In the green land of the valley the Spaniards were met by another embassy from Montezuma. The envoys had expected to meet the strangers on the farther side of the mountains, and were astonished at the ease with which they had surmounted that formidable barrier. They had been sent to offer Cortes bribes and a yearly tribute for his king if he would even now turn back. When Montezuma had received the news that the Spaniards were actually in the valley and marching towards the capital, he retired to sacrifice and prayer alone. The gods were dumb, no good omen answered his supplication. " We are born, let that come which must come ! " cried the unhappy man at last.
The Mexica Triple Alliance (Nahuatl: Excan Tlahtoloyan or Aztec Empire began as an alliance of three Nahua city-states or "altepetl": Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. These city-states ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until they were defeated by the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernán Cortés in 1521.
The Triple Alliance was formed from the victorious faction in a war between the city of Azcapotzalco and its former tributary provinces.Despite the initial conception of the empire as an alliance of three cities, Tenochtitlan quickly established itself as the dominant partner. By the time the Spanish arrived in 1520, the lands of the Alliance were effectively ruled from Tenochtitlan, and the other partners in the alliance had assumed subsidiary roles. The alliance waged wars of conquest and expanded rapidly after its formation.
At its height, the alliance controlled most of central Mexico as well as some more distant territories within Mesoamerica. Aztec rule has been described by scholars as "hegemonic" or "indirect". Rulers of conquered cities were usually left in power as long as they agreed to pay semi-annual tribute to the alliance or provided military support in wars with enemy states.
Even from his council he received no help ; opinion was divided, some were for amicably receiving the strangers, others, and among these his brother Cuitlahuac, would drive them from the land. Hopeless himself, Montezuma inclined to the peaceful party, exclaiming, " Of what avail is resistance, when the gods have declared themselves against us ! " He determined to send his nephew Cacama, the lord of Tezcuco, with other nobles, to welcome the invaders.
chinampas - Aztec floating gardens
The prince with his retinue found the Spaniards at Chalco, the most southerly of the five lakes. Corte's was much impressed with the dignity of Cacama's bearing and by the courtesy of his greetings. When the imposing cortege had retired, the army followed the southern shore of the lake until a great dyke was reached leading across to the narrow peninsula which separates the fresh waters of Chalco from briny Tezcuco. This stone roadway with its evidence of engineering skill excited the admiration of the Europeans, while they were charmed with the gay scene around them. The waters were bright with chinampas, the floating gardens so beloved by the Mexicans ; myriads of canoes darted to and fro. " And when," says Bernal Diaz, " we saw from thence so many cities rising up from the water, and other populous places on the terra Jirma, and that causeway straight as a carpenter's level, we remained astonished, and said to one another that it appeared like the enchanted castles they tell of in the book of Amadis ! Some even of our soldiers asked if this that they saw was not a thing in a dream . "
The worlds of Cortes and Montezuma collide and come to life.
Near the shores of Lake Tezcuco lay Iztapalapan, the wonderful City of Gardens, where Montezuma had prepared a royal reception for his guests. The palace, which belonged to Cuitlahuac, was most magnificent, and here the Spaniards were entertained. The ceilings were of sweet-smelling cedar wood, and the walls were hung with tapestry of fine cotton. But the gardens, unrivalled in Europe, were the glory of the place. They occupied a large tract of land and were watered by means of aqueducts and canals. The grounds were laid out in regular squares, and numerous paths trellised with roses, honeysuckle, and brilliant creepers ran in every direction. Flower beds, scientifically arranged, astonished the rough soldiers. In the orchards were rare fruit-trees brought from distant lands. An aviary and a great reservoir of sculptured stone full of curious fishes attracted the attention of all. " I thought within myself," says Bernal Diaz, " that this was the garden of the world."
Montezuma and the Coming of Cortés
The Great city of Tenochtitlan, 1945 Diego Riveria
At sunrise next morning the Spaniards marched on to the great causeway which led across the salt lake to the city of Mexico. It was the eighth of November, a day glorious in the annals of Spain. Each soldier looked grave and anxious ; he was leaving the open country behind and committing himself to the very citadel of the enemy. Cortes, ever alive to the spirit of his men, ordered the trumpeters and drummers to play, and it was to the strains of a triumphant march that the Spaniards went forward. In the van rode the cavalry, horseman and horse alike glittering in steel mail. At their saddle-bows hung heavy battle axes. In his right hand each cavalier carried a lance which rested on his iron shoe, and from the lance a silken pennon waved. Plumed helmets and gay scarves gave colour to the cavalcade. Foremost rode Cortes with his two
City of Tenochtitlan
favourite captains on either side, Alvarado, dauntless in bearing and splendid in dress, and modest young Sandoval, in whom "courage was combined with judgment." Father Olmedo, bareheaded and dressed in rough black serge, followed the horsemen on his mule. Then came in order a chosen guard with the flag of Spain, the artillery drawn by slaves, the infantry, cross-bowmen, gunners, and the tanners with the baggage.
With insolent pride marched in the rear the two thousand Tlascalans, who were to enter for the first time the city of their ancient foes . About a mile and a half from the walls, at a point where a smaller dyke branched off to the western shore, the causeway was barred by the famous stone fort of Xoloc, twelve feet high with towers at either end. A mighty gate swung open for the army to pass through, and, as it clanged heavily behind, each Spaniard breathed a prayer to his guardian saint. They were but four hundred in number, and they were entering an island city of over three hundred thousand inhabitants from which retreat would be wellnigh impossible. "And now let who can tell me," boasts Bernal Diaz with pardonable pride, "where are the men in this world to be found except ourselves who would have hazarded such an attempt ? " As the Spaniards crossed the wooden drawbridge which joined the causeway to the city they beheld, slowly approaching, a procession so magnificent that an awestruck whisper passed through their ranks " It is the emperor ! the great Montezuma himself ! "
by Hernan Cortes
written over a seven-year period to Charles V of Spain, provide an extraordinary narrative account of the conquest of Mexico from the founding of the coastal town of Veracruz until Cortés's journey to Honduras in 1525
Three ushers with golden wands walked in advance to clear the way. Then barefooted and bareheaded came princes of the blood carrying on their proud shoulders the royal palanquin glittering with gold and surmounted by a canopy of green feathers sprinkled with precious stones. Behind, with reverent mien and downcast eyes walked an escort of nobles richly dressed in green and silver. The procession halted, and a carpet of white cloth was spread on the ground. Then leaning on the arms of Cuitlahuac, his brother, and the lord of Tezcuco, his nephew, the emperor descended from his palanquin and advanced on foot to meet his guests. His cloak and tunic were embroidered with jewels, and the dark-green feathers which floated from his headdress were powdered with emeralds and pearls. The very soles of his sandals were of pure gold, and the leather thongs were rimmed with gems. He was tall and thin, with regular features, pale complexion, and scanty black beard, and his manner as he greeted the Spanish general was dignified and kingly. Corte's presented Montezuma with a chain of coloured crystals, and advanced to embrace him, but Cuitlahuac, with a look of horror, flung back the outstretched arm of the impious stranger who presumed to touch the sacred person of the emperor.
Greetings exchanged, Montezuma, leaving his nobles to escort the visitors to their quarters, re-entered his palanquin and was borne back to his palace. Along a broad paved avenue, which stretched in a straight line right through the centre of the capital . On one side of a great square rose the mighty temple of Huitzilopotchli, and on the other a pile of low stone buildings, which had been in old days the royal palace, and was now assigned to the Spaniards for their quarters. Here Montezuma was waiting to receive his guests. Placing round the neck of Cortes a curiously wrought collar made of gold and of the shells of crawfish, the emperor with- drew, saying, with gracious courtesy, "This palace belongs to you, Malintzin. Rest after your fatigues, and in a little while I will visit you again."
In spite of the friendly reception, the first care of the Spanish general was to examine and fortify his quarters. Though only one story high, the vast palace easily held the whole army, including the allies. It was encircled by towered walls of massive stone along which Cortes stationed sentinels. At the gates he placed his cannon. This done, the soldiers were allowed to sit down to the sumptuous repast prepared for them by Mexican slaves. Very pleasant and indeed luxurious was their new abode, with tapestry- covered walls and floors strewn with mats or rushes. In the sleeping-rooms were beds of woven palm leaves with coverlets and sometimes canopies of cotton.
The hour of siesta over, the emperor paid his promised visit. He asked many questions as to the king and country of his guests, and showed great courtesy to all the captains, taking care to learn their names, and presenting them ere he retired with magnificent gifts. Each soldier also received two loads of rich mantles. " And all this he did," says Diaz, "in the most free and gracious manner, like a great monarch as he was." All day long the citizens crowded the top of the great temple opposite, eager to catch a glimpse of the strangers. All day long they restlessly walked the street below talking of the portentous beings within their gates. But when darkness fell, and the evening guns thundered for the first time through the city, they turned away shuddering at " the voices of the gods."
In the morning Cortes returned the emperor's visit, taking with him Alvarado, Sandoval, Ordaz, and five of the soldiers, among whom was Bernal Diaz. Montezuma's new palace, which was built of red stone ornamented with marble, was so vast that it contained quarters for a large guard and a great armoury. In a spacious aviary, tended by three hundred slaves, were birds of brilliant plumage, and it was here that much of the feather work was fabricated. Enormous eagles, vultures, and other fierce birds of prey from the snow-clad Andes were in a separate house, and were fed daily with five hundred turkeys. The menagerie of wild animals and reptiles, in roomy houses kept scrupulously clean, seemed to fill the Spaniards with horror rather than with interest. " In this accursed place," says Bernal Diaz, " were poisonous serpents with somewhat in their tails that sounds like castanets. They were kept in vessels filled with feathers where they reared their young. . . . These beasts and horrid reptiles were retained to keep company with their infernal gods, and when these animals yelled and hissed the palace seemed like hell itself."
With more pleasure Diaz speaks of the gardens which were "irrigated by canals of running water and shaded with every variety of tree. In them were baths of cut stone, pavilions for feasting or retirement, and theatres for shows and for the dancers and singers ; all were kept in the most exact order by a number of labourers constantly employed."
Through many stately rooms with hangings of feather-work exquisite in colour and design the Spaniards were led to the audience-chamber where Montezuma awaited his visitors. At the threshold the Aztec officers cast off their sandals, and flinging over their rich garments a robe of coarse nequen made from aloe thread, they entered with deep obeisance the sacred presence. All, save the members of his family, approached the emperor in this humble garb. Montezuma received his guests graciously as ever, placing Cortes at his right hand.
The Spanish general then proceeded to make a valiant attempt to convert the heathen monarch, explaining to him at great length the mysteries of the Christian religion. Faithfully Marina tried to interpret the abstruse doctrines, and then Montezuma, who had listened with the utmost courtesy, replied, " I doubt not that your God is good, but my gods, also, are good to me. It is not worth while to discourse further of the matter." He spoke of Quetzalcoatl and of the belief that the Spaniards were the god's descendants. "You, too," he said in a laughing manner, for he was gay in conversation, " have been told, perhaps, that I am a god and dwell in palaces of gold and silver. But you see I am of mere flesh and blood, and my houses are of lime and stone and timber ! Rest now from your labours, Malintzin ; you are here in your own dwellings, and your every want shall be supplied."
Attendants then brought forward such rich gifts that each soldier received at least two heavy gold collars for his share. With many expressions of gratitude, Cortes observing that it was past midday, the emperor's dinner hour, took leave. "And on the way home," says Diaz, "we could discourse of nothing but the gentle breeding and courtesy of the Indian monarch."
But when the Spaniards had left him the gracious smiles forsook Montezuma's face. How strong they were, these gods or god-like men ! With what confidence had they spoken of their lord who ruled the world, and their God whom they wished to make all men worship. A foreboding of coming evil which he was powerless to avert possessed the emperor as he flung himself moodily on his luxurious cushions. He took all his meals in solitary state, for his numerous wives lived in their own apartments, and only appeared when summoned by their master. His attendants, barefooted and in robes of nequen, were yet nobles of the highest rank. They now placed around him a screen of carved wood embossed with gold, and covered with a white cloth the low table at his side. Four beautiful women presented, on bended knee, water in a silver basin for the emperor's hands, and towels of the finest cotton. Then from the hundreds of dishes placed on the matted floor Montezuma chose which he would have. The plates, which were of fine red and black Cholulan china, were given away at the end of every meal to the attendants. The fish, which was served first, came fresh every day from the Gulf of Mexico. The meats, which were kept hot in chafing-dishes, were dressed in a great variety of ways, for the Aztecs were well versed in the art of cooking. To the four ancient lords who stood at a respectful distance Montezuma gave from time to time " as a mark of particular favour a plate of that which he was eating."
In the Old Palace meanwhile Spaniard and Tlascalan, rejoicing in the rest and good fare, took no thought for the morrow. Not so their general. Ever gay and confident in manner, he realised clearly the peril of his position in the heart of a fortified and perhaps hostile city. His first care must be to inspect the town and its strongholds, and for this he requested the emperor's permission. Readily consenting, Montezuma detailed four nobles as guides. With a flourish of trumpets and drums, cavalry and infantry marched into the great square. Crowds of citizens had assembled to gaze once more on the strangers.
Many women of both high and low degree mingled freely among the men. They all wore several embroidered petticoats of different lengths, a chemise matching the skirts, and a bright-coloured scarf crossed like a fichu at the throat, and hanging down with tasseled ends almost to the feet. They had no veils or any kind of head- dress save a simple fillet of flowers which caught back their dark and flowing tresses. The richer ladies wore a loose mantle over their embroidered The streets through which the Spaniards passed were watered and swept daily by a thousand labourers, and were so clean that " a man could walk through them with as little danger of soiling his feet as his hands."
The canals were used as highways with paths of pavement on either side. It was market-day in Mexico, and the Aztec nobles led the way to the busy square, where the Spaniards stood astonished at the multitude of people and the regularity which prevailed. Nowhere in Europe, not even in Rome or Constantinople, had they seen a market-place so vast, so skillfully laid out, and so well managed. ' The entire square was enclosed in piazzas, under which great quantities of grain were stored and where were also shops." Every merchant had his particular place, which was distinguished by a sign.
Goldsmiths, jewelers, potters, furniture-makers, feather-work artists, sculptors, all were there. In one of the deep porticoes hung beautiful fabrics and robes. In another, and here the Spaniards gazed long, were exhibited weapons and armor, all of copper, stone, or tin, for the use of iron was still unknown to the Aztecs. Out of the same stone, which formed the blades of the deadly maquahuitl, razors and even mirrors were manufactured. Here and there were booths where busy barbers plied their trade, or chemists sold their healing drugs. One quarter of the market was reserved for provisions, and here were the hunters with their game, and the fishermen carrying their fish caught that day in the fresh waters of Lake Chalco or in the silvery mountain streams.
Here too were delicious fruits, green vegetables, and gorgeous flowers. Tables with pastry, bread, cakes and cups of chocolate or pulque, the aloe-wine, tempted the passer-by. In another quarter were live animals for sale, and near them gangs of miserable slaves. The Aztecs sold according to number or measure, and their currency consisted of bits of tin stamped with a letter like T bags of cacao, and quills filled with gold dust.
A court of justice was held in the market-place, where to all caught cheating summary punishment was meted out by the policemen who patrolled the square. The soldiers, fascinated by the sights around them, were loath to leave, but Cortes was informed that the emperor awaited them in the great Temple of Huitzilopotchli.
Retracing their steps, the Spaniards came to the "wall of serpents," sculptured in stone, which surrounded the vast quadrangle in which lay this mighty temple a city within a city. Four turreted gate- ways with arsenals above and barracks beside them opened into the four principal streets. In the great central courtyard, where the horses slipped at every step on the polished stone pavement, the cavaliers dismounted and gazed curiously around them. Lanes branched off in every direction leading to the numerous buildings which filled the vast enclosure. There were granaries, storehouses, and gardens, so that the temple inhabitants could in time of need be self-supporting. There were houses for the priests and for the priestesses ; schools where boys were taught picture-writing, astronomy, and above all, the ceremonies of their religion and traditions of their race ; while the girls learned the arts of weaving and embroidery.
There were several teocallis or sacred turrets, and on their flat roofs flamed the never-dying fires. But high above all other buildings towered in the centre of the quadrangle the great teocalli of Huitzilopotchli. This mighty structure was solid and made of earth and pebbles, the whole coated with hewn stone. It was shaped like a pyramid, and its four sides faced north, south, east, and west. It was en-circled by five terraces, each one smaller than the one below. A flight of steps led from the ground to the first terrace, round which the pilgrim must pass to gain the steps leading upward. The fifth and last platform could only be reached by passing four times around the pyramid. This laborious ascent had been devised to add to the magnificence of the religious festivals. The procession of priests with their banners and music winding slowly round and round the great teocalli to reach the shrine on its summit must have been a gorgeous spectacle to the people in the streets below.
Refusing the offer of the Aztec priests to carry him up, Cortes with Doila Marina and his captains climbed to the summit, where Montezuma received him with kindly courtesy. "You are weary, Malintzin, with the ascent," said the emperor. "To the Spaniards," replied Cortes vauntingly, " fatigue is unknown ! " At one end of the smooth-paved summit were two towers with the shrines and images of the gods ; in front of each blazed its altar fire. At the other end was the jasper stone of sacrifice, and the huge drum of serpents' skins struck only in a time of great triumph or danger.
Montezuma and Cortes behold Tenochtitlan
Montezuma then took Cortes by the hand and told him to look at the wonderful view below. There lay the city with its crowded streets and canals, glittering temples, flower-crowned palaces, and the three great white causeways which stretched far across the dancing waters of the lake to the northern, southern, and western shores. To the west rose cypress-covered Chapoltepec, " the grasshoppers' hill," crowned with the emperor's country palace. From here was carried across the lake in a skillfully constructed aqueduct Mexico's supply of pure water. In the south gleamed Lake Chalco. Far on the horizon stood out against the deep blue sky the white peaks of the volcanoes.
For long did Cortes gaze at the symmetrical plan of the city, but turning at last to the emperor he asked permission to enter the two-towered chapels.
Montezuma at once led his guests to the shrine of Huitzilopotchli, a huge idol with a great face and terrible eyes. He was bedecked with jewels ; round his body coiled golden serpents, and on his neck was a chain strung alternately with golden hearts and silver heads. In his right hand he held a bow, in his left a sheaf of golden arrows. Beside him stood his page, a little idol bearing his lance and shield.
On the altar were three bleeding hearts torn from the victims of that day's sacrifice ; the walls and floor were dark with human blood. In the other tower was the image of Tezcat, the " Soul of the World." This was an idol of polished black marble covered with golden ornaments, with mirrors for eyes, and a shield of burnished gold in which he saw reflected all the doings of the world.
Here too lay offerings of human hearts, and "the stench was more intolerable," says the old chronicler, " than that of all the slaughter-houses of Castile ! " Even to the god of the harvest, a figure half- alligator, half-man, said to contain the germ and origin of all created things, the Aztecs had made bloody sacrifice. " We thought," says Bernal Diaz, "we never could get out soon enough, and I devoted them and all their wickedness to God's vengeance." "
I do not know, my Lord Montezuma," exclaimed Cortes, " how so great a king and so learned a man as you are should not have collected in his thoughts that these idols are not gods, but devils ? If you will but permit us to erect here the true cross, and place the images of the blessed Virgin and her Son in your sanctuaries, you will soon see how your false gods will shrink before them ! "
But at the words Montezuma's face grew dark, and the priests scowled blackly at the impious stranger. With much dignity the emperor replied, "My Lord Malinche, these are the gods who have led the Aztecs on to victory since they were a nation, and who send the seed-time and the harvest in their seasons. Had I thought you would have offered them this outrage I would not have admitted you into their presence." Gladly the Christians turned to descend, but Montezuma remained behind to expiate by sacrifice his sin in permitting the strangers to enter the shrines.
The temple of Quetzalcoatl
Among the smaller teocallis in the courtyard below was one to which Cortes turned with some curiosity, for it was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl. But even the worship of the Fair God, who had forbidden human sacrifice, had been profaned by the blood- thirsty priests. The tower, which was round, had an entrance in imitation of a dragon's mouth, and its horrid fangs were dripping with human blood. Glancing down the throat the Spaniards saw within the ghastly instruments of sacrifice, and they christened the hateful place henceforth as " hell."
Passing by a wooden pyramid strung with thousands of skulls, the Christians breathed a sigh of relief as the great gate in the serpents' wall closed behind them, and they found themselves once more in the gay and busy street. It was with gloomy faces that they returned to their quarters in the old palace. They had seen the strength of the city, and they had seen the horrors of its religion. It was the sights in the great temple which sobered the faces of the rank and file. If any disaster came to their little force each soldier saw before him the dreadful fate of the victim.
To cheer and occupy his men, Cortes on the following day ordered one of the halls in the Old Palace to be transformed into a Christian chapel While at work the soldiers noticed that part of the wall had been newly plastered over. Pulling down the plaster, they found a door concealed beneath. It was quick work to force it open, and there before their dazzled eyes lay masses of gold, silver, jewels, and costly fabrics ! It was Montezuma's treasure- room of which they had heard vague rumours. " I was a young man," says Bernal Diaz, " and it seemed to me as if all the riches of the world were in that room ! " But Cortes, who was not yet prepared to risk offending the emperor, ordered the door to be closed up once more, and forbade the soldiers to speak of their discovery.
Day and night the Spanish general studied with anxious care the possibilities and dangers of his strange position. Well he knew that on his action depended the lives of all his men. While in Cholula bad news had come to him from the settlement on the coast, but fearing to dishearten the soldiers on the very eve of their entrance into Mexico, he had until now concealed the painful story. Juan de Escalante, whom he had left as command- ant of the garrison at Vera Cruz, had received, soon after the departure of Cortes, a message from an Aztec chief named Quauhpopoca, begging that four Spaniards might be sent to escort him to the Spanish settlement. He wished to give in his allegiance to the white men, but feared to venture to their town without protection. The four soldiers were dispatched, and found to their horror that the request was but a treacherous ruse. Two of them were murdered in cold blood, but the other two managed to escape to Vera Cruz.
With fifty of his men and several thousand Totonac allies, Escalante marched at once to take vengeance on the Aztec chief. In the fierce fight which followed the Totonac allies fled, and the Spaniards would surely have suffered defeat but for " the aid of the blessed Virgin who was distinctly seen hovering over their ranks in the van." They were at length victorious, but at great cost. One Spaniard was captured alive by the enemy, and seven, including Escalante himself, died of their wounds. To the great Montezuma the Indian prisoners attributed the hostile action of their chieftain, and to the emperor had been sent the head of the captured white man.
As Cortes pondered the painful story he felt sure that Montezuma's present hospitality was but a mask to conceal some dark design. At any moment he might turn on his unwelcome guests, and even if by force of arms he could not subdue them, he might yet by cutting off retreat starve them to death in the midst of his island city. Only in one way could the Spanish general frustrate possible treachery and insure the safety of his little band. Calling a council of his officers Cortes listened to all their suggestions. But no plan seemed to save the critical situation. Then he himself proposed a scheme, so daring, so extraordinary, that all were startled. This was, to seize and hold as a hostage the great Montezuma himself ! " Impossible ! " cried some. " To what end ? " asked others. But the general, self-confident and sure as ever, calmed their fears and gave his reasons.
He himself would entice the emperor into Spanish quarters. Once there, so strongly fortified was the Old Palace, it would be easy to hold the royal prisoner. The Mexicans would fear to attack or to starve the Spaniards, lest by so doing they should imperil the sacred person of their monarch. The trappings and show of empire should still remain to Montezuma, but in reality his keepers would rule the land. It was a bold plan, and the soldiers, blindly trusting the general who had never yet failed them, gave their assent.
The night was passed in prayer that Heaven might smile upon the deed of the morrow. But Cortes, through all the hours of darkness, was heard restlessly pacing up and down his chamber rapt in his schemes for the future. In the morning the whole army was drawn up in the courtyard ready to sally forth at the first alarm. Several detachments of picked men sauntered along the streets leading to Montezuma's palace, as if they were merely viewing the city. Thirty of them were ordered to wander as if by chance into the grounds of the palace itself. Then Cortes set out to visit the emperor, who had consented to receive him. He was attended by Dona Marina and by five of his most dare-devil cavaliers, Pedro de Alvarado, Gonzalo de Sandoval, Francisco de Lujo, Velasquez de Leon, and Alonzo de Avila.
Courteously and even gaily Montezuma welcomed his guests. At the entrance of these august strangers whom the emperor delighted to honour, his attendants retired with deep obeisance. In friendly talk the time slipped by, but just as the Aztec was explaining his favourite game, the Spanish general, with an abrupt change of manner, stepped forward and sternly accused him of having instigated the treacherous assault on the garrison at Vera Cruz. The startled monarch, eagerly denying the charge, took from a bracelet at his wrist his signet, the image of Huitzilopotchli, and calling one of his attendants, ordered that the guilty cacique should be summoned at once to Mexico. In gentler tones Corte's thanked the emperor, and declared that he was now quite satisfied as to his innocence. " My companions in arms, however," he added, "will not be convinced of your good faith unless you will deign to prove it by taking up your abode in our quarters until the affair is quite cleared up by the arrival of Quauhpopoca from the coast." Aghast the monarch listened to this extraordinary proposal.
Finding his voice at length, he exclaimed, "When was it ever heard that a great prince, like myself, voluntarily left his own palace to become a prisoner in the hands of strangers ? " " Not a prisoner," replied Corte's, "your own court and household shall be round you. You shall exercise your kingly power as usual. It will be but a change of residence, and you will have Spaniards to serve you as well as your own people." In vain the Spanish general argued and entreated. Montezuma was not to be persuaded. " Never would my subjects," he said proudly, "consent to such a degradation!" Then as the voice of Corte's grew sterner and more insistent, the wretched king, made a coward by his superstitious fears, pleaded, " Spare me this disgrace ! Take as hostages one of my sons and one of my daughters ! " Time was passing, and the Spaniards, anxious lest a rumour of their attempt should reach the royal guard, grew impatient. Leon at last, tall and stalwart, with a great red beard and a rough, fierce voice, drew his sword, exclaiming, " Why waste words on this barbarian ! In Christ's name, let him yield himself our prisoner, or we will this instant plunge our swords in his body ! " At the word the other captains advanced with naked blades, and Montezuma terrified, turned to Marina for an explanation of the fierce words and gestures. "
Go with the white men ! " cried the girl eagerly. " If you yield they will treat you kindly ; if you refuse, they will kill you ! " One last piteous, hunted look the emperor cast around him. Gleaming swords, iron mail, and the stern faces of the strangers hemmed him in. De- sparingly he murmured, " The gods have abandoned me! I will go with you." With deep respect the captain now addressed the unhappy monarch, and Cortes declared that none should ever hear of the humiliating scene. Montezuma, tortured with shame at his own weakness, assented gladly to the suggestion that his visit to the Old Palace should appear to be entirely by his own free will.
Ordering his palanquin, he sent for his chief nobles, and told them that the gods had advised him to go and abide for a time with the Strange was the procession which now passed through the crowded streets. The royal palanquin surrounded by an escort of Spaniards ! Three squares and three bridges had been passed when there arose a sullen murmur in the crowd. A whisper grew that the emperor was a prisoner ! The murmur swelled into a tumult. The people blocked the way, calling to their monarch and threatening the strangers. Unarmed as they were, they would yet by mere force of numbers have rescued their lord, but even as they threatened, the curtains of the palanquin were drawn aside, and Montezuma in a calm, clear voice demanded the cause of their clamour. A sudden silence fell upon the crowd, the people sank to their knees and listened as to the voice of a god.
"Return in peace to your homes' said the emperor. " Of my own free will I am visiting my trusted friends ! " Bewildered and abashed the Aztecs fell back, and the Spaniards passed on their way unmolested. So in the very heart of his capital, from the midst of a devoted people who would have given their life's blood to save him, with his warriors within call, the Aztec emperor was carried through the gates of the Old Palace a prisoner. Montezuma was received, as Cortes had promised, with the utmost deference. His apartments were furnished with every luxury, and he was attended by his favourite wives and pages. He was free to receive his subjects and to transact the business of the empire. But well did he know that in spite of all this pomp and ceremony he was a captive. Only a limited number of Aztecs were admitted at one time, and day and night a guard kept watch at the gates and also in the emperor's antechamber. So wearisome even to the tireless Spaniards became this ceaseless watching, that a soldier at Montezuma's door exclaimed bitterly one day, " Better this dog of a king should die than that we should wear out our lives in this manner ! " The man was punished, but the incident increased the emperor's anxiety to escape from his veiled bondage.
And now arrived Quauhpopoca from the coast accompanied by his son and fifteen nobles, in obedience to the messenger with the royal signet. Humbly clad in nequen the chieftain entered the presence of the emperor, bowing to the ground with the usual salutation, " Lord, my lord, great lord ! " He was received with haughty displeasure, and told that as his offence had been against the Spaniards, the Spanish general should judge him. Montezuma hoped by this act to propitiate his jailers and win his freedom.
With great dignity the chieftain bore himself before his alien judge, confessing at once that he had plotted to overthrow the white strangers in Vera Cruz, since he considered them to be the enemies of his country. In grim silence Corte's listened, and then passed his ghastly sentence. The cacique with his son and the fifteen nobles were to be immediately burnt alive in front of the palace. With Montezuma's permission the arsenals of the great temple were despoiled, and the arms and missiles piled high in the courtyard of the Old Palace. Here, in the blaze of their country's weapons, the Aztec nobles bravely met their death. Just before the execution Cortes entered the emperor's apartment followed by a soldier carrying fetters. Sternly he told his prisoner that the cacique had declared before his death that Montezuma had ordered the assault. Then, commanding the soldier to fasten the fetters on the shrinking monarch, the general strode away. Racked with humiliation, the once great Montezuma lay in silence amid his weeping attendants, who strove to wedge their garments between the irons and their master's feet. So broken in spirit he seemed that he did not even resent this last degradation, but actually thanked Cortes when he reappeared and removed with his own hands the shameful bonds.
With "honeyed words" the Spaniard expressed his deep regret that he had been obliged to punish one whom he loved as a brother. Horrible to modern minds seems this cruel execution of seventeen men, whose only fault was obedience to their emperor and love of their country. But the old conquerors themselves did not for a moment question the morality or humanity of the sentence. The life of an Indian and a heathen was almost worthless in their eyes, and even in this dark deed they felt that God was their guide. " As soon as this chastisement was known," says Bernal Diaz, "it struck universal terror, and the people on the coast returned to their submission. Now, let the curious consider upon our heroic actions ! . . . Now I am old, I say that it was not we who did these things, but that all was guided by the hand of God, for what men on earth would otherwise have ventured, their numbers not amounting to four hundred and fifty, to have seized and put in irons a mighty monarch, and publicly burned his officers for obeying his orders, in a city larger than Venice, and at a distance of a thousand and five hundred leagues from their native country ! ! ! "
One day followed another, and still the emperor of the Aztecs remained a prisoner in the hands of his guests. He was treated with all honour, and seemed often to forget his degradation in some new interest or pleasure. He was attended always by Orteguilla, a page of the general's, who had already learnt to speak Aztec. He loved to watch the soldiers at their military drill, and soon learned to know all the captains and many of the men. On his favourites, and especially on Leon, the captain of his guard, he delighted to bestow princely gifts. His favourite game was totoloque, in which the players aimed with golden balls at a golden target. He declared gaily one day that Tonatiuh must not score, as "he did not say that which was true," at which "we all," says Diaz, "burst out laughing, because Alvarado was a little addicted to exaggeration ! "
Once when Cortes would have punished a soldier who had stolen a cup from the royal treasury, now reopened, Montezuma intervened. "Your countrymen," he said, "are welcome to the gold, if you will but spare what belongs to the gods." But at times his captivity seemed to prey on the emperor's mind, and bitter grew the thought that he could not even worship at the shrines of his gods.
Cortes, not daring to show the Aztec people too plainly that Montezuma was a prisoner, promised at last to allow him to visit the great temple, with a warning that if there was any attempt at a rescue his life would pay the forfeit. With banners and music a splendid procession of nobles and courtiers left the gates of the Old Palace. In the midst was the royal palanquin, surrounded by Spanish captains and followed by a hundred and fifty picked Spaniards in battle array. Sullen and puzzled were the faces of the multitude who prostrated themselves as the emperor passed. At the teocalli priests were waiting to carry up their lord, but in front and at the rear tramped a guard of the mailed strangers. Four times as it wound its way upward did this unwonted procession, Aztec priest and white-skinned warrior, pass before the somber gaze of the kneeling throngs below. To prevent human sacrifice Father Olmedo was at the emperor's side, but his efforts were in vain, for on the preceding night four victims had been offered to the gods in Montezuma's name.
His devotions fulfilled, the Aztec monarch was borne peaceably back to the Old Palace through his silent, watchful subjects, who at his slightest sign or word would have torn him from his jailers. Cortes, meanwhile, was carefully making his plans. He recognised the importance of his settlement in the Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, and was anxious to appoint in the place of Escalante a man of tact who would maintain peaceful relations with the Indians. For this purpose he chose Alonzo de Grado, an indifferent soldier, but a handsome, talented man and something of an orator. The general, who seemed to have had some scorn for this fine gentleman, said to him in parting : " Now, Senor de Grado, go and possess your wishes ; you are commandant of Villa Rica, and see that you fortify it well, and mind I charge you on no account to go out and fight the wicked Indians, nor let them kill you as they did Juan de Escalante." This, Bernal Diaz tells us, Cortes said ironically, knowing the condition of the man, and that all the world could not have got him to put his nose out of the town ! For once the general had made a mistake. De Grado paid no attention to the fortifications, but spent his time in feasting and in scheming against his leader with the adherents of Velasquez.
His fall was speedy. Sandoval arrived one day as new commandant, with orders to arrest De Grado and send him prisoner to Mexico. A very different man was Sandoval. Only about twenty-two years of age, he was felt by all to be absolutely reliable and trust- worthy. " He was a plain man and one who did not know much of letters, not avaricious of gold, but attentive to his business like a good officer, seeing that his soldiers did their duty well and taking good care of them. He was robust in body, his legs rather bowed, and his countenance masculine ; his voice was rough and somewhat terrible, and he stammered a little. . . . He had the best horse that ever was seen a chestnut, with a star in his fore- head, and his near foot white, his name was Motilla and the old soldier concludes his description of this officer so loved by his men with the proud words : "Sandoval was an officer fit for any station !"
The new commandant soon made himself very popular with the natives by his affability and humanity, and immediately began to put the fort into proper repair. Very promptly he executed his orders to send to Mexico a supply of ironwork, cordage, and sails for the construction of two ships.
The general's greatest anxiety was the fact that the Aztecs could at any time cut off all communications and all supplies, and hold the Spaniards prisoners within the city. He had resolved, therefore, to build two vessels large enough to carry the army across the lake. Fortunately he had among his men a skilled ship-builder named Martin Lopez. Montezuma, who consented to have timber brought from the royal forests, took a child-like pleasure in watching the construction of the vessels. From Orteguilla, whose duty it was to keep the emperor amused and in good humour, Cortes learned that he had a desire to go hunting in the forest.
The Spanish ships were now finished, and the general offered to convey Montezuma and his suite in the wonderful water-houses to the woods across the lake. He hoped that a day in the open country would make the captive seem indeed a guest. In the swiftest ship embarked with the emperor and his retinue Leon, Alvarado, De Oli, and Avila, " all men who had blood in their eyes," two hundred soldiers and artillery-men with four brass guns. The guest was well attended. The wind blew very fresh, and the ship with the flag of Spain waving from its mast seemed to fly across the lake, leaving the native canoes far behind. Well might the Aztecs shudder as over the waters thundered the "voices of the gods."
The forest, which was strictly preserved, abounded in game such as deer, hares, and rabbits. A good archer the emperor proved, and for long the hunt continued, but wherever he roamed the Spaniard was at his side to remind him that the apparent liberty of the forest would assuredly end in the guarded chamber of the palace.
Cortes and Prince Cacama
In his stately city on the eastern border of the great salt lake, Cacama, son the late Nezahualpilli, king of Tezcuco and nephew of Montezuma, brooded with dark suspicion on his uncle's prolonged stay in the quarters of the strangers. Surely he must be a captive ! Never of his own free will would the emperor of the Aztecs consent to such a humiliating position. Cacama resolved to raise the great lords of the empire to rescue their monarch, even against his will, from the hands of the white men.
Montezuma's brother, Cuitlahuac, the lord of Iztapalapan, his nephew Guatemozin, and the lord of the allied state of Tlacopan, readily consented to aid in the attempt. Ever on the watch, Cortes ere long heard of these plots which were being hatched on the opposite shore of the lake, and strong in the complete sway he had acquired over the mind of Montezuma, he sent a haughty message to the young king of Tezcuco, warning him to beware of the people of the monarch of Spain, the ruler of all the world. Equally haughty was Cacama's reply, "I acknowledge no such authority. I know nothing of the Spanish sovereign nor his people ! "
Even a summons from Montezuma to appear before him at the Old Palace did not move the resolute young king, though the emperor's slightest wish had ever been law to all his subjects. But well Cacama knew that his uncle was now a mere tool of the Spaniards, and bold as before was his answer, " When I visit the capital it will be to rescue it, the emperor, and our common gods from bondage. I will come, not with my hand in my bosom, but on my sword, to drive out the detested strangers who have brought such dishonour on our country."
Now there were certain Tezcucan nobles in the pay of Montezuma, and at the bidding of Corte's, the wretched emperor actually commanded these traitors to seize his nephew their king, by fair means or foul, and send him to Mexico. To a lonely house over- hanging the lake Cacama was enticed, and then suddenly seized, bound hand and foot, flung into a canoe, and borne swiftly across the water to Mexico. As a criminal he was brought before Montezuma, but proud and brave as ever, he would make no effort to win favour from the Spaniards, and boldly accused his uncle of treachery and cowardice. Loaded with fetters he was thrown into a dungeon, and his younger brother was proclaimed, by order of the emperor, king of Tezcuco.
By this same wondrous talisman, the command of the great Montezuma, Cortes was able to capture also the lord of Tlacopan, and Cuitlahuac the lord of Iztapalapan, with others who were suspected of sharing in Cacama's plot. The Spaniards now began to feel as if this fair land of Mexico really belonged to them, for was not its all-powerful emperor a mere puppet in their hands ? Parties sent out to explore the country and to search for gold found that the much-coveted metal was gathered from the beds of rivers some hundreds of miles away.
So secure was Corte's in his position as dictator to the emperor that he actually dared to diminish his small force. Velasquez de Leon was dispatched with a hundred and fifty men to found another colony and fort on the shores of the Atlantic about sixty leagues south of the Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz. Surely now the time had come, thought Corte's, when he might safely demand from Montezuma a public sign of vassalage to the Spanish emperor. What a triumph to write to Charles V. that an unknown adventurer had won as a new vassal to Spain the monarch of a rich and mighty empire !
To the Old Palace came at Montezuma's summons all his princes and chief lords. Then in a voice broken by sobs their monarch addressed them. He spoke of the coming of Quetzalcoatl and his descendants from the land of the rising sun. The prediction had been fulfilled. The white strangers had sailed from the east over the ocean to claim the land of their sire. The Aztecs must not seek to resist the gods. "You have been faithful vassals of mine," said the emperor, "during the many years that I have sat on the throne of my fathers. I now expect that you will show me this last act of obedience by acknowledging the great king beyond the waters to be your lord, and that you will pay him tribute in the same manner as you have hitherto done to me."
The emperor's will was law. In silent bitterness each noble took the oath of allegiance to Don Carlos of Spain, while the Spanish notary recorded the curious ceremony. So intense seemed the distress of the Aztecs at the act of humiliation that "even though it was in the regular way of our own business," says Bernal Diaz, "there was not a Spaniard who could look on the spectacle with a dry eye." To show that the Mexicans were vassals in deed as well as word, Corte's at once sent Montezuma's tax-gatherers throughout all Anahuac to collect tribute for the Spanish emperor. As his own share the Aztec monarch gave all the riches of his treasure-chamber.
In twenty days the collectors returned and the tribute was piled in the courtyard of the Old Palace. As Cortes gazed on the shining heaps of gold-dust, the bars of gold and silver, the ornaments, the feather -work, the ingenious toys and trinkets, he exclaimed, "Surely it is a treasure such as no monarch in Europe can boast ! " " I regret," said Montezuma, " that it is not larger, but it is somewhat diminished by my former gifts. Take it, Malintzin, and let it be recorded in your annals that Montezuma sent this present to your master."
And now the soldiers began to clamour for an immediate division of the spoil. The treasures were counted and valued, and some of the larger ornaments taken to pieces by Mexican goldsmiths. The value was reckoned at about one million four hundred and seventeen thousand pounds sterling in our own currency. Equally divided, the share of each soldier would have been over three thousand pounds. But one -fifth had to be deducted for the Crown and another fifth for the general. Then the expenses of the expedition had to be defrayed, compensation given for the loss of killed horses, and a portion set aside for the men left behind in Villa Rica. To the cavaliers, crossbowmen, and musketeers had been promised a double share. " Thus," says Bernal Diaz, with hot indignation, "by the time all these drafts were made, what remained for each soldier was hardly worth stooping for ! " " Is it for this," cried the men with all the fury of balked greed, "that we left our homes and families, perilled our lives, submitted to fatigue and famine, and all for so contemptible a pittance ? Better to have stayed in Cuba, and contented ourselves with the gains of a safe and easy traffic. When we gave up our share of the gold at Vera Cruz, it was on the assurance that we should be amply requited in Mexico. We have, indeed, found the riches we expected ; but no sooner seen, than they are snatched from us by the very men who pledged us their faith ! " All the general's consummate tact, all the magic of his winning tongue, and the power of his personality were needed to calm these men almost ripe for mutiny.
The division, he declared, had been perfectly fair. If they thought his own share was too much he was willing to divide it with the poorest soldier. " This treasure," he went on, " is nothing to what we shall gain in the future when the whole country with its rich mines is ours. But never shall we possess this empire while we are divided against ourselves." The soldiers were pacified at last, and consoled themselves with "deep gaming, day and night, with cards made out of the heads of drums." The holy Virgin and the saints had been ever with the adventurers, who now felt that as Christians they ought to brave any danger to plant the true cross if possible in the very sanctuaries of the abominable idols.
Cortes, with several of his cavaliers, formally requested Montezuma to deliver up to them the great teocalli itself, that they might worship their God openly in the sight of the whole city. Horror-struck at the very suggestion, Montezuma exclaimed piteously, " Why, Malintzin, why will you urge matters to an extremity that must surely bring down the vengeance of our gods, and stir up an insurrection among my people, who will never endure this profanation of their temples."
Dismissing his officers, Corte's, left alone with the emperor, bent him as usual to his will. He promised, however, not to insult the shrines of the Aztec gods if one of the sanctuaries on the great teocalli was given to him for a Christian chapel. "But," he added threateningly, "if this request is refused, we will roll down the images of your false gods in the face of the city. We fear not for our lives, for, though our numbers are few, the arm of the true God is over us." Shrinkingly the Aztec emperor gave his sanction, and the priests were ordered to leave free for the Teules one of these most sacred sanctuaries of their gods.
Much had the Aztec people borne, at their emperor's command, from these insolent strangers, but when they saw a procession of white men mount the sacred summit to celebrate in the very shrine of an Aztec god their own religion, their fury knew no bounds. With disgust and scorn the Aztec priests looked on the flower-decked crucifix and image of the Virgin which had ousted their glittering, blood- stained god, and with wild chants and ceremonies they strove to rouse still more the temper of their people.
Message after message was sent to Montezuma that no longer would his subjects brook the presence of the impious white men. The Spaniards had gone too far. From the emperor's altered manner Cortes divined that trouble was in the air. The almost cringing subservience of the Aztec had given place to cold, abstracted reserve. He conferred much with his nobles and the priests, and the little page Orteguilla who could speak Aztec was not suffered to be present at these meetings. At last came a summons to Montezuma's apartments. Escorted by some of his chief cavaliers, Cortes, grave and anxious, obeyed the unwonted request. The emperor, who had regained some measure of his old kingly dignity, spoke in firm, impressive tones, "The gods of my country," he said, "offended by the violation of their temple, have threatened that they will forsake the city if the sacrilegious strangers are not sacrificed on their altars or driven at once from the land of Anahuac. I am your friend and do not wish for bloodshed. Leave the country therefore without delay. I have only to raise my finger and every Aztec in the land will rise in arms against you ! "
With well-concealed consternation Cortes listened to these unwelcome words, but his reply was guarded and courteous. " I much regret two things, my lord. One is, that if I leave in such precipitation I shall be obliged to take your Majesty with me. The other, that we cannot all return immediately, as our ships were destroyed when we first landed on your territory. Wherefore we must build others, and I should be obliged if you would give us labourers to cut and work the wood. I myself have ship- builders, and when the vessels are completed we will take our departure."
To so reasonable a request Montezuma could not refuse his consent, and he undertook to restrain the fury of his people until the ships were finished. Labourers and the Spanish shipwrights were at once dispatched to the coast, but Cortes gave secret orders to Martin Lopez to delay the work as much as possible. He hoped that time might bring a turn of fortune and that reinforcements might arrive from Europe.
So the Spaniards kept their quarters in the Old Palace, and kept too their royal prisoner. But the triumphant sense of owning the country was theirs no more. Sullen, threatening looks met them in the streets, and every moment they expected an attack. Constant watch and guard were kept as if in a siege, the soldiers never sleeping out of their armor. " Without meaning to boast," says old Diaz, " I may say of myself that my armor was as easy to me as the softest down, and such is my custom, that when I now go the rounds of my district, I never take a bed with me unless I happen to be accompanied by strange cavaliers, in which case I do it only to avoid the appearance of poverty, but, by my faith, even when I have one I always throw myself on it in my clothes ; such it is to be a true soldier !
It was the month of May 1520. More than a year had gone swiftly by since the adventurers on a cool, clear February day first set sail from Cuba. Strange had been their adventures and strenuous their deeds, and now for six months they had been quartered in the very heart of a mighty and hostile city, its king their prisoner in all but name. Rumours of their startling success and of the treasure ship sent to Spain had come to the ears of Velasquez, and inflamed still further his bitter resentment against Cortes. He resolved to spare neither time nor money in equipping a fleet and army strong enough to annihilate the force of his rebellious officer and to conquer the golden Mexico.
All Cuba was alive with the bustle of preparation, and the hammers of the shipwrights resounded on many a quivering plank. Eighteen ships were fitted out ; and nine hundred men, allured by lavish promises of reward, enlisted under the Governor's banner. Of these, eighty were horsemen and eighty gunners. It was an armada of which Velasquez felt justly proud, and he decided at first to take the command himself. But with advancing years he had grown too stout to ride and fight, and he felt also that he could not, like any knight-errant, wander from Cuba his own colony.
Yet to whom could he entrust this expedition on which all his hopes were set ? He chose at last a captain named Narvaez, a tall, red-bearded man with a lordly bearing. A good horseman and valiant soldier, he was yet a braggart and utterly without foresight and judgment. Rash and careless of the feelings and safety of his soldiers, he lacked altogether that personal magnetism which made Cortes a born leader of men.
In the end of April the expedition anchored off the sandy coast of St. Juan de Ulua. A Spaniard sent by Corte's on a roving errand in search of gold, wildly excited at the sight of the armada, hastened to meet his countrymen. To Narvaez he gave a glowing account of the great achievements of his commander. "Cortes rules over the land like its own sovereign," he declared, "so that a Spaniard may travel unarmed from one end of the country to the other without insult or injury." With amazement and righteous wrath Narvaez listened to the story, and resolved to build a settlement without loss of time and summon Villa Rica to surrender. Pig-headed and arrogant, he would listen to no advice, but pitched his camp on the very spot which Cortes had found so unhealthy. A priest and four soldiers dispatched to Villa Rica received short shrift from stout-hearted Sandoval, who refused to allow them even to read their proclamation to the garrison. When they waxed insolent, they were without more ado seized and bound on the back of Indian tamanes, who instantly set out for Mexico accompanied by a guard of twenty Spaniards. The bewildered men, "hardly knowing if they were dead or alive, or if it was not all enchantment," were borne post-haste day and night by fresh relays of Indians, until at the end of four days they reached the salt waters of Lake Tezcuco.
But swift as was the journey, news of the arrival of a strong force of Spaniards on the coast had reached the ears of Cortes while the tamanes and their burden were still on the road. In every corner of his great empire Montezuma had watchful spies, and hardly had Narvaez landed ere couriers were bearing to Mexico a full account in picture-writing of the numbers and equipment of these new visitors. After some hesitation the emperor told the news to Cortes. The white men, he declared, need now no longer wait on the tardy shipbuilders. They could return in the vessels of their countrymen, and the empire would be free from the burden of their presence.
Montezuma spoke as if Cortes would now be certain to depart, but his face was pale and troubled, for he feared in his heart that the coming of reinforcements would encourage the iron general to remain and finish his grim work of robbery and desecration. " Blessed be the Redeemer for His mercies ! " exclaimed Corte's, and little did the emperor suspect that he viewed the fresh arrival with equal anxiety. Well the Spaniard knew that no such armada could have been sent out from Spain in so short a time. It had been equipped for his undoing by the venomous zeal of the Governor of Cuba. One of the soldiers of the escort soon appeared with a letter from Sandoval confirming his worst fears ; the guard was outside the city waiting to hear the general's will. Cortes at once ordered that the prisoners should be unbound, mounted, and brought to the Old Palace in honourable fashion. The Aztecs must not suspect that the Spaniards were divided against themselves or see the humiliation of a white man. On these envoys of Narvaez, therefore, was lavished every honour and courtesy, and under such treatment they soon became the firm friends of so generous a commander. Cortes was quick to gather from his guests that the common soldiers had not come, like Narvaez, to punish a rebel, but to gain gold, and might therefore be easily induced, by the hope of reward, to desert the cause of Velasquez. He gave the envoys a letter to Narvaez begging him to lay aside all hostility, and then he "anointed their fingers so plentifully with gold that though they came like roaring lions they went back like lambs." Father Olmedo was dispatched later, ostensibly to bear another letter proffering friendship, but with secret orders to win the officers and men to the interests of Cortes. Both letters were received by Narvaez with derision and abuse, and one of the captains declared loudly, " As to this rebel Cortes, I will cut off his ears and broil them for breakfast ! " Far different was the attitude of the soldiers, who listened greedily to their comrades as they spoke of the splendour and generosity of Cortes. Father Olmedo fanned this feeling, and distributed much gold as a foretaste of his general's favour. This was contrasted by the men with the miserable avarice of Narvaez, who used to say " in his lofty tones " to the major-domo, " Take heed that not a mantle is missing as I have duly entered down every article ! " Thus there soon arose in the camp a strong party for Cortes.
Meanwhile there was anxious debate in the Old Palace in Mexico. The adventurers seemed indeed to be between the upper and the nether mill-stone. If Narvaez, posing as the savior of the imprisoned emperor, marched to Mexico, the whole city would join him, and they would die like rats in a trap. On the other hand, if Cortes returned to the coast and attacked Narvaez he would perhaps never more regain the city he had worked so hard to win. He decided, however, to march forth and meet the most pressing danger. Alvarado was left in Mexico with a garrison of a hundred and forty men, and with orders to guard the emperor as a most precious jewel, and not to rouse or offend in any way the susceptibilities of the Aztec people.
Only seventy men did Cortes lead across the great causeway to do battle against the army equipped with such care by Velasquez. Even though valiant and stout of heart, they were glad to meet in Cholula, Leon with a hundred and twenty of their comrades. He had hastened from the coast at the news that his general needed all his forces. Near Tlascala they met Father Olmedo and his companions returning from the camp of Narvaez, which was now pitched in Cempoalla, the city of the Totonacs. " What greeting and embracing ! " says Bernal Diaz. " We all got round to hear their narrative. . . . Our merry, droll friar took off Narvaez, mimicking him to admiration ! Thus were we all together like so many brothers, rejoicing and laughing as if at a wedding or a feast, knowing well that to-morrow was the day on which we were to conquer or die opposed to five times our number."
In the wild mountain passes the little army was met by Sandoval with sixty soldiers from the garrison at Villa Rica. At the same place waited Totonac tamanes, bearing long double-headed spears tipped with copper. These they brought at the command of Cortes, who knew by grim experience of what service they would be against cavalry. The Spaniards were at once drilled in the use of these weapons, and then the general reviewed his forces two hundred and sixty -six foot soldiers and five horsemen. On again they marched down into the glowing tierra caliente, where the scorching sun made the way seem weary, and violent tropical showers drenched the soldiers to the skin. Three miles from Cempoalla a roaring river barred their way, and here Cortes allowed his men to rest. Night-time was drawing on, the sky was dark with storm-clouds, and the rising moon gave but a fitful gleam.
While his enemies were making this rapid march, Narvaez was wasting his time in idle ease. "Why are you so heedless? cried the old cacique of Cempoalla. " Do you think Malintzin is so ? I tell you when you least dream of it he will be upon you ! " Roused at last, Narvaez set out and reached the raging river several hours earlier than his foes. The rain was lashing down, the trees groaning, and all nature seemed alive with storm, but of man there was no trace. The troops, unused to hardship, began to grumble. " Of what use is it to remain here fighting with the elements ? " they cried. " There is no sign of an enemy, and how could one approach in such weather ? Let us return to our camp and be fresh for action if Corte's should come in the morning. Narvaez, wishful himself to get back under shelter, consented, and leaving two sentinels behind, they returned to their quarters in the temple of Cempoalla. The artillery and cavalry were stationed in the square, the infantry in the three teocallis. On the summit of the highest Narvaez took up his own position, and then with his mind quite at ease retired to sup and to sleep. He had an enemy who took no sleep in time of danger.
The battle with Narvaez
After a brief rest Cortes marshaled and harangued his men. In answer to his appeal every man cried out that he was ready to conquer or die. It was the eve of Whitsunday, and a surprise attack was planned for that very night. The watchword was to be Espiritu Santo. To Sandoval with sixty picked men was given the proud task of capturing Narvaez himself. In the driving rain and darkness the Spaniards with the aid of their long pikes struggled through the wild waters of the river. Two unfortunates were swept away, the others gained the opposite bank in safety. Marching along a road nearly impassable with mud and brambles, the vanguard suddenly fell on their knees. They had come to a wayside cross erected months before on their march to Mexico. The whole army knelt in the mud and confessed their sins to the priest. On one side of the road a little clump of timber lay, and here the baggage was left, and the cavaliers tethered their horses. In profound silence the soldiers marched on.
The sentinels of Narvaez were surprised and one of them captured. The other fled to Cempoalla to give the alarm, but Narvaez and his sleepy followers actually refused to believe him. "You have been deceived by your fears," they exclaimed insultingly, "you have mistaken the noise of the storm and the waving of the bushes for the enemy, who are far enough on the other side of the river ! " So they turned once more to slumber, the foe almost at their gates. Unchallenged the attackers entered the city and passed silently through the sleeping streets. They were nearly at the temple ere the alarm was given. Then indeed the trumpets rang out, the soldiers seized their arms, and the gunners rushed to their guns. Too late, the enemy were upon them. " Espiritu Santo ! " cried Cortes, hurling his company on the guns, and before the fury of the onslaught the gunners gave way and fled.
Then Sandoval with his sixty followers forced his way up the stairway of the chief teocalli, and gaining the summit grappled with the commander and his guard. Right gallantly Narvaez fought, but a spear at last pierced his left eye, and he sank to the ground crying, " Santa Maria, aid me ! I am slain ! " With a supreme effort his men dragged him into the sanctuary on the summit, and there they made their last stand. In vain ; Martin Lopez, the shipwright, a very tall man, set fire to the thatch of the roof, and those inside were forced to rush out into the midst of their foes. " Victory ! Victory for the Espiritu Santo ! Long live our king and Cortes ! Narvaez is dead ! " shouted the victors, and at the cry the captains defending the other teocallis at once surrendered. As for the officer who had talked of broiling the ears of Cortes for his breakfast, he was seized with a sudden illness and could fight no more. The victory was won. A handful of men, without cannon or horses, had completely vanquished the strong force of Velasquez. Narvaez, not dead, but sore wounded, lay a helpless prisoner. The darkness and the storm had been the greatest aid to the attackers, and myriads of fire-flies had been mistaken by the sleepy garrison for an army with matchlocks. Very shame- faced were the soldiers of Narvaez when the morning dawned and they saw by how small a force they had been vanquished. Surrounded by his captains, Cortes, a mantle of orange colour thrown over his shoulders, sat in state to receive the homage of his rival's officers and cavaliers. Willingly enough they came to kiss his hand, not sorry, perhaps, to change commanders.
Narvaez and one or two of the really hostile men were led before him in chains. " You have reason, Senor Cortes," said the humiliated general, " to thank Fortune for having given you the day so easily." " I have much to be thankful for," replied Cortes, "but for my victory over you I deem it as one of the least of my achievements." With fair words and many gifts the soldiers of Narvaez were conquered still more completely than by the blows of the night before. Indeed, the veteran adventurers grew jealous, and grumbled that the general had forsaken his friends for his foes. Alonzo de Avila, an imperious and turbulent captain whom Cortes could not bear to have near him, voiced their complaints. He was, however, a valuable and gallant soldier, and the general pacified him with many presents, but took care for the future to employ him on business of importance at a distance. Soon vanished the discontent of the men, and dividing up his now large force, Cortes gave every soldier some definite work to do. Ordaz and Leon were each dispatched with two hundred men to form new settlements, Lugo with another company was sent to the coast to dismantle the fleet.
But now came from Alvarado in Mexico news so threatening that the glory and joy of the recent victory seemed to disappear like the rays of the sun behind a lowering storm-cloud. The city of Mexico was roused at last ! Her people were in arms against the insolent strangers. They had burnt the water-houses ; they had attacked the Old Palace, undermined the defences, and killed and wounded many of the garrison. This was the alarming news which Cortes received in the hour of victory. "Hasten to our relief," wrote Alvarado, "if you would save us or keep your hold on the capital ! " Swift to answer the appeal, Corte's recalled his scattered troops, and with one thousand foot soldiers and nearly a hundred horsemen at once set out for Mexico.
Only one hundred men, under an inferior officer, were left to garrison Villa Rica, for the general could not in such a crisis leave Sandoval behind. At Tlascala they were warmly welcomed, and their fighting force augmented by two thousand warriors. Crossing the mountain barrier the veterans proudly pointed out to the men of Narvaez the lovely valley of Mexico, and described how its people would throng to welcome the wonderful white Teules. Down they marched into the glowing valley, but no crowds came forth to meet them, no flowers strewed their path. By the shores of the gleaming lakes they passed, but no canoes gave life and interest to the scene.
Early in the morning of the 24th of June, Cortes, at the head of his army, rode on to the great southern causeway. The sun shone brightly on the white- towered city with its smoke and temple-fires, on the glancing waters and on the marching army ; but its radiant beams revealed no other sign of life. The lake was deserted. Presently, however, far in the distance a sentinel canoe was descried darting rapidly away. The ominous stillness, more appalling than the noise of battle, was broken only by the steady tramp of the soldiers. The men of Narvaez, looking fearfully around at every step, began to grumble. This was not the reception they had been promised. Would the fort of Xoloc be barred against them ? No, it too was deserted, and unopposed they marched to the walls of Mexico. " Sound the trumpets ! " cries Cortes, " that our comrades may know that rescue is at hand ! "
To the sound of martial music they entered the city, and as they crossed the drawbridge they heard the guns of the garrison in answer. Alvarado was still holding out, and at the thought their drooping courage revived. All was silence in the city, no living thing crossed their path as they marched through the empty streets. At every canal they found a broken bridge, but the tamanes were able to replace the timber, which still lay on the banks. What a trap was this island city ! The canals were too wide for a horse to jump, and too deep for an armed man to wade ; and the vessels built with such care by Martin Lopez had been destroyed !
Gloomy and anxious were the faces of both captains and men as they reached the Old Palace. But wide open were the gates flung, and out rushed their comrades with tumultuous welcome, while the trumpets and guns echoed through the silent city. The cause of the sudden revolt and open hostility of the Aztecs was the first inquiry of Cortes.
He found that Alvarado, the beloved Tonatiuh of the Indians, had himself provoked it by the most wanton cruelty. On a certain date in May a festival in honour of Huitzilopotchli was always held in the great temple. As Alvarado was governing Mexico in the name of Montezuma the caciques had requested his permission for the use of the temple. Consent was given on condition that the Aztecs came unarmed and offered up no human sacrifice. Vague rumours came to the ears of the Spaniards that the caciques intended to take advantage of the gathering to rouse the people to insurrection.
Without waiting to prove the truth of this story, Alvarado, mindful perhaps of Cholula, resolved to intimidate the Aztecs by a most terrible blow. On the appointed day six hundred caciques in gorgeous garments bedecked with gold and jewels assembled in the great temple. The Spaniards joined the throng, the music rang out, and the gay whirling dance began. Suddenly at a signal from Alvarado the mailed soldiers rushed with drawn swords on the unarmed and unsuspecting chiefs. To fight was impossible, to escape hopeless. The poor wretches who tried to scale the serpent- wall were shot or cut down. " The pavement ran with streams of blood," says an old chronicler, " like water in a heavy shower." The carnage did not cease till every Aztec lay dead. Then the Spaniards rifled the bodies of the gold and ornaments and returned to their quarters. The victims were all nobles of high rank, and the dastardly deed roused the city to indignation unspeakable. " Vengeance ! " was the cry on every lip, and hardly had the murderers returned to the Old Palace ere it was assaulted with such fury that it might even have been stormed had not Montezuma appeared on the battlements and besought his people to depart. Sullenly they obeyed, resolving to blockade if they might not attack.
With a dark and angry face Cortes listened to the story. Then in a tone of repressed fury and bitter disdain he said to Alvarado, " You have been false to your trust. Your conduct has been that of a madman ! " At this moment Montezuma entered the court- yard borne in his palanquin, clad in his royal robes and surrounded by his family and attendants. As Cortes looked from the splendour of the procession to his own ragged, hungry soldiers his heart grew harder and more bitter. " I salute you, O Malinche, and welcome your return," said the emperor, and Marina in her sweet, clear voice translated the courteous words. Fixing the emperor with a cold stare, the general turned away without a word of greeting in reply. Montezuma, who had restrained the violence of his subjects, and had shared his own provisions with the garrison, was cut to the heart at the deliberate insult. Returning to his apartments he sent to request an interview. But Cortes, whose temper seems for once to have completely given way, exclaimed angrily, " What have I to do with this dog of a king who suffers us to starve before his eyes ? " Leon, Olid, and Lugo hastily interposed, begging the general to be more considerate to the emperor, whose kindness and generosity had never wavered. The implied censure seemed to irritate Cortes the more. "What compliment am I under to a dog who leaves us to die of famine ? " he exclaimed. Then turning to the Aztecs he said sternly, " Go, tell your master and his people to open the markets, or we will do it for them at their cost ! Begone ! " A reply soon came from the emperor.
"My people," he said, " are ready to attack Malinche and his followers. Cuitlahuac, my brother, the lord of Iztapalapan, whom he holds a prisoner, is the only man I can depend on to keep the peace and open the markets. " So Cortes, in sore need of provisions, set free Cuitlahuac, who had been imprisoned with Cacama, king of Tezcuco. But the lord of Iztapalapan, brave and patriotic, far from calming the Aztecs, became their leader against the Spaniards, and re- turned no more to the Old Palace. Cortes, meanwhile, not realising the imminence of the danger, dispatched a solitary messenger to Villa Rica to tell of his safe arrival. And now from every side, by the causeways, by the lake, up the canals, up the streets, came pouring into Mexico all the tribes summoned by Cuitlahuac and Guatemozin, nephew of Montezuma and bravest of Aztecs. Louder and nearer each minute grew the distant thunder of the mingled war-cries, and as the Spanish captains mounted the palace roof an appalling sight met their startled eyes. The whole valley seemed dark with warriors ! A white man came staggering down the street bearing no lance, but many wounds, and shouting as he ran. It was the messenger to Villa Rica, and as his comrades dragged him in through the gates flung open to receive him, he cried, "The city is all in arms ! The drawbridges are up, and the enemy will soon be upon us ! "
The noise of the advancing multitudes grew into deafening uproar as they swept into the streets surrounding the Old Palace. Yelling their war-cries, with their banners tossing above them, and in their midst frenzied priests clashing cymbals and leaping in fierce exaltation, they advanced at a run. Suddenly from behind the parapets on all the flat house-tops around sprang up myriads of warriors, who swarmed also on the terraces of the teocallis in the great temple. The Old Palace was but one story high, except in the centre, where another had been added, and was much lower therefore than the surrounding buildings, which offered a strong vantage-point to the Aztecs.
At the first alarm every Spaniard had rushed to his post. Aghast as they were at the great array which seemed to have appeared as if by magic against them, there was no panic or confusion, so marvelous was their discipline. Here and there through the walls which surrounded the Old Palace they had pierced holes for the guns, and the gunners but waited the word of command. Three times did the drum ,of serpent skins boom forth from the great teocal, and at the last stroke the Aztecs rushed forward raining their missiles thick and fast into the palace courtyard. With their guns the Spaniards answered, and terrible was the effect on an enemy whose dense ranks were so easy a mark that "the gunners loaded and fired with hardly the trouble of pointing their pieces."
But nothing could daunt the spirit of the Aztecs. Those behind pressed forward to take the place of the slain, and scaling the wall fought hand to hand. At Guatemozin's command balls of burning cotton were shot into the enclosure, and though the palace was of stone the huts of the Tlascalans were of reeds and wood and speedily caught fire. The Spaniards had no water to spare, and they were obliged to pull down part of the walls ere they could stay the flames. Over the breach the Aztecs rushed, only to be driven back by the heavy guns. When night fell the natives withdrew to collect their dead and wounded, and the garrison, thankful for the respite, repaired the defences.
At daybreak, just as the Aztecs prepared to renew the assault, the guns thundered forth, mowing down their foremost ranks, and then out of the gates dashed Cortes and his cavalry, followed by the infantry and Tlascalans. So headlong was the charge that the Spaniards, scattering all before them, rode unopposed down the wide street. But soon a barricade barred the way, and while they waited for the guns to come up and clear the road, missiles were showered from the roofs on either side, and the Aztecs falling on the rear did deadly work among the Tlascalans. The way was cleared, but at every bridge the struggle was renewed, and the Spaniards, though victorious at all points, suffered severely.
At last Cortes sounded a retreat, darkness was falling, and his men were weary with the fight. Several hundred of the citadel houses had been burnt down, but the way back seemed even more difficult than the advance. "The Mexicans fought with such ferocity," says Bernal Diaz, " that if we had the assistance that day of ten thousand Hectors, we could not have beaten them off! Some of our soldiers who had been in Italy swore that neither among Christians nor Turks, nor the artillery of the king of France, had they ever seen such desperation as was shown by these Indians."
Cortes himself fought like a hero, rescuing single-handed one of his cavaliers who had been unhorsed and almost overwhelmed by the foe. Not until the gates of the Old Palace clanged behind them did they feel themselves in safety. All night long the Aztecs encamped around the Spanish quarters, and though they did not continue the fight their warlike yells showed they were far from subdued in spirit. "The gods have delivered you at last into our hands ! " they cried, " Huitzilopotchli has long wanted his victims. The stone of sacrifice is ready ! The knives are sharpened ! The wild beasts in the palace are roaring for their offal, and the cages are waiting for the Tlascalans, false sons of Anahuac, who are to be fattened for the festival ! " Even the stout-hearted Spanish veterans shuddered as they heard the savage threats and thought of what the morrow might bring forth.
True to their threats, the Aztecs renewed the assault early next morning, and Cortes soon realised that his men, few in number as compared with the enemy, could not long stand the strain of such fighting. He felt that their only hope lay in the emperor, who must be induced to appease his subjects once more by promising that the Spaniards would, if permitted, immediately leave the city. " What have I to do with Malintzin ? " exclaimed Montezuma bitterly, "I do not wish to hear from him. I desire only to die ! "
At last, however, Father Olmedo won his reluctant consent. " I will speak to my people," he said, " but it will be useless. They will neither believe me nor the false promises of Malintzin. You will never leave these walls alive." So the emperor of the Aztecs, preceded by the golden wand of empire, but surrounded by a Spanish guard, mounted the palace roof to speak for the last time to his faithful people. He was arrayed in his royal robes, and on his weary brow rested the gorgeous crown of Mexico.
A sudden silence fell on the battling multitudes below as they gazed on the monarch they had so long revered. For a moment Montezuma was speechless with emotion, then, in a tone of kingly dignity, he said : " Why are you here in arms against the palace of my fathers ? Is it that you think your sovereign a prisoner ? If so, you have acted rightly. But you are mistaken. The strangers are my guests. I remain with them only from choice, and can leave them when I list. Have you come to drive them from the city ? They will depart of their own accord if you will open a way for them. Return to your homes, lay down your arms, and the white men shall go back to their own land, and all shall be well again within the walls of Tenochtitlan."
But when the people heard their emperor declare that the ruthless invaders of their city were his guests and friends, a frenzy of patriotic wrath swept through the multitude. " Base Aztec ! " they cried, " coward ! woman ! fit only to weave and spin ! " and, before the Spaniards could shield him, Montezuma was struck senseless to the ground by a shower of stones and arrows. A sudden horror at their own deed instantly smote the Aztecs, who scattered in every direction with groans of bitter mourning, leaving the great square silent and deserted.