Happily for them, the ruler of Mexico was altogether dominated by superstitious fears. Against native enemies he had shown himself a resolute and valiant leader, had carried on numerous successful wars, and had by force of arms greatly extended his dominions; but against these strange white enemies, his faculties seemed altogether to fail him. He had, for years, given himself up to the priesthood; and in this crisis, instead of consulting with his trusted generals, he was swayed wholly by the advice of the priests; and sought protection, not from the armies at his command, but from the gods, whom he strove to influence in his favor by hecatombs of human victims, sacrificed upon their altars.
In the month that had elapsed since he joined Cortez at Tlascala, Roger had made considerable progress in Spanish; and although incapable of supporting a long conversation with his comrades, could make himself understood in simple matters. His behavior at the fight in Cholula had gained him the respect of the old soldier; who, however, was not wholly satisfied with him.
"The young fellow is no coward," he said to Pedro. "When the Mexicans were pressing us sorely, he fought as stoutly and well as any in our ranks. He is well skilled in the use of the sword, which is wonderful, seeing that the Mexicans among whom he has been brought up are but poor hands with that weapon; and both with thrust and point he showed himself perfectly at home with the heavy blade the general gave him. I saw him pressed at one time by four Mexicans together, and was making to his assistance. But there was no need for it. He ran one through the body, and with heavy downright blows, well-nigh cleft the heads of two others; and the fourth, with a cry of astonishment and fear, sprang back into the crowd.
"But though he fought so stoutly when attacked, he showed less ardor in the assault, and lagged behind when we were pursuing the enemy."
"I like him none the worse for that, Juan," Pedro said. "He has lived among these people, and though I hear that, when they heard of our landing, they would have sacrificed him, and he had to fly for his life and fight hard to make his escape, he must in other respects look upon them without animosity; and doubtless he felt some pity for the poor wretches."
"I felt some pity myself," Juan said; "but as they had intended so treacherously towards us, and proposed to put us all to a cruel death, I did not let my pity interfere with my sword arm."
"Ah, but you have been accustomed to battles and bloodshed all your life, Juan. One does not take to the trade of killing all at once, and I like him none the worse that he was disinclined for the slaughter of the people among whom he had been brought up."
"Well, we shall see," the old soldier grumbled. "It seems to me that when two or three hundred men are fighting against a whole nation, and that nation proposes to cut all their throats on the altars of their gods, it is not a time for scruples. I approve of the orders the general gave, that no one was to injure women and children, and I heartily wish that such were always the orders; but when it comes to men who have set their minds upon killing me, I don't draw nice distinctions, and I just smite where I see a chance."
The news that the Spaniards had crossed the mountains, and had entered the valley, completed the dejection and despair of Montezuma; and after shutting himself up in his palace, and refusing food, he at last turned from the gods, from whom he could obtain no assistance, and summoned a meeting of his counselors.
These were divided in opinion. Cacama was at the head of the peace party. He pointed out that, had they intended to oppose the advance of the white men by force of arms, the whole strength of the empire should have been dispatched to dispute the passage of the mountains. As that had not been done, they should now be received in friendly fashion, as the ambassadors of the great king whom Cortez claimed to represent. Some of the other counselors, led by Cuitlahua, Montezuma's brother, were in favor of turning out all the forces and repelling the invasion; but Cacama's counsel prevailed, and an embassy was dispatched, under his leadership, to greet the Spaniards and conduct them to the capital.
The Spanish army advanced slowly. They halted for two days at Amaquemecan, where they were well received and hospitably entertained, and presented with a considerable sum in gold. They then marched forward to Ajotzinco, a town standing at the southern extremity of Lake Chalco, and partly erected on piles rising from the lake itself. Here, as at Venice, canals took the place of roads, and all traffic was carried on in boats.
Upon the following morning, a messenger arrived with the news that the King of Tezcuco was approaching, as an ambassador from the emperor, and in a short time the royal procession approached the city. Cacama was borne in a magnificent litter, shaded by a gorgeous canopy, and was attended by a number of nobles and officials. As the palanquin neared the spot where Cortez was standing, Cacama left his litter and advanced towards him; saluting by touching the ground with his hand, and raising it in the air. Cortez also advanced and embraced the young prince, who told him that he came as the ambassador of the emperor, to welcome him to his capital. An exchange of presents took place, and Cortez assured the prince of the friendliness of his intentions, and of the respect he entertained for the emperor. Cacama then withdrew, and returned at once to Mexico, while the army resumed its march.
Roger did not make any attempt to approach the prince, after his interview with Cortez. He knew that he would have received, from Cuitcatl, the news that he had surmounted the dangers of his journey and joined the Spaniards at Tlascala, and thought that it would be better to defer presenting himself to the prince until he could do so more privately at Tezcuco. He considered it possible that Montezuma might have blamed Cacama for his escape; and that, if he were to greet him, it would be reported to the emperor, who might regard it as a proof that there had been a secret understanding between them, and that Cacama had aided his flight.
Crossing the causeway that divided the Lake of Chalco from that of Xochical, the army marched to Iztapalapan, a large town with a royal residence, governed by the emperor's brother Cuitlahua. The prince had assembled a number of the great nobles, and Cortez was received with great state and ceremony; and after the usual presentation of gifts, a banquet was served to the Spaniards in one of the great halls of the palace.
After this Cortez was conducted over the gardens, which were the finest in Mexico. They contained all the vegetable productions of the empire, with magnificent aviaries, and a fish pond built of stone, nearly a mile in circumference.
At daybreak next morning, that of November 8th, 1519, the Spaniards were mustered and again set forward. The four hundred white troops led the way. They were followed by the baggage, after which came what was numerically the main portion of the army, six thousand five hundred Tlascalan soldiers. Keeping on by the shore of the lake, and crossing the narrow strip of hand dividing the Lake of Xochical from that of Tezcuco, they arrived at the head of the great causeway running across the lake to the island on which the capital was built. The causeway was a massive construction, built of large stones laid in cement, and was wide enough to permit of ten horsemen riding abreast.
The shores of the lake on either side were closely dotted with towns and villages, and the lake itself was well-nigh covered with the canoes and rafts of the natives. The Spaniards saw, too, with surprise and admiration, floating gardens—some of them of considerable extent—on the surface of the lake, covered with flowers and shrubs. The scene was the most beautiful that had ever met their eyes, and they were filled with delight and admiration.
Halfway across the causeway they came upon the fort of Xoloc. Here a massive stone wall, twelve feet high, crossed the dike, and stretched out on to the lake on either side. Towers were erected at its angles and, properly defended, it could have resisted the attack of an army.
An archway gave passage through the wall. Here a great number of nobles were assembled, who welcomed the Spaniards with formal ceremony; and the army then marched forward along the dike, till it reached a wooden drawbridge near the gate of the city.
As they crossed this a splendid procession was seen approaching. It was preceded by three great officers of state, bearing golden wands; behind them the emperor himself lay in his palanquin, borne on the shoulders of nobles, with a canopy of rich feather work sparkling with jewels above his head. Montezuma alighted when within a short distance, and with the canopy still carried over his head, and leaning upon his brother and nephew, he advanced towards Cortez.
The general, dismounting, went forward with a few of his principal officers to meet him. The emperor received his guest with courtesy, and expressed his pleasure at seeing him in his capital; while Cortez replied with expressions of profound respect, accompanied by thanks for the superb presents that Montezuma had sent him. The emperor re-entered his litter, and the Spaniards followed, with music playing and colors flying.
Although already familiar with Mexican architecture, they were astonished by the magnificence of the buildings that bordered the great streets along which they marched. Here were the mansions of the nobles, built of a red porous stone and covering a large space of ground. The flat roofs were protected by stone parapets, and many of them were laid out as gardens. Between these mansions were broad terraces, which presented a mass of flowers. Here and there were great marketplaces, surrounded by porticoes of stone; and above all the temples, with their towering pyramids, rose high in the air.
Along the whole line, crowds of people watched the procession of the troops; gazing with surprise and admiration at the cavaliers on horseback, and at the flashing armor and arms of the Spaniards; and with wrath and indignation at the Tlascalan army, which followed in their rear.
The street was in many places intersected by canals. Passing over these on light bridges, they at last reached a great square near the center of the city, on one side of which rose the huge temple of the war god of the Aztecs. Facing this was a palace of Montezuma's father, which had been appropriated, by the emperor, as quarters for the Spaniards. The emperor himself received them in the courtyard, presented Cortez with a magnificent necklace, and then, saying he would visit them later on, withdrew.
The palace was large enough to afford accommodation for the whole army; and as it was surrounded by a massive stone wall, flanked with towers, Cortez saw, with satisfaction, that it could without difficulty resist any sudden attack. He placed sentries on the walls, and planted his cannon to command the approaches; and in order to prevent any chance of a quarrel arising, he forbade any soldiers to leave the palace, without orders. A large number of Mexican slaves had been appointed to attend upon the strangers, and a meal was speedily served by them to the troops, who were then permitted to take a sleep, for some hours, during the heat of the day.
The emperor paid another visit in the evening, and had a long conversation with Cortez, distributing a large number of rich presents among the Spaniards before leaving. After he had left they celebrated their arrival in the city by a salute with their cannon, whose thunder added to the impression produced upon the natives by the tales they had heard of the prowess of their visitors, and heightened their belief in the supernatural powers of the Spaniards.
The next day Cortez returned the emperor's visit. He was accompanied by a few of his principal officers, and five or six soldiers. The palace was of immense size, built, like the rest of the houses, of red stone, and ornamented with marble. Fountains sparkled in the courts through which the Spaniards passed, and crowds of Aztec nobles thronged the squares and great halls. The walls of these apartments were hung with richly dyed cotton, or with draperies of gorgeous feather work, while the fumes of incense rose up in clouds from censors.
Montezuma, surrounded by a few of his nobles, received them; and Cortez at once opened to him what he considered to be the chief object of his enterprise, and through the medium of Marina expounded the doctrines of Christianity, and besought the emperor to turn from his false gods. As Montezuma had himself been a priest, and was an ardent devotee of his religion, it was scarcely to be expected that he would favorably entertain the proposal to change his religion. He answered courteously that, no doubt, the god of Cortez was good to the Spaniards, just as his own gods were good to him. What his visitors said of the creation of the world was similar to what he himself believed. His people had occupied the land but for a few years, having been led there by a great being who, after giving them laws, had withdrawn to the regions of the east. When he left he had promised that he or his descendants would again visit them, and resume his empire. The wonderful deeds of the Spaniards, their complexion, the fact that they came from the east—all showed that they were the descendants of this god.
"Your sovereign beyond the waters is, I know, the rightful lord of all. I rule in his name. You, Malinzin, are his ambassador, and you and your brethren shall share what I have."
He then dismissed his visitors with fresh presents.
Malinzin was the name by which Cortez was universally known by the natives. Malinche was ever with him, and they connected him with her, and called him by the masculine form of her name.
But gratified as the Spaniards were at the kindness of their reception, and within the munificent gifts showered upon them, they could not but feel that their position was a precarious one. They were in the center of a great city, with a warlike population. It was broken up, by its canals with their movable bridges, into a series of fortresses; and it would be well-nigh hopeless to endeavor, by force, to make their way out of it. At present all seemed fair, but they were well aware that Montezuma had endeavored in every way, save by open war, to prevent their coming; and that, influenced as he was by the oracles of the gods, he might at any moment exchange his apparent friendship for open enmity.
Two days after arriving at the capital, Roger asked Malinche if she could obtain permission from the general for him to cross the lake to Tezcuco, in order that he might pay his friends there a visit. Presently she returned, saying that the general himself would speak to him.
Roger had been named Sancho by the Spaniards, as he had not ventured to give his own name; and it was supposed that he had forgotten that which he had borne as a child.
"Sancho," the general said; "I know, from what Marina says, that you have great intelligence, though you have so long been cut off from your own people. You see that our position here is a strange one. We are guests and yet, to some extent, we are prisoners. The Tlascalans with us are hated by the Mexicans, and either between them and the natives, or maybe between some of my own soldiers and the citizens, a brawl might arise which would be used as a pretext for an attack upon us.
"As I feel that I can rely upon your discretion, I will tell you of some news that I received at Cholula, but which I have kept to myself. The natives on the coast have shown themselves hostile to the garrison of a hundred and fifty men, whom I left there under Juan de Escalante. A chief near there sent in to tender his allegiance, and asked that four white men should be sent to escort him to the town. As soon as they got to him two of them were murdered, but the other two managed to escape and made their way back. Don Juan marched, with fifty of his men and several thousand Indian allies, to attack the treacherous chief. There was a desperate battle, our allies fled, but the soldiers stood their ground and—thanks to the aid of the Blessed Virgin—resisted all the attacks made upon them. But eight of the men were slain, and Juan himself was mortally wounded. The Indian prisoners taken said that the attack, like that at Cholula, had been made by the orders of Montezuma.
"You may do us good service by finding out what are the intentions of the Mexicans. Therefore, by all means, carry out your intention of going across to Tezcuco. The young king is a nephew of the emperor, but he has suffered much at Montezuma's hands, and has been stripped of the greater part of his father's dominions. He can, therefore, hardly be friendly to him at heart. At any rate you may be able to learn, in conversation with him, what are his sentiments towards us. Tezcuco was long the rival of Mexico, and as the alliance of the Tlascalans has proved of the greatest advantage to us, still more should we benefit if the Tezcucans were our friends. If we have to retire from Mexico, we might take refuge there.
"At any rate, if nothing else comes of it, you might learn from the king whether he is aware of any treachery meditated against us. He saved you, Malinche says, from Montezuma and the priests, once; and would be likely, therefore, to warn you, did he know that danger was impending."
When Marina had translated this, Roger at once agreed to do his best to discover if any treachery were meant.
"You had best go in disguise," Cortez said. "Donna Marina will make arrangements for a canoe to be here, after nightfall; and by staining your face, and putting on the attire of an Aztec noble—for which we have ample materials at hand—would not be noticed as you pass through the throng of yon boats on the lake. It would be best that you did not go as a Spanish soldier. You might be arrested on the road, and perhaps carried away and sacrificed at one of the altars. Once at Tezcuco you must, of course, act in the matter as you think best."
Marina—who was not, like the Spaniards, confined to the palace—had no difficulty in arranging for a canoe; and as soon as it became dark, Roger, dressed as an Aztec cazique, and with his face slightly stained, took his place in it. The lake was thronged with canoes, but the craft in which he was seated passed without notice through them, and after two hours' paddling reached Tezcuco.
Telling the natives that they were to wait for his return, however long that might be, Roger proceeded to the palace. Avoiding the principal streets and squares, where his unusual height would attract attention, he passed unquestioned into the palace amid the throng of chiefs and nobles who were entering or leaving it, and made his way to the apartment of Cuitcatl. It was empty but, clapping his hand, the attendant who had before waited upon him entered. As Roger's attire was similar to the one he had worn while at Tezcuco, the man recognized him at once.
Roger bade him go in search of Cuitcatl, and tell him privately that he was there, and beg him to come. In a few minutes Cuitcatl entered the room, and greeted Roger most heartily.
"I am glad, indeed, to see you, my friend; and Cacama and the queen and the princess will rejoice, also. There was great anxiety for you after your first escape, for the emperor was furious when he heard that you had slipped off. The priests had assured him that the sacrifice of a white man, to the god of war, would ensure his aid and protection against the white invaders. Runners were dispatched in scores to every town and village, and although I knew that Bathalda was familiar with every foot of the country, and would give his life for you if needs be, it seemed impossible that you should be able to make your way through.
"Then came the news of your fight in the hills; how you had a bow that carried arrows to an unheard-of distance; and how, in a hand-to-hand fight, you had prevailed against a score of our soldiers. After that, you seemed lost. The officers commanding the troops were convinced that you had not descended the eastern slopes of the mountains; and the spies, which were watching every movement of the white men on the coast, reported that no white man had joined them. Therefore, it was supposed that you must have returned west of the range of hills, and every town and village was searched, and every grove and plantation examined.
"We were all very anxious for you, and it was not until a week after we had the news of the wonderful defeat of the Tlascalans, by the white men, that Bathalda returned with the message you sent us, and the news that you had joined the white men there.
"Since then we have, of course, heard nothing of you. Cacama said that he did not see you when he met Malinzin; but of course he did not examine the faces of the white soldiers, being occupied solely with their chief and the officers round him. But we all felt assured that we should hear from you, shortly.
"So, you have resumed your Aztec dress?"
"I thought it better to do so, for the purpose of coming here," Roger replied; "for if the priests want a victim so sorely, it seemed to me that, if I ventured to leave the palace dressed in my Spanish garb, I might be seized and carried off."
"You are quite right," Cuitcatl agreed. "The priests are furious against you all, and I cannot altogether blame them. Your general may, as he says, come as an ambassador from his king to Montezuma; and if he had orders to come to his court, at all costs, he was not to blame if he fought his way whenever he was opposed; but this does not justify him in insulting our religion, and even assaulting and hurling down our gods, at every opportunity. He even tried to persuade the emperor that our gods were false; and spoke insolently of them, yesterday, when Montezuma conducted him, at his request, into the holy shrines. Cacama was one of the strongest advisors that a peaceful reception should be accorded to the white visitors, but even he is being greatly turned against them, by their conduct towards our gods.
"Come, I will take you to the royal apartments, and leave you in a room where no one will enter, until I inform Cacama that you are here."
A few minutes later the young king entered the apartment where Cuitcatl had placed Roger, and embraced him with real affection.
"Truly, I am glad to see you again, Roger Hawkshaw. I am glad to see you for yourself, and I hail you as a counselor, in the strange pass to which we have come. Here are Maclutha, and my sister, Amenche."
The queen and the princess entered as he spoke, and each gave Roger their hand; which, bowing deeply, he raised to his lips, having before told them that this was the salutation, among his own people, to ladies of high rank.
"We did not think, Roger Hawkshaw, when we last parted, that we should meet again so soon. Who could have believed then that the little band of white men, of whose arrival upon the coast we had heard, would have made their way on to the capital, when the emperor was bent upon preventing their coming? We have trembled for you, and have prayed the gods to protect you; and greatly did we rejoice when we heard, from Cuitcatl's follower, that you had surmounted all your dangers safely, and joined the whites.
"It has been a strange time here, since you left. I have been, for the most part, at the capital. The news that came, from day to day, of the progress of the whites filled everyone with surprise, and consternation.
"We of the council met daily, but Montezuma passed his time at the shrines and among the priests. He was a brave warrior and a great general, once, but he is no longer himself. My father's prophecy seems to have unmanned him, and he has given himself up wholly to superstition. I believe in our gods, and pay them due honor; but I do not hold that a man should not think for himself, or that he should trust wholly in the priests, who are but men like ourselves; and who are, methinks, but poor judges of worldly affairs, though wise and learned in matters concerning religion. Montezuma thinks otherwise, and the result is that no orders have been issued, no determination arrived at, and we have the disgrace of seeing a handful of strangers installed in the capital.
"Mind, my counsels have always been that they should be conducted honorably from the coast, and treated as ambassadors; but we have done neither one thing nor the other. They have been loaded with gifts, but forbidden to come here. Yet since they came, in spite of orders, we have seemed as if we feared to meet them; and I blush at the thought of the treacherous plan to destroy them, at Cholula.
"The gods had prophesied that they would find their grave there. But the gods were wrong; and it may be that the God of the whites is more powerful than ours. If not, how is it that they did not avenge the indignities offered to them by the whites, at Cempoalla, where their images were hurled down from their altars? And at Cholula, where the most sacred of all the temples was attacked and captured, and the emblem of the White God set up on its summit?
"You yourself, Roger Hawkshaw, warned us against these Spaniards. You said that they were cruel masters to the people they had conquered, and above all things cruel in the matter of religion, forcing all who came under their sway to accept their God, under pain of death; and that they would slay even you, a white man like themselves, did they know that you did not belong to their people. Tell us what is to be done. Why are these men in our capital? What are their objects? Brave and strong as they are, they cannot hope to overcome a nation, or to force all Anahuac to forsake their own gods and to accept the God of the whites."
"I know not what are the designs of Cortez, the leader whom you call Malinzin. I should say the Spaniards are here with several motives. In the first place, there is the desire for wealth and spoil; in the second, religious ardor—the desire to bring all within the pale of their Church; in the third place, the love of adventure; and, lastly, the honor they will receive, at the hands of their sovereign, for opening so rich an empire to his arms."
"You do not think, then, they intend to conquer us?"
"Cortez cannot think of doing so, with the means at his disposal, Cacama; but doubtless he has sent home reports of the richness of the country, and forces many times more numerous than those under his command may be sent out to his assistance."
"Does he know that you have come hither?" Cacama asked suddenly.
"He does," Roger replied. "I could not leave the palace without permission, and Malinche told him of the kindness I had experienced at your hands. He himself is uneasy at the position in which he finds himself, uncertain of Montezuma's intentions, and fearful of an assault; and he bade me try to find out, as far as might be, what was the general opinion respecting the Spaniards."
"The opinion of the ignorant," Cacama said, with a contemptuous wave of the hand, "is worth nothing. They go where they are led. They believe what they are last told. They shout when they are told to shout. They have no opinion of their own, upon aught but what relates to themselves.
"Among the nobles, the priests, and the learned there is much division of opinion. At present we wait; but frankly, at any moment a storm may follow the calm. The priests, who of course are bitterly hostile to the strangers, are without doubt working, and they have great power with all. But I should say that, on the whole, you are safer here with me than you would be across the water there. I do not mean that there is any immediate danger, but you must remember that Montezuma has been insulted and humiliated, and made to appear small in the sight of the people. He is one of the proudest of men, and although at present he feigns friendship with the Spaniards, a moment will come when he will revolt against being thus bearded in his capital; and he has but to wave his hand for these invaders to be wiped out.
"However, let us talk of other matters, at present. Of course, you are not thinking of returning tonight?"
"I intended to do so, and the canoe in which I came is waiting for me."
"We cannot think of letting you go," Cacama said, decidedly. "I will send an official back, with a message from you saying that you think you can do more, here, than by returning; and that you crave leave to stay for the present, but that you will come over, in the morning, and report to him all that you have learned here. You can leave here soon after daybreak, see your general, and be back again before the full heat of the day."
As Roger was in no hurry to return, Cuitcatl went out to dispatch an official with the message to Cortez; or rather to Malinche, as the message would then be delivered privately to him; whereas if Cortez were asked for, the man might be brought into his presence when engaged with some of his officers. Roger did not know whether the fact of his being away from the palace had been made public, for Cortez might consider it would cause discontent among some of his followers, were it known that their last-joined recruit was permitted to leave the town, whereas no one else was allowed to stir beyond the limits of their quarters.
Chapter 15: Again At Tezcuco.
Until a late hour in the night, Roger sat talking to Cacama and his family. Although they had heard, from Bathalda, all that had happened from the time of their leaving Tezcuco to their arrival at Tlascala, he had to go over it again. Bathalda had told them that Roger had found a former acquaintance in Malinche, who was all powerful with the white leaders; and Amenche asked many questions concerning her—how Roger had known her before, and for how long; what she was like, and why he applied to her, instead of going straight to the white general.
"You have heard me speak of her before," Roger said, in answer to the first question. "I told you that I had learned your language from a Mexican slave girl, who was one of my attendants during the time I was at Tabasco. She was with me the whole time I was there, and if it had not been for learning the language from her, and conversing with her, I do not know how I should have got through the time. I was sorry to leave her behind, and promised her that, if ever I got rich enough here, I would send and purchase her freedom."
"You seem to have taken a strange interest in a slave girl!" Amenche said.
"It was natural that it should be so, Princess. I was little better than a slave, myself. At any rate I was a prisoner, and naturally took to the one person who was kind to me. We were companions and friends, rather than master and attendant; and directly I heard that she was with Cortez, and had gained great influence with him, I naturally went to her."
"Is she very beautiful?"
"I used not to think her beautiful at all, when we were at Tabasco together; but she has changed greatly during the months that have passed since I saw her. Yes, I think she is certainly beautiful now. But not so beautiful as others I have seen."
"But why did you go to her?" the girl again persisted.
"Because I cannot speak the language of the Spaniards; and it was necessary, for my safety, for them to believe that I am one of themselves, rescued from some Spanish ship cast, by a gale, on their shores when I was a little lad. Had I gone to Cortez direct, he would probably have guessed, from my dress and from my speaking the language, that this was how I came to be here; but had I not seen Malinche before I saw him, she would have recognized me, and would no doubt have told Cortez that she had known me from the time I was cast ashore, near Tabasco, somewhat over two years ago. He would then have known that I could not be a Spaniard, for if so, I could not in so short a time have lost my own language."
Cacama now interposed, and asked many questions about Tlascala and its people.
"Some of the Tlascalan princes and caziques gave their daughters as wives to the Spaniards, did they not?"
"Six of them did so," Roger replied. "The ladies were first baptized into the Christian religion, and then married by the priests to as many of the chief leaders of the Spaniards."
"And what did you think of that?" Cacama asked.
"I did not think much about it," Roger said; "for it was no business of mine, but that of the ladies and their friends. It was certainly a politic course, on the part both of Cortez and the Tlascalans, and bound the alliance more closely together.
"But methinks that, upon such work as the Spaniards are engaged in, a man were better without a wife, both for his sake and her own. A man who goes into battle with no one but himself to think of may take joy in the strife; for he knows that, if he falls, it makes no very great matter to anyone. But if he has a wife hard by, who will be left a widow if he is slain, it must be ever present to him while he is fighting; and though he may not fight less stoutly, it must cause him grievous anxiety, and take away the pleasure of fighting."
"You have already told us that the white men are good husbands," the queen said.
"I do not know that they are in any way better, in that respect, than your own people, Queen Maclutha. There are good and bad—men who treat their wives well, and men who neglect them."
"But you told us that they only had one wife, each," she said; "and that even kings are kept to this rule, as well as their humblest subjects."
"That is so," Roger said. "One man one wife, whatever his rank. There is no occasion for the palaces of our king to be as extensive as those of Montezuma."
"And if these officers who have married here were to return home, and leave their wives behind them, could they not marry again?"
"No," Roger said; "as the ladies have become Christians, and been married according to the rites of the Church, they could not be lawfully set aside."
"And you have no wife in England, Roger Hawkshaw?" Cacama asked.
Roger laughed merrily.
"Why, I was but a boy when I left home; and as far as marriage goes, I am but a boy still. We consider it young enough, if we take a wife at five and twenty; and I lack six years of that, yet."
"You are a man," Cacama said gravely. "You are a man in size and strength, and a man in courage; as you well showed, the other day, when you were attacked by numbers of our best soldiers. You are thoughtful and prudent. Years go for nothing. You are a man, and even in years you are not, according to our customs, too young to marry.
"Now, tell me—we have heard much of that bad business at Cholula—tell me, do you think that there was treachery on the part of the people, or was it a mere pretext of the Spaniards to fall upon the inhabitants, and sack the town?"
"I am sure that treachery was intended," Roger said. "We learned it from three people, a lady and two priests; and the Cholula nobles, themselves, when taxed by Cortez with their intention to fall upon us, admitted that the accusation was true. Besides, the whole people were under arms and ready to attack, and poured out under their leaders to the assault, the moment the first gun told that their intentions were discovered. No, there is no doubt, whatever, that a general destruction of the white men was intended; and although the punishment inflicted was terrible, I cannot say that it was not justified, under the circumstances.
"Moreover, we knew that there was a Mexican army, lying but a short distance away, in readiness to enter the town and join in the attack against us."
"It was a terrible error, as well as a crime on the part of the emperor, if it be true that he was concerned in it," Cacama said. "If so, he took no one here into his counsel, but acted wholly on the advice of the priests."
"That is where the general considers the danger lies. He would trust the caziques, for men of rank in whatever country are faithful to their word, and do not pretend friendship when they mean hostility. Were Montezuma guided by them, there would be no fear of treachery; but as he has given himself to the priests, and they can, by means of the oracles, persuade him to almost anything, Cortez feels that the danger is great."
"Well now, we had better to rest," Cacama said, rising. "You are to start with the first streak of light, so as to be back before the sun is high, and it is long past midnight now.
"Cuitcatl, it would, I think, be well for you to accompany our friend. A rumor may have got abroad that he is again our guest, and those who longed for his blood, before, may long for it again. I would not that he should cross the lake unattended."
"I was about to propose doing so," the young noble said. "I know the priests, and can guess that, at present, a white victim is what they most of all desire. Therefore, I will certainly accompany him to Mexico."
Roger and his Mexican friend were taken across the lake in a canoe, rowed by four strong men. It was one of the private canoes of the palace, without the royal insignia; used for the conveyance of messengers, and built for speed. She took them across to the capital in a very short time and, entering one of the canals, landed them close to the palace occupied by the Spaniards.
The sentry at the gate was surprised at the height of the young Aztec chief who approached, and did not recognize him until he spoke. Even then he would not let him pass, until he called an officer.
"I have been absent by the order of the general," Roger said.
"I have no doubt it is all right," the officer replied, "but I must take you to him."
Cortez had only just risen, for the hour was still very early, and the sun was but now showing himself over the mountains to the east. He was taking a cup of chocolate.
"That is all right," he said to the officer, as soon as he saw Roger. "Sancho has been absent upon my orders."
He then called Malinche from an adjoining room.
"You are back earlier than I expected," he said, as soon as the interpreter entered. "Have you any serious news?"
"No, General. Cacama is himself friendly. He is unaware of any treacherous designs on the part of the emperor, but admits that the situation is a critical one, and that it is possible the influence of the priests may again induce Montezuma to take a hostile action."
"Do you think we could count upon him as an ally?"
"I think not, sir; although I have not as yet sounded him. Cacama has been very badly treated by Montezuma, and he by no means approves of the emperor's conduct throughout this matter, but I think that his patriotism would overcome his sense of private wrong. I can tell you more farther on. Cacama has invited me to stay with him, for the present, and I think I might be of more use to you there than here."
"I think so, too," Cortez said; "and indeed, you have not yet entered my band regularly, like the rest. It is right that you should have freedom of action, especially as you are the only man among us who knows anything of the Mexicans; for even Marina knows nothing of this side of the mountains."
"Don't you think that you will run great risk in staying there alone?" Marina asked, on her own account.
"Some danger, no doubt, Malinche; but I shall be on my guard, and Cacama will take precautions for my safety. Even the priests would not venture to seize me in his palace, and the Tezcucans are far less bigoted than the people of this city."
"I do not think he will be in much greater danger there than he would be here," Cortez said, when these remarks were translated to him. "We are all in danger. We are sitting on a mine that may explode any minute. The young fellow is sharp witted, and with his knowledge of the language and the people can be trusted to take care of himself.
"Sancho, if anything should happen to us, and you should hear that we have been destroyed, I charge you to carry the news to the coast, and to order in my name that all shall embark on board ship and sail to Cuba. It would be useless to try to maintain a foothold here. Spain would avenge it, and with ampler means than mine carry out the conquest of this country."
A few minutes later, Roger, having said goodbye to Juan and Pedro, and told them that he might be absent for some time, started to Tezcuco. They had scarcely left the town, when a canoe with six rowers issued from one of the canals and followed in their wake.
"See, they are after us!" Cuitcatl said, looking back. "Doubtless the Spanish quarters are closely watched, to see who enter and leave them; and the news that a tall young noble had entered was carried at once to the authorities, and the boat was got in readiness to follow when you left, and see who you were and where you were going. However, they will not overhaul us. I bade the officer in charge of the canoes last night to pick me out four of his best men, and in so light a boat we shall travel as fast as that behind us, although they have two extra hands."
"Yes, and they have four sitters," Roger said, looking back.
"No doubt they had orders to arrest you, and bring you back. They did not reckon on our speed. The two extra men destroy their chances of coming up to us, altogether.
"Row hard, men. I don't want that boat to overtake us."
The paddlers redoubled their exertions, and the light boat almost flew along over the water. For a few minutes those in the canoe behind also did their utmost; but it was plain that they were falling behind, rather than gaining. Then one of the officials stood up, and shouted an order for them to stop. They were some distance behind, but the words could be plainly heard.
The Tezcucans looked scared as they heard the words, "In the name of the Emperor."
"Never mind them," Cuitcatl said. "We are acting under the orders of our king. Besides, we are so far away that they cannot be sure their words are heard. If they have any complaint to make they can make it to Cacama, and he will answer them."
The boat was soon out of hearing of its pursuer, who fell farther and farther behind, and was a good mile away when they landed at Tezcuco.
"Run the boat up and lay her by the side of the others," Cuitcatl said to the rowers. "Then go at once to your homes, and say naught to anyone about the journey you have made. The officials will find out what they want to know as to whom we are, and will care nothing as to who were the individual boatmen who rowed us. Still, it is as well to keep silent.
"Of course, Roger," for the lad had asked him to drop the second part of his name, "it will soon be known that you have returned here. With such numbers of persons in the palace, it cannot be hidden; besides, you are well known, by sight, to most people in the town."
"I quite see that, Cuitcatl, and perceive no good in trying in any way to conceal myself. These long legs of mine cannot be got rid of, and tell their story too plainly. However, it makes no difference. I shall be safe in the palace, and shall only go abroad in the daytime. They will not venture to try to carry off, openly, one known to be under Cacama's protection."
Cacama, on their return, agreed with Roger that it was of no use to try to conceal his identity; and the lad, after washing the stains from his face and hands, took his accustomed place at the banquet, and was greeted by many of his former acquaintances.
After the meal Cacama told him that, having heard from Bathalda of the wonderful shooting he had made with his great bow, he was desirous of seeing it; and that by his orders the forester, who had been sent for the evening before by Cuitcatl, had been directing some of the artisans to manufacture a weapon of similar strength.
"We will go and see how it is getting on," he said.
Proceeding to the workshops attached to the palace, they found that the bow was finished. It was constructed of a very tough, but elastic, wood. Three slips of this had been placed together and bound with sinews. Bathalda ran forward when he saw Roger, and taking his hand carried it to his forehead. Roger shook the stout fellow's hand, heartily.
"He is a brave fellow," he said to Cuitcatl, who had accompanied them, "and fought manfully and well. Had he not guarded my back during the fight, I should not be here to tell the tale, now."
"We have made the bow according to our instructions," the head of the artisans said respectfully to the king; "but it does not seem to us possible that anyone can use it. Three of us have tried together to string it, but in vain."
"It is a good bow," Roger said, examining it.
"Do they shoot with weapons like that, over there?" Cacama asked, nodding in the direction of Mexico.
"No," Roger said, "for the most part they use crossbows, and their bows are much smaller than this. The English are the only people who use bows like this. They are our national weapons, and outside our island there are few, indeed, who can even bend them. As to the stringing, it is knack rather than strength. See here," and taking the bow, which was just his own height, he placed his knee against it, bent it and slipped the string into the notch, with ease. Then holding it at arms length, he drew it till the string touched his ear.
"It is a great deal stiffer than that I made before, Bathalda; and is about the strength of those we use at home. Now for the arrows."
These had been made by another set of men, and were an inch or two over a yard in length, with copper tips.
While he was examining them Cacama had taken up the bow, but though a strong and vigorous man for his race, he could bend it but a very short distance.
"It is a wonderful weapon," he said, "and I should not have thought that mortal man, whatever his color, could have used it. Now, let us go down into the practice yard.
"Cuitcatl, do you fetch the queen and her ladies, to look on."
"I am no great marksman, Prince," Roger said. "I am perhaps somewhat better than an average shot, but I have seen marksmen who could do feats that I would not even attempt."
They descended to the piece of ground, where many of the young nobles were engaged in shooting, and in practice with arms. Roger had often been there before, but had carefully abstained from taking any part in the mimic contests; for he knew that men who are beaten sometimes feel malice, and he was anxious to keep on the best terms with all. Cuitcatl had often urged him to try a bout with himself, or others, with the sword; but this, too, he had always declined, and his friend had supposed that he was aware his skill was by no means equal to his strength. But now the Spaniards had proved to the Mexicans the fighting powers of white men, Roger had no longer any reasons for hanging back.
As soon as he was seen approaching with Cacama, the Mexicans abandoned their sport, and gathered round. The story of the defeat of a band of Montezuma's soldiers by the white man had been whispered abroad, and Cuitcatl had mentioned to his friends what he had heard, from Bathalda, of the mighty bow Roger had used; but when they saw the weapon with which he was now provided, their wonder was to a large extent mingled with incredulity. They passed it from hand to hand, tried but in vain to bend it, and murmured among themselves that the thing was impossible.
"What will you have for your mark," Cacama asked.
"One of these targets will do well enough," he said, pointing to those at which the Mexicans had been shooting.
These were boards about five feet six in height, and some fourteen inches in width, presenting the size of a man. They were painted white and supported by a leg hinged behind them. The distance at which the Mexicans had been shooting was about forty yards.
Roger stepped a hundred from one of them, and made a mark upon the ground.
"An English archer would laugh at a target like that," he said to Cacama, "but it is nigh three years since I practiced. I have seen men who could with certainty, at this distance, hit a bird the size of a pigeon sitting on the top of that target, twenty times in succession, and think it by no means extraordinary shooting."
The queen and some of her ladies now appeared upon a terrace looking down into the courtyard. Roger took the bow, fitted an arrow to the string, and drew it to his ear—a murmur of astonishment rising from the Aztecs. There was a pause for a moment, and then the arrow sped. There was a sharp tap as it struck the target, and stood quivering in it just in the center line about four feet from the ground.
"The bow is an excellent one," Roger said, and quickly discharged two more arrows, both of which struck within two or three inches of the first. As it was the power of the bow, rather than his own shooting, that Roger wished to exhibit, he now had the target removed a hundred yards farther back, and others placed one on each side of it. At this distance he discharged three more arrows, shooting more carefully than before. All three struck the boards, although at varying heights; and a shout of surprise arose from the lookers on.
"How far will it carry?" Cacama asked.
"It might carry another hundred yards, but the aim cannot be depended upon at over two hundred yards, even by good shots," Roger said. "Of course, the longer ranges are useful for firing at a body of men. I should say that large tree would be about the extreme range. If you will send two men down to it, I will see whether I can shoot as far. We should not see the arrow from here. Will you tell them to stand one on each side of the tree, but well away from it? There is no saying where the arrow may go, at this distance."
When two of the attendants had taken their places, twenty or thirty yards from the tree, Roger drew the bow to the fullest and, giving to the arrow the elevation he had been taught, as most suitable for an extreme range, unloosed the string. The arrow, which was of dark wood, glanced through the air. The eye could follow it only a short distance. No sound was heard this time, but in a few seconds the Mexicans were seen running towards the tree.
"Do not touch the arrow," Cacama shouted; and then, followed by the crowd, for the numbers had greatly increased, as the news of what was going on had spread through the palace, he walked forward to the tree.
The massive stem was more than four feet in diameter, and within a few inches of the center, and at a height of three feet from the ground, the arrow was sticking. The Mexicans were silent with astonishment, mingled with a certain amount of awe, for shooting like this seemed to them to be supernatural.
"And you said you were not a good shot!" the king said.
"It was a pure accident," Roger asserted. "I might shoot twenty arrows, and not hit the tree again. I had not the least idea that I should do so. I only wished to show you how far a well-made bow would send an arrow, when drawn by an Englishman."
Cacama ordered the arrow to be left in the tree, and a large stone to be placed at the spot from which Roger had fired.
"They shall remain," he said, "as a memento of this shot. I will introduce, among my people, the custom which you say prevails in your country; and every child shall be bound to practice, daily, with bows and arrows. I do not think that any of our race will ever come to use such a weapon as that, but they may at least learn to bend bows greatly stronger than those we are accustomed to use."
"They will doubtless do so," Roger said. "It is a matter of practice, and of strengthening certain muscles of the right arm; for a man far stronger than I am would be unable to bend that bow, had he not been trained to its use from the earliest age.
"I should recommend, Prince, that you not only give the order you have spoken of, but institute a monthly gathering, with prizes for skill, and honors to the best marksmen. In this way all would take an interest in the sport, and it would become as popular, among your youth, as it is with us."
Again Roger's bow was passed round. It had seemed to bend so easily, in his hands, that those who had not tried it before could scarce credit its strength, until they had handled it; but even the most powerful men found that they could only draw the arrow a few inches.
As they walked towards the terrace, upon which the queen and her ladies were standing, Cuitcatl said:
"I had intended to ask you, Roger, to try a bout of sword play with some of us; but I will not do so now. After what we have seen of the strength of your arm, I should be sorry, indeed, to stand up against you, even with blunted weapons or with sticks; for there would be no resisting a downright blow. The news came to us of the terrible blows struck by the Spaniards, and how they clove through sword, helmet, and head. I scarce credited them before, but now I can well believe them to be true."
"Well, Maclutha," Cacama said; "what think you of what you have seen? No wonder those who met with the white men, in battle, said that they had supernatural strength; and that even the sturdy Tlascalans could not resist them. We will have the bow hung up in the armory, with a great gold chain; which shall be the reward of the first man who can, like our friend, draw the arrow to the head."
"It is wonderful," the queen said; "and it would be well indeed if, as you say, the youth of Tezcuco could shoot like that."
Amenche said nothing, but her cheeks were flushed with excitement and pleasure.
That evening, when Cacama was conversing alone with Roger, he said:
"My friend, you know that the Tlascalan caziques have given their daughters as wives to some of the Spaniards. I was talking to you of marriage, last night, and what you said about your age was ridiculous. You are a man, and a warrior. I now offer you the hand of my sister Amenche. She loves you, as Maclutha and I have seen for some time. From what you said, I gather that your religion would not regard the ceremony as binding, did she not accept your God; but I do not think she would raise any objection on that score, seeing, as we all do, that your God has proved more powerful than ours."
Roger was struck with astonishment at the offer. He had regarded marriage as a matter not to be thought of, for many years; and until lately he would have said that, if he ever did marry, it would be the little cousin who had, three years before, said goodbye to him at Plymouth. But of late he had felt the charm of this beautiful little princess; and since the night when she had come down to say farewell to him, in the garden, and he had felt her hand tremble in his, and had seen a tear glisten on her cheek in the moonlight, he had thought a good deal of her.
The chances of his ever returning to England were comparatively slight. Dangers of all kinds surrounded him. The Spaniards might be attacked and massacred at any moment, and if so, he would probably share their fate. If, however, he was married to this Mexican princess, and a brother-in-law of the King of Tezcuco, he would be regarded as one of the people. His position would be a high and honorable one, and although his life would be far different from that to which he had hitherto looked forward, it might be a very happy one.
He sat in silence for two or three minutes after Cacama had ceased speaking, and then said:
"Forgive me, Prince, for not responding, at once, to an offer so far above my deserts, and of the honor of which I am most deeply sensible. There could be no greater happiness, for a man, than to be the husband of one so fair, and in every way charming, as the Princess Amenche; but your offer came upon me altogether as a surprise. As I have told you, I have hitherto regarded myself as still a lad, and marriage as an event not to be thought of for years; but as you do not regard my youth as an objection, there is no reason why I should do so.
"It is of the future that I rather think. It seems to me, now, that I could be content to settle down for life here, with so charming a wife; but I cannot say that I might always be of that mind. The love of country is strong in every man, and the time might come when, if opportunity offered, I might long to return home to England."
"That I have talked over with the queen, and with Amenche, herself," Cacama said. "My sister naturally would be sorry to leave her own country, but if the time came that you should wish to return home, she would not hesitate to make the sacrifice, and to accompany you. A Mexican woman, when she loves, is ready to give up everything."
For a moment Roger turned the matter rapidly over in his mind, and saw that, even were he disposed to refuse Amenche's hand, which indeed he was not, it would be almost impossible for him to do so. It would be a deep offense to this friendly prince. It would be a cruel blow to the girl, who had confessed her devotion for him. As to Dorothy, she would have deemed him dead years ago; and should he ever return, he would find that she had long since been married; for the daughters of the wealthy merchant, Diggory Beggs, would not want for suitors.
He held out his hand to the prince.
"I accept most gratefully your offer, Cacama, and promise that, so far as in me lies, I will do my best to render your sister happy, and to prove myself worthy of her choice."
"I am heartily glad," the prince said warmly. "I love my sister, and I have watched you closely. I believe you to be worthy of her, and I am sure that in you I shall find, not only a friend and a brother, but a wise counselor and a valiant leader of my troops; and that, with your advice, I shall be able to advance my people in the arts of peace as well as war, and perhaps to win back my father's possessions.
"As to the question of religion, of which you spoke, there is indeed no difficulty. My grandfather, the great Nezahualcoyotl, the wisest and most powerful of our monarchs, did not believe in the Aztec gods. He built a great temple which he dedicated to the Unknown God. Here he worshiped, himself, and did his utmost to induce his subjects to abandon the cruel worship of the Aztec gods. He forbade all sacrifices, even of animals, and permitted only flowers and sweet-scented perfumes to be offered up on the altars. When, after his death, the Aztec power increased, and that of Tezcuco diminished, the people again embraced the cruel faith of the Aztecs. Neither my father nor myself have been strong enough to set ourselves against the priests; but he, as well as I, believed that my grandfather was right, and that the Unknown God is the ruler of the world. My sister has of course, been educated by the priests; but she knows my father's opinions, and my own. She has a horror of the human sacrifices, and believes that there must be a greater and better God than those who are said to delight in blood. So you need not fear that she will make any difficulty as to accepting what you tell her of the white man's God.
"Now I will fetch her in to you. I think it will be better to allow a short time to pass, and to see how matters go in Mexico, before announcing to others your approaching marriage. If any misfortune should happen to the Spaniards, I should at once publish the news, and have the ceremony performed without loss of time; proclaiming to the people that, although white, you are not of the same race as the Spaniards. If matters go on well, Montezuma himself will doubtless be present at his niece's marriage; and I shall, of course, invite Malinzin and all his officers."
The prince left the room, and in a few minutes returned with his wife, the latter leading Amenche by the hand.
"My friend, Roger Hawkshaw," the young king said, gravely; "I hereby promise to bestow upon you the hand of my sister Amenche. May you find in her a good, loving, and obedient wife."
"I, on my part," Roger said, taking the girl's hand, which the queen held out to him, "promise to be a true and loving husband to her."
The girl, who had not raised her eyes since she entered the room, looked up at the tall figure with an expression of perfect confidence.
"I will be true and obedient," she said softly; "and will love you all my life."
"What do you do next, in your country?" Cacama asked, with a smile.
"This is how an engagement is sealed, with us," Roger said; and drawing the girl up to him, he stooped and kissed her lips.
Three days later, as Roger was sitting with Cuitcatl, an attendant entered and said that the king wished to see them, immediately. They hastened to the royal apartment. Cacama was walking up and down, with an angry frown upon his face; while the queen and princess were sitting on the couch, pale and agitated.
"Strange news has come from Mexico," Cacama said. "The white men have seized Montezuma, and are holding him prisoner in their quarters. Did anyone ever hear of such an outrage? Mexico is in a state of consternation, but at present none know what to do."
"It seems incredible," Roger exclaimed. "Are you sure of your news?"
"Quite certain," the prince replied.
The news was indeed true. Cortez had found his position unbearable. He believed that the attack upon the Spaniards, on the coast, as well as the meditated treachery at Cholula, were the outcome of the emperor's orders. His native allies had heard rumors, in the town, that the bridges across the canals were all to be raised; in which case the Spaniards would be prisoners in their palace. He was in the Mexican capital, but he had as yet effected nothing towards the conquest of the country. At any moment he might hear of the landing of an expedition from Cuba, that his authority was revoked, and that another was to reap the benefit of all he had done.
He therefore called a council of his most trusted officers, and discussed the situation with them. All agreed that some step must, at once, be taken. Some were in favor of starting that night, and making their way out of the city before a sufficient force could be collected to oppose their retreat; while others were of opinion that it were better to retire openly, with the consent of Montezuma, whose conduct since they had reached the city appeared to be most friendly.
Cortez pointed out that both these methods would be retreats, and the whole country would probably rise against them. Moreover, even if they reached the coast, they would have sacrificed all they had won by their valor and sufferings. He proposed a measure which astonished even his boldest companions; namely, that they should go to the royal palace, and bring the emperor—by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary—to their quarters, and there hold him as a hostage for their safety.
The proposal was agreed to, and on the following morning Cortez asked for an interview with the emperor, which was at once granted. He proceeded to the palace with his principal officers, ordering the soldiers to follow in groups of twos and threes, so as not to attract particular attention.
Montezuma began to converse with his usual courtesy, but Cortez roughly cut him short, and charged him with being the author of the attack upon the garrison at the port. Montezuma indignantly denied this, and said that he would send at once, and arrest the author of the attack. Cortez replied that it was necessary, for their safety, that Montezuma should come and reside among them.
The emperor was thunderstruck at the proposal; but the soldiers crowded in, loud and threatening words were used, and Montezuma, in fear of his life, gave way. Had he possessed any of the courage with which he was credited, in his youth, he would have called his guards and nobles around him, and died fighting. Having once given in, he assumed the air of having done so voluntarily, and ordered his litter to be brought.
In the meantime his attendants, and the nobles who had been present, had spread the news through the city. The Mexicans, catching up their arms, ran to the rescue of their monarch; but the Spaniards closed round the litter and, had a blow been struck, the emperor would doubtless have been murdered. Montezuma exhorted the people to be tranquil, assuring them that he was going willingly; and the Mexicans, accustomed to implicit obedience, and fearing that harm would come to the emperor if a struggle began, drew back and allowed the Spaniards to pass; and Montezuma was conveyed, a prisoner, into the palace occupied by the Spaniards.
The act was one of almost unparalleled boldness; but as performed upon a monarch who was the host of his assailants, and with whom they were previously on the most friendly relations, it was an act of treachery, and reflects dishonor upon the fame of Cortez. At the same time, the position occupied by the Spaniards was so strange, and even desperate, as to palliate, though it cannot excuse, such a course of action.
There is no reason to believe that Montezuma intended to act treacherously. But he was under the domination of the priests, and had he again changed his mind, as he had already several times done, nothing could have saved the Spaniards from absolute destruction. No honorable man would have acted as Cortez did; but Cortez was a rough soldier, and moreover, firmly held the doctrine, at that time and long afterwards held by the Spaniards in their dealing with those of other religions, that faith need not be kept with heretics and heathen.
Chapter 16: A Treasure Room.
"'Tis infamous," Cacama said, as he paced up and down the room; "but what is to be done? They hold him in their hands as a hostage, in the heart of his own capital, and among his own people; and are capable of hanging him from the walls, should a hostile movement be made against them.
"You were right, Roger Hawkshaw, in warning us against these men. They are without faith and honor, thus to seize a host who has loaded them with presents, who has emptied his treasuries to appease their greed, and who has treated them with the most extraordinary condescension. It is a crime unheard of, an act of base ingratitude, without a parallel. What is to be done?"
Roger was silent. Such a situation, so strange and unlooked for, confounded him.
"I should say," Cuitcatl burst out passionately, "that every Mexican should take up arms, and annihilate this handful of invaders. What though Montezuma fall? Better that a monarch should perish than a nation. Besides, Montezuma has shown himself unfit to govern. It is his weakness that has brought things to this pass. Think you that the white men could ever have advanced beyond the plateau of Tlascala, had all the forces of Mexico barred the way? Think you that they could ever have entered the capital, had it been defended with resolution? One moment he flattered the strangers and loaded them with gifts; the next he was ready to send his forces against them. The Cholulans had good reason for believing that he designed the annihilation of the Whites, if he did not actually order the attack upon them.
"So on the seacoast. Had the chiefs believed that Montezuma was really friendly to the whites, would they ever have attacked them? There were two courses open: he might from the first have received the Spaniards frankly, and sent a mission to escort them honorably to the capital; or he might have called upon every man in his dominion to take up arms, and drive them into the sea. He took neither. It is he who has brought them here; and it is better, a thousand times, that he should die than that ruin should fall upon the country.
"My advice is, that the troops be called out; that messengers be sent to every city in the valley, bidding them send in their contingent; and that we march to aid the people of Mexico to annihilate this handful of treacherous white men."
Cacama was silent. The advice was in accordance with his own feelings and temperament; but the extreme reverence with which the Aztecs regarded their emperor paralyzed him.
"We shall see," he said, gloomily. "In a short time we shall know why Montezuma thus tamely suhmitted to be made a prisoner. He may have some motives which we cannot fathom. I cannot believe him to be a coward. No Aztec monarch, yet, has ever shown want of courage."
Three or four days later, another event occurred which heightened the fury of the Mexicans against the Spaniards. The cazique who had attacked the Spaniards on the coast arrived at Mexico, accompanied by his son and fifteen other chiefs who had acted with them. Montezuma referred the matter to the examination of Cortez. The cazique admitted the part he had taken in the attack on the Spaniards, and did not seek to shelter himself under royal authority; until sentence of death was passed on him and the other chiefs, when they all declared that they had acted on the authority of Montezuma. They were condemned to be burnt alive, in the space in front of the palace, and this sentence was carried out.
Not content with this, Cortez placed irons upon Montezuma himself, saying there could now be no longer a doubt as to his guilt. After the execution was carried out, Montezuma was released from his fetters.
The news of this insult to their monarch created a profound impression upon the Mexicans. Although they despised the weakness of a sovereign who appeared ready to suffer every indignity, and yet to claim an appearance of courtesy and goodwill towards his oppressors, the bolder spirits determined that the nation should be no longer humiliated in the person of its sovereign, and that even should it cost Montezuma his life, an effort should be made to overthrow his oppressors.
As soon as the news of the execution of the seventeen nobles, and of the indignity to Montezuma was received; Cacama said to Roger:
"My friend, I can no longer retain you here. You have told me why you cannot have it proclaimed that you are of different blood to the Spaniards, and I quite understand your motives; but there are two reasons why, in that case, you must for a time return to the capital. My people would look upon me with scorn, did I retain here as my friend one whom they regard as the countryman of the men who have so outraged us. Moreover, you yourself cannot wish to stay. You have told me that Cortez has charged you to acquaint him with the state of feeling in this city; and were you to remain here, you would be placed in the painful position of either giving information which would ruin my plans, or of deceiving the man whom you nominally serve. I know that you would say nothing against me, but should I fail and the Spaniards triumph, Cortez would accuse you of being a traitor, and you would be put to death by him.
"Therefore, I think it in all ways best that you should return there, for the present. You will, of course, inform Cortez that I have sent you back because the feeling against the white men, on account of their treatment of the emperor, is so great that I felt that I could not protect you against their fury."
"I quite agree with you, Cacama. My position here has become a very painful one. I abhor, as much as you do, the doings of the Spaniards; and am perfectly ready to avow that I belong to another nation, and to join you in an enterprise against them."
"But that, as you have told me," Cacama said, "would cut off any chance of your ever being able to return to your own country."
"I am ready to accept that," Roger said firmly. "In marrying your sister, I shall become one of yourselves, and am ready to cast in my lot with you, altogether."
The prince was silent for a minute or two.
"No, Roger, I think that my plan is the best. Were you to do as you say, the Spaniards would be at once placed on their guard; while, save by the strength of your arm, you could aid but little in any enterprise against them. Moreover, if you return to the Spaniards, I shall have the satisfaction that, if I fall and ruin comes upon my house, you will take care of my sister, and that my wife will also have a protector. For all reasons, therefore, it is better you should go. But if aught is to be attempted against the Spaniards, I will take care to give you notice, so that you can leave them in disguise and come here, and so avoid their fate."
Although Roger's own feelings would have led him to throw in his lot openly against the Spaniards, he saw that Cacama's plan was the best. The boat was ordered to be at once got in readiness; and after a painful parting with Amenche, who wept bitterly, Roger left the palace; and again accompanied by Cuitcatl, in order to ensure his safety across the lake, was taken over to Mexico.
He at once sought the presence of Cortez, and through Marina explained to him that Cacama had sent him back, fearing that in the excited state of the population harm might come to him. He had, since he had been in Tezcuco, sent a letter across each day to Cortez, saying that all was tranquil there; that the young king was pursuing his ordinary round of court ceremonial, and was certainly, as far as he could learn, taking no steps whatever towards interfering with the affairs of the capital, although the imprisonment of Montezuma had evidently made a painful impression upon him.
Cortez asked him a few questions, and when he left the room said to Marina:
"That young fellow must be watched, Marina. He has been brought up with these people, and must to some extent feel with them. I know that he is a friend of yours, but see that you say nothing to him on public affairs. Let him be kept wholly in the dark, as to our plans and intentions. This Cacama is, next to Montezuma, the most powerful and important of the Aztec chiefs. He is young and energetic, and although he has been so badly treated by Montezuma, he resents our treatment of him. Had it been otherwise he would probably, ere this, have made some propositions to us, through Sancho, for a closer alliance with us, on the understanding that the territories Montezuma has taken from him shall be returned.
"We must have Cacama's actions closely watched. There are other Aztecs who are willing enough to act as our spies, and who will keep us informed of what is going on. Hitherto their reports have agreed with Sancho's, but from his sending the young fellow back here, Cacama may now be intending to act against us."
Cacama, indeed, lost no time in setting to work, and began to form a league with many of the leading nobles, to rescue the emperor and destroy the Spaniards. Montezuma's brother Cuitlahua and many others agreed, at once, to join him; but the greater part of the Aztec nobles hung back, upon the ground that they did not like to move in the matter, without the orders of their emperor. Their refusal prevented any general rising taking place, and thus destroyed the last chance of Mexico retaining its independence.
Cortez learned from his spies what was going on, and would have marched against Tezcuco, had not Montezuma dissuaded him; telling him that Cacama was a powerful prince, and would certainly be aided by many other chiefs, and that the enterprise would be hazardous in the extreme. Cortez then endeavored to negotiate, but received a haughty answer from Cacama. He then tried threats, asserting the supremacy of the Spanish emperor.
Cacama replied "that he acknowledged no such authority, he knew nothing of the Spanish sovereign or his people, nor did he wish to know anything of them."
Cortez then invited Cacama to come to Mexico to discuss their differences; but Cacama had no faith in Spanish loyalty, and he replied "that when he did visit the capital, it would be to rescue it, as well as the emperor himself, and their common gods, from bondage. He should come, not with his hand upon his breast but on his sword, to drive out the Spaniards, who had brought such disgrace upon the country."
While this had been going on, Montezuma had still further forfeited all claim to sympathy, by the willingness with which he accepted the attentions of those who were, in fact, his gaolers. They paid him all the outward marks of respect, pretending still to regard him as a powerful sovereign; and he, in return, was present at their exercises and sports, took the greatest interest in two ships they were building for navigation on the lake, and in all respects behaved to them as if they were his best friends. He now carried his baseness still further, and informed Cortez that several of the Tezcucan nobles were regularly in his pay, and that it would be easy, through them, to capture Cacama and thus break up the confederacy.
Cortez at once took means to carry out the suggestion. The traitors invited Cacama to a conference, at a house overhanging the lake near Tezcuco. Upon going there he was seized by them, bound, placed in a boat, and carried to Mexico. He was there brought before Montezuma.
In spite of the perils of his position, Cacama bore himself nobly. He boldly accused his uncle of foul treachery, and with the cowardice which he had betrayed since the Spaniards had entered his kingdom. Montezuma handed him over to Cortez, who ordered him to be loaded with fetters and thrown into a dungeon. The emperor then issued an order, declaring that Cacama had forfeited his sovereignty by his rebellion, and that he therefore deposed him, and appointed a younger brother named Cuicuitzca in his place. The other leaders of the confederacy were all seized by the orders of Montezuma in their own cities, and brought in chains to the capital, where they were imprisoned with Cacama.
Upon Roger, the news of Cacama's arrest and imprisonment came like a thunderclap. He was in the habit of frequently seeing Malinche, who still retained the warm feeling of friendship for him that had originated at Tabasco, and with whom he often had long talks of their life in those days; but she had let no word drop as to the doings of Cacama. She had questioned him somewhat closely as to his relations with that prince; and he had made no secret to her of the fact that Cacama had promised him his sister's hand in marriage. As many of the Spaniards had already married the daughters of great caziques, this appeared to her natural; and she had congratulated him upon the prospect of an alliance which would bring him wealth and land, but had said that, for the present, it would not do to think of marriage, as it would be unsafe for him to leave the capital.
When therefore Roger heard of the misfortune that had befallen Cacama, he was filled alike with surprise and consternation, and hurrying to Malinche, begged her to use her influence with Cortez to spare the young prince's life.
"I have already done so," she said; "and he has promised that no blood shall be shed, though the chiefs who have leagued themselves with Cacama must all be imprisoned. The safety of the army requires it. No harm, however, shall befall Cacama, of that be assured. I may tell you, now, that it has been settled that his brother Cuicuitzca shall be appointed Lord of Tezcuco in his place. This will be done by a decree, tomorrow."
"Malinche, I must go at whatever hazard to warn Cacama's wife and sister, in order to give them the opportunity of leaving the palace before this young prince arrives. Pray obtain for me leave from Cortez to go away for twenty-four hours. You can tell him of the interest I have in the matter."
"I will manage it for you," Malinche said; "but as your princess is also sister to the new king, I see no reason for uneasiness."
"She is devoted to Cacama," Roger replied; "and would not, I feel sure, consent to remain in the palace with the usurper."
"You had best advise her," Malinche said, with a little nod of the head, "to disguise her sentiments, and make the best of the matter. It may make, you know, a good deal of difference in the amount of dowry you will get with her."
"I am not greedy, Malinche," Roger said; "but the present is, at any rate, no time for talking of marriage."
"Most of the officers have married," Malinche said.
"They may have done so, but they are officers, and can maintain their wives in all honor and respect, and have apartments allotted to them here. I have neither rank nor station, and shall certainly not ask my princess to share my rough quarters as a soldier. There is no hurry. As I told you but a year ago, Malinche, I am scarcely out of my boyhood; and there will be plenty of time when matters settle down, and we see what is going to happen, to think of marrying."
"I will go and speak to Cortez at once, and get leave for you. But you had best disguise yourself well—Tezcuco will be in an uproar tonight; for the capture of Cacama will be known there ere many hours, if it is not known already."
She soon returned with the required permission. This time Roger dressed himself in the attire of a trader, as being less likely to attract attention. Malinche again secured a boat for him, and having dyed his face and hands, he started at once, as it would be dark before he reached Tezcuco. Since Montezuma had been captive in their hands, there was no longer any fear of an attack being made upon the Spaniards; and the soldiers were now able to come and go through the town, at pleasure.
Upon landing, Roger at once made his way to the palace. There was great excitement in the town. The people were assembled in crowds, discussing the news that had reached them; and even at the palace gate the guards were careless of their duty, and Roger entered without question.
He hurried direct to the royal apartments. An official who would have barred his way allowed him to pass at once, when he recognized his identity.
When he entered, he found a scene of grief and confusion. The queen was extended upon a couch, weeping bitterly; while Amenche and some of her ladies, although themselves weeping, were trying to console her.
The princess gave a cry of joy when she saw him and, running forward, threw herself into his arms.
"You have heard the news?" she exclaimed. "Cacama is lost. These monsters will put him to death."
"I can reassure you as to that," Roger said. "He is a captive, but his life is not in danger. Malinche has interceded for him, and Cortez has promised that his life shall be spared."
A cry of gladness burst from all present.
"I have other and less pleasant news to give you, Amenche," Roger whispered in her ear. "Get rid of all these ladies. My news must be for you, only."
A minute or two later, the queen dismissed her ladies.
"The news I have to tell you," Roger went on, "is that tomorrow Montezuma will issue a decree deposing Cacama, and appointing Cuicuitzca Lord of Tezcuco."
An exclamation of anger and indignation broke from the queen and Amenche.
"He cannot do it," the latter exclaimed, passionately. "It is beyond his power. The emperor has a voice in the council, but beyond that he has no power to make or unmake the Lords of Tezcuco."
"At the present moment," Roger said gravely; "he has got the Spanish power at his back; or rather, he is but the mouthpiece of the Spaniards. They are the masters, and care nothing for the law or usages of your country."
"The Tezcucans will not receive Cuicuitzca," Amenche said. "Everyone knows that he is weak and cowardly, and of late he has been at Mexico, dancing attendance on the Spaniards. They will never receive him."
The queen raised her head from the couch.
"We must not build on that, Amenche. He comes, sent here by the whites; and when Mexico dares not rise against them, you may be sure that the people here will not dare to provoke their anger. Besides, who have they to lead them? Was not Cacama betrayed by his own nobles? Let us send for Cuitcatl, and hear what he advises us."
Cuitcatl, on his arrival, was so thunderstruck on hearing that Montezuma had so debased himself, to the Spaniards, as to depose his own nephew, whose only fault was patriotism, and who had been endeavoring to effect his rescue, that he was for a minute or two speechless with indignation.
"The gods have, indeed, deserted us," he said; "when they have turned a monarch who was considered brave and honorable into a base slave. May their vengeance fall upon him! May the curse of our ruined country descend upon the man who is the real author of our misfortunes!"
"Do you think, Cuitcatl," Amenche asked, "that the people will receive this usurper?"
"I fear, indeed, that they will do so," he replied. "Montezuma has appointed him, and Montezuma's name still has power. At any rate, it will afford them an excuse for submission. Besides, how could they fight when so many of our own nobles are treacherous? Doubtless Cacama will not be the only victim, and Montezuma will, at the orders of the Spaniards, disgrace all who have acted with him."
"Then what would you advise us to do? We are both resolved that we will not await the coming of this usurper."
"My house is at your service," Cuitcatl said. "It lies, as you know, near the foot of the hills; and whatever strife may go on here, its quiet is little likely to be invaded. Cuicuitzca will not concern himself at present with you, nor would he venture to take any hostile steps against you; for did he do so, it would excite a storm of indignation.
"As to you, Princess, as his own sister, and of the royal blood, you could if you liked stay here, as at present; and indeed, were it not that I am sure you would not leave the queen, I should advise you to do so; for you might then act in the interests of Cacama, should you see an opportunity."
Amenche shook her head.
"No," she said, "brother though he is, I would not bend my head before a usurper, while Cacama lives. When do you think we had better leave here?"
"I should say it were best to leave at once," Cuitcatl replied. "I will order three or four litters to be prepared; for yourselves and, say, two of your most trusted attendants. Bathalda will find, in the town, men on whom he can rely to take you. In this way none here will know where you have gone. I will have the litters in readiness at a short distance from the palace, and you can then issue out by the garden gate, unobserved. I shall, of course, myself escort you."
"What shall we take with us, Cuitcatl?"
"I will get, in addition to those who carry the litters, five or six porters. These I will bring up through the gardens to the private door, and Roger and I will carry down to them such parcels of your clothes as you may make up. I should then make up two large caskets with your own jewels, those of Cacama, and some of the most valuable stones and jewels from the royal treasury—leaving all the royal ornaments worn on state occasions, so that the usurper will not know that any have been abstracted."
"I would rather take nothing but my own and Cacama's personal jewels," the queen said.
"The contents of the whole treasury are his, by rights; and you must remember, Madam, that jewels may be very useful to you. You will have to work for Cacama, and unhappily there are many who are not insensible to bribes; and the possession of valuable jewels may enable you to be of great assistance to the king."
"I did not think of that," the queen said. "Yes, you are right. There is a hoard stowed away by the late king, and by his father before him. Its existence is only known to my husband and myself. I have never seen it, but Cacama tells me that it is of immense value; and was to be used only in case of an extreme emergency, and danger to the state. We can take what we choose from this separate hoard, and Cuicuitzca will find, from the list in the hands of the chief of the treasury, that the royal store is untouched."
"That will be vastly better, indeed," Cuitcatl said. "It is well that he should have no possible cause of complaint against you. Where is this hidden receptacle?"
"Before I show it you, I will send all our attendants to bed, save the two we will take with us—my own maid, and Amenche's."
"I will be going. Roger Hawkshaw will help you," Cuitcatl said. "It will take some time for Bathalda to get the litters and the men.
"It is now ten o'clock. In three hours the litters shall be outside the little gate of the garden, and I will bring six porters to the private door at the foot of the stairs."
"That will be enough," the queen said. "Two will be ample for our garments, and you and Roger Hawkshaw can take the jewels; which, when we start, can go in the litters with us."
Cuitcatl left. The two ladies who were to accompany the party were then called in, and informed of what had taken place, and that they had been chosen to accompany the queen and princess in their flight.
"Tell all the others," the queen said, "that we are overcome with the news we have received, and will dispense with all further attendance, except your own, for the night. When all is quiet, make up your jewels and such clothes as you may wish to bring in bundles. Then go to the wardrobe room and make up two bundles, each as much as a man can carry, of my garments; and two of the same size, of those of the princess. Take all our jewels out of the caskets, and put them in with our clothes."
When the two waiting ladies had retired, the queen said to Roger:
"Now come with me, and we will open the treasure closet."
The palace was by this time hushed and quiet, the greater part of the courtiers had long since left, having hurried away to their homes when the news came of Cacama's arrest; and the remainder had gone to friends in the town or neighborhood, as it was thought probable that the Spaniards might, at once, send a force to take possession of the palace, and arrest all found there.
Taking some keys from a strong coffer in Cacama's room, and bidding Roger take a torch from the wall, the queen led the way to the royal treasury. A massive door was first unlocked, and in a large room were seen ranged vessels of gold and silver; strong boxes containing gold necklaces, armlets, and other ornaments; while on lower shelves were bars of gold and silver, ready to be worked up.
They passed through this room into another the same size. Around it ran deep shelves, in which were piled the treasury papers; with the accounts of the royal revenues, and the tributes paid by the various cities and villages and land owners of the kingdom. In one corner stood a small cupboard of about four feet high, also filled with papers. The queen put her hand inside, and touched a small spring at the back.
"Now," she said to Roger; "pull at that corner of the cupboard."
He obeyed her instructions, and at a vigorous pull the cupboard, which had appeared solidly embedded in the wall, swung round on one of its angles. Nothing, however, was to be seen save a bare wall behind it.
"Now, Roger Hawkshaw, take your dagger and cut away that plaster—for it is but plaster, though it looks like stone."
Roger obeyed. The task was an easy one, for the plaster was but half an inch thick, and came off in flakes; showing a massive copper door, three feet six in height, and three feet in width, behind it. No keyhole was visible.
"Press upwards against the lintel," the queen said. "That will release the catch of the door."
Roger did so, and at the same moment pushed with his shoulder against the door, and it swung round with ease.
"Do you enter first, with the torch, and we will follow," the queen said.
Roger found himself in a room about twelve feet square. At the farther end was a pile of gold bars, four feet deep and as much high, extending right across the room. On the floor, along the other two sides, were ranged a number of large chests.
"Open these," the queen said. "The gold is of no use to us."
The chests were full of manufactured gold ornaments, many of them studded with jewels. Roger was astounded at the amount of wealth thus stored away.
"Cacama told me," the queen said, "that even the treasure houses of Montezuma are poor, in comparison to the treasure his grandfather and father stowed away here; and I can well believe it. You have not opened that small chest, yet."
This was opened, and was found to contain a number of bags which were full of pearls, turquoise, and other precious stones, of large size and immense value.