But at this moment Cortez and his companions, who had been compelled to make a great detour, owing to the difficult nature of the ground, fell suddenly upon the rear of the enemy. The latter, who had never before seen horses, and who believed that horse and rider were the same animal, were seized with a sudden panic at this extraordinary apparition. The panic speedily communicated itself to the whole army, and while the cavalry trampled down and slaughtered many in the rear, the infantry charged, and the Indians fled in wild confusion.
Great numbers had fallen, whilst on the Christian side a few only were killed, and a hundred wounded. No pursuit was attempted. Cortez released the prisoners taken in battle, among whom were two chiefs, and sent them to their countrymen, with a message that he would forgive the past if they would at once come in and tender their submission; otherwise he would ride over the land, and put every living creature to the sword. The Tabascans, cowed by the dreadful thunder weapons, and by the astounding armed creatures that had fallen upon them, had no wish for further fighting, and the principal caziques soon came in with offerings to propitiate the Spaniards.
Among these were twenty female slaves—one of whom turned out a more valuable gift to the Spaniards than all the other presents, put together. Among the gifts were only a few small gold ornaments, and when asked where the metal was procured, they pointed to the northwest and said Mexico. As there was nothing to be done here, the Spaniards prepared to depart; but before doing so insisted on the people consenting to become Christians. As they had but little idea of what was required by them, and were in no mood for argument with the Spaniards, a solemn mass was held, at which the whole people became nominally Christians.
Re-embarking, the Spaniards sailed along the coast, until they reached the island of San Juan de Uloa, and anchored in the strait between it and the mainland. A canoe speedily came off from the latter, with presents of fruit and flowers, and small gold trinkets, which the natives willingly bartered with the Spaniards. Cortez was, however, unable to converse with them; for Aquilar, who had acted as interpreter with the Tabascans, was unable to understand their dialect. Presently, however, the female slaves informed him that one of their number, named Malinche, was a native of Mexico, and spoke that language as well as the tongue of the Tabascans. She was at once installed as interpreter—she informing Aquilar what the Mexicans said, and he interpreting it to Cortez. By this means he learned that the Indians were subjects of the great Mexican Empire, which was ruled over by a monarch named Montezuma, whose capital lay seventy leagues from the coast.
A strong force at once landed on the mainland, and threw up a fortified camp. The Mexicans came in, in crowds, with fruit, vegetables, flowers, and other articles, which they bartered with the Spaniards. They brought news that the Mexican governor of the province intended to visit them, the next day.
Before noon, he arrived with his numerous suite. A banquet was served to them, and then, in answer to the cazique's inquiries as to the objects of their visit, he was informed by Cortez that he was the subject of a great monarch beyond the seas, who ruled over a vast empire; and that, hearing of the greatness of the Mexican Emperor, he had sent him as an envoy, with a present in token of his goodwill, and a message which he must deliver in person. The cazique said that he would send couriers with the royal gift to Montezuma; and that, as soon as he had learned his will, he would communicate it.
He then presented ten slave loads of fine cottons, mantles of rich feather work, and a basket filled with gold ornaments to Cortez; who then handed over the presents intended for Montezuma. These consisted of a richly carved and painted armchair, a crimson cap with a gold medal, and a quantity of collars, bracelets, and other ornaments of cut glass.
Cortez observed one of the cazique's attendants busy sketching, and found that he was drawing the Spaniards, their costumes, and arms. This was the picture writing of the Aztecs, and the chief informed him that the pictures would be sent to Montezuma. In order to impress the monarch, Cortez ordered the cavalry to maneuver, and the cannon to be fired; and these exhibitions, as well as the ships, were faithfully depicted by the artist. The chief then took his leave.
Eight days later an embassy arrived from Montezuma, with an enormous quantity of extremely valuable presents—shields, helmets, cuirasses, collars and bracelets of gold; crests of variegated feathers sprinkled with pearls and precious stones; birds and animals in excellent workmanship in gold and silver; curtains, coverings, and robes of the finest cotton of rich colors, interwoven with marvelous feather work. Among the presents were two circular plates of gold and silver, as large as cartwheels—the value of the silver wheel was estimated at five thousand pounds, that of the gold one at fifty-five thousand.
The Spaniards were astounded at this display of treasure, and delighted at the prospect it opened to them. The ambassadors, however, brought a message from the emperor, saying that he regretted much that he could not have a personal interview with them, the distance from his capital being too great, and the journey beset with difficulties and dangers; and that all that could be done, therefore, was for them to return to their own land, with the proofs thus afforded of his friendly disposition.
Cortez was much mortified by the refusal, but requested the envoys to lay before the emperor his immense desire for a personal interview with him, and that the dangers of a short land journey were as nothing to one who had accomplished so long a voyage over the sea to see him. The Mexicans repeated their assurance that his application would be unavailing, and left with some coldness of manner. The effect of their displeasure at the insistence of the Spaniards was soon manifest, the natives ceasing to bring in provisions.
While awaiting the emperor's reply, the soldiers suffered greatly from the heat and the effluvia from the neighboring marshes. Thirty died, and as the anchorage was exposed to the northern gales, Cortez decided to sail north as soon as the answer to his last application was received, and sent off two vessels to see where a safe port could be found. Ten days after the departure of the envoys they returned with a large quantity of fresh presents, but with a positive refusal on the part of the emperor to allow them to advance near the capital, and a request that, now they had obtained what they most desired, they would at once return to their own country.
Four days later the ships returned, with the news that they had found but one sheltered port, and that the country round it was well watered and favorable for a camp.
The soldiers, however, were now growing discontented. The treasure already acquired was large, the unhealthiness of the climate had alarmed them, and the proofs of the wealth and greatness of the Mexican Empire had convinced them that it needed a vastly larger force than that which Cortez had under his orders to undertake an expedition against it; for the courage showed by the Tabascans had proved conclusively that, ill armed as they were, the natives were not to be despised.
Fortunately for Cortez, five Indians made their appearance in camp one morning. Their dress and appearance were wholly different from those of the Aztecs, and they spoke a different language, but Malinche—who had been baptized, and christened Marina, by Father Olmedo, the leading priest of the expedition—found that two of them could converse in Aztec. They said that they were Totonacs, and had come from Cempoalla, their capital. They had been but recently conquered by the Aztecs, and were so oppressed by them that they were anxious to throw off their yoke, and they came to ask the wonderful strangers, of whom they had heard, to visit them.
Cortez at once saw the immense importance of the communication. Hitherto he had regarded the Mexican Empire as a great and united power, against which success with so small a force was impossible; but now that he saw it was composed of subjugated peoples, many of whom would gladly ally themselves with him against their conquerors, the enterprise wore a far more hopeful aspect. He dismissed the Indians with presents, and a promise to visit their country, shortly.
He talked the matter over with his principal friends, who were as reluctant as he was, himself, to abandon the enterprise and return to Cuba, where the governor would appropriate the largest share of the spoils they had taken. They accordingly went about among the soldiery, urging them to persuade the general to establish a permanent colony in the country. It was true that he had no authority from Velasquez to do so, but the interests of the emperor and of Spain—to say nothing of their own—were of more importance than those of the Governor of Cuba.
This talk reached the ears of the special friends and adherents of Velasquez; who, going to Cortez, remonstrated with him against such proceedings. He said that nothing was farther from his desires than to exceed his instructions, and on the following morning issued a proclamation to the troops, ordering them to prepare for embarkation. The sensation caused among the troops was great, and his partisans thronged round his tent, calling upon him to countermand his orders and form a settlement. Cortez, after due hesitation, gave in to their wishes, nominated magistrates, and proclaimed the territory a colony of Spain. As soon as the new magistrates and officers came together, Cortez came before them and tendered his resignation of his office as captain general, but was re-nominated not only captain general, but Chief Justice of the colony.
The partisans of Velasquez were most indignant at the whole proceedings, and so violent were some of the leaders that Cortez put them in irons, and sent them on board ship. Then he set to work with the soldiers, and soon brought them round; and the prisoners on board being also won over, the whole army, re-embarking, sailed up the coast until they reached the port before discovered and, landing, set out for Cempoalla.
They were delighted with the country, which was rich and fertile; and as they neared the town, the natives poured out with lively demonstrations of welcome, the women throwing garlands of flowers round the necks of the soldiers. They were greatly struck with the town, although it was but a small place in comparison with those they were afterwards to see. Cortez lost no time in sending off a vessel to Spain, with dispatches to the emperor; and his influence over the soldiers was so great that they, as well as the officers, relinquished all their shares of the treasure they had gained, in order that a worthy present should be sent home to their monarch.
In his dispatches Cortez related all that had befallen them, dilated on the prospect of annexing so rich a country to the Spanish dominions, and asked for a confirmation of his acts, and for an authorization for the magistrates of the new town, which was called Villa Rica de Vera Cruz. The ship touched at Cuba, but continued its voyage before Velasquez, who was furious at the news of the important discoveries made by Cortez, could stop it.
Scarcely had the ship sailed when Cortez discovered that a conspiracy was on foot, among the partisans of Velasquez, to seize one of the vessels and to sail away to Cuba. The conspirators were seized, two of them executed and others flogged; but the discovery that there were a number of timid spirits in the camp, who might seriously interfere with his plans, greatly annoyed Cortez, and he took the extraordinary resolution of destroying all the ships. Through some of his devoted friends he bribed the captains of the vessels to fall in with his views; and they appeared before him, and made a solemn report that the ships were worm eaten and unfit for sea. Cortez pretended great surprise, and ordered everything movable to be brought ashore, and the ships to be sunk.
Nine vessels were so destroyed, and but one small craft was left afloat. When the news reached the troops at Cempoalla, they were filled with consternation. It seemed to them that nothing but destruction awaited them, and from murmurings they broke out into mutiny.
Cortez however, as usual, speedily allayed the tumult. He pointed out that his loss was the greatest, since the ships were his property; and that the troops would in fact derive great advantage by it, since it would swell their force by a hundred men, who must otherwise have remained in charge of the vessels. He urged them to place their confidence in him, and they might rely upon it that success would attend their efforts. If there were any cowards there, they might take the remaining ship and sail to Cuba with it, and wait patiently there until the army returned, laden with the spoils of the Aztecs.
The troops at once returned to their duty, and declared their readiness to follow him, wheresoever he would. Without further delay, Cortez, taking with him a number of natives to act as carriers, set out on his march towards Mexico.
Chapter 12: The Fugitives.
At nightfall Roger and his guide continued their journey, but now moved with great caution, keeping but a short distance from the road. Several times they saw fires burning, and had to take long detours to avoid them. Consequently the moon had set when they were still more than ten miles from the pass. Next morning they continued their journey, avoiding as much as possible crossing tracts of cultivated land; and when forced to do so, lying down and crawling between the rows of the maize or yuccas.
"They are sure to have scouts, high up on the mountainside," Bathalda said; "and they thence can look down upon all these fields; and although, as we cross them we are perfectly hidden from people standing on the same level, they can see us clearly enough from there."
"The distance is very great to make out a man."
"The air is very clear, my lord, in these mountains; and a figure can be seen a vast distance off. However, we can do nothing but what we are doing, and must take our chance."
"If we are attacked," Roger said, "we must make straight up the mountains. Steep as they may be, there are few places where active men cannot climb, and numbers would avail nothing if we once got up among those heights."
They were now mounting rapidly towards the pass. The country was still thickly wooded, but Bathalda said that in the narrowest part of the pass there were no trees, and it was here that the danger would be greatest.
As they neared the mouth of the gorge they moved with the greatest care, keeping their eyes in every direction. Presently Bathalda stopped, and held up his hand. Roger listened.
"They are coming behind us," Bathalda said. "They must have made us out in the distance, and have sent a party down the road to enter the wood behind us, and so prevent us from retreating."
"Then we had better bear away to the left, Bathalda. They are sure to be in force in the pass; and since they are behind us, also, our only hope is to try and scale the hill to the left."
Bathalda, without a word, moved forward in the direction indicated. The trees grew thinner in front, and through them they could see rocky ground rising steeply up. They issued out and began to climb, when the sound of a horn rose loudly in the air, and a moment afterwards a number of men were seen, running from the right along the edge of the trees.
"They will not shoot," Roger said. "They want to take me alive. Never mind their arrows, it is a question of legs, at present."
The rocks were extremely steep, and in many places they had to use their hands, as well as their feet, in making the ascent. The Aztecs, who had on first seeing them broken into loud cries, were now silent, and were toiling up the hillside in pursuit.
"Now," Roger said, after a very severe piece of climbing, "we must stop them."
He strung his bow and, placing an arrow to the string, shouted to the Aztecs that he should shoot unless they desisted from pursuit. They paid no attention, their officer shouting to them to press on. They were now less than a hundred yards behind.
Roger drew his bow to the fullest, and the arrow whizzed through the air. It struck the officer in the throat, and he fell prone. A cry of astonishment broke from the soldiers; however they did not hesitate a moment, but pushed on with loud shouts. Roger discharged six arrows in rapid succession, and five of them flew true to the mark.
The Aztecs paused, the distance to which the arrows were sent, and the accuracy of the shooting struck them with consternation; and it was evident to them that before they could climb the steep ascent, the greater portion of them would be shot down. Some took shelter behind rocks, and began to discharge their arrows. Others fell back in haste.
"Now we will be moving on again, Bathalda," Roger said. "We have taught them a lesson of caution."
They proceeded on their way, until they reached a shoulder which led straight up the mountain. Just as they stopped to draw breath there was a shout, and a party of twenty men, who had evidently climbed straight up from the pass to cut them off, rushed at them. Roger rapidly discharged five arrows into the midst of them, and then slipped the string from the notch, and seized the bamboo as a quarterstaff.
At the order of their leader, the Aztecs threw down their spears and flung themselves on him, with the intention of dragging him to the ground; but making his quarterstaff swing round his head, he brought the ends down upon them with tremendous force, striking them to the ground as if they had been ninepins. Bathalda seconded him well, by guarding him from attack behind.
Finding that, in spite of his efforts, he could not keep back his assailants, Roger threw down the quarterstaff and seized his ax. Four more of them fell, cleft through the head; and then four of them sprang upon him together, but Roger's practice in Devonshire wrestling now stood him in good service; and although in a moment the four were hanging upon him, they could neither get him off his legs, nor hold his arms; and he beat three of them down with heavy blows on their faces, while Bathalda freed him from one on his back, by a thrust with his spear.
Roger again caught up the ax, which he had let fall to have the use of both of his fists, but the fight was over. The five Aztecs still remaining on their feet, appalled at the, to them, supernatural strength of their gigantic foe, fled to join their comrades, who had now nearly reached the crest on which the combat had taken place.
"Come on, Bathalda," Roger exclaimed. "We have not a moment to lose. They will shoot now, seeing that they have little chance of taking me alive."
And they accordingly started up the steep ascent, as rapidly as their breathless condition would allow. Their pursuers paused a moment on gaining the brow to get their wind, and then followed; but as soon as the ground again became too steep to allow of rapid movement, Roger turned and, betaking himself to his bow and arrows, speedily checked the pursuit; the Aztecs being unable to stand against these terrible weapons, whose force and accuracy seemed to them supernatural.
The sight, too, of the heap of their comrades lying on the slope had greatly cooled their courage. Their officers had all fallen under Roger's arrows, together with most of their bravest comrades; and although the rest still continued the pursuit, it was at a distance that showed that they had no intention, whatever, of closing again.
Paying no further heed to them, Roger and his companion now directed their whole attention to the work of climbing. At times they came on perpendicular precipices, and had to make long detours to surmount them. After some hours' labor they reached the snow. They were now near a shoulder between two lofty peaks, and after an hour's climbing stood on its crest. The Aztecs were now mere spots, far behind them.
"They will be an hour before they are here," Roger said. "We need fear no more trouble with them. It was a sharp fight while it lasted, Bathalda."
These were the first words they had spoken, beyond a momentary consultation, now and then, as to the best mode of surmounting difficulties.
"My lord is wonderful," the hunter said. "Never did I see such strength and skill. It was like a mountain tiger attacked by jackals."
"You did your share, too, Bathalda. Your spear rid me of several of them."
"I did what I could, my lord; but that was little enough. A few men like you would defeat an army."
"Well, Bathalda, now we will be moving on again. We will keep straight down this slope, until we are off the snow; for they can follow our footsteps. Beyond that we must press on until we get into the woods again, and there we can turn right or left, as we please, and throw them off the scent altogether. We shall then be safe until we leave the forest, and begin to descend into the hot country."
Another hour, and they had left the snow behind them; and after two more hours on the rocky hillside, they again entered a forest. As soon as they were well among the trees, they turned to the right again, and after traveling through the wood for two or three miles they halted, secure now against any search on the part of their pursuers.
Just before halting they had the good luck to come across a small bear, which Roger wounded with an arrow, and his companion dispatched with his spear. Bathalda speedily made a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and after skinning the bear, cut it up; and while Roger was superintending the roasting of some pieces over the fire, Bathalda searched in the wood, and speedily returned with some roots, which he placed in the ashes, and which turned out excellent eating with the bear's flesh.
As it was now far on in the afternoon, and as they had already performed a very fatiguing day's work, they resolved to wait where they were until the morning.
"What do you think would be our best course, now?" Roger asked, after they had eaten their meal, and were stretched close to the fire for warmth—for at this elevation the cold was great.
Bathalda did not reply, but sat pouring out volumes of smoke from the pipe he had just filled. At last Roger repeated the question.
"I am ready to go where my lord wills."
"Yes, Bathalda; but that is no answer to my question. You know the ways of your people, and I do not. We have had a sharp fight with them today. What is likely to come of it?"
Bathalda shook his head.
"The news will, long before this, have been sent by swift runners to every town and village on this slope of the mountains. The garrisons of Perote, Tlatlanquitepec, Xalapa, and Naulinco will all be in movement. Naulinco is but some eight or ten miles away down the pass; and not only the soldiers, but every man in the town will be ordered out. They will be posted as thick as blades of grass at the mouth of every valley leading down from the mountains.
"You have resisted the emperor's officers, and have killed numbers of his soldiers. They will know that the wrath of Montezuma will be terrible, if they fail to arrest you."
"Then you think that it will almost be impossible to make our way through them?"
Bathalda nodded his head.
"And in time, I suppose, they will search these woods?"
"Every foot of them, wide though they are, my lord."
"Then what is your advice, Bathalda?"
"It depends whether my lord's mind is altogether set upon joining the white men of the sea, at once."
Roger, in turn, was silent for a time. The Spaniards would have learned the wealth of the land. It was not likely they would speedily depart; but if they did, it would only be to return again, in far greater force than at present. Other opportunities would occur for rejoining them, and it would be folly to throw away his life, and that of his companion, in an attempt that the latter evidently felt to be desperate. He had already had proof of the vigilance of the Aztec scouts, and doubtless that vigilance would now be redoubled.
"No, Bathalda," he replied at last; "I should be content to remain in hiding for a time, and to risk the departure of the white men."
"Then, my lord, my advice is, that we retrace our steps across to the other side of the mountains. Then we will head north, avoiding the towns, and take refuge for a time in the forests, that stretch for many leagues over the mountains. There we can build a hut and hunt. There are turkeys and other game in abundance. From time to time I can go down to a town and gather news, and bring back such things as may be necessary for you. Then, when the search for you abates, we can strike down thence to the seacoast, if the white men are still there. At any rate, we can live by hunting as long as you may find it necessary to remain in concealment."
"That will be by far the best plan, Bathalda. I have no objection to a few weeks of life in the woods, and you can teach me your craft of a hunter. What do you say: shall we start back this evening?"
"If my lord is not too wearied, it would be well if we could get across the crest before morning. They will have sentries at every point whence they can command a view of the hills; and our figures could be made out, on the snow, at a great distance away."
"I should have preferred a night's rest, Bathalda; but it would be foolish to lose a day, and no doubt parties will be searching the woods in the morning. We have still four hours before the sun goes down, and that should be enough to fit us for starting again."
The hunter was pleased at Roger's decision.
"Let my lord sleep at once," he said. "I will watch. I am accustomed to long journeys, and to pass my nights in search of game. It is nothing to me. I used dry sticks for the fire, and but little smoke will have made its way through the trees. Still it may possibly be noticed, and it were best one of us should remain on watch."
Roger felt that he should never be able to make the ascent over the crest of the hill, unless he had some rest; and therefore, without argument, he wrapped himself in his cotton mantle, and lay down before the fire.
It seemed to him that he had but just closed his eyes, when his companion touched him.
"It is time that we should be moving, my lord. The sun has just set."
"Why, it appears to me to be night already, Bathalda."
"It has been dark here for the last hour, my lord; but on the other side of the mountains the sun has but now gone down. See, the full moon has just risen in the east."
"That is so, Bathalda; and we shall have her light till morning. Well, I am ready, though I could have slept on comfortably until sunrise. Have you heard anything?"
"I have heard the sound of horns, far down the hillside; but nothing near us save animals, disturbed by the voices below, and passing up towards the rocks. I have cooked some more flesh. It is always best to make a good meal when one can. We have a rough journey before us, and the cold will be great. Fortunately, the air is still. Were it blowing, I should say that there was less danger in waiting here than in crossing the mountain."
The meal was quickly eaten. Bathalda slung a large piece of bear's flesh over his shoulder, and they started. So bright was the moonlight that they had no more difficulty in climbing than if it had been day, and after six hours of severe toil they again came down upon the forest, on the other side of the mountains.
They proceeded among the trees for some little distance, till they came to some very thick undergrowth, where Bathalda thought it would be perfectly safe to light a fire. This he accordingly did, as Roger said he would rather run any danger than go without a fire.
In spite of the exertions they had made, they were chilled to the bone. Their clothes were stiff with the frozen moisture from their bodies, and the cotton mantles offered but small protection against the cold. A pleasant glow stole over them, as the fire burnt up.
"I will watch now, Bathalda, and you shall sleep."
"I do not think that there is any danger, my lord. They believe us among the woods on the other side of the mountains, and it is not at all likely there will be any vigilant watch kept upon this side. We can both sleep without fear."
Roger was glad to hear his companion's opinion, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
When he awoke it was day. Bathalda was cooking some flesh over the embers of the fire.
"You have been asleep, I hope, Bathalda?" Roger said, as he rose to his feet and shook himself.
"I have slept, my lord," the hunter said, although in fact it was not until morning began to break that he had relaxed his watchfulness. "We will be off as soon as we have eaten. It is possible that parties may, as soon as it is daybreak, go along by the edge of the snow line, to assure themselves that we are still on the other side of the mountain; and if so, they will probably come across our footsteps—therefore we had best be moving, at once."
Two long days' marches took them deep into the woods lying north of Tlatlanquitepec. Here they set to work to construct a rough hut of boughs, near a mountain spring; and when this was completed, they set to work hunting.
Turkeys abounded. These they generally obtained by shooting them at night, as they roosted in the trees; but they sometimes hunted them by day, Bathalda imitating their call so accurately that they came up within easy shot of them, without the least suspicion of danger. They killed several small bears, which were useful, not only for their flesh, but for the warmth of their skins at night. Once or twice they shot deer, and obtained other game in abundance.
At night they frequently heard the roar of the mountain tiger. Once or twice, when the sounds approached too close to their hut, they left it and took refuge in trees, as the hunter said that even Roger's arrows would scarcely slay these fierce beasts at once; and that, when wounded, they were terrible enemies.
Roger enjoyed the life much. The air was fresh and bracing, the forest magnificent in its varied foliage, and the abundance of game so great that it needed no special exertion to keep themselves well supplied with food. Two or three times, at intervals of a week or ten days, Bathalda went down to Tlatlanquitepec, with a load of turkeys and other game slung on a pole over his shoulder, and returned with maize, flour, chocolate, and pulque, and other articles of food; and—which was of much greater importance to Roger—news of the white strangers.
The first time he learned that they had arrived in several floating castles, and had landed at once. The natives had received them with kindness, and the chief of that district, Teuhtlile, had on the following day had an interview with their chief. Presents had been exchanged. Five days later an embassy, with many very rich gifts from the emperor, arrived at the camp. They were the bearers of friendly messages from Montezuma; who, however, had declined to allow them to proceed into the country, and had requested them to leave the coast at once. The white men had sent back a message to Montezuma praying him to alter his determination, and showed no signs of obeying his orders, and re-embarking on board their ships. By the orders of Montezuma's envoys, the people had now abstained from visiting the camp, or bringing in supplies.
Three weeks after, Bathalda returned from the town with the news that another embassy from Montezuma had visited the white camp, with another great store of valuable presents; but that Montezuma positively prohibited them advancing towards the capital. Two days later they were visited by envoys from Cempoalla, the chief town of the Totonacs, who had been lately conquered by the Aztecs, and had invited the white men to visit their city. They had accordingly marched there, and were now dwelling in this town. It was said that the Aztecs were extremely indignant at the action of the Totonacs, and that dire vengeance would be taken upon them, for daring to act in this manner without the permission of Montezuma.
The next news was, that the white men had marched farther north to Chiahuitztla, that they were founding a city there, and that they had actually seized and imprisoned a party of Aztec envoys. The white men had visited other towns, and at Cempoalla had insulted the gods, rolled the idols down from the tops of the temples, and had erected altars to their own gods there.
This act had created a profound impression throughout the country; and the greatest astonishment was felt that Montezuma did not, at once, put his armies in motion to crush these profane and insolent strangers. A still greater sensation had been caused by the news that the Spaniards had destroyed all their floating castles, and that it was therefore evident that they intended to remain, permanently, in the land.
This news greatly surprised Roger. The reports were unanimous that there were, at the utmost, but three or four hundred of the Whites; and that the Spaniards should dream of matching themselves against the whole force of Mexico, seemed almost incredible.
"How do the white men communicate with the natives?" Roger asked.
"They have with them some slaves, whom they obtained at Tabasco. Among them was one who was a Mexican by race. They say that the white men speak to another white man who understands the language of Tabasco, and that he speaks to this young woman, who speaks in Mexican what she is told. She is treated with great honor by the white men."
"What is her name—did you hear?"
"The natives say she is called Malinche, but the white men call her Marina."
"That is good news, indeed, Bathalda," Roger said; "for when I was at Tabasco, I knew a Mexican slave girl of that name, and if it is the same she will befriend us."
It was nearly three weeks before Roger again obtained news. Bathalda had injured his leg in a fall down a precipice, while stalking a deer; and was obliged to lie up in the hut for more than a fortnight. As soon as he was well enough to get about again, he joined Roger in a turkey hunt, and started the next day for the city.
He returned with surprising news. The white men had marched from the coast through Naulinco and the Pass of Obispo. They had been everywhere well received by the natives, who all belonged to the Totonac tribe. They had gone to Yxtacamaxtitlan, a great city, where they had stayed three days. They had then marched on towards Tlascala, the republic that had so long resisted the strength of all Mexico.
They were said to number four hundred foot and fifteen strange creatures, who were partly man and partly some fleet animal; and they had seven great black tubes that made thunder. Thirteen hundred Totonac fighting men accompanied them, and a thousand porters to drag the tubes and carry their baggage. They had sent embassies to the Tlascalans, but the latter had chosen war, and there had been some terrible battles fought. But the white men were invincible, and had defeated the Tlascalans with great slaughter; and the news had arrived, only that morning, that they had captured the city.
The sensation throughout the country was that of stupefaction. It seemed absolutely incredible that a state which had successfully defied the armies of Montezuma and his predecessors should, after four or five days of fighting, be overthrown by this handful of white strangers. There seemed but one comfort. It was said that several of the Whites had been killed, and this showed, at least, that they were not superhuman creatures, and that it might yet be possible to destroy them.
No sooner did Roger hear the news than he determined to start, at once, to join the Spaniards, who were already far to the west. Accordingly, the next morning at daybreak, he started with Bathalda, and late on the following afternoon arrived in sight of Tlascala. They thought it better not to enter the city until the following morning, and therefore passed the night in a clump of bushes.
The next day they boldly entered the town. The city was a large one, divided into four quarters separated by lofty walls, and each ruled over by one of the four great chiefs of the republic. Its population was very large, and the town was strongly and solidly built.
At ordinary times the appearance of two seeming Aztecs in the streets would have been the signal for their instant destruction, but at the present time the people were solely occupied with the presence of their white conquerors; with whom, as Roger soon learned, they had made treaties of friendship, and whom they now viewed as friends and allies.
The whole of the Spaniards were lodged in one of the palaces. The crowd of people proceeding in that direction was a sufficient index to its position; and Roger and his companion, joining the throng, were soon in front of the palace. Some Spanish soldiers were standing as sentries at its gate, but none came out or mixed with the people—Cortez having given the strictest orders that they should remain in their quarters, as he feared that, did they go abroad, some brawl might arise between them and the inhabitants, and so break the newly-formed alliance, which was of the most extreme importance to them.
Presently some Spanish officers, and several richly dressed chiefs, came out from the palace. The people raised a shout, and it was evident to Roger that, in spite of the terrible losses suffered by their troops in the attacks upon the white men, their admiration for their visitors far outweighed any animosity for the defeats inflicted upon them.
Near the officer, whom Roger judged to be the leader of the expedition, were an elderly man and a young woman. The Spaniard addressed the old man, who spoke to the girl, and she translated it to the chiefs.
Roger recognized her at once—it was certainly his friend, the slave girl of Tabasco. In the eight months since he had seen her, she had grown to complete womanhood; and now—richly attired as she was, and evidently regarded as a person of great importance, both by the Spaniards and the native chiefs—carried herself with an air of confidence and pride; and was, Roger thought, the most beautiful woman he had seen in Mexico.
As the party moved down the steps of the palace, and along the street, evidently discoursing on some important business, Roger followed them closely. He waited until Malinche happened, for a moment, to be at the outside of the party, then he pressed forward and said to her:
"Malinche, do you remember your white friend?"
She looked up, and would have cried out with astonishment, had he not touched his lips.
"I want to speak to you alone, first. Where can I meet you?"
"In an hour I shall be able to slip away from their meal," she said; "be near the palace gate."
Roger at once fell back into the crowd, and soon took an opportunity to extricate himself from it, and to go down a side street. He and Bathalda then ascended to the top of the wall, where they were likely to be undisturbed, and waited there for an hour. They then went back to the palace.
The square in the front of it was almost deserted now; for the Spaniards had retired, half an hour before, and were not likely to appear again until the evening; especially as it was known that, at noon, there was to be a great council held in the palace.
Ten minutes later Malinche appeared at the entrance. As soon as her eyes fell on Roger she raised her hand and, leaving Bathalda, he at once went up to her. The two sentinels looked with some surprise at this tall native, but as they saw that he was known to Malinche, they offered no opposition to his entering the palace with her.
She led him down some corridors and then out into a garden. As soon as she saw that they were in a spot where they could not be overlooked, she turned and seized his hands; and would have pressed them to her forehead, had not Roger prevented her doing so, and put her hands to his lips.
"Ah!" she exclaimed. "How happy you have made me, today! I have wondered so much how it has fared with you, and have dreamed at night, so often, that you were being sacrificed on the altars of the gods."
"I have thought of you very often, also, Malinche; and I was surprised, indeed, when I heard that you—for I felt sure that it was you—were with the Spaniards, and were not only an interpreter, but in high honor with them."
"But why do you not join them?" she asked. "Why do you come to me first? What can I do for you? I will take you at once to Cortez, and when I tell him that you were my friend, and were so kind and good to the slave girl, he will welcome you most warmly."
"Yes, Malinche; but that is why I wanted to see you first alone. You remember that I told you all about the Spaniards, and how they owned the islands, and would some day surely come to Mexico; but that I belong to another white people, who are forbidden by the Spaniards, under pain of death, to come to these parts. They must not know that I am not of their nation.
"You see, I cannot speak their tongue. I see that you have learned it fast, for I saw Cortez speaking to you."
"What are we to do, then?" the girl asked, with a puzzled look. "When they find that you cannot speak their language, they will, of course, see that you are not of their people."
"Yes, Malinche; but they might think that I had forgotten it. That is just where I want you to help me. If you take me to Cortez, and tell him that, years ago, a ship was wrecked on the coast of Tabasco, and that all were drowned except a little white boy; and that he was brought up at Tabasco, and that you were great friends with him, until he was sold to some Mexican traders—they will think that I have altogether forgotten my native language. They are not likely to ask you how many years ago it is, or how big I was then, and will imagine that I was quite a child, and that I belonged to a Spanish ship, for they will not dream of an English vessel having been in these parts. When you introduce me to Cortez, you must tell him that I have quite forgotten the language, save a few words—for I picked up a few sentences when in their ports."
"They will easily believe that you may have been wrecked," said Malinche; "for they rescued a man who had been living many years among a tribe at Yucatan, to the west of Tabasco. There were other white men living among them, though these they could not recover. You saw him by me this morning—he is an old man, a priest; and he translates from the Spanish into the Yucatan dialect, which is so like that of Tabasco that I can understand it, and then I tell the people in Mexican.
"There will be no difficulty at all. Cortez and the Spaniards know that I love them, and they trust me altogether, and I am able to do good to my country people, and to intercede with them sometimes with Cortez. Now tell me what has happened since I last saw you."
Roger gave her a sketch of what had happened in Mexico, and how he had escaped, by flight, from being sacrificed.
"It is terrible—these sacrifices," Malinche said, shuddering. "I did not think so in the old days, but I have learned better from the Spaniards and from their priests; and I rejoice that the white men will destroy these horrible idols, and will teach the people to worship the great God and His Son. They will suffer—my heart bleeds to think how they will suffer—but it will be good for them in the end, and put a stop to rivers of blood that flow, every year, at their altars."
Although Roger was not imbued with the passion for conversion which animated the Spaniards, and led them to believe that it was the most glorious of all duties to force their religion upon the natives, he had been so filled with horror at the wholesale sacrifices of human victims, and the cannibal feasts that followed them, that he was in no way disposed to question the methods which the Spaniards adopted to put a stop to such abominations. But for the friendship of Cacama he would himself, assuredly, have been a victim to these sanguinary gods.
He and his father had—like the Beggs, and many other of his friends at Plymouth—been secretly followers of Wycliffe, but they were still Catholics. They believed that there were many and deep abuses in the Church, but had no thought of abandoning it altogether. The doings of the Inquisition in Spain were regarded by all Englishmen with horror, but these excesses were as nothing to the wholesale horrors of the Mexican religion.
He talked for some time with Malinche, and saw that she was completely devoted to the Spaniards, and regarded Cortez as a hero, almost more than mortal; and was in no slight degree relieved at observing that, although ready to be friendly in every way, and evidently still much attached to him, the warmer feeling which she had testified at their parting no longer existed, but had been transferred to her present friends and protectors.
"Come with me," she said at last. "The meal will be over, now. I will take you to an apartment near the banqueting hall, and will leave you there while I tell Cortez about you, and will then lead you to him."
Seeing how confident Malinche was as to the reception she could procure for him, Roger awaited her return, to the chamber where she had placed him, with little anxiety. In a quarter of an hour she returned, and beckoned him to follow.
"I have told him," she said. "It did not seem to him strange that some vessel should have been driven by the storms and wrecked here. He asked no questions as to how many years ago it was. I told him you were a young boy at the time, and have forgotten all but a few words of the language; and how, when you grew to be a man, you were sold to some Mexican merchants, and would have been sacrificed to the gods had you not made your escape. As I had told him, before, that there had been a white man living at Tabasco, who had been very good to me, he was not surprised at the story."
She took Roger to an apartment in which Cortez, and several of his principal officers, were standing. As Malinche had told them that he was painted, and disguised as a native, they were not surprised at his appearance; although his height, which was far beyond that attained by Spaniards, somewhat astonished them.
Roger approached the group, and at once fell on one knee before Cortez, took his hand and kissed it. Cortez raised him, and embraced him warmly.
"I am delighted to find another of my countrymen," he said; "and all the more, since Marina tells me that she knows you well, and that you were most kind and good to her."
"Senor," Roger said, in broken Spanish, "I do not understand. I have forgotten."
"You will soon recover it," Cortez said.
"Tell him, Aquilar, that he will soon learn to speak his native language again."
The interpreter repeated the words to Roger in the Yucatan dialect, adding that he himself had been a prisoner for eight years among the natives; and that, although a man when captured by them, had with difficulty spoken Spanish when restored to his friends; but it had now quite come back to him.
"You were but a boy when you were wrecked, Marina tells me?" Cortez said.
"Only a boy," Roger repeated, when Marina translated this to him.
"Do you remember anything of Spain?" Cortez asked.
Roger shut his eyes, as if considering.
"I seem to have a remembrance," he said, "of a place with many great ships. It was a city built on a rock rising from the sea. It had high walls with great guns upon them, which fired sometimes, with a terrible noise, when vessels came in and out."
When this was translated by Aquilar, Cortez said:
"It was Cadiz, of course. Doubtless the ship he was wrecked in sailed from that port."
A murmur of assent passed round the other Spaniards.
"Show him a cross, Aquilar. See if he remembers his religion."
Aquilar took out a cross from under his doublet, and held it out towards Roger, who, after looking at it for a moment, fell on his knees and kissed it.
"He remembers much, you see," Cortez said. "Father Aquilar, you will succeed soon in making a good Catholic of him, again.
"Well, gentlemen, I think we may congratulate ourselves upon this new companion. Every arm is of assistance; and if he is as brave as he is big and strong, he will prove a doughty comrade. Besides, he will be able to tell us something of Mexico; although, as Marina says, he was only once at the capital.
"Question him, Aquilar, and find out from him whether its magnificence is as great as we hear."
Roger told all he knew of the capital, and said that, although he himself could not say more than that it was a great city, he had heard that its population was nearly three hundred thousand; and that it certainly seemed to him fully three times as large as that of Tezcuco, where he said there were one hundred thousand people.
"And it stands on an island in a lake?" Cortez asked.
"There are three causeways leading to the land, each wide enough for six horsemen to ride abreast," Roger replied; "but it would be a difficult thing to force an entrance, by these, in the face of Montezuma's army."
"Well, gentlemen," Cortez said, "it is time for us to be going to the council.
"Marina, do you take your friend to my private apartment, and bid Juan furnish him with a suit of clothes; and with armor, from that belonging to our friends who fell in the fights the other day. We will soon make a true cavalier of him."
As soon as Roger was equipped, he went out to the steps of the palace, and presently descried Bathalda in the crowd. He beckoned to him and, taking him into the garden, had a long talk with him. He would have rewarded him largely for his services, but Bathalda refused to accept anything.
"I came at my lord's orders," he said; "and am rejoiced to have been of service to one who is at once so kind, so strong, and so valiant."
"As you will. We shall have further opportunities of meeting, Bathalda. Do you now make your way back to Tezcuco. Tell your lord all that has happened, and that I am with the Spaniards, and shall accompany them if, as I believe, they go forward to Mexico; that I hope to see all my friends again, before long; and that I always think of their kindness to me."
Chapter 13: The Massacre Of Cholula.
The Tlascalans had, from the moment when they admitted themselves beaten by the Spaniards, laid aside all hostility; and had, indeed, accepted the alliance with enthusiasm. They had a right to be proud of their own valor, for they had resisted all the attempts of the great Aztec monarchy to conquer them, and had defeated, with slaughter, greatly superior forces; and that a mere handful of white men should be able to withstand their attacks, day after day, and to defeat their best and hardiest troops, led by generals who had hitherto been always successful, excited their surprise and admiration in the highest degree. They were not gods, they knew, for some had been killed in the conflict; but as men they seemed to them infinitely superior, in strength and courage, to any that they had before heard of; and they were proud to enter into an alliance with such heroes. Moreover, they saw they would now have an opportunity of turning the tables upon their enemies of the plains.
They did not believe, for a moment, that Montezuma would admit the white men to his capital, and in that case there would be great battles, and perhaps much plunder to be gained; and therefore, when the Spaniards were again ready to advance, the whole fighting force of Tlascala was placed at their disposal. Cortez, however, declined to take with him so large an army. The appearance of such a force, composed of the bitter foes of the Aztecs, would have combined against him the whole strength of that empire, and would have destroyed any hope that might remain of peaceful arrangements. Moreover, the difficulty of feeding so large a body of men would be great, indeed; and as his authority over them would be but feeble, constant broils with the Aztecs would be the inevitable result. He therefore, with many thanks, declined the offer; but said that he would gladly take with him a force of six thousand volunteers.
The first march was to be to Cholula, whose people had sent a warm invitation to Cortez to visit them; and Montezuma, by his last envoys, also requested them to journey forward by way of that city.
The Tlascalans had strongly urged him to refuse the invitation. The Cholulans were, they said, a treacherous people and not to be trusted. They were bigoted beyond the people of other cities, Cholula being the holy city of Anahuac. It was here the god Quetzalcoatl had remained for twenty years on his way down to the coast, instructing the people in the arts of civilization. Here was the great temple of the god, a pyramid whose base covered forty-four acres, and whose height was a hundred and eighty feet; the platform on its summit, where the sacrifices took place, being an acre in size.
Cortez, however, decided upon visiting Cholula. He deemed the reports of the Tlascalans to be prejudiced, as there was a long-standing animosity between the two peoples; and he thought that, were he to avoid visiting this important town, which lay almost on his road to Mexico, it might be set down by the Aztecs to distrust or fear.
The departure from Tlascala was witnessed by the whole of the population of the state, who assembled to bid the white men farewell, and to wish them success upon their way. A day's march took them to within a mile or two of Cholula. Here they were met by many nobles from the city, who urged them to enter it that evening; but Cortez, bearing in mind the warnings he had received, and thinking it dangerous to enter the streets of an unknown and possibly hostile city after dark, declined to move forward until morning. Seeing the hostility and distrust excited in the minds of his visitors at the sight of the Tlascalans in his camp, he ordered his allies to remain in camp when he advanced in the morning, and to join him only when he left the city on his way to Mexico.
The Spaniards, as they entered Cholula, were greatly struck with the appearance of the city and its inhabitants, it being a very much larger and more highly civilized place than any they had yet met with. The buildings were large and handsome, the streets wide, the population very large, and exhibiting in their dress every sign of wealth and luxury. There was, too, a great variety among the population; for, as it was the sacred city of the empire, people from all other parts were in the habit of making pilgrimages there, and most of the towns had their own temples and establishments. So numerous were the temples that fully two hundred towers could be counted, rising above the city, with the stupendous pyramid towering above them all.
The Spaniards were quartered in the court of one of the temples, and in the surrounding buildings. As soon as they were established there, the principal nobles of the town paid them visits of ceremony; and presents of everything necessary for their comfort and accommodation, and stores of provisions of all kinds, poured in.
Roger had, in the line of march, taken his place among the troops; but Cortez directed that he should, at other times, be near at hand to him, as he alone of those in the army had any personal knowledge of the country they were to traverse, and could give information as to the size of the towns, the nature of the roads, and the advantages which these offered, respectively, in the supply of provisions likely to be obtained, the facilities for getting water, etc. Cortez therefore, Father Aquilar acting as interpreter, enjoined him to ramble about the city, releasing him from all guards and exercises.
"Now that you are dressed like the rest of us," he said, "none will dream that you understand their language, and as you pass along they will express freely before you the sentiments they may entertain of us. I do not expect them to love us, and doubtless though they may flatter us to our faces, they curse us heartily behind our backs. But we care nothing for their curses, or for their ill will, so long as they do not proceed to plots and conspiracies against us.
"They seem courteous and friendly, and I think that the Tlascalans have spoken far too strongly against them. Nevertheless we will be on our guard. These men are not like our mountain friends, who were rough fighters, but hearty and honest people. They are traders, or nobles, or priests, accustomed to let their faces hide their thoughts, but through you we may get nearer to them than we otherwise should do.
"But go not alone. One man can easily be jostled into one of the temples, and made away with, without any being the wiser. I will choose two comrades for you; men of discretion, and courageous without being quarrelsome. With them, too, you will, ere long, begin to recover your mother tongue; which you will never do, so long as you only talk these heathen languages with Marina and Father Aquilar."
Cortez struck the table with his hand, and an attendant entered.
"Summon Juan Algones and Pedro de Gasconda."
In a minute two men entered. Juan was a weatherbeaten soldier, whose face bore the marks of several deep scars, and who had fought for Spain on most of the battlefields of Europe. Pedro was young enough to be his son. Juan had saved his life in a fight with the natives of Cuba, and since then they had been inseparable.
"Juan, I have sent for you to ask you and Pedro to take our new comrade into your party. I know you are always together, and that you are quiet and peaceable, and not given either to quarrel in your cups or to spend your evenings in gambling and dicing. He has, as you know, almost forgotten his own language; and it will be for our advantage, as well as his own, that he should learn it as soon as possible; for as he knows the country and people, it is well that he should be able to communicate with the rest of us, without having to hunt up an interpreter.
"But that is not the principal thing, just at the present moment. We know not whether the people of this city mean treacherously towards us, or not. They will not speak in the presence of Donna Marina or of the good Father here, knowing that they are acquainted with the language; but as they will not imagine that this tall Spanish soldier can know aught of what they say, they will not mind speaking out their thoughts before him. Therefore, while he is here it will be his duty to wander about the streets, and learn what the people are saying, and what they think of us. But here, as elsewhere, I have ordered that not less than three men shall go out together.
"I have chosen you to accompany him. You will be free from all other duty."
"That we will do, right willingly," Juan said. "It is pleasanter to walk about the streets, and look at these strange peoples, than it is to be cooped up here. As to the other part of the business, we will do what we can towards teaching him Spanish; but as to being our comrade, that must depend upon himself. I like the young fellow's looks much. He looks honest and straightforward, though where he got that light wavy hair and that fair skin from I can't guess—they are rare enough in Cadiz, where I heard one say that he came from."
"We don't know that he came from there, Juan. He may have come from the mountains of Biscaya, where fair skins are commoner than they are in the south. It is only that he described to us a port, which must have been Cadiz, as the last thing he recollected in Spain."
"Ah, well, his skin matters nothing!" the soldier said. "His face is an honest one, and as to height and strength one could wish no better comrade. He is young yet, not more than nineteen or twenty, I should guess; but I will warrant that there is not a man in the expedition he could not put on his back, if it came to a tussle. At any rate, we will try him.
"What do you say, Pedro?"
"I like his looks," the young fellow said. "At any rate, we are not like to quarrel with him. As to more than that, we can say better when we know more of each other."
Father Aquilar, who had listened attentively to all that had been said, explained to Roger the purport of the conversation between Cortez and the men. When he had finished, Roger held out his hand to the two soldiers, and gave them a hearty grasp, expressive of his willingness to join in the arrangement that had been made.
"He will do, General," Juan said. "We will look after him, never fear."
Cortez gave orders that the three men were to be allowed to leave the quarters and go into the town at all times, without further question; and they at once started for a turn through the streets.
"How are we to begin to teach this young chap to talk, Pedro? It is out of the regular line of duty, altogether."
Pedro shook his head.
"I don't know, comrade. I have heard women teaching their babies to talk, but I should hardly think that would be the way with him."
"No, no, that is quite different, Pedro. You see the little ones have not got their tongues twisted rightly, and they can't talk plain, do as much as they will; but this young fellow could say, plain enough, what we told him. The question is, what are we to tell him?
"Suppose I say to him, 'They are a curiously dressed lot of people here.'
"Well, he might say it after me, but as he would not have an idea what we meant, I don't see that we should be getting any forwarder."
Roger, however, had already gone through the work of learning the two native languages, and knew how to begin. He touched Juan's sword, and gave the Mexican word for it.
"What does he mean by that, Pedro?"
Roger repeated the action.
"Perhaps he wants to know what you call your sword," Pedro suggested.
"Perhaps it is that. I will try him, anyhow.
Roger nodded, and repeated the word after him, and then touched his own helmet.
"That is what he means," Juan said, with great satisfaction. "What he has got to do is to touch things, and for us to tell him the names."
"That is capital. I had no idea teaching a language was such easy work."
However, after a few more words had been said, and a method established, Roger asked no more questions; his companions being now fully occupied in gazing at the houses, the temples, and the crowd in the streets, while he himself was busy listening to the remarks of the people.
It was curious to him, to hear everyone around freely discussing them, assured that no word they said was understood. Had he been vain, he would have felt gratified at the favorable comments passed on his personal appearance by many of the women and girls; but he put them down, entirely, to the fact that he differed more from them than did the Spaniards, and it was simply the color of his hair, and the fairness of his skin, that seemed wonderful to the Mexicans.
"Ah!" he heard one woman say to another, "I marked that tall soldier when they came into the town, this morning. They are all grand men, and look wonderfully strong and brave with their arms and armor. I know that such fighters as these were never heard of before; for have they not, few as they are, beaten the Tlascalans? Who, as we all know, are good fighters, though they are little better than savages. But as to their faces, they were not what I expected to see. They are lighter than ours, but they are not white.
"But I noted this soldier. He is just like what I expected—just like what they said the white man, who has been at Mexico for some time, is like."
"I am sorry for them," the girl said. "They say that Montezuma will offer them all up at the temples, when he gets them to Mexico."
"Perhaps they will never get there," a man standing next to her said. "At least, unless they enter the town as captives.
"Perhaps some of them will stay here. Why should not our god have his share of victims, as well as the war god of Mexico?"
The speaker was a priest, who was scowling angrily at the three Spaniards; who, after stopping to look at the carving over the gate of a temple, were now moving on again.
But although Roger heard occasional remarks that showed it was the opinion of the inhabitants that Montezuma had only allowed these strangers to enter his country for the purpose of destroying them, there was no general feeling of hostility to them—the satisfaction at the defeat they had inflicted upon Tlascala far outweighing any other feeling.
After wandering about for some hours, the party returned to their quarters, where Roger gave, through Malinche, to Cortez an account of what he had noticed.
"There is nothing new in that," Cortez said. "We know that Montezuma has done all in his power to prevent us from coming, and that now he knows he has wasted his treasures in vain, he must feel no goodwill towards us. However, we shall be prepared for him.
"But continue your search. There may be a change come. Montezuma may, even now, be preparing to crush us. If so, as soon as the people here know it, you will see a change in their demeanor. The priests are all powerful here, and the devils whom they worship are sure to set them on to do us mischief, if they can. Therefore, relax not your watchfulness. Marina and yourself are the only two among us who understand their language, and it is upon you both that we have to depend, to shield us from treachery. Against an open assault I have no fear, but in a crowded town like this, an attack at night might be fatal."
Cortez had, indeed, taken the precaution upon his arrival of stating to the nobles that, as it would be inconvenient for Marina to reside in buildings occupied solely by men, he should be glad if one of their wives would receive her as a guest; and she was accordingly installed, at once, in the house of one of the principal nobles.
Some days passed, as Cortez was waiting for the arrival of a fresh embassy from Montezuma. During that time Roger was unable to detect any change in the attitude of the population. The Spaniards were greeted courteously when they went abroad, and their leaders were entertained at fetes and banquets by the nobles.
Roger and his two comrades were well satisfied with each other. Juan was a taciturn soldier, but he was amused at the efforts of Pedro and Roger to converse.
"I am glad, Pedro," he said, on the third day of their making acquaintance with Roger, "that this young fellow has joined. If I had had my will, I should have said nay when Cortez proposed it; but it is good for you, lad. It is well enough for an old soldier like me to toil along all day without speaking, under a burning sun; and to say but little, even over his cup of wine, at the end of the march. But it is not good for a lad like you. You were getting old before your time. I could sing a song, and dance a measure with the best of them, when I was at your age; and you see what has come of my campaigning for, like yourself, I took to an old soldier for a comrade. This young fellow seems to have a cheerful spirit, and when he can talk our language well will be a gay companion, and will do you good.
"Yes, and do me good, too, Pedro. You are too apt to get into my moods, and be silent when I am silent; and thus I make you dull, while you do not make me bright. Only I want to see this young fellow at work, before I quite give him my heart. I believe that he will bear himself bravely. It were a shame, indeed, if there should be faint heart in a body of such thews and muscle. Truly he is a stately figure, and has the air of the great noble rather than a rough soldier; but that, I take it, comes from his being brought up among these Mexicans; who, though in most respects ignorant, carry themselves with much dignity, and with a stately and gentlemanly manner, such as one sees, in Europe, chiefly in men of good blood."
On the evening of the fourth day, the embassy arrived from Montezuma. The emperor had apparently again changed his mind, for he expressed his regret at their determination to visit the capital, and begged them to relinquish the idea. Upon leaving Cortez, the ambassadors had an interview with several of the chief nobles of Cholula. They left for the capital again in the night.
The next morning a change was visible in the behavior of the people. They no longer visited the Spanish quarters, but held aloof from them. The nobles, upon being invited to come to see Cortez, sent in excuses on the ground of illness, or that they were about to undertake a journey, or other pretexts, and the supply of provisions sent in fell off greatly.
Roger and his comrades also marked a great difference in the manner of the people in the streets. The buzz of talking and laughing was hushed, as they approached. People turned away, as if desirous of avoiding the sight of them. The priests regarded them with an insolent air. On one or two occasions they were roughly jostled, and on arriving at the end of a street the people gathered round, and by words and gesture told them to go no farther.
Cortez had particularly enjoined in Roger and his companions against embroiling themselves, in any way, with the people; and they therefore suffered themselves to be turned back, without exhibiting any air of concern; but Juan muttered many oaths beneath his mustache, and Roger and Pedro had difficulty in restraining their anger.
Cortez looked very grave upon hearing Roger's report, on their return.
"I fear that treachery is intended," he said, "and if I did but know it, I would be beforehand with them. You had best not go abroad again, for it may be their intention to provoke a quarrel, by an affray in the streets. I will send some of the Cempoallans who are with us out. They will be less observed, and may find out what is going on."
"I think," Marina said, "that if we go up to the flat roof, we may see something of what is going on. This house is more lofty than most."
Cortez, with Roger and the girl, ascended to the roof. From it they commanded a considerable prospect. On some of the roofs they could make out bodies of men at work, but these were too far off to see what they were doing.
In the evening the Cempoallans returned, and said that they had come upon barricades erected across several of the streets, and that on many of the roofs great stones and beams of timber were piled; while they had discovered holes dug in the streets, and covered with branches, and apparently intended to entrap cavalry.
A portion of the troops were ordered to remain under arms all night, in case of attack, but the city remained quiet. In the course of the following day some Tlascalans came in from their camp, and informed Cortez they had heard that a great sacrifice of children had been offered up, in one of the temples, a custom which prevailed whenever an enterprise of a serious nature was about to be undertaken. They said, too, that large numbers of the citizens, with their wives and children, were leaving the town by the various gates. The situation had now become very grave, and Cortez and his officers were at a loss to know what had best be done, as they had still no positive proof that treachery was intended.
This proof was, however, furnished by Marina next day. The wife of the cazique had taken a great fancy to her, and urged her to take up her abode altogether at her house, hinting that it would be safer for her to do so. Marina at once pretended that she should be glad to leave the white men, who held her in captivity in order that they might use her as an interpreter. The Cholulan then gave her a full account of the conspiracy.
It was, she said, the work of the emperor, who had sent rich presents by the ambassadors to the great nobles, and had urged upon them the necessity of making an end of the white intruders. Twenty thousand troops had been marched down to within a short distance of the city, and these were to enter and take part in the assault on the Spaniards.
The attack was to be made as these left the city. The streets were to be barricaded, and impediments to prevent the action of the cavalry placed in the way; and the Spaniards were to be overwhelmed with the missiles from the roofs, while the troops would pour out from the houses to the attack. Some of the Spaniards were to be sacrificed at the altars at Cholula, the rest to be marched in chains to the capital, and there put to death.
This scheme was unfolded to Marina in her apartment in the Spanish quarters, and she appeared to assent to the proposal that she should, that night, leave the Spaniards altogether. Making an excuse to leave the room for a few minutes, Marina hastened to Cortez and informed him of what she had heard. The cazique's wife was at once seized, and being in terror of her life, she repeated the statements she had made to Marina.
The news was alarming, indeed. The position of the Spaniards in the midst of a hostile city seemed well-nigh hopeless—the barricades and pitfalls would paralyze the action of the cavalry and artillery, every house would be a fortress, and under such difficulties even the bravery of the handful of Spaniards would avail but little against the overwhelming force by which they would be attacked.
Before deciding as to the best course to be adopted, Cortez determined to obtain further confirmation of the story of the cazique's wife. He accordingly sent an invitation to two priests, who resided in the temple close to his quarters, to visit him. When they came he received them most courteously, but informed them that, by the powers he possessed, he was perfectly aware that treachery was intended. He bestowed upon them some very valuable presents, from the gifts he had received from Montezuma, and promised that none should be aware that he had received any information from them. The rich bribes had their effect, and the priests confirmed the report Marina had heard.
They said that the emperor had, since their arrival, been in a state of vacillation, constantly consulting the oracles, and unable to make up his mind whether to fight them, or to receive them with honor. He had, when he heard that they were going to Cholula, first issued orders that they should be well received; but since then the oracles had again been consulted, and had declared that Cholula would be the grave of the white men, for that the gods would assuredly lend their aid in destroying the enemies who had dared to violate the sanctity of the holy city. He had, therefore, ordered the attack to take place in the manner described; and so certain were the Aztecs of success that the manacles to secure the prisoners had already been sent to the city.
Cortez dismissed the priests, telling them that he intended to leave the city the following morning, and requested that they would induce the principal nobles engaged in the plot to pay him a visit, at once. As soon as the priests had left, he summoned his principal officers, and disclosed to them the plot he had discovered. There was much difference of opinion between them. Some were in favor of returning at once to the friendly city of Tlascala. Others voted for still advancing, but by the northerly route their allies had recommended. But the majority agreed, with their general, that their only chance of safety was in taking a bold course; for that retreat would raise the whole country against them, and ensure their destruction.
When the nobles arrived, Cortez rebuked them mildly for their altered conduct and for the failure of supplies; and said that the Spaniards would no longer be a burden upon the city, but would march out on the following morning; and requested that they would furnish a body of two thousand men, to transport his artillery and baggage. As this suited admirably the designs of the natives, they at once agreed to furnish the required force.
Upon their leaving, Cortez had an interview with Montezuma's ambassadors, who had accompanied him from the coast, and told them that he was aware of the treacherous plot to destroy him and his army, and that he was grieved to find that this vile act of treachery was instigated by Montezuma. The ambassadors, astounded at what appeared to them the supernatural knowledge of Cortez, and terrified at the position in which they found themselves, made earnest protestations of their entire ignorance of the scheme; and declared that they were convinced that the emperor was wholly innocent of it, and that it was entirely the act of the Cholulans. Cortez pretended to believe them, as he was desirous, as long as possible, of keeping up a semblance of friendship with Montezuma; and declared that he was willing to believe that, after the friendly messages and gifts the emperor had sent, he could not be guilty of such baseness and treachery. His anger therefore would be directed chiefly against the Cholulans, who were guilty not only of foul treachery to himself, but of dishonoring the emperor's name by their conduct.
As soon, however, as the ambassadors had retired, a strong guard was placed over them, to prevent them from communicating with the citizens. Every precaution was taken, in case the plans of the enemy should be altered, and an attack made during the night. The guns were placed so as to command the approaches. The horses were kept saddled, and ready for action. Strong guards were placed, and the troops lay down in their armor. Orders were dispatched, to the Tlascalans, to hold themselves ready to march into the city in the morning, and join the Spaniards.
As soon as daylight broke, the troops were under arms. A portion of those, with the guns, were posted outside the building, so as to sweep the streets. A strong body were told off to guard the three gates of entrance. The rest were drawn up in the great court, which was surrounded partly by buildings, partly by high walls.
Soon after the arrangements were completed the caziques arrived, having with them a body of men even larger than they had agreed to bring. As soon as they entered, Cortez called them to him, and informed him that he was acquainted with all the particulars of the conspiracy. He had come to that city upon the invitation of the emperor, had given them no cause of complaint, and had left his allies outside the walls. Under the guise of kindness and hospitality, they had prepared a snare to cut off and destroy them.
The Cholulans were astounded. It seemed to them useless to deny anything to men who could thus read their thoughts, and they confessed that the accusation was true.
Cortez raised his hand. A gun gave the signal, a terrible volley was poured into the Cholulans, and the Spaniards then fell upon them with pikes and swords. The unfortunate natives, thus taken by surprise, and penned up like sheep in the enclosure, scarcely offered any resistance; some tried to escape through the gateways, but were repulsed by the troops stationed there. Others strove, but in vain, to scale the walls, and the only survivors of the massacre owed their lives to hiding under the great piles of dead.
In the meantime, the Mexicans without, being made aware by the heavy firing of the failure of their plan of surprise, rushed from the buildings in which they had been stationed, and poured up to the assault. They were swept down by the discharges of the guns, but the places of the slain were rapidly filled, and with reckless bravery they pressed up to the Spaniards; although Cortez, at the head of his cavalry, charged them again and again, so as to give the gunners time to reload.
The struggle was still proceeding when the Tlascalans entered the gates of the city and, coming up at a run to the scene of conflict, fell upon the rear of the Mexicans. These could no longer resist their terrible opponents and, breaking their ranks, took refuge in the houses, or fled to the temples.
One large body, headed by the priests, made a stand upon the great central teocalli. There was a tradition among them that, if its stones were removed, the god would pour out an inundation of water to overwhelm his enemies. The Cholulans tore down some of the stones, and when the expected miracle did not take place, were seized with despair. Many shut themselves up in the wooden towers on the platform of the summit, and poured down missiles on their foes as they climbed the great staircase; but the darts and arrows fell harmless upon the armor of the Spaniards, and when these gained the platform, they snatched up the blazing arrows shot at them, and fired the turrets. The Cholulans fought to the last, and either threw themselves over the parapet, or perished in the flames.
In the meantime, many of the wooden houses in the town had caught fire, and the flames spread rapidly. The Spanish cavalry charging through the street trampled the Mexicans under foot, while the Tlascalan allies gratified their long enmity against the Cholulans by slaying them without mercy.
When all resistance had ceased, the victors burst into the houses and temples, and plundered them of their valuables. The sack continued for some hours, and then Cortez, at the entreaties of some Cholulan caziques who had been spared at the massacre, and of the Mexican ambassadors, consented to call off his troops; and two of the nobles were allowed to go into the town, and to assure the surviving inhabitants that no further harm would be done to them, if they would return to their homes.
The Spaniards and Tlascalans were drawn up under their respective leaders. The division of the booty offered no difficulties. The mountaineers attached no value to gold or jewels, and were well content with wearing apparel and provisions; while to the share of the Spaniards fell the valuables taken. Cortez had given strict orders that no violence should be offered to the women or children, and his orders had been respected; but many of these and numbers of men had been made prisoners by the Tlascalans, to carry away into slavery.
Cortez, however, now persuaded them to liberate their captives; and so great was his influence that they acceded to his request. The dead bodies were now collected, and carried outside the city by the inhabitants.
Cortez, in his letter to the Emperor Charles, says that three thousand were slain; but most contemporary writers put down the number of victims at six thousand, and some at even a higher figure. Order was promptly restored. The inhabitants who had left the town speedily returned, and the people of the neighborhood flocked in with supplies. The markets were re-opened, and only the lines of blackened ruins told of the recent strife.
The massacre was a terrible one, and is a stain upon the memory of Cortez; who otherwise throughout the campaign acted mercifully, strictly prohibiting any plundering or ill treatment of the natives, and punishing all breaches of his orders with great severity. The best excuse that can be offered is, that in desperate positions desperate measures must be taken; that the plot, if successful, would have resulted in the extermination of the Spaniards; and that the terrible lesson taught was necessary, to ensure the safety of the expedition. Moreover, a considerable portion of those who fell, fell in fair fight; and after the action was over, the inhabitants were well treated. It must, too, be taken into consideration that the Spaniards were crusaders as well as discoverers; and that it was their doctrine that all heretics must be treated as enemies of God, and destroyed accordingly.
Such was not the doctrine of their Church, for as the great historian Bede writes of King Ethelbert:
"He had learned, from the teachers and authors of his salvation, that men are to be drawn, not dragged, to heaven."
Roger, with his two companions, had formed part of the force stationed outside the gates to resist the attack of the citizens; and he had taken his share in the fierce fighting that went on there. He was not free from the prejudices of his times, and the horrible sacrifices of the temples, and the narrow escape he himself had had in being offered up as a victim, had inspired him with a deep hatred of the religion of the people; although against them, personally, he had no feeling of hostility. Even in the height of the conflict he felt pity for the men who, in their cotton armor, rushed so fearlessly to the attack of the iron-clad Spaniards, armed with their terrible weapons. But at the same time, he knew that if they were successful, the most horrible fate awaited him and his companions; and the treacherous plot, of which they had so nearly been the victims, excited the same feelings in his mind as in that of the Spaniards.
Chapter 14: In Mexico.
The terrible vengeance taken by the Spaniards at Cholula struck terror into the minds of the Mexicans. The white men had shown, in their conflict with the Tlascalans, how terrible they were in battle, and it now seemed that treachery was of no avail against them. The cities in the neighborhood of Cholula hastened to send messages expressive of submission to the terrible white warriors, accompanied by presents of all kinds. Montezuma saw, with awe and affright, that even the oracles of the gods could not be depended upon against these strangers; and that bribes, force, and treachery had alike failed to arrest their march towards his capital. Vast numbers of victims were again offered up on the altars, but no favorable responses were returned—for the priests, seeing how complete had been the failure of their predictions as to events at Cholula, were unwilling again to commit themselves. The emperor consequently sent fresh ambassadors laden with presents to Cortez, with assurances that he was in no way responsible for the attack upon them, and that he considered they had done well in punishing its authors.
Cortez endeavored to induce the inhabitants of the city to embrace Christianity; and would have resorted to force here, as at Cempoalla, but he was dissuaded by Father Olmedo; who, as on former occasions, urged that conversions effected by force were of little use, and that the cause would be injured, rather than benefited by such measures. Christianity would, as a matter of course, result from the success of the Spaniards; and that success would be imperiled, by exciting the animosity of the whole people by violence to their gods. As the great teocalli had been captured in fair fight, and a large portion of its buildings burnt, Cortez converted a massive stone edifice that had escaped the flames into a church, and erected a gigantic crucifix on the summit of the teocalli, visible from all points of the city.
A fortnight after his entrance to Cholula, Cortez again began to move forward. His Cempoallan allies, who had fought with great bravery against the Tlascalans, and had rendered him immense assistance upon the march, now asked to be allowed to return home; for much as they believed in the prowess of the whites, the dread of Montezuma's name was too great for them to dare trust themselves in his capital. Cortez dismissed them with many presents and, with his Tlascalan army, set forward towards the capital.
As they proceeded on their way, parties came in from various towns on the plateau with friendly messages. The enormous taxation, imposed to keep up the luxurious court of the emperor, pressed heavily upon the land; and the greater portion of the inhabitants hailed, with real satisfaction, the coming of a power that appeared likely to overthrow the Aztec tyranny. Had it not been for this widespread disaffection, the little army of Cortez would, in spite of its bravery and superior weapons, have been powerless against the vast hosts which could have been hurled against it. But the people of the empire, in general, regarded Mexico as its oppressor and tyrant, and hailed the opportunity of freeing themselves from its dominations. Cortez, except when the question of religion was concerned, was politic in the highest degree; and inspired all the natives who came to him with the full belief that, in him, they would have a kind and generous protector against Montezuma.
Warm as were the assurances of friendship sent by that monarch, the Spaniards were well aware that no confidence could be placed in them. Their new friends, indeed, informed them that he was already preparing for an attack upon the Spaniards; and that the straight and level road had been blocked up, in order that they might be forced to take their passage through the mountains, where they could be attacked and overwhelmed at points at which their cavalry and artillery would be unable to act.
On arriving, therefore, at the place where the roads had been blocked, Cortez caused the piled-up obstacles to be removed; and the army proceeded by the level road, where they felt confident in their power to defend themselves, if attacked.
Upon the march Roger sometimes kept with Juan and Pedro, at other times walked beside Malinche, who, although wholly devoted to Cortez, had yet a warm and kindly feeling for her former friend. Cortez himself often consulted Roger as to the roads and places ahead, for he always received the native descriptions with some doubt, as he could not be sure whether they were honestly given.
After passing across the plateau, the little army ascended the steep range of hills separating it from the table land of Mexico. The cold was sufficient to affect them seriously, after the heat of the plains; and the difficulties of taking up the guns and their ammunition were great. This work was principally performed by the native allies, the Spaniards holding themselves in readiness to repel any attack that might be made upon them, in the forest-clad hills or in the deep defiles; but no foes showed themselves, and they at last gained the western slopes, whence the plains of Mexico burst into sight.
The Spaniards stood astonished—as Roger had done, on his first journey—at the beauty of the prospect; but the sight of the numerous cities, telling of an immense population, filled them with uneasiness; and a clamor presently arose, that to march onward against such overwhelming odds was nothing short of madness; and that, having accomplished such vast things, they had done sufficient for honor, and should now return with the spoils they had captured to the coast.
But, as before, the enthusiasm and influence of Cortez soon reanimated their courage. He and the other leaders went among them, and by argument and entreaty persuaded them again to form their ranks and press forward; and in a short time the army wound down from the heights into the valley.