I guess you'd call it a novel based on historical facts. It uses a lot of very old English words and expressions but I think that gives it a unique sense of "charm."
It was written by Albert Lee; first edition in 1925. Albert was born in 1852 and died in 1935.
NOTE: to translate words from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English, visit http://www.spanishdict.com/
The book has 287 pages divided into 24 chapters and includes several full-page colored pictures. I've included the pictures as well. Here is the index:
You can also download ONLY the text (no images) in ZIP format (126Kb) HERE.
OR you can download the .epub version (337Kb) for your e-book reader HERE but it has a few odd errors in it.
ON to the book:
OUR home in Spain was by the sea which, when the tide was high, washed against the foot of a mighty wall that had been built to hold back the waters from flooding the garden in which my father's palace stood.
Many a time when the storm was raging, and the wind was blowing hard, I sat in the stone-built bower, and watched the waves rolling in towards the land; then, when they met the rocks, they broke up with a crash, leaping over the stonework, and falling on the gravelled walks with a sound like thunder. Had it not been that those who had built the walls which skirted the shore had laid the foundations deep, and set up barriers that were many feet in thickness, the waves would have. ripped up everything, ruining the garden and its bowers, while the house itself would have gone down in the rush of waters.
My father was counted one of the wealthiest nobles in Spain. He had gone to the wars against the Moors, and won such glory that the proudest of Spain's great men envied him. He never talked about the things he did - brave men rarely do - but I have heard Padillo, my father's esquiredefinition: "esquire" "In medieval times, a candidate for knighthood who served a knight as an attendant and a shield bearer. tell of his bravery in the heat of battle, or in the siege of cities, so that I looked upon him as one of the world's great soldier heroes.
The palace by the sea was given to my father by the King; for since by his own hand he had won it from the Moors, and by his own prowess , had done so much to drive them out of Granada, his Highness declared that he should have it and its wealth. I marvel at its grandeur even now, in spite of what I have seen in my travels in distant lands. The gardens had green walks of surpassing beauty, and at every turn one saw a plashing fountain, or looked along shady groves, and came upon marbled terraces.
Within the house was everything one could desire. Furniture was there which had cost fabulous sums of money, while the walls were not only coloured richly beyond anything that could be found in the houses of our greatest Spanish nobles, but the cornices were studded with gold, while the panels round the room were fastened with golden-headed nails. In the centre of the palace was a court, the roof of which was supported by marble pillars chastely carved, while in the floor of this circle was a marble pond, in the waters of which were scores of gold and silver fish. And here we lived through all my childhood, and until I was thirteen years of age I never left it, save to go at times with my father and mother to Madrid to see the King and Queen, who expected their nobles to present themselves at Court at certain seasons of the year, if they were well enough to travel.
In my thirteenth year a trouble came which ended in my going forth and in seeing the wonderful things which, at the King's request, I tell.
My father's palace was one day filled with guests. They had halted on their way to Madrid, after having gone across the Mediterranean on an embassy to the Sultan of the Moors. What a gallant company! They came in their coats of linked mail, steel breastplates and targets, plated gauntlets and helmets, and all were studded here and there with gold, in token of their rank. The riders were Spanish noblemen, and with them rode an escort of men-at-arms, as well as their esquires. After a weary ride in the blazing sunshine they were glad to throw off their armour, and rest in the cool shade of the garden.
The embassy numbered, with the grandees, esquires, and men-at-arms, some fifty in all; and forty men, to say nothing of the vassals in the surrounding country , could be called to arms at any time by my father, to guard his house- hold if the mountain bandits chose to assail the palace, for the sake of the booty they might find. A hundred men at the least were under my father's roof that night, and had one whispered of disaster, I should have laughed the suggestion to scorn.
I lay in my own room when all had gone to rest, but not being able to sleep, I got up and dressed, thinking that on such a glorious night I would walk in the garden. I knew of a cosy bower where I could lie and sleep until day, and listen if I did not sleep to the sound of the waves on the shore. I had done so before, and it was a great delight. But before going down the staircase I sat a while at the window, looking out to the sea where the moonbeams played. Presently my attention was aroused and I leaned forward and gazed intently at something on the waters. Night and day ships passed, so that it was nothing to wonder at, that a vessel should be within sight at that hour . This ship, however, drew nearer into land than any I had seen before. She was sailing northwards, her sails bellying in the breeze ; but instead of going outside the promontory three miles away, she entered a creek which was very near. Even then I had no idea of danger. My only thought was one of surprise to see this great vessel pass into the creek, and not keep out to sea. It entered my mind at last that possibly she had sprung a leak, and the captain thought to save her by running her ashore at the turn of the tide, so that when she was left high and dry her carpenters might repair the mischief. It was a common thing along the coast, so I had been told, and one could not. wonder that it should happen here.
Between the distant creek into which the vessel had run and my home was a great forest which came as far as the garden walls on the land side. An army might have crept up unseen to within a score of yards, and ladders of a moderate length would have enabled men to reach the top and drop within the enclosure on the soft soil. My father had captured the place in such a way, and before the sleepers in the palace knew, he and his soldiers were swarming up to the doors and in at the windows, taking the defenders by surprise.
For one long hour I stayed at the window, leaning out and waiting, keeping my eyes on the spot where the strange craft had disappeared, thinking that presently she might come out again and sail away. But she did not show herself on the rippling waters.
I could see nothing of the garden wall at the point where the forest ended, but not far away was a stretch of grass broken here and there by shrubs and trees which cast long shadows in the moonlight. Suddenly I cried out in alarm, and gazed into that part of the garden, spellbound. First came a man with drawn sword, stepping out of one of the bushes, halting for a moment and looking to right and left as if to discover whether he was seen. Then he made a run to some bushes nearer the house, and closer to the door which led into the hall. Behim came two other men - three - six - a score, perhaps - all with great battle-axes in their hands, and, like their leader, they disappeared among the bushes. More came, all armed; some with swords, some with axes, some with heavy maces; and every man seemed as the moon's light fell upon him, to have a dagger at his belt.
I waited to see no more. Assured that danger and death were threatening, I ran to the door of my chamber, and pulling it open, cried aloud to arouse the sleepers. There was a great bell close by, ready for ringing in case of fire, or other night alarm, and clutching at the rope I pulled at it with an energy that set it clanging loud enough to awaken the heaviest sleeper. A man appeared at every door in the long corridor, and asked what the alarm meant.
"Danger!" I cried. "There are armed men in the garden - scores of them!"
Without a word the men went into their rooms to find their arms, and before many moments had gone they were tramping down the corridor, meeting others who wondered why the bell was ringing so wildly in the dead of night. Was it fire?
No answer was needed now. Those armed men whom I had seen in the garden had not wasted their time at the heavy doors, but had smashed the windows and climbed in, so that when the men of our household and the ambassador's retinue rushed along the corridors with drawn swords and down the grand staircase, they found the hall swarming with strangers.
I had caught up my own sword, in the use of which Padillo had trained me, so that boy though I was, I was counted a skillful swordsman able to take my part with men who made fighting their trade. When I reached the head of the staircase I saw what was going on below, for the moonlight poured into the hall through the windows and the now open doorway. The place was filled with fighting men who no more troubled about preserving silence since the alarm had been given. In the thick of the conflict was my father, wielding his great battle- axe, with which at every backward swing and - downward sweep he cleared a space.
He had no armour, for there had been no time to put it on. It was sufficient for him to know that his palace was assailed, to leap from his bed, and putting on the barest clothing, snatch at the ponderous axe which always hung within reach on the wall of the bedchamber , and rush out and take his charge of the defence. There seemed to be no room for our people on the hall floor, so great a space did my father's sweeping weapon keep clear. I recall all that I have heard of his prowess, but surely he never wielded such deadly strokes as he did that night in defence of his home. One man tried to rush in, thinking to get within the sweep of the axe, but my father was ready. He slid his hands down the handle towards the axe's head, and thus shortening the reach, brought it with awful force on the fellow's head, and laid him lifeless on the marble floor. With his own hand he struck down half a score of the men whose dusky faces we could now see. They were Moors; not bandits. Doubtless they had never forgotten that the palace my father had won had once been theirs, and this was an effort not so much to regain it as to work out their plan of revenge. They might capture it, but they could never expect to hold it against the might of Spain. They could rob, and kill, and burn; and that they had come to do.
While I stood on the stairs, compelled to stay there, since there was no room on the crowded floor of the hall, I heard the Moorish war - cry behind me. The Moors, some of whom knew the place well, since it had once been their home, had entered at another point, and were crowding along the corridor in which I had been standing when I rang the alarm bell. Now came my own turn to fight, and Padillo, who was at my side, shouting his loudest to our men on the stairs, leaped forward to meet the Moors who came that way. I have known but few who could use a sword so skillfully, and he drove them back step by step with his cutting and lunging. But in the end numbers told. Those behind drove forward the Moors who were in front, until there was such a crowd that there was not room for us to use our own weapons.
The Moors came on, driving us backwards to the staircase, where many of us lost our footing and fell, and the enemy, pressed by their fellows, trampled over our bodies as we lay. .It was terrible - to hear all the clamour of the conflict, the screams of the wounded, the shouts of the fighters, my father's strong voice ringing above the clamour, the clash of the steel, the thud of a falling body.
But all came to an end as far as I was concerned, for while I lay beneath the trampling feet of a hundred Moors, one who saw me move bent down and struck me with his mailed fist. My eyes seemed to strike fire at his blow, and then, feeling such pain as I can scarce describe, I lost all consciousness, lying there, as I have since been told, like one who was dead.
WHEN I opened my eyes, Padillo was carrying me somewhere as swiftly as his feet would take, him, considering my size and weight.
At first I did not trouble myself as to why I was being borne thus, for all recollection of what had happened in the night had gone, and I was too dazed to reason out that matter. Gradually, however, the memory of what had chanced returned, and I spoke. Padillo heard and halted, and laying me at the foot of a mulberry tree, bent over me and asked whether I felt any pain, and where.
I ignored his question in my anxiety to know how the fight had fared, yet I scarcely needed to ask. It must have gone badly, or else why should he be carrying me up the hill slope in such hot haste? If the Moors had been driven out of my father's house, I should have been lying on one of the soft couches, or in my own bed. But here was I at the foot of a tree, looking before me on the landscape where, had I cared to note it, I should have seen a valley dotted with villages and gardens, vineyards, olive, citron, and mulberry trees, and beyond them all the moonlit sea. I had eyes, however, for one spot only; the flames of fire were devouring a distant house, and that, as I knew well, without needing to be told, my own home.
I recalled the doings of that terrible night while Padillo was searching for my wounds and binding them with the soft linen which I wore, and which he tore away from my body.
"How did the fight fare, Padillo?" I asked. "Badly, senor," he exclaimed, and his voice sounded as though he had been weeping. "And my father, and my mother?"
"Dead," came the answer. "When you were struck down on the staircase, and the Moors trampled over you, I, too, was beaten out of all consciousness, and lay where I fell, but I know not for how long. It may have been an hour - perhaps not more than a few minutes - but when I opened my eyes the fight was ended. The ambassador lay lifeless by my side; some of his retinue lay near him; and looking beyond them into the centre of the hall where your father had fought like a hero, and mowed down those Moors with his battle-axe, I saw that he too had been slain. It was easy to see how he had fallen. His axe had swept to and fro like a terrible scythe, and while he had his face to the foe, one of the marauders had got behind him and struck a dagger into his back, sending the blade right home, so that he fell on his face and across the bodies of those whom he had slain, and died where he lay.
"There were no Moors to be seen save those who lay dead or wounded on the floor and on the staircase. I could hear shouts in another part of the palace, and at times a scream, and wondering what was the extent of the disaster, I crawled up the stairs and staggered along the corridor, sword in hand. Looking into the rooms I found each chamber empty, but the marauders had been there searching for wealth. When I came to your father's room I knew that all his store of gold was gone. The great chest in which he kept his money had been carried away. His jewel-case had been taken also, and nothing remained that was of any worth.
"The room beyond was that in which the ambassador had been sleeping. It was rifled of all that was valuable, and the picture of the Madonna, framed in gold, and jewelled, which your mother prized so much, was gone as well. I hurried to her room, and saw her lying dead, thrust through and through with Moorish swords, and her two maids lay across her body, lifeless, like their mistress. Alas! senor, 'tis all like that. The house was being ransacked from roof to floor, and I could see the Moors carrying what was of worth across the garden, towards the forest.
"When I approached the chapel my heart stood still, for the place was wrapped in flames. There were some Moors pouring oil on the furniture they had broken up and thrown into a heap, and it was blazing furiously, so that the smoke came in clouds towards me, and made it impossible for me to stay. A few minutes later the flames were leaping along the passages, and in an hour there was scarcely a corner of the palace that was not burning.
"To stay in the place was to court death, for in a blazing house my escape might soon be cut off. I had looked at you, senor, and thought you dead, but a doubt crossed my mind as to whether you had only swooned. I found my way back to where you lay, and putting my hand to your heart, felt it beating. I knew then that it was worth my while to save you, and taking you in my arms, I carried you down a narrow passage which was quiet and empty. Before I had gone many yards I saw a Moor come out of the refectorydefinition: "Refectory" as per Wikipedia: "A refectory is a dining room, especially in monasteries, boarding schools and academic institutions. One of the places it is most often used today is in graduate seminaries. To some today, it is considered somewhat pretentious. It is derived from the Latin reficere, which means to remake or restore, via Late Latin refectorium, which means a place one goes to be restored.". He was eating, but when he saw me he tossed the meat and bread away, and drawing his sword, came towards me warily.
"It was necessary to put you on the floor, that I might fight him, and when I set you down gently and ran at him with a rush, he turned and fled into the refectory, slamming the door in my face. The key was on the outside, so that I turned it quickly and locked him in; for my wish just then was to avoid a fight and save you. "Taking you in my arms again, I went into the open air, and ran from bush to bush, looking constantly about to see that no one followed. The way was clear. There was a stream of Moors going out of the palace, every man making for the forest by the sea, and laden with spoil. Now a couple staggered along, carrying a heavy chest; two or three were almost enveloped with garments from your mother's wardrobe; some carried boxes, or in addition to having great bundles strapped across their shoulders, had hands full of ornaments. And so they went, each with something precious."
Padillo paused. He had gone on with his story, uninterrupted, wile I sat up, leaning back against the tree, and listening. It was terrible to hear that my father and mother were dead, and startling to know that the home was gone, and that where I should have been counted among the wealthiest of Spain's nobles, although but a boy, I was now little better than a beggar. I had nothing about me that was of worth save a jewel which might yield a goodly sum if a dealer in precious stones would buy it of me for anything like its true value. Padillo had handed to me also a string of pearls which had dropped out of the bosom of the Moor when he fled into the refectory. These would go some little way towards giving me a start in life; but otherwise I was poor, and had no prospect before me of success, unless I did as others, and went into the world to fight for my fortune.
I found presently that I could walk slowly by taking Padillo's arm, and then we made for the barrancadefinition: "barranca" has these meanings: canyon, canon - a ravine formed by a river in an area with little rainfall gully - deep ditch cut by running water, especially after a prolonged downpour close by, a rocky valley where, if the Moors should come, we could find a hiding-place until the way was clear for escape. There was one we both knew, if I had the strength to go so far, but, as Padillo said, if my legs failed me, his arms were strong, and he would carry me. Anxious to save him that exertion since he had already done so much for me, I struggled on with an aching head, every limb full of pain, wishing I could sit down, yet afraid to do so lest some of those who had destroyed my home might find us.
After a time we entered a cavern, the mouth of which was small. I knew the place well, for I had gone there many a time. It was easy for a man to crawl in, and then he could stand upright and find himself in a place large enough to hide a hundred men. At the distant end was another narrow opening which few would venture through, however bold, without a light, but I knew it so well that I could find my way about it in the dark. The coolness of the cavern seemed to revive me, and going forward without Padillo's aid, I passed to the other extremity and crawled through the hole in the rock, followed by my faithful esquire.
"I would not venture, senor," said he, anxiously.
"Nay, Padillo, 'tis far safer here than in the outside cavern," I answered, standing upright. "The Moors might enter there and find us, but here I can show you a place where none would dream of looking for anybody. Come with me, and you shall look for yourself."
I led the way to the right, groping in the dark, speaking from time to time to give my companion some directions, until we came to a slanting rock, up which we climbed on our hands and knees. Now and again I could feel the esquire touch me to see if he was following in the right direction in the dark, and finally we reached a narrow passage not high enough to walk upright in, but sufficiently so to crawl. At a sudden bend we saw moonlight, and found ourselves in a cavern very much smaller than that we had first entered. Its mouth was not approachable from outside, for it came on a sheer precipice straight down which one could look. The barranca was fifty feet below at the least, the face of the rock being like a wall, with nothing for hand or foot to fit in for a climb, either up or down. "See, Padillo," I exclaimed, having forgotten my pain in my eagerness to escape from any possible pursuers, "we have but to pile up those stones at the end of the passage, and none could see daylight if they ventured so far. We are surely safe here." Padillo was satisfied, and came with me to the rocky platform, where you could look out on the country for miles. Away to the right I saw my father's palace blazing. The flames by this time were forcing themselves through the windows and roof, leaping furiously, and now and again a wall fell down; but being so far away we did not hear the crash. My esquire presently declared that he must set forth to look for food, and after he had been gone a little while I saw him crawl out of the exit below, and go out of sight. For a long time I watched and waited, feeling my hunger increasing, and my mouth was parched with thirst. A score of yards away from the lower entrance was a well at which I had often halted for a drink, and feeling that I must have something to moisten my throat, I ventured to the well where the water bubbled up with a refreshing sound. I drank until my thirst was quenched, and then returned to wait for Padillo in the lower cavern, since the barranca was empty. An hour went - two hours - three - and Padillo did not come. I began to think that he had been captured or killed, perhaps carried away to the ship, to be sold in the land of the Moors as a slave, which was a fate little better than death. After a while I heard footsteps on the stones outside. Still, to be cautious, I drew back into the darkness at the farther end of the cavern and waited, expecting to see Padillo enter. It was well that I had taken that precaution, for it was not he, but a couple of Moors who, seeing the opening in the face of the cliff, crawled in. They looked around, but did not stay, and I heard the sound of their feet grow fainter and fainter as they passed up the stony valley. Ascending to the rocky platform again, I waited in great anxiety for an hour or more, wondering what I should do. Then to my intense relief I saw Padillo coming up the barranca with a sack on his shoulder. Eager to meet him, I went to the entrance. Then I heard that had ventured as far as my father's palace, and had even crawled through a window near to the refectory, which the fire had not reached. The palace, however, was deserted, so that he had met with no adventure.
I was so hungry that we sat down where we had met, just within the cavern, and spreading the food on the floor, began to eat. While we sat we talked over our plans, since there was nothing now left to make it worth my while to return to the ruined home.
PADILLO suggested that we should make our own way up the barranca to the house of Don Sahagun, our nearest noble neighbour, and take his advice as to my future course. For whereas I had been son and heir to the richest man in Spain, I was now little better than the poorest but for the jewel I wore and the pearls the esquire had picked up in the passage outside the refectory. When I said to my companion that my poverty would prevent me from holding my place in the world among my equals, and that I should be too poor to have him with me in the future, he surprised me by drawing a package from his bosom, and handing it to me without any comment.
It was not large, but when I opened it I saw that it contained three precious stones set in gold - jewels which my father greatly prized. The man had caught them up when going through the palace, and seeing the framing of gold, thought them worth his while to take, although in the hurry he had no notion as to their real value. While I gazed at them, Padillo told me how he had met a Moor staggering beneath a bundle which he carried on his head, and that he had gone up to him, and pushing the bundle roughly, had toppled the fellow over . Out of the Moor's hand this packet tumbled, and lay at Padillo's feet. There was only time to stoop and snatch it up, and then Padillo was running for his life, since some of the incendiaries had caught sight of him, and gave chase. He outdistanced them, and waited his chance by hiding in the bushes. When the way was clear he went to the refectory and found some food.
Although my father had possessed gems of much greater value, these which the esquire had brought with him were welcome, for they would serve to provide me with money which would enable me to avoid the shame of being dependent on my friends. One of the stones was known as the Sideritis, round, rough, black, and hard, and was worn in ancient days as an amulet, so that according to the story that was told about it, if the one who wore it walked among serpents he would not be hurt; even if he trod on them they would not bite him. Another was a fine ruby, but the third was a small Etruscan sapphire scarab my father had once found in the pommel of a Moorish dagger, and which a lapidary had declared to be a most costly gem.
I was pleased, for while I was homeless I was not now compelled to ask for help from those who were noble like myself. I could go to Don Sahagun, my father's friend, and he would negotiate the sale of what I possessed, and although with the money thus obtained I could not maintain the state becoming my rank, I could at all events begin with some certain means to fight my way through the world.
We started to walk up the barranca, but we had not gone more than a mile or two before we heard the clatter of horses' feet, the jingling of harness and armour, and the snorting of chargers. Neither knowing who they were, nor being aware of the movements of the Moors who, for aught we knew, might have been raiding the country round, we drew into hiding, lest these might be some of them returning on horses they had stolen, to carry their booty. As the horsemen rode round the corner at a quick trot, I saw that the foremost rider was Don Sahagun, and behind him rode as many as a hundred and fifty men, splendidly armed, ready for a fight, and alert against being taken unawares. Seeing him I ran to meet him.
"How now, Don Martin?" cried the noble, reining in his steed." I heard that ye were all dead. Where is Don Alvaro de Hernan?" - meaning my father.
"Dead, senor," I answered" The Moors killed him in the fight when they rushed the palace last night."
"Then I warrant he died as Alvaro de Hernan should, boy, for there was never a braver knight than your father."
Don Sahagun halted only so long as it took me to tell the story of my misfortunes briefly; then calling out six of the cavaliers who rode behind him, he bade them escort me to his home, where I was to wait his return. When a horse was found for me and another for Padillo, he shook his charger's rein and led the way down the stone-strewn valley, intent on dealing roughly with any Moors he might chance to lay hands on.
As for me, when the soldiers had gone, I rode beside one of my own age. It was Bemal Sahagun, a boy of whom I had often heard, but whom I had not met before. What a handsome lad he was, and although he rode a full-sized charger, whose high mettle seemed to call for the strength of a man, he made up in skill for what he lacked in physical power, and rode as proudly and well as any cavalier in his father's retinue. When I told him of the doings of the last twenty-and-four hours, he pulled up his horse, and declared that he would ride back to his father and see what he could do towards paying the Moors severely for their work. One of the gentlemen dissuaded him, and pointed out that courtesy to his guest demanded that he should stay in my company, and show the way to his father's house.
Little did I think, when we rode side by side, that he and I had begun a friendship which was to last to the end of our lives, but a friendship which would be accompanied by untold dangers. But happily we never know what the future holds in store. With us that day our only thought was as to what I was to do, now that everything save my father's lands was gone, and whether Don Sahagun would find any of the Moors to chastise them.
After a time our horses clattered into the courtyard, and dismounting, Bernal led the way into the house.
"Welcome, Don Martin," he cried, doffing his cap. Then he stood back with his arms akimbo, and looked me up and down.
"Thou art in need of a change of raiment," he exclaimed, after his scrutiny. "Climbing the passages and slopes of caverns, Martin, doth not agree with such clothing as thine, and fighting which leaves bloodstains from top to toe doth not beseem ye, if ye would enter the presence of my mother and my sister. Come, this way, and we will look into my store."
It was so kindly said that I could not but go, and presently I had not only had a much needed bath, but was dressed according to my station out of what we chose from Bernal's well-stocked wardrobe. As we were of a size, it was merely a matter of choice as to what I should wear . When the last lace had been drawn at my collar we went to the room where Bernal's mother and sister sat, busy at their embroidery. Nothing could be kinder than the welcome they gave me, and before I had told them the fearful story of the night, and of my most wonderful escape.
When Don Sahagun returned late in the day, hot, dusty, and blood-stained, he told of a fierce fight with the stragglers, and of his endeavour to capture the Moorish vessel. Those on board, however, seeing him and his cavaliers riding out of the forest, cutting down the men who had flung everything aside in their flight-even their booty and their weapons - weighed anchor and sailed away with what they had, too eager to escape to think of waiting while comrades who had not been slain should swim out and climb on the deck.
WHEN Don Sahagun looked at my jewels he suggested that I should turn them into money. When I saw what means I had at my disposal, I could more easily make my plans for the future. A well-known lapidary in Cadiz under- took the sale, purchasing the most valuable himself, and securing good customers for the remainder. I believe that the mention of my father's name enabled him to obtain prices up to their fair value, so that in a short time I was the possessor of what some would call wealth. So indeed it was; but compared to the princely fortune that was to have been mine, and the proud show I should have made among the noblest families of Spain, it was small.
"Tis not much, I know, to what you have had," said Don Sahagun, kindly. "You are poor in a sense, since the King only granted your father the great estate as long as he could hold it. Unfortunately it is lost to him, and by the conditions of the gift, is lost to you, so that you cannot raise money on the land, and re-build the palace. But these are days, my boy, when one can win a fortune, and that you will not be loth to do, if you have your father's spirit."
Such words touched my pride, and I declared that for my father's sake, rather than for the sake of wealth, I would expend my days and powers in restoring the fortunes of our family. But then came the question as to how it was to be done. I could not go to the wars as my father had done, for Spain was at peace just then. Nor were there fortunes to be won at Court. Honour was there, but I wanted wealth to rebuild my father's home, and for his memory's sake, and my mother's, make it as beautiful as they had loved to see it.
I say this because I do not wish it to be thought that I set out in life determined to make money for the mere sake of possessing it. All through the months that followed, when I was almost daily face to face with death, when danger dogged my steps night and day, when I was sometimes in such peril while I slept that it was wonderful that I woke again and still lived on, I was for ever bearing in mind that one idea - that for my father's and my mother's sake I was striving for wealth so as to restore the home they loved so well, and in the defence of which they died.
If there were no wars in Europe where a boy might win fame and fortune, there was one other way that promised well. Men and women were talking of the wonderful discoveries that were being made in the New World beyond the sea - the world which Columbus had discovered, and from which gold and silver came to Spain continually. I heard, like others, of cities whose walls were built of silver, and whose streets were sometimes paved with gold. Men spoke of the New World as an El Dorado, a Land of Gold, out of whose mines the precious metal could be taken with scarcely any toil. It was said that some of the houses were tiled with shining sheets of silver. It ran in the minds of men and women in Spain that wealth was almost to be had for the asking, that it lay at the feet of any who would take the trouble to bend their bodies to pick it up. I had heard that gold was more plentiful in the New World than ever it had been in old-fashioned Europe; that the natives used household utensils of pure gold, and not ornaments merely about their necks and wrists and waists and ankles. Even the roads, some said, were made of shining gold; and everywhere these stories, which must have been known to be lying inventions, set men's tongues wagging, and their mouths watering for wealth that cost no labour in the earning.
The New World promised more for my purpose than any other place, and I remember telling Don Sahagun so. He looked at me for a while without saying a word.
"Are you like all the others, Martin, who think that gold is to be had for the mere asking ? " he said, presently.
"Nay," I cried. "Surely I am not so foolish as that. From what Padillo tells me, the men who are getting rich in the New World are fighting hard for it."
"Tis true, Martin. And since you have your father's courage, your heart would not fail you because dangers would be in the way."
"Ah! if I only had the opportunity!" I exclaimed.
Don Sahagun looked at me and smiled.
"When would you go, Martin?"
"Tomorrow if I had the chance." Then he laughed aloud.
"Tis the spirit I like," said he. "Listen, boy, for I think this will seem such news as you would be pleased to hear. The King has bid me go to the New World to look after his interests there, since he is not satisfied that he receives his just share of the wealth that streams out of the New World. I have to go hither a month from now, and since you desire it, you shall go also, and try your hand at the task of fortune-making."
I shouted with delight, but I saw Bernal standing near, and marking how anxiously he listened, asked if he, too, would go.
"We all go," came the answer.
We were delighted at the prospect, and almost hugged Don Sahagun in our pleasure, and put a thousand questions at which he laughed, since he could scarcely answer a tenth part of them, so breathlessly did they come from our lips.
In a month's time we were tossing on the waters, while the great galleon always kept her bows straight for the New World. Long as the voyage was, we never wearied of it, for night and day the vessel plunged on through the waves, and every hour brought us nearer and nearer to our destination. Sitting in the waist of the ship, where at times the waves washed over us, Bernal, his sister Carina, and I talked of the days that were coming, and of what we hoped to do when once we found ourselves on shore. The washing of the waves over us never damped our courage, and many a time Carina wished herself a boy that she might join in our enterprises. When we told her that fighting was not for girls, she exclaimed against our ignorance, and told us of the Maid of Orleans - the brave Joan of Arc who led the armies of France against the soldiers of England, and saved her country from conquest. Standing up while she told the story , her face aglow with enthusiasm, she cried:
"I could fight like that, and love it. Why, Bernal, and you, Martin, how can you forget? What did the women of Spain do again and again when the Moors rushed on our towns, when there were none left in them but women, and girls like myself, and tottering old men who could not go to the wars? Did they not keep the walls against the enemy, and drive their daggers and pikes into the black-hearted as well as black-faced Moors? Am I, a daughter of Sahagun, less brave than they? Yet you may both go to fight the Indians in the New World yonder, while I, because I am a girl, must stay behind, and only wait for news."
Before long we had reason to know how great her courage was. A few days later we were on American soil, lodged in a roughly built house which we were to occupy while Don Sahagun rode into the interior to see how some of the Spaniards at a distant settlement were attending to their duties. He took with him a hundred armed men, but left us a score besides Padillo, who was now my esquire, or perhaps I had better call him my body-servant.
Carina laughed scornfully when her father, just before he rode away, bade us boys take care of her.
"Take care of me? " she exclaimed. "If danger comes you shall find that I can always take care of myself."
She always carried a jewelled dagger in her bosom, and learned how to load and fire an arquebus,definition: An arquebus was an early firearm. Its user poured gunpowder into the pan at the rear of the barrel and ignited it with a fuse, so that the charge itself exploded in the barrel. The explosion of the gunpowder expelled the ball from the weapon. and although it was far too heavy a weapon for such delicate hands, weighing at least from twelve to fifteen pounds, she bore it, and used it in a day or two with wonderful skill.
Don Sahagun was absent for many a day, and no news came as to how he fared. Once when we were all three in the forest, with none but Padillo to bear us company, Carina strolled away from where we sat by a stream, half sleeping in the drowsy warmth, and listening to the sounds of the forest. Suddenly she returned, but so stealthily that we were startled. She held up her finger as if to warn us not to speak.
"Haste!" she whispered. "There are a hundred Indians, if not more, coming. I saw them creeping among the trees, all armed."
We sprang to our feet, and going silently, treading on the moss which caused us to step softly, we got away, and ere long were within the palisaded enclosure. There was no need for silence, and as we hurried in we shouted the warning. There was an instant response. We could hear the loud tramp of men who came from the outhouses, and presently a score of them were standing about us, wondering at the alarm. I turned while they were coming and looked for Carina, and she was doing what, in our haste, her brother and I had forgotten to do - driving in the bolts of the gate, and dropping the heavy bars into their sockets.
The fort was in charge of an able soldier named Munos, and soon, knowing that it was well to be prepared, even if no assault came, he had stationed the men at the points where there would be most possibility of attack. Munos had but just disposed his men when there was a shot, and then a scream, and looking round we saw Carina at one of the doors of the palisade. She had a smoking pistol in her hand, and was peering through a loophole. To get to her side was the work of a moment or two, and Munos, Bernal and I were soon peering through other loopholes when we had seen what had caused her to start the fight. There were four or five Indians wriggling their way through the grass to the palisading. One was on the ground, writhing in pain, and while we looked he threw out his hands, and lay face downwards, dead on the ground. There was yet another shot, and another scream. An Indian who had risen to his knees to make a dash across the open space, threw up his hands, fell back, and lay still on the soil.
It was Caripa who had fired, "Get into the house," cried Munos to her.
"What! Get into shelter while all those savage creatures have come to murder us?" she answered. "Nay, captain, do not waste your time with me. See! they come! Look at them! Scores come from among the trees! Hundreds!"
It was evident to Munos that it was impossible to hold the great extent of palisading against such a horde who could climb it easily, and drop into the enclosure. A hand-to-hand fight with a score of men, scattered as ours were, in order to hold the weakest points, was certain annihilation, however bravely they might bear themselves. Shouting in his stentorian tones, the captain bade the men get into the house and take the places assigned to them in the event of retreat thither. It was only then that Carina would quit the gate. She possessed the fighting spirit of her fathers, and now that she was face to face with death, girl though she was, she was ready to take part in the gallant struggle for life.
The doors of the house were barely bolted and barred when a naked and strangely-painted Indian climbed to the top of the palisading, and balanced himself for a moment to take the leap into the enclosure we had just quitted, but there was a flash from one of the windows, and the man, throwing up his hands, fell forward with a heavy thud upon the ground. One of the soldiers had taken a sure aim, and a bullet had sped its way to the Indian's heart. But while for a moment none could be seen as our eyes ranged along the wooden defences, there came into view presently, an Indian's feathered head, then another, and ere many seconds had gone the savages were scrambling over by scores, and dropping down into the court where, before they could recover themselves and stand upright, some were shot by the unerring aim of our gallant soldiers.
There were hundreds of Indians to our score of defenders, and they came across the open space boldly, thinking to beat down all barriers, and force their way in through doors and windows. Where we stood the window seemed to offer easy entrance, but Bernal and Carina stood there with me, and fought each Indian who dared to attempt to climb in. Had the window been shuttered we should have been so much more secure, and able to fire through loopholes, but this, strangely enough, had been overlooked by those who had built the house. They had thought of the savages as harmless and spiritless, and had not counted on their determination to avenge some cruelty that had been practised on them just before we came. Munos had placed us in charge of that particular window, bidding Carina go into an upper chamber and bolt herself in with her mother until the fight was over; but she laughed the suggestion to scorn and said she would take her part with us.
Before long the Indians came, swarming to us in a mob, just as they did to every door and window in the house, keeping every man so busy that he had only thought for his own life, and could give none to any of the others.
First of all at our window we fired our arquebuses among them, Carina loading the guns and pistols while we shot; but presently a savage stood on the shoulders of those below, and laid his hand on the window-ledge, intending to force his way in. At that moment our firearms were empty, but as the Indian threw in his foot, Carina, who was bringing me my loaded pistol, turned it on him, and fired. He fell out on the others, who suffered him to drop between them, where, heedless as to whether he was living or dead, they trampled him under foot in their eagerness to get to us.
Firearms were now too slow, and we resorted to other weapons. As dark-skinned hands were placed on the ledge of the window our daggers pierced them, nailing them for a moment to the woodwork, but being wrenched away to meet a new hand which replaced the others that had been drawn back with screams of pain.
The assault grew more and more desperate in spite of our endeavours, for mere dagger work did not prove sufficient to keep back the Indians who came up to the window again and again with such persistency. By constant alertness, however, in the desperate defence we succeeded in preventing anyone from climbing in, although the men outside were standing on the shoulders of others and trying to thrust in another whom they held in their arms. More than one dead body lay part in, and part out, on the window - ledge, and the Indians outside, finding that it hindered them, drew back the dead one, and tossed him out of the way.
Presently Carina disappeared, and I wondered why. I had a fear that she had been wounded by the darts that once came in at the open window in a cloud, followed by a volley of stones. We had drawn back out of reach when we saw them as they clattered on the floor, touching none of us. Carina had not cried out as if hurt in any way, but she had such courage that she would have stifled the cry of pain. She had not gone long, however, before she returned, carrying in her hands three short sharp-headed lances whose points gleamed dangerously in the sun. We saw the value of them instantly, and seizing one each, stood in such a way that we no longer exposed ourselves to the arrows and darts that were shot in at the window continually. If a man climbed to the ledge, and tried to clamber in, the lances pierced him instantly and he fell back, dead or dying, or sorely wounded.
"Bernal," cried Carina, when she saw how effective the lances were," I shall go round the house and see how the others are faring in the defence. You and Martin can keep the window now, I know."
She spoke not as a girl who was startled at the danger she was encountering, but as one who loved the sound of fighting. Yet she was so gentle ordinarily that one would have thought that she would have hidden at the approach of peril.
So the fight went on. We could hear above the shouts and war-cries of the Indians the shots, the crash of axes, the smashing of glass and wood, and in an occasional lull the groans of those who had been sorely wounded. Carina came back at last, and brought the welcome news that while one or two were wounded, none of our men were killed. While she spoke an Indian's painted body seemed to ride up in the air, and came towards us. The Indians had thought to hurl the man in the room, so that while we turned to deal with him, the window should be left unguarded. If this were done but for a moment it would be sufficient, for others would climb in pell-mell, and overpower us. The man came hurling through the open window with a crash, and his fall seemed to shake the floor.
"Deal with him, Bernal," cried Carina, who, at that moment, drove her lance into the bare bosom of an Indian who was in the act of climbing in. There was a scream at the window, and one behind us, and glancing round, we saw that Bernal had transfixed the man with his lance before he could leap to his feet. Calling to me, Bernal stooped and took the Indian by the shoulders. When I held him by the feet, we carried the dead body to the window and laid it on the ledge, where he served as a barrier against the men outside.
But we were growing tired in spite of the excitement. If the fight lasted much longer we feared that in sheer weariness we should fail to hold the window.
"If my father would but come," exclaimed Carina, whose arms hung helplessly at her side for a few moments; and we seemed for that brief space as though we were compelled to let the window take its chance while we regained our breath.
There came a trumpet blast almost while she spoke, and a loud shout in the Spanish tongue, a great clatter of horses' hoofs, and bending low, and peering from behind the Indian's body at the window, we saw Don Sahagun riding into the enclosure, with his battle-axe in his hand, and following him were his horsemen. They must have heard the sound of fighting from afar, for their horses were white with foam. There was no halting on their part as they rode in, - three abreast. Don Sahagun spurred his charger , and the splendid creature bounded forward into the mass of Indians, while his master struck with his battle-axe among the savages.
Taken unawares, trampled underfoot by plunging horses, and struck down by riders who spurred their chargers into the densest portions of that painted mob, they scattered in panic, screaming for mercy, climbing the palisades, trampling each other down in their mad endeavour to get away, and soon the wooden barriers were dark with climbing bodies, and the ground was strewn with the dead who had gone down before the terrible strokes of the cavaliers. Before many minutes had passed, no living Indians, save the helpless wounded within the enclosure, were to be seen.
But two of our number, unhappily, had been killed, and more than a dozen were sorely wounded in the desperate defence.
A FEW weeks later some of us left Acna, and went to St. Jago. Bernal and I were looking into the street from the balcony of the house where we were staying, when we saw a somewhat slenderly-built cavalier pass to the door, and having beaten on it sharply, wait for admission. He was a man so far out of the ordinary in his appearance that I watched him with unusual interest. His keen quick eye seemed to search the street, and his firm step assured one that he had no thought of fear. To me, as a boy, he seemed a man well on in years, but as a matter of fact he was only about thirty - three, or thirty - four.
The way in which he set his feet down on the stones, as he walked, gave one the impression that he was a man of determined character . If he were called upon to command men he would expect obedience, and when he glanced up to the balcony while waiting for the door to open, I admired his rounded face and dark eyes. Some would have called him a handsome cavalier, broad-shouldered, upright, looking the very image of a soldier as his finely-chased armour, set off here and there with silver, and little knobs of gold, gleamed in the sunshine which flooded the street.
It was, I thought, at first, a somewhat sad and anxious face - the face of a man who took life seriously. Yet when a soldier named Olid walked by him in the street, he greeted the man with a frank smile that was pleasant to see. It passed when the soldier had gone, and the look which took its place was one of cool determination. It wanted no great effort of imagination to believe that he was a man born to be a leader - one who could be thought of as showing the way in a battle-charge, and armed with axe, or mace, or sword, would cut a clean path in the midst of the densest mass of the enemy.
"I wonder who that may be?" said Bernal, but I could not say, since I had never seen him before.
"Someone out of the ordinary," I answered, leaning out of the balcony to have another look at him, as he entered the house.
"You nearly went over that time," exclaimed Bernal, who had clutched at my belt, and probably saved me from breaking my neck." I would like to know who he was," he added. "It can't be the Governor, for Velasquez is older; and it is not Alvarado, who has brought back such wonderful news about the great empire of Mexico."
We stood on the balcony and talked, thinking to have another look at Don Sahagun's visitor when he should go away. And while we waited there was much to talk about. Pedro de Alvarado, who had been one of Grijalva's captains, had just returned from an expedition, the object of which was to explore the coast of Mexico, and bring a report as to the character of the country and the possibilities of trade. Grijalva, who had command, had parted company with Alvarado, so that the various ships going in different directions might search the coasts more thoroughly, and pick up information in all directions.
None knew as yet what Grijalva had seen, for he had not returned, but Alvarado had come back laden with wealth. In his cabin were precious stones in abundance, while the floor was covered with vessels and ornaments of solid gold, which he had obtained from the natives in exchange for European trinkets and tools of the most paltry value. A few Spanish beads of steel, and an ornamental dagger, had won from a cacique a handful of pearls, while one of the Indian women had taken from her neck and ears and ankles her golden ornaments in exchange for a pair of scissors.
Alvarado did more than show these tokens of wealth. He told of a mighty empire which was fabulously rich, so that when Velasquez, who was Governor of Cuba, heard all that the captain had to say, he determined to send an expedition to Mexico to achieve its conquest. We had heard all this, and when we arrived we saw preparations on every hand for the venture. Soldiers who had already done good service were inducing men to take part in an enterprise which was to make the poorest, were he but brave, a man of means, and possibly of rank as well.
While we talked Bernal broke off in the conversation and exclaimed: "Martin, the man who has come to see my father must be Hernando Cortes, whom the Governor has made leader of the expedition."
Just then Padillo came to us and said that Don Sahagun desired our presence. My esquire had barely given his message before I asked him whether the soldier below was Cortes.
"Yes, senor," he answered, "and I was going to ask permission to leave you here for a time, that I might enlist in his service."
"You shall go, Padillo, by all means," said I; "but I, too, would go."
"You, Don Martin?" cried Padillo, in surprise. "'Tis likely to be a dangerous task, and you are but a boy."
"Was I a boy in the matter of fighting at Acna?"
"Nay, senor. No man fought better than you, or this young lord," said my esquire, pointing to Bernal, who had been listening with close attention. But now he spoke.
"Padillo, I am going to ask my father to give me leave to go. Could we not serve as pages to Cortes?"
"Think you that Hernando Cortes would take the responsibility of having two such young soldiers in his little army?" asked the man, somewhat amused, I thought, at the suggestion.
"We may be young," protested Bernal, "but surely we showed that we could fight the Indians at Acna. I will find Munos - or go you, Padillo, and find him, and bid him be near my father's room to answer my call if I should want him. Then he shall tell my father and Cortes whether we shall be likely to run away when it comes to hard fighting."
Bernal laughed, and Padillo, seeing that we were serious, went to find Munos whom we had last seen in the yard, while we went to Don Sahagun's room as desired.
"Ah! here they come," exclaimed Bernal's father when we entered. "Boys, I want you to know Senor Cortes who is so busy making his preparations for the conquest of Mexico."
Noble as I thought the cavalier when we watched him from the balcony, I was compelled to feel that of all the soldiers I had known in Spain when my father was alive, none seemed his equal now that we were face to face. One felt that if others did things well, this cavalier would do them better. He had the look of an athletic man to whom weariness would be slow in coming, and if in an arduous march men fell out of the ranks exhausted, Cortes would be the last of all to say that he could go no farther that day. He had the reputation of being a splendid swordsman, and as for horsemanship it has been said again and again that he had not his equal among the Spaniards in the New World. This at least was sufficient to know that he was a remarkable man.
"Father," said Bernal, after our first greetings, and before any further word could be spoken, "Martin and I want to join Senor Cortes in his expedition."
Cortes looked at us kindly, but something in his face seemed to assure me that he did not consider the request a serious one.
"Twill be a dangerous journey, my young lord," he said.
"We know it," I cried; "but we have faced danger before to-day."
"There will be Indians to fight, Don Martin." "We have already fought them, senor," exclaimed Bernal.
"Whole armies of them, probably, will oppose us," Cortes went on to say.
"What matter?" Bernal responded? and looking at him, I saw that his face was flushed with enthusiasm. "Do not Spaniards know how to fight against odds, senor? Even Spanish women - aye, and Spanish girls."
"Girls?" said Cortes, looking at us in some surprise.
"My sister, for example, senor ," answered Bernal; and then between us we told how she had fought with us at the window of the fort when the Indians were howling round us at Acna. "I have sent for Munos to come hither, senor, to tell you whether we are boastful."
"Nay, boys, I need no Munos to tell me how a Sahagun or a Martin de Hernan would fight," said Cortes. "What I think of is that the responsibility of taking two such young cavaliers with me is too great. I must leave it to Don Sahagun to decide, and he must make it plainly known to the Governor that no blame attaches. to me if harm should come to either of you."
We looked at Don Sahagun. "Say 'Yes,' father," pleaded Bernal; and I joined my entreaties to his. At first he shook his head, but when Carina, who had entered the room, heard, she took her father's hand.
"Father, were I a boy, I, too, would go and fight for the Cross and for Spain!" "You, my daughter?" cried Don Sahagun, looking at Carina in amazement. "Then if my girl would go, my boy needs must; and if Bernal goes, so too must Martin."
Before the day was out we began our preparations for the expedition which was to astonish the world, and win Spain a mighty empire.
I HAD more than sufficient money, after the sale of my jewels, to purchase my outfit, and equip myself completely for the expedition. Horses were very scarce in the island of Cuba at the time, and consequently very dear, but I bought a beautiful creature, a small jet-black charger that could easily bear my light weight, and yet maintain his speed, if we should ever be called upon to put it to the test. Bernal, too, had a bay mare whose beauty made her valuable, even had horses been cheap and plentiful.
We were a gallant company when we set forth on that voyage which must for all time be counted among the most famous ever undertaken. Columbus had gone from Spain to look for land beyond the seas, and here were we, bent on searching for the greatest empire that New World contained. Yet we were not a large company. Six ships left the harbour, carrying besides the sailors who were necessary to navigate them not more than three hundred men of all ranks. It was a small number to attempt the conquest of a nation said to be able to bring thousands and tens of thousands of warriors into the field to bar the way to the Mexican capital.
Omitting Bernal and myself, they were all picked men - soldiers of fine bodily presence, in lusty health, strong in muscle, and skillful in using the weapons of warfare; for not one was engaged by Cortes who could not satisfy him as to his fitness. What the Captain - General wanted was not so much numbers as skill and readiness for the task set before them, and in return, he promised all the soldiers a generous share of the profits of the expedition after he had recovered the money he had spent out of his own pocket. This amounted to twenty thousand golden ducats, besides the money Velasquez advanced.
Yet we went out of the harbour by stealth, and in haste, instead of sailing forth with flags flying, and drums beating, and guns firing salvoes to wish us good luck in our enterprise. Word has been brought to Cortes secretly in the evening of the eighteenth of November, 1518, that although Velasquez had commissioned him to prepare the expedition, and in spite of the fact that Cortes had spent nearly every golden ducat that he possessed to do so, the Governor intended to supersede the Captain - General, and put another cavalier in command. When Cortes heard this he was furious. He sent messengers in all directions bidding them call in all those who had not yet come on board.
Padillo came rushing in without ceremony while we were at our evening meal, and speaking low, said that if we did not want to be left behind we must come at once, since Velasquez intended to put off the sailing of the ships perhaps for many months, if not altogether. Our belongings had already been sent on board, save our horses, so that when we finished the meal we said farewell, and went to the harbour.
It was midnight when our ships went out to sea silently, and as we were afterwards told, we did but go in time, for a messenger came in hot haste to the harbour to bid Cortes go to the Governor's house. Had he done so, the conquest of Mexico might never have been achieved. At all events, the general who achieved it would not have been Hernando Cortes.
We had come away, leaving many things behind that were necessary. There was not sufficient food, and only a part of our stock of ammunition had been brought on board. Even some of the horses had been left behind because there was not time to get them on the ships. Cavaliers who had come without them contented themselves with the thought that they would purchase others in such ports at which we might touch. Even many of the men who had been enrolled had not arrived when we left the harbour, several being away in the country saying "Good-bye" to their friends.
We made good these losses by degrees, for at Macaca we found a number of men who had been in Grijalva's expedition, who were glad to be engaged, to say nothing of some Spanish gentlemen who were growing tired of life in a place where there were neither adventures nor fighting. Among them were Pedro de Alvarado, Cristoval de Olid, Alonzo de Avila, Juan Velasquez de Leon, Hernandez de Puerto Carrero, and Gonzalo de Sandoval. Now that I look back on those stirring days, I think how fortunate it was that we called at Macaca ; for we not only bought ammunition and arms and stores, but we met those fine soldiers I have named, who did such valiant deeds in the course of the conquest. We little thought, when they came on board, how famous the men who now joined our gallant little army would become.
We entered Havana one day, and Cortes gave the order for every soldier to provide himself with quilted armour, since some of Grijalva's men had told him that the Indians they had met with fought frequently with poisoned arrows. That kept the men busy for several days, and during that time arms were brought on board, and everything was purchased that could be supposed to be useful for the campaign.
Cortes made these preparations as quickly as possible, for he felt uncomfortable as to what Velasquez might do. Every strange ship on the water seemed to him to be one that might be carrying a messenger, bringing word that would ruin all. Fortunately we were all on board, and the anchors were weighed when an officer came from Don Pedro Barba, the Commander of. Havana, warning us to get away at once, since a message had come from Velasquez, ordering him to arrest Cortes, and detain the ships. In a few minutes every vessel was on the move, and the great sails bellying in the breeze, and carrying us out to sea.
It was a fortunate escape, and we knew that Barba, who had invested a good sum of money in the expedition, and was looking for a share of the profits, would do all he could to give us time to get away.
When we were well out of the harbour there was a cheer from every throat, even from the young cabin-boys because we were at last not only on the sea, but steering for the shore where we should land and begin the work of conquest. None seemed to count the odds, or think of the untold thousands who might oppose us, and of the battles that would have to be fought if we were ever to be counted conquerors. Yet we were such a little company to attempt the task!
We had left St. Jago with three hundred men, but when we sailed out of Havana harbour on the eighteenth of February, three months later to the day, we had added to our numbers. For now there were five hundred and fifty-three soldiers, to say nothing of a hundred and ten sailors who might be counted on to fight if required. Among our company were thirteen arquebusiers, not many considering their usefulness, and although they played so great a part in European warfare at the time, the crossbow - men with us were only thirty-two in number.
Cortes had stowed away in the holds of the ships, not only a great quantity of ammunition, but ten heavy guns, and four lighter ones known as falconets. The most disappointing part of all, perhaps, especially to the hidalgos, (The hidalgo was a Spanish nobleman of the lowest rank.) was the fewness of the horses. We had come away in such a hurry that Bernal and I, like many others, had left our horses behind, and although we offered great prices for sorry animals, we were not able to purchase any. There were only sixteen horses altogether, so that all but the owners of these would have to tramp every foot of the way from the coast to the capital.
The sea was calm on the day which followed our departure from Havana, so that the ships of the little squadron were able to obey in safety the signal from Cortes to gather about his own vessel. Then, as they slowly rose and fell on the moving waters, the men heard the Captain - General speak. His voice was clear while he told of the work we had in view, and the men who listened felt their hearts stirring with enthusiasm when he rehearsed what had been reported of the greatness and wealth of Mexico. When he spoke of these things there came mighty cheers which rang again and again across the waters. He told of men who had come back from the interior laden with gold, and who had seen it everywhere, so that they might know that there was great wealth to be won.
Then he spoke of the love of the Spaniards for their own religion. The men we were going to conquer were heathen, but we should seek to convert them all to Christianity. That, too, fired the hearts of everyone, for no Spaniard ever went to war without hoping to make Christians of the savage tribes he fought. Cortes spoke bravely, and his words put courage into every one of us. If any had thought of danger , they thought more now of glory , and the Captain - General spoke so eloquently that all believed that the conquest was sure.
When he had ended his words he unfurled a great banner wrought in rich, dark velvet. It floated in the breeze when Cristoval de Olid took it from the hands of Cortes, and held it high overhead on the upper deck, so that all could see the crimson cross amid flames of blue and white in the banner's centre. It was always to be carried in the front of the battle, and was to take the foremost place in every march. Beneath the cross were the words:
"Friends, let us follow the Cross; And under this sign, if we have faith, We shall conquer!"
The sound of a gun on the deck was heard. It boomed across the sea towards Mexico, as if carrying a warning of the approach of a band of warriors who came to add a new empire to the already great possessions of the King of Spain.
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