The emperor, restored to consciousness, lay speechless in his apartments, refusing steadfastly to eat, and when his attendants strove to heal his wounds he tore away the bandages. His one longing was for death.The Aztec warriors soon rushed back to their posts, thirsting for vengeance.
The great teocalli of Huitzilopotchli, nearly a hundred and fifty feet high, afforded so strong a vantage-point, that Cortes saw that at all costs he must dislodge the band of caciques who from its terraces and summit deluged the Old Palace with blinding missiles. Three attempts had the Spanish captains made in vain, and now the general, though wounded, resolved to capture the tower himself. Fastening a spear to his left arm, which was disabled, with three hundred of his bravest followers and several thousand Tlascalans, he charged the gateway of the serpent wall and galloped into the great courtyard. Leaving the gunners, bowmen, and Tlascalans to hold the square, which was soon won, Cortes and his cavaliers sprang up the stairway of the great teocalli. Desperate was the ascent, and many a good soldier was hurled to the bottom by the storm of javelins, spears, and stones from the terraces above. For nearly a mile round the four platforms and up the five stairways the Spaniards fought their way, aided by the gunners and bowmen in the courtyard, who picked off the dusky warriors above.
At last the summit was gained, and there was waged so wild and fierce a battle that the troops in the city below ceased their warfare to gaze fascinated at this conflict in mid-air. No wall or parapet protected the edge, smooth and slippery was the stone pavement, and sometimes two wrestling figures locked together in furious struggle rolled headlong over the dizzy brink. For three long hours did the fight endure, but one after another the caciques and priests fell before the keen Castilian swords. At the shrine of Huitzilopotchli the survivors took their last stand, and on them rushed the mailed strangers with their glittering steel, Cortes, as usual, to the fore. Suddenly two caciques, unarmed, flung themselves on the Spanish general, dragged him by main force to the edge of the summit, resolved to leap into death with their country's foe ! But at the brink one of them stumbled, and Cortes, tearing himself away, escaped the horrible fate. At length the battle was ended. Every Aztec was slain, and forty-five of the most gallant cavaliers had perished also, while each man bore gaping wounds. " Here Cortes showed himself," said Bernal Diaz, "the man that he really was ! "
and the Last Stand of the Aztecs Buddy Levy
The worlds of Cortes and Montezuma collide and come to life.
The first act of the conquerors was to enter the two sanctuaries. They found, to their wrath, that the image of the Virgin Mary had been removed, but the horrible Huitzilopotchli still stood in his niche, before him his censer of smoking hearts, torn perhaps from Christian victims ! Out of the chapel, across the broad summit and over the brink of the precipice the vengeful victors hurled the mighty god, while the crowds below gazed in frozen horror. Then setting fire to the sanctuary itself, they returned, unopposed, to their own quarters. And the flames, rising like banners in the sky, announced to the people in all the fair valley of Mexico that their religion was tottering to its fall.
That very night the tireless general made a sortie, and the flames of three hundred burning houses lit up the grim strangers at their work of destruction. Surely now, thought Cortes, he had proved himself master, and broken the spirit of the enemy. Requesting a parley, he mounted the roof of the Old Palace with Marina by his side. " You have seen your gods trampled in the dust, and your warriors falling on all sides," he called to the listening Aztecs. " If you will lay down your arms and return once more to your obedience, I will yet stay my hand. But if you do not, I will make your city a heap of ruins, and leave not a soul alive ! " " You have destroyed our temples and massacred our warriors. Many more, doubtless, will fall under your terrible swords. But we are content if for every thousand Mexicans we can shed the blood of a single white man ! Look out on our terraces and streets, see them still thronged with warriors as far as your eye can reach ! Our numbers are scarcely lessened while yours are diminishing every hour. You are perishing from hunger and sickness. Your provisions and water are failing, and you must soon fall into our hands. The bridges are broken down and you cannot escape ! There will be too few of you left to glut the vengeance of our gods ! " The words were but too true, and the hearts of the bravest veterans sank, while as for the soldiers of Narvaez, they showered maledictions upon Cortes, who had led them with his specious promises into such a death-trap.
Retreat was the only possible course, and anxiously the general considered when and by what way it could most safely be effected. He decided that the western causeway leading to Tacuba would be safer, because shorter, than the great southern dyke. But before beginning the perilous retreat he resolved to make a sortie to clear the road and build up the broken bridges.
Early the next morning the palace gate opened, and out dashed the cavaliers, scattering the dense ranks of the enemy. Behind came the Tlascalans dragging along with ropes three strange - looking machines. The Aztecs gazed with fear and curiosity. The monsters seemed to be square towers, two stories high, and they rolled heavily along on wheels. Suddenly from each of the machines doors dropped down, the muzzles of guns appeared, and both house-tops and street were swept with a withering fire. Then from the upper story ladders were flung out on to the roofs of the houses, and armed Spaniards springing across grappled with the astonished Aztec warriors, set fire to the buildings, and replacing the ladder returned to their tower of defence. Down the long street went these manias, leaving behind them a burning track. They were protected by a vanguard of cavalry and a rearguard of infantry, and in vain did Guatemozin strive to stop their progress. But at last they came to a palace so high that from its commanding roof the Aztecs could hurl with ease their clouds of missiles. Crash after crash struck the manias, until at last they fell to pieces, and many of the men within were crushed to death.
Abandoning the ruined machines, the Spaniards now found the way barred by a canal, and fierce was the fight ere they were able to restore the broken bridge. Seven canals cut the street to Tacuba, and at each there was the same hard struggle. Very weary were the men whom Cortes led back at night to the Old Palace, but early next morning they were perforce once again in the saddle, and before the day closed a way had been rebuilt over each canal. Strong companies of infantry under Alvarado were stationed at each bridge.
To the general there now came a message that the Aztecs wished to confer with him in his quarters at the Old Palace. With thankful heart, hoping that their spirit at last was broken, Cortes rode hastily back, and at once consented to the Mexican proposal that two priests captured in the teocalli should be released to bear his terms. One of these priests was the teoteuctu, or high priest of Mexico, a mighty power among the Aztecs. Forth they went from the enemy's quarters to the wild welcome which awaited them in the city. But on no errand of peace were they bound, and no intention had they of ever returning to the Old Palace. The request for a conference had been but a ruse. Cortes and some of his officers, very tired with the long day's fight, were hurriedly eating a much-needed meal, and debating as to the result of their offers of peace, when a frantic message came that the detachments under Alvarado had been overpowered at three of the bridges. Flinging themselves into the saddle, Cortes and his cavaliers rode at once to the rescue. " Christo y Santiago ! " rang out the battle-cry, and Alvarado and his men rallied once more. Each bridge was regained, but as the general rode back victorious down the long street he found to his dismay that the enemy had actually fallen with renewed ferocity on the infantry guarding the chief bridge, which they had again destroyed. Once more a desperate struggle, while the Spaniards strove to repair the bridge and make good their retreat.
Gallantly did the cavaliers cover the infantry at their work, and never did Cortes him-self fight more recklessly. Until the last man had crossed he held the foe at bay, and then, as some of the planks had given way, he leaped his horse across a gulf six feet in width. His escape was looked on by the old Spanish chroniclers as a miracle, and they record that the holy Virgin, robed in white, was seen at his side throwing dust into the eyes of the Aztecs. As the darkness fell the Indians scattered, and the Spaniards were left to retrace their steps unmolested to their quarters. More dejected, battered, and worn they were after their victory than after many a more doubtful fray, and bad news awaited the general's return.
The Aztec emperor lay at the point of death, and had asked for Malinche. During these two days of battle Montezuma, refusing all food and all remedies, had been slowly dying on his couch in the Old Palace. As Cortes clanked in his armor into the death-chamber, he saw Father Olmedo holding the ivory crucifix before the emperor's dying eyes, and beseeching him to find everlasting happiness while there was still time. But true to his own religion, the Aztec replied, " I have but a few moments to live, and will not at this hour desert the faith of my fathers." Turning eagerly to Cortes, he committed to his care " my most precious jewels, my children." He begged Malinche to request his master, the monarch of Spain, to see that if their country fell they should yet not be left destitute, but given some portion of their rightful inheritance. " Your lord will do this," he said, " if it were only for the friendly offices I have rendered the Spaniards, and for the love I have shown them though it has brought me to this condition ! " According to the conquerors, from whom alone we have the story of Montezuma's death, he added, " But for this I bear them no ill-will." It is hard to believe that their report was absolutely true ! So on the 30th of June 1520 the great Montezuma died in the quarters of the white strangers, who had sailed to his shores from the land of the rising sun, bringing with them fire and sword and ruin to all that he held most dear. Eighteen years had he ruled as emperor of Anahuac, yet he was but forty-one, in the prime of life, when he met his miserable end.
" Thus," says a native historian, " died the unfortunate Montezuma, who had swayed the sceptre with such consummate policy and wisdom, and who was held in greater reverence and awe than any other prince of his lineage, or any, indeed, that ever sat on a throne in this western world. With him may be said to have terminated the imperial line of the Aztecs, and the glory to have passed away from the empire, which under him had reached the zenith of its prosperity ! "
In simpler language old Bernal Diaz, who had known and loved the munificent, gentle-mannered Aztec, tells of his death. " The tidings were received with real grief," he says, "by every cavalier and soldier who had known him, as if he had been our father and no wonder, seeing how good he was ! " Early in the morning the body of the emperor, arrayed in his robes of state, was borne by six Aztec nobles, through the gates of the Old Palace, to his people in the city.Montezuma, so often a shield to the Spaniards, was dead, and now their one thought was how most quickly to escape from his city. Should the retreat be attempted by night or by day ?
There was among the common soldiers a man named Botello " who spoke Latin, had been at Rome, and was said to be a necromancer ; while some declared he had a familiar, and others called him an astrologer." This man predicted that if Cortes did not attempt the retreat the last night of the month of June, not a Spaniard would be left alive. If that night was chosen the flight would be successful, though Botello himself would perish. So much influence had the astrologer on his comrades, that Cortes decided to please his men and leave the city that very night. The question of what to do with the sick and wounded troubled the general. They were far too numerous to be all carried away, and Cortes reluctantly declared that the three hundred wounded Tlascalans must be left behind.
As to the Spaniards, those who could not possibly march should be borne in litters. A few hours later Father Olmedo came to the general with a brave story of Indian resolution and heroism. He had seen the Tlascalan caciques go to their wounded warriors. He had seen each stricken man bare his breast with smiles of heroic joy to receive his death-blow from the javelin of his chief, resolved to save the honour of his race. When the Aztecs entered the deserted palace they would find no victims for their gods. Only the dead would await them !
The preparations for retreat went rapidly forward. Martin Lopez, the carpenter, was ordered to construct a portable bridge of very strong timber, to be thrown over the canals where the enemy had broken down the bridges. With great care Cortes arranged for the transport of the treasure belonging to the Crown, entrusting it to a strong Castilian guard, under Alonzo de Avila, one of the royal officers. Much booty had, perforce, to be left behind, and greedily the soldiers eyed the glittering heaps. " Take what you will of it," said the general ; " better you should have it than these Mexican hounds. But be careful not to overload yourselves. He travels safest in the dark night who travels lightest." The veterans listened to the warning, but the soldiers of Narvaez eagerly seized loads of gold and great bars of silver.
At last the darkness fell. Wild and stormy was the night, and the fugitives shivered as they peered fearfully into the icy gloom without the palace walls. At midnight all was ready, and Cortes rode to the gateway to see his army pass forth. Two hundred infantry formed the vanguard under the command of Sandoval, supported by Ordaz, Lugo, and twenty cavaliers. Then came a large band of Tlascalans bearing the portable bridge. They were escorted by the captain Magarino and forty picked Spaniards, who had all sworn to defend to the death their charge on which so much depended. In the centre, protected by a strong guard, under the command of the general himself, came the baggage, the artillery, the wounded, the prisoners, and the women. Marina and Montezuma's daughters were carried in curtained palanquins. The rearguard, consisting chiefly of the infantry of Narvaez, was commanded by Alvarado and Leon. In silence they all filed past, and then Cortes, with one last look of bitter regret at the palace where he had lorded it as ruler of an empire, galloped out into the night after his devoted army.
Through the silent city they hurried, starting at every sound, for might not the enemy spring up at any moment from the dark alleys on either side ? And how could they fight entrapped in the street, and burdened with wounded and baggage ? But only the tramp of the horses, the rumble of the carriages, and the driving rain and wind broke the stillness of the night. With a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanksgiving, Sandoval passed with the vanguard out from the cramping street on to the open causeway, which was broken by three canals. At the first gaping chasm they waited for Magarino and his bridge. Suddenly a loud shrill sound pealed forth, and the hearts of the fugitives stood still. As they listened with strained white faces, another blast rang out and yet another, until from every quarter of the city the warning note seemed to echo. Then boomed forth the blood-curdling drum of Huitzilopotchli, crying for vengeance on the impious strangers. The Aztecs were awake !
Hastily the bridge was laid down, but even as the vanguard marched across they heard the sound as of the gathering of a mighty multitude, and the report of a gun in the city behind told them that their comrades had been already attacked. Louder and nearer grew the distant sounds, and just as Cortes, with his company and the baggage, reached the bridge, out of the dark water, on either side, sprang up a fleet of canoes filled with white-clothed warriors. So furious was the storm of missiles that the infantry, panic- stricken, pressed wildly on the cavaliers, who were thus driven across the bridge. Cortes attempted in vain to make a stand. The horsemen, riding down their assailants, swept by, and after them struggled the infantry with the baggage. Every moment added to the multitude of canoes and increased the carnage.
All sense of discipline was lost, and each man fought and prayed for himself, straining forward over friend and foe. For a time Cortes stayed his horse by the bridge, but at last he too was swept onward. Those who could, struggled madly after the general's flying horse, but the sick and the wounded, the women and the prisoners, were all slain. There fell Cacama, the heroic young king of Tezcuco, and the two princesses, the fair daughters of Montezuma. Marina, rescued and borne to the vanguard by some Tlascalans, was fortunately saved.
Cuitlahuac, the new emperor of the Aztecs
Meanwhile the rearguard, under Alvarado Leon, were still in the city where Guatemozin in person led the Aztecs. To this gallant young prince had been given the chief command by his uncle, Cuitlahuac, who had been elected king at the death of Montezuma. Desperate was the fight and great was the havoc wrought by the guns, but at last the gunners were slain, and the fiery monsters captured by the exultant foe.
Leon then, valiant both on horseback and foot, ever ready to bear the brunt of battle, made a last heroic stand, and the pile of Aztec dead that rose around him and his brave followers bore witness to the desperation with which they sold their lives. All this time Magarino with his faithful band of Spaniards and Tlascalans had been defending the bridge for his comrades. At last up galloped Alvarado with but a remnant of his men. Carving their way across, they shouted to Magarino that they alone survived of all the rearguard.
It was time to raise the bridge and carry it forward to the next canal. But it had been wedged so firmly into the soft banks by the weight of men, horses, and gun carriages, that the utmost efforts to move it were of no avail. Yet Magarino, with despair in his heart, laboured on amidst a terrible storm of missiles. The safety of the whole army depended on him, for how could they escape without the bridge ? Closer and closer pressed the Aztecs, ghost -like in their white tunics, and one by one Spaniard and Tlascalan dropped dead at their captain's side. Magarino, left almost alone at his post, gave up the work at last, and with a despairing cry, " Todo es perdido ! All is lost ! Save yourselves ! " fought his way with his few surviving followers across the fateful bridge.
Long before this Sandoval and the vanguard had reached the second canal, where they waited impatiently for the coming of the bridge. Here, too, the waters were covered with the canoes of the Aztecs, who sprang on to the causeway to grapple with their foes. " Santiago ! " cried the captain to his men, " stand firm. We must hold the canal for Magaririo." But, goaded by the fierce attack, the infantry forced the horsemen to the brink of the yawning gulf, and Sandoval, calling to his cavaliers to follow, dashed into the water and swam his horse across. The infantry were left a writhing, leaderless mass on the other side. Would Magarino never come ? Many of the men in despair hurled themselves into the canal, but few reached the bank. Weighed down by armor, they sank beneath the dark waters, or were dragged on board the canoes victims for the gods !
Cortes, riding up with his guard of horsemen, beheld a scene of hopeless confusion. Not even his presence could restore order now. Swimming his horse across, he strove with his fearless cavaliers to hold the canal until the coming of the bridge. At his side fell his favourite page, but still the general held to his post, praying that Magarino might hasten. And now the cry arose, " Todo es per dido ! The bridge cannot be raised ! Magarino will not come ! " All chance of escape seemed to vanish, and wilder than ever grew the panic. In front was the bridgeless canal, behind and on either side the foe.
Instinct drove the despairing soldiers blindly forward, and those in front were flung into the gulf by the mad rush behind. Cortes, as he saw the struggling men and horses drowning in the swirling waters, or finding a rescue worse than death in the Aztec canoes, turned his horse at last and galloped after the vanguard with the bitter cry, " Todo es perdido ! " The canal was soon filled with baggage and the bodies of men and horses, and over this ghastly bridge clambered those who came last. The general, galloping on, found the vanguard halting before the third canal. Here the attack was not nearly so fierce, for the mass of the enemy was behind. The cavaliers calling to the foot soldiers to follow, made the plunge and swam across, and though many were drowned, most of the company reached the bank in safety. Riding to the end of the causeway, Cortes led his miserable little band on to the mainland.
Escape of Alvarado
At this moment a rumour came that some of the rearguard still survived, but that they would all be lost unless rescued. Careless of danger, Cortes, Sandoval, Olid, De Morla, and other brave cavaliers turned their horses back along the causeway. " Santiago ! Santiago ! To the rescue ! " they cried ; and Alvarado, on foot and wounded, but defending himself at the last canal against a host of assailants, was right glad to hear the battle-cry. His beloved mare Bradamante, whom he always called his sweetheart, had been killed under him, and all his followers had fallen save seven Spaniards and a few Tlascalans .Several times the Aztecs could have slain the hated Tonatiuh, but they had sworn to carry him off for sacrifice. Cortes and his cavaliers diverted the attack, though De Morla paid the forfeit with his life.
Alvarado, breaking through his foes, stood for an instant alone on the brink of the canal. Flinging away his shield and sword, and planting his long lance on the wreckage at the bottom of the water, he leapt into the air, cleared the wide gulf, and stood safe among his comrades, while Spaniard and Aztec alike gazed in wonder at the mighty feat. " This is truly the Tonatiuh the child of the Sun!" exclaimed the Indians in awestruck tones, and to this very day they call the place " Alvarado's Leap." Mounting behind Cortes, the hero rode with his rescuers safely to the mainland. Weary perhaps with slaughter, or eager for the spoil scattered along the causeway, the Aztecs did not long pursue the wretched remnant of the once dreaded strangers.
On the steps of an Indian temple not far from the lake, Cortes sat down in the dismal dawn to count his losses by the number of the living. Chilled and wounded, with ragged, blood-stained clothes and broken armour, the men passed slowly by.
The artillery and baggage were lost, most of the horses had been killed, and not a single musket remained. As the general looked in vain for Velasquez de Leon, Francisco de Morla, and many another trusted comrade, he could not restrain the tears of bitter regret. Most of the soldiers of Narvaez, overloaded with treasure, had perished, and Botello the astrologer was, as he himself had predicted, among the slain. Over four hundred Spaniards and four thousand Tlascalans, at least, must have fallen on that terrible night, ever afterwards called La Noche Triste ( the night of sorrows ).
Wearily they tramped through the city of Tacuba towards the open country their only refuge. At a hill crowned with a stone temple, a good stronghold in which to encamp, they halted. But it was held by some Aztec warriors, and the jaded Spaniards declared at first that they could fight no more. Urging them on with his wonderful power of per- suasion, Cortes charged up the hill, and easily took possession of the temple.
Deeply thankful were the fugitives to find at last shelter and rest. Drying their sodden garments at glowing fires, they dressed their wounds, cooked their much-needed food, and then threw themselves down to forget their miseries in sleep.
Only one day did the Spaniards rest in the temple on the hill, which lay too near to Mexico for safety. At midnight they set out once more, leaving their fires burning to deceive the enemy. Through the darkness they traveled safely, bearing the sick and wounded in the centre of the company, but when daylight came bands of Indians were seen gathering on the hills. With stones and darts and arrows these skirmishers, who were not Aztec warriors, but natives of the valley, harassed the retreating Teules, not venturing, however, to attack them at close range. At night the little army encamped in the wayside villages, which they found always deserted and destitute of food. Even in the cornfields nothing had been left but stalks, and the fugitives soon began to suffer terribly from hunger. They lived chiefly on the wild cherry, and once when a horse had to be killed Cortes himself describes how appetising seemed its flesh, and in fact even its hide !
Some of the soldiers dropped dead on the road- side; others, too weak to keep up, fell behind and were captured by the enemy ; others, again, searching for cherries, strayed from the ranks and met with the same evil fate. A few of the Spaniards who had actually carried treasure safely through la Noche Triste were now compelled to fling it away. "The devil take your gold," said Cortes to one of these men, " if it is to cost you your life ! " The general, though wounded, shared the scanty fare of his men, and was ever at hand to cheer on the weak and fainting. "There was no people," says an old chronicler, "so capable of supporting hunger as the Spaniards, and none were ever more severely tried than the soldiers of Cortes." He might have added that the Tlascalans showed equal courage and endurance.
They had taken the longer route to Tlascala skirting the northern lakes, and they came now in view of the ever silent Micoatl, the "Pathway of the Dead." Here stood the giant pyramids built by that mysterious people who dwelt in the land of Anahuac long ages before the Aztecs left their ancient home in the north.
Here, too, lay a buried city, Tiotihuacan, the " Habitation of the Gods." The Aztecs declared that the largest pyramid was sacred to the sun, the lesser to the moon, while the smaller mounds had been dedicated to the stars.They said that on the Pyramid of the Sun had stood in old time a mighty statue made of one solid block of stone facing the east, with a burnished shield on which fell each morning the first ray of the rising god. But the Spaniards, famished, weary, and anxious, cast no glance of wonder at these monuments of the past.
When they reached the summit of the mountain road, and looked down on the valley of Otumba below, a sight arrested their eyes more stupendous to them at that moment than the greatest and hoariest of ruins. Glittering in war- like array, a mighty host stretched over the valley as far as the eye could see. " Neither in front, nor in the rear, nor on the flanks," declared Cortes, "could any part of the plain be seen which was not covered by the Indians." Well might Spaniard and Tlascalan tremble at the sight, and even the general, as he formed his men for the coming battle, felt that hardly by a miracle could they win through so vast an opposing force.
He had only twenty horses, but fortunately they were fairly fresh, as he had not allowed the wounded soldiers for two days past to mount behind the cavaliers. As he glanced at the set faces of his men, pale beneath their bronze, he realised that there was no need to urge them onwards. Each man knew that to retreat was hopeless. They must fight, or perish like slaves on the block of sacrifice. In dogged despair they marched down to meet the foe, resolved at the worst to sell their lives dearly. " Oh, what it was to see this tremendous battle ! " cries Bernal Diaz ; " how we closed foot to foot, and with what fury the dogs fought us ! such wounding as there was amongst us with their lances and clubs and two-handed swords, while our cavalry, favoured by the plain ground, bore down their opponents with couched lances, still fighting manfully, though they and their horses were all wounded ; and we of the infantry, negligent of our hurts, redoubled our efforts to bear them down with our swords. . . . Then to hear the valiant Sandoval, how he encouraged us, crying out, ' Now, gentlemen, is the day of victory ! ' Yet in spite of their valour, complete destruction threatened the little band, who seemed like an island in the midst of a raging sea."
Suddenly Cortes beheld but a little distance away the golden banner of the commander-in-chief, who was borne in a litter and surrounded by a guard of young caciques." Gentlemen ! " he cried to Sandoval, Alvarado, Olid, Avila, and other cavaliers, " there is our mark ! Follow and support me ! " " Christo y Santiago ! " rang out the battle-cry, and by the very fury of their charge the cavaliers made a path to their goal. Flinging to right and left the guard of warriors, Cortes sprang on the litter and hurled the commander to the ground, where he was speedily dispatched by a young cavalier, who offered to his heroic general the golden banner.
The news of this miraculous deed and their commander's death spread such panic among the Aztecs that they immediately broke and fled, hotly pursued by Spaniards and Tlascalans, So ended the glorious battle of Otumba, when the Spaniards and their allies, few in number, wounded, weary, famished, with but twenty horses, and without cannon or muskets, put to flight a mighty Indian army. They themselves believed that it was a miracle, for had not some of the soldiers seen St. Jago on his milk-white horse leading on the cavaliers ? An old chronicler attributes the victory, with more reason, entirely to the general, who "by his single arm saved the whole force from destruction."
Cortes, unexpectedly modest about his own exploit, thus describes the battle in his letter to the Emperor Charles : " We went on fighting in that toilsome manner a great part of the day, until it pleased God that there was slain a person amongst the enemy who must have been the general, for with his death the battle altogether ceased."
The next morning the victors continued their march to Tlascala, and Spaniards and allies alike greeted the first sight of the mighty boundary wall with shouts of joy. But Cortes, remembering the story of death and disaster he was bringing to the little republic, wondered anxiously if the people would demand from the strangers the blood of their fallen countrymen. The Tlascalans, however, flocked to meet the army with all kindliness. For a day or two the soldiers rested in a frontier village, and then the great chiefs of the republic came to welcome them and invite them to the capital. "
Oh, Malinche, Malinche ! " said Maxixca, the most ancient lord, " how it grieves us to hear of your misfortunes and of the multitude of our own men who have perished with yours ! Have we not told you many times that you should not trust in these Aztecs ? But now the thing is done, and nothing more remains at present but to rest and cure you. Wherefore we will go immediately to our city. We have made common cause together, and we have common injuries to avenge, and come weal or woe, be assured we will stand by you to the death ! " With these generous words the Tlascalans, carrying the sick and wounded in hammocks, led their allies to the capital, where they were received as honoured guests. But as they passed down the city streets, mingled with the shouts of welcome was the wailing of many a woman who looked in vain for the father, husband, or son who would return no more.
For many weeks the Spaniards rested in Tlascala, slowly recovering from their wounds. Cortes himself lay helpless for days in the palace of Maxixca with two wounds on his head and one in his left hand. But even in his fever and weakness he was making plans for retrieving his broken fortunes. His resolve remained unchanged Mexico must be conquered. Terrible had been the loss, yet the ship- builder Martin Lopez, the interpreters Marina and Aquilar, and most of the captains were safe, and Cortes, as he weighed his chances of recovery, refused to give up hope. When the soldiers found that the general had sent to Villa Rica for reinforcements, and realised that he was thinking of fresh battles rather than of retreat, they were filled with amazement and in many cases with consternation. His own men, indeed, were proud of his intrepid spirit, and had an almost childlike confidence in his skill and good fortune, but the soldiers of Narvaez were loud in their anger and discontent. The very thought of further warfare, with their crippled resources, seemed mere madness. They drew up and signed a written remonstrance, demanding to be led back to the coast immediately.Calling his men together, he made a stirring appeal to their honour and their courage.
"Will you leave your conquest, half-achieved, for others more daring and adventurous to finish ? ' he asked. " How can you, with any honour, desert your allies and leave them unprotected to the vengeance of the Aztecs ? To retreat but a single step towards Villa Rica will proclaim our weakness. It will be easy now to retrieve our losses if you will have patience, and abide in this friendly land until the reinforcements, which will be ready to come in at my call, shall enable us to act on the offensive. If, however," he added with scorn, " there are any who prefer ease at home to the glory of this great achievement, I will not stand in their way. Let them go, in God's name ! I shall feel stronger in the service of a few brave spirits, than if surrounded by a host of the false or the faint-hearted." Fired as usual by their leader's words, his own veterans swore to stand by him to the last, while the soldiers of Narvaez, somewhat ashamed, promised to delay their departure for the present.
Just at this time there arrived at Tlascala six Aztec ambassadors sent by the emperor Cuitlahuac. They brought presents of cotton and salt, articles not found and therefore much valued in Tlascala. They came to proffer alliance and to beg the chiefs of the republic to sacrifice the white men the common foes of the nations of Anahuac. If they harboured the strangers they would surely incur the wrath of the gods whose temples and altars the Spaniards had wantonly profaned. Let them take warning by the fate of Montezuma, whose friendship the white men had requited with bonds and tyranny . Up sprang the young warrior Xicotencatl from his seat in the council-chamber. " Let us," he cried, "unite with men of our own religion and language rather than with these strangers who worship no god but gold ! " Indignantly the ancient lords called out, "You would desert our guests, who have fought our battles and sought refuge within our gates, to join the Aztecs, ever fair in speech but false at heart ! " And in righteous wrath arose Xicotencatl's blind old father to thrust his son from the council-chamber.
Cured by the long rest, and strong in the support of the Tlascalans, Cortes now marched against a neighbouring tribe which had massacred twelve Spaniards on their way to Mexico. The prestige of the Spanish name must be restored, and the Indians taught that a dire vengeance would fall on all who injured a white man. These Tepeacans had once sworn allegiance to Spain, so Cortes chose to regard them as rebels, and when after two fierce battles he captured their town, the inhabitants were all branded as slaves with the letter G, standing for guerrilla war. At Tepeaca, which lay on the Mexican frontier, the Spaniards made their headquarters. The surrounding country was fertile, provisions were plentiful, and with the Tepeacans for their slaves they waxed once more strong and arrogant. But each day their indefatigable general led them forth to skirmish or to fight.
At the news that the white strangers were actually on the war-path again, Mexican garrisons were sent to all the frontier cities. The haughty pride of these Aztec warriors, however, often estranged the native caciques, who readily consented to intrigue with the Spaniards. In this Cortes saw his strongest weapon. By means of the subject tribes alone would he overthrow the Mexican Empire.
In a narrow valley at the foot of a rugged hill, with a stormy mountain torrent on either side and in front a stone wall, twenty feet high, stood a strong fortress city manned by a garrison of several thousand Aztecs. Secret word came to Cortes that if he would attack this place its cacique and citizens would turn on the garrison from whom they had endured much wrong and insolence. They were true to their word. Directly the Spaniards appeared in the valley they rose with unexpected fury against the Aztecs, who, unable to face at the same time treachery within and the cannon of the strangers without, were soon overwhelmed. Their citadel was stormed and every Aztec slain. " I should have been very glad to have taken some alive," says Cortes, " who could have informed me of what was going on in the great city, and who had been lord there since the death of Montezuma. But I succeeded in saving only one, and he was more dead than alive."
Too late to save their fortress, a Mexican army rushed down from the hill-tops, and fell fiercely on the Tlascalan force keeping guard in the valley below. " They mustered," says Cortes, " at least thirty thousand men, and it was a brave sight for the eye to look on such a beautiful array of warriors, glistening with gold and jewels and variegated featherwork ! " Out of the city, now all aflame, dashed the Spaniards to the aid of their allies, and the Aztecs were driven back in headlong flight. It was midday, and so scorching was the sun that it was " with difficulty one could pursue or the other fly." But desire for revenge gave wings to Tlascalan and Spaniard alike, and they followed the foe to their encampment on the very summit of the hills, where much rich booty rewarded their efforts.Victory brought new allies to Cortes, and once again the fame of the white men rose high.
Tribes discontented with the Aztec rule, and eager to be on the winning side, sent from far and near to offer their allegiance to Malinche. In two pitched battles Sandoval defeated the Mexican armies which had been stationed between Tepeaca and Vera Cruz to cut off communication with the coast. Exulting in his change of fortune, Cortes began to mature his plans for the siege of Mexico itself. Never again would he trust to the fatal causeways. La Noche Triste had taught him that to conquer Mexico he must command the lake. Martin Lopez, the shipwright, was sent to Tlascala with orders to build there thirteen ships which could be taken to pieces and carried on the shoulders of Indians over the mountains to the shores of Lake Tezcuco.
By great good luck valuable reinforcements now arrived from Cuba, sent by Velasquez, ignorant of the fate of Narvaez, to aid in the overthrow and capture of the rebel Cortes. The new-comers, finding that Narvaez was a prisoner, did not scruple to enlist under the victorious general, who thus gained a hundred and fifty men, many horses, and the ammunition and guns he so much needed.At Tepeaca was founded a Spanish colony, which was named Segura de la Frontera Security of the Frontier.
Here Cortes wrote his second letter to the Emperor Charles V., recounting all his strange adventures since the departure from the Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz. He requested that Mexico might henceforth be named " New Spain of the Ocean Sea," and he begged that a commission might be at once sent out to prove the truth of his statements.A letter signed by both officers and men was also written to his Majesty, complaining of the malice of Velasquez, and justifying the actions of their own beloved commander.
They besought the Emperor to confirm Cortes in his authority, declaring with truth that, from his knowledge of the land and its people and the devotion of his soldiers, he was "the man best qualified in all the world to achieve the conquest of the country." These important missives were entrusted to Ordaz, who was sent at once to the coast to take ship for Castile. At the same time Alonzo de Avila was dispatched to St. Domingo to report to the Royal Court of Audience in that island, and to obtain further supplies of ammunition.
victims of smallpox from an Aztec codex
Within the city of Mexico the Spaniards had an ally on whose aid Cortes, in his deepest calculations, had never counted, yet more deadly far than sword- thrust or gunshot. Strength, wealth, rank, and skill were powerless against the new foe, which swept through the island city with death always in its train. It attacked the king in his palace and the beggar in the street. Where three or four had fallen in battle a hundred perished at the touch of this dread fiend la viruela, the smallpox.
A negro slave had come over in one of the ships of Narvaez. He was a sick man when the fleet reached the coasts of Mexico, but his fellows had carried him ashore on a litter. He was the first negro on the continent of America, and he was dying of smallpox, until now unknown in Mexico. He died, and left behind a horrible legacy. All those who had gathered to gaze on this man of a strange race were stricken by the dire disease, always fatal, for in their ignorance they sought to cool the fever by bathing in cold water. Through all the land of Anahuac the smallpox spread with lightning speed.
The Spaniards alone, a stronger race and familiar with the disease, seemed to escape its baneful breath. It was in the crowded capital that la viruela wrought its greatest havoc, and there the people perished "like cattle ." Cuitlahuac, the emperor, was one of the first to fall. Four months only had he reigned in Montezuma's place, but in that time he had rallied his subjects and driven the strangers with slaughter from his city. To the royal palace on the cypress- crowned hill of Chapoltepec he dragged himself to die, and with his last breath he bequeathed "the intolerable burden of government" to his nephew Guatemoc, or, as he was usually called, Guatemozin or Cuauhtémoc, the tzin or lord Guatemoc.
In their magnificent robes of office, attended by three hundred of the nobles of Mexico, the four great lords, the electors of the empire, met together and confirmed Cuitlahuac's choice. And the three hundred nobles of Mexico echoed the ringing words, " Hail to you, Guatemoc, emperor of the Aztecs ! " Young for his great and difficult position, the new emperor was not only brave and resolute, but wise and skilful far beyond his years. He loved his country with an all-consuming passion, and his dearest wish was to free Mexico from the yoke of the stranger. Bernal Diaz describes him as "elegant in his person for an Indian, very valiant, and so terrible that his subjects trembled in his presence."
On the day of his coronation Guatemozin married his cousin Tecuichpo, Montezuma's youngest and fairest daughter. A mere girl, she too had a brave spirit, and was well fitted to help her heroic husband. With heart and soul the young monarch worked to prepare for the struggle he knew must come. Through his spies he learned the movements of the Spaniards. The defences of the city were strengthened, warriors were called in, and the weak and useless were sent into the country. The armies were drilled and exercised, and messages were sent to all the tributary states rousing them to attack the Teules. A high price was offered for the head of a white man, and great was the reward for a white prisoner a victim for the gods. Cortes meanwhile had returned in triumph to Tlascala with banners, booty, and files of captives to grace his march. Tumultuous welcome greeted him, and he was proclaimed " Avenger of the Nation." The people were much flattered to see that the great Teule was wearing deep mourning for Maxixca, the ancient lord of the republic, who had died during his absence, a victim to la viruela. Maxixca's successor, a boy of twelve, was easily persuaded to become a Christian, and even the blind old Xicotencatl consented to give up the faith of his fathers and receive baptism. With great goodwill the Spaniards and their allies worked together to prepare for the coming campaign.Under the direction of Martin Lopez the ship- building went rapidly forward. The timber was cut into shape, and marked for each particular part of the ships. Sails, rigging, and ironwork were brought by Indian tamanes from Vera Cruz, while pitch, hitherto unknown to the natives, was obtained from the neighbouring pine-woods. No difficulty seemed to daunt the general. When gunpowder ran short he called for volunteers to ascend Popocatepetl and bring back sulphur from the crater ! A young cavalier, Montano, at once set out with four comrades. Climbing the volcano, they reached the edge of the crater and gazed down into its blinding depths, whence rose volumes of sulphur-laden steam. Drawing lots, it fell to Montano himself to descend, and his comrades lowered him in a basket slowly downwards with many prayers to the Virgin and St. James. At length at a depth of four hundred feet they paused, while the daring man gathered the sulphur from the chasm walls. Several times was Montano thus lowered into the crater, until at last his mission was accomplished. Cortes was delighted with the young cavalier's hardihood, and mentioned it in his next letter to Charles V., adding, however, that it would be, on the whole, less arduous to import powder from Spain !
By Christmas-time all was ready for the march to Mexico. Cortes realised clearly the difficulties of discipline in this strangely-mingled force he was to lead against the " Queen of Cities." In the obedience of his own veterans he had complete confidence, but he must also control the men of Narvaez, the adventurers who had lately joined his standard, and the varying and often rival tribes of Indian allies. Before setting out, therefore, he laid down more stringent regulations. Brawling, duelling, charging the enemy without orders, purloining booty without leave, were all crimes to be punished with great severity.
Every soldier was to remember that the conversion of the heathen was the great object of the expedition, "without which the war would be manifestly unjust, and every acquisition made by it a robbery." On the 28th of December, Innocents' Day, six hundred Spaniards passed in review before their general with trumpets sounding and colours flying. There were forty horsemen, eighty gunners and cross- bowmen, and nine cannon. Then came the gorgeous array of Tlascalans, led by the four great chiefs of the republic. So great was the multitude of allies indeed, that the general, thinking of provisions, did not dare to take them all with him on his march to the valley of Mexico. Once more Spaniard and Tlascalan climbed together the mountain barrier and gained unchallenged the summit of the pass. Once more they paused in the difficult descent to gaze on the sun-bathed valley. Bitterly the veterans recalled their sufferings and their comrades lost, and thought with savage joy of vengeance for the past. " It made us feel," said Cortes, " that we had no choice but victory or death, and our minds once resolved we moved forward with as light a step as if we had been on an errand of certain pleasure."
The general had decided to make his headquarters in Tezcuco, whence he could prepare for the investment of Mexico by subduing the surrounding country and thus cutting off supplies. He did not intend to attempt an assault on the capital itself until the thirteen brigantines were finished, transported, and launched. At Cacama's death the emperor of Mexico had chosen for Tezcuco a new and warlike king, and the Spaniards feared as they marched across the valley that they would have to fight for the possession of the town.
They were much surprised, therefore, to be met by an embassy from the Tezcucan prince bearing the golden flag of friendship. The king sent welcome to the Teules, but begged them not to enter his city until the following day, when the preparations for their reception would be complete. Suspecting treachery Cortes refused to wait, and entered Tezcuco that very evening, the 31st of December. No king, no caciques came forth to welcome the visitors. Through well nigh deserted streets they were led to the vast palace of Nezahualpilli, empty now and silent. Climbing a tower to discover the cause of this ominous stillness, Cortes found that the lake was dark with the canoes of the inhabitants who were escaping with their goods, and on the shores also he beheld hastening towards the hills a throng of fugitives. Guards were at once posted at, the gates to turn back those who had not yet departed, but the king himself was already flying over the waters in his swift canoe to Mexico.
From his home in the fastnesses of the mountains Cortes summoned to Tezcuco Ixtlilxochitl, the brother who had waged war with Cacama for the throne, and who had wrested from him his dominion in the hills. Ever since the death of his father Nezahualpilli, this prince had cherished in his heart a bitter hatred against the Mexicans, by whose aid alone his brother had ruled as king. He but waited a time for vengeance, and now that hour had come. Gladly he accepted from the hands of Malinche the crown of Tezcuco, declared vacant by the flight of his brother.
Willingly he swore to spend himself in the service of the white men ; and so faithfully he kept his oath, that he did more than any other of his race to destroy the liberty of Anahuac. No wonder that the Tezcucan chronicler has grim stories to tell of the prince's birth and stormy boyhood. When the horoscope of the babe was cast, so threatening and ill-omened were the stars, that the astrologers, 'twas said, implored Nezahualpilli to destroy his infant son at once. The king refused, and Ixtlilxochitl grew up a fierce and turbulent spirit. At twelve years old he had his own little army of boy companions, and passed his time in learning the arts of warfare, practicing often on the peaceful citizens, and causing wild frays in the city. One night he even dragged from their houses and garroted in the streets the wise men who had counseled his destruction. For this outrage he was seized and brought before his father, but coolly he vindicated his conduct. " If they have suffered death," he said, " it is no more than they had intended for me."
Truly the vengeful young prince was a useful ally to the Spaniards, and Cortes took much trouble to instruct him in the Castilian tongue and Christian faith. At his election to the throne many of the inhabitants returned, and the Spaniards, with Indian labour at their command, securely fortified their quarters in this beautiful city, whence they could watch the proud capital over the water. Tezcuco lay more than a mile from the lake, and to Ixtlilxochitl was given the task of directing the eight thousand labourers who were set to make the necessary connection for the brigantines by constructing a canal.
Leaving Sandoval in command of the garrison, the general set out to attack Iztapalapan, Cuitlahuac's fair City of Gardens, which was built partly on piles in the water and partly on the narrow strip of land which divides the salt lake of Tezcuco from the fresh waters of Chalco. After a sharp tussle a band of Aztec warriors on the outskirts of the city turned and fled. In the heat of pursuit and " covetousness of victory" the Spaniards and their allies followed the enemy into the town, scarcely noticing that Indians were labouring at the great sluice-gate which shut in the waters of the salt lake. In the houses in the water the Aztecs made a last desperate stand, and the fight did not cease until every fugitive was slain. Wildly both Spaniards and Tlascalans massacred and pillaged, finishing their work of spoil by the light of burning houses as the darkness fell. Suddenly they heard with vague alarm a sound of rushing water, and from one to another passed the warning cry, " The lake is rising ! Back while we can to the shore ! " " And then," says Cortes, " our Lord brought to my memory this sluice-gate which I had seen broken in the morning. Had we remained three hours longer not a soul could have escaped ! " Laden with spoil, the surprised soldiers hastened after their leaders, stumbling painfully through the dark waters. But when they reached the opening in the dyke the current was so strong that all who could not swim or who clung to their burden of booty were drowned.
Wet, weary, and supperless, with powder spoiled, guns useless, and no plunder, the discomfited men tramped back along the shore from their disastrous raid. " What provoked us most," says Diaz, " was the laughter and mockings of the Indians on the lake." As daylight dawned they saw that the height of salt Tezcuco and fresh Chalco was the same, and between them lay a channel. Showers of missiles added to their distress, but without staying to fight, Cortes led them at last safely, but "in very bad humour," through the gates of Tezcuco. Though the raiders returned empty-handed and in piteous plight, their expedition had not been a failure. The fate of Iztapalapan, ruined for ever by fire and flood, struck terror through all Anahuac. Never did the fairy-like gardens, with their rare plants and birds and fishes, recover from the onslaught of the strangers, who not much more than a year before had wandered wonder-struck through the trellised paths.
And now every day arrived embassies both from distant tribes and from cities in the very valley of Mexico itself, to offer allegiance to Malinche. They were eager to throw off the Aztec yoke, and hoped by aiding the strangers to regain their ancient liberty. With consummate skill Cortes fanned their hatred of the Aztecs, and formed against Mexico a strong coalition. Not unopposed was he allowed thus to undermine the Mexican empire. Guatemozin well knew that the allegiance of the tribes meant victory or ruin, and did all he could to combat the wiles of his enemy. He freed the subject caciques from their tribute, and offered them posts of honour in the empire. To the wavering or hostile cities he dispatched Aztec garrisons, and was swift to punish all rebel towns. Many were the appeals for aid which came to Cortes, who declares in a letter to Charles the Fifth, " Beyond our own labours and necessities, the greatest distress which I suffered was in not being able to succour our Indian friends, who, for being vassals of your Majesty, were harassed and molested by the Mexicans." By uniting all the rival tribes, however, and persuading them to aid each other against the Aztec, the general accomplished more than by going to their help himself.
Long had the peoples of Anahuac groaned under Mexican tyranny, but local jealousies and the lack of a leader had always made attempts at rebellion futile. Now as they took service under the mighty Malinche their feuds were all forgotten in their common hatred of Mexico. In vain were Guatemozin's tireless efforts ; the canker of long years of oppression and injustice had eaten into the very heart of his empire.
Word came from Martin Lopez that the brigantines were ready to be transported, and Sandoval was at once dispatched with a strong escort to Tlascala. On the way he came to a village whence all the men seemed to have fled. A few women and children alone lurked in the deserted houses. Entering the temple, the Spaniards were, to their horror, confronted by the ghastly heads and skins of many of their comrades, murdered at that spot some time before. There too lay their arms and clothing and the hides of their horses, and on the wall one of the captured soldiers had written in charcoal, "Here was taken the unfortunate Juan Juste with many others of his companions." With angry curses the Spaniards turned away from the pitiful sight, and dire would have been their vengeance had the men of the village been at hand, but Sandoval, the most merciful of the Conquistadors, insisted on sparing the women and children.
As they drew near Tlascala the road for many miles was seen to be darkened by a mighty procession. Eight thousand tamanes escorted by twenty thousand warriors, were carrying the materials for the ships. Sandoval distributed his Spaniards among the Tlascalans, and onward they toiled over the mountains, expecting at every turn to be attacked. Only the devastating smallpox can explain the inertness of the Aztecs in allowing this all-important convoy to reach Tezcuco unopposed.
In pomp and triumph, with drums beating and trumpets sounding, the long array defiled for six hours through the city gates with shouts of "Castilla ! Castilla ! Tlascala ! Tlascala ! Long live his Majesty the Emperor ! " Well might they exult, for it was indeed, as Cortes himself said, "a marvelous thing that few have seen or even heard of this transportation of thirteen warships on the shoulders of men for nearly twenty leagues across the mountains !" " We come," proudly said the Tlascalan chiefs to Malinche, " to fight under your banner, to avenge our common quarrel, or to fall by your side. Lead us at once against the foe ! " " Wait," replied Cortes. "
When you are rested you shall have your hands full." Not yet could the brigantines be launched, for the canal was still unfinished, so the general resolved to employ the time of waiting in subduing the cities on the northern shores of Lake Tezcuco. Sandoval was again left in command of the garrison, while Cortes himself led the expedition. Before the Spanish cavalry and cannon fell city after city, until at last the victors, rounding the lake to its western shore, came to Tacuba of painful recollection.
There stretched the fateful causeway, and here was the city through which they had fled in the dreary dawn which had revealed the havoc of La Noche Triste. Inflamed to a fury beyond control by the sight of this spot where they had suffered so much, Spaniards and Tlascalans hurled themselves on the Aztecs drawn up without the walls, scattered them with great slaughter, and captured the city itself. The allies, in their frenzy for revenge, regardless of the commands of Cortes, burnt to ashes a whole quarter of the town.
In Tacuba the Spaniards remained for some time, sallying forth daily to skirmish with the Aztecs. They were decoyed one day on to the causeway itself by the favourite Mexican feint of flight. Midway along the perilous dyke the enemy turned like tigers on their pursuers, while hundreds more rushed forth from the city, and myriads of canoes seemed in an instant to cover the water on either side. Sore beset were the Spaniards as they retreated slowly along the narrow way, striving to keep an unbroken front to the foe. Many of the Aztecs were armed with long poles to which were fastened swords of Castilian steel, the spoil perhaps of La Noche Triste. With one of these weapons the general's own standard-bearer was struck down into the lake, and dragged forthwith on board a canoe. With Herculean strength, his standard still in his hand, he tore himself from the grasp of the Indians and sprang back upon the causeway to the sheltering ranks of his comrades. With some loss the troops at length regained the land.
On another occasion the enemies met with but a broken bridge between them, and Cortes, who was anxious to find out if the Aztecs would come to terms, rode forward making signs that he wished for a parley. " Is there any great chief among you," he called out, " with whom I may confer ? " Then as Cortes remained silent they cried mockingly, "Why do you not make another visit to our city ? Come in, come in and rest yourselves ! But perhaps Malintzin does not expect to find there another Montezuma ! " To the Tlascalans they cried, " Women ! who dare not venture near Tenochtitlan save under the wing of the Teules ! " With these taunts they fiercely renewed the fight.
Xico vocano rim in front of the town of Chalco
After six days the Spaniards returned to Tezcuco. They had subdued many towns and won many victories, but they had also seen that the capital was strongly defended at every point, and that the Aztecs, even though defeated, remained indomitable. To the Spanish quarters there came envoys from the friendly city of Chalco on the eastern shore of the fresh-water lake. " Aid us against the Mexicans !" was their prayer, and in answer Sandoval, with three hundred foot and twenty horse, was dispatched to their relief. Thoroughly as always the young captain did his work, storming two of the Aztec fortresses from which the Chalcans had suffered most annoyance. The capture of one was indeed a gallant feat, for the Spaniards had to climb a bare steep rock down which the enemy hurled boulders and galling missiles.
Reaching the summit, they grappled fiercely with the garrison, many of whom were flung down the precipice to be dashed to death in the stream below, where the water soon ran red with blood. For a full hour, declares one chronicler, the victors could not drink from the polluted stream, but old Bernal Diaz says, " For as long as one might take to say an Ave Maria ! "
Good news from the coast came to Cortes that three Spanish ships with two hundred men and seventy or eighty horses had arrived at Villa Rica. The new-comers lost no time in making their way to Tezcuco. One of the cavaliers, named Julian de Alderete, was a man of some distinction, and had been sent to Mexico as royal treasurer to look after the interests of the Crown. With the soldiers came a friar who brought, says Diaz, "a number of bulls of our lord St. Peter, in order to compose our consciences if we had anything to lay to our charge on account of the wars. The reverend father made a fortune in a few months and returned to Castile."
The brigantines were not even yet completed, and Cortes set out once more with a strong force, resolved to subdue the Aztec fortresses in the mountainous country to the south of Lake Chalco. These citadels were perched on high and almost inaccessible cliffs, which hung threateningly over the wild gorges through which the army must pass. After many desperate climbs and much hard fighting, Cortes succeeded in carrying several of these fortresses, but on the ninth day he came suddenly on a strong city surrounded on all sides but one by deep ravines. At the bottom of the gorge before which the Spaniards halted raged a foaming mountain torrent. The bridges were broken down, and the garrison in the city, evidently prepared for an assault, harassed their foes with showers of arrows.
It was a Tlascalan at last who solved the general's difficulty of attack. Some distance below the town the chasm was bridged by the intertwining branches of two mighty trees, and over this perilous arch the mountaineer climbed, followed by many of his hardy countrymen and several Spaniards. More heavily built and armed than their allies, three of the white men crashed through the branches into the gulf below. The others, passing safely over, surprised the garrison and held them in fierce fight until Cortes had repaired a bridge and crossed over with the rest of his army, when the impregnable City of Ravines was easily captured.
canals of Xochimilco
Leaving the barren mountains where water and food were scarce, the Spaniards gladly turned north- wards, skirting the western shores of the lakes. In the fresh waters of Chalco stood the island-city of Xochimilco, named the Field of Flowers, from its countless floating gardens. Strong and wealthy it was, and many battles did the Spaniards wage ere they succeeded in its capture. In one contest Cortes himself was overpowered and seized by the foe, who were dragging him off to sacrifice when a Tlascalan warrior, followed by two Spaniards, sprang to the rescue. With their aid Cortes tore himself free, leaped on his horse and faced the enemy. At this critical moment the cavaliers galloped up and drove back the Indians in confusion. Had not the Aztecs vowed to take Malintzin alive he would assuredly have been slain.
Xochimilco sacked and burnt, since they were not strong enough to hold it, the Spaniards, loaded with booty, continued their march northwards. On the way the cavaliers, in hot pursuit of some flying Aztecs, fell into an ambush, and two of the general's own grooms were captured alive. The others managed to regain the main body and to reach Tacuba in safety. The sun shone brightly, and as Alderete, the treasurer, who had been but a few weeks in Anahuac, stood by the side of Cortes on the teocalli of Tacuba, he exclaimed at the beauty of the scene. But on the general there seemed to have fallen a mood of deep dejection. His face was very sad, and his eyes were full of most unwonted tears as he too gazed at the lovely valley. " Senor Captain," said one of the cavaliers consolingly, " let not your Honour be so sad, it is after all but the fortune of war."
Not, however, of his lost servants only was the general thinking, but of all the miseries which war must bring on the fair land before him and on his own devoted followers also. " You are my witness," he replied, " how often I have tried to persuade yonder capital peacefully to submit. It fills me with grief when I think of the toil and dangers my brave men have yet to encounter before we can call it ours. But the time is come when we must put our hands to the work." In after-days the Spanish minstrels, singing the exploits of their national heroes, chose this scene for one of their romances. Bernal Diaz gives the opening lines : In Tacuba stood Cortes, With many a care oppressing , Thoughts of the past came o'er him And he bowed his haughty crest, One hand upon his cheek he laid, The other on his breast.
Wretched enough was the march from Tacuba northwards round the lake to its eastern shore, for it rained without ceasing and the roads were deep in mud. Weary were the soldiers when once more they reached Tezcuco, weary and worn and diminished in numbers. But they were met by Sandoval and Ixtlilxochitl with the joyful news that the canal was finished and the brigantines ready to be launched.
In his own camp Cortes was now threatened by a danger as great as any he had encountered in his expedition. A common soldier, one of the men of Narvaez, Xochimilco with some of his fellows to murder the general and his chief captains. They were terrified at the thought of being led once more into Mexico, and knowing well that nothing could change the bold resolution of Cortes, decided that in his assassination lay their only hope. They intended to offer him a letter as he sat at table, and while he read it to stab him to the heart. With him should perish also Sandoval, Alvarado, and Olid.
The day before the deed one of the conspirators repented, and going to the general's quarters, flung himself at his feet, confessing the whole plot. Calling Sandoval and Alvarado, Cortes at once sought out and arrested the ringleader, who attempted to swallow a scroll containing the signatures of his fellow-conspirators. Seizing the list just in time, the general glanced at it and then actually destroyed it himself. The ringleader was hanged from the window of his own quarters, a warning to the guilty schemers who trembled at the sight. Great was their surprise to find no further measures taken to unravel the plot. Summoning the whole army before him, Cortes spoke of the base villainy for which their comrade had been hanged, but pretended that as the wretched man had made no confession he knew not who had been the other traitors. By this clever policy he turned the conspirators into zealous supporters, anxious by every means to vindicate their loyalty. As for his own men, the incident aroused them to a frenzy of devotion, and they insisted that thenceforth their beloved leader should always be surrounded by a trusty body-guard under a cavalier named Antonio de Quinones.
It is a bright, breezy April day, and the streets of Tezcuco are gay with flags and flowers. Eager crowds are hurrying towards the gardens of the palace, for the canal on which eight thousand labourers have toiled for two months past is finished, and the water-houses are to be launched to-day. In vain have the curious natives striven to watch the building of these wonders, stern Spanish guards seemed ever on the look-out to drive back all intruders.
Three times have Mexican spies stolen into the palace gardens to burn the brigantines, only to be instantly discovered and frustrated. But now the ships are ready, and all the city is invited to witness the launching of the "first navy worthy of the name in American waters." Every Spaniard confesses his sins, and Father Olmedo calls down from Heaven a solemn blessing. A shot rings out, and to the sound of music the white -sailed brigantines, with the flag of Spain floating from their masts, glide proudly down the canal and out on to the waters of the lake. A roar of admiration bursts from the watching throngs, and with one accord the Spaniards break forth into the solemn Te Deum.
The launching of the ships was followed by a grand review of the army, never before so strong and well equipped. It mustered now eighty-seven horsemen, eight hundred and eighteen Spanish foot- soldiers, and fifty thousand Tlascalans led by the younger Xicotencatl.
The army was divided into three battalions. The first, under Alvarado, was to take up its quarters at Tacuba, and blockade the western causeway. The second under Olid, was to encamp at Cojohuacan, the city commanding the branch causeway which joined the southern avenue at Xoloc. The third under Sandoval was to march on Iztapalapan, which had been refortified by the Aztecs. Cortes himself intended to take the command of the brigantines. The Tlascalans who were attached to Alvarado's division were the first to set out.
On the road, Xicotencatl, who had from the first nursed in his heart a hatred for the arrogant Spaniards, infuriated by an insult to one of his followers, suddenly abandoned the army and turned back to Tlascala. To the messengers immediately dispatched to beg him to return he replied : " If my father had listened to me he never would have become the dupe of the treacherous strangers." Continuing on his way the cacique had almost reached the borders of Tlascala when he heard behind him the ring of iron hoofs. Up dashed the cavaliers, and in a flash Xicotencatl was seized, bound, and carried back to Tezcuco, there to be hanged like a common malefactor.
To Tlascala a message was sent informing the elders of the republic that among the Spaniards desertion was always punished with death. Success seemed ever to wait on the ruthless white men. Alvarado at Tacuba broke down the aqueduct which carried fresh water to Mexico from Chapoltepec. Sandoval captured Iztapalapan. Cortes with the brigantines waited grimly for the swarm of Aztec canoes which sallied forth from the city on battle intent. Like gnats they gathered round the warships. At this moment a breeze arose, and the Spanish fleet moving forward crashed into the light canoes, breaking and sinking them in every direction, while over the waters far and wide the guns spread havoc and death. The rout was complete. The brigantines, from this time masters of the lake, proved, as Cortes himself said, "the key of the war." With the aid of the fleet it was easy work to capture the Fort of Xoloc, and at that important point Cortes made his camp.
In vain did the Aztecs, fighting day and night, make desperate efforts to retrieve their mistake in leaving such a post so weakly garrisoned. Breaking up a small piece of the causeway, Cortes made a channel for his ships, and the Aztecs, riddled on either side by the terrible guns, were driven back to the city in head- long flight. The Spaniards held the western causeway of Tacuba, the great southern avenue of Iztapalapan with its branch to Cojohuacan, and now Sandoval was sent with a strong force to blockade the northern dyke. Mexico was thus completely beleaguered, with its causeways in the hands of the strangers and its lake controlled by the all-powerful brigantines.
On the ninth day of the siege was planned a simultaneous assault by Sandoval from the north, Alvarado from the west, and the general himself from the south. Early in the morning Cortes and his infantry marched along the causeway, with the protecting brigantines on either side. The Aztecs strove to make a stout defence at every gap, but were always driven back by the withering fire from the ships on their flanks. The way thus cleared, the Spaniards swam across, while the allies stayed to fill up the breach and make a passage for the artillery and horses.
The causeway was passed and the city entered. Here advance was more difficult, since the brigantines could not sail up the shallow canals. Only before the deadly thunder of the cannon did the Aztecs fall back, and it was hours before the Spaniards fought their way to the great square in the heart of the city. For a moment, as if by one consent, the soldiers halted to gaze at this place of terrible memories. There stood the Old Palace, where rose the great teocalli, the scene of such triumphs and such horrors. But their general was on other thoughts intent : loud and clear rang out his voice, " St. Jago ! St. Jago ! To the Temple ! Forward all ! " Fiercely charged the white men in answer to the battle-cry, carrying all before them. Dashing up the stairways and round the terraces of the teocalli, some of the more daring soldiers gained the summit, tore down the new image of Huitzilopotchli, hurled the frantic priests over the dizzy brink, and descended in triumph only to find their comrades below flying in confusion.
The Aztecs had rallied, and the Spaniards were driven headlong across the square, leaving the cannon in the hands of the enemy. Suddenly above the tumult the Indians heard the tramp of galloping horses coming nearer and nearer down a side street. The cavaliers were upon them ! Panic-stricken in their turn, they fled before the charge without noticing in their terror of rider and horse from what a mere handful they were fleeing. As dusk drew on the Spaniards returned in good order along the great street, taking their rescued cannon with them, but pursued by the Aztecs " so rabidly" that the rearguard had hard fighting before the Camp of the Causeway was reached at last in safety. Well pleased was Cortes with the day's work. He had proved his strength by forcing his way into the very heart of the city, and he had burnt down so many of the fortress-houses that the way would be easier for another assault.
Alvarado and Sandoval had each kept the Aztecs hard at work on the western and northern causeways. They had not, however, been able to enter the city, as they could not, unaided by the guns of the ships, make their way across the breaches. Before the next assault three of the brigantines were sent to each commander. But three days later Cortes, after hard fighting, once more entered the great square in triumph. With savage joy the Spaniards hurled themselves on the Old Palace and burnt it to the ground ! Hard by stood the graceful airy House of Birds, a high building of wood most beautifully carved. During all this strenuous time the Aztecs had tended with utmost care these birds of brilliant colour or exquisite song. Now the Spaniards flung torches at the building, which was in a moment ablaze with flaming banners across the sky. With screams of terror a few of the strong-winged birds of prey burst through the burning lattice-work and, spreading their cramped wings, soared far away from the fated city. Roused to fury, the Mexicans attacked the now retreating destroyers so fiercely that every soldier bore some wound ere he regained the Camp of the Causeway.
In spite of weariness and wounds the Spaniards returned each day to the attack, and always found that the Aztecs, equally untiring, had once more broken down the bridges so laboriously raised, for Cortes could not spare a strong enough guard to protect his work by night. On the western causeway, which was shorter, Alvarado did station at night-time a strong company to defend the bridge nearest to the city. Their only shelters were flimsy huts which let in the rain and wind, and Bernal Diaz, who was in this division, gives a vivid description of all their hardships. They tried to cure their wounds by burning them with hot oil and binding them with strips of Mexican blanket. But, says the old chronicler, " a soldier named Juan Catalan also healed them by charms and prayers, which, with the mercy of our Lord Jesus, recovered us very fast." Sitting in mud and water they ate their " miserable food of maize and herbs withal ! but, as our officers said, such is the fortune of war ! "
It was the rainy season, and even the general's own division in the Camp of the Causeway suffered much from the cold and wet. To relieve their misery Cortes set the allies to work on erecting barracks of stone and wood. So wide was the causeway near the Fort of Xoloc that these shelters were constructed to hold two thousand men.
Message after message did Cortes send to Guatemozin offering fair terms of peace, but though food grew scarcer and scarcer in the city the young emperor scorned even to reply to the "perfidious strangers." Too well did the Aztecs remember the treachery of Tonatiuh to put faith in the promise of a Spaniard !
All that a general could do unaided by warships, cannon, cavalry, and steel weapons, Guatemozin did. Reorganising the old way of Aztec warfare, he made surprise attacks after dark, and kept a strict guard during the night, his warriors relieving each other in Spanish fashion. Simultaneous assaults were made on the three divisions of the besieging army.
Open battle with the brigantines had proved useless, so among the tall rushes near the southern shores of the lake an ambush was laid. Stakes were driven into the shallow waters, and then several canoes rowed past the proud warships, tempting pursuit. Two of the smaller brigantines immediately gave chase and were lured into the ambush. Entangled among the stakes they had small chance in the furious fray which followed. Most of the white men were wounded and one of the brigantines was captured. With such a foe the Spaniards could take no rest. " So ceaseless were our battles," says Bernal Diaz, " by day and by night, during the three months in which we lay before the capital, that to recount them all would but exhaust the reader's patience, and make him to fancy he was perusing the incredible feats of a knight-errant of romance."
Very weary grew both officers and men of the long, toilsome siege, and very earnestly they urged their general to give up his plan of slowly starving the city into surrender. "Better far," they cried, "to encamp in the market-place than to retreat each evening to the causeways ! " But the sure judgment of Cortes saw at once the weak points in such a course. They might become the besieged instead of the besiegers, and endure another Noche Triste! At last, however, yielding to the temper of his men, he gave a reluctant consent, and a simultaneous assault was agreed upon. Cortes divided his own force into three companies, one to advance along each of the streets leading from the southern dyke to the market-place. Strict orders were given to the captains to secure retreat by filling up all breaches and leveling all barricades in their forward march. No needless risks were to be taken. " I knew," he says, " from the men they were they would advance to whatever spot I told them to gain, even if it cost them their lives." Early on the appointed day Cortes, marching on foot at the head of his infantry, advanced up one of the side streets, while the gallant but rash Alderete, the royal treasurer, commanded the company in the main avenue. Slowly but surely the general's division drove the enemy before them, filling up each gap they crossed, throwing down each barricade. From the adjoining streets they could hear their comrades' shouts of victory, and several messages came from Alderete to say he was not far from the square.
Fearing this rapid advance, Cortes left his own company and went with his bodyguard to the main street. There lay an open breach nearly twelve paces wide ! Intoxicated with victory no man in the race for glory had stayed to fill up the gap. Suddenly, as the general was trying to remedy the fault, fierce and wild rang out the Aztec battle-cry, followed by a rushing sound like the tramp of a multitude of flying men. In a moment Spaniards and allies appeared racing wildly onwards towards the open breach. Behind were hosts of yelling warriors, and on either side of the street the waterways were dark with canoes, while the house- tops bristled with Aztecs raining death on the struggling mass below. Cortes and his bodyguard on the farther side of the gap watched in helpless horror. Alderete in his rash haste had fallen into one of Guatemozin's traps, and his men, overwhelmed and panic-stricken, were now flying for their lives. Plunging into the gulf, they tried to swim across, but many were drowned and many more were captured.
The general, who with outstretched hands strove to rescue his unfortunate followers, was speedily recognised by the enemy, and now the cry, " Malintzin ! Malintzin ! " rose high above the tumult of the fight. Six Aztec warriors springing from their canoe, seized their arch foe, the most splendid of victims, and dragged him towards their boat. To the rescue dashed Christoval de Olea, and ere he received his death-blow four of the Mexican chiefs were slain. Cortes, wounded in the leg, lay on the ground disabled beside his faithful follower. More warriors rushed up, and Malintzin was once more dragged in triumph into the water.
" The general is taken ! The general is taken ! " flew from lip to lip, and at the terrible words Quinones, captain of the bodyguard, followed by several of his men, rushed into the water, tore Cortes from the very arms of the Aztecs, and lifted him with a desperate effort to the roadway. At that instant the page, who ran up with a horse for his master, fell mortally wounded, and Guzman, the chamberlain, sprang forward to take the boy's place. But even as Cortes was lifted into the saddle some Aztec warriors seized the unfortunate Guzman, flung him into a canoe, and rowed swiftly away. "My master's life is too important to the army to be thrown away here," exclaimed Quinones, as he resolutely turned the horse's head from this " bridge of affliction."
Guatemozin summons his troops
Surrounded by his faithful body-guard, Cortes reached at last his own division, which he found broken and confused. The few who remained of Alderete's company struggled up, and with difficulty the troops regained the Camp of the Causeway, shattered and exhausted and pursued to the last by the triumphant foe.
Alvarado and Sandoval, meanwhile, had united their forces, and had almost reached the market-place, when they heard with sinking hearts the Aztec yells of victory, and the sounds of desperate battle growing fainter in the distance. Their comrades must be retreating ! And now their own enemies were reinforced by a strong body of Aztecs the warriors who had just routed the general's own division. Five bleeding heads were flung before the Spaniards, and with savage glee the Indians shouted, " Thus will we slay you as we have slain Malintzin ! "
Then at the blast of Guatemozin's horn they made so furious an onslaught that, "though it is now present to my eyes," says Diaz, " I can give but a faint idea to the reader. God alone could have brought us off safe from the perils of that day ! " Was Cortes indeed slain ? Sandoval could not rest until he had heard the fate of his beloved leader. Wounded as he was he mounted his good chestnut Motilla, and rode alone to the Camp of the Causeway. He was chased by some of Guatemozin's scouts, but Motilla, the best horse in the army, bore him swiftly onward, and the arrows glanced harmlessly from his steel armour. " The general is safe ! " were the first glad words he heard at the camp, but then followed a story of disaster.
Sixty-two Spaniards had been captured alive ! Many were wounded and many had been killed, but death and wounds were as naught to the horror of capture. " Captain ! what is this ? " exclaimed Sandoval as he met his general. "Son Sandoval," answered Cortes, with tears in his eyes, " it is for my sins that this misfortune has befallen me; but the fault is with the treasurer Alderete, who was ordered by me to fill up the bad pass where the enemy threw us into confusion." Then to this most trusted officer he told his plans. For some days the men must rest and recover their nerve, fighting only to defend their camps. " You must take my place," he said, " for I am too much crippled at present to discharge my duties. You must watch over the safety of the camps. Give especial heed to Alvarado's. He is a gallant soldier, I know it well ; but I doubt the Mexican hounds may some hour take him at disadvantage."
Sacrifice of the Spanish prisoners
It was the hour of vespers when Sandoval reached Alvarado's camp, and the sun was sinking in a sea of golden light. Suddenly into the peace and stillness of the evening broke a blood-curdling sound the drum of Huitzilopotchli ! The camp was not a mile from the city, and with one accord the soldiers turned to gaze at the great temple. In fascinated horror they watched a long procession of priests and warriors winding snake -like round and round the terraces of the teocalli with white-skinned victims in their midst. In the clear air the soldiers could almost recognise their comrades. " We perceived," says Diaz, "that when they had brought the unfortunate victims to the summit, where were the idoltories, they put plumes upon their heads, and with a kind of fan in the hand of each made them dance before their accursed idols. When they had done this, they laid them upon their backs, on the stone used for the purpose, where they cut out their hearts, alive, and having presented them yet palpitating to their gods, they drew the bodies down the steps by the feet, where they were taken by others of their priests. Let the reader think what were our sensations. ' Oh, heavenly God ! ' said we to ourselves, 'do not suffer us to be sacrificed by these wretches ! do not suffer us to die so cruel a death ! ' and then how terrible a reflection, that we could not relieve our poor friends thus murdered before our eyes ! " They were roused from their frozen gaze by another onslaught on the camp. "
Look ! " yelled the Aztecs as they charged the Spanish lines, "that is the way in which you all shall die, for our gods have promised this to us many times ! " There was joy and exultation in the city of Mexico. The gods had spoken at last ! In the darkness of the night Guatemozin sent across the lake from city to city the heads of white men and of horses with this message, " The priests announce that Huitzilopotchli is appeased by the sacrifice of so many of his foes, and will deliver the strangers into the hands of his faithful people ere eight days have passed ! "
With sinking hearts the allies heard this prediction. They too had gazed on the sacrifice of the Teules, whom they had once deemed invincible, and perhaps divine. Surely they had sinned to aid the foes of their gods, and now the time of punishment was at hand. Silently in the night-time they began to steal away from the Spanish camps to expiate their sin. Tribe after tribe disappeared, and Cortes was powerless to prevent the desertion. Even the faithful Tlascalans, with the words of the priests ringing ominously in their ears, returned to their little republic. Several of the caciques with their own immediate followers indeed remained. They had fought by the side of the white men in victory and in defeat, and the feeling of comradeship was strong within them.
Ixtlilxochitl, the new king of Tezcuco, also held to his allegiance, though most of his subjects departed. At last out of every thousand only about two of the allies remained. Day and night the soldiers had to watch and fight, for fierce and unceasing were the Aztec attacks, and every evening the dismal roll of the great drum announced over city and lake that fresh victims were being led to the stone of sacrifice. Yet amid all the toil and danger the courage of the Spaniards did not fail. A few had brought their wives with them to Mexico, and these women set a noble example of heroism and endurance. They had refused to be left in Tlascala. "It is the duty of Castilian wives," they said proudly, "to share the danger of their husbands to die with them, if need be ! " One of these women named Beatriz de Palacios used to don her husband's armour, and when he was overcome with weariness, mount guard in his place. Another once rushed into the fight when the soldiers were retreating, and led them on with sword and lance. But it was the wounded who had most cause to bless the women, since the greatest service they rendered was the tending of the sick.
And so, in watching and fighting, the eight days passed painfully away. NO SURRENDER! THE fateful day dawned, and still the city was beleaguered on every side, while within its walls the Aztecs were dying of famine and plague. Why was the war-god deaf to the frantic prayers of his faithful people ? Had the victims been too few ? " He shall have more ! " cried the warriors, rushing again to battle. Shamefaced and doubtful of their reception, the allies came stealing back to the Spanish camps. Huitzilopotchli and his priests had lied, or was the god impotent against the strangers ?
The Tlascalans, who had halted on the road, were the first to return. Cortes, only too thankful for the reinforcement, received them all kindly. He would permit them, he said, to share the joys of victory, though the Spaniards, he took care to add, did not really need their services. The supreme importance of appearing strong and victorious induced the general to send help to a tribe of allies in a distant province, though, as he said himself, " God knows the peril in which we all stood ! " To the remonstrances of his captains he replied, "The greater our weakness, the greater need have we to cover it under a show of strength."
The wisdom of this plan was soon proved by the return of all the allies ; and new tribes, eager to be on the winning side, offered their aid. As the Spaniards grew stronger the Mexicans grew steadily weaker. Against starvation and disease they could not fight, yet "we found them," says Cortes, "with more spirit than ever."
He had now a new plan for bringing the siege to an end. The city, which he called "the most beautiful thing in the world," should be utterly destroyed. Every building should be torn down, and every waterway filled up with solid masonry. Slowly would the Spaniards and their allies advance, but sure and terrible would be their progress. " That which is lofty," said the general, " shall become level ; that which is water dry land." Hoe in hand the allies, protected by Spanish cavalry and guns, flocked by thousands to the work. In vain were the despairing efforts of the Aztecs to save Tenochtitlan from the spoilers. Houses, palaces, temples, all were razed to the ground, and the rubbish was used to fill up the canals. A bare open space soon surrounded the city where the cavalry and artillery could have full play. Surely now, thought Cortes, the Aztecs will submit. Rats, lizards, and a slimy substance gathered from the surface of the lake were all the poor wretches had to eat.
To their emperor the Spaniards sent word, " You have done all that brave men can do. You have now no hope but in immediate surrender. Take pity on your brave subjects who perish daily before your eyes, and on the fair city whose stately buildings are fast crumbling into ruin. Return to your allegiance. The past shall be forgotten. The persons and property of the Aztecs shall be respected. You shall be confirmed in your authority, and Spain will once more take your city under her protection."
In the Aztec citadel gathered a council of haggard, war-grimed princes, chiefs, and priests, to consider the Spanish proposals. Some voted for surrender, but up rose the wild fanatic priests. " Peace is good, but not with the white men ! " they cried. " Think of the fate of Montezuma, who showed them kindness ! Think of their treatment of Cacama ! Think above all of the massacre of the noblest of our land by Tonatiuh ! Better to trust in the promises of our own gods who have so long watched over the nation. Better, if need be, give up our lives at once than drag them out in slavery among the false strangers ! " "Since it is so," said Guatemozin, "let us think only of supplying the wants of the people. Let no man henceforth who values his life talk of surrender. We can at least die like warriors ! "
The only answer the Spaniards received to their offers of peace was an assault so furious that but for their cannon they would have been overwhelmed. Indeed, these fiery monsters which the Aztecs must meet on causeway and lake and street made the struggle most unequal, and dreary, even in the telling, is the story of these latter days when proud Tenochtitlan became "a desolation among the nations."
Sometimes the Aztecs, who had their own code of chivalry, would cease their fearless but hopeless battling, while one of their warriors stood forth and challenged a Teule or Tlascalan to single combat. Then upon the azotea or roof of some building was waged a mortal duel, while the opposing armies watched and cheered on the combatants. One day a valiant Aztec, armed with Castilian sword and buckler, sprang upon a house-top and offered battle to any Teule who would meet him. A young page of Cortes, burning to win laurels, at once accepted the challenge. Small and slight he seemed as he faced the Aztec, but he was agile and skilled in the use of the weapons, which were to the Indian awkward and unwonted. A sharp struggle ended in victory for the boy, who ran his foe through the body and returned in triumph to his comrades.
Of no avail was Aztec valour to stay the work of ruin. Farther and farther into the city the destroyers made their way, and black was the trail they left behind them. " Go on ! " shouted the Mexicans bitterly to the allies, " the more you destroy, the more you will have to build up again hereafter. If we conquer, you shall build for us, and if your white friends conquer, they will make you do as much for them !
" A band of warriors fought till every man was slain to save from the spoilers their royal palace, the beauty and pride of all the land. Well might the doomed people cry with the prophet of old, " A fire devoureth before them, behind them a flame burneth ; the land is as the garden of Eden before them, behind them a desolate wilderness ; yea, and nothing shall escape them." Appalling even to the conquerors seemed the hideous downfall of the magnificent buildings which had once so aroused their wonder and admiration. "It was a sad thing to see their destruction," says Cortes himself, "but it was part of our plan of operations, and we had no alternative."
As the Spaniards drew near the quarter of the city where the Aztecs were still holding out, ghastly were the sights which met their eyes. The starving people had even devoured the bark and leaves off the trees, and had torn up the ground searching for roots and weeds. With dead and dying the streets were strewn, for the living were too few to bury the multitude who perished daily by famine and pestilence. To the Aztecs funeral rites had ever been very sacred, and bitter it was to leave their dead to be trampled into the dust by the foe or devoured by birds of prey. Too anguished now they were even to bear the corpses within the shelter of the houses, and worse than ever grew the black and horrible plague.
More harrowing still were the sights within the dwellings, where women, children, and sick or wounded men lay helpless to fight or fly. Cortes gave orders that the mercy for which they scorned to ask should be shown to these wretched creatures, but the allies in the fierceness of victory were beyond control, and all alike were buried in the burning ruins.
And now only one broad canal separated the general and his division from the great market-place towards which Alvarado from his western causeway was also making his devastating way. The canal was defended by the Aztecs, and as night was drawing in Cortes encamped on the bank, deciding to postpone the attack until the next morning.
Suddenly a brilliant light shot from a teocalli near the market, and flared high into the midnight sky. Was some devilish rite being celebrated in that blood-stained tower ? But no, as the Christians watched they called to each other with shouts of joy that the building itself was in flames ! Alvarado must have reached the market-place. With a will Spaniard and ally laboured at day- break to fill up the wide canal, and the Aztecs were impotent to stay the work. Soon the cavalry were able to gallop across, and then indeed the Indians, weak and worn as they were, had no choice but flight. Alvarado and his officers hastened to greet and embrace their comrades in the general's division, for they had not met since the beginning of the siege. Climbing the ruined temple from which waved in triumph the flag of Spain, Cortes gazed at the scene around him. Less than two years before he had stood by the side of Montezuma on the summit of the great teocalli, and had marveled at the beauty of the rich island city, the crown of all the lovely valley. What a change had those two years wrought ! Where palaces had stood, surrounded by green gardens aglow with flowers and cooling fountains, stretched now a black and smoking desert. The gleaming canals, alive with canoes and gay with chinampas, had for ever disappeared ; seven-eighths of the city lay in ruins, and Cortes, as he stood on the teocalli, was planning its utter destruction. "
There was in the army," says Bernal Diaz, " a soldier who boasted of having served in Italy and of the great battles he had seen there. This man was eternally talking of the wonderful military machines which he knew the art of constructing, and how he could make a stone engine which should in two days destroy the whole quarter of the city where Guatemozin had retreated. He told Cortes so many fine things of this kind that he persuaded him into a trial of his experiments." The machine, which took several days to make, was built on a great platform in the centre of the market-place. Here, in the happy, prosperous days of Tenochtitlan, jugglers and mountebanks had charmed the populace with many an ingenious trick. In the machine was placed a huge rock, and the Aztecs on the house-tops hard by watched with terror while the engineer set in train his death- dealing creation. The rock, according to the proud inventor, would be hurled with terrific force upon a neighbouring palace. " But, behold ! instead of taking that direction, the stone flew up vertically into the air," and then crashed down again upon the catapult and smashed it into pieces. Cortes was ashamed and much enraged, but it continued, says Diaz, the joke of the army for many a day.
More and more horrible grew the sufferings of the besieged, but still they declared that never would they submit, and they yet had spirit to fight and taunt the Spaniards. " The treasure you hope to win," they cried, " is buried where you will never find it ! " Brave as the men were the Aztec women, nursing the sick, and aiding the warriors by supplying them with stones and arrows. Two ladies of high rank remained three days and nights up to their necks in the water among the reeds, and this is but an instance of the unspeakable sufferings which tenderly nurtured women heroically endured. In the ever- narrowing Aztec quarters the dead bodies soon lay so thick that "a man could not set his foot down unless on the corpse of an Indian."
Yet the courage of Guatemozin never failed, and his subjects, catching his noble spirit, felt with him that death even in such dreadful forms was indeed better far than submission to the false strangers. " You are the children of the Sun ! " cried an Aztec chief to Cortes and his cavaliers as they approached the barricade he was defending, "but the Sun is swift in his course. Why are you then so tardy ? Why delay so long to put an end to our miseries ? Rather kill us at once that we may go to our god Huitzilopotchli, who waits for us in heaven to give us rest from our sufferings." Wan and despairing were the faces of the cacique and his followers, and their eyes were wild with hunger and pain. In pitying tones the conqueror replied, "I do not desire your death, but your submission. Why does your master refuse to treat with me when a single hour will suffice for me to crush him and all his people ? Go bid him confer with me at noon in the market-place to-morrow."
At the appointed time Cortes awaited the coming of the emperor. But four caciques came without their lord, who would not consent to a conference. They were offered food which they ate ravenously, and then the general sent them back to Guatemozin with provisions and an earnest request for a personal interview. The messengers soon returned with a gift of cotton cloth, but a curt refusal from their master to meet or treat with the enemy. "Go back," said Cortes, "and urge him to alter his desperate resolve. When he sees that I suffer you to go and come unharmed, you who have been my steady enemies no less than himself throughout the war, he will surely come. He has nothing to fear from me."
The next day came a message that the emperor would meet Malintzin at noon in the market-place, and Cortes at once gave orders to delay the general assault he had been planning. Noon came and the Spaniard waited in vain for many hours. Guatemozin did not appear. At last the allies, who had been left outside the city, were called in and the whole army marched on the enemy's quarters.
The Aztecs were prepared. In front were the strongest warriors, behind, the weak and wounded, and on the roofs and terraces, women and children armed with stones and arrows. This pitiful resistance was of no avail, and the horrible struggle soon became a mere massacre of the famine-stricken people. Canals and streets ran red with blood, and the Spaniards themselves sickened at the slaughter. " The piteous cries of the women and children in particular," says Cortes, " were enough to break one's heart." But he could not check the ferocity of the allies, who outnumbered his own men by many thousands. " Never," he declared, " did I see so pitiless a race, or anything wearing the form of men so destitute of humanity ! " Night at last gave pause to the carnage. In the Spanish camp the hours of darkness were passed by the camp-fires in music and festivity.
The Aztecs spent the night preparing for a last stand and for death. In the morning Cortes, not wishing to continue the massacre, called to some Aztec chiefs, " Your emperor surely will not see you all perish when he can so easily save you ! Prevail on him to confer with me ! " The message was given, but unflinching was the answer : " Guatemozin is ready to die where he is, but will hold no parley with the Spaniards. Let Malintzin work his pleasure." " Go then," said Cortes sternly to the messengers, "prepare your countrymen for death. Their hour is come."
A short time longer the general held his hand, then as no sign of submission came a musket was fired, and at the signal Spaniard and ally rushed to the assault. Through all the long bright hours of the summer day the butchery continued. To the last gasp the Aztecs fought until their bodies bridged the canals, blocked the streets, and polluted the very lake itself.
Towards evening some canoes were seen trying to escape across the water which was veiled by the smoke of the guns from the brigantines. Giving chase, one of the Spanish ships came up with a large and well-manned boat, and the captain ordered his men to shoot. At that moment the rowers cried out, " It is the emperor himself," and the Spaniards at once lowered their bows.
Cortes had given explicit orders that the Aztec monarch was on no account to be slain, but captured if possible alive. With his maquahuitl in his hand, Guatemozin, who did not wish to be spared, stood up in the canoe a mark for the cross-bowmen, but when he saw that they were resolved to take him alive he cried, " Lead me to Malintzin, I am his prisoner, but let no harm come to my wife and my followers."
He was taken on board the brigantine with the empress and his attendants, and the captain begged him to command the Aztec warriors who were still fighting in the other canoes to cease the hopeless combat. " It is not necessary," replied Guatemozin ; " they will fight no longer when they see their prince is taken." On the terrace of one of the few buildings still left standing, a crimson cloth was spread, and there Cortes with Dona Marina at his side awaited his royal prisoner. With deep interest he looked at the Aztec monarch who was now led before him. He saw a tall, slight, young warrior with flashing eyes and a skin remarkably fair for an Indian. Weak and haggard as he was, he yet stood before the conqueror with an air of princely pride and dignity. For a moment he too gazed at the steel-clad white man in silence.
At last he said, proudly and calmly, "I have done all that I could to defend myself and my people. My efforts have failed. Deal with me as you wish." Then pointing to the dagger at the Spaniard's side he added, with 'You will deal with, me, Malintziii, as you wish, and with sudden passion, " Draw that poniard from your side, and rid me of life at once ! " "Fear not, Guatemozin," replied Cortes with courtesy, "you shall be treated with all honour. A Spaniard knows how to respect valour even in an enemy." With a strong guard under Sandoval, Guatemozin and his beautiful young wife, Montezuma's daughter, were sent to Cojohuacan on the western shore of the lake.
Alvarado and Olid were ordered to draw off the troops to their quarters on the causeways for the night, since the heaps of unburied dead made the air of the town like poison. As the royal prisoners passed out of the desolate city in the heavy dusk of the sultry summer evening, the rain came down in torrents as if to add to the gloom of the dreary scene. And all night long a terrific tropical thunderstorm raged over the valley of Mexico. In the brilliant flashes of the angry heavens the wretched Aztecs who still survived, cowering among their dead, could see the ghastly ruins of their beloved city. In 1524 , the city only held 30,000 and it was not until the 20th that the population would equal that of the Aztec capital at its height .
But the Spanish soldiers, exultant with victory, and overjoyed that their long weeks of watching and fighting were at an end, slept in security hardly broken by the storm. So used had they become to the sounds of midnight battle, that "we felt," says Diaz, "like men suddenly escaped from a belfry where we had been shut up for months with all the bells ringing about our ears ! " In this way, after three months' heroic defence, fell the great city of Mexico on the day of St. Hippolytus, the 13th of August 1524. Never have a people shown more desperate devotion to their country and their prince than this strange race of civilised barbarians hidden for so long from the eyes of Europe in their beautiful valley in the heart of the great New World.
Day dawned on a pitiful sight. By command of Cortes the survivors were suffered to leave the city unmolested, and miserable creatures, "whom it was a grief to behold," dragged themselves feebly along the causeways, the strongest supporting the weak. When they had all gone, the work of cleansing the city was taken in hand. "It is true, and I swear 'Amen' to it," says Bernal Diaz, " that all the lake and the houses and the barbicans were full of the bodies of dead men so that I do not know how I may describe it. In the streets and in the courts there were no other things, and we could not step without treading on them. I have read of the destruction of Jerusalem, but whether there was such a mortality in that I do not know."
With the victors feasting and riot now took the place of vigils, fasts, and battles. The general gave a banquet to all his officers and cavaliers. Father Olmedo was much distressed at the unseemly revelry, and sought to check it through Sandoval, always upright and sober. But even Cortes himself dared not now interfere with his turbulent followers, who considered that by hard work they had earned a time of gaiety and licence.
The next morning the victory was celebrated by a solemn procession of the whole army with Father Olmedo at its head, bearing the image of the Virgin Mary. The soldiers repeated the litany as they marched, while above them waved the tattered banners of Spain which had been all through the long campaign. Then the good priest preached to the rough soldiers whose toils and dangers he had so bravely shared, reminding them that they had conquered in the strength of God, and beseeching them to treat the vanquished Mexicans with justice and with kindness.
Far and wide, from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of the Pacific, throughout the length and breadth of Central America, spread the astounding news that Mexico, the imperial, and as men thought impregnable city, had fallen before the power of a strange and mighty race.
Who then could hope to with- stand these god-like beings with their mysterious engines ? Day by day the Spanish camp was crowded with envoys from distant tribes offering allegiance to the renowned Malintzin. Awestruck they listened to the thunder of the cannon, and gazed on the horses and white-sailed brigantines. But the blackened waste which lay where shining Tenochtitlan had once stood was to them the most convincing proof that the Teules were gods indeed. Tribes which had scorned to submit to Mexico hastened to claim the Spaniard's protection, and Cortes found that he was owned as lord over a vast and ever growing empire.
But whereas the Indian races were docile and submissive, the Spanish soldiers grew turbulent and rebellious. " Where is the promised treasure ? " they cried ; " Mexico is captured, but where is the spoil?" A report spread that the Aztecs had buried it and that Guatemozin knew the hiding- place. "If he will not reveal it," clamoured the greedy adventurers, " he must be put to the torture ! " Louder grew their fury and discontent when Cortes refused to consent to so shameful a deed. " The general," they cried, " has taken the gold for himself, and that is why he refuses to torture the Indian ! " Every morning libels against Cortes were found scribbled in prose and verse on the white walls of the barracks. It was said that he had taken one- fifth as commander and another as king. Discontent became so open and widespread that Cortes actually sought to pacify his men by allowing them to put Guatemozin and the cacique of Tacuba to the torture. Nothing can excuse the cowardice and treachery of such a concession. Under torture as in battle the Aztec emperor showed a heroic spirit. When the lord of Tacuba cried out in his agony, Guatemozin called to him in rebuke, " Am I then taking any pleasure in my bath ? " The sufferers admitted that some treasure had been thrown into the lake, but the divers who were at once sent down to search found nothing of much value. Cortes, ashamed of the base cruelty, ordered the torture to cease in time to save the lives of his noble captives.
" Go on ! the more you destroy, the more you will have to build ! " were the taunting words the Aztecs had flung at the allies of the white men during the siege. With what bitterness these unfortunate Indians, false sons of Anahuac, must have now recalled the gibe. Mexico was to be rebuilt by their labour. Multitudes of workmen were needed for such a task in a country without beasts of burden, and the Aztecs themselves were weak and few in number. The allies, therefore, were forced to work like slaves, bearing on their shoulders stone and timber. So great was the number of the labourers that food became very scarce, and many died from sheer starvation. But still, under the relentless Spaniard, the work went on, more Indians were driven to fill the place of those who failed. With magic speed a new city sprang up where the old Mexico had stood. To the Emperor, Charles the Fifth, Cortes wrote that he wished to raise this city "to the rank of queen of the surrounding provinces as she had been of yore." He told in this letter the whole story of the siege and conquest.
The missive was entrusted with the royal fifth of the treasures to Avila and Quinones, who at once set out in a swift ship for Spain. Quinones, the faithful captain of the guard, lost his life on the voyage. Misfortune dogged the steps of Avila also. Just as the ship drew near the shores of Spain she was captured by a French privateer, and the commander was carried prisoner to Francis I., king of France. Right glad was Francis to seize on the treasure, to which he declared he had as good a right as his Majesty of Spain. " I should like," he said, " to see the clause in Adam's testament which entitles my brothers of Castile and Portugal to divide the New World between them ! " Avila, clever and politic, though proud and over- bearing, gained the friendship of his gaoler, and succeeded in sending his letters to Spain.
The Emperor was then in Flanders, and the mind of his regent was poisoned against Cortes by the friends of Velasquez. It was not until October 1522, when Charles the Fifth returned to his Spanish realm, that a favourable answer was sent to the unknown adventurer who had made so marvelous a conquest. Then indeed his splendid service was duly recognised and rewarded. Cortes was made Governor, Captain-General, and Chief Justice of New Spain.
To Mexico the welcome news was sent by messengers, who stopped at Cuba on their way to trumpet in the ears of Velasquez the honour given to his hated rival. To effect the ruin of Cortes had become the one object of the Governor's life, and the triumph of the upstart was more than he could bear. His rage and misery knew no bounds, and he survived the blow but a few months, dying, it is said, of a broken heart.
As Governor of New Spain, Cortes was able to do still more towards rebuilding the city of Mexico. A strong citadel was built, with a dockyard for the brigantines, and on the site of the great temple was raised a magnificent cathedral, for which the Spaniards used the images of the Aztec gods as foundation stones. Urged by Father Olmedo, the conquest adores built many churches and hospitals. The good priest spent all his time in trying to relieve the hard lot of the wretched Indians.
The Spaniards, who, greatly to their disgust, had received land instead of treasure, were too indolent or proud to work and too poor to pay for labour. Consequently all the natives, even the allies, were soon enslaved, the Tlascalans alone being left in their old freedom. The first care of Cortes was the conversion of the Indians. In their letters to Spain the conquerors had begged the Emperor to send out holy friars to Mexico for this purpose, adding, however, that they hoped "his Majesty would be pleased not to suffer any scholars or men of letters to come into this country to throw us into confusion with their learning, quibbles, and books ! " The coming of the friars marked the final downfall of the Aztec religion. Zealously they sought to obliterate every trace of the pagan faith, and in the process most of the exquisite picture manuscripts enshrining the ancient history of Tenochtitlan were ruthlessly destroyed.
With infinite skill and tact Cortes organised his new and vast province, seeking to develop both its agricultural and mineral resources. But in his restless, adventurous mind teemed schemes for further conquest. " I doubt not," he wrote to the Emperor, "I will put your Majesty in possession of more lands and kingdoms than the nation has ever heard of ! " His dearest wish was to discover " this great secret of a strait," that phantom waterway which all navigators felt sure must connect the Atlantic with the Pacific. Alvarado, who was sent to explore by land the western shores of the isthmus, conquered Guatemala. Sandoval explored and conquered along the eastern coast north of Vera Cruz. Olid was dispatched with a squadron to cruise round the peninsula of Yucatan, steer southwards for Honduras, and make a settlement on its northern coast. There, where the isthmus narrows towards Darien, Cortes hoped to discover the elusive strait.
Olid, hitherto ever loyal to his chief, proved now a traitor. while resupplying in Havana, Olid (at a suggestion by Velázquez) declared his independence from Spain and set out to conquer Honduras for himself. Intoxicated with his conquests, he proclaimed himself absolute lord of Honduras ! Resolved to punish the rebel, Cortes set out himself by land to march to Honduras with a strong force of Spaniards and Indians. He was joined by Sandoval and by many of his veterans. Bernal Diaz was reluctant to leave his pleasant farm, but " Cortes," he says, " commanded it, and we dared not say No ! "
Guatemozin and the chief Aztec captives were forced to go also, for it was judged unadvisable to leave them behind in Mexico. Passing southwards through the fertile coast- land, Cortes summoned to meet him all the caciques of the district. Among them came the unnatural mother of Marina, with the young step-brother for whose sake the girl had been so cruelly enslaved. Many years had passed away, but mother and daughter at once knew each other, and the wretched woman flung herself at the feet of this stately girl, who had become in some mysterious way the honoured friend of the all-powerful strangers. " Mercy ! " she cried, " I only ask for mercy ! " "Have no fear," replied Marina, raising her up with a tender embrace. "I am sure," she said, turning to her Spanish friends, " my mother knew not what she did when she sold me to the traders. I forgive her freely." To her mother she said, "God has been very gracious to me in making me become a Christian. . . . If I had been made the chieftainess of as many provinces as there are in Mexico, the only use I could make of this power would be to do more service to my Lord Cortes." Bernal Diaz, who was present, declares, "All these things I heard, and I swear to it. Amen." Sometime during this expedition Marina was married to a Spanish cavalier, and given large estates in her native province, so Cortes lost the beautiful interpreter, without whose aid he could hardly have made his great conquest.
The march to Honduras, which began so brightly through friendly and open countries, soon became more and more difficult, and indeed disastrous. Through dense, untrodden forests, over treacherous marshes, across wide, unfordable rivers and stony mountains, the Spaniards and Indians struggled, starving and exhausted.
In this terrible extremity an Indian informed Cortes that Guatemozin and the other Aztec chiefs were plotting to fall on the Spaniards in some difficult pass where cannon and horse would be useless. They intended, said the informer, to kill every Spaniard, and then return to Mexico and attempt to reconquer their city. The man produced a paper on which were painted the faces of all the Aztec lords in the conspiracy. According to Diaz, Guatemozin denied all share in the plot, but Cortes declared that the Aztec emperor refused in his pride to answer the charge at all. Dreading any attempt at revolt in that land of forest and marsh, and fearing that Guatemozin, whether he wished it or not, would always be a centre for rebellion, Cortes resolved without further proofs that he must die. The captive monarch and his cousin, the prince of Tacuba, were at once condemned to be hanged from the branches of a great tree on the wayside. " O Malinche ! long have I known the falseness of your words," cried Guatemozin, as he was led out to die. " Better that I had fallen by my own hands ! May God demand of you this innocent blood I " "Death is welcome," said the prince of Tacuba, " since I am to die with my lord, the king of Mexico !
" Over the dreary expedition fell a yet deeper gloom. Cortes himself was depressed, sleepless, and unusually irritable, as if regretting his dishonourable treatment of the noblest of Aztecs. As for the soldiers themselves, Bernal Diaz says frankly, " Among us there was but one opinion on the subject, that it was a most unjust and cruel sentence."
Honduras was reached at last, and there they found that Olid had been killed in the midst of the disorders with which his province was racked. They were therefore welcomed by their countrymen, who marveled at their terrible march, and rejoiced at "the presence of the general so renowned throughout these countries."
The conqueror is once more entering his city of Mexico, and natives and Spaniards alike throng to meet him with tumultuous joy. Two years of blood-stained anarchy have marked the absence of his iron hand. Reports of his death in the far- away marshes of the south have bred dissension and despair on every side, and now intensify this pas- sionate welcome which seems to know no bounds. But the cheers die painfully away as the people gaze on the wan, haggard face of their idol. How changed ! how aged ! His intimate friends hardly recognise this ghost of the once brilliant Hernando Cortes. Not all the horrors and hardships of the siege of Mexico left such traces of suffering as this terrible march to Honduras. Not for long was Cortes permitted to rule his province in peace. Such stories had his enemies sent to the Emperor in Castile that commissioners arrived from Europe to investigate the conduct of the Governor of New Spain.
La Rabida Monastery
The conqueror, ever impatient of petty interference, found his actions trammelled and his influence undermined at every turn. At last he resolved to go to Spain and justify himself before the Emperor in person. " In all the state of a great lord," with a retinue of Aztec chiefs, and many rich presents and specimens of Mexican animals and plants for the Emperor, Cortes set sail for Spain. News of his father's death came just as he left the shores of Villa Rica, but Sandoval was at his general's side ever ready to support and console. In the month of May 1528 the conqueror of Mexico landed at Palos, where the discoverer of the New World had disembarked just thirty-five years before. To the convent of La Rabida Cortes retired to rest and give thanks for his safe arrival.
Sandoval, who had fallen ill, remained at the little inn at Palos, whither his chief was soon summoned by the news that the young captain was dying. It was but too true. The gallant soldier, who had come safely through such appalling perils in far-distant lands, was dying almost within sight of the home he did not live to see. "Those whom the gods love die young," and who shall pity the young soldier who left behind him a memory of unsullied honour, and escaped those "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" which so embittered the last years of the Conquistador . On a pine-clad hill looking west- ward over the waves of the Atlantic his comrades laid their best-beloved captain to rest, and for nine days Cortes delayed his journey to the Court that he might pray in the convent by the sea for the soul of his most loyal friend. "
In the pomp and glory, not so much of a great vassal, as of an independent monarch," with a long retinue of Indian chiefs in all their barbaric splendour, Cortes, himself in deep mourning, marched to Toledo, where the Emperor had promised to give him audience. Cheering crowds, eager to gaze on the victor and his trophies, lined the roads, and as he drew near the city he was welcomed by nobles of the Court.
Graciously did Charles receive his magnificent subject, and with flattering interest he listened as the soldier told in simple, vivid words the story of all that he and his comrades had endured and done in that strange land beyond the sea. With eager curiosity the monarch examined the trophies of the conquest, and many were the questions he asked as to the products and value of his new possessions. All honour was given to the conqueror, who was created Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca, a vast province in Mexico. " A noble title and senorial estate which was passed down to his descendants until 1811. The Oaxaca Valley was one of the wealthiest region of New Spain, and Cortés had 23 000 vassals Your Majesty's kind expressions and generous treatment," declared Cortes, " make me not only forget all my toils and sufferings, but even cause me regret that I have not been called to endure more in your service."
As the fair Catalina, the wife thrust upon him by Velasquez, was dead, Cortes was free to marry a young and noble lady, the daughter of a count and the niece of a great duke. The Marquess was able to present his bride with jewels worthy of a queen five exquisite emeralds cut by Aztec jewelers into the shape of a rose, a horn, a fish with eyes of gold, a bell with a pearl for a tongue, and a cup with a foot of gold attached to a large pearl by four golden chains.
The Empress is said to have turned a cold shoulder to the Marquess because his gifts to her Majesty were not so fine as these jewels he gave to his bride. The Emperor soon left his realm of Spain to the guidance of the Empress and set out for Flanders. Honour and rich lands he had given to Cortes, but he had been resolute in depriving its conqueror of the government of New Spain. Henceforth a Council, sent out from the mother country, was to direct the affairs of the province.
In the summer of 1530 the Marquess, with his wife and his old mother, landed in Mexico. They were gladly welcomed by both Indians and colonists, who were eager to pour forth their many grievances under the oppressions of the Council. But Cortes soon found that he had no power to right their wrongs, and retired in disgust to his valley of Oaxaca.
There on the sunny slope of a hill he built a palace and cultivated his estates, planting sugar-canes and importing cattle and sheep. Cortes' descendants dominated the area for 300 years .But the adventurer tired of so tame a life, and longed to make fresh discoveries and to win new conquests. Allured still by the phantom strait, he spent much of his great fortune in fitting out exploring expeditions. Leaving his fertile valley, he hazarded his life on many a dangerous voyage, but met with steady misfortune. In 1536, Cortés explored the northwestern part of Mexico and discovered the Baja California peninsula. Cortés also spent time exploring the Pacific coast of Mexico.No golden empire, no beneficent strait rewarded these years of restless striving and wearing hardship. When at last he returned to Mexico, it was but to find that during his absence the Council had been despoiling his property. Once more Cortes resolved to seek redress in Spain. He set out in 1540, taking with him his eight-year-old son Don Martin.
Ten years had passed away since his first triumphant return, and ever since that brief time of glory " everything," as Bernal Diaz remarks, "had turned to thorns with him." In Spain his path proved as difficult as in Mexico. The Emperor was in Italy, and when, after a long year of waiting, he returned, it was to organise an expedition against the pirate stronghold of Algiers. Cortes at once volunteered, and embarked on the admiral's ship with his little son. Disastrous indeed the expedition proved. A mighty tempest wrecked the navy, and the Marquess and his son only saved their lives by swimming. The loss of his priceless emeralds made the disaster "fall more heavily on the Marquess of the Valley than on any other man in the kingdom except the Emperor."
Cortes seemed doomed to disappointment. Charles, who, ten years before, had welcomed him so warmly, now listened to his suit with coldness. He had already rewarded the conqueror, and felt that he was not responsible for the misfortunes which had since befallen him. Pizarro, moreover, had just conquered for Spain the dazzling empire of Peru, which far outshone Mexico in the treasure so coveted by the Spaniard. The deeds of Cortes were for the moment quite eclipsed. In vain did he address one last pathetic letter to the Emperor : " Sacred Cesarian Catholic Majesty : I thought that, having laboured in my youth, it would so profit me that in my old age I might have ease and rest ; and now it is forty years that I have been occupied in not sleeping, in eating ill, and sometimes neither well nor ill, in bearing armour, in placing my person in danger, in spending my estate and my life all in the service of God and for my king. ... I see myself old, poor, and indebted, and I foresee labour and trouble until my death. Please God that the mischief may not go beyond death, since, whosoever has such toil in defending his bodily estate cannot avoid injuring his soul."
After seven years 'of the law's delays the Marquess decided to return to Mexico, that he might make his account clear with God, " since it is a large one that I have . . . and it will be better for me to lose my property than my soul." But on the way to the coast he was seized at Seville by a fatal illness. He was carried to a little village inn without the city, and there, tended by his devoted son, Don Martin, now fifteen years old, he " arranged his affairs for this and the next world." "
It was the Lord's will," says Diaz, " to take him from this troublesome state on the second day of December 1547 . . . and he was at the time of his death sixty-two years old." As the stern conqueror lay dying, did the thought of a nation enslaved by his act assail his harassed soul ? We do pray for mercy ; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. Had the mercy which he now sought so earnestly been shown to Guatemozin and his people ?
Did he seek, perhaps, to expiate the past when he bequeathed to Mexico money for the foundation of a hospital, a convent, and a college for missionaries ? On his heir Don Martin he laid a solemn charge : " Because doubts have arisen with respect to those natives of New Spain who have been made slaves . . . whether they can be held with a sufficiently good conscience or not, and up to this time the question is not settled, I desire that it should be ascertained what in this matter ought to be done in respect of those which I hold. And I charge upon my son and heir Don Martin, and upon his successors, that they should use all diligence for the discharge of my conscience and theirs in this matter."
In the hour of his own extremity Cortes did not forget the veterans who had served him so loyally and well. He left money for two thousand masses to be said for the souls of his followers. His high position as Marquess had not made him too proud to keep up his friendship with his old comrades. " He preferred," says Diaz, "to be called Cortes by us than by any title ; and with good reason, for the name of Cortes is as famous in our day as was that of Caesar among the Romans or of Hannibal among the Carthaginians."
But we should consider that his funds were employed on great and costly enterprises, and that none of these after the conquest, neither his expedition to Honduras, nor his voyages to California, were crowned with success. Perhaps it was that he might have felicity in heaven. And I believe it was so, for he was an honourable cavalier and a devoted worshipper of the Virgin, St. Peter, and other saints. May God pardon him his sins, and me mine, and give me a righteous ending, which things are of more concern than all conquests and victories over Indians."
He requested in his will that his remains eventually be buried in Mexico.After the Mexicans won independence from Spain, one of the first official acts was to call for the destruction of his bones. His remains were hidden by the historian Lucas Alaman .His and his family crypt is at the Hospital de Jesús Nazareno in Mexico City.However, his body has been moved more than eight times to avoid destruction. Today, it is in the "Templo de Jesús" in Mexico City with the only statue of Cortés in Mexican territory, a statue by Manuel Tolsá. In 1981 the statue and the body were in danger of destruction by a nationalistic group, after the statue was made public by President López Portillo, so access had to be restricted.Cortes was to become reviled in Mexico as a symbol of foreign domination, and is seen as a villain after the revolution of 1910 which exalted native values and can be seen in the paintings of Diego Riveria, where he is depicted as a gold hungry, womanizing deformed man ..However, he was the founder of the Spanish culture in Mexico and was a capable leader who preferred diplomacy to force .
Cortes arranged to have Marina marry the knight Don Juan Xamarillo, after that she disappears from history .Marina or La Malinche, is also reviled by many people as a traitor, yet others see her as the founding figure of the Mexican race and The word malinchismo is used by modern-day Mexicans to identify countrymen who betray their race and country
In 1563 Cortes' son Don Martin, returned to Mexico from Spain, where they were caught conspiring against the Spanish crown in 1568 (a plot whereby the Spanish Martín would have set himself up as King of Mexico), but they were caught, brought to trial, and sentenced to perpetual exile from Spain's American possessions .