"I don't give up all hope for ourselves. The Mexicans fight like heroes, but in the end we must win, in spite of their valor. Even if we do not take the town by storm, which I don't think we ever should do, if it were provisioned, we shall take it by hunger. They must be well-nigh starving now. In another month there will not be a soul alive in the city.
"You do not think there is any chance of our making our escape?"
"Not unless wings could sprout out from our shoulders," Juan said, "and we could fly through the air. You may be sure these fellows will keep too sharp a lookout upon us to give us the shadow of a chance; besides, if we were to get out, we could not go on foot without being detected.
"You might manage, lad, with a dark night to hide your color, and with the aid of a native dress, for you can speak their tongue; but as for me, the idea is hopeless, and not to be thought of. No, no, lad, I do not delude myself. My time has come; and I shall bear it, I hope, like a man, and a Christian."
From time to time, Aztecs came in to see that the prisoners were safe. From their conversation with the guards, Roger gathered that the attack had everywhere failed, and that the Spaniards had retired to their camps.
Late in the afternoon some priests entered. Two of the prisoners were selected by them, their bonds cut, and they were taken away. Soon afterwards, the sound of the great war drum reverberated through the city.
The Spaniards in their camps started to arms, on hearing the sound; but they were not long in understanding its meaning, for from their camps they beheld a great procession winding up the principal pyramid. Alvarado's camp, which was the nearest to the city, was a short mile away from the temple; and in the clear evening air the troops could see that there were five or six white figures among them.
As usual, the victims were decorated with plumes of feathers, to do honor to their own sacrifice. They were driven along with blows and, when they reached the summit of the temple, were seized and thrown, one by one, upon their backs upon the sacrificial stone, which was convex, so as to give a curve to their bodies. The principal priest then, with a sharp stone knife, cut through the skin and flesh between two of the ribs and, plunging his hand into the orifice, dragged out the heart, which he presented to the figure of the god.
The sight, distant as it was, excited the Spaniards to the verge of madness; and if it had not been for their officers, they would have seized their weapons and rushed forward again to the attack, to avenge the murder of their comrades.
The feelings of the captives, as they heard the sound of the drums, the shouts of the natives, and once or twice caught the scream of agony of their comrades, were terrible. This was the fate that they, too, were to undergo; and men who had, a hundred times, looked death in battle in the face, shuddered and trembled at their approaching doom.
Each day two of their number were taken, and the same terrible scene was gone through. Roger was rather surprised that he himself was not one of the first selected, as his height and figure made him specially conspicuous among his comrades; but he supposed that he was being one of those reserved for some special festival. Whatever the famine might be in the city, the captives were well fed; for it was a point of honor, among the Aztecs, that all victims offered to the gods should be in good health and condition.
The guards were changed every six hours, and on the third day, in the officer over the relief, Roger recognized, to his surprise and delight, his friend Bathalda. The latter, as he entered, made a significant motion to Roger, as he caught his eye, to make no sign that he recognized him.
The Aztecs, as usual, sat down in groups, chatting. They had no fear whatever of the prisoners attempting to escape in the daytime, and it was only at night that they exercised any special vigilance in seeing that they did not attempt to unloose their bonds. Bathalda presently sauntered up into the corner in which Roger was sitting.
"How are my friends?" the latter asked, in a low voice.
"Well," Bathalda replied. "Cuitcatl explained to the young emperor the circumstances under which he came to know and assist you, and was at once restored to favor, and now commands a large body of troops here. I have not seen the princess. She is at the palace. Cuitcatl bade me tell you that they are working for you, and will rescue you before the time comes for your sacrifice; but at present the watch is too strict."
"But I may be chosen, any day," Roger said.
Bathalda shook his head.
"Cuitcatl has bribed the priests who choose the victims to leave you until the last; so you need not feel uneasiness on that score. Be patient and watchful. If any of your guard approach you and say, 'The time is at hand,' you will know that he is a friend. Act as he tells you. I dare not say more, now."
Ten days passed. Juan had gone, and Roger had been much moved at parting with him—more so, indeed, than the old soldier himself, who had kept up firmly, and was prepared to meet his fate with contempt for his enemies, in the assurance that his death would be terribly avenged.
Bathalda had not reappeared. As the number of prisoners had decreased, the guard had been diminished; and as there now only remained Roger and one other, and both were still bound, a single Aztec relieved the two who had, the night before, kept guard.
He stood, indifferently gazing through the loophole, until Roger's companion fell asleep. Then he approached him and said:
"The time is at hand. Tomorrow the other will be taken. The number will be made up from the other prisons. At night Cuitcatl will be outside. The door here will not be bolted. You will have but one man to watch you; but we know not whom he may be, and may not be able to arrange with him. If we do, he will give you the password. If not, you must deal with him. The man who will follow me is in the secret. You must unfasten your ropes while he is here, and he will aid you to do them up again, so that, while to the eye they will seem secure, they can be shaken off instantly.
"Bathalda and another will accompany you. I do not know who the other is; but I was told that you would understand."
That other Roger felt sure must be Amenche; and his heart beat hotly, at the thought that his dear princess would share his flight.
The hours passed quickly. The next day the last Spaniard was taken; and no sooner had he been forced, struggling and resisting, from the chamber; than the guard who, since he had taken up his post four hours before, had made no sign to Roger, gave the password agreed upon. The latter rose to his feet and, with the aid of the native, unfastened the cords that bound his ankles together.
For half an hour he paced up and down the chamber, to restore the circulation to his feet. Then the guard replaced the cords, but did it in such a way that, though they seemed as tight and secure as before, they would at a slight effort fall off, and leave him free.
At eight o'clock in the evening the guard was relieved. He had told Roger that he was to listen for the cry of an owl outside, twice repeated; and that upon hearing this, he would know that his friends were without. Roger listened anxiously for the password from his new guard; but as it did not come, he concluded that Cuitcatl had not been able to bribe him, and that he must himself overpower the man.
The Aztec placed himself at the loophole, and stood looking out; turning, from time to time, to see by the light of the torch, which was fixed close to where Roger was lying, that he was making no attempt to release himself from his bonds.
It was not until nearly midnight that Roger heard the expected signal. No sooner was the second call given, than he pulled the knot which kept the cords together, raised himself noiselessly to his feet, and sprang upon the Aztec. Taken by surprise, the man was no more than a child in Roger's strong grasp. In a moment he was thrown down, his cloth was twisted round his mouth, so as to prevent any cry from escaping him, and his arms were bound behind him with Roger's rope.
Roger then took his sword and javelin, and went to the door. As he had been told would be the case, the outer bolts were unfastened. Passing along a passage, he came to the outside gate. This was securely fastened, but Roger had no difficulty in scaling the roof of a building leaning against the outer wall; and on reaching this, he pulled himself up and dropped down into the street beyond.
Three persons were standing at the gate, and he at once made towards them. One ran forward with a little cry, and threw herself into his arms. The others were, as he had expected, Cuitcatl and Bathalda. The former saluted him warmly.
"Thank the gods you are free, Roger," he said. "I have a canoe close at hand for you. Bathalda will accompany you and the princess. I cannot leave. I am an Aztec, and shall fight until the last, with our brave young emperor."
"I hope, Cuitcatl, that when the resistance is over—as it must be before long, for I know from the talk of the guards that famine is among you, and that hundreds are dying daily—I hope that I may be able to aid you, as you are aiding me."
"I care not to live," Cuitcatl said. "The empire is lost."
"But there is no dishonor in that," Roger replied. "No men could defend themselves more bravely than you have done, and there is no disgrace in being vanquished by superior arms. I trust that you may live, and be happy, yet."
"Let us not stand here talking," the young cazique said. "It is not as it was before. Then you might walk through the city at midnight, without meeting with a single person. We sleep no longer now, but make nightly attacks on the Spaniards; and at any moment bodies of troops may come along."
The little party moved forward, and in a minute descended the steps. Bathalda took his place in a small canoe lying there.
"Here is a weapon which will suit you better than that sword and javelin," he said, handing him a war club, a heavy weapon, with pieces of sharp-pointed obsidian fixed in it.
Roger helped Amenche into the canoe, wrung Cuitcatl warmly by the hand, and then stepped in.
"Go," the latter exclaimed. "I can hear troops approaching."
So saying, he bounded swiftly away. Bathalda sat listening for a moment, to discover the direction from which the troops were coming. As soon as he made out the soft tread of the shoeless feet, he dipped his paddle in the water, and the boat glided noiselessly away.
It was not long before they emerged from the narrow water way on to the lake; and then the boat's head was turned in the direction in which lay the Tlacopan causeway. Presently Amenche, who had been sitting nestled close to Roger—too happy even to speak—sat up and said:
Bathalda ceased rowing.
"There is a large canoe coming up behind us," he said, listening intently. "I can hear others on the lake, beyond us."
"We had better make into the shore again," Roger said, "and let them pass us."
The canoe, however, was not very far behind; and those on board caught sight of the little craft, as she rowed in towards shore. It was unusual to see so small a boat at night. The idea that it might contain a spy occurred to them, and they shouted to them to stop.
Bathalda exerted himself to the utmost, but the canoe came rapidly up to them. As the command to stop was again disregarded, a volley of javelins was discharged.
"We cannot escape," Bathalda said. "They will be upon us, before we can land."
"Cease rowing," Roger said.
"Amenche, lie still, dear, at the bottom of the boat. I will deal with them."
Seeing that the oarsmen had stopped paddling, the volley of javelins ceased; and the canoe, which contained some twenty men, ran alongside.
As she did so, Roger sprang on board her. Three or four of the natives were struck down in an instant, with his terrible weapon. The others, as soon as they recovered from their astonishment, rose from their seats and attacked him. Their numbers were but of slight avail. Standing in the bow of the boat, and swinging his weapon round his head, Roger kept them off; beating down one, each time his weapon fell. In vain they tried to close with him. His great size, and the suddenness with which he had attacked them, acted upon their superstitious fears. They knew not what sort of being it was with whom they had to deal, and the terrible strength displayed, and the instant fate that fell on all who approached him, appalled them.
Roger soon took the offensive and, making his way along the boat, drove them back before him. At last, when more than half their number had fallen, the rest sprang overboard and swam to the shore. Roger had been wounded by three or four spear thrusts, but these had been too hastily given to penetrate very deeply.
"I am unhurt, Amenche," he said, making his way forward again, and stepping into the canoe.
There was no reply. He stooped over, as she lay quietly there.
"She has fainted," he said.
"Row on, Bathalda. You had best give me the other paddle. I can hear boats coming in this direction. No doubt they heard the yells.
"Skirt along the shore. We shall be unseen, close in; and if they approach us, can take refuge in a canal."
But they passed along unnoticed. When they caught sight of the causeway, stretching away dimly in front of them, they again rowed out into the lake and, making a long circuit to avoid the canoes attacking Xoloc, the guns of which were firing hotly, came down on the causeway again in its rear.
They were hailed as they approached, for the Spaniards were all under arms. Roger shouted that he was a friend, who had escaped from the prison; and the Spaniards, in return, gave a shout of welcome. In another two minutes, the canoe lay alongside the causeway.
Bathalda sprang on shore, and held the canoe while Roger lifted Amenche up, and stepped out. A dozen hands were held out to assist him to climb the slippery bank.
His figure was known by them all. Many exclamations of welcome greeted him, and many were the inquiries as to the other captives.
"I will tell you all about it, directly. Bring the torch a little closer. I have a lady here who has fainted. We were attacked as we came out. The fight was a sharp one, and has scared her."
A soldier brought a torch and, as he did so, Roger uttered a loud cry. Amenche's face was bloodless, and her eyes were closed. But it was not this that had caused Roger's cry. There was a dark stain on her white dress, and in its center the feathered head of an arrow. While Bathalda and Roger had escaped the missiles, with which those in the boat heralded their attack; an arrow had struck Amenche, as she turned, when Roger sprang on board.
So great was Roger's horror that he reeled, and would have fallen, had not the soldiers standing round supported him.
"I think that she has but fainted from loss of blood," Bathalda said; and Roger, refusing all assistance, carried Amenche to the fort through the ranks of the Spaniards, who were engaged hotly with their assailants in the canoes.
He bore her, at once, to the chamber occupied by Marina. She was up and dressed, for the attack was a hot one, and there was no sleep in Xoloc. She uttered a cry of welcome, and gladness, as Roger entered.
"I have escaped, Malinche," he said; "but I fear that she has died in saving me. I have brought her to you, as you are the only woman here."
Marina took the girl tenderly, and laid her on a couch.
"I will see to her," she said, softly. "Leave her to me, Roger."
As Roger, blinded with tears, left the room, an officer met him at the door, and told him that Cortez had just heard of his arrival, and desired his presence. The general received him with great kindness.
"It is something to see one of my comrades back again, Sancho," he said. "I hear how sad a misfortune has befallen you; for I suppose the lady you brought ashore was she of whom Marina spoke to me. She told me that she did not give up all hope that you might return; for that the princess whom you loved was in the city, and would, she was sure, do all that she could to save your life."
"She did so, General," Roger said; "and I fear at the cost of her own—she and a noble young cazique, who was a brother to me, when I was living at Tezcuco."
"I will not trouble you now with questions," Cortez said; "but tell me—do you know whether any of the other prisoners are alive? Every evening we have marked that terrible procession to the summit of the temple. Fifty-eight have been sacrificed, but we know not exactly how many more remain; being ignorant which of our comrades fell, and which were captured."
"I cannot tell," Roger replied. "I was the only one left, out of twenty who were in prison together. If they were taken in the same proportion from the other prisons, there can be but a few remaining now. I was set aside until the last, because the priest who had daily chosen out the victims had been bribed by my friend Cuitcatl."
Roger hastened away, as soon as Cortez dismissed him, and hurried back to Malinche's apartment. Her Mexican attendant, who was standing outside the door, opened it when she saw him approaching; and as she came up Malinche stole out, with her finger on her lips.
"We have taken out the arrow," she said. "She is still insensible; but the leech thinks that it is from loss of blood, and hopes that no vital point has been injured. More than that he cannot say, at present.
"You had best have your own wounds attended to, now. I will have a pile of rugs laid for you, in this little room to the left; and will let you know if any change takes place."
"Do you think that there is any hope, Malinche?"
Malinche shook her head.
"I know not, Roger. I have already sent off to the mainland, to fetch a leech famous for his skill in the use of herbs. Our people have many simples of which you know nothing in Europe, and they are very skillful in the treatment of wounds—much more so, I think, than the white men."
Chapter 22: Home.
After having had his wounds dressed, Roger threw himself down upon the bed that had been prepared for him, and lay tossing for hours. Hitherto he had believed, and had often reproached himself for it, that he had not loved Amenche as she had loved him. She had loved him with the passion and devotion of the people of her race, and it was no figure of speech when she said that she was ready to give her life for him.
Roger knew that, until lately, his love had been poor by the side of hers. From the time he had sailed from England, to his first meeting with her, he had pictured to himself that some day, when he came to command a ship of his own, he would marry his cousin, if she had borne him in mind since he parted with her on Plymouth Hoe. This dream had faded away, from the time he had first met Amenche; and when Cacama had proposed the marriage to him, he had accepted the offer gladly. His chance of ever leaving the country, at that time, seemed slight; and he felt sure that he should be happy with Amenche. Since that time, the girl's frank expression of her love for him, her tender devotion, and her willingness to sacrifice country, and people, and all, to throw in her lot with him, had greatly heightened the feeling he had towards her; and he had come to love her truly; but still, perhaps, rather with the calm earnest affection of a brother, than the passionate devotion of a lover.
But now he knew that she had his whole heart. If she died, it seemed of little consequence to him what became of his life. It was for his sake that she had risked everything, had left all—friends and home and country—and he felt that he would gladly die with her.
Morning was breaking before Malinche came into his room.
"She is sensible," she said, "and my countryman, who is with her, thinks that she will live."
The relief was so great that Roger burst into tears.
"Come with me," Malinche said, taking his hand. "We do not think she knows what has happened, but she looks anxiously about the room. She is very, very weak; but the leech thinks that if she sees you, and knows that you are safe and well, it will rouse her and put her in the way of recovery. You must not talk to her, or excite her in any way."
Roger followed Malinche into her room. Amenche was lying, without a vestige of color on her face, and with her eyes closed and her breathing so faint that Roger, as he looked at her, thought that she was dead.
"Take her hand and kneel down beside her," Malinche whispered.
Roger took the girl's hand. As he did so, a slight tremor ran through her, as if she recognized his touch. Then her eyes opened.
"Amenche, my darling, do you know me?" Roger said, as he stooped his face close to hers.
Her face brightened suddenly, and a look of intense happiness came into her eyes.
"O Roger!" she whispered; "I dreamed that they had killed you."
"I am safe and well, as you see," he said. "They have hurt you, darling; but you will get better, and we shall be happy together. You must not talk, but I may stay by you, if you will keep quiet.
"Drink this first," and he handed to her a cup that the Mexican doctor held out to him; and placing his arm under Amenche's head, raised it and poured the liquid between her lips.
Then he laid her head down again on the pillow and, kneeling beside her, held her hand in his.
She lay looking up into his face, with an expression of quiet happiness, occasionally murmuring, "Dear Roger."
Presently her eyelids drooped, and in a few minutes her regular breathing showed that she was asleep.
The Mexican doctor placed another cup of medicine within Roger's reach, and murmured in his ear, "I think that she will do now. Give her this when she awakes. I shall be within call, if I am wanted."
Amenche slept for some hours, and Roger, overcome by want of sleep, and from the anxiety through which he had passed, dropped off many times into short dozes.
He woke from one of these at a slight movement of Amenche's hand, and opened his eyes at the moment that she was opening hers.
"What has happened, Roger? And where am I?" she asked, in wonder.
"First drink this medicine, and then I will tell you," he said. "You remember, dear, we were in the boat together, and we were attacked. An arrow struck you, but I knew nothing about it until I had reached the causeway, and found you senseless, and brought you here to Malinche's room; and she and one of the doctors of your country dressed your wound, and now you have been sleeping quietly for some hours."
"Oh yes," she said, "I remember now. I was struck with an arrow. It was a sharp pain, but I did not cry out; for you had need of all your strength and vigor. I lay there quietly, and heard the din of fighting; and at last, when I knew that you had conquered, I felt a faintness stealing over me, and thought that I was dying; and then I remember nothing more, only it seemed that, in my dreams, you came to me and knelt by the side of me and kissed me; and now I know that that part is true, and I have been having such happy dreams, ever since.
"But why should I lie here? Cannot I get up?"
"No, dear. You are weak from loss of blood, and quiet is necessary. Lie here a minute. I will fetch the leech in, to see how you are."
The Mexican was sleeping on some mats outside the door. He at once came in and, after examining Amenche, pronounced her decidedly better. Malinche, who had given orders that she was to be informed as soon as the princess was awake, came in a minute or two; and a consultation was held, when it was decided that Amenche should at once be taken from the fort, which was crowded with soldiers, as well as exposed to the din and turmoil of the night attacks.
Malinche went out and soon returned, saying that she had spoken to one of the Tezcucan caziques in alliance with the Spaniards. He had at once offered to receive Amenche at his palace, which was situate but three miles from the end of the causeway.
"I cannot leave Roger again," the princess said, when she understood what was proposed.
"There is no thought of your leaving him," Malinche said, kindly. "Roger is to accompany you. He needs rest and peace almost as much as you do. Besides, he has been seriously wounded, though he makes light of it.
"The cazique has sent off a messenger for a party of his people to meet you. A boat will be in readiness to take you across the lake, at sunset. You will be carried in litters from the landing place to his palace."
This programme was carried out and, by nine o'clock that evening, Roger and Amenche were both settled in luxurious apartments in the cazique's palace.
Cortez, now recovered from his wounds, prepared for a fresh advance; which was this time to be conducted in a different manner. Against so stubborn and active a foe the advance must be irresistible, steady, and continued. In future, no step backward was to be taken. Every breach, every canal, was to be filled up so firmly and solidly that it could never again be disturbed; and for this purpose every building—whether a private house, temple, or palace—was to be demolished. It was with the greatest reluctance that Cortez arrived at this determination. He would fain have saved the city intact, as the most glorious trophy of his success; but his experience showed him that with every house a fortress, every street cut up by canals, it was hopeless to expect to conquer it.
The Indian allies heard his intention with the greatest satisfaction, for there was ever in their mind the dread that, should the white men depart, the Aztecs would take a terrible revenge upon their rebellious subjects. Enormous numbers of men were assembled, and provided with implements for the work. This was steadily carried out, until the whole of the suburbs were leveled, and a wide space round the city left open for the maneuvers of the cavalry and the play of the artillery.
Before making the last attack, Cortez tried once more to persuade the emperor to yield; and sent three Aztec nobles, who had been captured in one of the late fights, to bear a message to him. He told Guatimozin that he and his people had done all that brave men could, and that there remained no hope, no chance, of escape. Their provisions were exhausted. Their communications cut off. Their vassals had deserted them, and the nations of Anahuac were banded against them. He prayed him, therefore, to have compassion on his brave subjects, who were daily perishing before his eyes, and on the fair city now fast crumbling into ruins. He begged him to acknowledge his allegiance to the sovereign of Spain; in which case he should be confirmed in his authority, and the persons, the property, and all the rights of the Aztecs should be respected.
The young monarch would have instantly refused the terms, but he called a council to deliberate upon them. Many would have accepted them, but the priests threw all their influence in the scale against it; reminding the king of the fate of Montezuma, after all his hospitality to the Whites, of the seizure and imprisonment of Cacama, of the massacre of the nobles, of the profanation of the temple, and of the insatiable greed that had stripped the country of its treasures.
The answer to the Spaniards was given in the form of a tremendous sortie along each causeway; but the guns of the Spanish batteries and ships drove the assailants back, and the operations of destruction went on. Day by day the army of workers leveled the houses and filled the canals, although the Mexicans made incessant attacks upon the troops who covered the workmen. For several weeks the work continued, while the wretched inhabitants were fast wasting away with hunger. All the food stored up had long since been consumed, and the population reduced to feed on roots dug up in the gardens, on the bark of trees, leaves, and grass, and on such rats, mice, and lizards as they could capture.
The houses, as the besiegers advanced, were found to be full of dead; while in some lay men, women, and children in the last stage of famine. And yet, weakened and suffering as they were, the Aztecs maintained their resolution, rejecting every overture of Cortez.
At last the division of Alvarado cleared its way into the great square, and a party, mounting the great temple where so many of their comrades had been massacred, defeated the Aztecs who guarded the position, slaughtered the priests, and set fire to the sanctuary; and the next day the division of Cortez won their way to the same spot, and joined that of Alvarado.
Seven-eighths of the city was now destroyed; and with the exception of the king's palace and a few temples, all the buildings that had, when they first saw it, so excited the admiration of the Spaniards, and had made the city one of the loveliest in the world, had been leveled.
In the portion that remained the whole of the Aztec population were crowded. Their number was still vast, for before the siege began the people from many of the surrounding cities had flocked into the capital. Pestilence was aiding famine in its work; and the Spanish writers say that "as the troops advanced, the bodies lay so thick that it was impossible to walk without treading on them."
Again and again Cortez endeavored to negotiate with the emperor. Although so reduced by weakness that they could scarce keep their feet, the Aztecs maintained their defiant attitude, and the advance of the allies recommenced. The Aztecs fought as bravely as ever; but they were so weakened that their missiles were no longer dangerous, and their arms could scarce lift their weapons.
It was a dreadful carnage. The confederates, panting with hatred of the race that had subdued and so long humiliated them, showed no pity; and even when Cortez ordered that quarter should be shown to all who asked it, the allies refused to be checked, and the work of slaughter went on until the Spanish trumpets sounded a retreat.
During that day, alone, it was calculated that forty thousand persons had fallen. That night a mournful stillness reigned over the city. In silent despair, and yet with no thought of surrender, the Aztecs awaited their fate.
The next morning, August 15th, 1521, the troops were formed up again; but before ordering the advance Cortez obtained an interview with some of the principal chiefs, and persuaded them to see the emperor, and try to induce him to surrender; but the answer came that Guatimozin was ready to die where he was, and would hold no parley with the Spanish commander. Cortez still postponed the assault for several hours.
Then, finding delay unavailing, he reluctantly gave the order for the attack to recommence. As upon the previous day it was a mere slaughter. Many of the Aztecs sought to fly in canoes, but these were cut off by the fleet.
Presently, however, while the butchery was still going on, the welcome news was brought that Guatimozin himself had been captured by one of the vessels. With him was his wife, the beautiful Princess Tecuichpo, a daughter of Montezuma; and twenty nobles of high rank. The news of his capture spread rapidly through the fleet and city, and the feeble resistance the Aztecs still offered ceased at once.
Guatimozin was brought before Cortez, and behaved with a dignity and calmness that excited the admiration and respect of the general and his followers. The next morning, at the emperor's request, Cortez gave permission for all the survivors of the siege to leave the town; and issued strict orders, both to the Spaniards and their savage allies, that no insult or injury should be offered to them. For three days sad processions of men, women, and children—worn out with fatigue, wasted with fever and hunger, and in many cases scarred with wounds—made their way along the causeways. The number of men, alone, was variously estimated at from thirty to seventy thousand.
The losses during the siege were also placed at varying figures by contemporary writers. The lowest estimate was one hundred and twenty thousand, while some writers place it at double that amount. The higher figures probably approximate most nearly to the truth, for the population of the city, in itself very large, was enormously swelled by the vast number of persons from all the surrounding cities, who took refuge there at the approach of the Spaniards.
The Spanish loss was comparatively small, the larger portion of it being incurred upon the day of the destruction of Alderete's column. The loss of the allies, however, was very large; as they were not provided, as were the Spaniards, with armor which defied the missiles of the enemy. Of the Tezcucans, alone, it is said that thirty thousand perished.
The amount of booty taken in the city was comparatively small, and the army was bitterly disappointed at the poor reward which it reaped for its labors and sacrifices. There can be no doubt that the Aztec treasures were removed and buried, before the approach of the Spaniards to the city. Indeed, during the siege the Aztecs constantly taunted them with shouts that, even if they ever took the city, they would find no gold there to reward their efforts.
The defense of the city of Mexico has been frequently likened to that of Jerusalem against Titus. In each case a vast population, ignorant of the arts of war, resisted with heroic constancy the efforts of a civilized enemy, and succumbed to hunger and disease rather than to the foe.
The fate of the Aztecs befell them because, while a conquering people, they had enslaved and tyrannized over the nations they subdued; extending to them no rights or privileges, but using them simply as means of supplying the pomp and luxury of the capital, and of providing men for its wars. Even the cities of the valley, the near neighbors of Mexico, were kept in a galling state of dependence; and the result was that the whole of the Aztec Empire broke up at once, and fell upon its oppressors as soon as the coming of the Spaniards afforded them the opportunity for retaliation and revenge. Had it not been for this, it would have needed a force many times as numerous as that of Cortez to conquer an empire so extensive and populous, and composed of peoples so brave and fearless of death.
Terrible as the destruction of life was, in the capture of Mexico, the Spaniards were not open to blame for it; except in the massacre of the nobles, for which conduct Cortez was in no way responsible. The war was not conducted with the cruelty that too often distinguished the warfare of the Spaniards. Cortez had certainly no desire to destroy the beautiful capital of the country he had conquered for Spain. The prisoners taken during the siege, and the people who came out and surrendered, were always treated with kindness, even when the Spaniards were maddened by the sight of the daily sacrifices of their countrymen by the Aztecs. Again and again, during the siege, Cortez endeavored to induce the enemy to come to terms; and after the fighting was over, the whole of the survivors were permitted to depart unharmed.
A fortnight after the fall of Mexico, Amenche and Roger were both convalescent. Amenche's wound had, after the first day, caused but little anxiety. She had fainted from loss of blood, and from the effects of the long strain which she had undergone, from the time that she had heard that Roger was a captive in the hands of the Mexicans, and destined for sacrifice at the temple. Under the influence, then, of happiness; and of the care and attention she received; she was, in two or three days, well enough to get up and go into the adjoining room, and sit by the couch of Roger; who was prostrated by fever, the result of imprisonment, anxiety, and his wounds. For a time his life was in danger; but after the crisis had passed, he too recovered rapidly.
Malinche came several times to see them, and a warm affection sprang up between her and Amenche.
"What do you mean to do, Roger?" she asked him one day, when she found him alone.
"I mean to marry Amenche, at once," he said; "and to go back to Europe, if possible, without delay."
"I have managed that for you," Malinche said. "I spoke to Cortez yesterday. The city cannot resist many days longer, and after that we hope that there will be no more fighting. At any rate, I told him that you were so shaken from what you had gone through, it would be a long time before you would be fit to carry arms again; and that you desired greatly to go to Europe, for a time; and he has consented that you shall go down to the coast with the first convoy of wounded, as soon as the city falls. Of course, he has given consent for your marriage with Amenche; and said, when I asked him, that she had fairly won you. He says that, if you return hither, he will give to Amenche a wide portion of her brother's dominions. I did not tell him that it was little likely he would ever see you out here, again."
During the next fortnight, Roger instructed Amenche in the outlines of the Christian faith and, the day before the convoy was to start, three weeks after the fall of Mexico, Father Olmedo received her into the Church, and the marriage ceremony took place. It was attended by Cortez and most of his leaders, and by many of the native nobles.
Among them, Roger was glad to meet Cuitcatl. He was one of the party who had been captured with the emperor; and had been at once released, by Cortez, when the latter was informed by Malinche that he had befriended and released Roger. That evening, the two friends had a long talk together.
"You will be happy," Cuitcatl said, "and will come, in time, in your home in your own country, to look back at this terrible time as a troubled dream. I do not mourn for Cacama or Maclutha. They are fortunate in escaping the troubles that yet remain, for my unhappy country; for I well foresee that the Spaniards will gradually subdue those who have served them so well in their campaign against us. Their allies will in time become their subjects, until the whole empire of the Aztecs will lie prostrate at their feet.
"But whatever happens, I shall take no further part in it. I have fought by the side of the Aztecs against my own countrymen. I have done my best to save our nation from falling under the dominion of the Spaniards. I shall retire now to my estates, and devote myself to them. Cortez has given me a paper, signed by him, saying that I, although fighting against him, saved the life of a Spanish prisoner, who was the only one of those captured who escaped being sacrificed; and that, therefore, he orders all Spaniards to treat me with kindness and consideration, and confirms to me and my heirs, to all time, the possession of my estates free from all takes or imposts whatever. Malinche obtained this document from him, and has induced the treasurer and chamberlain, also, to affix their seals to it; and she says that it will be undoubtedly respected.
"As you know, Roger, I should long ago have married my cousin, who was one of Maclutha's ladies in waiting; but we deferred it until these troubles should be over. I have been to Tezcuco today, and we shall be married at the end of the week; so that I have every hope of leading a quiet and happy life, and think that, in the end, these troubles will tend to the happiness of the people of the country. As a Tezcucan, I can acknowledge that the Aztec tyranny was a heavy one, that the people were sorely oppressed. The wholesale sacrifices at the temples, now abolished forever, were the cause of constant wars; and I think that when the Spaniards once overcome all resistance, and establish a firm and stable government, the people will be happier than they ever could have been under the Aztec rule.
"What has become of Bathalda?"
"He accompanied us here, and then went off to your estates; saying that he should collect a few of his friends and occupy your house, to see that none took advantage of the troubles to plunder it. I recommend him to your care, Cuitcatl."
"There is no occasion to do that, Roger. He has been a faithful servant and friend, and shall in future be my right hand."
The next morning Malinche came to say farewell to them.
"How much has taken place, in the last four years, Roger!" she said. "Then, I was a slave girl. You were a captive in a strange country. What scenes we have passed through since then!
"I am sorry, indeed, that you are going, Roger," and the tears came into her eyes; "you were my first friend, and I have loved you ever since, as a brother. I shall miss you sorely, indeed. However, I know that you and Amenche will be happy together.
"Princess, I have something of yours," and she held up a heavy girdle.
Amenche gave a cry of joy.
"I missed it," she said, "but I thought that it must have fallen off in the boat, or as Roger carried me thence to the castle.
"See, Roger," she said, holding it out to them, "this is my dowry. I told you I should not come to you a penniless bride, but I have thought lately that I was mistaken. Maclutha, when she died, gave me all the jewels we carried away from the treasure room at Tezcuco. I selected all the most valuable ones, and sewed them into this broad girdle, which I put on under my things on the night when you escaped. Its loss has grieved me, though you have said that the two little bags you have, already, would suffice to make you rich. Still, they were Maclutha's, and I wanted to give you mine; but I could not think what had become of the belt."
"I found it on you, Amenche, when we loosened your robe to examine your wound; and put it by to give to you or Roger, whichever might recover; and now I am glad to hand it over, as your joint property. I have already returned Roger his own two little bags, that he had given me to take care of.
"And now, farewell to you both. You will think of me, sometimes, in your distant home in England?"
And Malinche, bursting into tears, hurried away.
The journey to the coast was an easy one, as the sick were all transported on litters, carried by native porters. The bracing air of the high land did much to restore the strength of the sick men, who had been suffering much from the terrible heat of the valley. The officer in command of the convoy halted them for a week on the Tlascalan plateau, in order that they might get the full benefit of the cool air; and by the time they reached the coast, and were carried on board ship, Roger felt his strength fast returning.
A comfortable cabin was assigned to him and Amenche, as Cortez had, at Malinche's request, written a letter specially commending them to the care of the officer in command of the ship. The voyage to Spain was a long one and, before the vessel arrived at Cadiz, Roger and Amenche were completely restored to health and strength.
Roger's success, indeed, had been beyond his wildest hopes. The two bags of jewels, and those which Amenche had brought away with her, would suffice to make him a very rich man. He had, too, an assortment of the finest Mexican stuffs, which Malinche had given him as a special present for his friends at home; and he had a bar of gold, of the value of a thousand pounds, which was his share (as one of Cortez's bodyguard) of the gold found at the capture of the capital.
He had learned, from a vessel which was spoken as they neared Spain, that England and Spain were in alliance against France; and he had no doubt, therefore, that he should find English ships at Cadiz. His heart was gladdened, as the vessel entered the port, by seeing the English flag flying on several vessels in harbor.
As soon as Roger and his companions landed, they were surrounded by an eager crowd, all anxious to learn more of the capture of Mexico; of which a swift vessel, sent off as soon as the city fell, had brought news six weeks earlier; and Roger had to tell the story of the siege a dozen times over.
As soon as he could get free from the crowd, he went to a money changer's, and obtained Spanish gold in exchange for his bar. Then he purchased, at a clothier's, a suit of garments of Spanish fashion and, putting these on, was able to move about without attracting observation.
Amenche did not disembark until after nightfall, but Roger's first care after landing was to purchase a chestful of garments, fit for a Spanish lady of rank, and to send them out to the vessel. Having sent these off, he made his way down to the port and, inquiring among the sailors, found that an English ship would sail on the following day.
Hiring a boat, he went on board. He determined to maintain his character as a Spaniard to the last, as he would thereby avoid all questions; and it was, accordingly, in that language that he arranged for a passage for himself and his wife, the captain taking him for a Spanish gentleman having business with the Court in London.
Having settled this, Roger returned on board and, late in the evening, was rowed with Amenche to the English ship, which was to sail early the next morning. The wind was favorable, and the ship made a quick passage. The captain and sailors amused Roger by their comments on his appearance. Never, they agreed, had they seen a Spaniard of such size and strength before.
"He stands six feet three, if he is an inch," an old sailor said, "and he is as broad as any man I ever saw. He is never a bit like a Spaniard in appearance, with his blue eyes and light brown hair. If you were to put him in good English broadcloth, and teach him to talk like a Christian, no one would dream he was other than an Englishman. The Spaniards generally have solemn faces, but this chap looks as if he could laugh and joke with the best of us. One could almost swear that he understood what I am saying, now."
Roger was several times tempted to say that he did understand, but he kept his counsel.
As soon as they landed, near London Bridge, they went to an inn; and when the sailors who had carried his trunk for him had left, he addressed the landlord in English.
"Can you direct me to a clothier, where I can obtain suitable clothes?" he said. "I have been staying in Spain and, having been wrecked and lost all my outfit, had to rig myself in Spanish fashion. I also wish to purchase clothing of English fashion for my wife."
"I thought you were an Englishman, by your looks," the landlord said; "though the fashion of your clothes was altogether foreign, and you speak, too, with a strange accent."
For indeed, Roger found the English words come with difficulty; after having, for nearly six years, spoken nothing but Mexican and Spanish.
"I have been some time away," he said; "and have been talking with the Spaniards until I have well-nigh forgotten my own tongue."
Two hours later, he was attired in the fashion of a well-to-do merchant; and Amenche made, as he told her, the prettiest wife merchant ever had. They stayed for a week in London, Amenche being greatly amused and interested in all she saw. At the end of that time, having purchased a stout horse, and a sword to defend himself against any robbers he might meet with on the way, Roger started to ride down to Plymouth, with Amenche behind him on a pillion.
Six days after leaving London they entered the town, and Roger, having seen Amenche comfortably bestowed at the principal inn, took his way to the house of Master Diggory Beggs. The latter was in his shop, and came forward, bowing, as Roger entered it.
"What can I do for you today, good sir?" he said. "I have goods of all sorts and kinds: Italian work and Spanish; silks, and satins, and velvets."
"I would have a talk with you alone, Master Beggs. I am the bearer of a message from an old friend of yours. If you will grant me a few minutes' talk, we may do business together."
"By all means," the merchant said, thinking that such an introduction offered some important transactions. "Will you be good enough to follow me?" and he led the way upstairs.
Dame Mercy was sitting at work with her youngest daughter when they entered the room, Diggory saying:
"Please to leave, Dame. This gentleman and I have business of importance to discuss together."
"There is no occasion for you to leave us," Roger said. "My business is not so private but that you and Mistress Agnes may hear us."
"You know my daughter's name!" Dame Beggs exclaimed, in surprise.
"The gentleman comes with a message from an old friend of ours," Diggory said; "and has doubtless heard him mention our daughter's name."
"And Dorothy," Roger asked; "she is well, I hope."
"My eldest daughter was married, three months since," Dame Mercy replied.
Roger gave an exclamation of satisfaction.
"And so none of you know me?" he asked. "And yet, you are but little changed; except that Mistress Agnes has grown into a young woman, whereas she was but a child when I parted from her."
Diggory Beggs and his wife gazed at Roger in astonishment. Agnes stood up, with her hands tightly clasped together.
"It is Roger," she cried. "Oh, mother! It is Roger, come back to us."
"I am Roger, sure enough, aunt," he said, stooping and kissing her; and then shaking hands with his uncle, and kissing Agnes.
"And your father," Diggory asked, "and the Swan?"
"It is a sad story," Roger said. "A very sad story, uncle. Six years ago, the Swan was wrecked on the coast of Tabasco; and every soul, save myself, lost."
It was a blow for Diggory Beggs. He had, indeed, long since given up all hope of ever seeing his cousin Reuben, or of obtaining any return for the capital he had embarked on the Swan; but the sight of Roger had, for a moment, raised his hopes that the venture had, after all, been productive. However, he speedily recovered himself.
"I am grieved to hear it, Roger, though in no ways surprised. For two years we looked for your return; but we have all, long since, given up hope, and written off our shares in the Swan as lost money. I am sorry for Reuben, very sorry, for I loved him like a brother.
"Well, well, do not let us talk about it, now. You are restored to us, safe and sound; and though the loss was a heavy one, and crippled me for a time, I have got over it.
"Now, tell us what have you been doing, ever since. And by what miracle have you returned, safe and sound?"
"It is a long story, uncle. A very long story. But before I begin it, I may tell you that, though the ship and its venture were lost, I myself have returned by no means penniless; and can, indeed, repay to the full all the money expended upon the Swan and her outfit.
"Now I want you all to come round with me to the inn, for there I have left a lady whom I would fain introduce to you."
"Your wife?" Mistress Mercy cried. "You don't say you have brought home a wife, Roger?"
"That do I, aunt. She is a princess, in her own country; but what is much better, she is the dearest of women, and all but gave her life to save mine."
Mistress Mercy looked grave, and was about to speak, when Roger interrupted her.
"I know what you are about to say, aunt. The thought of having a foreign woman for your niece is shocking to you. Never mind, leave it unsaid, until you have seen her.
"But as we go, let us call in and see Dorothy, and take her on with us. I should wish her to be one of the first to welcome my wife."
Dorothy was as astonished as the others had been, when they arrived at her house with Roger; and cast a meaning glance at him, when she heard that he had brought home a wife.
"I know what you are thinking of, Dorothy—our parting on the hoe."
"I meant it when I said it, Dorothy, and meant it for a good time afterwards. It was only when it seemed that I should never come back again that I fell in love with some one else; and when you have heard my story, and know what she did for me, and how much I owe her, and come to love her for herself, you won't blame me."
"I don't blame you one bit, Roger," she said, frankly. "When you went away, we thought we cared for each other; but of course we were only boy and girl then, and when I grew up and you did not come home, and it seemed that you never would come home, as you say, I fell in love with someone else.
"And now I will put on my hood, and come round and see your wife. What is her name?"
"Her name is Amenche," Roger said; "and Amenche I mean to call her. When she was christened—for of course she had to be christened before we were married—Father Olmedo said she must have a Christian name, and christened her Caterina; but for all that her name is Amenche, and we mean to stick to it.
"But come along; she has been an hour alone in this strange place, already, and must begin to think that I have run away from her."
Dorothy and Agnes were at once won by the soft beauty of the dark-skinned princess; and when, that evening, Roger told the story of all that had taken place in Mexico, Dame Mercy's last prejudice vanished, and she took Amenche in her arms and kissed her tenderly.
"My dear," she said, "Roger has always been as a son to me, and henceforth you will be as one of my daughters."
As to Diggory, his delight and satisfaction were almost too great for words. He was overjoyed that Roger had returned, vastly gratified that the money he expended on the Swan was to be repaid, and greatly captivated by Amenche.
The princess could speak but a few words of English, for Roger had been afraid to commence her tuition in that language until they were safely in England: but she was greatly pleased with the welcome she received; and began, for the first time, to feel that someday she might come to regard this strange country as home.
There was a long talk, between Roger and his uncle, as to the steps that should be taken. It was agreed that, now Spain and England were so closely allied, it would be imprudent in the extreme to allow it to become known that the Swan had sailed for the Western Indies, or that Roger had obtained wealth there; for if it came to the ears of the Court—and such strange news would travel fast—it might well be that a ruinous fine might be imposed upon all concerned in the matter. Therefore, it was arranged that nothing whatever should be said about it; but that it should be given out that the Swan had been wrecked in foreign parts; and that Roger, who had been sole survivor of the wreck, had settled abroad and made money there, and had married a foreign lady.
More than that, it would be unnecessary to tell. The gems could be sent over, a few at a time, to Amsterdam; and there sold to merchants who would care nothing whence they came; and the partners of Diggory Beggs, in the venture of the Swan, would be only too glad to receive their money back again, and to ask no questions as to how it had been obtained. And so matters were carried out.
For some months, Roger remained in nominal partnership with his uncle; and then bought a large estate, a few miles out of the town, where he set up as a country gentleman. He was, for a time, somewhat shyly looked upon by the magistrates of the county, who deemed it an unheard-of thing for a Plymouth merchant thus to settle among them; but in time he was accepted, especially after it became known that, when he went up to town, he held his place among the highest there, and kept a state and expenditure equal to that of many of the nobles.
His wife was remarkable, not only for her beauty, but for the richness of her jewels, many of which were fashioned in a way such as had never before been seen at the English Court. As time went on, and the relations between England and Spain grew cold, there was no longer any occasion for secrecy; and little by little it became known that the Swan had sailed to the Spanish main, that Roger had formed one of the conquering band of Cortez, and that Amenche was not a Spaniard but an Aztec Princess. This caused a great talk at the time, and added much to the consideration in which Roger was held. He took a leading position in the country and, many years after, fitted out two ships at his own cost to fight against the Spanish Armada.
Happily, Amenche's health never suffered from the change to the comparatively cold climate of Devonshire. She bore Roger several children, and to this day many of the first families in Devonshire are proud that there runs in their veins the blood of the Aztec princess.