant vegetation. All that remains intact are
the monolithic stelae and altars which will last for ever, though their
carvings will yield to time.

Wherever other cities have been spoken of by historians, they lead us to
infer that at the time of the Conquest the buildings were still intact.
It is a truism to say that the most recently built are the best
preserved; but students of Mayan archæology have betrayed an
extraordinary gift for overlooking the obvious. Chichen, for instance,
is still in a good state of preservation, perhaps the best of all
Yucatecan cities, for the simple reason that it was one of the most
recently built, and for no other reason whatever. Mr. A. P. Maudslay,
who has spent more time than any one else on a study of Copan and
Quirigua, assigns to them the position of the earliest of all ruined
cities of Central America. This judgment he no doubt based upon their
decayed condition. But neither Mr. Maudslay nor any one else has
explained why the art of carving had reached such a high stage at such
an early date; and all have overlooked, or shut their eyes to, the
undoubted fact that the carvings of the finest of the well-preserved
cities, such as Chichen, are in merit behind and not in advance of those
of Copan and Quirigua. To us it appears there is but one explanation of
this fact, and that is the one which we have suggested.

For these reasons we venture to urge that Copan and Quirigua were
practically contemporaneous with the advent of the builders from
Indo-China and Java, namely, some time during the eighth century. How
the art of building spread from Copan and Quirigua it is of course
impossible to say. It can never be known whether the Eastern immigrants,
after building these two cities and possibly others undiscovered near at
hand, advanced further into the country, teaching the natives their arts
and crafts, and perhaps indoctrinating them with some of their religious
tenets and ritual; or whether they were visited by interested Mayan
chiefs who learnt something of building on the spot. Possibly, too, they
may have been attacked and some of them captured and taken captive to
Mayan cities, and forced to superintend building operations there. But
it is most probable that they did advance further into the country. Once
they had learnt something of the language, there would be few or no
difficulties for them in making friends with the Mayan peoples around.

If our theory is right, we ought to find a chain of towns marking their
progress, or the progress of their art, over the country. This is just
what we do find in the group of ruins on the Usumacinta River of which
we have already given a short account. The first of these is the city of
Piedras Negras, the nearest large city to Copan. Here the characteristic
Orientalism is already on the wane. The carvings of the buildings are
not so strikingly characteristic of the East as are those at Copan.
These have given place to carvings more in keeping with native ideas. It
is no longer the city of the "builders," but a city the building of
which is superintended by them. Yet one would expect some Oriental
features to creep in; and this expectation is fulfilled. The figure
found there by Herr Teobert Maler, and already mentioned by us on p.
271, is as near a replica of the Buddhist statues of the East as one
could expect a people to remember after they had spent several years in
a new country. Its costume, its posture, its features, and its whole
attitude take one to the East. Indeed the only way of explaining the
statue is to believe that its sculptors came from Buddhist lands. Close
at hand, at the neighbouring ruins of Yaxchilan, is the structure which
we have described on p. 272, and which in the same way can only be
explained by looking towards the East for its artificers. This tower
with the great staring face built into it is almost a replica of the
towers of Angkor, solid pieces of masonry with faces carved upon them.
The only difference between them and that of Yaxchilan is that they are
cut from solid stone while that of the latter is stucco. Whether it is
carved in stone under the stucco we cannot say. We believe that this
monument found at Yaxchilan is the only one of its kind so far
discovered in Central America.

Following the imaginary line of advance of the Eastern builders, we find
the proofs of our theory accumulating. At Menché we have another city,
to which M. Charnay attempted to give the name of "Lorillard." Here he
and Mr. Maudslay (who was the discoverer of the place) appear to have
found little which could be regarded as a trace of the Copan builders.
Possibly the explanation is that, not attempting to trace the building
civilisation from Copan as a starting place, they overlooked much
valuable evidence; or possibly Menché was built at a much later date
when the Oriental ideas had almost entirely vanished in favour of native

But at Palenque, the next big city, we again find traces of the East.
While the smaller buildings are strikingly like those in ruins at
Préa-Khane and elsewhere in Cambodia, the so-called "Palace" has often
been said, as we mentioned in our last chapter, to be almost a replica
in arrangement and design of Boro Budor. It may very well be that some
of the very men who had assisted in the earlier building operations of
Boro Budor were the architects of the building at Palenque. Such
differences as occur between the two are easily explained. In the
seventh century the statues of Buddha which now adorn the terraces of
this Javanese Mecca did not exist. Only the roughest plan of the present
Boro Budor was laid down and worked on in those early days, and thus the
Palenque Palace is a reproduction of what Boro Budor was centuries
before its final completion.

But even with these distinctions the two ruins are closely akin. The
two-storeyed tower on the roof of Boro Budor has its exact counterpart
in the Palenque tower save that the former has a dome-shaped roof while
the latter is flat. But it may not always have been so. In describing
it, we called attention to the curious fact that the tower has a
stairway which ends abruptly against this flat roof. Is it not possible
that the stairway once led into a dome-shaped roof which either fell or
was actually demolished and replaced by the flat one, which renders the
stairway so futile?[13] At Palenque, too, we first find what looks like
a reproduction of the "lion seat" which is so characteristic of many of
the early Buddhist statues. In one of the temples at Palenque is the
carving of a couch which is almost a replica of those found in Buddhist
temples. Another noteworthy feature is the ornamental disc or amulet
hanging on the breast of the deity which would appear to be exactly like
that on the ancient Buddhist figures and the priestly badge of office
worn in Siam and Burma to-day. It is a curious fact that according to P.
Schellhas (Bureau of American Ethnology, _Bulletin 28_: Washington,
1904) this badge never figures in the Mexican manuscripts, and thus may
be presumed to have never been adopted by the Aztecs but to have been in
vogue only among the Mayans who came into direct contact with the
Oriental invaders.

Probably Piedras Negras, Yaxchilan and Palenque represent, together with
some undiscovered ruins, a period of about half a century immediately
succeeding the founding of Copan and Quirigua. During this period it may
be taken for granted that many of the older immigrants had died and the
remnant would be old men. It is very doubtful if in half a century the
strangers would have penetrated far into Yucatan or reached the plateau
of Mexico. Their activities would have been centred around the Palenque
district, and the decayed condition of this latter city and the
neighbouring ruins of Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras would without doubt
seem to definitely place them in this period. Palenque, we would
suggest, was the last large city built or designed by these peoples.

Thus far we have the most marked traces of Orientalism. Copan was
probably an exact counterpart of the early cities of Cambodia and
Ceylon, as Palenque would seem to be a replica of seventh-century Boro
Budor. With the practical extinction of the foreign builders the art
would take upon itself, in the matter of decoration, a purely native
character. Many ornamental ideas would, however, recommend themselves to
the caciques, as, for instance, the lion seat, which, changed to
represent the Central American jaguar, an animal probably held in
veneration, would figure in the carvings. It is easy to imagine how the
building art spread from Palenque. There would probably be two lines of
advance: one through Chiapas into the Zapotec country and so on to the
tableland of Mexico; and one up to Honduras and so to Yucatan. By the
ninth century it would have reached Chichen Itza on the one hand and
possibly spread as far north as the city of Tula in Mexico.

From the earliest times Chichen must have been one of the most populous
centres in Yucatan. The water problem is even to-day the greatest social
and economic factor in the Peninsula; and the existence of two huge
natural reservoirs such as the cenotes at Chichen must have meant an
importance for the spot from the remotest times. When building was
introduced into the country the cacique of Chichen probably ranked high
among the chiefs, and he would be sure to hear early of the marvellous
buildings of stone that were being erected at Copan. Probably he might
make a journey thither, while the builders of Copan were still living.
Possibly he might invite some of them to Chichen to instruct his people
in the art.

Be this as it may, there would seem to be at least two distinct ages
represented in the ruins of Chichen. The buildings still standing belong
to a later period than those which crowned the now ruined mounds to the
east and the south-east of the Castillo. These latter represent the old
Chichen, built probably within a century of the arrival of the builders.
They show signs of having gone to pieces through natural decay rather
than having been demolished by man, as in war. On excavation of the
mounds, the walls and pillars of these buildings prove to be in fair
preservation. With scarcely an exception, it would seem that the fall of
the roof has been the real cause of the destruction of each edifice. The
roofs in Mayan buildings are always the weakest spot. Buildings which
have been destroyed by a conquering people generally bear ample traces
of such destruction. In the same way, buildings which have fallen
through a natural process of decay demonstrate this fact by the state of
their ruin. The buildings that stood on the mounds at Chichen have
fallen before the hand of Time. If a conquering tribe had taken Chichen
from the Itzas they would not have destroyed their buildings, but would
have used them as did the Spaniards under Montejo. It was no case of
modern artillery, when the buildings would naturally fall or be damaged
in the conflict. The most destructive weapon the Indians had was the
spear of hardened wood or tipped with flint, and to attempt to destroy
buildings as solid as those of Chichen with such implements would be
about as great a task as an attempt to cut a full-sized croquet lawn
with a pair of nail scissors. For these reasons we venture to date the
oldest buildings at Chichen about the ninth century, and we believe that
our estimate would be corroborated by any expert architect.

The later buildings are of far more recent date; but perhaps here it
would be well to describe the mode of building and thus explain our
reasons for modernising Chichen. To be technical, the first part to
examine in a building is its foundations. The ruins of Yucatan appear to
lack nothing of solidity in this matter. Usually they are founded on
truncated pyramids which when intact would appear to be cut from solid
rock. They are however not built, like the pyramids of Egypt, of solid
blocks of stone, but are simply faced with stone slabs only a few inches
thick. Beneath these the pyramid is formed of loose building rubble and
earth. The Chichen Castillo is a good example of Mayan building methods.
The limestone slabs forming the face of the pyramid are less than a foot
thick. Beneath them is loose rubble. Thus should one of these facing
slabs work out of place, when the wet season came the rain would get in
behind the slabs and quickly move the ones below out of their positions.
The earth and rubble would be washed away in the wet season and crumbled
away in the hot season, until in a few years there would be a perfect
avalanche of these slabs from the top, falling, for lack of support,
like a pack of cards. The stairway at the Castillo is formed of blocks
of stone let but a short way into the pyramids. The consequence is that
not one of the four stairways as built by the Indians could be ascended
to-day unless you were an Alpine climber willing to risk broken limbs.

All the other buildings at Chichen illustrate the same careless methods
of construction.

The Nunnery was built, as we have stated on page 101, at different
periods or else the original design was added to. On the north side is a
hole that has been made in the structure by a former owner of the
Chichen hacienda. This hole shows that the building is of the same
material as the Castillo, but built in a different way. Being
perpendicular it was impossible to face it, as was the Castillo, after
the rubble had been put in position. The walls must have been built
first and the inside filled in afterwards. That this was the case is
shown by the fact that the wall is separate and not faced on to the
rubble in any way. The fallen south-west corner in like manner shows how
the addition to the building was made. A wall was built out the desired
distance from the main structure and the space between the two filled up
with rubble and earth. It will be obvious to every reader that this
mode of building was a weak one. The heavy weight of loose rubble and
earth enclosed in a wall between two and three feet thick was not a very
substantial foundation for a heavy building. Naturally the tendency
would be for the walls to bulge and crack, spelling ruin to the whole

But now let us turn from the foundations to the buildings themselves.
Mr. Henry C. Mercer, in his book _Hill Caves of Yucatan_ (Philadelphia,
1896), is very outspoken on this subject. On p. 95 he says, "The more we
examined the walls the more we wondered not so much at their antiquity
as at the fact that they had not already crumbled to the ground.... A
facing of blocks shaped like the letter V pushed mosaic-fashion into a
central pudding-like concrete of stone and mortar was a weak form of
construction. Neither were the face stones interlocked systematically so
as to bind the joints. Everything was slipping out of place. No wonder
there were fresh cracks in the walls, that whole façades tumbled, and
that overseers (of haciendas) had spoken of structures that had lost
their identity in twenty years." Mr. Mercer is right. When one considers
the hopelessly slipshod manner of their building, one is obliged to
admit that the wonder is that all the Mayan palaces and temples have not
already crumbled to the ground.

There was only one method of building in Yucatan, and it is difficult to
say how this was carried out. The walls average about two feet three
inches in thickness and were made up as follows. Ten inches of stone on
the outside, about seven to eight on the inside, and the space
intervening between these two surfaces is filled with a mixture of
mortar and rubble. The outer surface wall was generally formed of solid
square or oblong stones of various sizes. No care was taken to "bind"
them one with the other as in the Egyptian and modern buildings. We
often noticed the joins of the stones coming directly one above the
other for as many as three or four layers, the result generally being a
large gaping crack where the wall had bulged at this weak spot.

Another weak point in these outer walls is the fact that the crevices
between the two layers of stone are often filled up with stone chips. As
often as not these were wedge-shaped and had been driven into the mortar
between the layer and then smoothed off level with the face of the
building. As the mortar dried and the building "settled," these chip
wedges tended to loosen, and after a series of rainy seasons ended by
falling out altogether. Some of the better-placed ones are still in
position, though these may have been added only a few years before the
coming of the Spaniards, and, as the buildings had then quite "settled,"
have retained their position to the present day. But such a method is
obviously a weak spot in building.

Weaker still is the method employed in the building of the inner wall.
Most of the stones are pyramidal or V-shaped, as Mr. Mercer calls them.
They are in fact wedge-shaped pieces of stone as seen in the cut on p.
264, embedded in the mortar and rubble of the interior of the wall, the
thick end of the wedge forming a flat surface for the wall. Here again,
as the wall subsided after the building was finished, these were pushed
out of place or loosened by the weight above them. Once this took place
there was no hope for any building. A block that had been pushed out
generally meant the loosening of the stones around, and in time the
whole façade would fall. But often over the face of the stones was put a
thick layer of plaster which is in many cases still in position,
speaking well for its durability. This plaster, as often as not two or
three inches thick, kept the stone in position. The same slipshod
methods are seen in the ornamentation of the building. The small
colonnade at Labna is an example in point. The columns were not embedded
in the wall at the top or bottom, but, half rounded, were stuck on to
this concrete interior without the least solid stone masonry as support.

The common type of roof is flat, the only exceptions being those which
have superstructures rising in the centre or front for purely ornamental
purpose. The cut on p. 264 gives a section in which the roof is
portrayed. The outer wall is carried up with its usual average thickness
to the top of the building. The interior is the regular type of arch,
also shown in the illustration, formed by blocks of stones placed one
above the other in such a way as to appear like about ten inverted
steps. To add a better finish to the interior after these were in
position, they were trimmed off evenly, making a flat sloping surface
which was afterwards plastered and painted. The arch did not come to a
point. Instead, across its top a slab was laid, as our illustration
shows. Between the outer side of this arch and the inner side of the
perpendicular outer wall of the building the space was filled up with
the same concrete rubble as was used between the walls, making a level
roof which in some cities we found had been cemented over. The result
of this weight of loose stone pressing on the sides of the arch was that
as soon as the inner wall of the arch became weak the whole roof fell in
and filled up the building. This is what has happened in the ruins of
old Chichen. The walls are found amid the débris of fallen roofs. This
is what is happening to-day in the other buildings in Chichen and
elsewhere in the Peninsula; and this is what will happen until all these
ancient structures have become roofless ruins. And that time is not far
off. Old Chichen has fallen. The Chichen standing to-day is fast falling
to pieces. Uxmal has no great lease of life before it, and the buildings
of Labna, Kabah, and Sayil are tottering.

Lastly, we would say something of the building of doorways in these
cities. The lintels of the doors are almost invariably formed of the
wood of the Central American sapota tree (_Achras sapota_). The wood is
very hard, durable, and heavy, and in a dry climate would last
practically for ever. But the climate of Yucatan can scarcely be termed
dry; for the wet season averages five months. Despite this fact we find
those sapota beams at Chichen, which have not been exposed to the
weather, in fairly good preservation. The decay of one which was exposed
has caused the falling of a room in the Castillo on the north side; and
this has also taken place in the room on the west side of the House of
Tigers. Possibly this was the cause of the falling of the front of the
temple at the north end of the Tennis Court. Chichen stands on high
ground compared with Uxmal, where scarcely a lintel can be found in
position to-day, though Uxmal is not older than Chichen. At Labna and
Kabah again are lintels still in good preservation, owing to those
cities being built on the sierras. This question of the condition of the
lintels, even in the most favourable situations, is very suggestive in
regard to the dates to be assigned to the majority of the ruins. If the
thousand odd years ascribed to them by enthusiasts really represented
their age, there would not be a single lintel found anywhere.

When to the slipshod methods of building one must add the fact that the
climate is a trying one for any style of architecture and that the
friability of the limestone used is excessive, one realises that no very
great date can be assigned to the ruins still standing. To date even
approximately each city is almost impossible. The ruins of many of them
point to several dates for each. Some buildings are intact; others are
falling; while some are mere crumbling heaps. No doubt none of the
larger cities were built all at once. They represented years of labour.
For example the Palace at Sayil might have taken a score of years. In
most cities the first building attempted was probably a temple. Possibly
a century might have elapsed before a second temple or a palace was put
up, and thus to-day you naturally have mere heaps of stone close to
buildings still intact.

In most places we were able to determine the relative ages of the
buildings. On many sites there were traces of the earliest erections
marked by fallen mounds. There was often a middle period between these
and that represented by the buildings still standing. At Chichen there
were, as we have said, two distinct periods, but these were obviously
far apart in date. Those of the first period were probably in building
within a century of the arrival of the foreign architects; and fell
probably at or about the time the second set of buildings were put up.
Structures built in the manner of those standing at Chichen to-day could
not by any possibility remain intact in a climate like Yucatan's, if
indeed anywhere, for a period longer than about six hundred years. Thus,
if they were built about the eighth or ninth century they would be far
advanced in ruin at the Conquest.

After a most careful survey, we think that the ruins of Chichen standing
to-day were built at or about the fall of Mayapan (1426 or 1462). There
was no doubt a great recrudescence of building throughout Yucatan after
this event. History affords many examples of the fact that a great
victory is celebrated by the conquerors, on their return to their
centres, setting up temples and palaces commemorative of their success.
The dissensions and intrigues leading up to the overthrow of the
powerful cacique of Mayapan had probably for some years before that
event checked building enterprise throughout the Peninsula. At the
conclusion of the war an impulse to city-beautifying was experienced.
Probably the next greatest chief of Yucatan, after the vanquished lord
of Mayapan, was the cacique of the Itzas of Chichen, and on the success
of the confederation, of which it may be presumed he was an important
member, he built himself a new city on the site of his already decaying
one. At about the same time the group of cities of the south, Uxmal,
Kabah, Labna and Sayil, were restored or rebuilt. The building zeal
during the century previous to the Conquest seems to have reached a high
pitch. The outlying ruins in Yucatan such as El Meco, Tuloom, those on
Isla de Mujeres, and those which we discovered on the islands of Cozumel
and Cancun, represented an outer ring of Mayan civilisation. Their
builders had evidently never learnt the art of the finest carving. The
ruins are peculiarly devoid of ornamentation, and the whole style is
uncouth and suggests crudity. In a like manner a rough knowledge of
building spread far into the south. Thus to-day, between big ruined
centres such as Copan, Piedras Negras, and Palenque, we find smaller
towns some of the buildings of which are still intact.

What happened in Mexico? The knowledge of building had spread over the
whole of the plateau within the few centuries succeeding the founding of
Copan. There would only be the one period, the one wave of building
which would wash into Mexico before news of the wonderful art reached
the ears of the ever-warlike Aztecs, to whom such accounts would suggest
much wealth and a country worth pillaging. They may have found the
wealth of Mexico in its then undeveloped state disappointing, but they
evidently quickly grasped the advantage stone houses had over skin
wigwams always needing repair and always draughty. Conquering the Mayans
and christening them Toltecs, they set them to work to build cities.
Aztec deities were, for the most part, substituted for the Mayan gods.
Such blood-loving gods as Huitzilopochtli, in whose honour the
historians assert tens of thousands of human beings were sacrificed,
were purely of Aztec origin. The serpent-worship so dear to the Aztecs'
forefathers, the Shoshonees, was much more in evidence than it had ever
been among the Mayans. Very speedily the influence of the warlike Aztecs
spread over the country southward until, as some historians say, they
reached Mayapan in Yucatan. Certainty they must have reached Honduras,
where Dr. Gann, British Commissioner at Corosal, told us he had found
distinct traces of Aztec culture. But this was at a period not many
years before the coming of the Spaniards. It may even have been so late
that Cortes, who was destined to be the conqueror of these conquering
upstarts, the Aztecs, had already heard of wonderful Yucatan, which had
been termed "Isla Rica," and which, a few years later, formed the
stepping-stone to his complete, if inglorious, conquest of Mexico.

Summarising, then, the arguments of this chapter, we would venture to
say that the building civilisation of Central America flourished between
the eighth century and the coming of the Spaniards in 1517. The sequence
of cities, as near as can be judged, would be as follows:

1. Copan and Quirigua, the first, or among the first, erected during the
eighth century.

2. Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan, with possibly some undiscovered, follow
closely in date.

3. The ruins of Palenque, probably contemporaneous with the
last-mentioned groups, was a city from the earliest building period, but
its palace was restored or rebuilt at a much later date.

4. The mounds of fallen débris found throughout Yucatan represent the
first buildings in that country, and date from about the ninth to the
eleventh century.

5. Those buildings that have more recently fallen represent the middle
age of the building civilisation, dating from the twelfth to the
fourteenth centuries.

6. Those buildings standing to-day belong to the latter day period, and
date from the beginning of the fifteenth century until the coming of the
Spaniards in 1517.


[13] It might be worth while here to note that Stephens
declared he found at Copan the remains of two circular towers with



Throughout that part of Central America which from time immemorial has
been inhabited by the Mayans, in their ruined cities, on the stelae, on
the door-posts, on the wooden and stone lintels, on altar-slabs, and on
special tablets are hieroglyphics. Wherever the Mayan Linguistic Stock
is found, in Yucatan, in Guatemala, in Chiapas, in Tabasco, and in
Honduras we find them, the only exception being among the Huastecas, the
Mayan tribe living on the Panuco River, Mexico. Considering the extent
of the Mayan ruins, these hieroglyphics are few in number; but the
Spanish vandals are known to have burnt countless manuscripts written on
bark[14] and leaf. And thus, if the carved inscriptions are sparse,
there is good ground for believing that the art of writing was practised
for some centuries before the Conquest. Four manuscripts only survive,
and these we describe later. The hieroglyphics, whether carved or
written, and no matter what their position or what the material upon
which they are inscribed, are invariably of the same nature, though it
is noticeable that those on some monuments are finer cut, more
intricate, and display a higher art than others.

In Mexico writing never reached such a high degree of perfection as in
Yucatan and the other southern territories of the Mayan tribes. Thus it
would seem that at the time of the Aztec invasion the Mayans of the
Mexican plateau were only acquainted with the merest outline of the art
which their kinsmen of the south had so far perfected. This is entirely
consonant with the theories we have earlier advanced as to the
comparatively crude stage of civilisation to which the Mexican Mayans,
the Toltecs of the Aztec traditions, had attained at the coming of the
warlike northern tribes. In most cases the Mexican writings are
pictographic rather than hieroglyphic, though Mayan glyphs do occur. The
best collection of these pictographs is that made by Alexander von
Humboldt and presented by him to the Royal Library of Berlin in January,
1806. Some of these are described in his _Vues des Cordillères et
Monuments des Peuples indigènes de l'Amérique_; while others are
reproduced in Lord Kingsborough's _Antiquities of Mexico_. Up to the
present all efforts to find an undeniable "key" to the decipherment of
the Mayan hieroglyphics have failed. The most resolute and intelligent
work has been done by Americans and Germans. Among the former the most
famous are Professor Cyrus W. Thomas, T. Goodman, S. Holden, and in past
years the late Dr. D. G. Brinton. Among the latter those most prominent
are Professors E. Forstemann, Eduard Seler, and Paul Schellhas. France
has been represented by Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, Professor Leon de
Rosny, Count de Charencey, and M. A. Pousse; while England, alas! has
been practically unrepresented in this important work, for Mr. A. P.
Maudslay, the only British student in this field, has chiefly devoted
himself to photographing rather than attempting to decipher the glyphs.

Much might reasonably have been expected from the labours of all these
scholars, but practically nothing has resulted but a series of theories,
over the exact value and application of which there is endless
bickering. Attempts have been made from time to time to compose an
alphabet by which the glyphs could be read phonetically. The first great
stir in this direction was made by Abbé de Bourbourg in 1864, when he
announced that he had discovered a year before in Madrid a manuscript
entitled, _Relación de las Cosas de Yucatan_, by Diego de Landa, Bishop
of Merida from 1573 to 1579. In this manuscript was included an alphabet
of the Mayan glyphs with their equivalents in Spanish. For the moment
this "find" was regarded as a Central American "Rosetta Stone," and
every one believed the glyphs would offer no further difficulties. But
the archæological world was doomed to disappointment, for on an attempt
being made to use the alphabet, it broke down and was declared by all to
be an invention of Landa. But the Abbé did not give it up; and, assisted
by Leon de Rosny, he defined twenty-nine letters with numerous
variants, and published his report in 1869 in the introduction to the
_Codex Troano_; while the result of de Rosny's labours were printed in
his _Essai sur le Déchiffrement de l'Écriture hiératique de l'Amérique
Centrale_ in 1876.

The next "alphabet" was that propounded in _The Scientific American_ for
January, 1885, by Dr. Le Plongeon, who, in an article entitled "Ancient
Maya Hieratic Alphabet according to Mural Inscription," declared it to
contain twenty-three letters with the usual numerous variants. But this,
like Landa's, was strangled almost at its birth by remorseless scholars.
Next came forward Dr. Hilborne T. Cresson, who at meetings of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1892 and 1894,
advanced the theory that the characters were purely phonetic; but his
untimely death cut short his researches. Professor Cyrus W. Thomas, in a
paper in _The American Anthropologist_ for July, 1893, entitled "Are the
Maya Hieroglyphics Phonetic?" rather follows Cresson, but in recent
years has reconsidered this view and now would seem to hold that some,
at least, are ideographs.

Thus there may be said to be the two schools of decipherers: those who
believe the Mayan writing to be phonetic and those who hold it to be
ideographic. For the latter stand the German school (Forstemann, Seler
and Schellhas); for the former the Abbé, de Rosny and de Charencey. The
American students have been for the most part willing to follow the lead
of Cyrus Thomas and declare it to be a mixture of phonetics and
ideographs. After years of careful study of the glyphs Professor
Forstemann has come to the general conclusion that they are largely
composed of numerals made up of astronomical ideographs. He was the
first to discover what are now generally accepted as the various numeral
signs. His first achievement was his alleged identification of one of
the glyphs with our nought in April, 1885. From this start he went
slowly up the numeral scale until he asserted he had deciphered the
signs for the numbers up to twenty. These are now generally accepted as
correct and are composed as shown on opposite page. Thus it would seem,
if Professor Forstemann is right, that the highest number to which they
counted by means of these dots and dashes was 19. No greater number than
this has ever been found in any of the codices or on the monuments.
Assuming this as true, it is obvious that the number 20 must be looked
for in a new form.


Professor Forstemann's idea is that the 20 glyph changed according to
its meaning and surroundings. In some cases it was represented [Symbol];
while in others [Symbol] or its variant [Symbol]. He holds that 20 was
the highest number in use among the Mayans. This he tries to show was
natural enough, for, writing in _The Bureau of American Ethnology
Bulletin 28_, p. 499, he says: "Nature suggested this ... because these
they could count on their fingers and toes, in four divisions of five
each." From the early historians we learn that the Mayan month consisted
of twenty days (_kin_), which was known as one _chuen_ (month). Any
number over twenty was thus known as one _chuen_ so many _kin_, or one
month so many days. The Mayan year was composed of eighteen months,
forming a period of 360 days known as an _ahau_. The month-names were
(1) _Pop_, (2) _Uo_, (3) _Zip_, (4) _Zes_, (5) _Zeec_, (6) _Xul_, (7)
_Zo-yaxkin_, (8) _Mol_, (9) _Chen_, (10) _Yaax_, (11) _Zac_, (12) _Ceh_,
(13) _Mac_, (14) _Kankin_, (15) _Moan_, (16) _Pax_, (17) _Kayab_, (18)
_Cunku_. The numbering of the years, too, was never carried beyond
twenty, when it became known as a _katun_.[15] Thus the following table
of time has been worked out:

    20 kin (days) = 1 chuen (month).
    18 chuen.. = 1 ahau (year) 360 days.
    20 ahaus.. = 1 katun (20 years or 7,200 days).
    20 katuns.. = 1 cycle (400 years or 144,000 days).
    13 cycles.. = 1 great cycle (5,200 years or 1,872,000
    73 great cycles = 1 era.

It will be noticed that the Mayan year fell short of the Solar Year by
five days five hours 48 minutes 49·7 seconds. This was made up by adding
five days to the completion of each year, and these are known as
"intercalary" days, thus making a year of 365 days, which the Mayans
called _haar_. But although the Mayans knew how to count up to twenty,
they did not always use this as a time-count. The year was divided up
into weeks of 13 days, which were arranged irrespective of the twenty
day-names, which were as follows: (1) _Kan_, (2) _Chicchan_, (3) _Cimi_,
(4) _Manik_, (5) _Lamat_, (6) _Muluc_, (7) _Oc_, (8) _Chuen_, (9) _Eb_,
(10) _Ben_, (11) _Ix_, (12) _Min_, (13) _Cib_, (14) _Caban_, (15)
_Ezenab_, (16) _Cauac_, (17) _Ahau_, (18) _Imix_, (19) _Ik_, (20)
_Akbal_. Thus it would seem that if the week began with _Kan_, it would
finish with the 13th day _Cib_, and a new week would start with the 14th
month-day _Caban_ as the first day. This cutting up of the year,
irrespective of the months, into "weeks" of thirteen days involved
further difficulties at the end of the year. At the end of an _ahau_
(360 days) there would have been twenty-seven of these 13-day weeks with
an odd nine days. Again, after the "interlacery" days had been added and
the solar year was complete, there would be twenty-eight 13-day weeks
and one odd day.

To further complicate matters these Mayan time-counts disclose yet
another week of five days; but this works in with the 20-day months, the
_ahau_ (360 days), and the solar year accurately, so that it is easier
to understand. From these generally accepted statements we draw up the
following table, showing the days and months as they would appear to
make up the solar year.

    |Names    |P |U |Z |Z |Z |X |Y |M |C |Y |Z |C |M |K |M |P |K |C |N o|
    |of       |o |o |i |e |e |u |a |o |h |a |a |e |a |a |o |a |a |u |u f|
    |Months.  |p |. |p |s |e |l |x |l |e |x |c |h |c |n |a |x |y |n |m  |
    |         |  |  |. |s |c |. |k |. |n |. |. |. |. |k |n |. |a |k |b D|
    |         |  |  |  |. |. |  |i |  |. |  |  |  |  |i |. |  |b |u |e a|
    |         |  |  |  |  |  |  |n |  |  |  |  |  |  |n |  |  |. |. |r y|
    |         |  |  |  |  |  |  |. |  |  |  |  |  |  |. |  |  |  |  |  s|
    |Number of| 1| 2| 3| 4| 5| 6| 7| 8| 9|10|11|12|13|14|15|16|17|18|   |
    |Months.  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |   |
    |NAMES    |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |   |
    |OF DAYS. |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |   |
    |         |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |   |
    |Kan      | 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|  1|
    |Chicchan | 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|  2|
    |Cimi     | 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|  3|
    |Manik    | 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|  4|
    |Lamat    | 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7|  5|
    |Muluc    | 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8|  6|
    |Oc..     | 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9|  7|
    |Chuen    | 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10|  8|
    |Eb..     | 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11|  9|
    |Ben      |10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 10|
    |Ix..     |11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 11|
    |Men      |12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 12|
    |Cib..    |13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 13|
    |Caban    | 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3| 14|
    |Ezenab   | 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4| 15|
    |Cauac    | 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5| 16|
    |Ahau     | 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6| 17|
    |Ymix     | 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 18|
    |Ik..     | 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 19|
    |Akbal    | 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 3|10| 4|11| 5|12| 6|13| 7| 1| 8| 2| 9| 20|
    |                                 |Intercala-    |Kan....    |10|  1|
    |                                 |ted Days to   |Chicchan.. |11|  2|
    |                                 |complete      |Cimi....   |12|  3|
    |                                 |the year      |Manik....  |13|  4|
    |                                 |of 365 days.  |Lamat....  |1 |  5|

We have followed the generally accepted view and begun the year with the
day _Kan_, though some students follow Mr. J. T. Goodman in his belief
that _Ik_ represents the first day. Whoever is right, it is certain that
the year can begin with its first day-name only once every four years.
If a year begins with _Kan_, it must, as shown in our table, inevitably
finish with the day _Lamat_. Thus the following day, the first in the
New Year, would be _Muluc_. In the same way the second year will finish
with _Ben_ and the third year will commence with _Ix_. This will finish
with _Ezenab_ and the new one would commence with _Cauac_ and finish
with _Akbal_, when _Kan_ would again begin the year. In Goodman's theory
these days would change. The beginning days would be _Ik_, _Manik_,
_Eb_, and _Caban_; while the last days of the year would be respectively
_Cimi_, _Chuen_, _Cib_, and _Imix_.

One of the things that the Mexicans seem to have adopted from the Mayans
was the twenty-day period. The double meaning of the days of the two
countries often is seen in the Zapotec country, where it would seem the
knowledge of the Maya Calendar had not entirely died out through the
invasion of the Aztec, "unless," says Dr. Seler, "we ought to accept the
theory that the Zapotecs or their kindred were those among whom the
calendar was invented, and by whom the knowledge of it was originally
communicated to both the Mexicans and the Mayas" (_Bureau of American
Ethnology Report, Bulletin_ 28, p. 274).



1st. [Illustration] _Kan._ D. G. Brinton says this was the word in Maya
to denote polished stone, shell pendant, or bead. It was their medium
for bartering. Seler says it represents an eye, Brasseur de Bourbourg a
tooth, and Schellhas a grain of Indian corn.



_Chicchan._ Brinton thinks this day was called after the Maya _chich
kuck_, "twisted thread," whilst Brasseur thought it to represent a woven
petticoat and Seler a "serpent's skin."

3rd. [Illustration] _Cimi._ Supposed to have its root in _cimil_,
"closed in death."

4th. [Illustration] _Manik._ "A hand in the act of grasping," now spoken
of in Maya as _mach_.

5th. [Illustration]

_Lamat._ Generally supposed to have had its origin in _lamal kin_,

6th. [Illustration] _Muluc._ Having same root as month _Mol_, probably
_molay ik_, "the winds united."

7th. [Illustration]

_Oc._ Brinton says it means "footprints," but Brasseur says the Maya
word _oc_ means "dog."

8th. [Illustration] _Chuen._ Brinton says it was derived from _chi_,
"with fangs," or _chu_, a calabash. Brasseur and Seler say it is a
monkey, Schellhas "a snake." We would say this came from _chi_, "mouth,"
and is to represent a snake's mouth.

9th. [Illustration] _Eb._ In Maya means "ladder," but the glyph is
supposed to represent "an old man."

10th. [Illustration] _Ben._ Brinton suggests the lines across the glyph
to represent a "wooden bridge," Maya _be che_, Seler a mat or straw
roof, and Brasseur "a path," _be_.

11th. [Illustration]

_Ix._ Seler has seen in this the "spotted skin of a jaguar," while
Brinton derives it from _xiix_, "scattered grain-husks."

12th. [Illustration] _Men._

13th. [Illustration] _Cib._

14th. [Illustration] _Caban._ Said by Brinton to mean the "cork-screw
curl" of women.

15th. [Illustration] _Ezenab._ Probably represents the flint sacrificial
knife known by the same name.

16th. [Illustration]

_Canac._ Seler thinks this the sign of the _Moan_ bird.

17th. [Illustration]

_Ahau._ Supposed to be the "conventional drawing of the full face."

18th. [Illustration] _Imix._

19th. [Illustration] _Ik._ Meaning air, breath, soul, or life.

20th. [Illustration] _Akbal._ It is suggested that this has a near
resemblance to _akab_, meaning in Maya, "night."


1st. [Illustration] _Pep._ Brinton says means "mat."

2nd. [Illustration] _No._ Suggested as meaning a "prickly pear" or frog.

3rd. [Illustration] _Zip._

4th. [Illustration] _Zodz._ Brinton says means "bat," and Seler has
later connected it with Maya "Bat God."

5th. [Illustration] _Tec_ or _Tzec_.

6th. [Illustration] _Xul._

7th. [Illustration] _Yaxkin._ In Maya means "new moon or high sun."

8th. [Illustration] _Mol._ Probably derived the same as day name

9th. [Illustration] _Chen._ Means "spring or well."

10th. [Illustration] _Yax._ Known as the "feather sign."

11th. [Illustration] _Zac._ Meaning "white."

12th. [Illustration] _Ceh._ Meaning in Maya, "deer."

13th. [Illustration] _Mac._ The first character is supposed to represent
the lid of a jar known as _mac_ among the Mayas. The second character is
much like the day sign _Kan_, with a "comb"-shaped design underneath.

14th. [Illustration] _Kan kin._ This month name is supposed to mean "the
yellow sun." The first is thought to show the sun sign _Kin_, while the
second sign has been suggested as a breast-bone, a shield, or a dog.

15th. [Illustration] _Moan._ This is thought to have been named after
the crested falcon known to the Mayas as the _Moan_ bird.

16th. [Illustration] _Pax._ Probably from the Maya word _pax-che_,
meaning "drum," which seems to form the first elements of this glyph.

17th. [Illustration] _Kay ab._ According to Landa's alphabet these were
the signs for _a_ or _ak_, but Schellhas thinks they are meant for the

18th. [Illustration] _Cum ku._ Forstemann's explanation of this glyph is
that it represents "two flashes of lightning or the sun's rays striking
on a maize field," but we see nothing for this suggestion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Knowing then that the Mayan year consisted of eighteen 20-day months,
the glyphs to represent these days and months have been looked for, and
it is believed they have been found. On the opposite page these glyphs
are illustrated, namely, the day and month signs. Further, the signs
representing the other time-counts have been looked for and declared
recognised. The first, the year or _ahau_ sign, is supposed to be
represented in a variety of forms, three of which are given on the
opposite page. It is thought to be the same with the _katun_ or 20-year
sign, and the cycle (20 _katuns_) and great cycle (13 cycles) signs,
three of each of which we give on the opposite page. The first three of
this group, namely, the great-cycle signs, if they have been correctly
read, would seem to denote an extraordinary date. According to Goodman's
chronological table, he would have us believe that at Copan, where these
glyphs always head a series of characters on a tablet, they belong to
the 53rd, 54th, and 55th great cycles. From these dates various
subtractions are made into which we have no space to go in detail. In
any case, according to the present mode of reckoning, the glyphs at
Copan and Quirigua bear the highest numbers in the chronological
calendar, and thus those cities must be assumed to be the latest built,
a proposition which, as we pointed out in Chapter XVII., is untenable.

But whether or not this calendar system is really accurate (there are a
great many serious discrepancies) has yet to be proved. In the museums
of America and Germany scholars have striven hard to soundly base their
theories; while others have done yeoman service in the field, and
undergone great hardships in collecting material upon which these
learned men might work. In their enthusiasm the latter have, without
doubt, blundered into deductions which are unjustifiable. They have
detected similarities in glyphs which no other person can detect.

[Illustration: GREAT CYCLE SIGNS

    1 2 3]

[Illustration: CYCLE SIGNS

    4 5 6]

[Illustration: KATUN SIGNS

    7 8 9]

[Illustration: AHAU SIGNS

    10 11 12]

As an example of this we give an illustration from Professor E.
Forstemann's own work. In the _Bureau of American Ethnology Report_
(_Bulletin_ 28, p. 549), after speaking of the _ahau_ and _katun_
glyphs, he says: "Then follows, almost of necessity, B 3 = 144,000 days
[given in our figure 1], as the sign of similar form on the
superscription has led us to conjecture, and as we see it repeated in C
5, F 6, U 2, and V 12."

[Illustration: B 3]

[Illustration: V 12]

We agree with him that, as B 3 comes directly under the initial glyph
and above the signs representing the _ahau_ and _katun_, it is the
144,000 days or cycle sign--that is, of course, always allowing that his
premisses, to which we give no adherence, are correct; and we follow him
when he sees it "repeated" in C 5, F 6, and U 2. There is no doubt that
these three glyphs are variations of B 3; but V 12 is an entirely new
character bearing not the slightest resemblance except in Professor
Forstemann's own imagination. This is but one example of his detecting
likeness where none exists. The last-mentioned sign has its counterpart
or its variants in many portions of the inscription of the Tablet of the
Cross at Palenque with which Professor Forstemann is dealing, and if he
had looked he would, with his superior knowledge of the Maya glyphs,
have found them quite easily.

But what of the other glyphs? Are they simply all calendar signs
interlaced with a few other glyphs appertaining to deities; or are they
records of Mayan history? D. G. Brinton, in his book _A Primer of Mayan
Hieroglyphics_ (Chicago, 1898), says: "We need not search for the facts
of history, the names of the mighty kings or the dates of conquests. We
shall not find them. Chronometry we shall find, but not chronicles;
astronomy with astrological aims; ritual, but no records. Pre-Columbian
history will not be constructed from them. This will be a disappointment
to many, but it is the conclusion towards which tend all the soundest
investigations of recent years."

Is Dr. Brinton right? Are we to find no records of this mysterious
civilisation? Are we to be for ever denied written proof whence the
Mayans came and how they attained their civilisation? It is to be hoped
that his presumption is incorrect, and that these undeciphered glyphs
and those which cannot as yet be regarded as satisfactorily accounted
for as mere chronological data will prove to be the key to this problem
of the New World. Of the glyphs that are alleged to be calendar signs we
have already spoken; their importance can only be shown when their
neighbours have been deciphered, and until that day comes the wise will
withhold their acceptance of the present calendar or astronomical
reading. Searches have been made, searches are being made, but the
students who have worked and who are working have received little
support in their enterprise.

It has been suggested and in some cases proved that many of the glyphs
apart from the calendar signs are astronomical and animal ideographs of
deities. Amongst those which are repeatedly made use of is the chief
beneficent god of the Mayans, _Itzamna_, who was to them what
Quetzalcoatl was to the Mexicans. Tradition relates, according to D. G.
Brinton, that "he came in his magic skiff from the East, across the
waters, and therefore he presided over that quarter of the world
assigned to him." His name meant "the dew or moisture of the morning."
To him all the arts are due. He was the god of their culture, their
arts, their writings on stone monuments and books. His sign is found
throughout the codices, in paintings, and among the glyphs. The tapir
was his principal symbol, and to what does this fact point? Is it not
possible to see in him a culture-god coming from the East? The Buddhists
came from the East; they were the culture-heroes of Central America;
they were the men who taught the building arts and who possibly
introduced the tapir as a deity instead of the elephant of their native
country. Thus may Itzamna have risen the personification of their arts
and crafts after they had died, the elephant cult of Asia being
represented by the tapir.

The other deities were but minor ones compared with Itzamna. They were
_Cuculcan_, _Kin-ich_, the God of the North Star, the Bee-God, the
Bat-God, and _Ghanan_, the God of Earth, growth and fertility; _Ah-Pach_
(God of Death), always depicted in battle scenes with his torch or spear
and flint knife; _Ek Ahau_, the Black God, suggested to have been the
god of the much-cultivated cocoa plant, although his attitude of war
with appendages of shield and spear does not quite harmonise with this
suggestion that he was a god of agriculture. In addition to these
anthropomorphic deities we find animal life represented by the serpent,
the dog, the jaguar, the macaw, deer, armadillo, turtle, monkey, quail,
frog, scorpion, zopilote, pelican, blackbird, and what D. G. Brinton has
called his "fish and oyster sign."

Again, many are reminiscent of domestic life, for example, of weaving,
the spinning whorl, the flint knife (always denoting death or sacrifice
and near the God of Death), and lastly there are those having reference
to sacrificial acts and the priests' devotion by the piercing of their
tongues. Astronomical ideas figure largely too. Primitive peoples always
held the heavens in awe. Their calendar was formed partly by the
lunations of the moon and by the celestial bodies, and naturally we find
their ideographs often portrayed. Landa mentions that the Mayas measured
their time by night, "_Regianse de noche, para conocer la hora, por el
lucero, i las cobrillas i los artilegros, de dia, por media dia._"

There is no doubt the Mayan knowledge of the stars was considerable. The
Pleiades and Orion were watched by them. They called the North Star
_Xaman Ek_ (_Xaman_ north: _Ek_ star). Their astronomers studied the
course of the Milky Way and the sun was figured in the glyphs in various
forms. The much-discussed _Benik_ sign (_Ben_, idea: _ik_, life) had
probably much to do with the sun; but D. G. Brinton believed it to more
particularly represent "strength and deific power," and says of Dr.
Seler, when referring to this glyph, "that he is apt to see gory human
heads everywhere," because Seler thought the glyph represented a head
carried in a sling as a sign of "conquered in war."

But the signs which have been most in dispute are those which D. G.
Brinton has called "Drum Signs." Professor Leon de Rosny thought these
variants of the _ahau_ sign; Professor Cyrus Thomas a heap of stones;
Dr. Phillip J. J. Valentini a censer or brazier; and Dr. Seler a
precious stone. They are always found on the "initial" or cycle glyphs
at Copan, Quirigua, and Palenque. D. G. Brinton is probably correct in
the christening of them; for they are exactly like the drums which the
Indians possessed at the coming of the Spaniards, according to Father
Duran's _Historia de los Indios_, and which are depicted in the ancient
codices. Thus it would seem that these are "Drum Signs" with a
symbolical meaning. Another sign which has been the subject of much
controversy is that which de Rosny and Professor Forstemann are
probably right in calling the "Phallus Sign"; but which Abbé Brasseur de
Bourbourg thought represented a gourd, D. G. Brinton the "_Yax_ or
Feather Ornament," and Seler a tree of some kind. Dr. Schellhas has gone
further and declared it to be the sign "zapote tree," the wood most used
by the Mayans in building.

But the time has not yet come when it is possible to say who is right or
wrong in the naming of these glyphs. Up to the present it is all more or
less surmise based upon the writings of the Spanish historians--such as
Bishop Landa. It is on his work that is based the assumption that the
signs on the monuments refer chiefly to the calendar. It is true they
seem to be mathematically correct, but this could not be otherwise when
the numberings of the dates have been assigned by those who have shown
them to be correct. The alphabet which Landa bequeathed us has been
proved beyond all question to be false. In fact it is obvious that no
alphabet can be formed upon the glyphs, for there are hundreds of signs,
some of which would appear to have many variants. If his key to the
actual writing through his alphabet is incorrect, there is good reason
to doubt his statements as to the calendar signs; and the student ought
not to allow himself to begin where others have finished in these
researches. He should first of all glance back over the ground which is
supposed to have been already covered, and see for himself whether or
not there is actual proof that the calendar signs have been correctly

       *       *       *       *       *

Much might be said on the codices and books that have been left us by
the historians. They belong to two classes and two widely separate
dates. The Codices are the surviving ancient glyphic writings of
pre-Conquest times which escaped the Spanish bonfires, and are of native
paper about ten inches wide and of various lengths, inscribed on both
sides, and folded zigzag-fashion like the oldest Buddhist literature.
The others are the books written in Latin characters after the Conquest
in several towns and villages and known as the "Books of Chilan Balam."

Only four of the former remain, namely the _Codex Peresianus_ in Paris,
receiving its name from the fact that the name "Perez" was written on it
in Latin characters, probably the name of the Spaniard who saved it from
destruction at the Conquest; the _Codex Dresdensis_ in the Museum at
Dresden, from which it gets its name; and the _Codices Troanus_ and
_Cortesianus_ in the Madrid Museum, which are probably two parts of the
same book. It is generally supposed the _Codex Peresianus_ is of Tzental
origin written in Guatemala, the Tzentals being a Guatemalan tribe of
the Maya family. The _Codex Dresdensis_ is thought to have been written
at or near Palenque; the first copy of it to be made public was in Lord
Kingsborough's work on the antiquities of Mexico. The _Codices Troanus_
and _Cortesianus_ are supposed to have been written in Central Yucatan;
and, under the direction of the French Government, Abbé Brasseur de
Bourbourg made many copies in 1869. On them are depicted the same
hieroglyphical characters as one sees on the monuments, allowing of
course for the difference and discrepancies which would occur between
the work on stone and that on paper.

The "Books of the Chilan Balam" are of little value. They are
post-Conquest compilations based on the narrations of Indians of their
history, traditions, and beliefs. Each town or village at one time
probably had its Chilan Balam or record book in which all statements
relative to the village were entered. They were formed at the
instigation of the Spanish priests, who taught the Indians to write them
in Latin characters. The earliest was composed during the latter half of
the sixteenth century, but most were written long after the Conquest
during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and had become much
tainted with the Spanish prejudices. The best collection of these books
was that made by D. G. Brinton from various sources, and which he
describes in his book _The Maya Chronicles_. But, as we have said
before, if they make indifferently trustworthy sources of history, they
offer less help to the deciphering of the hieroglyphics.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now let us turn to the Mayan paintings. The historians tell us--and
there is much reason to believe them--that the buildings of Yucatan were
often painted externally in different colours. Traces of paint can be
found to-day on many of the monuments. But it is not so much with the
painting of the outside of the buildings as the internal mural paintings
that we shall deal. From them much of the past history of the country
can be gathered. The mode of life, the shape of the houses, the dress,
the utensils in use and the food of the Indians are often depicted.
Nearly all the buildings in Yucatan have traces of once having been
adorned by paintings; but the best still in existence are those in the
House of Tigers at Chichen Itza. Although much faded, disfigured and
defaced by the vandalism of the conquerors, they show that the ancient
inhabitants of Yucatan had a good knowledge of pigments and mixed them
so well that to-day, where they exist at all, they are still bright and
well preserved. They have been copied by various people; but probably
the best reproduction of them is in possession of the American
Antiquarian Society of Worcester, Mass.

In them is shown the daily life of the Indians. In one scene we see a
woman seated on a _kanche_, a type of stool still in common use among
the natives to-day. Near by her is her basket of small round
biscuit-like objects which would seem to be tortillas. The _koben_ or
three-stone fireplace, typical of Mayan huts to-day, is just outside the
door, and on it a cooking-bowl is standing in which food is being
prepared. All the women are dressed in the chemise-like garment, the
_huipil_, which is worn to-day, and ear-ornaments adorn their ears;
whilst their long, straight, jet-black hair hangs down over their
shoulders, or in some cases is done up in a knot on the nape of the
neck. There are warriors, too, depicted in battle array in the act of
defending a village, while the women are anxiously watching the result
from the doors of their huts. The warriors are shown with their spears
raised and shields at the defence ready for the oncoming foe. The
figures are very realistic, but the one thing which strikes you above
all else is the lack of proportion. Men and women appear as tall as the
houses in which they live, and which look mere dolls'-houses. We have
spoken of the lack of proportion marking the paintings in the early
Buddhistic temples in an earlier chapter, but this is naturally common
in all countries during the early stages of development of art.

Considering the vandalism to which the paintings have been subject and
the climate, it is clear from the brightness of the paints that the
ancient Mayans had the secret of mixing pigments. Nor was their method
of placing them on the walls to be despised. This was the superimposing
of one colour on another. They would seem to have first of all painted
the entire wall with the colour which was to serve as the background for
the picture. On this the designs were painted, and in cases where more
than one colour was employed in any figure, as was often the case, we
found that it had been covered entirely with the most prevalent colour,
then overlaid with a new pigment until the desired effect had been
obtained. The colours used were yellow, blue, green, and a reddish
brown. If the background was green, the wall would first be entirely
covered with that colour. If a figure of a man or woman was to be
depicted it would be painted in reddish brown (the invariable
skin-colour in the paintings), and the colouring of the apparel would be
placed on the top of this; and in such cases as depicting ornamentation
on the garments, another coating of a different colour would be placed
on the top of that. Thus one commonly finds three or four coatings of
paint overlaid on the base colour.

It is from these paintings that one can trace the weapons used by the
Mayans in the war and chase. The spear or lance is much in evidence; the
short serrated sword of flint, examples of which have been unearthed
among the ruins, is often depicted. The heavy throwing-stones, which
wrought much havoc among the early Spanish adventurers when they
attacked and stormed the Mayan cities, and the short obsidian knife
associated with those sacrificial orgies that often took place after a
victory, are also portrayed. Again, we see shields carried on the
warriors' left arm, on which the colour-token of their chief is shown in
the same way as our knights of old had painted on their shields the arms
of their feudal lords. When in battle array they invariably wear the
thick, quilted cotton vest reaching from their necks to their thighs, so
closely woven as to be proof against the enemy's darts. When not in
battle this is discarded for the more easy-going _uit_ or loin-cloth.
Caciques and priests are dressed more elaborately. We see the heavy
beplumed headdress, the leg ornamentation and sandals far more
elaborate than the thick, plaited, deer-skin, two-thonged foot-covering
of their followers.

Last but perhaps not by any means least in importance among these
paintings is the much-discussed "red hand." We have spoken of its
probable origin on p. 265. We have seen it, as have others, on the ruins
of the mainland; but more, we have found it on the walls buried under
the débris of fallen roofs in the islands. The best examples of it were
found by us at Cozumel in ruins on which probably no other white man
has ever looked. On the ruins of the mainland it is rare, but one ruin
we discovered, described on p. 180, was literally covered with this form
of ornamentation, and here for the first time we realised that the human
hand was not always used. It was not always the impression of an actual
hand, as has been insisted by many, but of something of a roughly
similar shape.


The paintings in all the ruins are fast crumbling away, and to-day a
gentle tap upon the walls will show that the layers of paint are losing
those adhesive qualities which have held them in position for centuries.

How were such arts of writing and painting attained? The latter question
is easily answered. The knowledge of painting in elementary colours has
often been found among the most inartistic peoples; but as we have said
before, the mural paintings of the monuments of Central America are so
similar in design to those of the early Buddhist temples that if we are
to believe a migration to America took place in the early Middle Ages
the suggestion that the emigrants brought the art of painting into
Central America with them is almost irresistible. But it is not so easy
with the glyphs. The paper on which the early codices were written and
the way in which they are folded bear a striking resemblance to the
early manuscripts of the Malay Peninsula, but as yet no counterparts of
the characters which form the hieroglyphics on the monuments of Central
America have been found in any other part of the world.

Most writers would have us believe, as in the case of the architecture,
that it is indigenous to the American continent. It is possible that the
invention of this writing is the work of the indigenes, but we are
inclined to believe that the Mayan hieroglyphics, if they are ever
deciphered, will prove to be a combination writing--partly pictographic
and indigenous and partly of a foreign character. In Java and the
neighbouring islands have been discovered inscriptions in an ancient
form of Sunda writing. These have never been deciphered, and they are in
certain particulars reminiscent of some of the markings on the glyphs.

But it may be that for the foreign element, if there be one, students
would have to look even further east. Archæology is as yet but a new
science. There is much work to be done in the Malay Peninsula and the
Eastern Archipelago before the monuments of Cambodia and Indo-China have
been explained. Archæologically this region has been little touched.
The unsettled condition of the Independent Malay States, the indolence
of the natives, the unhealthiness of the _kampongs_ or villages, and the
hostility of the tribes of the interior as well as the difficulties of
transport have helped to keep the explorer away. But these difficulties
are gradually disappearing, and in the near future some enthusiast who
has the time and money will perhaps turn his attention to this field,
when his name may once and for all become immortal in the annals of
science as the discoverer of the cradle-land of the American Indian
calculiform writing, at the same time linking the Old World for ever
with the New.


[14] Bishop Landa, first bishop of Yucatan, according to the
evidence of a Jesuit chronicler, had everything appertaining to the
Mayan religion, upon which he could lay his hands, destroyed. Five
thousand idols, 13 large and 22 smaller stone altars, 27 manuscripts on
deerskins, and 197 other manuscripts are catalogued as thus perishing.

[15] The word is said to be derived from _kat_, to ask, and
_tun_, stone: _i.e._ the stone which when asked gives account, in
allusion to the fact that at each katun a stone was set up to
memorialize the date.



"O coch--i--nos! Coch--i--n-o-o-s!"

You wake and turn in your hammock. Through the verandah doorway the
breath of morn comes chill to you. The stars twinkle still, and the
orange trees are blots of black shadow in the quiet garden. And then
there comes to you, again and again repeated, the haunting melody of
this cry, the reveille of the hacienda. The Indians are herding the
pigs; but if they called "O pigs! O pigs!" there would be none of the
romance that there is in this long-drawn weird cry "O Cochinos!"

Outside in the yard a hustling crowd of pigs worry round a heap of
pumpkin gourds. In the semi-darkness the bare-legged Indians with scarlet
blankets wrapped round them move to and fro; the boys chasing the pigs
and the fowls, and the men foddering the mules and horses in the corral.
Thus does every hacienda throughout Yucatan awake to its day's work.
While it is still dark the Indian families tumble out of their hammocks,
and the housewife builds a little wood fire in the blackened ring of
stones on the earth floor which serves for kitchen range. The coffee is
boiled, and, crouching round on their hams, the family drink it black
and munch the coarse tortillas of yesterday's baking. Then the boys herd
the "cochinos," and the men, if it is a ranch where cattle are kept,
straggle out into the woods and "round up" the cows, driving them into
the yard to be milked. But this is rare, for there is very little
milking done in Yucatan, partly because as a drink milk is not
appreciated by the Yucatecans, or indeed by the Indians; and partly
because such pasture as exists is of the coarsest kind and the cows are
nearly always dry.

When you have seen one hacienda you have seen them all, allowing of
course for the difference in size. A large rambling, one-storeyed
stuccoed house raised on a small terrace, with a wide arcaded stone
verandah in front, and standing in a huge yard bordered by grey stone
walls, its surface the natural earth and rock, its entrance usually a
pretentious archway, almost ecclesiastical in its pitch and size. Round
the yard cluster the huts of the Indians, the corral for the mules,
stables and what not. Most of these haciendas, at any rate those deep in
the country, have a very shabby and down-at-heel appearance. Between the
pompous gateway the iron gates have sagged off their hinges or are
missing altogether, their place being taken by two hurdles fastened
together by ropes or loops improvised out of lianas. But just around
Merida, where are the haciendas of the richest of the henequen lords,
much has been done of late to turn these farms into lordly
pleasure-houses. Money is no object to the Yucatecan landlord; and his
apathy or want of taste is all that can set limits to the beautifying of
his country seat. At the hacienda of Yaxche, eighteen miles out of the
capital, we saw a good proof of what money can do in the hands of an
intelligent land-owner. One of the greatest difficulties in Yucatan is
the lack of feed. Grass, as we know it, will not grow, and the best that
can be done for the cattle is to provide them with a coarse clover. At
Yaxche two large paddocks had been planted with this, and were watered
by a contrivance which had cost no less than £30,000. Into several large
round galvanised watertowers erected on iron trelliswork standards
thirty feet high, the water is pumped from the limestone wells by steam.
From these large tanks pipes lead out to feed smaller ones running in
parallel rows from one end of the field to the other at distances of
about six yards apart. Every twenty yards along these small pipes a
standard is erected about five feet high, on the top of which is a rose
like that on a gardener's watering-pot. When the water is turned on at
the tanks the pressure attained from its height forces it along the
pipes up through the standards, and a few seconds later the whole field
is being deluged with an artificial rainfall as if from a myriad
fountains. Three times a day the clover crop is thus watered.

By the time the sun is up, the cattle have been tended and the Indians
are off to the milpas or the henequen fields. The description of the
latter we leave to Chapter XXI., where we give an account of the whole
henequen industry. Apart from this comparatively artificial product,
maize is to-day what it has always been for the Peninsula, what it was
to the Mayans four centuries back, the be-all and end-all of Yucatecan
agriculture. The Indian is a poor farmer. He has not moved with the
times. It is true that in many localities he has not had the chance; but
it is also true that he would not take the chance if it offered. The
plough is unknown, and if a benevolent society was formed with the
object of presenting one to each Indian labourer, he would not be able
to use it because of the nature of the soil, which is for the most part
a very thin layer of earth on a rock bed, and also because he never
takes the trouble to properly clear the ground. An Indian-corn field
would give an Essex corn-grower a shock from which his constitution
would never rally.

There are two ways in which the farmer in Yucatan sets about making his
maize-patch. Each or at least every second year a new piece must be
claimed from the dense woodland, for the poorness of the soil does not
allow more than two crops to follow each other. The commonest method is
to first clear the patch by cutting down the trees one season for the
next. After this has been done, the timber is allowed to lie where it
falls and rot during the rainy months. When the dry season comes the
whole fallen timber is set on fire and all but the largest of the trees
are burnt, the charred remains of these lying in all directions year
after year. The second method, apparently the most ancient and that
still used by the present-day independent Indians, is to fire the forest
at the end of the dry season in May just as it stands, cutting down the
large trunks that escape the flames about a yard from their base, and
letting them lie where they fall. In this condition the Indian considers
that his patch is ready. To view it after having been used to English
fields is at once rather a strange and depressing experience. Charred
tree-trunks lie scattered in all directions. Trees-trunks that have been
cut off a yard or so from the ground stand up like the piles of a pier
at a watering place after a heavy gale in which the deck of the pier has
been carried away. Huge boulders and stones of all sizes are scattered
over the soil, making the use of machinery absolutely impossible. But to
the native of Yucatan it seems ready enough, and as soon as there comes
the first heavy rainfall at the opening of the wet season, the Indians
go out to the fields to plant the corn. This is all done by hand, being
dibbled in much the same way as is often seen in the Fen districts of
England, when a cottager has a patch too small to get a corndrill to
work. The rest is "on the lap of the gods," though the Indian has
little reason for anxiety. For the rain is sure to come, and then the
sun baking down on his sodden milpas will bring up, as if by magic, the
long green shoot presently to swell out into a golden yellow crown of
leaf shrouding the cob.

The Indian harvest is about our Christmas time, and the labourers troop
into the milpas, wicker baskets slung on their brown backs, and pick the
cobs, dropping them over their shoulders into the baskets. Milpas are
seldom of any great size, and the harvester usually carries his load
back to the hacienda when he returns thither for his first real meal of
the day, which he takes between ten and eleven. His menu is of the
simplest, monotonously the same from year end to year end; just that
fare upon which his lowlier ancestors toiled in the sun to build pyramid
and temple. Black beans, always black beans; sometimes crushed into a
purple-black pulp, sometimes frizzled in lard, sometimes with a thin
vegetable soup, the stock,--pork, peppers, garlic, and a slice or two of
pumpkin gourd. To this staple dish of frijoles there is very seldom
added any meat save when he has been able to bag a chachalaka on his
tramp to the milpas or a hacienda pig has been killed. Tortillas and
coffee, not always the latter, complete his meal. Before the hour of
noon he is back at his work till about five, when his day's labour is

There is no hardship in all this. It is just the simple life his race
has always lived, and that which the average Mayan always would wish to
live. There would be no hardship if--and it is a large, large IF--the
patient toiler were a free man. The Yucatecans have a cruel proverb,
"_Los Indios no oigan sino por las nalgas_" ("The Indians can hear only
with their backs"). The Spanish half-breeds have taken a race once noble
enough and broken them on the wheel of a tyranny so brutal that the
heart of them is dead. The relations between the two peoples is
ostensibly that of master and servant; but Yucatan is rotten with a foul
slavery--the fouler and blacker because of its hypocrisy and pretence.

The peonage system of Spanish America, as specious and treacherous a
plan as was ever devised for race-degradation, is that by which a farm
labourer is legally bound to work for the land-owner, if in debt to him,
until that debt is paid. Nothing could sound fairer: nothing could lend
itself better to the blackest abuse. In Yucatan every Indian peon is in
debt to his Yucatecan master. Why? Because every Indian is a
spendthrift? Not at all; but because the master's interest is to get him
and keep him in debt. This is done in two ways. The plantation-slave
must buy the necessaries of his humble life at the plantation store,
where care is taken to charge such prices as are beyond his humble
earnings of sixpence a day. Thus he is always in debt to the farm; and
if an Indian is discovered to be scraping together the few dollars he
owes, the books of the hacienda are "cooked,"--yes, deliberately
"cooked,"--and when he presents himself before the magistrate to pay his
debt, say, of twenty dollars (£2) the haciendado can show scored against
him a debt of fifty dollars. The Indian pleads that he does not owe it.
The haciendado-court smiles. The word of an Indian cannot prevail
against the Señor's books, it murmurs sweetly, and back to his
slave-work the miserable peon must go, first to be cruelly flogged to
teach him that freedom is not for such as he, and that struggle as he
may he will never escape the cruel master who under law as at present
administered in Yucatan has as complete a disposal of his body as of one
of the pigs which root around in the hacienda yard.

It is only by a comparison of the law of debt in Yucatan for a white
man, as the Yucatecans love to call themselves, that one can realise how
wickedly unjust all this is, and how deliberate is the conspiracy to
keep the Indian in a bondage which spells fortune to his master. For the
Yucatecan debtor there appears to be no punishment and no means of
compelling him to pay. Here is a case in point. To a store in Merida
comes a Yucatecan who, falsely representing himself as employed by one
of the richest of Meridan merchant-houses, gets a typewriting machine
valued at two hundred and twenty-five dollars, on credit. He goes off
with it, and at once sells it. For thus obtaining money by false
pretences he is not punished, nor can the defrauded shopkeeper recover
his goods or their value except by tedious processes which will cost him
more than he has already lost, even if he wins the day. Now, had this
thief been an Indian, he could have been instantly arrested, his debt
sold by the shopman to any haciendado, and the fellow would have become
a slave for life. Thus is law meted out by the Yucatecan conspirators.

The Yucatecan millionaires are very sensitive on the question of
slavery, and well they may be: for their record is as black as Legree's
in _Uncle Tom's Cabin_. You have but to mention the word "slavery," and
they begin a lot of cringing apologetics as to the comforts of the
Indians' lives, the care taken of them, and the fatherly relations
existing between the haciendado and his slaves. Very _fatherly_ indeed,
as we shall shortly demonstrate! They take just so much care of the
Indians as reasonably prudent men always take of their live stock; so
much and no more.

We have spoken earlier of the recent visit paid to the country by
President Diaz. It was the first time during the whole of his long reign
that the great man had troubled himself about the limestone peninsula
which forms the furthermost eastern part of his dominions, and the
trembling Yucatecans looked to the bolts of the cupboard in which the
family skeleton was hidden, and they were not over-satisfied with those
bolts. They had new locks made and new and thicker doors fixed so that
august presidential ears should not be offended by the rattling of those
most unfortunate bones. With their teeth chattering, they hastened to
put their house in order and sweep and garnish it, for they knew quite
well that the eyes into which they had to throw dust were eyes which
could see further than most eyes. It was all the fault of a snobbish
governor. Many a henequen lord must have cursed the self-importance of
their parvenu chief which had induced in him such discontent with the
Spartan-like simplicity of his rule at Merida that he must needs wish to
entertain presidential guests and bask in the sunshine of the mighty
Diaz's approval. Diaz, they knew very well, cared little or nothing for
Indians _qua_ Indians. But Diaz cares immensely about the fair name of
Mexico, which they knew they had done for years all they could to
besmirch. Would he see the skeleton through the fatal door? If money and
bribery were of any avail, those slave-owners would see to it that their
terrible ruler should be fooled. But they had to calculate on more than
his natural perspicacity. There was much reason to believe that ugly
rumours had reached Mexico City of the slavery rife in Yucatan, and that
the President's visit was not unconnected with these. That skeleton must
be cemented into its cupboard with the cement of millions of dollars if

Well, the President came. Never were there such junketings: night was
turned into day; roadways were garlanded; gargantuan feasts were served.
Lucullus never entertained Caesar with more gorgeous banquets than the
henequen lords of Merida spread before Diaz. Small fortunes were spent
on single meals. One luncheon party cost 50,000 dollars: a dinner cost
60,000, and so on. The official report of the reception reads like a
piece out of the _Arabian Nights_. In their eagerness to keep that
skeleton in its cupboard some of the haciendados actually mortgaged
their estates. One of the most notable of the entertainments provided
was that of a luncheon at a hacienda ninety miles south-east of the city
of Merida. At the station where the President alighted for the drive to
the farm, the roadway was strewn with flowers. Triumphal arches of
flowers and laurels, of henequen, and one built of oranges surmounted by
the national flag, spanned the route. The farm-workers lined the avenue
of nearly two miles to the house, waving flags and strewing the road
with flowers, while a _feu-de-joie_ of signal rockets was fired on his
alighting from his carriage. He then made a tour of the farm. Having
inspected the henequen machinery he (we quote from the official report)
"visited the hospital of the finca, and the large chapel where the
Catholic labourers worshipped; the gardens and the beautiful orchard of
fruit trees; and during his tour of inspection he honoured several
labourers by visiting their huts thatched with palm-leaf and standing in
their own grounds well cultivated by the occupants. More than two
hundred such houses constitute the beautiful village of this hacienda,
which breathes an atmosphere of general happiness. Without doubt a
beautiful spectacle is offered to the visitor to this lovely finca with
its straight roads, its pretty village clustering round the central
building surrounded by gardens of flower and fruit trees."

At the luncheon the President in the course of his speech said:--"Only
can a visitor here realise the energy and perseverance which, continued
through so many years, has resulted in all I have seen. Some writers who
do not know this country, who have not seen, as I have, the labourers,
have declared Yucatan to be disgraced with slavery. Their statements are
the grossest calumny, as is proved by the very faces of the labourers,
by their tranquil happiness. He who is a slave necessarily looks very
different from those labourers I have seen in Yucatan." The prolonged
cheers and measureless enthusiasm evoked by these words (one can
understand how the conspirators chuckled at the success of their efforts
at deception) were agreeably interrupted by the appearance of an old
Indian, who made a speech of welcome in his own language, presenting a
bouquet of wild flowers and a photographic album filled with views of
the hacienda. It is not necessary to quote the fulsome stuff which had
been placed in the mouth of the poor old man by his master. It is simply
a string of meaningless compliments which ends with these words: "We
kiss your hands; we hope that you may live many years for the good of
Mexico and her States, among which is proud to reckon itself the ancient
and indomitable [surely a pathetic adjective under the circumstances]
land of the Mayans." Well may the official report say that "it is only
justice to declare that the preparations of the feast and the
decorations of the finca showed that the proprietor had been anxious to
prepare everything with the most extraordinary magnificence."

This feast was a gigantic fraud, a colossally impertinent fake from
start to finish. Preparations indeed! That is the exact word to describe
the lavish entertainments of Mexico's ruler here and elsewhere in
Yucatan. Tens of thousands of dollars were lavished to guard the
haciendados' secrets. In this particular case the huts of the Indian
labourers which the President visited were "fake" huts. They had been,
every one of them, if not actually built for the occasion, cleaned,
whitewashed, and metamorphosed beyond recognition. They had been
furnished with American bentwood furniture. Every Indian matron had been
given a sewing-machine; every Indian lass had been trimmed out with
finery and in some cases, it is said, actually provided with European
hats. The model village round which the President was escorted was the
fraud of a day; no sooner was his back turned than to the shops of
Merida were returned sewing-machines, furniture, hats and everything,
and the Indians relapsed again into that simplicity of furnitureless
life which they probably cordially preferred.

We are not quoting the "faking" of this village as an example of
hardship dealt out to the Indians, but as a proof of the ludicrous
efforts made by those whose fortunes have been and are being built on
slave labour to hide the truth from General Diaz. As for the poor old
Mayan who addressed him, and as for the deputations of whip-drilled
Indians who were paraded before him to express their untold happiness
and loyalty, they very well knew that they had got to do exactly what
they were told to do. We are not exaggerating when we state that it
would have cost any Indian his life to have even attempted to make
General Diaz aware of the truth. No Indian throughout civilised Yucatan
could have been found to make the attempt. For nothing is sadder than
the lack of all manliness and spirit which characterises the average
Indian workman. It is the story of the Russian moujik over again. There
is no combination or loyalty to each other among the hacienda Indians;
and this is what makes possible what we are about to relate.

If the hardship of the Indians' lot was merely slavery, it might be
argued that there were slender grounds for our indictment. Slavery may
under certain circumstances be far from an evil, where the backward
condition of a race is such as to justify its temporary existence, and
where the slave-owner can be trusted. But the slave-owner can very
seldom be trusted, and he certainly cannot be in Yucatan. It is no
exaggeration to say that the enslavement of the Indians of Yucatan never
has had, never can have, justification. Conceived in an unholy alliance
between the Church and brute force, it has grown with the centuries into
a race-degradation which has as its only objects the increasing of the
millions of the slave-owners and the gratification of their foul lusts.
The social condition of Yucatan to-day represents as infamous a
conspiracy to exploit and prostitute a whole race as the history of the
world affords. Yucatan is governed by a group of millionaire monopolists
whose interests are identical, banded together to deny all justice to
the Indians, who, if need be, are treated in a way an Englishman would
blush to treat his dog. "The Indians hear only with their backs." Yes,
but the ill-treatment of the poor wretches often does not end with a
whipping: it ends in murder. We will give particulars of some cases.

Some years ago an Indian was thrashed to death on the estate of the
brother of a high official in Yucatan. The body was easily disposed of,
buried at night like a dog's. But some of his fellow-workmen talked, it
seems, and news of the crime found its way to the capital. There a young
lawyer, Perez Escofee, indignant at the report, took a solicitor down to
the hacienda and got from some of the Indians affidavits as to their
knowledge of the murder. Armed with these he published the facts in the
Merida newspaper, demanding an investigation. The haciendado concerned
sent his solicitor down and obtained from the very Indians sworn
contrary statements. On these Perez, his adviser, and the editor who had
had the courage to publish Escofee's first appeal, were arrested and
thrown into prison. That is three years and more ago, and Escofee and
his lawyer were still in Merida prison without trial at the time of our
visit, if our information be correct. The haciendado's family dares not
allow, and has so far proved powerful enough to prevent, a trial. The
third man was liberated owing to very influential friends who threatened
exposure if he were not released.

Another loathsome case was that of the beating to death of an Indian
girl of eleven by her old Yucatecan mistress. The poor child had been
guilty of some trifling disobedience, and the murderess, having plenty
of money, had no difficulty in getting an order for burial, the death
being announced as due to pneumonia. The truth would never have come out
but for the prattling of the granddaughter of this human beast who,
child-like, told some neighbours. Yucatecan mistresses beat their Indian
servants mercilessly for slight faults; but it will scarcely seem
credible to English readers that Yucatecans are so lost to all sense of
manliness that they, too, are often guilty of the basest cruelty towards
the women servants. We heard of one case where a Yucatecan, because the
Indian girl was a little late in bringing him his early breakfast of
milk and bread, threw in her face the jug of boiling milk, and beat her
over the head with the long stick of crusty roll till she was
unconscious. For such cowardly curs there is no punishment. In this case
the poor girl confessed to a friend that for days she had murder in her
heart, and this feeling of revenge worried her so that at last she went
to the priest for advice. That worthy told her she must be docile: that
she must submit herself in all things to her master. This is really the
worst feature of the conspiracy to degrade the Indians, the part the
Church plays. The priests back up the haciendados in everything because
it is from them they get their money.

Another outrageous case was that in which a very rich Yucatecan was
concerned. Because his Indian driver did not go quick enough to please
him, he thrashed him into unconsciousness in the street, and afterwards
had him put in prison on some trumped-up charge for six months. This
case, however, was so public, many passers witnessing the grossness of
the assault, that the family found it necessary to come to terms with
the injured man.

It would not be at all true to say that the Indians are often beaten to
death. Labour is far too scarce in Yucatan. A perfect network of
regulations and laws are in force on all the haciendas to keep the
Indians. The unfortunate wretches are absolutely essential to the
fortune-getting of the Yucatecans, and are far too precious to be
recklessly killed off. The haciendas are regarded as excellent breeding
grounds for new generations of slaves. Thus a rule is that no Indian of
either sex shall marry off the hacienda. The real truth is that the
Indians are nothing but cattle, and just as much the property of their
master as the heifers in a farmyard in England belong to the farmer. To
a friend of ours an Indian came, saying he owed his master one hundred
dollars, and begging that his debt might be paid and that he might come
to work for him. Well, our friend agreed to pay his debt. Then round
comes the master to say that the man really owed him three hundred and
forty dollars--which of course was a lie, to be supported, if need be,
by forged entries in the hacienda books. He further says he will not
accept payment, as he wishes to get the man back and whip him publicly
to make an example of him. The man said he would rather die than go
back; and it ended by the master, fearful lest the slave should kill
himself, selling him for his debt to another haciendado, who, in turn,
would get all the work he could out of the poor devil. Thus, though
there is no open slave market in Merida, these cowardly slave-owners
traffic in their slaves at their own free will, and there is literally
no escape for the Indians.

There are three reasons for the continuance of this cruel system. First,
the prostitution of the Church to the haciendados. Superstitious to a
degree remarkable even among the many semi-civilised peoples who have
been victimised by Catholicism, the Mayans look to their priests as
semi-divinities whose word is law; and a debauched priesthood, eager to
make friends with the Mammon of Unrighteousness, and themselves
unscrupulous in self-indulgence, greedily support slavery.

Secondly, the lack of loyalty among the Indians to each other. This is
the natural effect of the centuries of oppression which they have
endured. All the manliness of the race, all the spirit and nobility of a
nature which wrung a tribute even from Spanish historians, have been
effectually crushed out of them. This is indeed the saddest side of it
all. The Yucatecan bullies have done their work so well that if the
Indians of all the haciendas could be asked whether they were contented,
a large majority, possibly almost all, would apathetically declare
themselves content. They are like prisoners who have been so long in the
gloom of a dungeon that they would be actually terrified of the

And thirdly, the water supply is an enormous auxiliary in the
maintaining of the present disgraceful state of affairs. As we have
said, there are no rivers in Yucatan, and the only water available is
that obtained from the cenotes or wells attached to the haciendas.
Practically you may say that the whole water supply of the country is in
the hands of the landlords. To leave one farm would only mean going to
another for the miserable serf. Each haciendado helps every other in
keeping the slaves on the places. Thus, turn where he may, the Indian
has no refuge but the woods, from which he would be hunted with dogs
just as Mrs. Beecher Stowe has told us was always done in the South.

He submits to his fate; but hard as we have shown that to be, there is
worse to be told. A slave, with a wage which is a mockery, a pittance,
given really to make more plausible the case of his master, he must see
his daughters submit to a systematic tyranny of lust which is really so
base that it is difficult to write of it in calm language. Here in
Yucatan every sexual horror which in the story of the South in the
'sixties horrified the world is reproduced, cloaked by the foulest
hypocrisy. The Indian from her childhood up is the prey of the
haciendado and his sons. From their foul clutches she cannot escape. If
her father had, poor devil, any scruples left, he must stifle them or be
prepared to risk his life by objecting. As a matter of fact, so immoral
and degraded have almost all the hacienda Indians become, that
objections to this _droit du Seigneur_, this _Jus Primae Noctis_, are
almost unheard of. We are not writing without weighing our words
carefully when we say that there are farms in plenty where the
slave-owner demands as part of his serfs' obligations the right to every
lass as soon as she enters on womanhood, sometimes much before. He
demands it, and he does what he will with these children, for they are
usually little else; and there is no remedy for the parents.

Inconceivable cynicism is the attitude of all Yucatecans towards sexual
excesses. The young sons of fourteen and upwards are not restrained
from, indeed they are often actually encouraged by fathers and even
mothers in, indulging their boyish passions at the expense of the little
Indian slave-girls. It is no answer to say, as some Yucatecans do, that
the girls are in very many cases more than willing victims of their
boy-lovers. Yucatecan lads are notably handsome, and even maids of the
cold North would find it hard to withstand their wooing. It remains the
fact that these youthful Don Juans in many cases do not woo at all. They
command; and the girl-child must go at night to the boy's room or be
cruelly beaten by him till she surrenders. If she plucked up courage to
complain to her mistress, she would be simply laughed at. She is but a
little slave-girl. What better fate could she ask for herself than to
have thus early attracted the notice of the lad who will some day be her
owner? And if a child results, why, it is but one more hacienda baby,
brought up with the rest. No one cares; and if it be a girl, why then in
the fullness of years it will most probably attract the notice of its
own father, who by that time will have inherited the estates. The girl
would not know, and dare not disobey if she did; and it is quite certain
the man by that time would have ruined so many Indian girls that he
would be past any sensitiveness where his self-gratifications were
concerned. It is possible that the reader will by this time be willing
to acquit us of any unfairness of which we may have seemed guilty in
Chapter IV., when we divided the population of so-called civilised
Yucatan into "Savages" and "Slaves."

As a rule it may be said that the Yucatecan is a benevolent master. It
pays him better to be so, and every Yucatecan's one rule in life is to
do what pays him. Indeed there is really no reason for him to be harsh.
The average Indian is as submissive as a well-whipped hound, creeping up
after a thrashing to kiss his master's hand. This Stephens actually
witnessed, and the miserable slaves are always made to do it.[16] He
seldom disobeys: he works uncomplainingly all his life for no pay; and
he breeds pretty daughters for his lord's gratification. The Yucatecan
would indeed be hard to please if he quarrelled with such an exemplary
beast of burden. And the habit of submission learnt through centuries of
tyranny has affected the Mayan women. They exhibit a complacency towards
their Yucatecan lovers which suggests, what alas! cannot be denied, that
chastity means little to them to-day. Visiting a large place, a little
incident struck us as very significant. The haciendado was showing us
his kitchens. Many Indian women were busied at trays and tables
preparing meal and so forth. One beautiful girl, about eighteen perhaps,
was bending over her task, and as our host passed her he grasped her
plump brown neck, squeezing it as one would pet a dog. If we lived a
century we should not forget the way that girl looked up at him. It was
a mixture of animal submission and feminine coquetry which there was no
mistaking. There was in the girl's eyes something which told volumes,
and they were not very pleasant reading for any men who have learnt that
the love of women is a prize which should be earned.

In truth, Mayan morality is very, very lax, and the blame lies on the
"Christians" who came four centuries back to Yucatan to civilise and
preach the love of God to the Indians. They cannot wriggle out of that
blame: they cannot shirk it. Even if doubt could be entertained as to
the ancient Mayan laws we have quoted in Chapter XIV. showing the
sanctity attached by them to chastity, there can be no ground for
disbelieving the Spanish historians. They bear united testimony to the
evils which resulted from the Conquest. They state that the Mayan women
dearly prized their chastity, but that all high ideals were lost on the
arrival of the Spaniards. Yes, the "Christians" have changed all that.
Who will be the thrower of the first stone at the humble Indian lassie
who prefers the kisses of a lover to the whip and starvation? It is all
very sad, but so natural. They have learnt their lesson. Their masters,
their priests even, have taught them not to value chastity. What avails
it for them to struggle, even if they had the wit to do so?

From our balcony at Tizimin we watched one morning played that comedy of
life which so often turns to tragedy. An Indian girl, a beautiful young
creature of about twelve, her soft white huipil clinging round the
dainty brown calves, her basket of fruit balanced on her small black
head, pattered down the dusty road. There met her a Yucatecan, young,
tall, with big black moustache and fine eyes: just the face to win her
simple heart. A look, a glance, a giggle. They stopped to speak. By the
pretty toss of her head you knew he was pressing her to see him, and she
was refusing. But she would, of course. Her heart, simple as a bird's,
would be a-flutter till she had given her handsome lover all, till she
had run eager to meet Life and its secrets half-way. For him it was the
merest incident. A month or two and she would be forgotten. What did it
matter? She's only an Indian!


Perhaps he is right: perhaps it does not really matter. Perhaps, as she
clasps closer to her brown breast the baby clinging with greedy lips to
her nipple, she, too, will think it does not matter: perhaps she will
not think at all. She is a mother: it matters little by whom. She has
done her duty to God Who willed her maker of men. She has done her duty
to her master who bids her make him slaves. Perhaps in the black head,
bending, crooning, over the morsel of brown flesh, there will be no
feeling, more or less, than the apathetic mother-love of the cow as it
licks with loving tongue each spot on its new born calf. Perhaps,
perhaps not. He would be bold indeed who would dare to say that man has
a right to command that apathy.

And so, after centuries of oppression, the race is dead, a chattel, body
and soul, of a corrupt and degraded people. When the task of revivifying
these poor Mayans with the elixir of freedom is undertaken, if it ever
is (and pray God it be), by the United States of America, it will be as
difficult as nursing back to convalescence a patient sick unto death. No
beings will at first understand freedom so ill. They are like prisoners
who have been for weary years in the darkness of unlighted dungeons. The
glare of the sunlight of freedom will be too dazzling for their poor
atrophied eyes. They will shade them and cringe back into the gloom.

Well, on p. 324 we left our Indians returning from their day's work as
the sun is sinking. There is little more for them to do. The cattle to
tend, their humble meal to eat; and then from the little stucco chapel
rings out the bell for vespers. The blue of the heavens has changed to a
steel, fading on the western horizon into the palest lemon. Over the
baked earth steals the cool breath of night: the silence is broken only
by the hum of some night-moth, the cry of an owl in the distant woods,
the lowing of the cattle in the corral. It is very wonderful, this first
half-hour of the tropic night. In the stillness, sitting on the broad
stone verandah, we presently all silently stand when the vesper bell's
monotonous tinkle stops, and, like a funeral toll, nine solemn notes
sound for the Nine Mysteries. As the echo of the ninth dies away, the
hacienda day is done. In the darkness the white-clothed, brown-legged
figures glide up, hat in hand, and greet the haciendado and his guests
with "Buenas noches!" ("Good-night!").

Ah! dear gentle brown-skinned folk, your night has indeed come; but it
is scarcely good. Your heritage is another's. You are his--bodies and
souls! Your strength and muscle are given you to enrich him: your backs
are his to wheal: your sons and daughters are his: all that you have is
his to give or to take away. Truly has the night come! "Blessed are the
meek, for they shall inherit the earth." You are meek, but you are
disinherited. Verily! there is nothing sacred to man; not even the


[16] We saw the Indian women go down on one knee and kiss the
hand of the haciendado whose farm we were viewing.



The Yucatecans are a race of parvenus. They have been unfortunate both
by inheritance and fate. The Spanish have never been successful
colonisers. History teaches that they have always suffered from "wind in
the head," both socially and religiously. They are bigots, and they are
naturally bullies. To these racial failings Fate has added for the
Yucatecans the last and most fatal of gifts, sudden wealth. There is no
doubt about the wealth of the Yucatecans. Many of them are rich beyond
the dreams of even their avarice, and that is saying much. But when to
mushroom millionaires is given the governance of an enslaved race, it
would be nothing short of a miracle if the very finest and largest breed
of parvenus was not produced. If you think of all the bad qualities, the
pettinesses and meannesses of all the parvenus you have ever met or
heard of, you will have some sort of mental picture of a Yucatecan. If
there are any unpleasant characteristics of the parvenu you have
forgotten, the typical Yucatecan has got those too.

Avarice is their besetting sin. Money is their god. There is a saying
that "Jews cannot live in Yucatan." The sharpest Hebrew would come off
second-best in a business deal with a Yucatecan. This is the
characteristic of all ages and all ranks. The Yucatecan is always "on
the make." It matters not if he is a multi-millionaire. The richest man
in the city of Merida would not be in the least offended if you offered
to buy the flowers from his patio or garden. He himself would cut what
you wanted and drive a hard bargain with you. In a rich quarter of the
capital a wealthy family make a practice every dry season of selling
water at ten centavos a pail! A foreign resident, accustomed to buy eggs
from the servants of one of the great land-owning families of Merida,
called one day and found the housekeeper out. The little daughter of the
house, ten years old, and entitled, on coming of age, to a million
dollars in her own right, overheard the caller speaking to one of the
maids, and came out to offer for six centavos one egg which her pet hen
had laid. Three centavos is the price of an egg all the year through in

There are no poor Yucatecans. Small wonder: for not only do they lose no
opportunity of raking in the shekels, but they openly boast that they
never entertain or show hospitality, unless it pays them to do so. We
can bear eloquent witness to this, for from end to end of our tour never
once was so much as a cup of coffee offered us by a Yucatecan, with the
single exception of the semi-official breakfast we earlier described. At
the town of Tizimin, where we spent Christmas, though the Jefe and all
the authorities of the town knew we were inhabiting a hovel destitute of
everything except pegs in the walls on which to swing our hammocks, not
a soul in that town of several hundreds of well-to-do people was found
to come forward with the offer of a chair or a table, a basin to wash
in, or the loan of a little kitchen crockery. No, if we needed such
things we must buy them; and if we did not wish to do that, why then we
must go without. We had gone to Yucatan intent on roughing it, and we
did not mind dining with one of our baggage boxes for table, squatting
Turk-fashion on the stone floor. We only mention it as typical of
Yucatecan inhospitality, which really passes all understanding.

But rich as the richest Yucatecans are, it is curious to see how little
they know how to spend their money. A dozen shoddy rocking-chairs, a
roll-top desk, a few Oriental rugs or mats, some painfully modern china,
and the walls adorned (!) with a half-dozen hideous oleographs: there
you have the typical room of the typical rich Yucatecan. They feel this
lack of intelligence in using their enormous wealth, and it leads them
into all kinds of bizarre extravagances. They can spend money when they
like and when it adds, or they think it adds, to their comfort. One
henequen lord went a few years ago to the St. Louis Exhibition. He hired
a special steamship, and, on reaching New Orleans, ordered a special
train, making the condition that it was to travel never quicker than
fifteen miles an hour, and must stop at sunset, no matter how
inconvenient this proved to the railway officials. This precious train
cost him six hundred pounds; and his whole trip of thirty days cost
sixty thousand dollars, or six thousand pounds.

As a people the Yucatecans are illiterate to a degree which is almost
inconceivable. With wealth untold, they care nothing for books or
learning. A man worth three millions sterling confessed to us that there
was not a book in his house, and that he never read a paper. And he was
certainly one of the most intelligent men in the country, and a man,
too, who had travelled extensively in Europe. But if the men are
supremely ignorant of everything except money-making, and uninterested
in aught but the gross sensuality which is the be-all and the end-all of
their worthless lives, the women are worse. It is really not their
fault; for they are little better, if at all, than odalisques, leading
in youth the lives of toys; in age spending their days in over-eating
and over-sleeping. Of their colossal ignorance of facts within the
knowledge of every National School child, the following is an amusing
example. A young Yucatecan lady, daughter of one of the richest of the
families in the State, was sent to New York for a trip for her health,
and she was to go on to England. She suffered so much from seasickness
on the voyage out that the doctors in America said that she must not
undertake the longer voyage to England, but must return at once to
Yucatan. Her married sister in Merida, talking of her return, said she
would come back by land. The family are so enormously rich that it was
quite possible for them to contemplate the great cost of the overland
trip; but it was pointed out to the señora that the invalid would have
many weeks of travel, and would have to make a very wide detour south,
to avoid the swamps of Chiapas. "Oh no" sweetly replied the
millionairess, "she is to come by diligence via Havana!"

The illiteracy of the wealthier classes is reproduced in a grosser form
among the ordinary Yucatecans. They have no thoughts beyond their food,
their women, and their drinks. But there is much to be said for the
_dolce far niente_ view of life, and one could easily forgive this race
of sybarites if they were otherwise agreeable. Really it sounds like an
exaggeration, but the Yucatecans seemed to us the most disagreeable folk
in the world. They are avaricious to the degree of dishonesty. They will
not actually steal, but they will cheat you every time and chortle over
it. Quite a big man, a Jefe, who also kept a shop in one town we
visited, again and again tried to cheat us out of odd centavos over some
trifling purchase. It was incredible, but it was deliberate. They are
entirely untrustworthy in business: they will give their word and break
it without scruple if it suits their interests. A practical example of
this came to our notice in the islands, where there is a good deal of
trade with American ports such as Key West. An American skipper told us
that he had, at the moment of speaking, no less than one hundred and
sixty pairs of women's shoes on his hands, through the impertinent
shuffling of his customers. They would ask him to bring them shoes from
the States, give the number, and then if the shoes did not quite look
what they thought they wanted, they said "_No quiero_" ("I do not
want"), and the poor trader, having paid cash for the footgear, was

No Yucatecan will pay a debt unless you dun him _ad nauseam_. It is
always "_mañana_" (to-morrow), and, as the stranger in Yucatan learns to
know only too well, mañana never comes. If a Yucatecan owes you five
dollars, he will pay you three. For themselves, they are the most
remorseless dunners. If you have the misfortune to owe a few dollars,
for, say, the hire of a volan, you will have the wretch literally before
dawn at your door, beating at it and demanding the money, though he well
knows you are stopping some days. It is not so much the demanding of the
money, which is, after all, their right, as it is the grossly uncivil
way they do it. We found this to be the experience of all foreigners
resident in the country, so we were forced to acquit ourselves of having
any especially dishonest look. An American told us that, owing a
trifling sum to a wealthy woman, the latter came to the hotel and
demanded the money with an insolence which was almost intolerable.

Our friend the American skipper, who had traded with the islands for
more than ten years, told us that the insolence of the people in matters
of trade was extreme. Knowing him to have boots or shirts to sell, they
would call from their doors, "_Capitan, yo quiero_" ("I want"), whatever
it was. "Damn 'em," said the little man, "let 'em come up to my store
and choose. No, they want me to fag things to their doors, literally put
the boots on their feet." Another peculiarity of the people is that they
do not recognise a difference of goods. They think the cheapest shoe or
cloth should be the standard for all goods.

The Yucatecan women are, there is no denying it, very often extremely
lovely. It is just that beauty which one instinctively associates with a
people who have brought sexual relations to a fine art of absolute
self-indulgence. By one of the only three Englishmen in the country we
were told that the state of morality among the Yucatecans themselves,
quite apart from the very sad side of the slavery question to which we
have referred in the last chapter, beggars description. We can well
believe it.

Marriages are contracted at very early ages, sometimes the bride's and
groom's years totalling a good deal under thirty. Among the wealthier
Yucatecans marriages are nearly always _de convenance_, and are arranged
by the two families: the boy seldom, the girl never, having a say in the
matter. Thereafter the child-wife passes into a quasi-seraglio type of
life. There are never any men visitors to the house, and such things as
wholesome exercise are rigorously taboo to all upper-class Yucatecan
matrons. If the doctor orders exercise, the miserable little animated
toy of the Yucatecan Croesus drives some miles out of the city, and then
stops her carriage and solemnly walks up and down the dusty roadway for
the allotted time. No Yucatecan woman of position must ever walk in
public: that would be a social _faux pas_ far more serious than to have
a child before marriage. The exalted women of Merida very rarely leave
their homes till dark, when they drive round the plaza. Occasionally
they go shopping, when they remain in their carriages, and the goods are
brought out to them by obsequious shopmen. The life they lead is of the
most empty and vapid nature. Surrounded by dozens of Indian servants,
they loll all the day in their hammocks, listening to such gossip as
their women friends or their servants can tell them. A curious result of
this harem life they lead is the roaring trade done by Turkish pedlars
who travel all over Yucatan. Hours are spent by the rich women examining
their rolls of cloths and finery. Once a year the Paris milliners and
modistes visit Merida and take the orders of the richer wives.

The women accept their lot in life very philosophically. It cannot be
said of them, as Canning said of the Dutch traders, and as might only
too truly be said of many English and American women, that "in matters
of commerce the fault of the Dutch is giving too little and asking too
much." They ask very little but the amorous attentions of their lords
and masters, as long as their looks last; when they see themselves
replaced with really complete apathy in those special functions. Not
that even in their bridal years they have not already been well
broken-in by a running fire of infidelities on the part of their
menfolk. But they have long been used to that, when as children they
have seen the fate of their little Indian girl playmates. Of the
Yucatecan woman one might say only too truly, quoting the reported
saying of the Empress Eugenie when her rather erratic Emperor brought up
to introduce a countess, who was notorious as a royal mistress, and who
on this particular evening appeared as "Queen of Hearts" with a large
gold heart swinging some way below her corsage, "_Madame, vous portez
votre cœur très bas_." She does, but she really is not to blame. She
has been taught nothing better.

The Suffragette question has not yet invaded Yucatan, and lovely woman
is content with the life of a lapdog. As well ask the Dudus and Haidees
of a Turkish pasha's harem to rebel as these charming señoras, swinging
in their hammocks and puffing at their cigarettes. As for housekeeping,
they are contemptible in their uselessness. An American lady very kindly
volunteered one day to show a Yucatecan lady how to make a cake to which
she had taken a great fancy. While our friend was busy mixing the
ingredients, she quite naturally said, "While I'm doing this, you beat
up the eggs." A look of absolute horror came over the woman's face.
"Beat up eggs! Oh! I could not possibly do that. One of my Indian girls
can do that for you." But as we have said, they fill the rôle of pretty
toys to perfection; and they later prove excellent mothers. They are
great breeders, these Yucatecans, and family life is of the closest, the
big mansions of Merida often housing four generations. Curiously enough,
despite the tropical climate, the Yucatecan woman retains her looks
quite late into life very often. Our hostess at the breakfast was the
mother of seven children, the eldest a girl of eleven, as tall as
herself, and yet she certainly did not look more than twenty-two or
three, and so girlish that it was difficult to believe she was a mother
at all. But a far more remarkable case was that of a woman who was but
forty-six and had had twenty-four sons! We did not see this latter-day
Hecuba, but we were told that she was still quite comely.

There is very little rebellion among Yucatecan women at their fate, and
we certainly heard nothing at all of divorce. We do not think it exists
as an institution, though it is possible that in this, as in all else,
the men have their own way and, if they want to, can get rid of their
wives. Among the less wealthy families, the marriages are less formal in
their makings and the wives do more work: that is really the only
difference. Re-marriage among the men is the rule. Most of the elder men
appear to have been married at least three times, which rather suggests
that the average life for males is longer than for females. This is
possibly so. The Yucatecans certainly look a healthy people, though the
superfluous fat which is noticeable even in the boys and girls scarcely
suggests real constitutional strength. What surprised us greatly was the
terrible prevalence of leprosy among the richest classes. It is not an
exaggeration to say that you could scarcely find a wealthy family
without this ghastly taint; and some of the greatest land-owners and
their children are eaten up with it. No steps appear to be taken to
isolate the cases, and just before our arrival in the country a young
leper, enormously rich, had contracted a marriage with a lovely girl,
though he was then in a moribund condition. He had died a few months
after his wedding, and while we were in Merida the bride died of the
loathsome disease. It is said to have been brought from Spain in the
earliest days of the Conquest, and it has remained curiously restricted
to the richer classes. You see little or nothing of it among the lowlier
Yucatecans, and it appears unknown among the Indians, who, as a rule,
are wonderfully free of all skin troubles. The lepers or those
threatened with the terrible curse were some of them men of advanced
years, and their general health did not appear in any way affected. One
old fellow had but just lost two brothers from it, but he himself had so
far escaped, though his children certainly looked tainted. Like
insanity, it often skips a generation. It was curious to see these
sybaritical plutocrats, eager of life's "ecstasy's utmost to clutch at
the core," living their apolaustic days out, haunted by this terrible

The Church! What can we say about the Church in Yucatan? Does the reader
remember those spittoons in Merida Cathedral which we mentioned in an
earlier chapter? Well, those ugly etceteras of an ugly habit are a
fitting commentary upon the Church. It was in 1867 that President Benito
Juarez disestablished the Church throughout the whole of the Republic of
Mexico. The effect has been simply disastrous as far as Yucatan is
concerned. Her Church is so discreditable that the Pope would be really
only consulting the best interests of Catholicism if he abolished the
priests altogether. As there is no State provision, the padres must
"hold their private dripping-pans to catch the public grease"; and
right skilfully they do this. A set of dirty unwashed rogues, men whose
faces are enough to hang them, men whom no father would trust with his
girl or boy the other side of a glass door, they are most of them
"carpet-baggers," wastrels from Spain, many expelled for very excellent
reasons from their colleges, who come into Yucatan to find a living.
Even the amiable Stephens, who looked at everything Yucatecan, except
the garrapatas, through rose-tinted glasses, is obliged to confess that
their morals were loose. But that was a long time ago. They are much
looser now. The last incumbent of Tizimin was drunk every day, and kept
twelve Indian girls in the parsonage. Even the Tiziminites rebelled at
last, and this clerical Brigham Young had to go.

His place had been taken at the time of our arrival by a priest who had,
it was said, means of his own, and had come from Spain especially to
feed the "hungry sheep" of the poky little Yucatecan town. He was a
little ratty man with a face suggestive of previous incarnations as a
ferret and a money-lender. A blood-sucking, lecherous little thief: that
is what the man looked, and we have good reason to believe we have done
him no great injustice in this description. He was the hero of the
"corner in candles" to which we referred in the chapter dealing with
Tizimin. We had called in at the tienda to buy a candle by the light of
which to eat our humble supper, but the storekeeper told us he had not
got a candle left. To our astonishment he said that the padre had bought
up every candle in the place: that, as it was fiesta week, all the
Indians would buy candles to burn before the images of the Virgin and
the saints; and that the wily curer of souls had, in short, made a
corner in dips. The shopkeeper jubilantly announced that he himself had
made a profit out of the deal of one hundred dollars, but that the
priest would make at least three thousand dollars or three hundred
pounds, enough for him to live on very comfortably for the rest of the
year. There is evidently a great deal in candles in Yucatan.

The tienda-keeper assured us that the padre was a good man; but we had
our doubts on this point. This cunning vicegerent of God had a young
priest to help him in the duties, to whom he paid the handsome salary of
a shilling a day, of course providing him with food and lodging. We saw
the lad daily sitting at the window of the rectory, and it would be
difficult to imagine a more saturnine, sensual face. The relations of
these men to the girls and women are those of privileged lovers. They
are in truth licensed libertines, whose "benefit of clergy" covers a
multitude of sins venial and otherwise. It did not need great acumen to
guess at some of these latter. Six priests were recently deported from
Merida on the gravest charges: no prosecution being contemplated because
one of the boys was the son of a very prominent official.

The priests, who are not allowed to wear clerical attire in the streets,
are on the best terms with the haciendados, and do their utmost, by
trading on the superstition of the unfortunate Indians, to keep slavery
in being. There is no appeal for the hacienda slave from the action of
master backed up by a priest. Friendly with the local slave-owner, the
padre can, and does, seduce what girls he pleases. It is most unlikely
that the bishop would hear of it. The priests must look for monetary
support from the land-owners, so they are cheek by jowl with them all
the time. In the train one day we saw a band of young haciendados
elaborately mocking the intoning of the Mass, while a priest who was
with them was holding his sides with delighted laughter. All the
Yucatecans will gladly join in a jest at the expense of Mother Church.
One night at a show in Merida where some very questionable cinematograph
views were delighting the worthy townfolk and their children, the
loudest guffaws and shrieks of joy were evoked by a view of a church in
the course of repainting and cleaning. You first saw the worthy padre
directing the workmen. Then the painter leaves a pot of black paint on
the pedestal of a statue of the Virgin. Enter on the scene two ladies.
They approach the image, reverently cross themselves, and, mistaking the
paint for a piscina, dip their fingers in what they think holy water,
crossing their foreheads and then their faces. The fun comes in when
they catch sight of each other. This mockery simply enchanted the
Catholic audience.

Talking of piscinas, at the south door of the Tizimin church was one. In
it was a chipped enamel bowl, half full of water with a suspicious
sediment. We just touched the edge of the cup, and the sediment began to
move about "on its own." The water was alive with myriads of small worms
and magotty creatures! The man who had faith enough to believe that the
touching of his forehead with that stinking compound was a short cut to
salvation deserves his faith. There was another of these tadpole basins
in the church at Izamal; and judging from reports that reached us, holy
water with some "body" in it seemed quite the fashion in the Yucatecan
churches. _Agua Sagrada_ indeed! _Agua podrida_ would certainly be a
better name.

The spittoons in the cathedral at Merida had replicas, we found, in most
of the churches. But the palm must surely be awarded to a "Don't Spit"
notice which we saw on an altar in one church. That the notice was there
was no mere accident either, for we saw it in December, and when we
returned through the town in the spring it was still there. Evidently
that was the permanent position of this offensive decoration.

But at least the clergy can plead a very real necessity for the
spittoons and such notices. It is not a pleasant subject, but any one
who wrote of the Yucatecans without mentioning the absolutely universal
habit would be a faulty chronicler. At all times, everywhere, everybody,
young and old, of both sexes, expectorate. They have not the excuse of
smoking, for the children and young girls are as guilty of this horrible
and unhealthy habit as their elders. The prevalence of the practice was
so marked that we asked several Yucatecans to explain what seemed both
climatically and physically inexplicable. They pleaded guilty to what
really amounted to a racial custom, but they could not explain it. While
we were being taken round the Museum of Merida, the eleven-year-old son
of the curator spat the whole time on the floor. One day in the islands
a baker-boy of about twelve came to our hut to sell us cakes. While we
were looking in his basket, he spat on the floor by our hammock-side. He
seemed absolutely amazed when we reproved him for it. Quite a
gentlemanly ranchero who walked some miles with us one gloriously sunny
day in Cozumel hawked and spat, not once or twice, but literally every
half-minute till we wondered how his poor rasped throat stood the strain
hour after hour. The queer thing was that the habit was not prevalent
among the Indians. It seemed to be essentially a Yucatecan vice: it
really amounted to that.

But to return to the Church. At the risk of appearing prejudiced, we
must say that the Catholicism of the country is so decadent that its
disgraceful services would be best done without. The drunken priest at
Campeachy, with an unlighted cigarette in his hand, seated in a chair at
the altar, his legs stuck up on the chancel rails, trying to take part
in the intoning of Mass is not the exception he should be. Good padres
there must be, men who would still deserve the high encomiums that
Stephens found it possible to write of the Yucatecan clergy of his day.
We saw nothing of them. We saw the prostitution of a great
ecclesiastical institution, which, with all its terribly bloody history,
its soul-choking bigotry, has yet numbered among its servants some of
the noblest men who have ever lived. We saw Catholicism at its worst,
and its worst is very bad indeed. Nobody, not the veriest
Non-conformist, could surely speak without reverence and admiration of
the noble old man who to-day rules over the Church of Rome. He,
assuredly, would be the first to grieve over the decadence of his creed
in this far-off corner of the Catholic world, as there can be no doubt
he sorrows at the bloody past of a religion which has ever lived, and
must ever live, on the ignorance--invincible in the case of the better
educated--of its followers.

If graver charges lacked against Catholicism, there would always be the
indelible blot on its teachings that they tend inevitably to encourage
indifference and callousness, if not actually cruelty, towards the
animal world. Everybody who has had the misfortune to visit the market
of a French town, such as Dieppe or Havre, or has driven behind a
Neapolitan cabman, knows more than he or she wishes of Latin cruelty. It
is not really that they desire to inflict pain for the mere delight of
inflicting it, though there are some fiends enough for that. No, their
creed and whole upbringing rob them of that lively sympathy with God's
creatures which He, but surely not for tyranny, has placed in our power.

This Catholic characteristic is very marked in Yucatan. The pleasantest
Yucatecan families we met on our wanderings were living happily amid the
victims of such cruelty as would keep an Englishman, if he were capable
of it, awake at nights. These were the dogs. Every Yucatecan keeps--it
is really absolutely euphemistic to use the word--not one or two, but a
whole pack of assorted terriers and hunting dogs; but he never bothers
to feed them. It is really a heartbreaking sight for a lover of animals
to go into one of the huts or ranches and see the poor things. They hang
round the doorways, sometimes so thin and weak that they cannot stand
up. Some poor, halfbreed collie will raise its weary head to your
knee-level and stare piteously up at you with eyes which are really
hollow from starvation. In one ranch we counted a dozen of all sizes and
ages and every one of them was a disgrace to their owner, who, as it
happened, was quite a good fellow in other ways. No, he could not see
why he should feed the dogs. They went out hunting with him, those at
least that were not too weak, and then they got a square meal of
peccary-guts or other offal. But the man could not see that the gaunt
staring-eyed creatures, their ribs almost seeming to be on the point of
piercing through their coats, their bellies one sorry flap of fur, were
a real disgrace to him and his children. Wherever you go in Yucatan you
see these spectres of dogs: they are really nothing else. As a witty
fellow-traveller put it, they have to lean against a fence to bark and
have to stand a long while to make a shadow.

This indifference towards animals is general among Yucatecans. There is
no one to raise a protest against the barbarously cruel practice they
have of plucking live fowls. The miserable birds, with their skins still
bleeding, are hawked round the streets, carried always by their legs. It
is enough to make any one sick. Brought up amid such callousness, it is
not at all surprising that the children are usually brutal to every
creature they have no reason to fear. On one of the islands we saw a
very characteristic incident. We were on a pier, waiting for a boat.
Three boys were fishing, the eldest perhaps thirteen. One of the smaller
boys caught a fish. The eldest seized it from him, and, producing a
knife, stuck the blade through the gills, thus pinning the struggling
fish to the boards of the jetty. Two or three times he stabbed the fish,
each time exclaiming "_More, more, more_" ("Die, die, die"). When the
poor little creature had ceased to flutter its tail, the lad
deliberately wiped the bloodstained knife on the bare brown calf of his
smaller boy companion, who was lying on his stomach with his head over
the jetty side. It was not so much the killing of the fish which struck
us, though that was cruel enough, as the extraordinary exclamation. An
English or American boy could have killed the fish just as cruelly; but
neither of them would have been capable of that ferocious exhortation.
Nothing could have exceeded the savage joy in the power to kill which
was expressed in the tone of the lad's voice as he uttered those three

Inquiring at a hut one day for a fowl, we were taken by a positive
fairy of a little girl, perhaps nine, to the yard where, "regardless of
their fate," the poultry were picking about. Our golden-haired guide
(she was a beautiful specimen of the fair Latin) seized a dainty white
hen and, swinging her by the legs, invited us to kill her there and
then. It was really too much for our sensitiveness, and we bolted, only,
half-way down the village, to hear some one running after us. Our
fairy's do-a-deal-at-any-cost Yucatecan blood was up, and, thinking our
sudden exit was due to a dissatisfaction with the price asked, she had
brought after us another bird which she said could be sold cheaper. It
was a perky little cockerel, and as it sat in what should have been
those tender child's arms, and looked up at us with its bright beady
eyes, we really felt so ashamed that we could not look it in the face.
To have ordered its death would have been an impossibility, however
ravenous we had been. We stroked its head and begged its untender little
mistress to let it live a while longer.

But all this is due to a lack of sympathy with the animal world.
Unfortunately deliberate cruelty is also very common. A people who could
find fun in watching pain deserve the name of savages. In Merida you can
see a brute throw a poisoned crust of bread to a stray dog, and then be
joined by a crowd of folks who form a laughing circle round the dying
animal to gloat over its agonised writhings.

This terrible cruelty is a sad heritage of all Yucatecans. The Spaniard
is naturally cruel, and there is no kind of doubt that the Mayans, like
all the Indian races of the Americas, are so too. Thus the Yucatecans
inherit this detestable trait from both their parents. One has to be
very sharp with one's Indian servants to prevent cruelty. Stephens
relates how his men found an iguana in one of the ruins in a crevice.
They pulled until the tail came off. "They then untied the ropes of
their sandals," writes Stephens, "and fastening them above the hind
legs, and pulling till the long body seemed parting like the tail, they
at length pulled him out. They secured him by a gripe under the fore
part of the body, cracked his spine, and broke the bones of his legs so
that he could not run; prised his jaws open, fastening them apart with a
sharp stick so that he could not bite, and then put him away in the
shade. This refined cruelty was to avoid the necessity of killing him
immediately, for if killed, in that hot climate he would soon be unfit
for food; but mutilated and mangled as he was, he could be kept alive
till night." The distinguished American does not tell us how it was
that he was content to witness "this refined cruelty" without apparently
making an attempt to stop such hellish torturing. The Indians will do
the same to-day: once or twice our men caught these poor reptiles, which
they regard as a great delicacy; but we always insisted on their being
killed outright.

Every village has its tienda or store where you buy the eternal black
beans, peppers, rice, tortillas, and where usually an assortment of
tinned American meats and fruits can be purchased by those tired of
life. But there is nowhere such a thing as a butcher's shop. The cattle
range the woods at will, only to be brought in occasionally to be
freshly branded with the owner's mark. When one is to be killed it is
"rounded up" and driven in to the pueblo. The method of slaughter is
stabbing in the region of the heart, just above the left foreleg. In a
large village fresh meat will be procurable perhaps thrice, but not more
than once, a week in the hamlets. The richer villagers take it in turns
to kill, and thus become butcher for the day only, usually flying a flag
as a sign that fresh meat is to be bought. Nothing could be queerer than
the effect of this co-operative butchering. The Jefe of a town will
invite you into his drawing-room or the Yucatecan equivalent, and there
you will find joints of blood-boltered pork and beef hanging from a
clothes-line, with palm-leaves beneath to catch the gore. He is butcher
for the day, that's all. Meat is never jointed, but cut into strips and
carried home fastened to a string; cut just as it is wanted by the kilo,
about two pounds. Joints such as we have are literally unknown in
Yucatan, and for the very excellent reason that there are no means of
cooking them.

Their culinary methods are typical of that indolence which is the chief
characteristic of all Yucatecans. Their staple dishes are stews, boiled
greasily: the sloven cook's way of throwing meat into a pot. When your
host has put before you a great messy stew of fowl, onion, and potato
swimming in fat, he gives you a cup of black coffee and the meal is
over. Puddings and sweets are things for which he has no taste, and
vegetables are never served, as with us, separately, or indeed many of
them at all. This is not due to any lack of fruit or vegetable, because
it was the case even where both abounded. Nothing short of a culinary
earthquake would alter the prehistoric kitchen methods of the average
Yucatecan family. Every day of the year, morning and evening, the
housewife is at the _metate_ or stone tray crushing the maize for the
tortillas; and this despite the fact that American flour is coming into
the country in ever-increasing quantity. Obstinate or conservative--you
can call it which you like--they will take no advantage of an import
which would mean that they could bake twice a week and get it over.

The average Yucatecan housewife is always at the _metate_ in season and
out of season. For most Yucatecan families it is a hand-to-mouth
existence, though they live in a land which, were they industrious,
might be made to "smile with plenty." The Yucatecan is an easy-going
creature, fond of drink, women, dancing, and his cigarette. He has no
love of work, and will spend the few dollars he has earned in a reckless
spirit, as if he had millions: afterwards living on his tortillas till
luck comes his way again. In all this he is but a replica of his kinsmen
in Mexico. This natural indolence is encouraged by the weakness of even
Diaz's rule. He is just as much afraid of the people to-day as when
first made President: he is afraid to tax rum or other spirits. He has
to get his revenues out of the foreigners. People in Yucatan complain
because labour is scarce. If machinery was imported to thresh corn, to
take but one example, they would be able to sell the staple food of the
land cheaper and pay higher wages. As it is, perfectly prohibitive
duties are levied on all the machinery coming into all the Mexican
ports. Thus throughout the whole Republic agriculture is practically
where it was in the time of Moctezuma. The anomaly of all this is very
patent in Yucatan, where the henequen lords have found an Eldorado in
the cactus and are each year improving their "plant," while too stupid
to see that if the same progressive methods were applied to the general
cultivation of their country, they would soon be able to view without
terror the abolition of that detestable slavery which is to-day
essential to their fortune-building.

Fortunes are waiting to be picked like blackberries by the foreign
"devil" who will teach the Yucatecan to use what bountiful Nature has
given. Where is there better food than orange marmalade? Every garden
almost in Yucatan swarms with the bitter-orange tree, and the fruit rots
and falls, no one thinking it worth while, although sugar-cane grows
almost wild, to bring the two together and make the delicious preserve.
In Merida we had to pay two shillings for a half-pound glass jar of
French marmalade. Year after year the Yucatecan is content to pay
seventy-five centavos (eighteen pence) for a tin of American preserved
fruit, when he could get the same from Cozumel for five. It is the same
with everything. They pay seventy-five for a kilo (two pounds) of salt
or dried fish, when they could buy their own fish for twelve centavos a
kilo and salt it themselves: or catch the fish themselves. This trade is
entirely in the hands of the Cuban sailors. The Yucatecans, for the
matter of that all Mexicans, hate foreign intrusion, but they will do
nothing themselves. Fancy a country, the chief omnipresent difficulty of
which is the density of its forests, importing timber! Yet that is what
Yucatan is doing to-day. She buys American lumber; she allows her
markets to be glutted with American fruits and meat when she could
supply her own wants at an extraordinarily small cost of labour; and if
there were deficiencies, Mexico possesses some of the finest
cattle-raising land and fruit-soils as rich as California.

With the only pots and pans German-made and so heavily taxed that you
have to give five shillings for a saucepan which in London would cost
you a shilling or at most eighteen pence, it is no wonder that the
culinary arrangements of Yucatan are as antediluvian as they are. If
they do not stew, they grill over the burning wood. Time and time again
birds we had shot were reduced to such a dried and mummified condition
as to be quite uneatable. The simplicity of their cooking methods is
only matched by the simplicity of their service. None but wealthy folk
use knives or forks. The tortilla, doubled up, serves as spoon and fork,
and a knife is not needed as the meat is cut up before it is cooked.
There is no such thing as a saltspoon in Yucatan. You are expected to
shake the salt out or take it out with your fingers. Indeed the
saltspoon seems unknown in Mexico too. There may be one, but we never
saw it. Tables are rare, and most families squat round their food in
true Indian fashion. As a rule women do not eat with the men; but they
and the children have what is left after their husbands and brothers
have finished. We found this often very embarrassing; but our protests
were greeted with as much ingratitude by the ladies as astonishment by
the men.

We met and lived with all grades of Yucatecans; but perhaps it was on
the coasting vessels that you saw most of general Yucatecan manners.
These are often curiously contradictory. They will tear ungainly pieces
of meat to pieces with their fingers; but they religiously wash those
fingers after each meal. They will use the edge of their white shifts
as a handkerchief; but even the common sailors will clean their teeth
after a meal. They will convert the gunwale of the boat into a _sedes
stercoraria_, engaging you in "animated conversation" the while; yet
nothing would induce them to undress before you and bathe. They will
spit on the floor of your room; but they will not move an inch in your
presence without a "_con permiso_." They are a frugal race, and you were
expected to throw the broken remains of your tortillas into a pail
provided for the purpose, though they do not appear again. Perhaps the
women eat them.

We have written something earlier about Yucatecan music when describing
the dance at Holboch. Nothing could well be more distressing than it is.
Every town of any size aspires to have a band. The worst German band
which ever disgraced itself and murdered melody for filthy lucre in
London's streets is a combination of the orchestras of Strauss and Sousa
compared with a Yucatecan band. As one lies in one's hammock at night,
forced to listen to the musical hell it creates, one wonders why
indignant citizens do not leap from their hammocks and make butchery in
the plaza of its unscrupulous members. But the Yucatecans like it. The
more noise the merrier for them. A most popular custom is what they call
_la serenata_. At about two or three in the morning half a dozen young
men make "rough music" (it is very rough) with drums and concertinas
outside the home of some village belle. In the stillness of the darkness
it is not without its weird charm, if it lasted a few minutes. But it
often lasts an hour or more till you become suicidal. Their discordant
music is matched by their singing voices. No Yucatecan knows the first
principles of voice-production. A tiny, squeaky chant is the most they
achieve. Indeed there is something very queer about the Yucatecan voice,
even in talking: a curious whiny sing-song, beginning low and ending in
an almost indescribable treble note.

The true Irish wake is a dearly prized institution among the Yucatecans.
Every occasion is seized on for an indulgence in the habanero they so
much love; and death itself cannot rob the liquid refreshment of its
charm. The corpse is toasted till the mourners are incoherent; singing,
dancing, and merrymaking going on often in the very room where the body
lies. Burial follows within twenty-four hours owing to the climate, and
in those many places which are only periodically visited by a priest
there is no religious ceremony in the cemetery; its place being taken by
the chief mourner "standing" a bottle of habanero, which is literally
broached at the graveside and drunk instanter. By the richer folks a
grave is bought but no grave is dug; the coffin rests on the level of
the earth as a rule, owing to the rocky nature of the soil. At the head
is placed a big stone, at the foot another. Then over the coffin is
built a dome of cement. In some cemeteries bodies are buried in walls,
the coffin on its end. Where a family is only rich enough to buy ground
enough for one grave, on a second death the headstone is removed and the
coffin is drawn out and the bones placed in the new coffin, the old one
being burnt. In cases of the very poor the body is buried as far down as
the nature of the soil permits, and at the end of a year the bones are
dug up by the relatives and burnt there and then in the cemetery. The
most prominent outward and visible sign of mourning is a long streamer
of crape or black cloth, which is fastened to the door of the house and
left there till it rots off. On the first anniversary, when the soul of
the deceased is believed to revisit its old haunts, there is a second
wake and much drinking.

Yucatan is a happy hunting ground for "Jacks in Office." The pomposity
of this race of parvenus would be amusing if it were not that they have
the power to wreck your plans. We have described our delightful
encounter with the Jefe of Isla de Mujeres. We suffered many other
annoyances from jumped-up officials who took a childish pleasure in
exhibiting their authority. A delicious example of what the Mexican
official is capable of when he puts his mind to it was afforded to us at
Vera Cruz on our return. The British armoured cruiser "Euryalus" came
over from Jamaica flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Inglefield. President
Diaz seized the chance, the first since the King gave him the G.C.B., of
paying a pretty compliment to England by sending down an invitation to
the admiral and his officers to visit the capital. The "Euryalus,"
fearing to come into the harbour, which, even despite the splendid work
of Sir Weetman Pearson, is still risky for vessels of such draught as a
British man-of-war, anchored just outside the breakwater. To her, after
the admiral had landed, went out the port pilot, for whom she had _not_
signalled, as she was not coming in. He asked the captain to move a
little as, so he said, they were in the fairway. It was probably merely
an excuse to show an authority which he had thought flouted. The
British, with the utmost courtesy, at once got steam up and moved a few
cables' lengths. Later in the day, to the natural astonishment of the
commander, a bill for pilotage arrived--nineteen dollars! The British
officers in charge refused to pay this absurd demand, and then the port
authorities actually had the impudence to summon them to appear to show
cause why they should not pay. This latter demand was ignored. But the
beauty of the situation lay, of course, in the fact that while these
Vera-Cruzian jackanapeses were dunning the huge battleship, Diaz and
Mexico City were banqueting and cheering the admiral and his staff as
guests of the nation. When we left Vera Cruz the truth about this
heavenly incident had not leaked out. The port authorities must have had
a very bad quarter of an hour indeed, if the relentless Diaz ever heard
of it.

That is the Mexican all over; and the Yucatecan is, as is natural, worse
because his authority is still pettier. The American traders with the
islands feel the full force of it. A captain sailing from such a port as
Key West to Cozumel must go to Ascension Bay, some eighty miles south of
his destination, because none but a national boat can retail the goods
to the islands. When he gets to Ascension Bay, he must, with his own
labour (the Yucatecans will not supply men), unload and place his cargo
on the beach. Then, when it has been tallied with the "manifest," the
unfortunate trader has to reload, again at his own cost, in a native
vessel: afterwards sailing his boat empty behind the other. Arrived at
Cozumel he has to unload, again at his own cost, and then, and then
only, is he entitled to meet his customers.

The tyranny of the Custom House officials is the tyranny of men who are
intent on filling their own pockets. Here is an example. An American
captain shipped a cargo of tomatoes, upon which no import duty is
payable. At Ascension Bay it was found that he had on board one more
barrel than was declared in his "manifest." This was quite an accident.
A barrel more or less on his final takings would not have amounted to
more than a few coppers, and in any case the cargo was not dutiable. No
matter: the officials fined him ten dollars on every barrel of tomatoes
he had on board--fifty--making a fine of £50. Could greater injustice be
conceived? He refused to pay, and his cargo was impounded. He appealed
to Mexico City and the fine was immediately remitted. The blackguards at
Ascension Bay knew it was not the law. They were simply going to pocket
the fine. Another man's cargo of potatoes, because he had a sack or two
_too little_, was left to rot on the beach because he refused to pay a
ludicrous fine.

Of amusements the Yucatecans have none that could be called really
national. They are happiest when they are loafing and drinking. They are
all fond of gambling, and play the ordinary card games. All forms of
lotteries are popular, and a State lottery is run from which the profit
netted by a high official is said to be as much as twenty thousand
dollars a month.

Matters theatrical in Merida were in rather a spring-cleaning condition
when we were there, for the old theatre was dismantled and a really fine
one was being built at a great cost. Meanwhile the bull-ring had been
requisitioned and turned into a theatre. There we went one evening and
witnessed a very second-rate play. The chief thing which struck us was
the fact that between the acts the women all stood up in the stalls and
gazed round at the people. It was so singularly un-European.

Bull-fights are still immensely popular throughout Yucatan; but a
praiseworthy effort is being made by those in authority to
discountenance them, though without much effect. At Merida there are
several yearly, but it is a very decadent form of the Spanish sport.
Around the ring are small shelters into which the toreador can dodge
when the bull charges. Thus there is little or no real courage demanded
of the fighters. Nothing draws the people as a bull-fight will, and to
those two or three towns where fights are annual fixtures thousands
flock in from miles around. Tizimin is such a place. At the fiesta held
while we were there no less than thirty thousand people collected. It is
the love of blood which really attracts, and a fight is successful or
not according to the number of animals slain. In the seven days at
Tizimin fifty bulls died. It is really mere clumsy brutal slaughter, for
the creatures are undersized steers as a rule, with about as much fight
in them as an English cow. The young bloods of Yucatan are fond of
improvising these bullock baitings; and one showed us with pride a scar
on his wrist, a memento of a fight two or three days earlier. It was
just such a scratch as a child would get while out blackberrying.

[Illustration: HACIENDA CHILDREN.]


As we wrote in an earlier chapter, so complete is the isolation of the
two sexes publicly, that the casual visitor would conclude that the
Yucatecans were a most moral race. You never see youths and girls
walking together. Such a sight as Hyde Park, for instance, presents on a
summer evening, a couple, sometimes two, on each seat, carrying on a
passionate courtship, regardless of the passers, you would never see in
Yucatan if you lived there fifty years. More than that: you never see a
husband out with a wife. An American who had known the country for ten
years told us that he had never seen a young fellow and girl walking
together in the evening. Of course, the richest girls never walk at all;
and their lovers are found for them. The poorer maidens find their own
at a precociously early age. If trouble results, the lover can adopt one
of three courses. He can marry the girl; pay a fine of five hundred
dollars to her father; or go to prison for five years. These Draconian
rules obviate our degrading system of affiliation summonses. The utmost
cynicism prevails in all sex questions, and it would probably be hard to
find a Yucatecan father who would not be ready to sell his daughters, so
long as the price was high enough. And it is really sale, not merely the
worldly method of England and America of getting a rich suitor and a fat
settlement for a girl. The fathers pocket the money.

Courtship is a formal affair conducted always before one or both
parents. If a youth fancies a maid, he calls at her house and, scarcely
noticing her, talks to her father about anything in the world but his
errand. This must go on for many nights till he is allowed by etiquette
to mention his desires. If he is an eligible parti, he is then admitted
to the family circle as son-in-law elect. There are two stages in the
wedding; first a publication of it, somewhat equivalent to our banns,
which constitutes the formal betrothal; and then the ceremony, at which
there are no bridesmaids or groomsmen. By law the civil ceremony alone
is legally binding, but in practice the religious service is also often
held. How loosely this all works in practice can scarcely be realised
till it is known that money unlocks every door in this venal land. Men
can do just what they like in Yucatan _if_ they can pay. On one of the
islands a young American trading on the coasts, with the full approval
of her parents who slept in the next room, spent every night with an
unmarried girl, though they all knew that he was himself married. These
temporary alliances are easily arranged, if you satisfy the father's
demands, which are by no means exorbitant from all accounts.

In Merida this venality has reached such a pitch as to be really hardly
credible. There is one old ogre, whose name we must naturally suppress,
who has a charming wife; and keeps five mistresses formally, not
counting those informal ones represented by the dozens of slave-girls on
his ranches. But all this is not enough. He buys young girls from their
parents, most of them well-to-do folk, and when he has ruined and tired
of them, he assigns them as wives to one of his countless dependents
with a small dowry. Quite scientific, is it not? And that man is
regarded with veneration by every Yucatecan. They would all like to be
as rich as he and do likewise. Meanwhile, at least they have daughters
to sell, black-eyed, black-haired, plump-limbed Hebes, fresh enough and
dainty enough to whet the appetite of even the most jaded ogre, the most
glutted of purse-proud Yucatecan Joves.

All this is really no one's business, and to the stranger does not
matter a pin. We are not Hot Gospellers intent on preaching morality.
Yucatecan vices affect Yucatecans alone. The ogres are pleased, the
avaricious fathers are pleased, and the girls are doubtless willing
victims of this combination of greed and lust. All this is no one's
affair if--and it is a very large IF--all this very agreeable
self-indulgence was only at the expense of freemen and equals. But when
a whole race is forcibly prostituted to the avarice and lasciviousness
of an upstart people, trespassers in the land; when womanhood, as pure
and sweet as any which the Almighty God has created for the world's
honour, is trampled under swinish feet; when a barbarous serfdom stops
not at murder in its unrestrained tyranny, then of a truth it is time
for some one to raise his voice against such race exploitation. We do so
here, and on our return to London we addressed to the President of
Mexico a letter telling him the truth. To this letter His Excellency
made no reply. It is more than likely it never reached him, was
suppressed by an official. Be that as it may, we now consider ourselves
at liberty to publish it, and we do so here as the fitting close to this
review of social Yucatan.

                           _To His Excellency
                      Señor General Diaz, Mexico_


      We travelled out to Mexico with the purpose of exploring
      North-Eastern Yucatan and studying the wonderful ruined cities

      We held a letter of introduction to Your Excellency explaining who
      we were and what we hoped to do, but on arrival in Mexico City we
      were dissuaded from presenting it and were referred to your
      Minister of Public Instruction.

      We had much desire to see Your Excellency and present our respects
      in person, for in recent years there has been a growing interest
      taken by the English in Mexico owing to the publication of two
      books by an English lady, Mrs. Alec Tweedie, _Mexico As I Saw It_
      and Your Excellency's own biography, which books have made much
      stir. Being, however, strangers in a strange land, we yielded to
      advice and saw Señor Justo Sierra. He was courteous and gave us
      letters to Señor Olegario Molina, then Governor of Yucatan, to
      General Bravo, and passports satisfactory, but scarcely generous.

      On landing in Yucatan we immediately presented the letter of Señor
      Sierra, together with a most courteous letter from ourselves, at
      the House of the Governor. Not only did Señor Molina do nothing
      for us; he had not even the courtesy to acknowledge the letters; a
      breach of manners for which there could be no excuse.

      We regret to tell Your Excellency that during the subsequent
      months we spent in Yucatan we met with discourtesy, inhospitality
      and neglect from the officials such as would be impossible here in
      England if one of your people visited us. We went among the
      Yucatecans with no feelings but those of kindliness, and an
      enthusiastic interest in the attempt we were making to throw fresh
      light upon the problem of Mayan archæology. But for those foolish
      enough to take an interest in their country's past, Yucatecans,
      rich and poor, appear to have no feelings but that of a pitying
      contempt combined with an eager desire to share in "plucking"

      The only kindness we received was from Spanish Cubans attached to
      the plantations, and Señores Aristegui and Augusto Peon, the
      latter apologising to us for the gross rudeness of Señor Molina,
      whom he declared to be an ill-bred parvenu.

      We liked the Indians as much as we disliked the Yucatecans, and we
      deeply regret the terrible cruelties and massacres which we know
      have been and we fear still are being perpetrated in your name in
      Quintana Roo. The state of that Territory, as we told Señor Peon
      and reported by letter to Señor Sierra, could not possibly be
      worse. General Bravo, who behaved to us in a singularly
      discourteous and shuffling way, declares the war to be over. This
      is absolutely untrue. We lived some time on the east coast and in
      Cozumel, and we know that the war can never end except by a brutal
      policy of extermination entirely unworthy of Your Excellency's
      great record and of Mexico if she is to retain her place among
      civilised Powers. General Bravo has no effective control over the
      country, as we are prepared to and shall prove in the book which
      we are about to publish.

      Last, but not least, so-called civilised Yucatan is rotten with a
      foul slavery, the blacker because of its hypocrisy and pretence.
      We have gathered facts which make truly a sad story. The girls and
      women on the haciendas are treated like cattle, a prey to the
      detestable lusts of the haciendados and their sons; Indian workmen
      are flogged, even to death, and in one case which came to our
      knowledge those who attempted to expose such foul murder were put
      into Merida prison without trial, and, as we are informed, are
      still there. For the Indian there is no justice, and at his
      expense the great henequen growers daily increase their millions,
      some of which they lavishly used in their attempts to hide from
      Your Excellency the utter rottenness and degradation of Yucatan's
      social system. If Your Excellency desires particulars we shall
      gladly give ourselves the honour of sending names and details.

      We have the honour to avail ourselves of the opportunity which now
      offers of expressing to you our sentiments of the highest
      consideration and respect.

                             We have the Honour to Remain
                                              Your Excellency's
                         Obedient and faithful Servants and Admirers
                                                      (_Signed_) C. A.
                                                          F. J. T. F.




Eight hundred million Mexican dollars!

Eighty million pounds sterling!

These are the profits which the score or so of Yucatecan henequen
growers are said to have divided in the last fifteen years. What then is
this Pactolus-plant from which has been crushed this river of wealth? It
is true enough that half the world does not know how the other half
lives, and this is a good example, for there is probably not 1 per cent.
of Englishmen, and scarcely more than 10 per cent. of Americans (though
the States is the main market for the staple product of Yucatan) who
could tell you to what botanical family it belongs, or indeed that it is
a plant at all.

Henequen (Spanish _jeniquen_ or _geniquen_) is a fibre commercially
known as Sisal hemp, from the fact that it is obtained from a species of
cactus, the _Agave Sisalensis_, first cultivated around the tiny port of
Sisal in Yucatan. The older Indian name for the plant is _Agave Ixtli_.
From its fleshy leaves is crushed out a fine fibre which, from the fact
that it resists damp better than ordinary hemp, is valuable for making
ships' cables, but the real wealth-producing use of which is so bizarre
that no one in a hundred guesses would hit on it. It is used in the
myriad corn-binding machines of America and Canada. They cannot use
wire, and cheap string is too easily broken. Henequen is at once strong
enough and cheap enough. Hence the piles of money heaping up to the
credit of Yucatecans in the banks of Merida.

There is no doubt that henequen was known to and possibly cultivated by
the ancient inhabitants of Yucatan; but its commercial value was not
discovered until late in the nineteenth century. The first henequen
plantation was formed in 1850. Soon there were several more, though they
were one and all on the humblest scale both as regards extent and
methods of cultivation. It was our good fortune to visit one of the very
earliest, that of Yaxche, now the property of Señor Augusto Peon, and
the photographs reproduced are of that estate. Señor Peon himself
conducted us over it, and told us that as a lad he remembered the first
clearing being made in the woods for the Eldorado-cactus about 1850. A
mere acre, that was all! To-day he has close on six thousand acres under
cultivation on this farm alone, with villages containing four thousand
souls, and it would be quite rash to hazard a guess at his wealth. He is
certainly a sterling millionaire three or four times over, and he told
us that his income had actually doubled in less than ten years. Such is

But the plant was a long time winning its way to its present exalted
position. Until within the last thirty years the only market for the
fibre was the Mexican Republic itself, where fortunes were being coined
by the crushing of yet another cactus, the _Agave Americana_ or maguey,
from which is obtained the foul-smelling pulque, dearly loved drink of
all Mexicans. And then three decades back henequen began to win a
reputation abroad, particularly in the States. In 1880, 97,351 bales,
weighing 39,501,725 lb. and valued at about one and three-quarter
million dollars, were exported. In 1904, 627,700 bales, weighing about
207,141,000 lb. and valued at 15,629,730 dollars, were exported, and
during 1906 the amount shipped rose to 726,785 bales, each averaging 330
lb. in weight and totalling in value between twenty-five and twenty-six
million dollars. Of these, 595,024 bales were sent to the United States
(or 186,747 to New Orleans; 144,916 to Boston; 119,688 to New York;
63,620 to Texas City; 59,235 to Mobile; and 20,818 to Galveston); the
remaining 131,761 bales going to various ports in Canada, Europe, and

These amazing figures tell their own tale of the growth of the staple
industry of Yucatan. A local trade has in a few short years become
almost a world-monopoly, and from being a poor land the Peninsula has
become a Monte-Cristo territory. Once the fibre was discovered by the
corn growers, the trade went up by leaps and bounds; but it was the
Spanish-American War of 1898 which gave it its great boom, and it may be
said to be still "booming." The destruction and stoppage of the Manila
hemp crops in the Philippines during the conflict gave the Yucatecans
their chance. They met the shortage, and importers found that they had
in the henequen fibre at once a cheaper and a stronger corn-binder.
To-day Yucatan can sell all the henequen she can grow, and every month
sees more and more woodland reclaimed and prepared to bear its share in
swelling the receipts of the Meridan mushroom millionaires.

In North-West Yucatan you can travel mile after mile, league after
league, and see absolutely nothing but henequen. It seems to need no
soil. Out of the grey boulder-strewn ground stick the great green
pineapple-like stalks crowned with a widely parted bunch of fleshy green
leaves with black thorny points. Planted in even lines about four yards
apart, they stretch endlessly towards the horizon, the monotony broken
only here and there by the grey stone walls, like those of a Yorkshire
farm, which mark off and enclose each plantation. As we wandered round
his huge estate, Señor Peon explained to us the process through which
henequen goes from planting till it is fibre white and clean. In
preparing land for planting it must first be cleared of all timber, and
in the outlying districts from dawn till sundown one hears the ring of
the axe as the Indians fell the trees. After this clearing comes a
period, usually about a year, during which the land is allowed to lie
fallow, the fallen timbers rotting and everything preparing for the
flames. Towards the end of the dry season this burning takes place. This
is also the method of preparing the milpas or maize fields for their new
crops, and thus in April all over the country you see mighty columns of
black smoke rising into the cloudless blue, like the smoke of burnt
offerings to the Harvest-God. If rain does not come--and it very rarely
does--the fallen timber and dried undergrowth burn for days until there
is nothing left but a few black smouldering tree-trunks, which by
another season will have been effectually dealt with by the
broad-mandibled digging ant and the myriad woodlice. A second year is
allowed to pass before the henequen is planted. Usually maize is sown on
the clearing for the season, and then once again they set fire to it all
and with this second conflagration the ground is ready.

But the planter must wait for the rains. These come towards the end of
May. Dark clouds roll up, and between five and six o'clock each day a
sharp shower may be expected. By the middle of June the floods of the
sky break loose, and for hours each day and night the baked earth is
deluged. Now the haciendado must get his plants ready. This is an easy
matter if he has other plantations. In any of these where the agave is
old and has had most of its leaves cut away, he can find what he wants.
From some of the plants a long stalk-like stem will be seen shooting up
from the centre, and this will have thrown out branches from which the
seeds have grown and fallen to the ground. Thus around its base there
will be young seedlings in plenty sprouting. The largest of these are
taken. On the bigger haciendas there are regular nurseries for these
seedlings, which are carefully fostered for a year or so that they may
be of fair size when they are needed for planting out. These are planted
in the new clearing in rows about fourteen feet apart, each plantling
being eight feet from its neighbour.

Now there is a wait of five or six years before the first crop of leaves
can be cut. But if this is rather a wearily long time for the planter to
wait for his returns, at least it is not expensive. For the plants need
little or no attention: all that is necessary is to keep the spaces
between the rows fairly free from weeds which would otherwise smother
the young cactuses. At the end of the fifth year the plants are ready
for their first cutting, and the healthy ones will bear well for twelve
or fifteen years. The cutting is begun at the base of the stem, where
the leaves are more fully developed. Eight to ten are cut at a time, and
usually three or four cuttings are made each year, so that the average
yield of each plant is about thirty-two leaves annually. Slowly year by
year the cutting creeps nearer the top, and the space between the leaves
and the ground becomes greater. When the top is reached all the leaves
which will ever grow have grown and the plant is useless unless the
seed-stem has appeared, when it is left for the production of young
plants. If it has not run to seed, then it is cut down and left to rot,
the ground being ready again at once for replanting.

But the rearing and cutting of this "green gold of Yucatan" is not all.
There is a long process before it is ready to be sold under the hammer
of an American or European auctioneer, in much the same way as cotton is
dealt with on the Liverpool or Manchester Exchanges.

Crossing and recrossing each henequen plantation, small toy-like
two-foot gauge iron tracks are laid, on which small mule-drawn
trolley-cars convey the henequen leaves to the hacienda buildings. On
some of the larger of the haciendas these tracks often cover thirty or
forty miles, and at first sight it would seem an unnecessarily expensive
means of transit, and that it would be cheaper to cart it as an English
farmer does his corn. But when you remember the cost of making level
roads over miles of rock-strewn plantation, and that each fleshy leaf
represents an average weight of four or five pounds, and that on a
trolley-car drawn by one mule can be packed one thousand of these
weighing about two tons and needing four or five carts with mules and
men to match, you see that the trolley method, after the original
outlay, is far cheaper. On the trolleys, then, the henequen leaves are
conveyed to the hacienda buildings, where an elaborate machinery is
waiting to crush out the gold-yielding fibre. The track runs right into
the building, the mule is unhooked, and returns once more to the
plantation with an empty car for another load of fodder for the crusher.
And while the empty car is returning the leaves of the newly arrived
laden car are being dealt with.

Three or four Indians set to work to arrange the leaves so that their
black-pointed ends are all in one direction. Next these thorny points
are severed by a machete and in small bundles of six or eight the leaves
are handed to men who are feeding a sliding belt-like platform about a
yard wide, and on this they are conveyed to the machine. Before they
enter its great blunt-toothed, gaping jaws, they are finally arranged,
as the sliding belt goes its unending round, so that they do not enter
more than one at a time. Woe betide the Indian who has the misfortune to
get his fingers in these revolving jaws of the gigantic crusher, and
many indeed are there fingerless, handless, and armless from this cause.
The leaves enter broadways, for the blunt-toothed rollers are a little
wider than the longest leaves. On entering the first rollers the fleshy
leaf is crushed like sugar-cane in a crusher. The sappy juices fly
around, but the wet, dripping machine continues with its work and the
thick, greeny water runs into a trough below to be carried away in a
channel back to the fields. The leaf is passed from one to another, each
crushing away more fleshy matter until the fourth or fifth roller has
been reached, when it is no longer a leaf, but one mass of greeny-yellow
threads in the hands of an Indian who is kept continually receiving it
as it is thrown from the machine.

The next process is the drying of the fibre, which takes place in
drying-yards. From the machine to these another trolley-track is laid,
and there on wire lines, as will be seen in our illustration, the fibre
is hung in the scorching sun. The Yucatecan can always be sure of his
weather, and the fibre is no more bother to him until the sun has
thoroughly bleached the greeny-yellow threads. Two or three days of this
sunbath is quite enough, and then the last process, before the Yucatecan
rakes in his shekels, is the pressing of the fibre into bales ready for
transport. This final process is very similar to our English
hay-trussing. The fibre is placed in the press, weighed, and compressed
into the smallest possible space and bound with rope.

But what becomes of the green pulpy waste which forms 90 per cent. of
the fleshy leaves before it is put into the machine? Part of this is
water and the remainder, as the fibre is thrown off one roller to
another, falls through the machine into a truck-like trolley awaiting it
underneath. It is a mangled mass of verdure, and to the inexperienced
eye as useless as the green water running away in the narrow channel.
But the Yucatecan finds use for it, and it is carried to the corral,
where we find a herd of cattle making a meal off it amid myriads of
tormenting flies.

The fibre is not sent direct from the grower to the market, but is
passed through the hands of the large agents resident in the country,
who ship it to the various ports. This has become such a trade in itself
that one agent has grown so rich upon his commissions that he now runs a
special line of steamers between Progreso and New York for the traffic,
as well as holding the "lion's share" in the railway concerns of the
Peninsula. Owing to the shallow water at Progreso and the cost of
dredging on coral-beds, he has had to go to the expense of having his
boats built specially for the traffic. But his flat-bottomed
small-draught steamers have made his family one of the richest of the
money-grubbing ring in Yucatan. For there is money for every one who
touches the magic fibre except the miserable Indian, by whose
never-ending labours the purse-proud monopolists of the Peninsula are
enabled to be ever adding to their ill-gotten gold. There are in Yucatan
to-day some 400 henequen plantations of from 25 to 20,000 acres, making
the total acreage under cultivation some 140,000 acres. The cost of
production, including shipping expenses, export duties, etc., is now
about 7 pesos (14s.) per 100 kilogrammes. The average market price of
henequen is 28 pesos per 100 kilogrammes, so the planter gets a return
of 400 per cent. All this is obviously only possible as long as he can
get slave-labour and the hideous truth about the exploitation of the
Mayans is kept dark. The Indian gets a wage of 50 centavos for cutting a
thousand leaves, and if he is to earn this in a day he must work ten
hours. Near the big towns, 75 centavos are paid, but practically, on
many haciendas, it is so managed that the labour is paid for by his bare


[Illustration: THE FIBRE MILL.]

There is much in the henequen agave beside its fibre which might be
turned to commercial uses, but these side-products, such as alcohol made
from the juicy substance of the leaves, and paper made from the leafless
stems of the plants, have so far been neglected. An enterprising German
has started a rope factory near Merida with a capital of $2,500,000, but
this is the first attempt at working up the hemp in the country.
Henequen is cultivated in Cuba and the Bahamas and the Germans have
introduced its culture into East Africa, where they have planted 150,000
agaves. Whether it will thrive there is doubtful, but in both Cuba and
the Bahamas it has been a failure, the plant for some reason
degenerating and producing a poor fibre.



There is perhaps nothing which strikes one at first sight in travelling
through Yucatan so much as the absence of animal life. For the
stay-at-home the usual idea of the Tropics is that it is that part of
the earth where the deadliest serpents wait for you in the seclusion of
the bathroom, or twine round your legs while you breakfast; that such
cohorts of fearsome creatures watch for you with the patience of
writ-servers at the garden gate that it is a miracle if by lunch-time
you find you still "have the luck to live"; and that a reckless
indulgence in even moderate walking-exercise will most certainly end in
your falling a prey to one or more of those great beasts which, like the
troops of Midian in the hymn, "prowl and prowl around."

The truth is very disappointing. Nothing is ever so bad or so good as we
expect it to be. The Tropics, as far as Yucatan is concerned, are a case
in point, both as regards beauty and dangers. The most luxuriant of
Yucatecan woodland scenes would have real difficulty to hold its own in
a beauty competition against an English lane when June has lavished her
wild roses and her honeysuckle on the sunkissed hedgerows. And for the
matter of risk, a modern city infested with motor-cars is the "valley of
the shadow of death" compared with an average part of the tropics of
Central America. There are, of course, real dangers, but one usually
survives them, probably for the same reason that a dyspeptic lives so
long, because one takes care. The annual death-roll in Paris, London or
New York from motor-cars is far higher than the yearly toll of native
lives taken by the serpents of Yucatan.

Yet the country is famous for its snakes, but you do not see them. In
all our wanderings and campings in forests, in all our often foolhardy
explorations of weird caves and pot-holes, so frequented by snakes as
sleeping-places, we only saw seven, and none of them were large. The
most exciting adventure we had was in one of the islands. We were
following a very narrow Indian trail single file, when the one of us who
was leading ran his face right into a snake which was stretched across
the path at the height of one's eyes, its tail curled round a shrub on
one side, its head round one on the other side. It was a tree-climbing
species, a bright green, and looked evil enough, but was probably
harmless. We had but half an hour before seen the snake the Mayan
Indians call uolpoch (pronounced wolpoach), the deadliest of all New
World serpents, perhaps the deadliest in the world. It was among the
leaves at the side of the path, and wriggled away as we approached. It
is about two or at most three feet long, of a dirty brown-grey colour
with the belly a trifle lighter in tint, and is remarkable as having
both ends blunt like the slow-worm. It is said to be the only snake
known to attack before it is attacked, and is specially feared as being
most active at night when it wanders around. Another of its
accomplishments is an extraordinary power of leaping: it is alleged to
be capable of a jump of six feet high. We do not, however, guarantee
this serpentine high jump, as we never, thank goodness, saw it perform.
The uolpoch's bite is always fatal, and the Indians dread the little
blunt-nosed reptile, which sleeps the sunny hours away hidden in hollows
in rocks or in ditches.

The rattlesnake is very common in Yucatan, especially in the south and
more marshy portions of the Peninsula. The python, too, is met with in
the lower-lying forests, though we did not have the luck to see one.
They never, however, attain the size of the monsters which infest the
valley of the Amazon and its tributaries. There are several of the
_Elaps_ genus of serpents in Yucatan, the most common being _Elaps
corallina_, or coral-snake, ringed with red and black. He is a pretty
fellow but highly venomous, and shows much fight if provoked. A friend
of ours trod on one which was asleep in the cab of an engine, of all
places in the world. He luckily had on top-boots, or probably he would
not have lived to tell the tale, for the little beast was round on him
and made a deep mark on the leather in a second. The _Spilotes Salvini_
(Greek [Greek: spilos], a spot), a large but quite harmless serpent, is
of spotted black with a yellowish belly, and attains almost pythonic
dimensions, the average specimens being about six and a half feet long.
Another harmless serpent family, the _Dipsadidæ_ (so called from the
Greek [Greek: dipsa], thirst, in allusion to an ancient superstition
that this genus of snakes caused a mortal thirst, to which Shelley
refers in his "Prometheus Unbound": "He thirsted, as one bit by a
dipsas"), is represented in Yucatan by the _Dipsas splendida_, a
tree-climbing reptile with bright mottled skin, averaging two to two and
a half feet in length. It is chiefly active at nights, when it climbs in
search of the insects which form its food.

In the larger mammals, particularly the carnivora, the Peninsula is
notably poor. Practically the only formidable creature is the jaguar,
which would, however, never deserve Bottom's immortal dictum anent the
king of carnivora, for it is in no sense "a terrible wild-fowl." _Felis
onca_, to give the animal the dignity of his full official title, is
most like the leopard or panther of the Old World. He is of a tawny
colour with spots which differ, however, from the true leopard inasmuch
as they are ocellated, _i.e._ eyed, black with a tawny eye of colour in
the centre, or are broken up into rosettes of black on a tawny ground.
Full-grown specimens measure between four and five feet in length with a
tail of some two feet. In Yucatan the jaguar is distinctly cowardly, and
will never attack unless in a corner or when attacked. We met one when
wandering one afternoon in the woods around Chichen, and though we were
unarmed, it fled incontinently and climbed a tree. This they are very
fond of doing, especially when pursued by dogs. The natives face them
with the machete as their only weapon, and show much courage often in
tracking them to the caves where they shelter. While even the biggest
jaguar will avoid an encounter with man, they are bold in their night
attacks upon cattle and pigs. At one settlement on the east coast which
we visited, thirteen porkers had disappeared in as many nights, and
though a hunt was organised in one expedition of which we took part, the
"tiger," as the natives insist on calling the jaguar, had not been found
when we left.

Allied to the _Felis onca_ are two other "cats," the _Felis pardalis_
and _Felis concolor_ or puma, which are both found in Yucatan and the
neighbouring parts of Central America. The former is far more rare than
the jaguar, and somewhat smaller, measuring seldom more than three feet
in length of body, with a two-foot tail. It is of a greyish-tawny colour
and is more like a wild cat than a leopard, its tail striped and coat
marked with small black spots. The puma is of a uniform greyish or
reddish-grey, and is between three and four feet in length. The young
are born marked with dark-brown spots in three rows on the back, and the
whole coat marked sporadically. The puma is greatly hated by
stock-breeders because of its habit of killing but not eating. One puma
has been known to kill many animals in a night, just lapping a little of
the blood of each and then leaving the carcase for a fresh prey.

The creature which is at once the largest and least offensive in Yucatan
is the tapir, a genus of _Ungulata_ or hoofed animals, in general
appearance looking much what one could imagine a cross between a
rhinoceros and a wild pig would be like. Indeed naturalists incline to
the belief that the tapir is somewhat closely allied to the former
animal. There are four known species, three American--viz. _Tapirus
terrestris_, _T. Bairdi_, and _T. Dowi_, and one Asiatic, _T.
malayanus_. Though the species differ somewhat in size, the tapir is
usually about the size of a small ass. The body, which in the adult is
of a uniform deep brown, though the young are marked with yellowish
spots and stripings, is short, stout and clumsy, with thick legs ending
in four small hoofs on the fore feet and three on the hind. It has small
piggy eyes, and its most characteristic feature is a queer flexible
snout prolonged some inches beyond the jaw, but apparently without the
prehensile powers of the elephant's trunk. The tapir loves water, and
when attacked by a jaguar will, where possible, take to a river or lake,
diving and plunging. It is quite inoffensive and never attacks man, but
when at bay will give ugly bites. It is very powerful, and has so thick
a skin that it can force its way through the densest forest. The
commonest tapir is the South American one, the _T. terrestris_, but this
is not found north of the Panama Isthmus. The tapir of Yucatan and
Guatemala is _T. Dowi_. This with _T. Bairdi_ is generally regarded as
generically separate from other tapirs, and they are scientifically
termed _Elasmognathus_. All tapirs are vegetarians, living on the shoots
of trees, on fruits and seeds; but they will eat almost any substance
which they come across. Thus pieces of wood, clay, and stones have been
found in their stomachs.

The liveliest sport in Yucatan is derived from the peccary, a kind of
swine, belonging to the genus _Dicotyles_, of which there are two
species. The name is probably from an American Indian word which is
cited by Pennant as _paquiras_. The peccary is the only indigenous
representative of the Old World _Suidæ_ or swine in the New World, and
both its species are found in Yucatan--_D. torquatus_ or _tajacu_, the
Texan or collared peccary, and _D. labiatus_, the white-lipped peccary.
The range of the former is from Arkansas to Patagonia, while the latter
are restricted to Central America and as far south as Brazil. The
generic name is from the Greek [Greek: dikotylos] ([Greek: di] two, and
[Greek: kotylê], a hollow), and was given the peccaries by Cuvier in
allusion to a curious glandular organ on the back which was regarded by
old travellers as a second navel. This gland secretes a foul-smelling
liquid, and unless quickly removed after the animal has been killed,
taints the flesh, making it almost uneatable. We hunted peccary and eat
them. The meat has a rather rich, spicy taste, like stuffed veal, and is
fairly tough. The two species breed freely together, but the true _D.
labiati_ are far the fiercer of the two, go about in small herds and are
known to attack man and even the jaguar. The Yucatecans hunt them with
dogs, and seldom does an expedition return without leaving two or three
of the latter dead in the woods, ripped up by the short tusks of the
peccary boars. The animals make their home in natural hollows and caves,
or in holes beneath large trees. In appearance they are like pigs, but
the bristles are coarser and variegated somewhat like a porcupine's.
They have fewer teeth than the ordinary pig--viz. thirty-eight as
against forty-four--and a very short tail.

The deer of Yucatan are quite small, about the size of our fallow-deer.
They are of two species, _Cervus virginianus_ and _Cariacas toltecus_,
the latter quite small. You see little or nothing of either in
North-Eastern Yucatan, but on the southern sierras there are a good many
in the thick woodland. Down south, too, but still further south, you
find the monkey most frequenting this part of Central America, of the
genus _Mycetes_, familiarly known as "the howler" or "howling monkey,"
in allusion to its strange, weird, and very loud cries, which can be
heard miles off. This peculiar vocal power is due to an extraordinary
development of the larynx, the hyoid bone in which is very much enlarged
and excavated, thus forming a hollow drum which acts as a reverberator.
The species of _Mycetes_ found in Yucatan and Guatemala is _M. villosus_
or _ursinus_. The _Mycetinæ_ are the largest monkeys of America, nearly
three feet in body length, with long prehensile tails. They are quite
black, and are almost entirely arboreal in habits, living in the trees.
The Indians regard their flesh as a great luxury, and white men agree
that it is very palatable. Another monkey, rare in Yucatan, but very
common in Guatemala, is the spider-monkey or sapajou (genus _Ateles_),
of which the species _A. vellerosus_ is the commonest.

Of smaller mammals there are a good number in Yucatan. There is the
coati, known to naturalists as _Nasua narica_, but always called by the
natives _pisote_. It is closely related to the racoons, but has a longer
body and tail and a thin and flexible snout, hence the generic name
_Nasua_ (Latin _nasus_, nose). It is of a dark-brown colour, and is thus
distinguished from its Brazilian cousin the red ring-tailed coati
(_Nasua rufa_). It is carnivorous, and is particularly fond of the large
lizards, the iguanas, which abound throughout the Peninsula. Birds, too,
fall prey to them. They are distinctly attractive-looking little
creatures and are readily tamed. We saw a pair in a courtyard of a
restaurant in Merida, which eagerly made friends with the guests in
return for a piece of meat or fruit. The Indians relish their flesh
greatly, and the animals have little chance if they are rash enough to
venture near a village. Sitting one night in the wonderful tropical
moonlight at a lonely settlement, suddenly an indescribable din of dogs
yelping and Indians shouting arose. We really thought the place was
about to be raided when we saw the women as well as the men and boys arm
themselves with cudgels and make for the wood. A yelp or two and a
piteous cry, and then with huge delight an Indian rushed back with the
still quivering furry body of the poor coati. A fire was built, and in a
very few minutes the creature had been dried into that most unappetising
mummification in which all Indian cooking of meat ends. The pisote
tastes much like an old rabbit.

Talking of rabbits, these ubiquitous rodents are found in Yucatan, but
in no great numbers. Hares are unknown. The common racoon (_Procyon
lotor_) is found, but there are no crab-eating racoons (_Procyon
cancrivorous_) in Yucatan: these are restricted to South America proper.
The racoon eats fruits and is fond of young maize; but he is also
carnivorous, and will attack fowls, biting their heads off and sucking
their blood. He feeds, too, on grubs and frogs, but he most enjoys
sugar-cane, to crops of which he is very destructive. In Yucatan is
found the grey fox of the States (_Urocyon virginianus_). A pretty
little fellow is the grey squirrel (_Sciurus carolinensis_), which
has a marvellously bushy tail. A species of the agouti (_Dasyprocta
punctata_ or _acouchy_) is found in Yucatan, a guinea-pig-like creature,
the size of a small rabbit, which when disturbed gives pig-like grunts.
There are many bats, the commonest being the so-called bulldog bat, in
allusion to the bulldog-like expression due to the pendulosity of the
skin around the snout and jaw. A genus of armadillos (_Tatusia
novemcincta_) usually called _Dasypus novemcinctus_, the only armadillo
found in the United States, is fairly common in the woods of Yucatan.

While writing of Mammalia we must not forget to mention that curious
creature the manatee, which is found fairly plentifully in the creeks
and shallow inlets around the coast of the Peninsula. In Guatemala and
Southern Yucatan it is called _Vaca de Agua_ (Sea-Cow). Its scientific
name is _Manatus americanus_ or _australis_. In shape it is something
like a small whale; but it belongs to a different order, though it was
once believed to be a herbivorous cetacean. It is some ten or twelve
feet in length with a stout naked body, fish-shaped, with no trace of
hind limbs, and ending in a wide shovel-shaped tail. The fore limbs are
paddles, on which there are rudimentary nails; the eyes and ears are
small; the neck short and thick. They live in either fresh or salt
water, but never far from land or far from sea. They feed on sea-grasses
and never leave the water. Their flesh, which is white and
sweet-tasting, is relished by the natives, who hunt them as did their
ancestors, usually with harpoon, for their fat and leather as well as
for the meat.

We have already spoken of the snakes in Yucatan, and now we must say a
few words as to other reptiles. Yucatan is the happy hunting ground for
the largest land lizard known to Natural History, the iguana. His
prevailing colour is grey, shading to a light green with a lighter tint
on the belly, and he has black markings crosswise his whole length to
his tail and a crest of spines down his back. The creature is
grotesquely ugly with his great pouched under-jaw and eyes snake-like in
their smallness, and as you often meet specimens upwards of three feet
long (they are known to attain five feet or more in length), one is apt
to hasten to the conclusion that they are fearsome foes. As a matter of
fact they are the most inoffensive of creatures unless molested, feeding
entirely on a vegetable diet. But they can and will bite, if annoyed,
and we came across cases of Indians whose fingers had been bitten off,
though of course there is no venom like that of a snake in the iguana's
teeth. They are arboreal in habits, but the Yucatecan iguanas love most
to make their homes in the ruined facades and roofs of Mayan palaces. We
hardly ever explored a building without one of these great clumsy
reptiles bustling out of its hiding-place and scurrying up the palace
front or the falling stairways, looking for all the world like a
gargoyle animated of a sudden. The flesh of these lizards is much
appreciated by the natives, and tastes like chicken. There are a great
quantity of smaller lizards in Yucatan; in fact, as you walk through the
woods the undergrowth, especially in the sunnier patches, seems
positively alive with them. Browns, greens, and yellows; mottled,
striped, and spotted; some of them are really very pretty, and all of
them quite harmless.

There are plenty of alligators to be found round the coasts,
particularly on the east, where they shelter in shallow muddy streams
and in the mangrove swamps, or bask on the landward side of the islets
which so often only lie a few yards from the mainland. The alligator is
a savage beast, more savage it is said than his congener the crocodile,
and will take the offensive often without provocation. If anything, they
look more repulsive in their habitat than they do in a Zoo, where they
are surrounded by the softening influences of civilisation and the sweet
simplicity of a cemented tank. We heard a story worth quoting, as at
once illustrating the brute's ferocity and the courage of the Indian.
Down in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec two Indians were floundering in a
swamp when one suddenly disappeared into a hole, to utter in a second a
howl of agony, while the water around him became tinged with blood. Down
in the hole an alligator had seized him by the leg, biting it off at the
knee. Without a moment's hesitation his comrade leapt into the pool and,
planting his foot firmly on the lizard's head, thus kept it from making
a second attack while he helped the exhausted, bleeding man to scramble

The average alligator in Yucatan measures between seven and nine feet,
though the one typical of the genus, the _Alligator lucius_ or
_mississippiensis_ of the United States, attains a length of seventeen
or eighteen feet. In Guatemala and the Rio Hondu a special species is
found known as the _Alligator punctulatus_. Alligators differ from true
crocodiles in having a shorter and flatter head, cavities in the upper
jaw into which the long teeth of the under-jaw fit, and feet much less
webbed. It is a very common mistake to believe that the true crocodile
is unknown in the New World. As a matter of fact, a typical one, the
_Crocodilus americanus_, long confused with the alligator, has recently
been identified in Florida and the West Indies. The alligator feeds
chiefly on fish, and his voracity is such that he lives on very strained
relations with the inhabitants of his fishy world, which avoid him with
the same fanatical earnestness with which a Kaffir avoids his
mother-in-law. But the alligator is more than a glutton; he is a
cannibal, and does not, unfortunately, even respect the family circle.
His wife has to be very careful to put the children to bed before he
returns from his wanderings, for if he catches sight of them or gets the
least chance he instantly eats them. The female alligator lays a great
quantity of large eggs, dropping them in the sand, where they are left
to be hatched by the sun's heat. As many as sixty eggs may be found in
one nest arranged in separate layers.

We have spoken of the turtles which are found in huge quantities around
the coasts and in the islands. There are any number of their land
cousins, the tortoises, in the woods of Yucatan, most of them quite
small, among them the box tortoise (_Cinostemon leucostomum_), that
queer little reptile who has a kind of front door which he slams in your
face, shutting his head in so that there is no way of arguing with him.
Frogs and toads there are in plenty, too, some of the latter being very
large; but we must get on to the insects. Of these the most fearsome are
the tarantulas, the commonly used but incorrect name for the largest
spider known, the _Mygale Hentzi_, a black hairy creature with body
about the size of a two-shilling piece and black hairy legs two inches
long. The bite of these spiders is really dangerous, although seldom
fatal to adults. A friend of ours was bitten in the wrist by one some
three years ago. His arm became seriously inflamed and terribly painful,
and could not be used for some months; and even now he still suffers
pain at times in the neighbourhood of the wound. The ruins in Yucatan
are the happy hunting ground for these monsters, which will even attack
small birds. Scorpions are very common, too, hiding by day under stones
or logs or in the crevices of house walls. There are two kinds, a black
and a white, though the latter is more yellow than white. We never saw
any large specimens, but they are said to reach seven or eight inches in
length Their sting is distinctly dangerous, and we heard of cases of
Indians dying through it.

The jigger or chigoe (to give it the more correct native name from which
the first is a corruption), that detestable flea which burrows beneath
the toenails and there lays its eggs, is common in Yucatan, especially
on the east coast. It closely resembles the common flea in form, though
it is much smaller. The sandal-shod natives are particularly liable to
it, and of the Mexican troops at Chan Santa Cruz a large percentage have
one or two toes missing. In the south of the Peninsula you find that
curious insect the Praying Mantis, so called in allusion to the attitude
of its forelegs, which are held as are hands in prayer. These creatures
wage remorseless war on one another, and fight until the stronger
literally pulls its foe's head off. This was actually witnessed by a
friend of ours.

That detestable insect the centipede is common in Yucatan, and not the
harmless type to which one is accustomed in an English garden, but a
formidable creature half a foot or more long. You find the _Scolopendra
castaniceps_ of a greenish colour with a chestnut-tinted head averaging
six inches, and in the south the giant centipede (_Scolopendra gigas_)
which is sometimes a foot long. Humboldt, in his _Personal Narrative_,
says that he saw Indian children pull centipedes out of the ground and
eat them; but the present-day Indians fear and avoid them as much as
they do a scorpion. There is no doubt that their bite is very poisonous,
and even often dangerous.

The ants of Yucatan are wonderful, except when you have the misfortune
to get them on you, when you forget to admire them in the torrents of
blasphemy which their bites evoke. We came across four types, a
pitch-black small tree-ant, which appeared to live principally beneath
the shelter of the bark of rotting trees; a big yellow fellow often
nearly an inch long, a large black ant, and a smaller reddish black ant.
The third kind, a broad-mandibled digging ant, called by the Indians
_zay_ (pronounced _tzay_), infests the woods of Yucatan to an almost
incredible degree, honeycombing the roadways to such an extent in some
places that you sink almost to your knee in the loose red earth.
Sometimes in the woods you will come across patches an acre or two in
extent of loosened earth dotted here and there with hillocks thrown up
by these tiny excavators. They carry out their operations, too, among
the ruins; but their work is distinctly unscientific, and many
interesting memorials of the ancient Mayans have been destroyed by these
insect vandals.

More than this, they actually make paths through the woods. As you
follow an Indian trail you will of a sudden come to a place where it is
crossed by quite a distinct path, traceable for yards. Sometimes you
actually find them travelling on these paths. One evening in the woods
near Occeh we came across a procession of ants or, to write correctly,
two processions of ants; for there was one set going in
"follow-my-leader" style across the road one way, and another set going
the other way. It was interesting to see that the insects never stepped
out of the ranks. One set were carrying each a piece of leaf which they
held up over them (it was about half an inch square) like a huge sail.
Some of them were literally staggering under the weight of the pieces of
leaf, but they never dropped them. The other set were returning into the
wood "empty-handed" to get fresh loads. For a long time we watched these
ordered ranks, and we had the curiosity to follow them into the wood,
where we found them actually at work on a leafy shrub, chewing off the
pieces and climbing down with them, and then without the least confusion
taking their places in the marching line of the loaded party. It is
possible that these ants are to be identified with those called by Henry
Walter Bates (_Naturalist on the Amazons_: 1863) the umbrella ant of
Brazil, which he says "thatches its large mansion (sometimes 40 yards in
circumference and 2 feet high) with circles of leaf cut with accurate
precision from coffee and orange trees, which they oftentimes strip bare
to carry out their bold architectural design." It seemed to us, however,
more likely that, as was observed by Thomas Belt (_Naturalist in
Nicaragua_: 1874), the leaves are gathered as provisions and are stored
till their decay generates a fungus upon which the ant feeds.

The cockroaches of Yucatan are truly tropical, and grow to a great
length. We saw some between two and three inches long. The little
village stores throughout Yucatan are infested with these pests, and one
day when purchasing some bananas, on the storekeeper lifting up the lid
of the wooden bin in which the fruit was kept, it sounds incredible, but
one could scarcely see the fruit, such hundreds of them filled the bin.
In the ruins you constantly find hornets' nests hanging against the
walls almost like swallows' nests, and if they happen to be "at home"
and do set about you, the only thing is to run. Yucatan is very rich in
dragonflies. They seem of almost all colours. Those we noticed most were
one of electric blue, one of grass green, and one, apparently rare,
almost red. At nights the trees are alight with fireflies. As we sat in
the clearing in our forest home on Cozumel, it looked as if armies of
Indians with lanterns were concentrating on us from all points of the
belt of dark woodland. The light these insects give is undoubtedly
strong, though we had not the luck to see, as did Stephens at Palenque,
"'lightning-bugs,' four of which together threw a brilliant light for
several yards around, and by the light of a single one we read
distinctly the finely printed pages of an American newspaper." No
account of a Yucatecan night would be complete without mentioning the
wonderful chorus of crickets which sing from sunset until the eastern
sky fades into the grey of dawn. It is literally a chorus, for there
must be thousands of the insects contributing to the endless serenading
of the lady crickets.

An hour after the sun is up and the dew has disappeared before the
rapidly increasing heat of the wonderful tropic sunshine, the Yucatecan
woodlands become beautiful with those most exquisite of all God's
creatures, the butterflies. There was a great deal in Yucatan which was
very disappointing; there was much which was actually heartbreaking; but
however footsore, tired, and hungry we were, we found it impossible not
to momentarily forget our troubles in our admiration for these flying
triumphs of Heaven's paint-box. Alas! we are not possessed of any
scientific knowledge, and all that this chapter attempts is to indicate
"the birds, beasts and fishes" one sees in travelling through the
Peninsula, and thus we cannot give the scientific names for these
marvellous insects. Perhaps it is as well, for it is really a kind of
desecration to label some fairy form of amber and blue with a
hendecasyllabic name, the pronunciation of which can only be mastered
after months of practice.

Most beautiful of all was a monster of sky blue, all four wings framed
with a delicate border of black. He must have measured five inches from
wing-point to wing-point. Exquisite, too, were the striped butterflies:
some striped scarlet and black, some white and black, some yellow and
black. The daintiness of these combinations was past all description.
The forest paths were bright, too, with wonders of yellow; amber and
orange, sulphur-tinted and palest lemon, huge butterflies fluttered
before our horses, such miracles of Nature's painting as made the
woodland seem a fairyland of colour. One of the commonest (it seems an
insult to use the adjective, it was so beautiful) of Yucatan's
butterflies was one with body and inner portions of the wings all black
and the outer parts a brilliant scarlet, a combination giving it as it
flew the appearance of a daintily slender bobbin or reel of vermilion.
And amid all this riot of colour were some quite as enchanting in the
Quaker-like sobriety of their tints. One specially struck us: a triumph
of silver greys and browns, a veritable incarnation of Autumn. But
enough! Neither glowing epithets nor the dry-as-dust names given them by
entomologists can do justice to Yucatan's butterflies: you must go and
see them for yourself to realise their beauty.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the most startlingly beautiful birds in Yucatan is the cardinal
bird, a large finch of a gorgeous red even to its beak, its face alone
being black around the base of the bill and on the upper throat. But the
full glories of its scarlet coat are the prerogative of the male, for
the female is a far duller colour. Species of the bird are common in the
warmer parts of the States, where it is often known as the Virginia
Nightingale, in allusion to its powers of song. The Yucatecan specimen,
about a foot long, makes a wonderful spectacle as it flashes through the
blaze of sunshine.

But if Yucatan has to share her cardinal bird with the more southern
States of America, she can claim to have all to herself, and the Central
American countries neighbouring her, perhaps one of the most beautiful
birds in the world, the _Meleagris ocellata_, the ocellated turkey, so
called in allusion to the _ocelli_ or eyes, much like those of a
peacock, marking its plumage, which is of blue, brown, and gold. Its
bare head is a deep blue studded with caruncles of an orange colour, and
it has no ugly dewlap as has the common turkey, than which it is much
smaller. This wonderful bird is fairly common in Yucatan, but is very
shy and keeps to the woods. A bird far more common, and a vivid contrast
in the sobriety of its feathering to this glorious fowl, is a species of
guan (_Ortalis vetula maccalli_), known in Spanish America as the
_chachalaca_ in allusion to its astoundingly loud cry. They are about
the size of a hen pheasant, the wings and body of a brown shading to a
greeny grey with a lighter grey-brown belly. They may be said to be the
great game birds of Yucatan as far as eating goes, and their flesh
tastes much like pheasant. They are pretty birds until they speak, and
one often sees them tame in the Indian villages. Of the same family of
gallinaceous birds (_Cracidæ_) to which the _chachalaca_ belongs, the
curassows and _hoccos_ found in Yucatan are members. Both the red
curassow and the globose curassow are fairly common; the natives call
them _kambūl_. Another type of curassow is the latter-mentioned
hocco, a name said to be a native word in Guiana. This bird we shot on
the east coast. It is a magnificent creature as big as a large turkey,
feathered in gold and brown, its head crested. Partridge and quail are
said to be plentiful, but we did not come across them.

One of the commonest yet one of the prettiest birds in the Peninsula is
a jay (_Cyanocitta yucatanica_) which goes about in small flocks. They
are about the size of a large blackbird, but with a longer tail. The
head and the belly are black and the back, wings, and tail are of a
beautiful electric blue. The legs are yellow, and, like the English
blackbird, the male has a yellow beak and the female a black one. The
Mayans call them _tchel_ and are always keen to kill them, for they are
very destructive to the crops; but nothing could well exceed the beauty
of a dozen of them darting from treetop to treetop in the early morning

Of hawks there are many species. One large black one found in Cozumel is
rare, but a common one which we specially noticed in that island is a
beautifully marked bird of black and brown which is said to belong to
the same division of hawks as the hobby-falcon of Europe. It is about a
foot long with a fairly long tail. The curious point about it was its
astounding boldness. It would sit on a tree a few yards ahead of you,
and when you came up and stood beneath it, refuse to be scared away. On
the eastern beach of Cozumel one of these birds settled on a fallen tree
near us, and refused to go although, of course without any desire to
actually hurt it, we pelted it with small pebbles. This hawk has a
curiously insistent and weirdly plaintive cry, with which the woods of
Cozumel echo all day. We never saw it actually strike at small birds,
and certainly its warning scream was calculated to give the most
careless finch a good chance of escape.

Of owls there was one of the large wood variety, and there are said to
be two peculiar to the country, neither of them much more than six
inches long, of a generally tawny colour and lighter on the bellies. In
parrots Yucatan is rich, the finest being the white-crowned parrot, its
plumage being green, blue, red, white, and yellow. The red-and-blue
macaw is known, though rare; but the woods are everywhere full of the
green parrot or parakeet, dainty little creatures who usually go about
in pairs, but sometimes are seen flocking and are for ever screaming and
chattering as they fly.

You see the common American kingfisher, some twelve inches long with
plumage of blue, white, spotted and barred, the head crested, sitting
sometimes above the cenotes. Of woodpeckers there are several varieties,
the commonest appearing to be the red-headed or crested woodpecker. If
you have luck (we did not have it), you can see in the Yucatecan
woodland the wonderful _Trogon resplendens_, scientifically associated
with the family of woodpeckers. There are some fifty species of Trogons,
but the most remarkable is the Yucatecan one, the Quetzal, a sacred bird
in Central America, the plumage of which is a gorgeous golden green, its
tail being in the male nearly three feet long, though the bird is about
the size of a pigeon. This Trogon in the sheen of its plumage almost
rivals the beauty of the humming-birds. Of the latter there are many to
be seen in Yucatan, but it really needs a poet to describe these winged
jewels of the woodland. As we sat on the verandah at Chichen prosaically
eating breakfast, amid the pink San Diego blossoms which clustered round
the house was a perpetual whirr of

    "Pinions of pale green, melting to black
    By bronze and russet passages."

One really is obliged to fall back upon quotation in speaking of these
tiny creatures, which seem veritably "plumaged from rainbows."

We have spoken of the sleek little _piches_ which chattered in the trees
of the plaza at Vera Cruz. There were any number of these in Yucatan,
and a much larger black bird, probably akin, infesting gardens and
distinguished by the most liquid and mellifluous note it is possible to
imagine. Swallows, too, though they seemed somewhat larger than the
ordinary swallow, were common everywhere; while a bird, which we think
belonged to the cuckoo family, often startled us when at work on the
ruins by a reiterated whistle which sounded like mocking laughter dying
away in a choking spasm of mirth.

The coasts of the Peninsula are rich with seafowl, so many and so
varied that it would need a skilled ornithologist and many pages to
chronicle them accurately. There are duck of all kinds, mallard, teal,
widgeon; wild geese, bitterns, herons, snipe, sandpipers, plovers,
curlews, and gulls galore. The bays and inlets are beautified by the
stately ibis, snowy white or slate-grey. Flamingoes are rarer; and
indeed a flamingo standing is not an object of beauty, for he is
altogether too long in the legs. Moreover his beautiful pink plumage is
seen at its best when he is in flight. As hideous as they are common are
the brown pelicans. In their way they are as detestable as the zopilotes
which we were at pains to describe in our first chapter, though their
habits are not so filthy.

We really have no space to say much of the fishes (pelicans naturally
suggest fishiness); but we ought to say that the brightest jewel in the
fishy crown of the Gulf of Mexico, at least from the gastronomic point
of view, is that fish which rejoices in the name of Red Snapper. At all
times and in all places you can get it. It appears to have no close
season, and whether in the smart restaurants of Mexico or Merida or in
the little coast cabins of the fishing Indians, you eat it, or try to
till nauseated. The Indians are clever fishermen, and catch with both
hook and net, but their most picturesque method is spearing. They paddle
their dug-out into shallow waters, stand on the end of the canoe, and
thrust a spear at the fish. This spear has a detachable point to which a
cord is fastened. They scarcely ever miss, and the struggling prey is
hauled in by the string. We saw a man land half a dozen big fish in
little more than as many minutes. The natives of Chiapas shoot the fish
from the end of the canoe with bow and arrow.

If a hundred people who have not travelled, or whose travels have been
confined to the typical Rhine, Switzerland and Riviera tours of modern
life, were asked what was their idea of a primeval forest in the
tropics, eighty per cent. at least would declare for a woodland notable
for giant trees beside which the forests of civilised countries would
seem mere park enclosures. Nothing could be further from the truth. The
average primeval forest in the tropics, of which the boundless woodlands
of Eastern Yucatan are a fair example, are disappointing in the extreme
from the very fact that, though dense to a degree that is heartbreaking,
you never see really noble trees. One of the largest trees in Yucatan is
the sapota (_Achras sapota_). This is an evergreen with thick shiny
leaves, and is said to sometimes reach a height of a hundred feet, but
we cannot say that we ever saw one so high. It is from the sapota that
there is obtained the chicle, the milky juice of the tree which forms
the basis of all American chewing-gums. The chicleros, as the cutters
are called, climb the tree, cut broad arrow-shaped grooves through the
bark pointing groundward, the shaft of the arrows making a drainage
groove down the full length of the tree, a vessel being placed at the
foot under this groove to catch the sap. But the Mayans do not care
about chicle. They like the sapota because it produces a fruit of which
they are passionately fond. And no wonder, for it is really very
pleasant eating. About the size of a small apple and the colour of a
medlar, the inside is a reddish-brown pulp, which has a delicious

The woods of Yucatan are full of acacias of many species, among them the
logwood (_Hæmatoxylon campechianum_). Mahogany is found and is
especially common in the south, where it is much used by the Indians for
canoes, the whole trunk being hollowed out. The leafiest tree in the
country is the ceiba (_Bombax ceiba_), called by the Mayans _yaxche_ or
_yastse_. This noble tree often attains a considerable height, gives an
extraordinary shade, and has ever been held as sacred by the Mayans. It
figures in their mythology. Their ancestors believed that there were
seven heavens, each having a hole in the centre and each immediately
above the other. A ceiba was believed to stand in the centre of the
earth, and its branches grew through the successive holes in the seven
heavens until the leaves reached the highest. By the branches of the
tree the dead climbed through the series of heavens until they reached
the utmost Mayan paradise. There is a tradition that a ceiba grew in
Valladolid. It was cut down but sprouted again, having this time four
boughs each directed to a cardinal point. A hawk had its home on the
highest branch, and the bird was considered to be the spirit of the
tree, its cry of "_suki, suki_," it is said, having given the ancient
Indian town Zaci, on the site of which Valladolid was built, its name.
There is another tree which rivals the ceiba in shadiness, but this you
only see on the haciendas which have been long in cultivation. It is a
laurel introduced into the Peninsula from Cuba some forty years ago by a
Spaniard named Cervera. His grandson, appropriately enough, showed us at
Yaxche near Merida the finest examples we saw, laurels so large and
leafy as to rival in size and shade our forest beech. They were
probably the Portugal Laurel (_Cerasus lusitanica_ or _Ficus

A fairly large tree is the mamey (_Lucuma mammosa_), belonging to the
same family as the sapota, and bearing a fruit almost rivalling that of
the latter in popularity among the Indians. It is egg-shaped, with a
rough brown skin, and inside is a pinky pulp tasting like quince
marmalade with a distinct flavour of almond-paste about it. By a
beneficent dispensation of Providence in a country where grass cannot
grow, there does grow a tree, the ramon (_Alicastrum Brownei_), called
by the Mayans _ŏs_, upon which Yucatecan horses thrive. It is
certainly very comforting when you camp for the night in the forest to
be able to send the Indians to cut an armful of the branches thus
generously provided by Nature's baiting stable, and to hear your cattle
contentedly munching it while you sup. The ramon grows fifty to sixty
feet high and has an abundance of evergreen leaves which form the
fodder. The fruit of the ramon is eaten boiled either alone or mixed
with honey or Indian corn, and the milky juice is used medicinally in
cases of asthma. Tree-palms grow everywhere in the woods, some of them
reaching eighty feet. The more common kinds, notably the _Sabal
mexicana_, called by the Mayans _x̆aan_, are used to thatch the Indian
huts. There are cocoanut palms in plenty, particularly on the islands.
From the _Lignum vitæ_ the Indians make bows. From a small tree
(_Pretium heptaphyllum_) the ancient Mayans obtained the incense used in
their temples which they called _pom_ and which the Mexicans call

In fruit trees Yucatan is fairly rich. She has the sweet and sour orange
in plenty and the lemon and lime, the latter of which often grows wild
in the woods. Bananas and plantains are everywhere. A small variety of
the former, the banana-apple (_Musa paradisiaca_), has a flavour finer
than the Canary banana. Then there is the _Anona squamosa_ or
custard-apple, the _Anona muricata_ or guanabana, the aguacate,
alligator pear (_Persea gratissima_), the caumita and the papay (_Carica
papaya_), called by the Mayans _put_, of which the fruit is pear-shaped,
about a foot long, of an orange-salmon colour and deliciously juicy. The
finest pineapples in the whole of the Mexican Republic are said to be
those grown in Cozumel, and the cultivation of cocoa, which grows wild
throughout Yucatan, is being seriously taken up. There are one or two
types of plums cultivated by the Mayans, and figs, tamarinds and
mangoes are grown. _Camote_, a kind of sweet potato, and tomatoes are
produced, usually in the milpas with the maize. Tobacco, sugar-cane, and
cotton are agricultural products to which increasing attention is being
given. Many kinds of gourds are grown by the Mayans. Chief among these
is the calabash tree (_Crescentia cujete_), the gourd of which is
universally used in Yucatan in its entirety as a drinking-bottle--the
Indians carrying them slung over their backs full of water--and halved
as drinking-cups or dippers, and is often elaborately carved or painted.
The Spanish name for these drinking-gourds is _jicaras_, the Mayans
calling them _luts_.

The flowers of Yucatan are disappointing. They suffer, as do the larger
plants, from the dryness of the soil, due to the fact that, heavy as the
rains are when they come, they rapidly drain away through the porous
limestone. In the gardens of cities and villages you see roses, the
gorgeous scarlet trumpet-shaped tulipans, magnolias, vari-coloured
irises, clematis and other bright-tinted creepers, red and yellow
foxglove-like flowers, and over all and everywhere convolvuluses, white,
purple, and blue. Some of these latter are cultivated by the Mayans in
the fields, as for instance a small white one which they call
_x̆taventun_, from the honey collected from which the Indians distil
an alcoholic drink which has a soft aromatic smell of the flower, and
the intoxicating effect of which (it is enough to make the mouth of the
dipsomaniac water) lasts for three days and leaves no headache behind

The wild flowers are for the most part small. Amid the ruined cities you
almost always find quantities of the small yellow flower, called by the
Mayans _x̆canlol_, of the _Tecoma stans_, a shrubby climber. The
woodland paths everywhere are bright with the jasmine-like amapola;
while the roadsides are made more picturesque by a climber bearing white
sweet-smelling flowers. At Chichen there was much _Salvia coccinea_, a
small brilliant scarlet-flowered shrub called by the natives _zic
x̆in_. Here again we saw _Heliotropium parviflorum_, which the Indians
call _xnaheax_. In the woods you see many orchids growing like mistletoe
on the trees. Among the genera met with, the _Oncidium_ and _Epidendrum_
are the commonest, and of these the species _Schomburgkia tibicina_ and
the _Epidendrum bicoruntum_ are those oftenest found. We saw very few
wild ferns. Here and there are beautiful flowering cactuses.

[Illustration: YUCATAN


  Acacia, 384

  Acanceh, village, Indian ruins at, 188

  _Agave Americana_ (Maguey), 20, 362

  _Agave Sisalensis._ _See_ Henequen

  Agouti, 374

  Aguilar, Jeronimo, 48, 82

  Akad-zib, Chichen, 103

  Algonkins and Toltec Theory, 246

  Alligators, 375;
    carved heads of, in ruins, importance of, 268

  Alphabet, Mayan, attempts to compose, 299

  America's first architects, Who were?, 257

  American Man, age of, 260

  Ants, 377

  Anuradhapura, ruins of, Ceylon, 263

  Apalachians, 245;
    Mayans branch of, 254

  Arawaks, in Cuba, 254

  Armadillos, 374

  Astronomy, Mayan knowledge of, 314

  Athapascans, Aztecs branch of, 245

  Aztecs, arrival in Mexico, 247;
    raids into Honduras, 225;
    influence on Mayans, 296

  Bancroft, H., on Mexican priests, 275

  Bats, 374

  Behring Straits, Was America peopled via?, 260

  Bharahat, Stupa of, hand as symbolic decoration on, 266

  _Biologia Centrali Americana_, A. P. Maudslay's account of Quirigua
    in, 213;
    Mayan decorative art in, 269

  Birds of Yucatan, 380

  Boro Budor, Palenque resembles, 263;
    date of building, 280

  Bourbourg, Abbé Brasseur de, Mayan Alphabet of, 299;
    on Day Signs, 304

  Bramhanan, Java, Crawfurd on methods of building at, 264;
    ground plan similar to Copan, 285

  Brigands in Yucatan, 112

  Brinton, Dr. D. G., on tapir worship, 239;
    on baselessness of Toltec Theory, 244;
    on Mexican traditions, 249;
    on Mayan origin, 254;
    on sacred footprints in Central America, 276;
    on Mayan MSS., 277;
    on Day Signs, 304;
    on meaning of glyphs, 312;
    on "Drum Signs," 314

  British Government and Mexico, agreement as to Mayans, 156

  British Honduras, Mayans and, 156

  Brooks, C. Waldcott, on ocean currents, 278

  Buddhist ruins resemble Central American buildings, 263

  Bull-fighting in Yucatan, 356

  Butterflies, 379

  Caciques, Ancient Mayan, 227

  Calotmul, village, 115

  Campeachy, Spaniards discover, 50

  Cancun Island, 147;
    ruins on, 149

  Caracol ("Winding Staircase"), Chichen, 100

  Cardinal Bird, 380

  Caroline Islands, ruins on, 281

  Casa de las Monjas, Chichen, 101

  Castes, Mayan system of, 277

  Castillo, El, Chichen, 87;
    sacrifices at, 88

  Castillo, Uxmal, 201

  Catoche, Cape, origin of name, 50;
    visit to, 136

  _Caumila_, fruit, 73

  Cave, H. W., on ruined cities of Ceylon, 269

  Caves in Yucatan, 251

  Ceibo tree, legend of, 384

  Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichen, 89;
    Spanish report on, 90;
    dredging, 92;
    skulls found in, 92

  Centipedes, 377

  Chachalaca, bird, 380

  _Chac_, Mayan god, 239

  _Chac Mool_, discovered at Chichen, 30, 99

  Chansenote, Indian village, 122;
    destruction of, 157

  Chapultepec, 26;
    park of, 31

  Chaques, priestly order, 240

  Charnay, D., visit to Menché, 222

  Chichanchob, Chichen, 100

  Chichen Itza, Spaniards reach, 51;
    history of, 85;
    description of ruins, 87-103;
    probable age of, 290

  Chicle, gum of Sapota tree, 128

  Chilan Balam, books of, 54, 315

  Chilans, priestly order, 240

  China, Mayan architecture and, 261

  Christian, F. W., on ruins of Caroline Islands, 281

  _Chultunes_, subterranean rooms in ruins, 195

  Citas, village, 83

  Coati, 231, 373

  Cocomes, Caciques of Mayapan, 56

  Cockroaches, 378

  _Codex Cortesianus_, "snouted mask" in, 267

  _Codex Ramirez_, date of fall of Tula in, 245 note

  Codices, Mayan, 315

  Columbus, Yucatan first heard of by, 47

  Cones, Temple of, Chichen, 98

  Copal as offering to gods, 93;
    shrub from which obtained, 385

  Copan, ruins of, 204;
    Buddhist survivals at, 269;
    Asiatic influence at, 284;
    absurdity of Itza Theory, 284;
    probable date of, 287

  Cordoba, Hernandez de, 50

  Cortes, expedition to Yucatan, 51;
    scene of first landing on American mainland, 137

  "Cozumel Cross," 79

  Cozumel Island, 164 _et seq._;
    ruins in forest, 180

  Crawfurd, John, on Buddhist structures in Indian Archipelago, 264;
    on ruins of Bramhanan, Java, 285

  Cresson, Dr. Hilbone T., theory as to glyphs, 300

  Crickets, 379

  Cross, Tablet of the, Palenque, 219;
    probable explanation, 270

  Cuba, antiquities of, 255

  Cuculcan, Mayan legendary hero, 239

  Cunningham, Sir A., discovery of Bharahat Stupa by, 266

  Curasson, 154, 381

  Customs House, Mexican, 7;
    dishonesty of, 355

  Cuyo, El, Yucatan, 127

  Deer in Yucatan, 372

  Deschnev, Russian navigator, discovers Behring Straits, 260

  Diaz, President Porfirio, genius of, 34;
    sketch of, 37-40;
    signs peace with Yaquis, 161;
    letter of authors to, 358

  Dogs of ancient Mayans, 231;
    Yucatecan cruelty to, 347

  Dragonflies, 379

  Dupaix, report on Palenque, 216

  Egypt, Mayan architecture and, 259

  Elephant? Did Mayans worship, 273

  Eskimos, suggested affinity with Japanese, 260

  Espita, town, 186

  _Euryalus_, H.M.S., dunned by Mexicans, 354

  Evans, Sir John, on stone implements, 261

  Farming, methods of, in Yucatan, 323

  Fireflies, 379

  Fishing, 383

  Flamingoes, 383

  Flora and fauna of Yucatan, 368 _et seq._

  Flowers of Yucatan, 386

  Foliated Cross, Temple of, Palenque, 219;
    probable origin of design, 270

  Footprints, sacred, in Central America, 276

  Forstemann, Prof. E., on tablet of Cross, Palenque, 220;
    on glyphs, 300;
    on similarities in glyphs, 311

  Fournereau, Lucien, on ruins of Angkor, 272

  Foxes, 373

  Fruit-trees of Yucatan, 385

  Fuentes y Guzman, F. A., historian, 204

  Fusang, "Land of the, fable" as to, 262

  Galindo, Copan first surveyed by, 208

  Gann, Dr. T. W., discovery of Aztec wall-paintings in Honduras by, 225,

  Garrapatas, cattle-louse, 112

  Garudas in Hindu myth, replicas of in Mayan carvings, 271

  Glyphs, Mayan, 298 _et seq._

  Goodman, J. T., on Mayan Calendar, 304;
    on date of Copan, 310

  "Green Gold of Yucatan." _See_ Henequen.

  Grijalva, Juan de, 51;
    report on Cozumel by, 168

  Grünwedel, Prof. A., on Buddhist art in India, 272

  Hardy, R. Spence, on American and ancient Buddhist ruins, 262;
    on Buddhist wall-paintings, 265

  Haritri, Hindu Goddess on Palenque carvings, 272

  Hawks, 381

  Henequen, cultivation of, 361 _et seq._

  Hermit Crabs, 145

  Herrera, historian, on Aztec ball-game, 94

  Hieroglyphics, Mayan, 298 _et seq._

  Hoco, bird, 154

  Holboch, island, 132

  _Holpop_, Mayan official, 228

  Huastecas, Panuco River tribe, origin of, 253

  Huitzopochtli, Mexican War-God, 88, 296

  _Hulneb_, Mayan God, 239

  Humboldt, collection of Mexican pictographs by, 299

  Humming-birds, 382

  _Hunab Ku_, Mayan Supreme God, 239

  Ibis, 383

  Iguana, 374

  India, Mayan architecture and, 262

  Itzamna, Mayan deity, tapir as symbol, 239;
    importance in Mayan problem, 313

  Ixtlilxochitl, on Tula, 245 note;
    on downfall of Toltecs, 246 note;
    credibility of, 249

  Jade carvings at Copan, 208;
    burial with dead by Mayans, 277

  Jaguar, 370

  Japan Current, the, importance in Mayan problem, 278

  Japan, Mayan architecture and, 261

  Japanese, suggested affinity with Eskimos, 260

  Jays, 381

  Jigger flea, 377

  Juarros, Domingo, historian, 210

  Kabah, ruins of, 199

  Kantunil, Indian town and district, 121

  Khmers, 280

  Kikil, village, 122

  _Kinch Ahau Haban_, Mayan God, 239

  Kingfisher, 382

  Klaproth, H. J. von, on "Land of the Fusang," 262

  _Kuro Siwa_, the Japan Current, in Mayan problem, 278

  Labcah, village, 128

  Labna, ruins of, 194

  Lacandone Indians, 222

  Landa, Bishop, on evils of Spanish Conquest, 54;
    on sacrifices at Chichen, 90;
    destruction of Mayan MSS. by, 298 note;
    Mayan alphabet of, 299

  Laurels, 384

  Le Plongeon, Dr., theory as to Mayan civilisation, 258;
    on existence of "red hand" in India, 265;
    Mayan alphabet of, 300

  Li Yen, Chinese historian, on "Land of the Fusang," 262

  "Lion-seat" (_Simhasana_) of Buddhism in Central America, 271, 288

  Lizards, 374

  Lotus, Buddhist, in Central American carvings, 269

  Lund, Dr., on age of American Man, 260

  Madura, ruins of, Dutch Government Report on, 270

  Maguey, cactus, 20

  Malay Peninsula, Mayan architecture and, 262

  Maler, Teobert, at Piedras Negras, 224

  Mamey tree, 385

  Mammoth, existence of in America, 274

  Manatee, 374

  Manco Capac, first Inca King, 259 note

  Marriage among ancient Mayans, 234;
    among Yucatecans, 341, 357

  Marshall Islands, 281

  Maudslay, A. P., on ruins of Copan, 211;
    on Quirigua, 213;
    discovers Menché, 222;
    on Mayan decorative art, 269;
    on age of ruins, 286

  Mayan alphabet, attempts to form, 299
  -- arch, diagram and description, 264
  -- paintings compared with Buddhistic, 265;
     description of, 316
  -- priests and Buddhism, 275

  Mayans, Ancient, 226 _et seq._;
    Who were they?, 254 _et seq._;
    army, 227;
    law and justice, 228;
    social castes, 230;
    slavery, 230;
    domesticated animals, 231;
    housing, 231;
    hammock unknown to, 231;
    common lands, 231;
    as hunters, 232;
    adornment, 233, 318;
    food, 233;
    marriage, 234;
    education, 235;
    status of women, 235;
    trade, 236;
    dancing, 237;
    burial customs, 237;
    religion, 238;
    calendar, 240, 301;
    problem as to cradle-land, 242;
    priests, 240, 275;
    system of castes, 277;
    customs evidencing Eastern influence, 277;
    building methods of, 290;
    hieroglyphics, 298;
    knowledge of astronomy, 313

  Mayans, Modern, physical appearance of, 118;
    War of Extermination against, 156;
    independence recognised, 156;
    Mexican criminals employed against, 159

  Mayan War, Story of, 156

  Mayapan, ancient Indian capital, 56, 188

  Mecca, The Mayan, in Cozumel, 164

  Meco, El, ruins of, 143

  Menché, ruins of, 222;
    probable date of, 288

  Mercer, H. C., on caves of Yucatan, 252;
    on Mayan methods of building, 292

  Merida, City of, 59;
    cabs, 59;
    bells in, 62;
    cathedral, 64;
    life in plaza, 66;
    old street signs, 67;
    water supply, 68;
    prison, 74-8;
    museum, 78-80

  Mexico, relations with United States, 42;
    future of, 43;
    government of, 37;
    war of extermination of Mayans started by, 157;

  Mexico City, 21 _et seq._;
    cathedral, 24;
    Paseo de la Reforma, 26;
    hotels, 27;
    police, 28;
    Guard, Republican, 28, 31;
    funeral cars, 29;
    streets, 29;
    tramways, 29, 31;
    museum, 30;
    officials, 33, 39;
    justice, administration of, 35;
    prisons 36

  Mississippi district, Mounds of, 255

  Molas, pirate, Cozumel headquarters of, 166

  Monkeys, 372

  Monuments, Conservator of, in Yucatan, 81

  Montejo, Francisco de, 51

  Morality, Mayan, 334

  Morse, Prof. E., on American ethnology, 258;
    pamphlet quoted, 262;
    on Asiatic invasion of Central America, 278

  Mosquitoes at El Meco, 144;
    terrible nights with, 174

  Mounds on East Coast, 127

  Mounds, Ohio, Prof. Thomas on, 255

  Mujeres, Isla de, 50, 140

  Nacomes, Mayan priestly order, 240

  Nahuatl, D. G. Brinton on derivation of, 248 note

  _Naual_, Mayan dance, 236

  Newberry, Prof., on prehistoric man in America, 274

  "Norther," caught in a, 138

  Nunnery, Chichen, 101;
    Uxmal, 200

  Nuns in Mayan religion, 275

  Occeh, sepulchral mounds at, 125

  Ocean Currents, importance in Mayan problem, 278

  Ohio Mounds, problem of, 255

  Olas, Buddhist, on Copan and Quirigua stelæ, 269;
    and Mayan MSS., 277

  Opichen, carvings in cave of, 252

  Orange Walk, Mayan trade with, 156

  Owls, 381

  Paintings, Mayan and Buddhist compared, 265

  Palacio, Diego, report on Copan, 205

  Palenque, ruins of, 214;
    "Crosses" at, possible explanation of, 270;
    Orientalism of, 271;
    probable date of, 287;
    like Boro Budor, 287

  Palms, 385

  Panuco River, Huastecan settlement on, 253

  Parrots, 382

  Pearson, Sir Weetman, 5, 42

  Peccary, 371

  Pelicans, 383

  Peonage System, abuses of, 324

  Peru, ruins in, probable date of, 259 note

  Picuda, fish, 146

  Piedras Negras, ruins of, 224;
    probable date of, 287

  Pigeons, House of, Uxmal, 200

  Pinzon, Vincente Yañez, discovers Yucatan, 47

  Pisote. _See_ Coati.

  Poey, Andres, on Cuban antiquities, 255

  Polonnaruwa, Ceylon, ruins of, 268

  Praying mantis, 377

  Prea Khane, Cambodian ruins, 288

  Progreso, Port of Yucatan, 57

  Puerto Morelos, 156;
    burning of woods by Indians at, 158

  Pulque, 20, 362

  Pyramids, Buddhistic and Central American, 263

  Quetzalcoatl, 97;
    self-torture by priests of, 224

  Quintana Roo, Territory of, 158

  Quirigua, ruins of, 212;
    Buddhist survivals at, 269;
    probable date of, 287

  Racoon, 373

  Ramon, tree, 385

  "Red Hand," importance of, 265

  Reefs, Coral, dangerous passage through, 138

  Rio, Antonio del, report on Palenque, 214

  Rurales, Mexican country police, 9, 20, 35

  Sahagun, Father, historian, on Tula, 245 note

  San Miguel, Cozumel, 166;
    ruins at, 169

  Sapota tree, 383;
    as lintels, 294

  Sayil, ruins of, 196

  Schellhas, P., on Mexican MSS., 289

  Schoolcraft, H. R., on "red hand," 266

  Scorpions, 376

  Sea-fowl, 382

  Seler, Prof. E., on Mayan Calendar, 304

  Sharks, 136

  Shell-heaps, Japanese and American, 261

  Shoshonees, Aztecs akin to, 254

  Sisal hemp, 361

  Slavery among Ancient Mayans, 230;
    in Yucatan to-day, 321 _et seq._

  Snakes in Yucatan, 368

  "Snouted Mask" on Mayan ruins, 267

  Squirrels, 373

  Solis, Diaz de, discovers Yucatan, 47

  Stephens, J. L., on "Cozumel Cross," 79;
    on sealed rooms, Sayil, 197;
    on Copan ruins, 205 _et seq._;
    on Palenque, 216;
    on "red hand," 266

  Sugar-growing in Yucatan, 128

  Sun, Temple of, Palenque, 219

  Sunda script and Mayan glyphs, 319

  Tables, Temple of, Chichen, 98

  Tapir, 371;
    worshipped, 105, 239;
    "snouted mask" symbol of, 267;
    was its worship a Buddhist survival?, 374

  Tarantula, 376

  _Tel Cuzaan_, god, 239

  Tennis Court, Chichen, 93

  Tenochtitlan, founding of, 249 note

  Thomas, Prof. Cyrus W., on Ohio Mounds, 255;
    theory as to glyphs, 300

  Thompson, Edward A., 86;
    work at Chichen, 96

  Ticul, town, 189

  Tigers, Temple of, Chichen, 95

  Tikal, wood lintel at, 271

  Tissandier, A., on Boro Budor and Cambodian ruins, 268

  Tizimin, town, 116

  Tlachtli, Aztec game, 94

  Toltec Theory, 243

  Toltecs, no evidence for existence of, 246;
    Who were they?, 247

  Torrell, Dr., on affinity of Eskimos and Japanese, 260

  Tortoises, 376

  Trees of Yucatan, 383

  _Trogon resplendens_, 382

  Tula, place in Toltec Theory, 243;
    site of, 244;
    Brinton on, 244;
    date of, 245 note

  Tuloon, Indians encamped at, 157

  _Tunkul_, Mayan sacred drum, 228

  Turkey, ocellated, 380

  Turtles, trade in, 152

  Usumacinta, ruins on, 222

  Uxmal, ruins of, 200

  Valentini, Dr. Ph. J. J., on Toltecs, 246

  Valladolid, town, 104

  Vega, Garcilaso de, on Peruvian ruins, 259

  Vera Cruz, 5-11

  Vietia, Spanish chronicler, credibility of, 249

  Volan, Yucatecan carriage, terrors of riding in, 185

  Waldeck on tapir worship, 239

  Williams, Sir Monier, on Buddhist monks, 275

  Woodpeckers, 382

  Writing, Mayan, Was it indigenous?, 319

  Yaqui Indians, story of persecution of, 160

  Yaxchilan, tower like those at Angkor, 272

  "Yucatan Channel," graveyard of, 140

  Zapotecan priests, trances of, 276;
    calendar of, 304

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