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prince in possession of such extensive powers; his authority un bounded, and his revenues considerable.
If he had assembled his numerous forces and fallen upon the Spaniards, while encamped on a barren, unhealthy-coast, without a single ally to support them, no place of retreat, and destitute of provisions, notwithstanding their superior discipline and arms, they must have all been cut off in such an unequal contest, or have abandoned the enterprize.
As the power of Montezuma enabled him to take this sprited part, his own disposition naturally prompted him to it. Of all the princes who had swayed the Mexican sceptre he was the most haughty, the most violent, and the most impatient of control. His subjects looked up to him with awe, and his enemies with terror. The former he governed with unexampled rigour, but they were impressed with an opinion of his capacity, that commanded their respect over the latter he had spread such fear by the success of his arms, that they dreaded his power, and groaned under his tyranny. Though his talents were sufficient for the government of a state, so imperfectly polished as the Mexican empire, they were altogether inadequate to the present conjuncture: he was neither qualified to judge with discernment, nor to act with that decision necessary in such a trying emergency.
From the first account of the Spaniards appearing on the coast, he discovered symptoms of timidity and embarrassment: he deliberated with anxiety and hesitation, which did not escape the notice of his meanest courtiers. The perplexity and discomposure upon this occasion, and the general dismay that prevailed, was not altogether owing to the impression the Spaniards had made by the novelty of their appearance, and the terror of their arms. There was an opinion, if the account of the most authen. tic Spanish historians deserves credit, and almost universal among the Americans, that some dreadful calamity was impending over their heads, from a race of formidable invaders, who should come from regions towards the rising sun, to overrun and desolate their country.
As the Mexicans were more prone to superstition than any people in the New World, they were more deeply affected with the appearance of the Spaniards, whom they considered as the instruments destined to bring about the revolution which they so much dreaded. Under these circumstances it ceases to be incredible that a handful of adventurers should alarm the monarch of a great empire, and all his subjects.
Notwithstanding, when Montezuma was informed that Cortes adhered to his original demand, and refused to obey his enjoining* him to leave the country; in a transport of rage natural to a fierce prince, unaccustomed to opposition, he threatened to sacrifice those intruding strangers to his gods. But instead of issuing orders to put his threats into execution, he summoned his ministers to confer, and offer their advice.
The Mexican council were satisfied with issuing a more posi
tive injunction, requiring them to leave the country; but betrayed such timidity, and infatuation, that they accompanied this order with a present of such value, as proved a fresh inducement to remain there. A variety of sentiments prevailed among the Spaniards; from what they had already seen, many of them formed such extravagant ideas, concerning the opulence of the country, that despising every danger and hardship, they were eager to attempt the conquest. Others estimating the power of the Mexican empire by its wealth, contended it would be an act of the wildest frenzy to attack such a state, with a small body of men, in want of provisions, unconnected with an ally, and already debilitated by the diseases of the climate.
Cortes secretly encouraged, and applauded the advocates for bold measures, and cherished their romantic hopes; as such ideas accorded with his own, and favoured the execution of the bold schemes he had already formed.
As Velasquez had openly attempted to deprive him of his authority, he saw the necessity of dissolving a connexion which would obstruct and embarrass all his operations; and watched for a proper opportunity of coming to a final rupture with him. Having this in view, he assiduously laboured to gain and secure the esteem and affection of his soldiers.
Cortes availed himself of all opportunities to insinuate himself into their favour, by his affable manners, by weir timed acts of liberality to some, by inspiring all with vast hopes, and by allowingthem to trade privately with the natives, he attached the greater part of the soldiers so firmly to himself, that they almost forgot that the armament had been fitted out by the authority, and at the expense of another.
During these intrigues, Teutile arrived with the present from Montezuma, and, together with it delivered the ultimate order of that monarch to depart instantly out of his dominions; and when Cortes, instead of complying, renewed his request of an audience, the Mexican turned from him abruptly, and quitted the camp, with looks and gestures which strongly expressed his surprize and resentment. Next morning the natives who used to frequent the camp, to barter with the soldiers, and bring provisions, absented; all friendly correspondence seemed now to be at an end, and it was expected every moment that hostilities would commence.
Although this might have been foreseen, yet it occasioned a sudden consternation among the Spaniards, which emboldened the adherents of Velasquez not only to murmur and cabal against their general; but to appoint one of their number to remonstrate openly against his imprudence in attempting the conquest of a mighty empire, with such inadequate force; and to urge the necessity of returning to Cuba, in order to refit the fleet, and augment their army.
Diego de Ordaz, one of his principal officers, who was charged with this commission, delivered it with a soldierly freedom, assuring him that he spoke the sentiments of the whole army. Cortes
heard him without any appearance of emotion. As he well knew the temper and wishes of his soldiers, he carried his dissimulation so far as to seem to relinquish his own measures, in compliance with the request of Ordaz, and issùed orders that the army should be ready to embark the next day for Cuba.
No sooner was this known, than the disappointed adventurers exclaimed and threatened; the emissaries of Cortes mingling with them, inflamed their rage; the ferment became general; the whole camp was almost in open mutiny; all demanding with eagerness to see their commander. Cortes was not slow in appearing when with one voice, they expressed their astonishment and indignation at the orders which they had received. It was unworthy, they cried, of the Castilian courage, to be daunted at the first aspect of danger; and infamous to fly, before an enemy appeared. For their parts they were determined not to relinquish the enterprize; that they were happy under his command, and would follow him with alacrity through every danger: but if he choose to return to Cuba, and tamely give up all hopes of distinction and opulence, to an envious rival, they would instantly choose another general to conduct them in that path of glory, which he had not spirit to enter.
Cortes delighted with their ardour, took no offence at the boldness with which it was uttered; the sentiments were what he himself had inspired; and he was now satisfied that they had imbibed them thoroughly. He affected, however, to be surprised at what he heard, declaring that his order to prepare for embark ing was issued from a persuasion that it was agreeable to his troops; and from deference to what he had been informed was their inclination, he had sacrificed his own private opinion, which was firmly bent on establishing immediately a settlement on the sea-coast, and then on endeavouring to penetrate into the interior of the country: and, as he now perceived they were animated with the generous spirit which breathed in every true Spaniard, he would resume with fresh ardour, his original plan of operations: not but that he should be able to conduct them in the ca reer of victory, to such independent fortunes as their valour merited. Upon this declaration, shouts of applause testified their excess of joy.
Notwithstanding there appeared to be an unanimous consent to this measure, there were those in the interest of Velasquez who secretly condemned it, but were obliged to stifle their real sentiments, to avoid the appearance of disaffection to their general, as well as the imputation of cowardice from their fellow-soldiers. In order to give the beginning of a colony, he assembled the princi pal persons in his army, and by their suffrage elected a council and magistrates, in whom the government was to be vested. The magistrates were distinguished by the names and ensigns of office.. All the persons chosen, were firmly devoted to Cortes, and the instrument of their election was framed in the king's name, with out any mention of their dependence upon Velasquez. The name
which Cortes bestowed on the intended settlement was Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, that is, The Rich Town of the True Cross.
The first act of importance decided by the new council was the appointment of Cortes to the supreme jurisdiction, as well civil as military, over the colony. The soldiers with eager applause ratified their choice: the air resounded with the name of Cortes.
He now began to assume greater dignity, and exercise more extensive powers: formerly he acted only as the deputy of a subject; but now as the representative of his sovereign. The adherents of Velasquez could no longer continue silent and passive spectators of his actions. They exclaimed openly against the proceedings of the council as illegal, and against those of the army as mutinous. Cortes instantly perceived the necessity of giving a timely check to such seditious discourse, by some prompt and vigorous measures; arrested Ordaz, Escudero, and Velasquez de Leon, the ringleaders of the faction, and sent them prisoners on board the fleet, loaded with chains.
Their dependants, astonished and overawed, remained quiet, and Cortes more desirous to reclaim, than punish his prisoners, who were officers of great merit, courted their friendship with such assiduity and address, that the reconciliation was perfectly cordial; and never after on the most trying occasions did they attempt to swerve from their attachment to his interest.
Cortes having now rendered the union between himself and his army indissoluble, thought he might now quit the camp in which he had remained hitherto, and advance into the country. To this he was encouraged by an event both fortunate and seasonable. Some Indians having approached his camp in a mysterious manner, were conducted into his presence. These were deputies sent by the cazique of Zempoalla, a considerable town at no great dis-' tance. By them he gathered that their master, though a subject of Montezuma, was impatient of the yoke, and that nothing could be more acceptable to him than a deliverance from the oppression under which they groaned. On hearing this, a ray of light and hope broke in upon the mind of Cortes. He saw that the great empire he was about to attack was not united, nor the sovereign beloved, He concluded that the cause of disaffection could not be confined to one province, but that in other parts there must be malecontents, who being weary of subjection, and desirous to change, would be ready to follow the standard of any protector. Full of these ideas, he gave a most gracious reception to the Zempoallans, and promised soon to visit their cazique.
To perform this promise it was not necessary to alter the route he had already fixed for his march. Some officers, whom he had employed to survey the coast, having discovered a village named Quiabislan, about forty miles to the northward, which, both on account of the fertility of the soil, and commodiousness of the harbour, seemed to be a more proper station for a settlement, than that where he was encamped. Cortes upon this information was determined to remove thither. Zempoalla lay in his way, where
the cazique received him with gifts, and caresses, and with respect approaching almost to adoration. From him he learned many particulars with respect to the character of Montezuma, and the circumstances that rendered his dominion odious. He was a tyrant, the cazique told him, with tears, haughty, cruel, and suspicious; who treated his own subjects with arrogance, ruined the conquered provinces by exactions, and tore their sons and daughters from them by violence; the former, to be offered as victims to his gods; the latter, to be reserved as concubines for himself, and his favourites. Cortes in reply to him, artfully insinuated that one of the great objects that induced the Spaniards to visit a country so distant from their own, was to redress griev ances, and relieve the oppressed; thus having encouraged him to hope for his protection, he continued his march to Quiabislan.
Here he marked out ground for a town, the dwellings to be erected were only huts; but these were to be surrounded with fortifications. Every man in the army, officers and soldiers, put their hands to the work; Cortes himself setting the example. The Indians of Zempoalla and Quiabislan, lent their assistance; and this petty station, the parent of so many great settlements, was soon in a state of defence.
While they were engaged in this necessary work, Cortes had several interviews with the caziques of Zempoalla and Quiabis-. lan, who had such a high opinion of the Spaniards, as to consider them a superior order of beings: and, encouraged by the promi ses of Cortes, they ventured to insult the Mexican power; at the very name of which, they were accustomed to tremble. Some of Montezuma's officers having appeared, to levy the usual tribute, and to demand a certain number of human victims, as an expiation of their guilt, in presuming to hold a correspondence with those strangers, whom the emperor had commanded to leave his dominions; instead of obeying the order, they made those officers prisoners, treated them with great indignity, and threatened to sacrifice them to their gods. From this last danger they were delivered by Cortes, who testified the utmost abhorrence at the bare mention of such a barbarous deed.
The two caziques, having now committed an act of open rebellion, there appeared no hope of safety for them, but by attaching themselves inviolably to the Spaniards. They soon com pleted their union, by acknowledging themselves subjects of the Spanish monarch. Their example was followed by the Toto naques, a fierce people who inhabited the mountainous part of the country; and who offered to accompany Cortes with all their forces, in his march towards Mexico.
Cortes, before he began his march from Zempoalla, resolved upon an expedient which has no parallel in history: he had the address to persuade his soldiers, that it would be attended with important benefit to destroy the fleet; that, by not allowing the idea of a retreat possible, and fixing their eyes and wishes on what was before them; he by this, could divert them from be.