"Listen, there is Cuitcatl's war cry. I know his voice; and doubtless they have discerned our white dresses, in the darkness, and he is trying to rescue us."
The crowd, pressing along the causeway, had swept the guards away from the prisoners—indeed, there were now scarcely any prisoners left to guard. Unprotected by any defensive armor, most of them had fallen very early in the conflict. Roger was supporting Cacama, and another prisoner lay dead at their feet.
Roger stooped and snatched off his mantle; then, lifting Cacama in his arms, forced his way through the press to the edge of the causeway, just as a canoe ran up alongside, and a number of Aztecs sprang ashore.
"Cuitcatl!" Roger shouted, at the top of his voice.
"Here," the young noble exclaimed, as he sprang forward.
"Here is Cacama," Roger cried.
At the same moment, he received a stunning blow on the back of his helmet from one of the Spaniards, who took him for a Mexican; and fell down the side of the causeway, into the water, with his burden in his arms.
When Roger recovered his senses, he was lying in a canoe, which was being paddled rapidly. He had been insensible but a few minutes, for the cries of the combatants still sounded close at hand. Cuitcatl was bending over him.
"How is Cacama?" he asked, as soon as he could speak.
"Alas! He is dead," Cuitcatl replied. "You did your best to save him, Roger.
"He spoke but once, after we had got him into the canoe. He said 'Protect my wife, Cuitcatl; and save our friend.'"
"Where are you taking us?" Roger asked next.
"We will land some distance up the lake. There I will obtain bearers, and carry Cacama home, that he may be buried as one of his rank should be. As to you, we must think what had best be done. None of those with me know who you are; believing, in the darkness, that you are one of ourselves. They are my own men, and I can rely upon them when their blood is cooled; but it were best that, at present, they remained in ignorance. Bathalda is in the bow, and his influence and mine will be sufficient to control them, when we are once out of hearing of the conflict. Nothing, save my duty to Cacama, would have withdrawn me from it; but they must do without me. Not a Spaniard will see tomorrow's sun.
"Are you badly hurt, Roger? It is too dark to see anything."
"Not badly. I have several arrow points sticking in me, in one place or another; but they have not gone deep. My armor kept them out. It was a blow on the head that felled me. There were many Mexicans on the causeway, fighting with the Spaniards; and I was, of course, mistaken for one of them. My helmet broke the blow, and I was stunned rather than injured, I think.
"How came you to be just at that spot?"
"I was on the lookout for the prisoners, being determined to rescue Cacama, if possible; and as I was fighting, farther back, I heard it said that there were several white dresses among the Spaniards ahead. So I made to that point and, just as I was springing ashore, heard your shout; and saw you roll down, you and another. I guessed it might be Cacama, for I knew that you would do your best to save him; and so sprang back again to the water's edge, and found that it was so.
"And found, alas! that Cacama was mortally wounded. How about the other prisoners?"
"I think that all had fallen, before he did. You see, they had no protection; and even we who had armor were suffering, terribly, from the missiles poured in among us. I know that two ladies, Montezuma's daughters, were among the first to fall. More than that I cannot say, for I kept close to Cacama, hoping that in some way I might find an opportunity to aid his escape; and had he not been struck, just when he was, I might have done so; for after the news came that the bridge could not be removed, all was confusion, and each man thought only of saving his own life."
After rowing for three hours the canoe, having made a circuit of the city and crossed the lake, reached the shore at a distance of a few miles from Tezcuco. Cacama's body was lifted ashore, then Cuitcatl said to Bathalda:
"Bathalda, you will be glad to know that we have saved Cacama's friend, and mine, Roger Hawkshaw."
The forester gave an exclamation of pleasure.
"I am glad, indeed," he exclaimed. "I wondered what had become of him, in the fight."
Bathalda's exclamation silenced the murmur with which the others had heard that one of the white men had been saved, by them, from the general destruction which, as they believed, had fallen upon their oppressors.
"He is a friend of our people," Cuitcatl went on, "and is of another race to these Spaniards. As you see, men, he speaks our language well, and is like one of ourselves. Cacama held him as a dear friend; and as you know, Cacama hated the Spaniards, and had it not been for treason would have attacked them, long ago.
"Now, form a litter with the paddles and lay Cacama upon it. Morning is breaking, and we have far to go. The new Lord of Tezcuco is a friend of the Spaniards. We must get well away, as soon as we can."
Roger threw aside the Spanish helmet. Cuitcatl took some of the plumes from his own headdress, and bound them round his head and, as soon as the bier was constructed, the little party started. In the afternoon they arrived at Cuitcatl's house, the chief having himself gone forward, to inform the queen of Cacama's fate, and of the near approach of the party, with his body.
It was a mournful scene, when they arrived. The whole of the male and female retainers were assembled outside the house, the women filling the air with cries and lamentations, the men weeping and wailing. The bearers of the bier passed into the house, where Maclutha awaited it.
Roger, unwilling to intrude upon the grief of the unhappy queen, remained without, talking to Bathalda; the natives viewing him with hostility and wonder, being unable to understand how it was that their lord had brought one of the white men to his house.
In a minute or two, however, Amenche's attendant ran down the steps to Roger and, telling him to follow her, led the way to the apartment where the princess was waiting him. She fell, crying, into his arms.
"It is terrible, Roger," she sobbed. "As long as my brother was but a captive, we had hoped that he might be restored to us; and now he is brought home dead—slain, too, by a Mexican arrow."
"Cacama was ready for death, Amenche. I was beside him, from the time he left his prison. He was sure that we should be attacked; and saw that, as he and those with him were unprotected by any armor, they would be the first to fall when the fighting began as, in the darkness, the Mexicans would not be able to distinguish them from their enemies. But he said that he was quite content to die, seeing that the people had now recovered their ancient spirit, and were battling with heroes against their oppressors."
"And they are all destroyed," Amenche exclaimed, passionately.
"We do not know that," Roger replied. "Their position was a terrible one and seemed well-nigh hopeless. I know that Cuitcatl regarded it as quite hopeless, and deems that all have fallen; but I do not think so. The passages to be crossed were of no great width; and though numbers may have fallen, I believe that some will have made their way across. They will have lost their guns, and if the Aztecs continue to press them as hotly as they did upon the causeway, they may slay them all; but if they give them time to rally, they may yet fight their way back to Tlascala."
"And you will stop here with us, Roger. Is it not so?"
"If your people will allow me to do so, I will, Amenche. I ask for nothing better; but remember that even Cacama, himself, felt doubtful whether he could protect me from the power of the priests—and at that time their reason for hating the Spaniards was small to what it now is, and Cacama himself has gone. Cuitcatl, though a powerful cazique, has but small influence in comparison with that which Cacama, as King of Tezcuco and nephew of Montezuma, possessed."
"How is Montezuma? What has become of him? We heard that he was wounded; but it scarce seems possible that his own subjects should raise a hand against him."
"He died yesterday afternoon, and Cortez delivered his body to the people of the city."
The girl uttered an exclamation of horror.
"This is dreadful, indeed," she said, bursting again into tears. "To think of the great emperor being dead! What horrors and misfortunes have befallen us!
"It is bad for us, too, Roger. I was one of his favorite nieces, and I thought of going to him and obtaining his permission to marry you, in order that you should be received into the nation. Now that hope is gone.
"But I must leave you for a while, and go to Maclutha. I must not leave her longer, alone in her grief."
Soon afterwards, Cuitcatl entered the room.
"Come, Roger," he said; "a meal has been prepared, and we both sorely need food and rest. Tomorrow we shall have time to talk over the future, and by that time I shall have news whether any of the Spaniards have escaped. If they have, I must hurry off again; for Cuitlahua has sworn that not one shall leave the country, alive, and every man who can bear arms must take the field against them. But it will be an easy task for, at any rate, few can have got off that causeway alive."
Roger was glad, as soon as he had finished his meal, to throw himself down on a couch. He had been on guard, the greater part of the night before the sortie to clear the street leading to the causeway, and had slept but an hour or two, the following evening. He had lost a good deal of blood, from the blow he had received on the head; and from the arrow wounds, of which he had several, although none were serious; and he was now completely done up.
Amenche stole away from Maclutha, for a few minutes' talk with him and Cuitcatl, while they had their meal; and after hearing an outline of the later events of the siege of the palace, and of the fight on the causeway, she had herself insisted that Roger should instantly seek repose.
"I shall be occupied with Maclutha, and there is much to see about, in such times as these. There can be no pomp and ceremonial of burial. That must come when peace is restored, and we carry Cacama's ashes to be laid with his father's, at Tezcuco. Bathalda and some of the slaves have already started to bring in wood for the funeral pile. All will be ready by sunrise, tomorrow."
Roger's wounds were dressed, by one of the slaves who was skilled in all operations connected with wounds; and he slept, without once waking, until Cuitcatl came to him in the morning and bade him arise, as all was ready for the ceremony of Cacama's cremation.
The rule in Mexico was that, on the death of anyone, the body was attired in the garments peculiar to his tutelary deity; but Cacama was dressed, simply, in the robe indicating his rank.
"You see," Amenche said, when Roger joined them; "we have dressed him in a warrior's robes, not in those of a Lord of Tezcuco; for we have none such here. Nor have we attired him in the garments of our god. For Cacama, as you know, worshiped chiefly the great Unknown God, in whom his grandfather believed; who is Lord of all the gods, and of all peoples; and who must be the same, Roger, that you white people worship."
"No doubt He is the same," Roger said; "and I am glad, Amenche, that you and your brother have already come to love Him. He is not Lord of all gods, for He is the only God. There are none others.
"Some day, dear, when you come to England with me, a priest shall instruct you in all we know of Him.
"But I see they are going to light the pile. What are all those pieces of paper that cover his body?"
"They are charms, Roger, against the dangers of the unknown road he has to travel. It is the custom of the country, and we did not think it worth while to depart from it. It is also the custom to sacrifice numbers of slaves, and send them to be his attendants upon the road. But the Unknown God hates all sacrifices of blood; and Cacama, although forced to yield to the power of the priests, would have had none, could he have helped it, in Tezcuco."
Cuitcatl, as the oldest friend of the dead prince, applied a torch to the pile, which was composed for the most part of aromatic wood. Maclutha and Amenche broke into a plaintive hymn, in which their attendants, and the females who had collected, in considerable numbers, from the neighboring villages, joined. Higher and higher rose the flames, the voices rising with them; until the dirge culminated in a loud wailing cry, as the flames reached the corpse, and hid it from view. Then the hymn recommenced, and continued until the pile had been burnt down.
The mourners then re-entered the house, leaving the two or three priests who were present to collect the ashes, and to place them in a large gold vase; of which they would act as guardians, until the time came for its removal, in solemn procession, to Tezcuco.
Cuitcatl took Roger aside.
"I have bad news from Mexico," he said. "You were right, and I was mistaken. A portion of the Spaniards and Tlascalans succeeded in crossing the breaches in the causeway, and gaining the mainland. However, it is said that two-thirds of their number perished. As they have lost the terrible weapons, that committed such destruction, they will be at our mercy. We know now that they are not invincible. Their terror has departed.
"Be assured that they will not escape us. They have reached land on the opposite side of the lake, and will have to make a great circuit, which will give us time to collect our forces. Cuitlahua has already dispatched a messenger to every town and village, ordering all to assemble under their chiefs; and to be prepared to march, at a moment's notice, when the rendezvous is settled upon. I would it had all been finished on the causeway, but there can be no doubt as to the result.
"At most there are but four hundred Whites and four thousand Tlascalans, while we shall number over one hundred thousand. They say the white men have lost not only their great guns, but those they carry on their shoulders; and that only twenty or thirty of their strange animals have survived. Therefore, this time, we shall fight with something like equal arms, and shall overwhelm them as the sea overwhelms the rock."
"Your simile is an unfortunate one, Cuitcatl. The sea covers the rock, but when it retires the rock remains. Still, it does seem to me that, however valiantly the Spaniards may fight, they cannot withstand such terrible odds.
"But I cannot rejoice with you. You know that I abhor, as much as you do, the cruel massacre at the temple. My sympathies were with your people, while struggling to throw off the yoke that the Spaniards had imposed upon them; but I am white, like them. I know that many among them are noble men, and that much of the harm they have committed has been done from conscientious motives; just as your people have, from a desire to please the gods, offered up thousands of human victims, every year. Much as they love gold, many of them—and certainly Cortez among them—think more of spreading their religion than they do of personal ambition, or even of gain. I have many acquaintances and some good friends, among them; and I cannot think of their being all destroyed, without regret and horror. I do not say that you are not justified in killing all, for your existence as a nation is at stake; but to me, it is terrible."
"I can understand that, my friend; but nothing can avert their destruction.
"Now, as to yourself. Had it not been for Cacama's death, I should have said it were best that you should marry Amenche, at once; but among us, it would be most unseemly for a sister to think of marrying, when her brother has but just died."
"It is the same with us," Roger said. "A certain time must always pass, after the death of a near relative, before marriage. Besides, the present is no time for thinking of such a thing. My fate is altogether uncertain, and I own that I consider there is small ground for hope that I can escape from the present troubles. If, as seems certain now, the Spaniards are all destroyed, the people will more than ever venerate their gods, and the power of the priests will be almost unlimited.
"It is useless for me to try to deceive myself, Cuitcatl. I know your friendship, but you would not have the power to withstand the decision of the priests. They will never permit a single white man to remain alive in the land. Had Cacama lived, he might possibly have protected me; but I think that even his authority would have been insufficient to do so. If the Spaniards are destroyed, I have but one chance of my life: and that is, to make my way down to the coast, and to sail away with the Spaniards there."
Cuitcatl was silent, for he felt the force of what Roger said.
"If you go, you must not go alone," he replied at last. "Amenche would die, were you to desert her."
"I will assuredly take her, if she will accompany me," Roger said; "but I do not think that there is much chance of my escape, even in that way. The news of the destruction of the Spaniards will be carried, with the speed of the wind, down to the coast; and the tribes there will instantly rise and fall upon the Spaniards. Those who have been the most friendly with them will be the very first to take up arms against them, in order to make their peace with the Aztecs, and to avert their vengeance for the aid they have given the Spaniards. Long before we could reach the coast, the Spaniards there would either be killed, or driven on board their ships."
Cuitcatl could not deny the justice of Roger's reasoning.
"There is nothing to do," the latter went on, "but to wait—at any rate, until this battle has taken place. Impossible as it seems, the Spaniards may yet extricate themselves from the toils; in which case I should join them. If not, and I find my escape by the coast cut off, by the rising of the tribes there, the only thing that I can see is to take to the mountains; and to live there, as I did with Bathalda, on the proceeds of the chase. I might then, perhaps, in time make my way to people in the far north, who have not such reason as they have here for hating a man with a white skin; or I might wait until the Spaniards send another expedition, to carry out what Cortez has failed to accomplish."
Leaving their fires burning, the remains of the Spanish army marched, at midnight, from the temple where they had enjoyed rest, and had recruited their strength and spirits. The sick and wounded were placed in the center, and carried on litters, or on the backs of the porters; while others, who were strong enough to sit upright, rode on the horses behind the mounted soldiers. All night the march continued without disturbance; but in the morning, large parties of natives were seen moving about. Tlacopan lay on the most westerly point of the lake, and the most direct route of the Spaniards would have been to keep along by its margin; but had they done so, they would have been liable to attack from the capital; as the troops could have poured out across the causeway to Tepejacac, and headed them there. They therefore struck off due north, with the intention of passing to the west of Lake Xaltocan.
The country was a broken one; and the Mexicans, gathering on the hills, rolled stones down upon them, with volleys of arrows and darts. Sometimes they even ventured to descend into the plain, and fall upon the rear of the column. As often as they did so, however, the little body of cavalry drove them off. The infantry column kept steadily on its way, though greatly harassed by the continued attacks.
Day after day passed in this manner, the Spaniards being reduced to great straits, from want of food; as the natives, in the small towns and villages through which they passed, carried off all provisions and stores; and the only food the soldiers could obtain were wild cherries, and a few ears of corn that had been left by the harvesters. Sometimes a horse fell dead, from exhaustion, and afforded a welcome supply of food.
Many of the soldiers dropped, lifeless from fatigue and famine. Others, unable to keep up the march, fell behind and were captured by the enemy, and carried off to furnish sacrifices for the gods. To lighten themselves, the soldiers threw away the gold, to obtain which they had dared so many dangers, and suffered so many hardships. Life itself was at stake, and the precious metal had ceased to have any value in their eyes.
Through those terrible days Cortez, as usual, set a splendid example to his solders. He was in the front, wherever danger threatened. He bore his full share of the hardships, and by his cheerfulness and calmness kept up the spirits of the soldiers, and cheered them by assuring them they might yet escape from the dangers that menaced them.
The Tlascalans also behaved admirably; and appeared to bear no grudge, whatever, against the Spaniards, for the sufferings which their alliance had brought upon them.
Passing through the town of Quauhtitlan, and round the north of Lake Tzompanco, they at last turned their faces east; and on the seventh day reached the edge of the plateau, and looked down upon the plains of Otompan. They were still but thirty miles, in a direct line, from the capital; but they had traversed fully three times that distance, in their circuitous journey.
During the last day's march, the numbers of the natives who surrounded them had considerably increased; and menacing shouts, of the fate that awaited them, greeted them as they marched along. The nature of the peril was not understood until, on reaching the crest from which they looked down on the valley of Otompan, they saw that it was filled with a mighty army; whose white cotton mail gave it—as one of their historians states—the appearance of being covered with snow. Here were all the levies that Cuitlahua had collected. The whole of the cities of the plains had sent in their quota, and the bright banners of the chiefs and nobles waved gaily over the snowy array of their followers.
The numbers of the Mexicans were put down at varying amounts by the Spanish historians, some of them having them as high as two hundred thousand; but it is probable that at least half that number were assembled, to bar the march of the worn-out little force that surveyed them from the heights. Even the most hopeful and courageous of the Spaniards felt something like dismay, as they viewed the tremendous array before them. Deprived of the weapons on which they had chiefly depended for victory, with their cavalry reduced to a mere handful, the prospect seemed indeed desperate. But there was no room for hesitation. They must cut a way through the enemy, or die.
Cortez addressed the troops in a short speech of encouragement. He reminded them that they had already won victories against enormous odds; and that numbers, indeed, were but of slight consequence, when the arm of God was with them.
"Assuredly He, who had carried them safely through so many perils, would not now abandon them, and His own good cause, to perish by the hand of these infidels."
With steady step and in compact array, the little force descended the hill into the plain; and as soon as they reached the level ground, the Aztec host attacked them, on all sides. The handful of cavalry, consisting almost entirely of the personal friends and officers of Cortez, cleared the way for the head of the column by repeated and desperate charges; while the infantry, with pike and sword, maintained a front that the Aztecs, although fighting with the greatest bravery, were unable to break.
The Tlascalans fought as stoutly as the Spaniards. Their native land lay almost within sight, and the love of home, and the remembrance of many a victory gained over the Aztecs, animated them to rival the steadfastness of their white comrades.
Yet though unbroken, the little force was but as an island in the midst of an ocean. The attacks, although always repulsed, were constantly renewed. The gaps in the ranks of the enemy were filled up with fresh combatants and, as hour after hour went on, even the most hopeful in the Spanish band began to feel that the contest could have but one termination; and that they would be overcome, not so much by the arms of the Aztecs, as by fatigue, thirst and hunger.
The cavalry had performed prodigies of valor. Breaking up into knots of threes and fours, they had charged into the dense crowd of the enemy; clearing a way for themselves with lance and sword, and by the weight of the horses and armor. But such charges could have but little effect on the fortunes of the day. The numbers of those they slew counted for nothing, in such a host; and the lanes they made closed behind them, until, after making a circuit, they again joined the main body.
For hours the fight raged. The Spanish battle cry, "Saint James and Our Lady!" still rose sternly, in answer to the triumphant yells of the Aztecs. Their front was still unbroken, but all felt that nothing, short of a miracle, could save them. Not one but was wounded in many places by the Aztec missiles. Their arms were weary with striking. The sun blazed down upon them with scorching heat. Their throats were parched with thirst. They were enfeebled by hunger.
The Aztecs, seeing that their foes were becoming faint and wearied, that the horses of the cavaliers could scarce carry them, and that the end was approaching, redoubled their shouts; and pressed more heartily and eagerly than ever upon the Spaniards, driving the cavalry back, by sheer weight, into the ranks of the infantry.
Cortez, at this supreme moment, still maintained his calmness. He saw that all was lost, unless a change was made, and that speedily. Another hour at latest, and the resistance would be over, and the brave men who had followed him be either dead, or prisoners reserved for sacrifice.
Throughout the day he had ordered his cavaliers to strike ever at the chiefs, knowing well that undisciplined bodies of men become lost, without leaders. Raising himself in his stirrups, he looked round over the seething mass of the foe; and at some distance beheld a small body of officers, whose gay and glittering attire showed them to belong to the highest rank of nobles; gathered round a litter on which was a chief, gorgeously attired with a lofty plume of feathers floating above his head; rising above which was a short staff, bearing a golden net.
Cortez knew that this was the symbol carried by the Aztec commanders in chief. He called to his comrades—Sandoval, Olid, Alvarado, Avila, and the other cavaliers—and pointing to the chief, cried:
"There is our mark! Follow, and support me."
Then he spurred his wearied horse forward, and dashed into the throng, followed by his cavaliers.
The fury and suddenness of the attack bore all before it. The compact little body of horsemen, shouting their battle cry, clove through the ranks of the enemy, making straight for the Indian commander, whose name was Cihuaca. In vain the Mexicans tried to bar the way. In vain, when after a few minutes of tremendous exertion, Cortez reached his goal, the nobles and the bodyguard strove to defend their chief. Cortez, fighting with almost superhuman vigor, clove his way through all opposition; and with his lance ran through the Aztec general, and hurled him to the ground, when one of his followers, leaping from his horse, quickly dispatched him.
The guard, appalled by the suddenness of the attack, broke and fled in all directions, scattering panic among the lately triumphant host. Scarce knowing what had happened, but feeling that some dreadful misfortune had occurred, and all was lost, the Aztecs were seized with a blind terror; and breaking their ranks, thought only of escape.
As if by magic, a victorious army was transformed into a flying mob. The Spaniards and Tlascalans took instant advantage of the change. Fatigue and thirst, wounds and exhaustion were forgotten. With shouts of triumph, and vengeance, they broke their ranks and followed hotly upon the fugitives. These, impeded by their very numbers, and half mad with panic, offered no resistance whatever. Great numbers were overtaken and slain and, when the Spaniards abandoned the pursuit at the summons of their leader's trumpet, and assembled round him, the field was covered with the bodies of their fallen foes.
An hour was spent in gathering the booty from the bodies of the chiefs, of whom great numbers had fallen; and then, after offering up thanks to God for their marvelous deliverance, the army again renewed their march. It was already late in the afternoon, and they halted at sunset at a temple standing on an eminence, which afforded them shelter and a defensive position, should the Aztecs renew the assault.
But of this there was little fear. Their defeat had been utter and complete. There was no chance of their rallying.
The victory of Otompan was one of the most remarkable ever won. The discrepancy of numbers was immense. The Spaniards were unprovided with artillery or firearms, and owed their success to their discipline and bravery, and still more to the extraordinary valor and quick-sightedness of their leader.
Chapter 20: At Tlascala.
Roger was sitting in the evening, conversing with Maclutha and Amenche on the probabilities of the battle that was expected to take place on that day, when Cuitcatl suddenly entered. His robe of bright feather work was gone. The panache of floating plumes was shorn from his head. His white garment was stained with blood. He was overcome by exhaustion and grief.
No words were needed to explain what had taken place. Impossible as it had seemed, the Aztec army had been defeated. A cry broke from the two ladies, as he entered.
"The white man's God has triumphed," he said, "and the Aztecs have been defeated. You were right, Roger. Mere handful as they were, the white men have gained the day. Even now, I hardly know how it came about. Never did my countrymen fight more bravely. For hours, the Spaniards stood as a wall which we, in vain, tried to break. Thousands fell on our side, but not for a moment did we waver. Others took their places until, as the hours went on, the Spaniards grew weary, and victory seemed in our grasp. Their horsemen had charged through and through us, but though many chiefs were slain, it mattered little. The ranks closed up, and each time they fell back on their infantry, having achieved nothing. Their horses were weary, and their attacks grew more feeble.
"Already, our cries of victory were raised. An hour more, and not a Spaniard would have remained on foot. Just at this time my command had been ordered up, and we were fighting in the front rank.
"Suddenly I heard, from all parts of the field, loud cries. What had happened I knew not. We stood for a moment, irresolute, not knowing what had befallen us elsewhere. Then a panic seized my men. In vain I shouted and ordered. They were deaf to my voice. They were deaf to everything, save fear.
"I was swept away with them, as a leaf on a stream. When at last I freed myself from the torrent, and looked round, I saw that the whole army was in mad flight; while the whites and Tlascalans, like hounds in pursuit of deer, were hanging on their rear, slaughtering all they overtook.
"In vain I gathered a few men, and made a stand. It was useless. We were beaten down and overpowered. With the greatest difficulty I broke away and escaped; and had it not been for Bathalda, who fought side by side with me, I should have been taken by two or three fleet-footed Tlascalans.
"For the present, all is lost. The fight cannot be renewed tomorrow, and before the sun sets the enemy will have reached the borders of Tlascala, and will be safe there."
"But what was it that caused so sudden a panic in your ranks?" Roger asked.
"It was the death of Cihuaca, our leader. The Spanish horse, headed, as I hear, by their general himself, burst through our ranks, cut their way to his litter, overthrew his bodyguard, and slew him. His death would have mattered little, as the victory was already won. We needed no further orders. We had but to keep on fighting, and the end would soon have come. It was simply a panic. None knew what had happened. The word passed from man to man, 'All is lost!' and, like a herd of deer, our bravest soldiers fled. It is not a thing to reason about—the gods deserted us, and we were no longer men. That is all I can tell you about it."
And the chief flung himself down upon a pile of rugs. Wine and food were brought to him, and his wounds dressed.
"Roger," he said presently, "you must leave us, tonight. Those of my followers who have escaped will soon make their way back, and my authority will be unable to save you. The priests would head the movement against you. You would be bound and carried to Mexico, at once.
"The whites, in their march tomorrow, will pass along the road four miles to the north of this. Conceal yourself in a wood until morning, and join them as they come along.
"As to the future, you can make no plans, now. You know not whether Cortez will retire to the coast and take ship there; or whether he will remain at Tlascala, till reinforcements arrive from across the sea, and then again advance. When this is decided, you will know what course to take.
"Bathalda will accompany you. I have already given him orders to do so. He will bring down a message from you, when you know what course has been decided on."
"And if you go, dear, I will go with you," Amenche said, rising and putting her hand on Roger's shoulder. "Send for me, and Bathalda will escort me to you. I will bring such gems and gold as we can carry, so I shall not be a bride without a dower. You promise to send for me, do you not, Roger?"
"Certainly I do," Roger said, pressing her to him; "if I quit this land alive, you shall accompany me. I should be unworthy of your love, indeed, Amenche, were I to prove faithless to you now. I regard you as being as truly my wife, as if we were already married."
A short time afterwards Bathalda entered, and said that a number of soldiers were gathering in the courtyard, that some priests were among them, and that they were talking loudly about carrying the white man to Mexico, as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of the gods.
"There is no time to be lost," Cuitcatl said. "You had best go, Roger, before they surround the house and make escape impossible. I will fetch you a dark-colored robe, so that you may escape, unseen, by anyone who may be approaching the house on this side."
So saying, he left the room. Maclutha signed to Bathalda to follow her, and they went out, leaving Roger alone with Amenche.
The girl's firmness deserted her now, and she threw herself, weeping, into Roger's arms. He consoled her by his assurances that their parting would not be for long; and that the next time they met, whatever the circumstances, he would make her his own.
"If we retire, and you join me in Tlascala," he said, "we will be married by Father Olmedo, in Christian fashion. If I return hither to you, we will be married at once, in Mexican fashion, and go through the ceremony again, when we join the Spaniards."
A few minutes later Cuitcatl returned, as did Maclutha and Bathalda, the latter bearing a basket with some provisions. The parting was brief, for the servants had brought news that the soldiers were becoming more and more clamorous; and were threatening to force an entrance, if the white man were not handed over to them.
Bathalda and Roger left by a small door at the back of the house and, passing through the garden, took their way across the country. An hour's walking brought them to a wood, near the road by which the Spaniards would travel in the morning, and there they sat down and awaited daylight.
It was not until some hours after sunrise that the little army was seen approaching. On its flanks were large bodies of natives; who, however, contented themselves by hovering at a distance; except where the ground was impracticable for the action of cavalry, when they approached near enough to discharge their missiles at the line of troops. As the head of the column approached, Roger threw oil' his Aztec cloak and, accompanied by Bathalda, issued from the wood and ran towards them, and in two or three minutes reached the horsemen who rode in the van.
"Why, Sancho!" Cortez exclaimed, as Roger ran up. "Is it you? We all thought you had fallen in the fight on the causeway. I am glad to see that you are safe. How did you escape?"
"I was, like many others, your Excellency, seized by the Aztecs, pulled down the causeway, and thrown into a boat. I should have been taken to Mexico and sacrificed, had it not been that the commander of the boat was a young cazique, who had been my closest friend while dwelling in Tezcuco. He directed his men to row me across the lake, and took me to his house, which is but four miles away from here. There I have remained, having my wounds cared for, until now. He took part in the fight at Otompan, and returned last evening with the news of your wonderful victory, and that you would pass along here this morning.
"I had a narrow escape, last night, for some of the Aztec soldiers would have seized me and taken me a prisoner to Mexico; but the cazique aided me to escape, and gave me this follower of his, as a guide. He is the same man who accompanied me in my flight from Tezcuco, and brought me to join you at Tlascala."
"I am right glad that you have escaped, Sancho. Firstly, because every stout arm is sorely needed. Secondly, because Marina has grieved much for your loss. Truly, had you been her brother she could not have been more affected. She is in the center of the column. You had best tarry here until she comes along, and then join her. She will be rejoiced to see you again."
Marina was indeed delighted, when she caught sight of Roger's tall figure, and greeted him with much emotion. As they walked together, she heard how he had escaped; and she related to him how she, under the guard of the Tlascalans, had survived the terrible fight on the causeway; and then gave him a full account of the great battle, on the previous day.
"And what are we going to do now?" Roger asked, when she had finished her narration. "Think you that we shall proceed to the coast, and take ship for Europe?"
Marina tossed her head scornfully.
"You do not know Cortez," she said, "or you would not ask such a question. He is already thinking how he can return, and capture the capital."
"But unless he receives large reinforcements, that would seem impossible," Roger said. "You have yourself told me that, had it not been for the fall of the Mexican leader, nothing could have saved you from destruction. The Aztec loss was heavy, no doubt; but they can fill up their ranks and take the field again, in a week or two, with a force as large as that which fought at Otompan. They will not be dispirited, for they will know that it was but an accident which deprived them of victory, and will no longer deem the Spaniards invincible."
"It matters not," Marina said, carelessly. "Cortez will manage things. Whatever he undertakes, that he will carry out."
Late in the afternoon, the army arrived at the barrier across the road that marked the boundary of the Tlascalan territory. As they passed it, the native allies burst into cries of gladness; and the Spaniards joined in the shout, for to them, too, it seemed that their dangers were at an end, and that they had reached rest and abundance.
Cortez and the leaders, however, were by no means sanguine as to the reception they should meet with. Their alliance had brought misfortune upon the Tlascalans. Little more than one thousand out of the eight thousand men who had marched with them had returned to tell the tale. The rest had fallen in the defense of the palace, in the fighting in the streets of Mexico, in the passage of the causeway, or in the battle of Otompan.
What would the Tlascalans think, when they saw the broken remnant of the army, which had marched out so proudly, and knew that they brought on themselves the bitter enmity of the whole of the people of Anahuac? Might they not well be tempted to avert the wrath of the Aztecs, by falling upon the strangers, whose alliance had cost them so dearly?
At the place at which they halted for the night, a town of some fifteen thousand inhabitants, they were so kindly received by the natives that these apprehensions were somewhat laid to rest. The people came out to meet them, invited them to their houses, and treated them with the greatest hospitality. Here they remained three days, resting after their terrible fatigues.
They were visited here by Maxixca, the most influential of the four great chiefs of the Tlascalans. He had been their most cordial friend, on their first arrival; and his sentiments were in no wise changed by the misfortunes that had befallen them. Indeed, his admiration for them was heightened, by the manner in which they had withstood the whole power of the Aztec nation.
The cordial greeting, given to them by one whose counsels were of the highest authority in the Tlascalan nation, restored the confidence of Cortez; and he accepted the invitation to continue his march, at once, to the capital, which was some fifteen miles away. The sick and wounded were placed in hammocks, which were carried on the shoulders of the friendly natives; and as the army approached the capital, crowds of people flocked out to meet them, with cries of welcome, and escorted them into the city.
Cortez and his officers took up their abode in the palace of Maxixca, and the rest of the army were quartered in that part of the city over which he exercised special authority. Here they remained for some weeks, during which the wounded recovered from their injuries, the sick regained their strength in the bracing mountain air, and the whole army shook off the effects of the terrible hardships they had undergone, while retreating from Mexico.
Cortez, during this time, was confined to his couch. The wound on the hand, which he had received in the conflict in the capital, had been so inflamed and aggravated that he had lost the use of two fingers; and he had, in the retreat, received two severe wounds in the head, one of which became so inflamed from inattention, and from the fatigue and excitement he had gone through, that a portion of the bone had to be removed; and the general lay, for some time, at the point of death.
The news came, in a day or two after the army reached its resting place, that a party of five horsemen and forty foot, who had gone forward in charge of invalids and treasure from Tlascala, had all been massacred; and twelve other soldiers, marching in the same direction, had also been killed. Upon the other hand, they heard that all was quiet on the coast; and the friendly demeanor of the natives, there, was in no way changed.
Roger, seeing that for a time nothing could be done, and that the troops were all eager to retire to the coast, dispatched Bathalda, a few days after his arrival at Tlascala, to Amenche; to say that he considered it certain that the Spaniards would retire; and that, if she would come up to him in charge of Cuitcatl, whose safety he could guarantee, while in Tlascalan territory, they might be united; as Malinche had promised to obtain the consent of Cortez, who always encouraged marriages between his followers and the natives.
Before leaving, Bathalda handed to Roger a small bag.
"This," he said, "Maclutha gave to me, for you. It was for that purpose she drew me aside, before you started. She bade me not deliver it to you, unless I was compelled to part from you. It contains some of the principal jewels taken from the treasure house; and she said they might make you and the princess rich, when you reach home.
"They are useless to her. She has no children and, now that Cacama has gone, it is naught to her who rules over Tezcuco. Moreover, these are but a small portion of the treasure in her possession."
Roger sent his warm thanks to Maclutha and, after Bathalda had started, examined the contents of the bag, which he saw at once were very valuable—consisting of large pearls, diamonds, and other gems.
On the evening of the second day after starting, Bathalda returned, alone.
"I have very bad news," he said, "so bad that I hardly like to tell it. Four days since, an officer and guard arrived from Mexico, with orders to arrest Cuitcatl, who was reported by the priests in the neighborhood to have harbored a white man, and to have permitted him to escape. Maclutha and Amenche were also arrested, and though treated with every personal courtesy, were conducted to Mexico, where the official said they were, for the present, to remain in seclusion, in the royal palace."
Roger was stupefied by the news. What was to be done, he knew not. To desert Amenche was not to be thought of, and yet he saw no way of rejoining her, still less of rescuing her. In the present excited state of the Aztec population, it would be certain death to venture beyond the frontier of Tlascala.
He regarded his height, now, as the greatest misfortune. Had he been short and slight, he would have disguised himself as a Mexican, and under the guidance of Bathalda, have made his way to the capital; but with a figure which would be instantly remarked, wherever he went, this would be impossible.
He entered the palace, and sent in an urgent message to Malinche, who was nursing Cortez. She listened patiently to his narrative.
"I pity you, Roger," she said, when he had finished; "but there is nothing to be done."
"But I cannot march away and leave her," he said. "Rather than that, I will disguise myself and take all risks, even though I know that I must fail."
"You must have patience, Roger," she said. "Cortez will, I feel sure, recover."
"But if so, it will only be to march down to the coast," Roger broke in. "The whole army are eager to be off, before the Mexicans can gather their forces and be ready to fall upon them."
"The army may think what it likes, and wish what it likes," Malinche said, quietly. "I am sure that Cortez will not go down to the coast; and what he wills, he does. The others may grumble, but Cortez leads them like tame deer. When he is well enough to speak to them, they will listen and obey him. His thoughts, ill as he is, are all of a fresh march to Mexico."
Hitherto, Roger had been as desirous as any of his comrades of a return to the coast. It had seemed to him that there was no possibility of success, and he longed to be on his way to Europe, with his Indian bride.
But now everything was changed. He had come to have a faith in Cortez, almost as absolute as that entertained by the general's devoted followers; and he well knew that, if he still thought there was a possibility of a successful march to Mexico, that march would be made. He now, therefore, waited with impatience for Cortez to be on his feet again.
But the waiting was long and tedious. Four weeks passed before the general was again himself.
As soon as he became convalescent, the regulations which he issued for the army, and the orders that he sent to the coast, for every available man to be sent up to reinforce him, showed the soldiers that he had no intentions of retiring; and a remonstrance was signed, by a large number of officers and soldiers, against a further stay in the country. But Cortez was not shaken. He prayed them not to discredit the great name they had won, nor to leave their glorious enterprise for others, more daring, to finish. How could they, with honor, desert their allies who, at their persuasion, had taken up arms, and had shared their fortunes, and so leave them to the vengeance of the Aztecs? To retreat now would be but to proclaim their weakness, and give confidence to their foes.
If, however, there were any who preferred going home to the glory of this great enterprise, then in God's Name let them go. He would feel stronger, with but a few brave spirits with him, than if surrounded by a host of false or cowardly men.
The troops of Narvaez had been the loudest in their complaints, but they were silenced now by the enthusiasm with which the soldiers of Cortez responded to the appeal of their leader; and all agreed to postpone their departure, for the present.
A fresh source of danger speedily arose. Six Aztec ambassadors arrived, bearing presents, and inviting the Tlascalans to forget old animosities, and to enter into a treaty with them. All the nations of Anahuac, they urged, should make common cause in defense of their country; and they conjured them, by their common religion, not to allow the white men to escape from their hands; but to sacrifice them, at once, to their gods. These proposals were made at a solemn council, called to receive them.
There had, even before the arrival of the ambassadors, been a strong party in Tlascala who viewed the Spaniards, with hostility, as the authors of the heavy losses they had suffered; and as becoming, by their continued stay there, a burden to the state. The head of this party was the young chief Xicotencatl, who had led the Tlascalan armies in the desperate resistance they offered to the Spaniards, on their first coming. When the ambassadors had made their offers, he rose and urged his hearers to assent to the proposal; saying that it were better to unite with their kindred, and those of their own language, faith, and custom, than with these fierce strangers.
The young warriors enthusiastically agreed; but, happily for the Spaniards, the four great chiefs, one of whom was the father of Xicotencatl, were opposed to the proposal. Maxixca especially combated the idea.
"The Aztecs," he said, "are always false in speech, and false in heart. It is fear that drives them, now, to offer their friendship to the Tlascalans; and when the cause for fear has passed, they will again be hostile. What? Are we to sacrifice the white men to the gods—the men who have fought with us side by side against our enemies, and who are now our guests? Were we to act thus, it would be an act of the grossest perfidy."
Xicotencatl replied; but Maxixca, losing his temper, seized him and, with sudden violence, thrust him from the chamber. So unusual a step so astonished the assembly that it silenced all opposition, and the alliance with the Mexicans was unanimously rejected.
Confident now that the Tlascalans were to be trusted, Cortez sent out expeditions, composed of his own men and bodies of the allies, and inflicted terrible punishment on the districts where the isolated parties of Spaniards had been cut off and destroyed; and defeated the natives in several hardly fought battles, capturing their towns and enslaving the inhabitants.
Having thus restored the confidence of his followers and allies, he prepared for a forward movement. Martin Lopez, ship builder to the expedition, had escaped the slaughter on the causeway; and he now ordered him to build at Tlascala thirteen ships, which could be taken to pieces and carried on the shoulders of the Indians, to be launched on Lake Tezcuco. The sails, rigging, and ironwork were to be brought from the coast, where they had been stored since Cortez had sunk his ships.
The Tlascalans placed a great number of men at the ship builders' disposal. Timber was cut from the forest. Pitch, an article unknown to the natives, obtained from the pines. New arms were manufactured. Powder was made, with sulphur obtained from the volcanoes. And the work, heavy though it was, was rapidly brought to a conclusion.
While it was going on, however, a terrible scourge swept over the country. Smallpox, a disease hitherto unknown there, broke out on the seacoast and swept across Mexico, carrying off great numbers—among the victims being Maxixca, the faithful friend of the Spaniards; and Cuitlahua, Montezuma's successor.
The latter was succeeded by Guatimozin, nephew of the two last monarchs, who had married his cousin, one of Montezuma's daughters. Like Cuitlahua he was a gallant prince, and had distinguished himself greatly in the attacks on the Spaniards, in Mexico. He continued the preparations Cuitlahua had begun for the defense; but, like him, was greatly hampered by the fact that a large proportion of the tribes recently conquered by the Aztecs had seized the opportunity, caused by the confusion in the empire, to throw off their allegiance; the royal orders being really obeyed only by the population of the Valley of Mexico, itself.
Before starting on his march towards Mexico, Cortez permitted several of his companions, who were disinclined to face a renewal of the trials and hardships they had suffered, to leave; placing his best ship at their disposal. Their loss was more than made up by the capture of two vessels sent by Velasquez, who was ignorant of the fate which had befallen Narvaez; and who considered it certain that Cortez was a prisoner in his hands. The ships sailed into port, where the captains and crews were at once seized, and were then easily persuaded to join Cortez. Two ships fitted out by the Governor of Jamaica also put into port, to repair damages after a storm; and their crews were also persuaded, by the liberal promises of Cortez, to abandon their service and join him. He thus received a reinforcement of at least a hundred and fifty well-armed men, together with fifty horses.
But this was not the end of the good fortune of Cortez. A merchant ship, laden with arms and military stores, touched at Cuba; and the captain, hearing of the discoveries in Mexico, thought that he should find a good market there. He therefore sailed to Vera Cruz, where his ship and cargo were purchased by Cortez, and the crew swelled the force under him.
By Christmas everything was ready for the advance The army now amounted to six hundred men, forty of whom were cavalry, with eighty musketeers and crossbow men. It had also nine cannon taken from the ships. The force of the native allies which joined them was estimated at from one hundred and ten thousand, to one hundred and fifty thousand; and consisted not only of the Tlascalan troops, but of those of Cholula, Tepeaca, and other neighboring towns; who, after their defeat by Cortez, had submitted themselves to the Spanish rule.
But Cortez had no idea of taking all these with him, as it would be difficult to obtain provisions for such a host; and he left them behind, to bring on the vessels when completed, and to aid in further operations. He himself marched with the Spaniards and a small body of allies, and reached Tezcuco without opposition. The prince whom Montezuma had appointed to succeed Cacama, fearing the vengeance of the population, had fled to Tlascala; but returning, in hopes of finding a party there in his favor, was seized and put to death by Coanaco, another brother, who had been recognized as king by the Tezcucans.
When the Spaniards approached the city, they found it almost entirely deserted, the inhabitants having fled across the lake to Mexico. Their ruler had accompanied them, and Cortez appointed another brother in his place. This prince lived but a few months, and was succeeded by another member of the royal house—the prince who had, during Cacama's lifetime, obtained a large portion of his dominion; and who proved a valiant and faithful ally of the Spaniards, in their struggle with his countrymen.
The Tezcucans gradually returned after Cortez had nominated a new sovereign, and Cortez at once set a large number of them to dig a canal from the town itself to the lake, so that the men putting together the ships could labor under his very eye.
Several of the cities round sent in to make their submission; and a week after his arrival Cortez marched, with a body of Spaniards and allies, against Iztapalapan, a town of fifty thousand inhabitants, lying near the narrow tongue of land dividing the great lake from that of Xochicalco.
The natives came out to meet them, and fought bravely, but were driven into the city. The greater part of those who could not escape were slaughtered. While engaged in the work of plunder, the Spaniards were alarmed by a rush of water; the natives having broken the bank of the great lake. The troops with the greatest difficulty escaped with their lives, many of the allies being drowned.
The fate of Iztapalapan excited consternation among the other cities, and many sent in to make their submission, among them Otompan and Chalco. Not only had the Mexican Empire fallen to pieces, by the detachment of its distant provinces; but even near home long smoldering rivalries broke into flame. The Aztecs were but a small portion, even of the people of the Valley of Mexico; and the greater portion of these were glad to take advantage of the distress of the capital to break up the union that had so long existed. Cortez, by promises and presents, assisted the work.
After some weeks' stay at Tezcuco, the news came that the ships were all completed, and ready to be carried down; and two hundred foot and fifteen horse, under the command of Sandoval, were sent to escort them. But scarcely had he reached the frontier of Tlascala than he saw a vast procession advancing. The ships had already been put together, and tried on a lake among the hills; and were now being brought down in pieces by an immense number of porters, with a great military escort. Sandoval sent the larger portion of the Indian escort home, but kept twenty thousand of the best warriors. After four days of painful labor, the host of porters and fighting men reached Tezcuco. It was, indeed, an immense undertaking that had been accomplished; for the whole of the wood and iron work, of thirteen ships, had to be carried for upwards of sixty miles, over a difficult and mountainous country.
A few days later, Cortez took half of his Spanish force and the whole of his allies, and started on an expedition to reconnoiter the capital, and to punish some of the towns which had returned insolent answers in reply to his summons.
The town of Xaltocan, standing on an island, was first attacked. The dike leading to it was found to be cut through; and the Spaniards, for a time, suffered greatly. They found a ford, however; reached the town, and put all who resisted to the sword.
Three other towns, which had been deserted by their inhabitants, were occupied and sacked. They then marched against Tlacopan and, after a battle outside the town, occupied the suburbs. Another hot fight was necessary before the town was fully taken.
Here the Spaniards halted for some days, fighting almost daily with the Aztecs. In one encounter, Cortez allowed himself to be decoyed on to the great causeway, upon which he had before suffered such disaster. When he was halfway across the Aztecs turned, reinforcements arrived from the city, swarms of canoes attacked the Spaniards in flank; and it was only after desperate fighting, and some loss, that they regained the mainland.
Having accomplished their object, the force returned to Tezcuco, greatly harassed on the march by the enemy. Other expeditions were undertaken. During these events the work of putting together the vessels was continued and, to the great satisfaction of the Spaniards, news reached them from the coast of the arrival of three ships, with reinforcements: two hundred men, seventy or eighty horses, arms, and ammunition.
When these reached Tezcuco, Cortez felt confident that he should now be able to overcome all opposition. On the fifth of April he again started on an expedition. Passing through some deep gorges, he attempted to carry a mountain fortress; but was repulsed, with loss, from the volleys of stones and rocks rolled down upon the assailants.
After several other battles they neared Xochimilco, one of the richest of the Aztec towns. Like Mexico, it stood in the water, but at a small distance from the edge of the lake. This was only captured after desperate fighting, Cortez himself having a narrow escape of his life. The next morning at dawn, great numbers of Aztecs landed from canoes, and fell upon the Spaniards; and it was only after a long and desperate struggle that the latter gained the day.
They now continued their march to Tlacopan, the enemy following closely, and striking whenever they saw an opportunity; and the troops were glad, indeed, when they again reached Tezcuco. By this time the canal was finished and the ships were put together; and after discovering and punishing another conspiracy against his life, Cortez gave orders for the fleet to advance. Solemn mass was held, and then the vessels, in the sight of an enormous concourse of people, dropped down the canal, one after the other, and reached the lake.
Cortez mustered his men, and found that he had eighty-seven horse; eight hundred and eighteen foot, of which one hundred and eighteen were musketeers or crossbow men; three large iron field pieces, and fifteen light brass guns. Three hundred of the men were told off to man the ships.
The Indian confederates arrived punctually: fifty thousand Tlascalans, and a vast number of levies from the other tribes.
The army was divided into three corps. One was to take up its post, under Alvarado, at Tlacopan. Another, under Olid, was to aid in capturing the causeway; while Sandoval had command of the third, whose movements were to be determined by circumstances. Cortez himself took charge of the fleet.
A quarrel arose between a Spanish soldier and a Tlascalan chief, who was a relation of Xicotencatl; who at once left the army, and started for Tlascala. He had always been bitterly hostile to the Spaniards; and Cortez saw that, unless the movement was stopped, it might become very serious. He sent a party of natives after him, with instructions to prevail upon him, if possible, to return. He refused to do so. Cortez dispatched a body of cavalry in pursuit, arrested him in Tlascala, brought him down to Tezcuco, and there hung him in the sight of his own countrymen.
The divisions of Alvarado and Olid met with no resistance in establishing themselves at Tlacopan. They cut the reservoir that supplied the city with fresh water, the great lake being salt. The next day the two divisions marched on to the causeway to make themselves masters, if possible, of the first bridge.
The natives pursued their former tactics, desperately defending barricades thrown across the causeway, and attacking the invaders with a crowd of missiles from canoes. After a long and obstinate fight, the Spaniards and their allies were obliged to fall back, with considerable loss; and Olid drew off with his division to his station commanding the other causeway.
Iztapalapan having been again occupied by the enemy, Sandoval's division attacked them by land; while Cortez, with his fleet, lay off the shore. After capturing the town, Cortez turned his attention to the canoes of the natives, which darkened the surface of the lake. At this moment a fresh breeze sprang up; and the ships, spreading their canvas, dashed amongst the canoes, overturning and destroying great numbers; while the cannon tore others to pieces, with discharges of bullets; and comparatively few succeeded in regaining the city.
It was now getting nearly dark, and the fleet coasted along the great southern causeway to the fort of Xoloc, where another branch of the causeway joined the main dike.
The fort was feebly garrisoned. Cortez landed his soldiers and carried it by storm. Here he established his headquarters, landing some of the cannon from the ships to strengthen the position.
He was now within half a league of the city, and two out of the three great approaches were already in his hands. Night and day the natives attacked the garrison; but the ships, and the guns in positions, repulsed their assaults.
After some days' delay, a simultaneous attack was made by the Spaniards. Two of the ships, one on each side of the causeway, advanced abreast of the army, sweeping the dike with their fire. The enemy were driven back; and Cortez, passing gap after gap, reached the island on which the city stood. Behind them, as they advanced, the native allies filled up the breaches, and made them practicable for artillery and cavalry; and as soon as the work was completed, the Spaniards who had already passed were reinforced by large numbers of their allies.
Chapter 21: A Victim For The Gods.
The street which the Spaniards entered, after leaving the causeway, intersected the city from north to south. It was broad and perfectly straight and, from the roofs of the houses which lined it, a storm of missiles was poured on the Spaniards, as they advanced. Cortez set the allies to work to level the houses, as fast as the Spaniards won their way along the street. This they did, until they reached the first canal. The bridge here had been broken down, and after the Indians had crossed, the temporary planks were pulled after them, and they joined their countrymen behind a solid rampart of stone, erected on the other side of the canal.
It was not until after two hours' hard fighting, and the use of artillery, that this obstacle was cleared away; and the Spaniards, wading across the canal, pressed forward without further resistance, until they reached the great square, on one side of which stood the palace they had so long occupied. The Aztecs—disheartened at the manner in which all the defenses on which they relied had been captured by the Spaniards, and by their presence in the heart of the city—for some time desisted from their efforts; but they were roused to fury, as a body of Spaniards rushed up the winding terraces to the summit of the great temple, and hurled the priests from its summit.
Then, with a yell of fury, they threw themselves upon their enemies. Their headlong rush swept the Spaniards back into the square, when they were attacked by bodies of natives, pouring down every street. For once the Spaniards lost their presence of mind, fell into disorder, and were swept before the torrent, down the street which they had just traversed.
In vain Cortez attempted to stem the stream. The panic spread to the allies, and the whole mass were flying before the natives; when a body of cavalry came up and plunged into the crowd. The natives were shaken by the appearance of the enemies they feared so much; and Cortez, taking advantage of the confusion, rallied his followers, and again drove the Aztecs back into the square.
Night was now at hand and, dragging off the cannon which had been abandoned in their flight, the force marched off in good order, though hotly pressed by the natives, and retired to Xoloc. Alvarado and Sandoval also succeeded in crossing their respective causeways, but neither of them could penetrate into the city.
The attack had failed, but it had strengthened the position of the Spaniards; for seeing the speedy manner in which they had overcome all the defenses erected by the Mexicans, many of the cities which had hitherto stood aloof now sent in their submission, and supplied levies to assist them in their work; while Ixtlilxochitl, who had now become Lord of Tezcuco, and was a strong adherent of the Spaniards, brought up a force of fifty thousand Tezcucans, who were divided among the three armies.
Another simultaneous attack was now made, the advance along the causeway being, as before, covered by the ships; but the enemy fought stoutly, and some hours elapsed before the Spaniards again entered the city. The advance was now more easy than on the previous occasion, owing to the destruction of the buildings bordering the streets. The natives, however, still fought with the greatest obstinacy; but the great square was at last reached.
Thinking to discourage the natives, by the destruction of some of the principal edifices, Cortez ordered the palace which had served as the former barracks to be set on fire, as also the house of birds adjoining Montezuma's palace, and those were soon a mass of flames. The Aztecs, however, were infuriated rather than intimidated; and the fight raged with greater fury than ever. Having accomplished his object, Cortez again gave the order to fall back and, covered by the cavalry, retired down the street; so desperately assailed, by the natives, that but few men reached the fort unwounded.
Day after day the same tactics were repeated, the Mexicans every night repairing the breaches cleared out every day by the Spanish allies. Cortez found it impossible to guard the causeway and prevent this, the soldiers being already overcome by the fatigue of their daily encounters. Alvarado's division, however, held at night the ground they won in the daytime; but the troops suffered dreadfully from the incessant toil, and from the rain, which poured down in torrents. The soldiers of Cortez fared little better, for the buildings in the fort of Xoloc afforded shelter but to few; and the rest had to sleep on the causeway in its rear, exposed to all the tempestuous weather.
Frequently, too, they were called up to battle; for the Aztec emperor, contrary to the usual practice of his countrymen, frequently attacked by night; often making simultaneous attacks on the three divisions on the causeways, while at the same moment troops from the neighboring towns attacked their camps in the rear. He did not content himself with open attacks, but resorted to stratagem. On one occasion he had a large number of canoes in ambuscade, among some tall reeds bordering the lake. Several large boats then rowed near the Spanish vessels. Believing that they were filled with provisions intended for the city, two of the smaller vessels pursued them. The Aztec boats made for the reeds, the Spaniards followed, and presently struck upon submerged timbers the Indians had driven in. They were instantly attacked by the whole fleet of canoes, most of the men were wounded, and several, including the two captains, slain, and one of the Spanish craft captured.
It was now three months since the siege had begun, and the attitude of the Mexicans was as bold and defiant as ever. Several attempts which Cortez had made to open negotiations with the young emperor had been received with scorn. It was certain that, sooner or later, famine would do its work; for the approaches to the city were all in the hands of the Spaniards, and as the towns of the lake were either friendly or overawed by the great army of their allies, even the canoes, which at first made their way in at night with provisions, had ceased to steal across in the darkness. The great native levies were of little use to the Spaniards in the absolute fighting, but they did good service by overawing the towns, making expeditions against the tribes that had not yet consented to throw in their lot with the invaders, and by sweeping in provisions from a wide extent of country.
But to wait until famine did its work little suited the spirit of the Spaniards. The process would assuredly be a long one, for men who fought so stoutly would resist starvation with equal tenacity; besides, the duration of the siege was already beginning to excite discontent among the allies, whose wars were generally of very short duration. The Spaniards, too, were suffering from severe illness brought on by fatigue, exposure, and hardship.
It was now determined to make a grand effort to obtain possession of the great market of Tlatelolco, which lay on the northwestern part of the city. Its possession would enable the force of Cortez to join hands with those of Alvarado and Sandoval; and the spacious market itself, with its halls and porticoes, would furnish accommodation for the army; and enable them to attack the city at close quarters, instead of having to fight their way, every day, along the causeway.
Sandoval was to join Alvarado, sending seventy picked troops to support Cortez. Advancing along the causeway, and supported not only by the ships, but by a countless host of canoes filled with the allies of the lake cities, who penetrated the canals, and caused confusion in the rear of the Aztecs, the division of Cortez cleared the suburbs of their opponents, and then advanced towards the square of Tlatelolco by three great streets.
Alderete commanded the force that advanced by the main central avenue. This was a raised causeway, with canals running on either side of the road. Tapia and a brother of Alvarado commanded one of the other columns, while Cortez led the third. A small body of cavalry, with three guns, remained in reserve in the great street leading to the causeway; and here the column were to rally, in case of disaster.
The three columns advanced simultaneously. The Spanish pressed the Aztecs back before them. Their allies filled up the canals as they took them, one by one. The Tlascalans stormed the houses, and attacked the enemy on their roofs; while the canoes engaged those of the Aztecs, and so prevented them from interfering with the men occupied in filling up the breaches. The parallel streets were near enough to each other for the Spaniards to hear the shouts of their companions in the other columns, and to know that all were gaining ground steadily.
The enemy in the streets fought with less obstinacy than usual; and Cortez, with his usual keen-sightedness, at once apprehended that the feebleness of the resistance indicated some device, and that the Aztecs were allowing them to advance, only to lead them into a trap.
He had received a message from Alderete saying that he was getting on fast, and that he was but a short distance from the great square. Fearing that this officer, eager to be the first to gain the marketplace, was not taking proper precautions to secure his retreat; Cortez, with a small body of troops, retraced his steps, and turned up the street by which Alderete's column had advanced. He had gone but a short distance, when he saw that his stringent orders had been neglected; for he came upon an opening some thirty feet wide, full of water at least twelve feet deep. A slight attempt, only, had been made to stop the gap; and stones and timber, lying by the side, showed that it had been abandoned as soon as commenced.
The general saw, too, that the road had been narrowed as it approached this point, and that the work had evidently been recently done. Much alarmed at the consequence of this neglect, he at once set his men to fill up the breach; but they had scarcely begun the operation when a terrific yell arose, drowning the mingled clamor of the distant conflict.
Alderete had, as Cortez supposed, pressed on the retreating Aztecs with too great eagerness. He had carried the barricades which defended the breach, and had given orders that the chasm should be filled up. But in their eagerness to be first in the square, the Spaniards had pressed on, none caring to stop to see that the allies carried out the order. So, taking position after position, they pressed on until they were close to the square.
Suddenly the horn of Guatimozin, the emperor, sent forth a piercing note from the summit of a temple. As if by magic, the retreating Aztecs turned and fell on their pursuers; while swarms of warriors from the adjoining streets, lanes, and corners attacked the advancing column.
Taken completely by surprise, bewildered by the suddenness and fury of the onslaught, appalled by the terrific war yells, smitten down by the rain of missiles from the Aztecs, the Spaniards fell into confusion, and were swept down the street like foam on the crest of a wave. In vain their leaders attempted to rally them. Their voices were drowned in the din, and their followers, panic stricken, now thought only of preserving their lives.
On they came, until they reached the edge of the cut. Here some plunged in, others were pushed in by the pressure from behind. Those who could swim were pulled down by their struggling comrades. Some got across and tried to climb the slippery side of the dike, but fell back and were seized by the Aztecs; whose canoes now dashed up, and added to the confusion by hurling a storm of missiles into the crowd.
Cortez, with his little party, kept his station on the other side of the breach. They were already surrounded by Aztecs, who had landed on the causeway behind them; but held their ground desperately, and endeavored, as far as possible, to assist their comrades to climb out of the water. Cortez was speedily recognized, and storms of missiles were poured upon him, but these glanced harmlessly from his helmet and armor. Six of the Aztecs threw themselves upon him together, and made a desperate effort to drag him into their boat. In the struggle he received a severe wound in the leg, and fell.
Olid, one of his followers, sprang to his rescue, severed the arm of one of the natives, and ran another through the body; and being joined by a comrade named Lerma, and by a Tlascalan chief, stood over the body of Cortez and drove off his foes, dispatching three more of his assailants; but Olid fell, mortally wounded, by the side of his leader.
Quinones, the captain of the guard, with several of his men now fought his way up, lifted Cortez from the water, and laid him on the road. One of his pages brought up his horse, but fell, wounded in the throat by a javelin. Guzman, the chamberlain, then seized the bridle, and held it while Cortez was helped into the saddle; but was himself seized by the Aztecs, and carried off in a canoe.
Cortez, wounded as he was, would still have fought on; but Quinones, taking his horse by the bridle, turned it to the rear, exclaiming that his leader's life was "too important to the army to be thrown away there!"
The mass of fugitives poured along the causeway. The road was soft, and was so cut up that it was knee deep in mud; and in some places the water of the canals beside it met across it. Those on the flanks were often forced, by the pressure, down the slippery sides; and were instantly captured and carried off by the canoes of the enemy. Cortez's standard bearer was among those who fell in the canal, but he succeeded in recovering his footing, and saved the standard.
At last the fugitives reached the spot where the cannon and cavalry had been placed in reserve. Here Cortez rallied them, and charged the Aztecs with the little body of horse, while the artillery opened a hot fire upon them. He then sent orders to the other two columns to fall back and, when these had rejoined him, the division retired, Cortez covering the movement with the cavalry.
As soon as they were freed from the city, Tapia was sent round on horseback to acquaint the other commanders of the failure. They had advanced at the same time as Cortez, and had on their side nearly gained the square; when they, too, were startled by the blast of Guatimozin's horn, and by the terrible yell that followed it. Then they heard the sound of battle, which had before been clearly audible, roll away in the distance; and knew that the division of Cortez had been driven back.
In a short time the attack upon themselves increased in fury, as the troops who had been engaged with Cortez returned and joined in the attack upon them. Two or three bloody heads were thrown among them, with shouts of "Malinzin!"
Although Sandoval and Alvarado did not credit the death of their commander, they felt that it was useless to persevere, and indeed were unable to withstand the furious assaults of the Aztecs. With great difficulty they drew off their troops to the entrenchment on the causeway, and here the guns of the ships, sweeping the road, drove back their assailants. The greatest anxiety prevailed as to the fate of Cortez, until Tapia arrived, bleeding from several wounds, which he had received from parties of men whom Guatimozin had stationed to interrupt the communication between the two camps.
Sandoval at once rode round. He, too, was attacked on the road; but his armor, and that of his horse protected him from the missiles showered upon them. On arriving at the camp, he found the troops much dispirited. Numbers had been killed and wounded, and no less than sixty-two Spaniards, with a multitude of allies, had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Indeed, the column around Alderete had been almost entirely destroyed, and two guns and seven horses had been lost.
Cortez explained to his follower the cause of the disaster, and told Sandoval that, as he should be unable to take the field for a few days, he must take his place, and watch over the safety of the camps.
Roger Hawkshaw had borne his full share in the desperate conflicts that had taken place. In the previous combats he had fought only to preserve his own life, but now he was eager for the fray. His friend Cuitcatl and his promised bride were prisoners in Mexico, and he fought now to deliver them. It was nearly a year from the time when he had first retreated along the fatal causeway; and in that time his frame had broadened out, and his strength increased; and so terrible were the blows he dealt that Cortez, himself, had several times spoken to him in terms of approval of his valor, and had appointed him to be one of his own bodyguard. He had stood beside him at the edge of the breach, and had done good service there.
"You fight like a paladin," Cortez said, as Roger cut down three natives who had rushed upon him; "but see, Sancho, put up your sword for a minute, and take up that pike. If you hand the end to those poor fellows in the water, your strength will be sufficient to haul them up."
Roger at once set to, at the work of saving life, and dragged more than a score of men who would otherwise have been drowned. He heard the cry which was raised, when Cortez was attacked; and throwing down his pike and drawing his sword, turned to rush to his assistance; but at this moment two Mexicans threw themselves upon him, his foot slipped in the mud, and in another moment he and his two assailants were rolling down the deep bank into the water.
With a mighty effort, he freed himself from their grasp and, gaining the bank, tried to climb up; but a canoe dashed up alongside, a dozen Mexicans threw themselves upon him, and with a triumphant shout drew him into the boat, which at once paddled off from the scene of conflict.
Roger, as he lay at the bottom of the canoe, felt that all hope was over. He knew that the Aztecs never spared a captive taken in war, and that all who fell into their hands were destined for the altars of their gods. He regretted deeply that he had not fallen in battle; but determined that, at any rate, he would not die tamely; and resolved that, rather than be slaughtered in cold blood on the altar, when the time came, he would offer so desperate a resistance that they would be forced to kill him.
Passing along several canals, the canoe stopped at some stairs. Roger was taken out, and led through a shouting crowd to a great temple, where he was thrust into a prison room, already occupied by several Spaniards. Their numbers increased, until they amounted to twenty.
Few words were spoken among the prisoners. Their arms were free, but their legs firmly secured with ropes; and ten armed Aztecs kept watch over them, to see that they made no attempt to unfasten their bonds.
One of the prisoners Roger saw, to his regret, was his friend Juan. He was severely wounded in several places; as indeed was Roger himself, although in the excitement of the battle he had scarce noticed it.
"Well, lad!" the old soldier said. "This is a bad ending of our gold seeking. Who would have thought that it was to be one's lot, first to be murdered on the altars of a hideous god, and then to furnish a meal to a race of savages?"
"The furnishing the meal does not trouble me," Roger replied. "Whether one is drowned and eaten by fishes, or killed and eaten by Aztecs, makes, as far as I can see, but little difference to one. However, I don't quite make up my mind to the worst yet, Juan. They must have captured a great number of us, for I saw many carried off who are not here; besides a multitude of Tlascalans and our other allies. I do not suppose they will sacrifice us all at once, but are likely to take so many a day. In that case, we may have the luck to be among the last; and before our turn comes, the Spaniards may be masters of the town."
Juan shook his head.
"It is just as well to hope, lad; but I think the chances are next to nothing. Even if Cortez himself gets out safe, and the troops draw off without much further loss, it will be some days before they will attack again, after such a maiming as we got, this time. Even then their chances of success will be no better than they were today; worse, in fact, for we have lost something like a sixth of our force, beside what may have fallen in the attack from the other side; put it at a quarter, altogether. Our natives will be dispirited by their defeat today, and the Aztecs will have gained in confidence.
"By Saint James, but those fellows fight well! Who would have thought, when we saw them bowing and smiling when we first arrived in the city, and submitting so meekly to everything, that they could fight like fiends? Never did I see men so reckless of life.
"Pedro has fallen. I loved him as a son. But far better dead than here."
"I am sorry, indeed, to hear that he has fallen, Juan. I feared that he had, for he would not have let you be captured, had he been alive.