"We will take this chest away, as it stands," the queen said.
"It would be awkward to carry," Roger objected. "It is very heavy, and its shape would tell at once that it contained valuables. The contents do not weigh many pounds, and could easily be wrapped up in a cloth and put into one of the litters, without exciting observation. If you will allow me, I will go back to one of the sleeping rooms and fetch two or three thick rugs."
He hurried away, and in a few minutes returned. The bags were transferred from the chest to one of the rugs he had brought, which was then wrapped round and tied into a bundle. On two other rugs were placed heaps of necklaces and other ornaments from the larger chests, until each contained, as nearly as Roger could guess by lifting them, some sixty pounds' weight of gold ornaments. These were similarly tied up, and the three bundles were then carried out from the hidden room, and conveyed to the apartment they had before left.
Roger then went back to the treasury, closed the copper door, swept up and placed in a rug every particle of plaster, and then swung the cabinet back into its position, where it fastened with a loud click. So firmly was it fixed that, although Roger tried with his whole strength, it did not shake in the slightest; and the work was so admirably done that, from the closest inspection, he was unable to discern aught that would have shown that the cabinet was not built into the wall. He then returned to where the ladies were waiting him.
The queen urged him to take two or three of the bags of jewels, but this he absolutely refused to do.
"I am acting as Cacama's friend," he said; "and as the promised husband of his sister; and I should feel myself degraded, indeed, were I to receive even one of those jewels."
"But there is no saying when we shall meet again," the queen said. "There is no knowing what terrible events may occur."
"Whatever occurs, lady, I shall see you again, if I live," Roger said. "If not, of what use are the jewels to me?"
At the appointed hour, Cuitcatl returned.
"All is in readiness," he said.
The two attendants were summoned from the apartments where they had been waiting. Roger and his friend first carried down the bundles of clothing, and then took up the rugs containing the heavy gold ornaments; Roger taking, in addition, the small parcel with the jewels. The attendants then took up their own bundles, and the whole party proceeded downstairs, and out into the garden.
Cuitcatl led the way with the queen. Roger followed with Amenche, the two ladies with the porters came behind.
"How strange," Roger said. "Last time I came at night through this garden I was a fugitive, and you came down to bid me farewell. Now it is you who have to fly!"
"When shall we meet again?" the girl sobbed.
"I cannot tell you, dear; but if I live, we will meet again. Things may right themselves, yet; and at least, whatever happens to this unfortunate country, we may be happy together. I have a good friend in Malinche, and if the Spaniards conquer, Cortez will certainly give me leave to marry you. It is his policy to marry his soldiers to the daughters of Mexicans. If Cortez fails, and the Spaniards are finally driven out, Cacama will recover his own again, and can then proclaim that I am not of Spanish birth, and can give you to me. So you see that, whatever comes, there is hope that things will go happily with us."
"I am afraid, Roger. I fear there is to be no happiness in this unfortunate country."
"Then we must leave it together," Roger said cheerfully. "You are naturally depressed now, and see things in their darkest light; but you will grow more hopeful again, when you are once established in Cuitcatl's home. Arrange with him for Bathalda to act as messenger between us. He is faithful and brave, and will manage to reach me, whatever comes of it."
A few minutes later they were beyond the gardens. The four litters stood ready. The queen and princess and the two ladies took their seats in them, and the three bundles of valuables were also placed inside.
"I shall love you—I shall love you until death," Amenche sobbed out, and then the procession moved away, leaving Roger standing by himself.
Skirting the outside wall of the garden, he made his way to the shore of the lake. He found the boatmen asleep in their canoe. As soon as he aroused them, they seized their paddles and, on his taking his seat, pushed off.
"There is no occasion for speed," he said. "It is but two o'clock now, and it is of no use our reaching Mexico until daybreak; for the gates of the palace will be closed, and there will be no getting in, dressed as I am, until sunrise."
They therefore paddled quietly across the lake, often resting for a considerable time, and so arranging that they approached the city at the same time as a number of market boats, from the villages on the lake.
"Well," Malinche asked with a smile, as he met her in one of the courts, as he entered, "and where is your lady love?"
"I have not brought her here," he said, rather indignantly. "You did not suppose that I was going to bring her back to a barrack room? I am not an officer, to have a suite of apartments to myself. Besides, if I could have had the whole palace to myself, I should not have asked her to forsake her sister-in-law, in her distress. The two have fled together, and when the usurper arrives there today, he will find that no one knows where they have gone.
"However, I hope he will not trouble himself about them. After having taken Cacama's place, he could hardly wish to have Cacama's wife there; and I think he will be very glad when he hears that she has left.
"Can I see Cacama? I should like to tell him that his wife is in safety."
"I will take you with me," Malinche said. "I saw him yesterday, when he was brought before Montezuma. He is a gallant prince, and I grieve that misfortune has befallen him."
Malinche led the way to the prison room where Cacama was confined. The sentries at the door passed her and her companion without hesitation, for they knew that her influence was supreme with Cortez, and that orders did not apply to her.
"I will come again for you, in half an hour," she said, as the sentry unbolted the door.
Cacama was lying on a couch, covered with rough mats. He sat up as the door opened; and leaped to his feet, with an exclamation of satisfaction, when he saw who his visitor was.
"I have been longing to see you, Roger," he said. "I knew that you would come to me, as soon as you could. Have you heard that Montezuma has deposed me, and appointed Cuicuitzca Lord of Tezcuco?"
"I heard it yesterday afternoon, Cacama; and crossed at nightfall to Tezcuco, with the news."
"You saw my wife?" Cacama asked eagerly. "How is she? How does she bear the blow?"
"She was lost in grief when I first arrived there, but the necessity for action aroused her. She and Amenche agreed that they would not await the coming of the usurper today. They left the palace secretly, under the charge of Cuitcatl, who had litters in readiness for them; and started for his house, which he placed at their disposal. None save two attendants, whom they took with them, knew that they had left; and should the usurper seek for them—which, Cuitcatl agreed with me, is not likely to be the case, as he will have enough to occupy his time and thoughts—it will be long before he can find whither they have gone.
"I must tell you, Prince, that the queen last night opened the secret treasury, and took with her a considerable amount of the gold ornaments and the precious stones; so that she should have the means, if opportunity occur, of offering bribes either to the nobles of Tezcuco, or to your guards here."
"I would I were free but for an hour," Cacama said passionately. "I would make an example of the treacherous nobles who betrayed us. The queen has done well, in going to the secret chamber. It was to be kept for an emergency, and never was there a greater emergency for Tezcuco than now. Still, there were a large number of jewels in the public treasury, which she might have taken without breaking in upon the hoard."
"She thought that Cuicuitzca would, on his arrival, inquire from the chief of the treasury if everything was untouched. If he had found that a large number of valuables had been taken, he would connect it with the flight, and would at once send in all directions to overtake them; whereas, if he found that everything were untouched, he would think no more of her."
"Quite right," Cacama agreed. "Yes, it was certainly better to open the secret chamber. It was closed up again, I hope; for I would not that all the treasure which my father and grandfather stored away should be wasted by Cuicuitzca, or fall into the hands of his greedy friends, the Spaniards."
Roger informed him of the steps that had been taken; and that, with the exception of the fact that the plaster had been removed, all was exactly as before; and that the entrance could never be discovered, unless the cupboard was torn from its place.
"There is little fear of that being done. All the shelves and fittings of the treasury are of the plainest wood, and offer no inducement to anyone to take the trouble to break them down. The treasury might be sacked a dozen times, without its occurring to anyone to break down that small cupboard in the corner."
Roger now told Cacama of the arrangement that had been made, that Bathalda should act as messenger between himself and Amenche; and said he doubted not that, on the following day, the man would present himself.
"Have you any message to send to the queen?" he asked.
"Tell her that I am well, and that I am delighted to hear she has left the palace before Cuicuitzca arrives. Bid her on no account to try to stir up the false nobles in my favor. They would only betray her to Montezuma. And so long as the Spaniards are masters here, it is useless to think of revolt elsewhere.
"I do not believe that this will last long. The Mexicans are patient and submissive, but there is a limit, and Montezuma has almost reached it. The time cannot be far off when the people will no longer endure the present state of things, here; and when they rise, they will overwhelm these Spanish tyrants, and then I shall be freed. I can wait for a few weeks, and I shall doubtless have companions here, ere long."
The door now opened, and Malinche, looking in, told Roger that he must leave, as she was required by Cortez. Saying goodbye to Cacama, therefore, he returned to his quarters.
Chapter 17: The Insurrection.
Cacama's prognostication was speedily verified; for in the course of the next two or three days, all the nobles who had joined him in preparations for a rising were, by Montezuma's orders, arrested and sent in, in chains, and were placed with him in prison.
Bathalda came on the day after Roger's return, with the news that the two ladies had reached Cuitcatl's house in safety and, as they believed, without exciting observation. The queen was anxious to know if he had seen Cacama, and whether her husband had any instructions for her. Amenche simply sent him some flowers, gathered by her own hand.
Roger gave Bathalda Cacama's message to the queen. While out in the market, he purchased a large packet of choice and delicate sweetmeats, of which he knew Amenche was particularly fond, and gave them to Bathalda; with the message that he would someday teach her to read and write, and then, when they were away from each other, they could talk at a distance.
For some little time things went on quietly, but the Spanish greed and bigotry gradually worked the Mexicans up to a point of fury. At the suggestion of Cortez, Montezuma sent collectors to all the principal cities and provinces, accompanied by Spaniards, and these brought back immense quantities of gold and silver plate and other valuables; and to these Montezuma added an enormous treasure that had been accumulated and hidden by his father, amounting to a sum which astounded even the Spaniards. The value of the gold alone was equal to nearly a million and a half pounds sterling, in the present day, besides a vast amount of gold ornaments and jewelry, and feather work of excellent manufacture. A fifth of this was set aside for the King of Spain, the rest divided among the officers and soldiers.
Even the extortion of this vast sum from the people might have been passed over in quiet, had the Spaniards been content to abstain from interference with their religion; but during the weeks that had elapsed since Montezuma had been a prisoner in their hands, they had vainly endeavored to convert the emperor, and the nobles and attendants on him, to Christianity.
They had listened attentively to the preaching and exhortations of Father Olmedo; but their faith in their own gods was unshaken, the bloody sacrifices were carried on as usual in the temples, and these horrible spectacles naturally excited the wrath and indignation of the Spaniards to the utmost; although they themselves had, in Cuba and the islands, put to death great numbers of the natives in pursuance of their own religious views.
Cortez with many of his leaders went to the emperor, and told him that they would no longer consent to have the services of their religion conducted in the palace, but wished to celebrate them publicly; and therefore requested that the great temple should be handed over to them, for their services. Montezuma was much agitated. He was a devout believer in his gods; and his conduct towards the Spaniards had been, in no slight degree, influenced by the belief that their coming had been foretold by Quetzalcoatl, and that they were the descendants of that god. However, after a conference with the priests, he consented that they should occupy one of the sanctuaries on the summit of the temple.
Great joy was caused among the Spaniards at this permission. They at once took possession of the sanctuary, and thoroughly cleansed it. They then decorated its walls with flowers, and raised an altar, surmounted by a crucifix and an image of the Virgin. When all was ready, the whole army moved up the winding ascent to the summit, and a solemn mass was celebrated.
The result of this occupation of the temple of their god was soon visible in the conduct of the Mexicans. Montezuma himself became grave and distant towards the Spaniards; and a few days later sent for Cortez, and informed them that they were in great danger, and that they had best leave the country, at once. Cortez replied that he should regret to leave the capital so suddenly, when he had no ship to take him from the country; but that if he should be driven to take such a step, he should feel compelled to carry the emperor along with him.
Montezuma then agreed to send, at once, a number of workmen to the coast, to build vessels under the instructions of the Spaniards; and promised to use his authority to restrain his people, assuring them that the Spaniards would leave, as soon as means were provided. A large number of artisans were accordingly sent off at once, with some of the Spaniards most skilled in ship building; and on their arrival at the coast they began to fell trees, and to make all preparations for building the vessels.
In the meantime, at Mexico, every precaution was taken by the Spaniards. Since Montezuma had been in their hands, they had felt in perfect security, had wandered about the city and neighboring country as they chose, fished upon the lake, and hunted in the royal preserves. Now the utmost vigilance was observed, strong guards were mounted, the soldiers slept in their armor with their arms beside them, and were no longer permitted to leave the palace.
At this moment news arrived that filled the mind even of Cortez with consternation. The expedition that he felt sure Velasquez, the Governor of Cuba, would dispatch against him, had arrived on the coast, and had landed. It consisted of eighteen vessels, carrying nine hundred men, of whom eighty were cavalry. So large a fleet had never before been collected in the Indies. It was commanded by a Castilian noble, named Panfilo de Narvaez.
Until they arrived at the coast, they had learned very little of what was happening in Mexico, as the vessels which Cortez had dispatched had avoided touching at the islands. They now learned, from the Spaniards left on the coast, all that had taken place; and Narvaez found, with indignation, that Cortez was the conqueror of a great empire, and that the honor and wealth had been reaped by a man whom he considered as an insolent adventurer, instead of by Velasquez. He therefore at once proclaimed his intention to march against Cortez, and to punish him for his rebellion; and the natives who had flocked to his camp soon comprehended that the new army had arrived as enemies, and not as friends, of the white men who had preceded them.
A small body of the troops of Cortez, commanded by Sandoval, were in garrison at Villa Rica; and he at once dispatched a messenger with the news to Cortez, and prepared for a vigorous defense. A priest, a noble, and four Spaniards who arrived from Narvaez, ordering him to surrender, were bound, placed on the backs of Indian porters, and sent off to Mexico under a strong guard.
When the news of the arrival of the force of Narvaez reached Mexico, the soldiers were delighted, believing that means were now at their disposal for their return home; but when they heard, from their officers, that the newcomers were sent by the Governor of Cuba, and had assuredly arrived as enemies, the troops declared that, come what might, they would remain true to their leader.
On the arrival of the prisoners, Cortez received them with the greatest courtesy, apologized for the rough conduct of Sandoval and, loading them with presents, converted them into allies. He learned from the priest that the soldiers of Narvaez had no hostility towards them, and that the arrogance of their leader caused much discontent among them.
When he was sure of the good offices of the priest, Cortez sent him back with a friendly letter to Narvaez, whom he adjured to lay aside his hostile designs which, if persisted in, might cause the loss of all the conquests he had made. He was ready, he said, to greet him as a brother, and to share with him the fruits of his successes. The priest fulfilled his mission, and added his own advice that the offers of Cortez should be accepted.
Narvaez rejected the counsel with scorn, but the accounts of the priest of the splendor of the country, the rich spoils won by the soldiers, and also of the generosity and popularity of Cortez, exercised a great influence over the soldiers.
The priest was followed by Father Olmedo, with some more letters. These were similarly rejected by Narvaez; but Olmedo, during his stay at the camp, contrived largely to add to the feeling in favor of Cortez, by his eloquence and the numerous presents he distributed among the officers and soldiers.
Cortez had, some time before, dispatched Don Velasquez de Leon, one of his trusted officers, with a hundred and fifty men, to plant a colony near the mouth of one of the great rivers. He was a kinsman of the Governor of Cuba, and Narvaez had, on landing, sent to him begging him to quit the service of Cortez, and march with his troops to join him. Velasquez, instead of doing so, set out at once for Mexico; but on his way was met by a messenger from Cortez, who ordered him to stop at Cholula for further orders.
Cortez summoned a force of two thousand natives from the distant province of Chinantla and, leaving Pedro d'Alvarado in command of a hundred and fifty Spaniards in Mexico, marched with the remainder of his force, consisting of some seventy men only, for Cholula. Here he was joined by Velasquez, with his hundred and fifty men. Thus reinforced, they marched to Tlascala, where six hundred native troops joined him.
But his allies soon fell off. They had had too severe an experience of the fighting powers of the white men to care about taking part in a battle with them, and so many deserted on the way that Cortez dismissed the rest, saying that he would rather part with them, then, than in the hour of trial. On reaching Perote they were joined by Sandoval with fifty Spaniards, which brought their number up to two hundred and sixty-six, only five of whom were mounted.
On their march towards Cempoalla, where Narvaez had now established his headquarters, they were met by an embassy from him, requiring the acknowledgment by Cortez of his authority, offering at the same time that all who wished to leave should be transported in his vessels. By liberal presents Cortez won over the members of the embassy, who returned to Cempoalla to inform the soldiers there of the liberality of Cortez, and of the wonderful array of gold ornaments and chains worn by his soldiers.
Narvaez advanced to meet Cortez but, the weather proving bad, again fell back on Cempoalla. Cortez, on the other hand, took advantage of the weather, and in the night fell upon the garrison, and took them completely by surprise.
Sandoval, with a small band, had been told off to attack the temple occupied by Narvaez, and to take him prisoner. The general, with the troops in the temple, defended himself bravely, until seriously wounded by one of the long spears with which Cortez had armed his men. The thatched roof of the temple was set on fire, the defenders were driven out by the smoke, and Narvaez was seized and made prisoner.
Another division, under Olid, fell upon the guns, captured them, and turned them upon the temples in which the troops were quartered; when the soldiers, whose loyalty to their commander had already been sapped, accepted the offer of Cortez of an amnesty for the past, and a full participation in the advantages of the conquest of the country. Having sworn allegiance to Cortez as captain general, they were incorporated in his little army.
In the morning, when they saw how small had been the body of men who had defeated them, many regretted the course they had taken, but in the course of the day the two thousand native allies from Chinantla arrived, and their military appearance, and the proof afforded by their presence of the influence of Cortez with the inhabitants of the country, put a stop to the murmuring; especially as Cortez ordered all the spoils taken from them to be returned, and distributed among them considerable sums of money—exciting, indeed, murmurs of discontent among his own veterans, who considered that they had been deprived of the spoil they had rightfully won.
The eloquence of their general, however, as usual, was successful in pacifying them; but to prevent further difficulties, he broke up his force, and sent off two hundred men under Diego de Ordaz, and a similar number under Velasquez de Leon, to form settlements on the coasts and rivers; and two hundred men to Vera Cruz, to dismantle the fleet of Narvaez.
Scarcely had these parties left when a messenger arrived with letters from Alvarado, saying that the Mexicans had risen and assaulted the Spaniards in their quarters, and had partly undermined the walls; and that, in the fighting, several of the garrison had been killed, and a great number wounded.
Cortez at once dispatched messengers after Velasquez and Ordaz, and ordered them to march to join him at Tlascala; recalled a hundred men from Vera Cruz, and then set forward. The troops suffered much in their march across the low country to the foot of the hills, beneath a sun of terrible power. However, they reached Tlascala, and were there joined by Ordaz and Velasquez. They were most hospitably entertained by their allies, and a number of levies joined them; and with these and eleven hundred Spaniards, of whom a hundred were cavalry, they marched towards Mexico.
They took a more northern route than before and, crossing the mountains, held their way on to Tezcuco. Upon their route through the plains the peasantry held aloof, and the greater portion of the population of Tezcuco withdrew before their arrival; and even its new lord, although appointed at the instigation of Cortez, was absent from the city. Dispatches arrived from Alvarado saying that the Mexicans had, for the last fortnight, ceased their attacks; but were blockading him in the palace.
Cortez marched down the lake shore on the following day, and crossed the causeway to the city. Not a native was to be seen near the line of march, not a boat was visible on the lake, and an air of gloom and solitude hung over everything; showing but too plainly the altered feelings with which the natives regarded the whites. The streets were similarly deserted. When the head of the column reached the palace, the gates were thrown open and the garrison rushed out to greet the newcomers, with joyful shouts.
Cortez now learned the reason of the rising of the Mexicans. It was the result of a hideous act of treachery, on the part of Alvarado. In the month of May was the great festival of the war god, which was held in his great temple; and the caziques asked permission of Alvarado to use, for the day, that portion which had been handed over to the Spaniards. He agreed to the request, on the condition that the Aztecs should celebrate no human sacrifices, and should come unarmed.
At least six hundred nobles attended, in their most gorgeous robes, and Alvarado and his soldiers were present as spectators. While the Aztecs were employed in a religious dance, Alvarado gave the signal, his men rushed upon them with their arms, and every one of them was massacred unresistingly, not a single soul escaping.
Various motives were assigned for this most foul massacre. Some writers have ascribed it solely to the desire for plunder; others to the desire of Alvarado to strike a blow that would intimidate the Mexicans from making any insurrectionary movement. Alvarado himself declared that he had information that the Mexicans intended to rise, but he gave no proofs, whatever, to justify his suspicions. The affair, indeed, seems to have been utterly indefensible, and must ever remain a foul blot upon Spanish honor.
Cortez was extremely angry at hearing what had taken place and, after listening to Alvarado's explanation, said:
"You have done badly. You have been false to your trust! Your conduct has been that of a madman!"
It was, however, no time for quarrels; and as it was the impolicy of the deed, rather than its treachery, that angered Cortez, he speedily forgave the offender, who was one of the most popular officers in his army.
The blow Alvarado had struck had a contrary effect to that which he had expected of it. No sooner had the news of the massacre spread through the city than the whole population rose, and at dawn next morning they attacked the palace, with desperate fury. Volumes of missiles were poured upon the defenders. The walls were assaulted, and the works set on fire, and the palace might have been taken had not Montezuma, yielding to the entreaties—and perhaps threats—of the garrison, mounted the walls, and urged the people to desist from the attack, as his own safety would be imperiled did they continue it.
They obeyed him as usual, and withdrew from the assault; but threw up works round the place, and proceeded to starve the Spaniards out. The latter had considerable stores of food, but suffered severely from thirst until they were fortunate enough to discover a spring, and were thus enabled to hold out until the arrival of Cortez.
The latter refused to comply with the request of Montezuma to see him. He had some reason to doubt the good faith of the emperor, for he had discovered that the latter had sent envoys to Narvaez; and he had, upon his arrival at Tlascala, been informed that the rising at Mexico had been, to a great extent, prepared beforehand by the orders of Montezuma; and even the assurances of the officers of the garrison, that they owed their safety to the emperor's intervention, did not pacify him.
The real reason, no doubt, of his anger was that he found he had overrated the advantages he would gain from Montezuma being in his hands; but for this he himself, and not the emperor, was to blame. At first the capture had all the success that he had expected from it. The people had obeyed their emperor as implicitly, when a captive, as when his power had been supreme. They had sent in their nobles, prisoners and bound, at his orders. They had built ships for these strangers. They had suffered them to go unmolested through the country.
But there was an end even to Aztec patience. The avarice of the white men had drained the country of its wealth. Their arrogance had humiliated their pride. Their occupation of their holiest temple and the insults to their gods had aroused them to fury; and the massacre, in cold blood, of six hundred of their nobles, while engaged in religious devotions, had been the signal for an explosion. Their emperor, formerly so venerated, they now regarded with contempt as the creature of the Spaniards; as the betrayer of his country; and the thought of his safety no longer restrained their thirst for vengeance.
Cortez, however, was in no mood to reflect.
"What have I to do with this dog of a king," he exclaimed, "who suffers us to starve before his eyes?
"Go, tell your master and his people," he said fiercely to the Mexicans, "to open the markets, or we will do it for them, at their cost!"
The chiefs, who were the bearers of Montezuma's message, left his presence in deep resentment; and reported to the emperor, and to the people outside, the manner in which Montezuma's request for an interview had been refused. Cortez, however, thought it politic to release Cuitlahua, Montezuma's brother, who had been among those imprisoned for taking share in Cacama's league; and allowed him to go into the city, thinking that he would allay the tumult.
But Cuitlahua was a man of different spirit from his brother. He was heir presumptive to the throne, and a bold and daring prince. The people welcomed him, at once, as Montezuma's representative; and chose him to represent the emperor during his confinement. Cuitlahua accepted the post, and immediately set to work to organize the fighting men, and to arrange a plan of attack.
Roger had not been with the party that accompanied Cortez on his expedition against Narvaez; but, with his two companions, remained to form part of the garrison of the palace.
"You are out of spirits, young fellow," Juan said, on the day after Cortez had marched away. "You are changed, very much, since you first joined us."
"I have much to make me so, Juan," Roger replied, in his broken Spanish. "You see, I am white by blood, but I have dear friends among the natives. What do I see? As a white, I perceive that our position here is one of the gravest danger, and that destruction may fall upon us all. As a friend of the natives, I see the country plundered, the people trodden down and, sooner or later, the ruin and misery of the whole people."
"You mean we are in danger from Narvaez' people," Juan said. "I have faith in Cortez. He will either fight them or bring them over. He is a wonderful man, and will find some way out of the difficulty."
"I do not mean that, entirely," Roger replied. "I mean that there is danger from the natives."
"Pooh!" the old soldier said, disdainfully. "The natives are no better than so many women."
"But even women may be serious opponents, when they are fifty to one, Juan; and you mistake these Mexicans. They have been friendly and submissive, because it has been the order of the emperor; but although physically not strong, they are brave. The Aztec army has spread the dominion of Mexico over a wide extent of country. They have conquered many peoples, and are by no means to be despised. It is true you beat the Tlascalans, but that was not because you were braver than they were, but because of your superior arms and armor, and above all by the terror inspired by your horses—but this will not last. The Mexicans now know that you are but men, like themselves; and when they fight, inspired both by national spirit and the memory of their wrongs, I tell you that you will have hard work to hold your own."
"Ah well," Juan grumbled. "If it must come, it must. It will not disturb my appetite."
When Roger learned that orders had been given for the massacre at the temple, he determined firmly that he would take no part in the deed, whatever it might cost him to refuse. Fortunately, he found no difficulty in persuading one of the soldiers, told off to act as a guard at the palace during the absence of the rest, to change places with him, as the man wanted to have his share in the expected plunder. Had Cacama been at liberty, Roger would not have hesitated a moment, but would have left the Spaniards and thrown in his lot with the Mexicans; but now it was impossible to do so. The frenzied population would have seized any white man they came upon, outside the walls of the palace, and would have carried him to the altars of their gods. It would be hopeless to endeavor to explain that he was of another race. All white men would be alike, in their eyes.
He bitterly regretted, now, that he had returned from Tezcuco. Had he, at that time, gone with the queen and princess to the house of his friend Cuitcatl, he could have remained there in quiet; and the natives would have seen that he, at least, had no part or share in this horrible massacre. Now it seemed to him that there was nothing to be done, save to share the lot of the Spaniards, whatever that might be.
He believed that the Mexicans would storm the palace, and slaughter all within it, long before the return of Cortez; and he by no means shared the confident anticipation of the soldiers, that the general, on his arrival, would very speedily put down any insurrection that might occur; and would, with the assistance of the soldiers of Narvaez, soon bring all Mexico into subjection.
It had happened that both Juan and Pedro had also been on guard, during the massacre. This was a great satisfaction to him, for he felt he could no longer have remained in intimate communion with them, had their hands been drenched with innocent blood. When, upon their being relieved at their posts, they joined each other in the chamber they shared in common, the old soldier held up his hand and said gruffly:
"Do you hold your tongue, Sancho. I know what you are thinking, lad, as well as if you said it; and maybe I do not disagree with you; but least said, soonest mended. These rooms without doors are not places for a man to relieve his mind by strong language, if he happens to differ from his superiors. It is a bad business, and a shameful one. At Cholula there was some excuse for it. Here there is none. I am an old soldier, and have taken many a life in my time, but never in cold blood like this. Say nothing, lad, at any rate until you get a chance of being outside this city; or on the lake, where none can get near you—then pour it out, as much as you like."
"It is like enough," Roger said, "that none of us will ever go out of the city alive; and it will serve us thoroughly right. If this is to be a Spaniard and a Catholic, let me be a Mexican and a heathen."
"There, there, that is enough," Juan interrupted. "Now let us have our supper."
"I can eat nothing," Roger said, throwing himself down on the couch, where he remained in silence until a sudden outburst of wild shouts and cries, followed instantly by the trumpet, calling every man to his allotted place on the walls, aroused him.
"The work of vengeance has begun," he said gravely, as he put on his thick padded jerkin and helmet, and took up his pike. "I only hope I may see Alvarado, the author of this massacre, killed before I am."
Juan shook his head as Roger left the room, and he followed with Pedro.
"In faith, I do not blame him. He has been brought up among these people."
"He is quite right," the young soldier said. "It is a shameful business. Had I known that we were coming here to be butchers, I would never have taken service under Cortez. What should we have said if, on our first arrival here, when Montezuma entertained Cortez and all the cavaliers, his people had slain them at the feast?"
"Hold your tongue, you young fool!" Juan muttered angrily. "The thing is done, and you cannot undo it. What we have to do now is to fight for our lives. Even if these poor devils have right on their side, it is not a matter to stop and discuss, now. So keep your breath for fighting. I doubt not that we shall soon scatter them like chaff."
But this was by no means the case, and it was only the intervention of Montezuma that saved the garrison from destruction.
The time until the arrival of Cortez had passed slowly. The soldiers, weakened by hunger and thirst, muttered angrily against the officer who had so rashly brought them into this strait. Few of them regretted the deed for its own sake, but simply because it had brought on them peril and misfortune.
Roger had borne his share of the fighting on the walls. He was defending his life, and although at first he had fought with little ardor, the pain given by two arrows which pierced his cotton armor heated his blood; and he afterwards fought as stoutly as the rest.
During the period of inaction he had, more than once, tried to obtain an interview with Cacama; but the prisoners were jealously watched, and no one was allowed access to them on any pretext, and two officers always accompanied the men who took in their daily rations. They were regarded as hostages, only less important than Montezuma himself; and as most of them were very rich and powerful caziques, they might offer bribes which might well shake the fidelity of any private soldier.
When the news arrived that Cortez, with the whole of the army of Narvaez, was at hand, the depression that had reigned gave way to exultation; and the soldiers believed that they would now take the offensive, and without loss of time put an end to the insurrection.
Marina had accompanied Cortez on his expedition, for she was still necessary to him as an interpreter, and her influence with the natives was great. Roger obtained an interview with her, a few hours after her return. She had evidently been crying passionately.
"My heart is broken, Roger," she said. "I had hoped that the white men would have done great things for my country. They know so much, and although I thought there might be trouble at first, for great changes can never be introduced without trouble, I never dreamed of anything like this. Cholula was bad enough, but there the people brought it on themselves; and the Spaniards would have been slain, had they not first begun to kill. But here it is altogether different. It was an unprovoked massacre, and after this, who can hope that the whites and Mexicans can ever be friendly together?
"I love Cortez. He is great and generous, and had he been here this would have never happened; but many of his people are cruel, and they are all greedy of wealth; and he, general though he is, has to give way to them.
"I remember that, in the old days at Tabasco, you told me how cruelly the Spaniards had treated the people of the islands; but when I saw them first, I thought that you, being of a different nation, had spoken too hardly of them. I see, now, that you were right. I have, all along, done what I could for my people; and though I am with the invaders, I am sure they recognize this, and that they feel no ill will against me. But now I fear that they will curse me, as they will curse them; and that, through all time, my name will be abhorred in Mexico," and she again burst into tears.
"I do not think so, Malinche. At Tezcuco it was always said that you stood between the natives and the whites, and it was owing to you that they were not more harsh than they were.
"As to this massacre, God forbid that I should say a single word in defense of it! As a white man and a Christian, I feel it is an act of horrible atrocity; but it should not make such an impression upon your people, who make wars solely to obtain victims, whom they may sacrifice at the altars of their gods; and who, every year, slay in cold blood fully twenty-five thousand people who have done them no wrong. By the side of such horrible slaughter as this, the murder of six hundred, the other day, was but a drop in the ocean of blood annually shed here."
"Had it been in battle, it would have been nothing," Malinche said. "Had they offered them up at the altars of the gods, the people would have understood it, for they do it themselves; but this was a foul act of treachery. Who, after this, can believe in the promises of the whites?
"I know the people. You whites despise them, because they have hitherto allowed themselves to be subdued without resistance; but now that their first awe of the Spaniards has died away, and they have nerved themselves to take up arms, you will find that they are brave. I see nothing but trouble before us. Cortez feels confident that he can easily repulse any attack, and subdue the city and the country round; but I do not think so."
"Nor do I, Malinche. No men could have fought more bravely than the Mexicans, the other day. It is true that we were but in small numbers, and that we are now many times stronger, and have Cortez to command us; but on the other hand, the attack was but a hasty one, and the next time we shall have the whole Mexican force upon us."
"What will you do, Roger?"
"I must fight for the Spaniards," Roger said gloomily. "They are not my countrymen, but they are white men as I am, and surrounded by foes. Besides, I have no option. The Mexicans cannot distinguish between Spaniards and Englishmen, and I should be seized and sacrificed, were I to set foot beyond the walls. Were it not for that I would leave the city, join Amenche, and leave the Spaniards and Mexicans to fight out their quarrel as they might; but now, whichever won, the result would be fatal to me. If the Mexicans were victorious, I, like all other whites, would be sacrificed to their gods. If the Spaniards won, I should be executed as a traitor. Therefore, there is nothing for me to do but to remain with the Spaniards, and share their fate, whatever it may be."
The next morning silence reigned over the city. Not a Mexican was to be seen anywhere near the palace, within which the Spaniards were virtually prisoners. Cortez hoped, however, that Cuitlahua would soon persuade the people to return to their usual habits, and to open the markets for provisions; but in any case, he felt so confident of his power to overawe the city, that he sent off a messenger with dispatches to the coast, saying that he had arrived safely, and should soon overcome all opposition.
In half an hour, however, the messenger returned at a gallop, wounded in a score of places. He reported that the city was up in arms, the drawbridges were raised, and the Mexicans were marching towards the palace. Scarcely had he arrived, when the sentinels on the towers shouted that masses of men were approaching, by all the streets leading to the palace; and immediately afterwards the terraces and flat roofs of the houses near were darkened by throngs of natives, shouting and brandishing their weapons.
The trumpet instantly sounded to arms, and so strict was the discipline that prevailed that, in an incredibly short time, every soldier was at his post. The position was capable of being defended against a very numerous enemy, unprovided with artillery; for the wall round the great one-storied building, though low, was strong; and the turrets, placed at intervals upon it, enabled the defenders to command its face, and to pour missiles upon any who might be bold enough to endeavor to effect a breach, by undermining it with crowbars and levers. The garrison, too, were sufficient for its defense; for there were not only some twelve hundred Spaniards, but the eight thousand Tlascalan allies.
The Aztecs rushed forward, with the shrill whistle used as a battle cry by the people of Anahuac; and, as they advanced, poured a rain of missiles of all kinds upon the palace, to which were added those shot from the terraces and flat roofs.
The Spaniards had pierced the walls with embrasures for their cannon, and these commanded all the avenues. The gunners waited until the columns were close at hand, and then their terrible discharge swept lanes through the crowded masses in the streets. For a moment the Mexicans paused, paralyzed by the terrible slaughter; and then, rallying, rushed forward again. Three times the cannon were discharged into their midst; but though broken and disordered, they still pressed on until they swept up to the very foot of the walls, pouring in a hail of arrows.
They were well seconded by those on the housetops who, from their elevated position, were on a level with the Spaniards; and whose missiles, arrows, javelins, and stones thrown with great force from slings, galled the defenders greatly, and wounded great numbers of them.
In vain did the Aztecs strive to climb the walls. These were of no great height but, as they showed their heads above the parapet, they were shot down by the Spanish arquebus men, or struck backwards by the weapons of the Tlascalans. Failing to scale the walls, they tried to batter down the parapet with heavy pieces of timber. But the stonework was too strong, and they then shot burning arrows into the palace, and hurled blazing torches over the wall.
The palace itself was of stone, but some of the exterior works which had been constructed were of wood, and these were soon on fire. The defenders had no water with which to extinguish the flames and, at the point where the new works joined the wall, the fire was so fierce that they were afraid it would spread to the palace; and, to extinguish it, were forced to adopt the desperate expedient of overthrowing the wall upon the burning mass. The breach thus made was guarded by a battery of heavy guns and a party of arquebusiers, and these repelled every attempt of the Mexicans to take advantage of the breach which had been thus formed.
The fight continued until night fell, and the Mexicans then drew off. Cortez and his followers were astonished at the obstinacy with which they had fought, and the contempt of death they had displayed. They had obtained such easy victories, with forces but a fourth of those which Cortez now commanded, that he had formed the lowest opinion of the fighting powers of the Aztecs. But he now found that a nation was not to be trampled upon with impunity.
However, he consoled himself with the thought that this was but a temporary outbreak of fury; and he determined to sally out with all his force, on the following morning, and to inflict a terrible chastisement upon his assailants.
As soon as the morning broke, the Spaniards were under arms. Cortez was speedily undeceived in his hopes that the slaughter of the previous day would have cowed the Mexicans. The great square and the streets leading to it were seen to be crowded with foes, who appeared better organized than on the previous day, being divided into regiments, each with its banners. These, the Mexican attendants on Montezuma told them, were the cognizances of the many cities of the plain, showing that the whole people were joining in the movement commenced by those of the capital. Towering above the rest was the royal standard of Mexico.
Among the crowd were numerous priests who, with excited gestures, called upon them to avenge the insulted gods, and to destroy the handful of invaders who had brought disgrace upon the nation, had trampled it under foot, had made their sovereign a captive, and murdered their nobles in cold blood. It was evident that, fierce as had been the fighting on the previous day, the renewed assault would be even more formidable.
Chapter 18: The Rising In Mexico.
The appearance of the vast crowd that surrounded the palace differed much from that which they had presented on the previous day, when the Mexicans had fought in their usual garments, or in their padded cuirasses. Today they had laid aside all their garments save their loincloths, having found by experience that their cotton armor was absolutely useless against the missiles of the Spaniards. The chiefs were now conspicuous, as they moved to and fro among the dark masses, by their gay dresses and the metal breastplates worn over the bright feather work. They wore helmets made to resemble the heads of ferocious wild beasts, crested with bristly hair or surmounted by bright feather plumes. Some wore only a red fillet round their head, having tufts of cotton hanging from it; each tuft denoting some victory in which they had taken part, and their own rank in the army. Noble and citizen, priest and soldier, had all united in the common cause.
The assault was about to commence, when the Spaniards' artillery and musketry poured death into the crowded ranks. The gates were at once thrown open, and Cortez at the head of his cavalry dashed out, followed by the infantry and the Tlascalan allies. Confused by the slaughter made by the firearms, the Aztecs could offer no resistance to the onslaught. The cavalry trampled them underfoot, and mowed them down with sword and lance. The Spanish foot and Tlascalans following close behind carried on the work of destruction, and it seemed to the Spaniards that the fight was already over, when the Aztecs fled before them.
The movement of retreat, however, ceased the moment the Mexicans reached the barricades which they had thrown up across the streets; and forming behind these they made a gallant stand, while those upon the housetops poured showers of arrows, darts, and great stones down upon the advancing Spaniards. In vain the Spanish artillery were brought up, and their fire swept away the barricades; there were still others behind, and at each the desperate fight was renewed.
Coming down from the side streets, the Aztecs fell upon the Spanish flanks; and clouds of missiles were shot from the boats, which crowded the canals everywhere intersecting the streets.
Cortez and his cavaliers continued to make desperate charges through the Aztecs, who, although unable to withstand the weight and impetus of the horses, closed round them, striving to throw the riders from their backs and to stab the horses themselves—throwing away their lives without hesitation, on the chance of getting one blow at the Spaniards. The moment the horsemen drew back, the Aztecs followed them; and although their loss was immense, their ranks were instantly filled up again, while the Spaniards could ill spare the comparatively small number who fell on their side.
At last, after hours of carnage, the Spaniards, exhausted by their exertions and having eaten nothing since the night before, fell back to the palace. Diaz, one of the historians of the events, who was present at the combat, expressed the astonishment felt by the Spaniards at the desperation with which the despised Mexicans had fought.
"The Mexicans," he said; "fought with such ferocity that if we had had the assistance of ten thousand Hectors, and as many Orlandos, we should have made no impression on them. There were several of our troops who had served in the Italian wars; but neither there, nor in the battles with the Turk, have they ever seen anything like the desperation shown by these Indians."
As the Spaniards fell back the Aztecs followed them, pouring in volleys of stones and arrows; and as soon as they had entered the palace encamped around it, showing that their spirit was wholly unbroken. Although—as it was contrary to their custom to fight at night—they did not renew the attack, they shouted insulting threats as to the Spaniards' fate, when they should fall into their hands; and were evidently well satisfied with the events of the day, and looked for victory on the morrow.
Cortez had received a severe wound in the hand during the fight, and he and his companions felt how grievously they had mistaken the character of the Aztecs. They had sallied out that morning, confident in their power to crush out the insurrection. They returned, feeling that their situation was well-nigh desperate, and that henceforth they must fight, not for dominion, but for life.
As soon as day broke the fight was renewed, but this time it was the Aztecs and not the Spaniards who began it. There was no idea of a fresh sortie. All that the garrison could hope was to defend their position. So furiously did the natives attack that, for a time, they forced their way into the entrenchments; but the Spaniards, whose turn it was to fight with the bravery of despair, fell upon them with such fury that none of those who had gained an entry returned.
Cortez now sent to Montezuma, to request him to interpose, as he had done before, between them and his people. The emperor refused to interfere. He had viewed the desperate fighting of the last two days with bitter humiliation. He had seen his brother Cuitlahua leading on his troops, with the greatest gallantry; while he himself, thanks to his own conduct, was a helpless prisoner. He mourned over the terrible losses his people were suffering; and the fact that his kindness to the Spaniards had brought upon him nothing but ill treatment and insult at their hands, had earned him the contempt of his people, and had involved his country in misfortune and ruin, cut him to the heart.
"What have I to do with Malinzin?" he said coldly. "I desire only to die."
When still further urged, he added:
"It is useless. They will neither believe me, nor the false words and promises of Malinzin. You will never leave these walls alive."
On being assured that the Spaniards would willingly depart, and leave the country, if their assailants would open a way to them, he at last consented to address the people. Clothing himself in his richest robes of state, he ascended the central turret of the palace; surrounded by a guard of Spaniards, and accompanied by several Aztec nobles. When he was seen, the din of war ceased as if by magic. A dead silence fell upon the multitude, and they knelt and prostrated themselves before the sovereign they had so long held in the deepest reverence.
But when he addressed them, assuring them that he was a guest, and not a prisoner, of the Spaniards; and ordered them to lay down their arms, and to allow the Spaniards to march to the coast, indignation at his cowardice overpowered their feelings of reverence and respect. They burst into taunts and execrations, and a moment later a storm of missiles were hurled at the man who had betrayed them.
The Spanish guards, seeing the effect his presence had produced, had stood aside, to enable him the better to be seen; and before they could close around him, and cover him with their shields, three missiles struck him; one, a stone hurled from a sling, smiting him on the head with such violence that he fell insensible. When the Aztecs saw him fall, their brief outburst of indignation was succeeded by one of sorrow; and with a cry of grief the whole multitude dispersed, and in a minute or two the crowded square was wholly deserted.
Montezuma was carried to his chamber. When he recovered sensibility, he refused absolutely to allow his wounds to be dressed, and tore off the bandages. Not a word passed his lips. He sat in an attitude of the deepest dejection. His own people despised him, and had raised their hands against him. He had drunk deeply of the cup of humiliation, at the hands of the Spaniards; but this last drop filled it to overflowing. There was nothing for him but to die.
The Spanish leaders tried, but in vain, to persuade him to submit to surgical treatment. He paid no attention to their words, and they were soon called away by fresh danger from without.
The Aztecs had speedily recovered from their emotion at seeing the fall of the emperor, and a body of five or six hundred of them, including many nobles and military leaders of high rank, had taken possession of the great temple; and now from its summit, a hundred and fifty feet high, opened a rain of missiles upon the palace. The Spaniards could not effectually return their fire, for the Aztecs were sheltered by the sanctuaries on the summit of the pyramids.
It was absolutely necessary, for the safety of the defenders, to dislodge them from this position; and Cortez ordered his chamberlain, Don Escobar, with a hundred men, to storm the teocalli and set fire to the sanctuaries. But the little force were three times repulsed, and forced to fall back with considerable loss. Cortez then, though suffering much from the wound in his left hand, determined himself to lead the assault. As he was incapable of holding his shield, he had it strapped to his left arm; and with three hundred picked men, and some thousands of the Tlascalans, sallied out from the palace, and attacked the Aztecs in the temple at the foot of the pyramid.
The Spaniards made their way through these without much difficulty, and then commenced the ascent of the pyramid. This offered great facilities for defense. There were five terraces connected by steps, so placed that those mounting the pyramid had to make the whole circuit, on each terrace, before reaching the steps leading to the next. It was thus necessary to pass round the pyramid four times, or nearly two miles, exposed to the missiles of those upon the summit.
Leaving a strong body of Spaniards and Tlascalans at the bottom, to prevent the natives ascending and attacking him in the rear, Cortez led the way up the staircase, followed closely by his principal officers. In spite of the heavy stones and beams of wood which, with a storm of arrows, were hurled down upon them, the Spaniards won their way from terrace to terrace, supported by the fire of their musketeers below, until at last they reached the great platform on the summit of the pyramid.
Here a terrible conflict commenced. The Aztecs, brought to bay, and fighting not only for life, but in the presence of their country's gods, displayed a valor at least equal to that of the Spaniards. Numbers were slightly in their favor, but this was far more than counter-balanced by the superior arms of the Spaniards; and by the armor, which rendered them almost invulnerable to the comparatively puny weapons of the Mexicans. And yet, for three hours the fight continued. At the end of that time, all the Mexicans, save two or three priests, were killed; while forty-five of the Spaniards had fallen, and almost all the others were wounded.
While this fight had been raging the combat had ceased, elsewhere; the combatants on both sides being absorbed in the struggle taking place at the summit of the temple. They could not, of course, judge how it was going; though they caught sight of the combatants as they neared the edges of the platform, which was unprotected by wall or fence; and many in the course of the struggle fell, or were hurled, over it.
The moment the struggle was over, the Spaniards rushed with exulting shouts into the sanctuary of the Mexican god, reeking with the blood of fresh-killed victims; cast the image from its pedestal; rolled it across the platform to the head of the steps; and then, amid shouts that were echoed by their comrades below, sent it bounding down, while a cry of anguish and dismay rose from the Mexicans.
The image dethroned, fire was applied to the sanctuary; and the smoke and flames, rising up, must have told countless thousands, watching the capital from the housetops of the neighboring cities, that the white men had triumphed over the gods of Mexico; and that, as at Cholula so at the capital, these had proved impotent to protect their votaries from the dread invaders. So dismayed were the Mexicans, at the misfortune, that they offered no resistance to the return of the Spaniards from the temple, and retired to their houses without further fighting.
At night the Spaniards sallied out again, relying upon the habit of the Mexicans to abstain from fighting at night, and burnt several hundred houses.
Believing that the spirit of the Mexicans would be broken now, Cortez, on the following morning, mounted the turret from which Montezuma had addressed them. Malinche was by his side; and when he held up his hands, to show that he wished to address them, a silence fell upon the multitude; and Malinche's voice was heard plainly by them, as she translated the words of Cortez. He told them they must now feel that they could not struggle against the Spaniards. Their gods had been cast down, their dwellings burnt, their warriors slaughtered. And all this they had brought on themselves, by their rebellion. Yet if they would lay down their arms, and return to the obedience of their sovereign, he would stay his hand. If not, he would make their city a heap of ruins, and leave not a soul alive to mourn over it.
But Cortez learned, at once, that the spirit he had roused in the Mexicans was in no way lowered by their reverses. One of the great chiefs answered him that it was true he had hurled down their gods, and massacred their countrymen; but they were content to lose a thousand lives for every one that they took.
"Our streets," he said, "are still thronged with warriors. Our numbers are scarcely diminished. Yours are lessening every day. You are dying with hunger and sickness. Your provisions and water are failing. You must soon fall into our hands. The bridges are broken down, and you cannot escape. There will be too few of you left to satisfy the vengeance of the gods."
When he had finished, a shower of arrows showed that hostilities had recommenced.
The garrison were now completely disheartened. Of what use the tremendous exertions they had made, and the lives that had been lost? They were still, as they had been on the first day of their arrival, hemmed in in their fortress, surrounded by foes thirsting for their blood. Great numbers were wounded, more or less severely. Their provisions were well-nigh gone. The enemy were bolder than ever. They had been promised wealth and honor—they were starving, and death stared them in the face. They loudly exclaimed that they had been deceived, and betrayed.
But the men who had served all along with Cortez stood firm. They had still every confidence in their leader. It was not his fault that they had been brought to this pass, but by the misconduct of others, during his absence. At any rate, as they pointed out to their comrades, the only chance of escape was unity and obedience.
Cortez himself was, as always in a moment of great danger, calm and collected. The thought of having to leave the city, to abandon all the treasures they had taken, was even more painful to him than to the soldiers. It was not the loss of his own share of the booty, but of that of the emperor, that he regretted; for he felt that this, together with the downfall of all his plans, and the loss of the kingdom he had already counted won, would bring upon him the displeasure of his emperor, would give strength to his enemies at court, and would probably ensure his being recalled in disgrace.
Nevertheless, he saw that retreat was necessary, for the position could not be maintained. Every day the defenses became weaker, the men more exhausted by fighting, and there would soon be no longer a morsel of bread to serve out to them. A retreat must therefore be made.
The question was, which route should be chosen? In any case, one of the narrow dikes connecting the island city with the shore must be traversed; and on these causeways the Spaniards would fight under great disadvantage. Finally, he settled upon that leading to Tlacopan, which was much the shortest, being only two miles in length.
For some days a large party of men had been at work constructing movable towers, similar to those used, centuries before, in sieges. They moved on rollers, and were to be dragged by the Tlascalan allies. From their summits the soldiers could shoot down upon the housetops, from which they had been hitherto so annoyed. The towers were also provided with bridges, which could be let down on to the roofs, and so enable the soldiers to meet their opponents hand to hand.
When the structures were completed, the Spaniards again took the offensive. The gates were opened, and the three towers, dragged by the Tlascalans, moved out. The Mexicans, astonished at the sight of these machines, from whose summits a heavy fire of musketry were kept up, fell back for a time. The towers were moved up close to the terraces, and the soldiers, after partly clearing them by their fire, lowered the light bridges and, crossing, engaged in a hand-to-hand fight with the Mexicans, and drove them from their positions.
But from the lofty houses of the nobles, the Mexicans still maintained their resistance. The towers were not high enough to overlook these and, as they came up, beams of wood and huge stones were cast down upon them; striking with such force that it soon became evident, to those within them, that the towers would not hold together.
They were dragged on, however, until a canal crossed the road. The bridge had been removed, and both the cavalry and the towers were brought to a standstill. The latter were abandoned, and Cortez ordered his troops to make a road forward, by filling up the canal with stones and wood from the houses near.
While engaged in this operation, they were exposed to an incessant fire from every point of advantage in the neighborhood, and from the opposite bank of the canal. The work was, however, completed; and the cavalry, crossing, drove the Mexicans headlong down the great street; until they came to another canal, where the same work had again to be performed. No less than seven canals crossed the street, and it took two days of constant fighting before the last of these was crossed, and the whole street in their hands.
Just as the last canal had been captured, Cortez, who was ever at the head of his men, received news that the Mexicans desired to open a parley with him, and that some of their nobles had arrived at the palace for that purpose. Delighted at the news, he rode back with his officers. The Mexicans requested that the two priests who had been captured in the great temple should be released, and should be the bearers of his terms, and discuss the negotiations.
Cortez at once consented, and the priests left with the envoys; with instructions that, if the Mexicans would lay down their arms, the past should be forgiven. The mission was, however, a mere trick. The Mexicans were most anxious to rescue the priests, one of whom was the high priest, and therefore most sacred in their eyes. Cortez had scarcely sat down to a meal, which he sorely needed after his fatigues, when the news was brought that the Mexicans had again attacked, with greater fury than ever; and, at three points, had driven off the detachments placed to guard the newly-made causeways across the canal.
Cortez and his companions leaped on their horses and, riding down the great street, again cleared it. But no sooner had he reached the other end than the Mexicans, gathering in the lanes and side streets, poured in again, and overpowered the guard at one of the principal canals.
Swarms of warriors poured in on all sides, and a storm of arrows and other missiles was poured down upon Cortez and his cavaliers. The confusion at the broken bridge was tremendous. The cavalry and infantry struggled fiercely with the crowds of foes, while others strove again to repair the bridge which the Mexicans had again torn down.
Cortez himself performed prodigies of valor in covering the retreat of his men, dashing alone into the midst of the ranks of the enemy, shouting his battle cry, and dealing death with every blow of his sword. So far did he penetrate among his foes, that reports spread that he was killed; and when at last he fought his way back, and leaped his horse over a chasm still remaining in the bridge, his escape was regarded by his troops as absolutely miraculous; and it was said that he had been saved by the national Apostle, Saint James, and the Virgin Mary, who had fought by his side. At night the Mexicans, as usual, drew off; and the Spaniards, dispirited and exhausted, fell back to their citadel.
That evening Montezuma died. He had refused all nourishment, as well as medicine, from the time he had been wounded. Father Olmedo did his best to persuade him to embrace the Christian faith, but Montezuma stoutly refused. Just before he died he sent for Cortez, and recommended his three daughters by his principal wife to his charge; begging him to interest his master, the emperor, on their behalf, and to see that they had some portion of their rightful inheritance.
"Your lord will do this," he said, "if only for the friendly offices I have rendered the Spaniards; and for the love that I have shown them, though it has brought me to this condition; but for this I bear them no ill will."
This Cortez promised and, after the conquest, took the three ladies into his own family. They were instructed in the doctrines of Christianity, and were married to Spanish nobles, and handsome dowries assigned to them.
The news of Montezuma's death was received with real grief by the Spaniards, to whom his generosity, and constant kindness, and gentleness of manner had endeared him. There can be but little doubt that, in spite of the accusations against him of meditating treachery, Montezuma was, from the time they entered the capital, sincere in his goodwill towards the Spaniards. He was devoted to his own gods, and believed implicitly in the prophecy that Quetzalcoatl, or his descendants, would return to rule Mexico. Their superior science and attainments confirmed him in his belief that the Spaniards fulfilled the prophecy, and he was willing to resign alike his power, his possessions, and himself to their hands. In his early days he had shown great personal bravery; and the cowardice he displayed, throughout the whole of his dealing with the Spaniards, was the result of superstition, and not that of personal fear.
Cortez paid all respect to the remains of his late unhappy captive. The body was arrayed in royal robes, and laid on a bier; and was carried, by the nobles who had remained faithful to him during his imprisonment, into the city. It is uncertain where Montezuma was finally buried.
With the death of the emperor, the last hope of the Spaniards of making terms with their assailants vanished. There was nothing, now, but retreat. After some debate, it was settled that this should take place at night, when they would find the Mexicans unprepared. The difficulties of passage would be greater; but these would, it was thought, be counterbalanced by the advantage of being able to make at least a portion of their retreat unobserved.
It was determined that no time should be lost. The Mexicans would doubtless be mourning over the body of Montezuma, and would be unprepared for such prompt action on the part of the Spaniards.
The first question was the disposal of the treasure. The soldiers had, for the most part, converted their share of the gold into chains; which they wore round their necks. But there was a vast amount in bars and ornaments, constituting the one-fifth which had been set aside for the crown, the one-fifth for Cortez himself, and the shares of his principal officers.
One of the strongest horses was laden with the richest portion of the crown treasure, but all the rest was abandoned. The gold lay in great heaps.
"Take what you like of it!" Cortez said to his men, "but be careful not to overload yourselves. 'He travels safest, in the dark, who travels lightest.'"
His own veterans took his advice, and contented themselves with picking out a few of the most valuable ornaments; but the soldiers of Narvaez could not bring themselves to leave such treasures behind them, and loaded themselves up with as much gold as they could carry.
Cortez now arranged the order of march. The van was composed of two hundred Spanish foot, and twenty horsemen, under the orders of Gonzalo de Sandoval. The rearguard, with the main body of the infantry and the greater portion of the guns, was commanded by Alvarado and Velasquez de Leon. Cortez himself led the center, which was in charge of the baggage, some of the heavy guns, and the prisoners; among whom were a son and two daughters of Montezuma, Cacama, and the other nobles who had been in prison with him. The Tlascalans were divided among the three corps.
A portable bridge had been prepared for crossing the canals which intersected the causeway; the intention being that it should be laid across a canal, that the army should pass over it, and that it should then be carried forward to the next gap in the causeway. This was a most faulty arrangement, necessitating frequent and long delays, and entailing almost certain disaster. Had three such portable bridges been constructed, the column could have crossed the causeway with comparatively little risk; and there was no reason why these bridges should not have been constructed, as they could have been carried, without difficulty, by the Tlascalans.
At midnight the troops were in readiness for the march. Mass was performed by Father Olmedo; and at one o'clock on July 1st, 1520, the Spaniards sallied out from the fortress that they had so stoutly defended.
Silence reigned in the city. As noiselessly as possible, the troops made their way down the broad street, expecting every moment to be attacked; but even the tramping of the horses, and the rumbling of the baggage wagons and artillery did not awake the sleeping Mexicans, and the head of the column arrived at the head of the causeway before they were discovered. Then, as the advanced guard were preparing to lay the portable bridge across the first opening, some Aztec sentinels gave the alarm.
The priests on the summits of the temples heard their cries, and at once sounded their horns and the huge war drum. Instantly the city awoke, and the silence was succeeded by a roar of sound. The vanguard had scarcely got upon the causeway when canoes shot out upon the lake, and soon a storm of stones and arrows burst upon the column. More and more terrible did it become, as fresh canoes, crowded with the warriors, came up. Many of these pushed up to the causeway itself; and the natives, landing, fell upon the Spaniards with fury.
The latter made no stay. Fighting their way through their foes they pressed on until they reached the next opening in the causeway, and there waited for the bridge to come up. But a column many thousands strong, with baggage and artillery, takes a long time to cross a bridge; and the advanced guard had reached the opening long before the rear had passed the bridge, and there stood helpless, exposed to the terrible storm of missiles, until at last the column were all across the bridge.
Then forty picked men, who had been specially told off for the task, tried to raise it so that it might be carried to the front; but the weight of the baggage wagons and artillery had so wedged it into the earth, that they were unable to move it. They persevered in their efforts until most of them had fallen. The rest bore the terrible news to the army that the bridge was immovable.
A terrible cry of despair arose, as the news spread. All hope seemed lost and, regardless of order or discipline, all pressed forward to endeavor, in some way or other, to cross the obstacle that barred their way.
Pressed on by those behind them, Sandoval and his cavaliers dashed into the water. The distance was short, but the horses were weak from hunger, and burdened by their own heavy armor and that of their riders. Some succeeded in swimming across. Others sank; while some reached the opposite side, only to fall back again, as they tried to climb the steep bank.
The infantry followed them, throwing away their armor to enable them to swim. Some succeeded, others were pressed down by their comrades. Many were killed by the war clubs or spears of the Mexicans in their canoes. Others again, half stunned by the clubs, were dragged into the canoes and carried off to the city to be sacrificed.
All along the causeway the fight raged unceasingly; the Aztecs in the boats alongside leaping ashore, and grappling with their foes, and rolling with them down the causeway into the water; while those in the distance kept up their rain of missiles. The opening in the causeway was at last filled—choked up with ammunition wagons and guns, bales of rich goods, chests of gold, and the bodies of men and horses—and over these the Spaniards made their way.
Cortez had swum or waded across on his horse, and he rode on until he joined Sandoval and the remains of the advanced guard, who were checked at the third and last opening. The cavaliers set the example to their followers by plunging into the water. The rest followed as best they could. Many were drowned by the weight of the gold they carried. Others got across by clinging to the tails and manes of the horses.
Cortez, with Sandoval and other cavaliers, led the retreat until they reached the end of the causeway. The din of battle was now far behind, but those who came up brought the news that the rear guard were so sorely pressed, that they would be destroyed unless aid reached them.
Cortez and his companions did not hesitate. They dashed along the causeway, again swam the canal, and made their way through the crowd until they reached the rear guard. Morning was breaking now, and it showed the lake covered with canoes filled with warriors. Along the whole length of the causeway a desperate fight was raging.
Cortez found Alvarado on foot, his horse had been killed under him. With a handful of followers, he was still desperately defending the rear against the Mexicans, who had poured out from the city in pursuit. The artillery had at first done good service, sweeping the causeway and mowing down hundreds of their assailants; but the Aztecs were careless of life, and rushed on so furiously that they swept over the guns, killing those who served them, and fell upon the infantry.
The charge of Cortez and his companions for a moment bore back the foe; but, pressed by those behind, they swept aside resistance, and bore back the Spaniards to the edge of the canal. Cortez and his companions plunged in and swam across. Alvarado stood on the brink, hesitating. Unhorsed and defenseless, he could not make his way across the gap, which was now crowded with the canoes of the enemy. He set his strong lance on the bottom of the canal and, using it as a leaping pole, sprang across. The feat was an extraordinary one, for although the width is not given, it was declared, by those who witnessed it, to be impossible for any mortal. It filled friends and foes alike with astonishment; and the spot is, to this day, known by the Mexicans as "Alvarado's Leap."
The Aztecs followed no farther. They were occupied, now, in securing the enormous wealth the Spaniards had left behind them; and the remnants of the army marched along the causeway unmolested, and took possession of the village at its end.
Cortez, iron hearted as he was, sat down and burst into tears as he viewed the broken remnant of his army. He was consoled, however, by finding that many of his most trusted companions had escaped. Sandoval, Alvarado, Olid, Ordaz and Avila were safe; and so, to his great joy, was Marina. She had, with a daughter of a Tlascalan chief, been placed under the escort of a party of Tlascalan warriors, in the van of the column, and had passed unharmed through the dangers of the night.
The loss of the Spaniards in their retreat is variously estimated; but the balance of authority, among contemporary writers, places it at four hundred and fifty Spaniards, and four thousand Tlascalans. This, with the loss sustained in the previous conflicts, reduced the Spaniards to about a third, and the Tlascalans to a fifth of the force which had entered the capital. The greater part of the soldiers of Narvaez had been killed. They had formed the rear guard, and had not only borne the brunt of the battle, but had suffered from the effect of their cupidity. Of the cavalry but twenty-three remained mounted, all the artillery had been lost, and every musket thrown away in the flight.
Velasquez de Leon had fallen in the early part of the retreat, bravely defending the rear; and several others among the leaders had also fallen, together with all the prisoners whom they had brought out from the capital.
The remains of the army straggled on into the town of Tlacopan, but Cortez would allow of no halt there. At any moment the exultant Aztecs from the capital might arrive and, in a battle in the streets, the Spaniards would stand no chance, whatever, with their foes. He therefore hurried the soldiers through and, when outside, endeavored to form them into some sort of order.
It was necessary to give them a few hours of repose, and he led them towards an eminence, crowned by a temple, which commanded the plain. It was held by a party of natives; and the troops, dispirited and exhausted, refused at first to advance against them; but the influence of Cortez, backed by the example of his officers, had its usual effect. The column moved forward against the temple, and the natives, after a few discharges of missiles, abandoned the place.
It was a large building, affording ample shelter for the Spaniards and their allies. Provisions were found there, and a large supply of fuel intended for the service of the temple. Here, lighting great fires, they dried their clothing, bound up their wounds and, after partaking of food, threw themselves down to sleep.
Fortunate it was for the Spaniards that the Mexicans, contented with the slaughter they had inflicted, the plunder they had captured, and most of all with the prisoners whom they had carried off to be sacrificed on their altars, retired to the capital, and allowed the invaders twenty-four hours' breathing time. Had they pressed them hotly and relentlessly, from the moment when they emerged from the causeway, they would have annihilated them; for at that time the Spaniards were too worn out, and dispirited, to be capable of any effectual resistance. Food and rest, however, did wonders for them. They were hardy veterans, and with Cortez and the leaders they most trusted with them, they soon came to look at matters in a more cheerful light.
They were still stronger than they were when they first marched upon Mexico. Why, then, should they despair of making their way back to Tlascala, where they would have rest and friends? They knew there was a long and painful march before them, and probably desperate battles to fight; but in a fair field, they felt themselves a match for any number of the enemy; and when, late in the evening, their officers bade them form up and prepare for a night's march, they fell in steadily and willingly; and Cortez felt that they could again be relied upon, under every emergency.
Chapter 19: The Passage Of The Causeway.
On marching out from the city, Roger and his two comrades formed part of a picked band, to whom was entrusted the charge of the prisoners. Roger had been specially selected, as he could translate to them any order given by the officer of the party; and he was ordered to march next to them.
He had once or twice in the past few days been enabled, by the intervention of Marina, to visit the prisoners. Cacama's spirit was in no way shaken by captivity.
"Your general has made a fatal mistake," he said, "in sending Cuitlahua out to pacify the populace. He is of very different stuff from Montezuma, who has become a woman in the hands of the Spanish. You will see that he will never return, but will lead the people on to the attack.
"It matters little to us. I know that we shall never escape. The Spaniards will slay us all, rather than that we should rejoin our people. But for that I care not. One would rather die in battle than be slain as a captive; but in either case we shall be dying for our country, and what can we wish for more? It is the duty of all to risk their lives, whenever they be needed for their country. Some here have fought in fifty battles for Mexico. I am younger, but not too young to have shared in many a battle. I fear death in no way, my friend, and should welcome it, as a change from captivity.
"I am well content, now. I should have grieved to have died, believing that the Mexicans had lost all their ancient spirit and courage, and were content to be slaves beneath the yoke of a handful of strangers; but now I see that they were asleep, and not dead; and that these boasting strangers will find that the despised Mexican is a match for them; I shall die happy."
The news of the wounding of Montezuma, and the desperate fighting in the streets and round the palace, excited the prisoners to the utmost. In their place of confinement they heard the thunder of the guns, the perpetual rattle of the musketry, and the shouts and yells of the combatants; but it was only when Roger visited them that they obtained any details as to the combat that was going on. They were filled with enthusiasm, as they heard how desperately their countrymen were fighting; and their only regret was that they could not join in the struggle, and die leading the assault against the Spaniards.
Roger did not see them, upon the last day, until he took his place by their side, when the column formed up in the courtyard.
"I am to keep near you, Cacama," he said, "in order to translate anything the officer may have to say to you."
"We are going to leave the city?" Cacama asked, eagerly.
"Yes, we are going to cross the causeway."
The officer in charge here came up, and gave an order which Roger interpreted:
"He asks whether you will all give a pledge to remain silent, as we march out. If you will do so, he will accept your promise; but if not, he will be forced to gag you, as the safety of the army depends upon our getting beyond the streets, before our march is discovered."
"I wonder that they are ready to take our promise," Cacama said disdainfully, "after their own treachery. However, an Aztec noble is not like a Spaniard. Our faith may be depended upon. We will give our word to be silent."
The other prisoners also promised, and were allowed to take their places in the column, ungagged.
The alarm was given long before the rear of the column had got out from the street. Cacama gave an exclamation of joy, when he heard the silence broken by loud cries at the end of the street; and immediately afterwards by the shouts of the priests on the lofty temples, by the blowing of horns, and the beating of the great war drum.
"The game has begun," he said. "We shall see how many Spaniards remain alive, when the sun rises. Long before they can get across the causeway, our people will be upon them. We shall not see the triumph, for without defensive armor we shall fall, in the darkness, beneath the missiles of our own people. That matters not. Better to die at the hands of a Mexican, struggling to be free, than at those of these treacherous invaders."
The missiles showered down thickly upon the column, from the houses, till they emerged from the street and made their way out on to the causeway. Then they became exposed to the storm of arrows, darts, and stones from the canoes on the lake. By their officer's orders, the soldiers immediately in charge of the prisoners drew their swords and formed a circle round them; with orders to fall upon and kill them, at once, did they make the slightest movement to escape. Roger translated to the captives the officer's assurance that, although he was most anxious for their safety, he had no resource but to order the soldiers to slay them, at once, if they made any movement to escape.
"We shall not try to escape," Cacama said. "How can we do so, with our hands bound?"
During the long pause that ensued, before the rear of the column passed over the bridge on to the causeway, the impatience among the soldiers was great. Many had already fallen beneath the missiles of the enemy. Scarce one but had received wounds, more or less severe. Several of the prisoners, too, had fallen.
"What is it?" Cacama asked, as the cry of despair went up; when it became known that the bridge was immovable, and that there were no means of crossing the breaks in the causeway, ahead.
He muttered an exclamation of triumph, when Roger repeated to him the news he had just learned.
"That settles it," he said. "Their fate is now sealed. The gods are at last fighting again for Mexico.
"Roger, I am sorry for you, I am sorry for my wife, and for Amenche; but I rejoice for my country. If you should escape this night, Roger—and you have more chance than most, since you speak our language—do all you can for them."
"You may be sure that I shall do that, Cacama; but the chance of any escaping seems, to me, a small one. Still, it may be that some will get over alive. The Spaniards have their faults, Cacama, but they are grand soldiers; and at any rate, now that they see they must win their way or perish, they will perform wonders."
"Ah!" the exclamation was caused by an arrow striking the young prince in the chest.
At this time a terrible fight was raging all around them. The natives had gained a footing on the causeway, and the Spaniards were fighting hand to hand with them.
"I am mortally wounded, Roger," Cacama said. "Most of the others have already fallen. It is better so. I have lived long enough to see vengeance taken on our oppressors.
"Roger, there is one chance for you. Wrap round you one of our mantles. In the darkness, none will see that you are not a Mexican, and they will not shoot at you.