final 6 chapters: 19 - 24
ALTHOUGH Cortes took every precaution for our safety we were never free from anxiety. It is true that we walked about the city and saw its splendours, but there was always a scowl on the faces of the great lords, and even on those of the common people, who looked upon us as intruders. There were times, indeed, when Spaniards who went about in twos and threes were stoned, but none lost their lives at first. The fact that the Emperor issued his proclamation that we should be treated as honoured guests was a source of security; but it was impossible for the people to hide their hatred, and I never returned to the palace without feeling that some day we should pay a terrible price for our boldness in marching into the heart of this great and unknown empire.
I had thought it unnecessary to display my golden disc, lest it should attract too much attention. I therefore still kept it fastened to my tunic, but threw over my shoulders a collar of lace which hid it from view. If need arose, I had but to take off the collar, and it would once more be my passport out of danger. Aguilar seems to have done the same; I never went abroad without Aguilar if it were possible to have his company, and once he and Bernal accompanied me to the Lake of Tezcoco.
Padillo, who was in constant attendance on me, would have gone, but Cortes had special need for his services that day. On one of the islands stood a building which, we were told, was a veritable palace of gold. Some boatmen were near, and one of the Aztec lords, seeing us, sent a messenger, saying that since the palace was his, we were welcome to visit it.
There was nothing to hinder our going, and stepping into the boat, we went gladly, for there was always a great delight in sailing on the lakes of Mexico. We landed and entered the palace, the beauty of which seemed even greater than that in which Montezuma dwelt. The walls of some of the chambers had beadings of solid gold which crossed each other at a distance of a foot or thereabouts, forming, as they cut each other at angles, diamond-shaped spaces which were coloured blue like the sky.
Here and there the artists had painted pictures depicting the beauties of Mexico, and at intervals were portraits of Mexicans who, judging from the ornaments they wore, were nobles of very high rank.
The noble who had invited us had gone across the waters at a greater pace, and was waiting to bid us welcome. He led the way and showed us apartment after apartment, each of which was very beautiful. Gold was everywhere. Silver was plentiful on the floors. The ceilings were of timber, some of carved cedar, some of polished pine, or of cypress, and in one room alone were gems ornamenting the walls and stools that would have provided enough for a king's ransom.
To say that Quapan was kind was to say what really seemed the truth. We were served like princes, and our comfort was sought for in every way. The choicest food was set before us, and as if to make us feel that there was nothing to fear from poison, the cacique sat down with us to eat, and tasted of every dish before we were served.
It was a banquet although but four persons partook of it, and while the meal was being served there was music on strange instruments. One of them resembled a violin, another a flute, and a third a kettle-drum. An ugly dwarf waited on Quapan, and went through such contortions as a jester in Spain would do, all to make one laugh. But although Calla did so much by way of fun, I saw that he looked at us askance, and spitefully, and I felt that we should have to be aware of him.
Quapan was gracious to the end, and bidding us feel ourselves at liberty to move about at our pleasure, and return when we pleased to the Spanish quarters, he asked us to excuse him, since he was summoned to Montezuma's presence.
Calla instantly offered to be our guide through such parts of the palace as we had not seen. There never was such a guide. He was never at a loss for words. He would take us to the windows and show us views of Mexico that were beautiful beyond anything we had yet seen. He took us to the treasure chamber, where he raised the covers of brass-strapped chests, and bade us help ourselves to whatever we chose. When we questioned his right to give away what belonged to his master, he declared that Quapan said we were free to take what we fancied, whether it were gold, or silver, or gems: for, as he added slyly, "I hear that the Spaniards suffer greatly from what is called I gold fever.' "
"'Tis true, Calla," exclaimed Bernal, laughing, and now that we were free to do so, we took some of the gems and thrust them into our bosoms, and then, also, some of the most beautiful ornaments, buckles, and rings, as souvenirs of our visit to the Palace of the Lake. From thence we passed down a short corridor into a chamber with a certain foulness about it and a strange smell that suggested dampness.
"Lords," said Calla, "you may sleep till I return."
"We want no sleep, Calla," I exclaimed. The dwarf was standing in the doorway, his ugly face all smiles, and yet behind them was a look which brought a great fear to me.
"You must have it, lords," cried he, "and it shall be no fault of Calla's if it be a sleep from which you never wake."
Before we could answer he was gone, and where the place had been flooded with sunshine, now it had gone into the blackest darkness, for the windows seemed to be suddenly blotted out, as if huge stones had rolled round and filled the space through which the daylight came. We could see nothing, but we could hear the dwarf screaming with laughter somewhere. Once I thought a door opened, for some light entered the chamber, and turning swiftly I saw Calla standing in a doorway, his face contorted with hate, and his tongue lolling out of his great and ugly mouth.
"Sleep!" he cried, and then he was gone again, and we were once more in darkness.
Hours must have passed in that blackness, during which time we heard the sound of crawling reptiles on the floor, and felt them sometimes with our feet when we moved about in vain attempt to discover an exit. It seemed to us, also, as if the place was infested with myriads of insects, some of which settled on our hands and faces, and stung us severely, so that we were glad to take off our lace collars that covered our shoulders, and wrap them round our heads.
Moving in the room aimlessly, we found that we knocked against each other, and sometimes bruised ourselves by coming violently against the wall, striking our heads or shoulders on some jutting pieces of masonry .We agreed to move systematically. Bernal and I stood where we were while Aguilar went round slowly, feeling the wall both high and low with the palms of his hands, to discover whether there was any crack which might suggest an opening. He went so deliberately, telling us what he felt, that it took some time to traverse the whole apartment and come again to the spot from whence he started. But nothing came of it.
Then it was Bernal's turn, and we could hear him tapping on the walls with his dagger handle in search for a hollow place.
Presently an exclamation escaped his lips.
"There is something hollow here." Going to him by feeling our way cautiously along the wall, we tapped as he had done. We were as sure as he that there had been no mistake. Our daggers went to work at once to feel for the cracks of a possible door, and at last my own blade slipped into one which, when we traced it down to the floor, continued to the right until several inches had been passed, sufficient, if there had been an opening, for a man to slip through.
Assured that this was a door, we felt about for a knob, or a spring, and Bernal, who was on. his knees, declared that he had found what felt like the square head of a great nail, barely noticeable, in the beading. When we pressed on it, the door opened outwards, and we found ourselves no longer in darkness, but in a similar chamber into which the daylight streamed.
Here was insect life in abundance, but no reptiles were crawling on the floor. The light was not to their fancy, and probably they only entered the place in the dead of night.
We gazed around for another door and found one, but we looked to our weapons before venturing out. We paused while doing so, and looking at each other, for we heard voices we thought we knew. Going softly to the door we listened. We recognised one voice as Quapan's. Without a doubt the other was Tapia's. It seemed to us that the voice of the third was Mestizo's, the cacique who had visited the Spanish camp as the Emperor's ambassador.
But to whom did the fourth belong? "I think it is Montezuma's." said Aguilar, in a whisper, and from that moment he began to interpret quietly every word that was spoken. The men in the chamber on the other side of the door were conversing freely, without any attempt at secrecy, as if they had no thought of being overheard; but while we listened our hearts beat fiercely with anger and fear. For these men of rank - one of whom, judging from what the others said, and their almost abject manner of addressing him, was the Emperor - were plotting for the betrayal of every Spaniard within the city. Two nights hence Cortes and his principal officers were to be invited to a banquet in the palace. Others of lower rank were to be asked to a great feast here, in the Palace of the Lake, while the rank and file of - the Spanish army were to be entertained by Mestizo.
When the soldiers were stupid with wine, armed warriors were to enter and slay them. The plot was cruel and merciless, the more so since, for the next two days, assurances of friendship were to be given beyond any yet spoken, and festivity unparalleled was to be provided. The night and the hour were fixed before the speakers separated.
We looked at each other in consternation, We had the feeling that we ourselves were doomed, but we were eager to find some way of telling our comrades of their danger. Yet, think as we would, we could devise no scheme. Even if we succeeded in getting away from the Palace of the Lake, how could we reach the city, when half a mile of water lay between us and the place from whence we had started at the invitation of Quapan? If we waited till night came we dared not attempt to swim the distance, for it was said among the people of the capital that great caymans or crocodiles were in the lakes by scores, always on the lookout for human food, and that they were daily fed with the flesh of the victims that were sacrificed in the temples.
Matters seemed so desperate that we felt it worth taking every risk, and while we trembled at our boldness, we passed into the room where the Emperor and his caciques had planned their treacherous scheme. It was a fit chamber for a mighty, pleasure - loving prince like Montezuma, but we did not pause to mark the luxury .There was a half - open door, and we went through it, and found ourselves in a passage. At the farther end was what seemed to be a garden, and feeling that it was better to be in the open air than confined within palace walls, where doors could effectually bar us in, we passed out.
It was delightful to breathe the fresh, clean air, to hear and see the birds, and witness the beauties of the gardens where the fountains plashed, and flowers were displaying their wealth of colour. But we halted in our progress along the path, for at a bend in the garden walk we saw a crowd of Indians, standing round an open space, and among the spectators who witnessed some jugglers at their tricks were Montezuma and some of his principal courtiers. Stepping behind some bushes we looked from our hiding - place and watched. Now and again an Indian passed from some part of the palace to join the sightseers, and we had to go deeper yet among the bushes to hide ourselves, lest we might be seen, and, in the present temper of the Emperor, be put to death.
"Let us enter the doorway yonder," suggested Bernal, and since it offered a chance of escape, we went. A short passage led us to another door which opened heavily, and fell together of its own accord when we stepped in, so that as it caught in the lock with a snap, we feared that we were trapped. In a few moments we found that we had avoided one danger to face another as great, for there was the deep cry of a wild beast close by. We had heard it before in our journey to Mexico - the loud "pu pu" coming in hoarse snaps that were terrifying.
Turning quickly we saw that we had entered a chamber where a dozen ferocious jaguars were kept, and now that they were hungry, they turned upon us as if we had come to be food for them. Again and again we had heard that the jaguar, if once it had tasted human flesh, was a confirmed man-eater, like the tiger, and when we saw them crouching there, their eyes gleaming wildly and hungrily, and heard the snapping cries we knew too well, a thrill of horror passed through us. Some of the creatures walked to and fro, their lips, throat, belly, and breast showing white, while, as their supple limbs paced the floor, their tan-coloured skins mottled with black spots seemed to shine in the sunlight that came through the slits in the thick walls. Every eye in that terrible den was on us, and every beast seemed to be waiting for a deadly spring.
To get back by the way we had entered was impossible, for the latch had fallen, and we knew not how to find it, or, even had we seen it, how to draw it back. We drew our swords and stood in readiness for any onslaught, almost fancying that we felt the tear of those sharp and cat-like claws. In our left hands we held our daggers, and could only wait and wonder how this unexpected peril would end. If in death, what of Cortes and our comrades? How would they be told of their danger because of Montezuma's treachery?
Suddenly one of the jaguars, with its sharp "pu pu" coming from its mouth, crouched, made its strange movement with its belly dragging on the floor, and sprang. We were ready, and it came on Bernal's sword and my own, pierced through the chest. We threw it off our weapons and it fell on the floor, dead. Another was crouching, and when it sprang, unwarned by the fate of the first, Aguilar caught it just as we had caught the other animal, and it rolled over with a scream of rage and pain. A third one sprang, but our swords failed to catch it. Yet when it fell between us with a thud, and its loose sides shook on the stones, our swords pierced its body, and it died before long.
But there were others, and we began to fear that we should not be fortunate enough to meet so many without some grievous harm to our own bodies. The animals seemed to be maddened by our presence, and grew furious in their impatience to get at us.
Their cries came with a deafening persistency which added to our terror, and we had begun to give up hope, since the beasts looked like making a simultaneous spring.
Just then I heard the snap of a latch close by, and the door was flung open, and three Indians entered. They came in uttering loud cries, and waving their hands as if to silence the animals. We took the opportunity that offered, and slipped out at the open door. When the Indians saw us, they left the jaguars to themselves, and followed us, drawing the door after them. By the time they overtook us we were in the open garden, halting behind the bushes. Turning, we stood face to face with the men, who looked at us in wonder. To our astonishment they pointed to my bosom, and then to Aguilar's. As with one mind they fell prone on the garden walk, touching the earth with their foreheads. At first we did not comprehend the reason for their action, but when I looked at Aguilar, and saw that his golden disc was now exposed to view since he had removed his lace collar, I knew that the passports Rava Oello had given us were effective in the moment of our danger, and would probably render us great service.
While the Indians lay on the ground, not one venturing to look up, I spoke quickly to Aguilar . Here was a chance of escape. We might induce these men to aid us in returning to our companions.
"Speak to them, Aguilar ,"I exclaimed. "Tell them to stand on their feet and listen."
When he did as I desired, the prostrate men rose slowly, but did not look up. Each man shaded his eyes with his hands and waited, and when Aguilar bade them take us by some quiet way to the water, where we might find a boat, they turned without a word, and threading the way along the unfrequented paths, they brought us to a craft wherein two men were sitting. They also, when they saw us, fell prostrate in the boat, but at Aguilar's word sat up, and when we had taken our seats, paddled us across the waters.
WHEN we entered the palace, eager to tell of what we had heard, Cortes was holding a council with his officers, and as we passed into the chamber where they met, we saw that every face was full of anger. Alvarado was on his feet and speaking rapidly, and he displayed his indignation by impatiently fingering the dagger at his belt.
"'Tis warrant sufficient, Cortes, to make a prisoner of the Emperor," he cried, and many of those who were present expressed their approval by word and gesture.
Cortes was sitting on a gilded stool at the head of the table, and looking down its length he saw us enter. His eyes flashed angrily, as if he resented our intrusion, and he exclaimed in sharp tones: "Why do you come here when we are in serious council?"
It was no time for ceremony. "There is ample reason, general," I cried, stepping up to the table, and standing there so that I could look up its whole length. Every eye turned to me, and by this time Bernal and Aguilar had come forward, and were at my side.
"What reason, Don Martin?" asked Cortes, who saw by our faces and agitated demeanour that we brought great news. My answer to the question was a full and careful statement of our experience at the Palace of the Lake, and the silence that followed when I had ended was such that one could hear the movement of the tunic as the soldiers about the table breathed.
"You amaze me!" exclaimed Cortes, presently, rising from his stool, but instead of being displeased, his face now had on it a look of satisfaction. "You found us deliberating over the news that has come from Cempoalla, where the noble Escalente and three others of our countrymen have been treacherously murdered. Alvarado was urging, when you entered, that we should safeguard ourselves by taking possession of Montezuma's person, and hold him as hostage for the punishment of the cacique who has murdered our comrades."
He paused for a moment, and glanced down the table at his companions in arms.
"Senors, this news just brought renders it necessary not merely to demand punishment, but to hold the Emperor as hostage for the safety of our army. Don Martin, and you, Don Bernal, and Aguilar, must give us your solemn promise not to say a word of what you have heard today, until the danger is past."
We gave the promise instantly, and at a gesture from the Captain-General, withdrew from the Council. We were sent for again, however, to repeat our story still more fully, for Cortes desired the fullest knowledge possible of the Emperor's plan of massacre.
In the afternoon word came that Montezuma had returned from the Palace of the Lake, and Cortes lost no time, for he had made his plans, and was prepared to carry them through. It was in his mind that the sooner he acted the better it would be for his army's safety. When he stepped out of the palace he saw Bernal and me standing among some of the officers. He beckoned to us.
"Tell Aguilar that I wish him and yourselves to accompany me, since I may require your statement of what you heard when I speak to the Emperor."
We set forth for the palace of Montezuma, to whom Cortes had sent word that he purposed to pay the monarch a visit, in order to speak with him on a matter of importance. With us went Alvarado, De Avila, Francisco de Lujo, Sandoval and De Leon, every one of whom, like Cortes, had put on a shirt of mail beneath their handsome tunics.
Every Spaniard in Mexico was in full armour that afternoon, for word had gone round secretly that there might be need of it before night; but over the armour each man wore the fine linen garments and the heavy golden collars which the Emperor had presented when the army drew up outside of his palace on the day of our entry into the city.
I knew nothing of Cortes' arrangements, but I noticed that some of the principal soldiers dropped into the palace by twos and threes, as if to see afresh the beauties of which we never tired. As for the Captain-General, when he thought a sufficient number of men were present for his purpose, he began to tell Montezuma of what had happened at Cempoalla, and ended by demanding that the cacique of the town should be burnt to death by way of retribution. A messenger was sent without delay, bidding the cacique appear quickly before the Emperor, to answer for what he had done.
When the messenger had gone Cortes told Montezuma that there was yet a more serious matter, and he called on Aguilar to state what had passed in the Palace of the Lake. The Emperor put on a look of surprise as the interpreter went through his story quietly. Then, with an angry gesture, he declared that it was all false, and that no such treachery was meditated.
Cortes heard all that Montezuma said, and did not answer for a while. I noticed that while the monarch was angrily protesting against such a charge being made against him, more and more of our soldiers were lounging in the square outside, while the Spaniards in the hall were gradually drawing nearer to Cortes. They were presently sufficiently near to suit the Captain-General's purpose, and then he spoke. He told Montezuma that the best and only way of proving his friendship was for him to go to the palace where the Spaniards lodged, and stay there as on a visit for a while.
"Take one of my sons, Cortes," cried the Emperor, who had turned pale at the proposal."Or take one of my daughters, and hold her as hostage for my generous treatment of you and your men."
Cortes did not pause to consider the suggestion, but answered instantly.
"Nay, you must come yourself. I will have no other hostage."
The monarch's face clouded with anger, and the nobles about his chair of state gathered round him a little more closely than was their custom, as if to protect him. Without a doubt they believed that the Captain-General meant to employ force, but Montezuma waved them back haughtily with his hand, and bent forward to speak.
"Were I to do as you wish, my subjects would rise in rebellion, and you and I would all die."
"We may not think of that," said Cortes. "There is but one way in which we can secure our own safety, and that is to hold you as hostage. You must come."
"I dare not!" cried Montezuma, whose swarthy face was now grey with anger and fear . "My nobles here will protect me, and I must warn you that if you stay here longer I will not be answerable for your safety. Lords!" he exclaimed, suddenly, turning to the caciques who stood about him, "draw nearer to defend the throne. Mestizo, call in my warriors to guard their monarch!"
"Nay," cried Cortes, "that shall not be! If Mestizo stirs hand or foot he shall be shot down instantly. Alvarado, see to that!"
Alvarado instantly drew a pistol from his belt, and held it so that were he but to pull the trigger, the cacique would fall at the Emperor's footstool.
The captains were standing round Cortes listening impatiently to Montezuma's angry protests, and seeing that the hall was quickly filling with Mexicans who made no attempt to hide their arms, Velasquez de Leon cried aloud:
"Why do we waste words with this barbarian? We have gone too far to retreat now. Let us seize him, and if he resists, plunge our swords into his body!"
Montezuma heard his angry words, and although he did not understand them, he suspected their meaning, for he turned to Marina, and asked her to interpret what the cavalier had said. She did so, in her gentle voice, and entreated the Emperor to accompany the Spaniards as they desired, since that was the only way of avoiding bloodshed.
"Cortes is resolved on your doing this," she added. "Can you not see how his officers have gradually drawn near? Were Cortes to say the word - See! they would strike their daggers into the bosoms of a score of your caciques!"
Montezuma looked round and saw how true it was. There was no escape. The Spaniards had but to come forward a step or two, and they could pierce his own heart with their swords, which, even now, they were loosening in their scabbards. "Be it so," he said hopelessly; but rather than appear as setting forth through the streets like a prisoner, he called for his litter, and a guard of honour, and so took his way in state, much as when he came to meet us on our entry into Mexico.
The next day, while Montezuma was treated as an honoured guest, with every vestige of imprisonment removed, his lords and slaves going and coming without hindrance, a message arrived to say that Quanhpopoca, the cacique of Cempoalla, was waiting to know his sovereign's will.
Montezuma entered the palace hall and demanded an explanation as to the death of the Spanish soldiers, and Quanhpopoca, seeing that he was doomed, and was to be sacrificed to appease the Spaniards, declared boldly that he had but obeyed the Emperor's orders, and that the cavaliers were slain at Montezuma's express command.
The monarch's face flushed with anger, and he haughtily declared that the cacique and the Aztec nobles who were with him had lied. He then gave orders for them to be burnt alive, and the execution took place within the hour in the great square in front of the palace.
Cortes insisted that Montezuma should go to the window and witness the burning. I shall never forget how the sovereign did so. Cortes turning to him in anger, taxed him with perfidy, in having given orders for the death of some of our men while he was pretending friendship. Thereupon he struck a heavy gong with the handle of his sword. While the gong yet hummed the door opened, and a soldier entered, carrying some chains. Although the Emperor protested vehemently, the man proceeded to lock them about his ankles and wrists. That done, Montezuma was carried in his chair to the window, where he watched Quanhpopoca and fifteen other Aztecs die for having taken part in the death of the Spaniards at Cempoalla. At the end of an hour the chains were taken off.
WEEKS went by, and Montezuma remained a prisoner in so far that while he appeared to have liberty to come and go as he pleased, he never went from our palace without a strong escort of Spanish soldiers. Yet there was no appearance of any particular danger. It seemed as though the city settled down to its usual life after an angry outburst when it was known that the Emperor had been put into chains - an indignity no other Mexican monarch had ever suffered.
If there was any conspiracy to rescue the Emperor, we never heard of it. The nobles came and went, entering the palace with friendly faces, and showing every possible regard for our countrymen. Even the poorest soldier in our little army became well - to - do by reason of the presents he received. No murmurs of discontent were heard, save when it was known that Montezuma acknowledged himself a vassal of the great monarch in far - off Spain, but Quapan spoke to the discontented nobles and prevented them from making any angry protest which would certainly have led to bloodshed.
During these weeks in which Montezuma was our prisoner, some of us saw a great deal of the empire which we had come to conquer; for as soon as the Emperor had taken the oath of fealty to Spain, Cortes insisted that a certain proportion of the revenue of the country should be set aside for the Spanish King. When the taxes were to be collected in certain distant parts of the country, the Captain-General sent a company of twenty soldiers to accompany the Mexican collectors, to take account of the amounts which were paid. During the time they were absent the wealth began to pour like a stream into Montezuma's coffers, and according to the arrangements made when the Emperor took his oath, an immense share fell to our lot, while Montezuma, anxious to display his generosity, swelled the amount by a contribution that was amazing.
Our soldiers, although they were possessed of great riches because of what they had found and taken during their march to Mexico, longed to finger their share of what was in the treasure house, and repeatedly deputations waited on Cortes to demand a division of the spoils. When the Captain-General replied that the time had not yet come, and that there was immensely more tribute yet to be received from the provinces, some of the men threatened to raid the treasure house, help themselves, march back to Vera Cruz and return to Cuba when they had built some ships.
Cortes refused several times until one day, when a messenger from Vera Cruz handed him a letter from Gonzalo de Sandoval, who had been sent there as governor. I saw him turn pale as he read, and that same day he gave orders for the treasure to be divided.
I shall never forget the sight. Montezuma had sent a hundred slaves to carry it from the cellars where the wealth was stored, and lay it out in the open air in the yard behind the treasure house. The soldiers were allowed to come and go at their will to see the Indians carry out the gold by armfuls, and set it down in heaps, according to its kind. In one place were some golden vases studded with jewels, and they covered a great space as they were placed side by side. Then there were piles of ornaments - fans, bracelets, collars, anklets, girdles, necklaces of beads, earrings, and all of pure gold. There were three heaps of ingots of gold, solid bars of the precious metal that had been melted down, and carefully marked in lengths of certain values. Some of the bars were broken in half to show that they were gold all the way through. Great open basins of silver stood amid all this wealth, and into them from time to time a slave would empty a bag of jewels, or draw from a basket handfuls of precious stones, and put them there, stones whose brilliancy dazzled our eyes as the sun's rays caught them.
It took some days for the gold to be melted down into ingots which the men could easily carry, and which in that shape could be more justly divided. Then came the estimate as to the total worth, and surely there had rarely been so much wealth gathered in one place, waiting for division. On a day appointed, the treasurer of the army told of the estimated worth of what was before the soldiers who were ranged in ranks around the yard, "One hundred and sixty-two thousand pesos de oro is the amount of gold to be distributed," read Ordaz the treasurer, from a paper he held in his hand; and there was a shout among the men. "There are also jewels and fine ornaments which are worth five hundred thousand golden ducats." (Prescott estimates the total value at 1,417,000 pounds sterling)
It was a long task to divide it, and the soldiers were dissatisfied when Cortes announced that the King of Spain would receive one-fifth of what was there as his share of the tribute from Mexico, and, according to agreement, a fifth for Cortes himself, since he had borne nearly all the expenses of the expedition, and had sold everything he possessed in order to obtain the necessary money. None begrudged his share. Yet there was endless complaining when Cortes said that the garrison of Vera Cruz had to receive so much, and the cavaliers, arquebusiers, and crossbowmen double pay. Even then, however, what with the wealth that had been gathered on the way, the presents that had been received, the results also of sacking palaces and extorting gold from certain caciques, and this share of treasure, the commonest soldier in the Army of Mexico could count himself a rich man. Bernal and I looked at our share that night, and adding what I already possessed - the spoils from the treasure chamber in Tapia's palace, and other valuables - I had sufficient to build my father's house as splendidly as when the Moors had burnt it down, and enough besides to furnish it in a worthy manner.
But there was a damper on the joy of the members of the expedition when Cortes read aloud the letter that had come from Vera Cruz. He had kept it to himself, but now he read it, and we heard the bad news. Velasquez, the Governor of Cuba, had sent Don Pamphilo de Narvaez to supersede the Captain-General, to take him prisoner, and send him back to the island in chains.
Narvaez had brought with him no less than nine hundred men, and the eighteen vessels in which they came were now riding in the harbour of Vera Cruz. It was this that induced Cortes to divide the treasure, lest the men who had faced the danger should lose their share, and others who had never fought for the conquest of Mexico should take the riches for themselves.
During the days while the treasure was being made ready for division, Cortes sent a trusty messenger in hot haste with a letter for Narvaez, hoping to induce him to be friendly, and help to make the conquest sure; but the man returned exhausted with his journey, and bearing the bad news that Narvaez would send Cortes to Cuba in chains, and assume the command himself. He also went so far as to say that he would expect all the treasure that had been gathered to be lodged in one of the palaces, and kept there until he arrived, when he would divide it as he thought fit.
There was an instant uproar in our midst when this was known. The soldiers vowed that they would not surrender a single ducat of what they had won, and declared that they were ready to fight their own countrymen rather than do so. he important thing was, what would Cortes do? It was impossible to suppose that he could fight the nine hundred men and win. It was equally out of the question to leave Mexico. Someone suggested that he should take the Emperor with him, but when it was mentioned to Montezuma he rejected the proposal with scorn, and his caciques - Tapia and Quapan speaking more angrily than any - declared that they would call on the people of Mexico to massacre every Spaniard in the city , even if it meant death to the Emperor, and ruin to the empire.
THE question was settled before long. Cortes rode out of Mexico with as many foot soldiers as could be spared. Unfortunately most of our men were scattered in the country, collecting tribute; so that while he took not more than seventy Spaniards with him to deal with nine hundred, Alvarado, who was left in command in the city, had not more than a hundred and fifty. Yet, as Cortes pointed out, he had the Emperor as hostage, and as long as he held Montezuma securely, no harm could come.
Bernal and I, together with Padillo, my faithful squire, accompanied Cortes, and we went forward with all haste, leaving all our wealth behind us, so that we should not be hampered in our march. Night and day we were on the move, only snatching rest for three or four hours at a time, since Cortes was eager to take Narvaez by surprise. When we reached Cholula we were all so dead-beaten with our hard marching, that, in spite of the Captain-General's anxiety to go forward, we had to halt to ease our blistered feet. It was well that we did so, for in the night Velasquez de Leon, who had been patrolling the country, marched in with a hundred and twenty men. De Leon had expected us, and had come to meet us, to be of service. When morning came we went forward, but even now we had less than two hundred men.
While we were resting in Tapia's stronghold, we looked across the country and saw a body of Spanish soldiers. There were about sixty of them, and the question was, were they our own men, or did they belong to Narvaez? Two of our number went forward to make inquiries, and to our delight they proved to be some troops under Gonzalo de Sandoval, who had found it necessary to retreat from Vera Cruz since Narvaez had threatened to take them prisoners.
But what was this army against so many? We were two hundred and sixty-six strong, and we had only five horses; whereas, so Sandoval told us, Narvaez had brought eighty cavalry, a hundred and fifty crossbowmen, eighty arquebusiers, several heavy cannon, ammunition in abundance, and six hundred foot soldiers. Cortes put the matter before his troops, but one and all declared full readiness to proceed.
One afternoon we arrived at a mountain castle, the cliff of which was washed at its base by a river which swept on slowly towards the distant sea. We were tired, and wanted food as well as rest, and these we found in this great stronghold. The cacique, whose name was Tenuch, had been friendly to us from the first, and now he welcomed us, and set before us the best he had. More than that, he took Cortes and some of our number to the castle walls, and pointed to the city of Cempoalla, a league away. There we saw the tents of the army of Narvaez within the square of the Teocalli. Our hearts sank at the sight. It seemed such a formidable army, for not only were there the white tents wherein nine hundred Spanish soldiers found shelter, but there were scores which belonged to some Indian allies whom Narvaez had won over by threats or promises. We were less than three hundred men; yet, if Cortes was to retain his position as commander of the conquering army, and we who had borne with him the dangers of a campaign were to retain the wealth we had left in Mexico, we must needs maintain our cause against overwhelming odds - three hundred against three thousand. But Cortes had an unconquerable spirit, and while at first his face betrayed anxiety, it cleared , and a look of confidence came into it.
"Courage, my comrades!" he cried. "It shall go hard if I do not devise a plan whereby I may frustrate Narvaez. the men must rest before we go farther; but I promise you that before morning I shall be leader of yonder army, as well as the brave fellows who have followed me to Mexico." We spent the evening in rest. The men went into Tenuch's gardens and lay down amid the trees and bushes there, talking or sleeping in the moonlight. Sometimes they looked towards the distant camp, but Cortes had spoken so bravely that they had no doubt at all that he would lead them to victory. Believing this they gave themselves up to the pleasures of the evening. Bernal and I spent most of our time in wandering about the castle, for Tenuch had said that we were free to go where we listed. We went everywhere; into the armoury which was stocked with weapons sufficient to arm thousands of warriors; into the magnificent aviary which contained birds of such brilliant plumage that we wondered at their beauty; past the menagerie in which were beasts and birds of prey such as we had seen in Montezuma's cages; and even into the garden maze where, but for the thoughtfulness of Tenuch in sending a guide with us, we might well have been lost.
The Indian left us when we passed into the castle to be present at the evening meal which was to be served in the banquet hall. When we were walking quietly along one of the passages, I halted, and Bernal, who was coming on behind, looking at various hunting trophies hung on the wall, bundled against me.
"Hist!" I exclaimed, pointing up the passage. Another passage crossed that which we traversed at right angles, and loitering at that spot was a dwarf. He was not 1ooking our way, but I knew him to be none other than Calla, whom we had met in the Palace of the Lake. Had I been in any doubt I should have been convinced when he laughed. It was a harsh, cackling laugh which one could not mistake.
The thought that Calla was here made us fear at once that some danger was brewing, and that fear was increased when the dwarf passed on out of sight, and two caciques crossed the passage slowly, and were lost to view. They did not look our way, but Bernal knew as soon as I did who they were.
"Tapia and Quapan!" he exclaimed. Wondering what this meant, that our greatest enemies should be here in Tenuch's castle, I hurried forward quickly to see where they were going, and Bernal came at my heels. The two men were entering a room when we reached the crossing passage, and went out of sight a moment later. Did Tenuch mean to treat us as Quapan had done, and Tapia before him, professing friendship only to encourage us to confidence, and then bring destruction on us?
"I am going to see what is being done!" I said, and with that, followed by Bernal, I ran down the passage with as much softness as possible, and reached the entrance. There was no door, but only a hanging curtain, and here we hid in its folds while we looked into the room. Tenuch was there, seated at a table, and before him stood the two caciques, while Calla, the dwarf, stood as far away as the wall would allow, to be in readiness in case his master wanted anything.
By this time Bernal and I had fairly mastered the Mexican tongue, so that while there were some words we could not understand, we knew sufficient to enable us to follow what was being said. Donna Marina had taught us during our stay in Mexico, and now we proved the value of her lessons, since we could comprehend what the caciques were saying.
Tapia had already begun to speak, as if time was precious, and he was trying to persuade Tenuch to entrap Cortes while he was in his power. He urged him, and when Tenuch shook his head, and refused to betray the Spaniards who had trusted to his fidelity, he pressed him still more. When Tenuch absolutely refused to shut Cortes in with all his men, and massacre them, say, while they slept, or to poison them while they were eating, Tapia, in a sudden frenzy of anger at the persistent refusal, struck the cacique on the mouth, and declared that he would tell Montezuma how one of his trusted nobles was selling his country into slavery.
What happened we did not stay to see. It was time that Cortes should know that we were all in danger, so that we went as swiftly as possible to his room. Sandoval was with him when we entered without waiting for permission. He listened to us, and sending for a dozen men who came at once, bade us show the way.
On entering the chamber we saw a strange sight. Tapia and Quapan were holding Tenuch on the floor, while the dwarf was tying some cord about the cacique's ankles. Tenuch dared not struggle because Tapia held a dagger at his bosom, and evidently threatened to plunge it into his breast if he did not submit to be bound.
They were so absorbed in what they were doing that they neither saw nor heard us enter , and Cortes, seeing what was transpiring, spoke in a low tone, and bade his men go forward and capture the three who were dealing so roughly with our generous host. There was a sudden rush, some screams of dismay, and Tapia and Quapan were soon lying on the ground, held down by strong hands while some of our men were tearing up the robes of the caciques in order to obtain bonds with which to tie up their wrists and ankles. Calla was gone. In the rush the chief attention had been given to those two nobles who had so often displayed such hatred towards us. When they lay helpless on the floor, Cortes bade the soldiers carry them to a strong cell where they could be kept until he had time to deal with them.
An hour later our little army was on the move. Tenuch was leading us slowly, for he had been greatly hurt in the struggle, and the way along passages we had not seen before, out into the gardens, and through the forest. On and on we went, silently, keeping within the shadows of the trees, and not caring to show ourselves in the open which was flooded with moonlight. When we were within half a mile of Cempoalla, I saw someone moving on our right, going stealthily from tree to tree, and feeling sure that it was no friend, I told Cortes.
He spoke to the cacique, and Tenuch, saying nothing by way of reply, quietly took a bow and arrow from the Indian who was near. Halting, he set the arrow on the string and shot. Winging its way to a tree from behind which the figure was flitting, it struck the person in the side. There was a scream, and the moving figure fell. Hastening thither, we saw that it was Calla, who lay dead. Out of his hand had fallen a bow and some poisoned arrows, doubtless meant for Cortes, and perhaps the cacique.
Spurning the ugly creature's body with his foot, Tenuch moved on, and soon we were crossing the space which separated the forest from the city gate. The soldiers' feet fell on the soft earth almost soundlessly, and at last we were moving up the main street towards the square of the Teocalli, in which Narvaez and his soldiers slept. A sentinel was there, but a couple of Indians, at a word from the cacique, stole round and, leaping on him, bore him to the ground before he could give the alarm.
There came the final word. A hundred men under Sandoval went round to where the horses stood, and a chosen party hurried up the steps of the temple, expecting to find Narvaez there. When they reached the topmost one the watch - word sounded loudly: "Esperitu Santo!"
gleaming in the moonlight, and he would not surrender even when his sword broke, and Padillo struck him to the ground. He sprang to his feet, and with his followers retreated into the sanctuary , the door of which his soldiers succeeded in barricading. Meanwhile the cannon in the square were roaring, men were shouting their battle - cries; but taken unawares, the sleepy soldiers, not knowing who were friends and who were foes, so that they dared not strike lest they should beat down their comrades, threw away their arms and surrendered.
So the fight died out, and there were none who had not yielded save those who were shut in with Narvaez. The cannon could not be brought up the steps to force the entrance, but fire did its work instead. Farfan, a soldier in our ranks, taking a torch that was blazing on the platform, threw it on the thatched roof, and soon the temple was in flames. The Spaniards within, finding themselves ringed in by fire, drew back the bolts, and throwing open the doors, surrendered. We found that Narvaez was desperately wounded. A spear had pierced his left eye, and he was in too much pain to continue the fight.
The following morning he was sent in chains to Vera Cruz, to be held prisoner until the conquest was complete. Those who were in his army were offered liberty on condition that they took the oath of fealty to Cortes, and when they heard of the wealth already won, and of what was yet to be obtained, they raised a shout for the Captain-General. They had no quarrel with him, and demanded an immediate march to Mexico.
THE army now on its way to Mexico numbered nearly twelve hundred Spaniards. I need not tell of the journey, although much happened on the way that was interesting and many dangers threatened us. But when we came within sight of the capital, and marched along the causeway, we were filled with dismay. The brigantines Cortes had built were burnt down to the water's edge, and where on other occasions Cortes had been greeted with shouts by the people, we found the streets empty, that some of the houses had been destroyed by fire, and that bloodstains were frequent on the stones at our feet.
"What does it mean?" was the question we asked of each other, and every step added to our fear of disaster.
At last we reached the palace where we had stayed so long, and there we found that Alvarado was shut in with his men. Nothing but the terror of Cortes' name caused the thousands of Mexicans who were gathered round the palace to open out a path for our army to enter; but when the Captain-General, having seen his soldiers pass in to the last man, and every cannon safe within the enclosure, saw Alvarado, he demanded the meaning of this startling change.
Then came the story. Alvarado declared that there had been a conspiracy to massacre the Spaniards who were left in his command, and to set the Emperor free, and he, anxious for his own and his men's security, had slaughtered the Mexicans who were celebrating the festival of Huitzilopotchtli. Six hundred of them had been slain in the great temple, and when the people heard of it, they came swarming to the palace by thousands and tens of thousands, shouting for vengeance. Nothing but the interference of Montezuma saved Alvarado and his companions from death, and they had been staying thus, almost at the point of starvation for days, not daring to leave the palace to obtain food.
Cortes listened in anger, and I cannot forget the scorn with which he spoke to Alvarado "You have been shamefully false to your trust," he cried. "You have done badly, and your conduct has been that of a madman." But this was no time for recrimination. Danger was threatening us all, to which the perils of the past seemed naught. When Montezuma, who was still our prisoner, sent to ask for an interview, Cortes felt that he could not trust him.
"What have I to do with this dog of a king who suffers us to starve before his eyes?" he exclaimed.
He had brought in his army, hungry after a long march, and he found that the palace was destitute of food.
"Go tell your master," said he to the cacique who had brought the Emperor's message, "to open the markets, or we will do it for him at his cost."
But Montezuma was powerless. He sent forth his orders, and the people refused obedience. Those who attempted to carry food to the palace were shot down with arrows, or stoned to death, and the food destroyed under the eyes of the hungry soldiers. An hour later we were gazing at the angry Mexicans. They came to the palace walls by thousands, and look where you would, into the square, or down the narrow streets, there were human faces full of hate, and nothing was heard but shouts of anger.
Cortes took Montezuma, clad in his royal robes, to the turret of the palace, bidding him speak and tell the people to go to their houses; but when they saw the Emperor, the outcry grew infinitely worse. Men and women screamed, not only against us but against the monarch. In the lull a cacique came out of the throng, and standing by his litter, cried to Montezuma, so that his words rang out, loudly and clearly: "Base Aztec! the white men have made you a woman, fit only to weave and spin!"
our targets to protect ourselves. But it was the Emperor who suffered most, for he knew that his people had turned against him. They hurled great stones at him, and although some of us who were standing near held out our targets to keep the missiles away, some struck him, so that he fell back in his chair, senseless, and cruelly wounded.
There was no time to do more than see that he was carried to his apartments, for an assault began which lasted many a long hour. Again and again the gates were thrown open, and our soldiers charged down the streets, or swept them with cannon balls; but always the frenzied people rushed back, urged by the priests, among whom I saw Coatepec, and, led by them, the Indians trampled over the dead bodies that lay in heaps.
After a time the Mexicans settled down to the task of starving us out. They could not hope to get within the walls, but they knew that they could wear us out by frequent fighting, and by cutting off our food supplies. In the meantime Montezuma died of a broken heart. He refused to be tended by his servants, and tore off the bandages about his wounds, so that they bled afresh.
Matters grew so desperate that Cortes determined to fight his way out of the city, obtain food, and then return to reconquer Mexico. Every horse was laden with treasure. The soldiers loaded themselves with wealth, thrusting it into their bosoms, and wherever else they could carry it. Then they fell into the ranks, waiting for the word to march.
It came at midnight. The gates were silently thrown open, and we marched forth into a drizzling rain. It might have been a city of the dead, and there was no sound of alarm. All that we could hear was the tramp of the horses, feet, and the rolling of the cannon wheels on the smooth stones of the streets.
Suddenly there came a shrill sound from the Teocalli - the cry of the priests, bidding the people awake, since the Spaniards were marching out. The great drum in the War-God's temple was beating, and could be heard everywhere in Mexico in the dead of night. But we marched on because there was no time to lose. We were making for the causeway, and if we could traverse it, we should be safe. Yet there came sounds like distant human voices, and when they grew nearer, we heard the people heaping curses on the Spaniards.
Had we been no more in numbers than when we first entered the capital, we might have escaped in safety, but now we counted more than twelve hundred and fifty Spaniards, and some seven thousand Tlascalans, so that it took a long time for our men to file out, and get away from the winding streets. When we reached the causeway, it was only to find that the waters of the lakes were black with boats. They were there in hundreds, and even in thousands. They grated against the stones of the causeway, and the men in them jumping out, began to use their weapons.
At one point we were hindered because the portable bridge which enabled us to enter the causeway could not be moved. It had become jammed down tight under the weight of thousands of men, the cannon, and the stamping horses. Yet there was a part of the causeway which we could not pass without it, because the Mexicans had destroyed the drawbridge that was there. This unfortunate delay gave the people time to arrive in thousands, and the boats that were emptied returned swiftly to bring others who wished to take part in the fight.
The mishap to our portable bridge was our ruin, for without it we could not go forward. Some swam across the water on their horses, but the foot soldiers who attempted the task sank under the weight of their armour, and the added burden of the gold with which they had loaded themselves. Only those who had taken notice of Cortes' advice, to travel as lightly laden as possible, stood much chance that night, while arrows were pelting against our armour, and spears were being thrust at us, and stones were hurtling through the air.
Cortes sought to fill up the dreadful gap, and the cannons were dragged forward and hurled into it, together with great bales of valuable cloth; but worst of all, the dead bodies of soldiers and horses. Over these our men tramped amid the horrid din of shouting enemies, and the cries of dying and wounded men. Even women's screams were heard that night, for many of the Tlascalans had brought their wives to Mexico.
Spanish valour had become the talk of the world, but I doubt whether it had ever been so splendidly displayed as on the night when we had that desperate fight on the causeway. It was a hopeless struggle. Four times during the passage Padillo saved my life, and as often Bernal and I got wounds. But it was no time to think of them, and many a man fought while bleeding, forgetful of pain, and ready even to lend a hand to others. Donna Marina was near us once, and some of the Mexicans began to thrust their spears at her, but Bernal and I went to her rescue. She was bleeding from a wound in her face when Padillo saved her from a further one, and my battle-axe crashed in on one of her assailants, while Bernal hurled another, lifeless, into the black waters. We were but boys, but we seemed in the terrible excitement of that night to have the strength of men.
Pressing on, we came to a part where the combat was at its fiercest. Men no longer struck at each other at random in the darkness, for some of the Mexicans had brought a boat laden with combustibles close to the edge of the causeway, and had then thrust a blazing torch into it, and set it burning. They could thus see what they were doing. The carnage was fearful, for, blocked as the road was with dead bodies, Spanish, Tlascalan, and Mexican, no thrust was given but what was measured, and many a brave Spaniard who had come out of the darkness whole-skinned was pierced with darts, or pinned down with the long war-spears, the saw-like points of which caused intense pain.
Bernal and I went on, our only course being to take our chance in the strife.
As I went onwards the light of the burning boat fell on my breast. The Mexicans who were striking savagely at every Spaniard who passed, paused when they saw me, and looked at me with awe. In the heat of the conflict, although it meant death to do so, they fell on their knees and bent down their foreheads, as if waiting for me to pass. It was my salvation, but their own undoing, for our men, coming on in haste, plunged their swords into their naked bodies, and hurried by, trampling the dead underfoot.
Bernal wondered, and so did I, but only for a moment; for then I found that the flames of the burning boat had shown the Mexicans the coral-rimmed disc of gold upon my breast. Rava Oello had spoken truly when she said that her gift would ensure me safety everywhere. At the sight of it the arm of every Mexican, even in the hottest part of this fearful combat, dropped to his side. He dared not raise it against the wearer of the sacred emblem lest he should incur the wrath of Mexitli the God of War.
Exhausted and full of pain, the little army got across the gap in the causeway, and just as day broke we came to a spot where none of our enemies had ventured. But what a sight it was on which we gazed! We were a straggling mass of wounded men, our clothing torn into rags, our armour battered and broken, and the strongest of us going lamely towards the Hill of Montezuma, to find shelter in the temple on its summit. Not a single cannon was with us out of our brave show of heavy artillery. Many of our horses had fallen dead on the causeway, or had been drowned in the gap. The baggage had all been left behind, and most of the soldiers found that the wealth they had strapped on their shoulders had gone, so that they were as poor as when they left Vera Cruz so many months before.
The priests of the temple and a number of Mexicans had gathered at the gates to hinder us, but a brief fight resulted in their flight. Once within, we attended to our wounds, and then, in absolute weariness, we fell asleep, braving the risks of a possible attack. When the roll-call was taken later, four hundred and fifty of our number failed to answer, and the chieftains who commanded the Tlascalans reported that as many as four thousand of their number had been left behind, dead, or incapable of travelling because of their wounds. Where there had been sixty-nine horsemen splendidly caparisoned, there were now only twenty-three, and not one man in the whole army had retained his musket, but had lost it in his endeavour to escape.
SLOWLY the army retreated, each day leaving the great and beautiful city farther behind, since Cortes desired to find a safe spot in which to recruit the strength of his worn-out men, and give the wounded time and opportunity to recover. I never think of that journey without a shudder. Not a day passed but we were tormented by the Indians who dogged our steps, and whenever we came to a narrow pass, hurled stones down the slopes and crushed many a brave man to death. Hunger added to our troubles. We were unable to get food for days together, and went forward, every step a pain, and every mile finding us weaker. I t took us eight days to travel less than thirty leagues, and night and day we saw thousands of the enemy on the hills, and heard them shouting: "Hasten on to your death!"
When we came to a spot where we could look down the slopes of the hills into the Valley of Otompan, we understood the meaning of those shouts we heard so often, for we saw a mighty army spreading over the plain, and in the centre of the camp was the pavilion of the monarch who had succeeded Montezuma. To retreat was impossible. To stay where we were was to die of starvation, for the hills could give us no food. At first we were dismayed, but when Cortes reminded us that we had the honour of Spain in our keeping, the cry came on all hands, that we were ready to fight if he would lead us on.
I do not stay to tell of the battle, of the charge of a little army, worn-out, hungry , and hopeless, but determined to make a supreme struggle to cut our way through the ranks of tens of thousands. Not one but knew that if he were captured he would die on the sacrificial stone.
There was no battle like it, so overwhelming were the odds against us, and so resolute were the Mexicans to crush us utterly. We had not even the advantage of position, for we had to descend into the valley and fight the enemy on his own ground. When after a final onset, Cortes reached the litter of Cihuaca, the Mexican general, and thrust him through with his lance, the enemy turned and fled in panic, trampling each other underfoot in the endeavour to escape from the battlefield. We had won a famous victory, such as is rare to find in the world's great list of battles. A few hundreds of our countrymen had plunged into the midst of an army said to number two hundred thousand warriors, and when the day ended, twenty thousand of them lay dead upon the field.
Bernal and I were wounded sorely. Again and again the warriors passed me by when they saw the golden disc at my bosom, but at times the air was dark with clouds of arrows which knew no respect of persons. One of these pierced me through the body. It was shot with such fearful force that it passed out at the other side, and even wounded Padillo, whose target and sword seemed always near me. I fell into his arms, and remembered no more.
When I recovered consciousness the battle had ended, and the night was gone. I was being tended by Donna Marina, whose soft hands did all that could be done to soothe my pain. She watched over me day and night, and when there was some talk of a return to Mexico, to win it afresh for Spain, and regain the treasure that had been lost, she told Cortes that I must not go with the army, but be sent on to Vera Cruz. A week later I was on my way thither, borne in a litter, and with Padillo at hand to see to my comfort.
After a while we came to the palace of the cacique Tenuch, who, having heard of our victory at Otumba, had thrown in his lot with Cortes, believing him, in spite of his disaster on the causeway, to be invincible, and his own nation doomed. Bernal was with me, as sorely wounded as myself, and receiving the greatest kindness, we lay in the palace many days. Safe under the cacique's care, and constantly tended by Padillo, who was as gentle as a woman, and as kind, we recovered slowly, and were at last able to move about in the gardens, and enjoy the sunshine and the beauty. At intervals news came which Tenuch told us of how Cortes and his soldiers were fighting their way to Mexico, regaining daily some of the ground they had lost.
Happily a hundred and fifty men and twenty horses had come to Vera Cruz as reinforcements, and they were marched with all haste to Cortes. Arms and military stores had also arrived, and these, too, were sent to the front. Even the sailors were eager to join in the war, and marched forward, helping to drag the guns that were taken from the ships. Later yet two hundred other men reached Vera Cruz, and eighty horses, so that Cortes, having been able in the interval to manufacture gunpowder, was sufficiently strong to make his great attempt on the capital. Months passed by, but in the end, in spite of many discouragements, Spanish valour carried Cortes into the city, and the conquest was complete.
Bernal recovered so thoroughly that he was able to march on with some reinforcements which had halted at the palace of Tenuch, but I had to control my impatience, and stay on in the mountain home of the friendly cacique. Bernal had gone determined to win back some of the gold he had lost in the fight on the causeway. As for me, I had lost much, but by no means all. Donna Marina, before we left Mexico, had sewn most of my precious stones in my doublet, and these I had, so that I hoped some day to return to Spain and rebuild my father's house as far as my means would allow. I begged Padillo to leave me, and go back to win his fortune, but he refused. He showed me some gems which would keep him in comfort all his days, he said, and he would not lose sight of me again.
As time went on Tenuch and I became the best of friends. I could not but love him since, when I was weak and ill, he had been so kind. When I grew stronger he seemed to become kinder. Many a time we talked, and while we sat in the gardens, one day I told him the story of my life, and why I had come across the sea.
One morning he came to me while I sat in a bower, and bade me go with him. Wondering what he had in his mind, I rose an walked at his side. He said but little, seeming to be deep in thought, and I, finding that he did not wish to speak, was silent. He was like that sometimes, so that I did not wonder.
At last we halted at a door which he opened slowly. When we had passed through he closed it behind him. I had never been n the place before, and as I looked round was reminded of the treasure chamber in Tapia's stronghold. Copper-bound chests were standing against the walls, which made me think that it was here that the cacique kept his wealth.
"Don Martin," said he, presently, "you came to Mexico to win wealth with which to build the house your father's enemies destroyed; but as you tell me, you have not sufficient to carry out your heart's desire. Here is my hoard, and out of it you shall take sufficient to mend your broken fortunes if you will but comply with my conditions."
I listened in wonder. I had no thought that he was trifling with me. Indian though he was, I had grown to love and trust him, so that when he stopped and looked at me, I bade him speak freely. He went to one of the chests, and throwing it open, beckoned to me to come and look into it. Going on his knees, he drew out treasures which, for beauty and worth, vied with the best I had seen in Tapia's treasure chamber. There were jewels set in gold; trinkets of value such as the proudest ladies in Spain would prize; vessels of gold; golden ingots; ornaments which were studded with precious stones which would have made a Spanish lapidary exclaim in amazement. One by one he set them on the floor, and meanwhile I wondered what the condition was in order to obtain for me some of this wealth. Did he want me to betray my countrymen, or do them any harm? I thought so, for a moment, but I could not long believe it possible.
He broke in on my thoughts. "Would you be rich, Don Martin, if you had all these?"
"Rich?" I cried. "I should be what my father once was - the richest noble in Spain!" "Then this wealth would suffice to rebuild your father's palace in its old splendour?" asked the cacique.
"Ten times over," I answered. "Then listen. You wear the token of the God of War. For many a generation the caciques who went before me have hoped some day to win that token. How you obtained possession of it I cannot tell; but if you are content to sell it to me, there is the price I shall be glad to give for it."
He pointed to the contents of the chest which now lay scattered on the floor of the chamber. I stood and pondered for a while. It was a wonderful offer, and the more wonderful because I was so completely in the cacique's power that he could have taken the disc from me at his will. How could I, with none but Padillo to render me any aid, hope to prevent his slaves from tearing the golden disc from my bosom?"
"Tenuch," said I, "if I say 'Yes,' will you see that this chest and all that you have taken out of it shall be safely carried to Vera Cruz?"
"I will," he answered eagerly.
"Will you secure me a safe journey there?" "I will take you thither myself, Don Martin," Tenuch cried.
"Then the golden disc shall be yours when I am safely within the gates of Vera Cruz, and this chest is there with me." Ten days later Padillo and I were in Vera Cruz; and more than that we found a vessel preparing to sail to St. Jago, where we had left Don Sahagun. The cacique's slaves carried the chest on board, and I saw it safely deposited in the cabin. Tenuch had come on the ship with me, and when the chest was thrust into the corner, he waited expectantly. I drew my dagger from its sheath and handed it to him. With it he slit the threads which fastened the golden passport to my dress. I saw how his hand trembled at the thought that he had at last obtained what his forefathers had sought in vain for many a generation. With his own fingers he fastened the golden disc on his robe, and slowly bending to kiss my hand, he turned and left me.
An hour later I saw his litter and his hundred slaves wending their way up the hillside towards the place where his palace stood. From that day to this I have never seen him, nor may I ever see him again.
In six months more I was in Spain, and before many days had passed I had the joy of seeing the blackened walls of the old palace pulled down. New ones began to take their place. Now the palace is rebuilt as nearly like the old home as the builders could make it. Its beauty was great in my father's day. I think it more beautiful now.
END OF the book; click HERE for the FIRST page.