Our Little Aztec Cousin of Long Ago - C. V. Winlow

Amotl's Home

The streets of Mexico City were lined on either side with flat-roofed houses, and over those roofs ran a profusion of brilliantly colored flowers, the sweetness of which came drifting past the nostrils as little occasional breezes stirred the air.

Most of the houses were made of a sort of porous red stone, cut into thick square pieces. The houses were built simply, with square doors and windows, and they rambled over a good deal of territory. Here and there Coyotl and Amotl passed clusters of reed huts, plastered together and made safe against the wind by mud which had been put on damp, and then allowed to dry in the sun.

Some of the streets were broad and fair, and paved. These were the principal thoroughfares. Most of them were somewhat narrow, and unpaved. But the city as a whole was clean, and the abundance of water from the neighboring lakes, some of which was carried through the city by means of well-constructed canals, made it possible for every houses to have its little garden bright with flowers. Some of the people who had more land than the others grew fruit trees and vegetables for their food as well.

Amotl walked swiftly and thoughtfully through the streets to his home. He had not planned this year to take slaves. He had no need for another slave for his household. Yet the gods had bestowed on him this boy. What was he to do with him?

"Well," he thought, "all I can do is take him with my train, as far as Azeapozalco, and sell him in the slave market there. But the slaves brought to that market are usually accomplished, able to sing and dance, or perform special household duties. This boy cannot. And I cannot let him go into slavery for manual labor in the fields. He is too young. I shall have to talk with him."

So thinking, Amotl, who did not wish to go on the long wearisome journey through Anahuac and the neighboring states anyhow, sighed deeply, and bowed his head.

Coyotl, walking meekly behind him, saw the sight and wondered about it. But he could not be unhappy long. It was such fun to be out walk-along those streets, with houses on either side, in which he heard merry sounds of talking and singing and laughter. It was all so interesting to him, who had been so long inside the temple courts and rooms—the honeysuckle bunching down over the pink houses, the men walking past him, some of them poor and barefooted and carrying heavy burdens, and some rich, walking easily and freely, with their square cotton cloaks floating out behind them.

Now and then a litter would come down the street,—a sort of seat carried on poles which were hung across the shoulders of two men. Inside there might be a noblewoman, her hair covered by a fine gauze veil, held in place by a wreath of flowers. Or a noble, with his black hair covered by a helmet made of metal, into which were stuck many precious bright plumes and feathers.

A group of the soldiers of Montezuma, were marching in orderly array down one of the streets. Each man wore a quilted cotton vest, light and not too warm, yet capable of turning aside arrows. Around their loins they wore girdles of cotton cloth, and on their legs gaiters made of the quilted cotton. Their heads were protected by metal helmets, and each man carried, stuck into his girdle, daggers with sharp edges made of flint, and an arrow quiver. On his left arm he carried a shield made of leather, and his bow. Nearly everyone had a staff which was made of heavy wood, with tiny sharp pieces of flint inserted into the wood at regular intervals, making it into a sort of combination saw and club.

But the walk, interesting though it was, did not last more than about forty minutes. Amotl lived in a section of the city where the trees and ferns grew thick, where there were still many little crystalline streams gushing through the gardens, and where there were as many canals as streets. In their swift light canoes, the people moved along the canals, bound on their business, and some of the houses faced on them, and had little landing stations.

Into a house made of alternate blocks of creamy and of rose-colored stones, Amotl turned. There was a wall as high as a man around the house, but the gate was open, and over it hung purple and red flowers. Amotl stopped to sniff the fragrance of these before he kindly motioned to the boy to follow him inside, and Coyotl's heart beat with happiness to see the fair garden and lovely house in which he supposed he was to live.

Most of the garden consisted of small square patches of earth divided by carefully placed stones, and all the paths were paved. In some of these patches of earth grew every lovely flower that would grow there, and in others fruit trees and shade trees and blossoming trees. The air was heavy with sweetness from the flowers. And in the center of the garden was a square lined pool, full of water, in which fish were swimming.

They entered the house. A white-clad servant brought a bowl of water and a cotton cloth. Amotl gravely dipped his hands in the water, washed them and his face, and then dried them on the towel. After he had finished, Coyotl was given the water, which he poured over his hands. Then he shook them dry, and followed Amotl into the house. There were a succession of rooms, square, with windows open, nicely furnished with carved cedar-wood benches and little tables. Great sticks of wood, oiled at the top and charred, showed from whence came the light by which the inhabitants of the house saw at night. Clean reed mats on the floor made the stone floors less cold, and supplied a decorative note, for they were beautifully painted with designs of birds and snakes and images of gods. Hanging against the walls were tapestries of dyed cotton or weavings made of the feathers and down from birds.

They passed through the rooms of the front section of the house, through an open court, into the back part of the house, which bordered one of the canals. Here Coyotl saw many servants, men and women, dressed simply, with their hair nicely combed but unornamented.

As Amotl came into the court, a tall man of about forty, dressed in a simple white girdle and a blue cloak of cotton, came forward and made a sign of greeting.

"My boy," said Amotl, turning to Coyotl, "this is the keeper of my house. His name is Camana. Since my wife died, and my daughters have been married, we live here like old parrots in a large cage. He will show you your duties, and where you may sleep. I will speak to you once more in the evening. Camana, this boy is Coyotl, from the temple school. He broke discipline, and today he was bestowed upon me as a slave."

Camana bowed, and said, "Follow me."

Amotl turned away into the inner house, and Coyotl followed Camana across the court into a small room, bare of mats, but furnished with a comfortable bed of reeds.

"Rest," said he. "I will bring you some food, and then you may sleep. I can see that you need both."

And indeed Coyotl was so sleepy from his ordeals and his anxiety that he could scarcely hold his eyes open long enough to eat the hot stew of meat and squash that Camana brought him. And when he had left his bowl clean and polished, he lay back on the reeds, and almost at once fell into slumber.