Abbildungen der Seite

ly for their intended treachery; declaring that as justice was now appeased, he forgave the offence; but required them to recall the citizens who had fled, and restore order in the town.

Such was the ascendancy which the Spaniards had acquired over these superstitious people, and so deeply were they impressed with an opinion that they were more than mortals, that they immediately obeyed the command. The city was in a few days repeopled, who amidst the ruin of their sacred buildings yielded respectful service to the men who had embrued their ñands in the blood of their relations and friends.

From Cholula, Cortes advanced directly towards Mexico, which was only twenty leagues distant. As they passed through the country, the soldiers were greatly animated as they de scended from the mountains of Chalco, across which the road lay: the vast plain of Mexico opened to their view. When they first beheld this prospect, one of the most striking and beautiful on the face of the earth, when they observed fertile and cultivated fields, stretching farther than the eye could reach; when they saw a lake resembling the sea in extent, and discovered the capital city rising upon an island in the middle, adorned with its temples and turrets, the scene so far exceeded their imagination, that some were induced to believe the fanciful descriptions of romance were realized, and that its enchanted palaces and gilded domes were presented to their sight: others could hardly be persuaded that this wonderful spectacle was any thing more than a dream.

As they advanced, their doubts were removed, but their amazement increased. They were now fully satisfied that the country was rich, beyond what they had conceived; and flattered themselves that they should soon obtain an ample reward for all their services and sufferings.

As they approached near the city, several circumstances occurred which made them suspect that some design was formed to surprize and cut them off. No enemy however appeared; several messengers arrived successively from Montezuma, permitting them one day to advance, requiring them on the next to retire, as his hopes and fears alternately prevailed; and, so strange was this infatuation, that Cortes was almost at the gates of the capital, before the monarch, had determined to receive him as a friend, or to oppose him as an enemy.

The Spaniards, without regarding the fluctuation of Montezuma's sentiments, continued their march along the causeway that led to the city, through the lake, with great caution, and the strictest discipline, though without betraying any symptoms of distrust of the prince, whom they were about to visit.

When they drew near the city, about a thousand persons, who appeared to be of distinction, came forth to meet them, adornet with plumes, and clad in garments of fine cotton. Each of these in his order, passed by Cortes, and saluted him according to the mode practised in that country; expressing the utmost respect

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

and submission. They announced the approach of Montezuma himself; and soon after his harbingers came in sight.

There appeared first, two hundred persons in an uniform dress, with large plumes of feathers, alike in fashion, marching two and two in deep silence, and barefooted, with their eyes fixed on the ground. These were followed by a company of higher rank, in their most showy apparel; in the midst of these was Montezuma, in a chair or litter, richly ornamented with gold, and feathers of various colours; others supported a canopy of curious workmanship over his head, and four of his principal fa- • vourites carried him on their shoulders. Before him marched three officers, with rods of gold in their hands, which they lifted up at certain intervals; at which signal, all the people bowed their heads, and hid their faces, as unworthy to look on so great a monarch. When he drew near, Cortes dismounted; and, with great appearance of respect, saluted him in the European manner. At the same time, Montezuma descended from his chair, and leaning on the arms of two of his nearest relations, approached with a slow and stately pace: his attendants covering the streets with cotton-cloths, that he might not touch the ground. He returned the salutation of Cortes, according to the mode of his country, by touching the earth with his hand, and then kissing it. By this condescension of Montezuma, his subjects firmly believed that those persons, before whom he had humbled him. self were more than human.

This was confirmed afterwards; as they marched through the crowd, the natives, to the great satisfaction of the Spaniards, frequently were heard to call them Teules or divinities. Montezuma conducted Cortes to the quarters which he had prepared for his reception; and immediately took leave of him with a politeA ness, not unworthy of a court more refined. "You are now,' said he, "with your brothers, in your own house; refresh yourselves after your fatigue, and be happy until I return." The place allotted to the Spaniards by Montezuma, was a house built by the father of Montezuma: it was surrounded by a stone wall, with towers at proper distances, which served for defence as well as ornament; and was so large as to accominodate both the Spaniards and their Indian allies.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The first care of Cortes was to put the place in a posture of defence: he planted the artillery at every avenue which led to it; he appointed a large division of his troops to be always on guard; and posted centinels at proper distances, with orders to observe the same vigilance, as if they were in sight of an enemy's camp.


In the evening, Montezuma returned to visit his guests, with orned the same pomp as at their first interview; and brought presents these of such value, not only to Cortes and his officers, but even to the o the private men, as proved the liberality of the monarch, and the pect opulence of the kingdom.

A long conference ensued, in which Cortes learned what was

the opinion of Montezuma, with respect to the Spaniards. He told him, that it was an established opinion among the Mexicans, handed down to them by tradition, that their ancestors came originally from a remote region, and conquered the provinces that were now subject to his dominion; that after they were settled there, the great captain who conducted them, returned to his own country; and promised, that at some future period his de scendants should visit them, assume the government, and reform their constitution and laws; and that from what he had seen of Cortes and his followers, he was convinced they were the very persons their, traditions and prophecies had taught them to ex pect; and that he received them accordingly as relations of the same blood and parentage; and desired them to consider themselves as masters in his dominions: for both himself and subjects should be ready to comply with their will. Cortes re plied in his usual style, with respect to the dignity and power of his sovereign, and his intention of sending him into that country: artfully framing his discourse so as to coincide with the idea which Montezuma had formed concerning the origin of the Spa niards.

Next morning, Cortes and some of his principal attendants were admitted to a public audience of the emperor. The three subsequent days were employed in viewing the city; the appear ance of which filled them with surprize and admiration. Mexico, (Tenuchtitlan, as it was anciently called by the natives,) is situated in a large plain surrounded by mountains of such height, that, though within the torrid zone, the temperature of its cli mate is mild and healthful: all the moisture which descends from the high grounds is collected in several lakes: the two largest of which, of about ninety miles in circumference, com municate with each other; the waters of one are fresh, the other brackish: on the banks of the latter the capital of Montezuma's empire was built. The access to the city was by artifi cial causeways or streets, formed of stones or earth, about thirty feet in breadth. On the east was no causeway, and the city could only be approached by canoes. Not only the temples of their gods, but the houses of the monarch, and those of persons of distinction, in comparison with any other buildings which the Spa niards had seen in America, might be termed magnificent.


But, how much the novelty of those objects might amuse of astonish the Spaniards, they felt the utmost solicitude with res pect to their own situation. They were now lodged in the capi tal, in which they reckoned there were at least sixty thousand inhabitants shut up, as it were, in a snare, from which it seem. ed impossible to escape; they were moreover assured by the Tlascalans, that Mexican priests had counselled their sovereign to admit the Spaniards into the capital, that they might cut them off at one blow with perfect security.

Although Montezuma had received them with distinguished respect, they had reason to doubt his sincerity; yet even if they

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

could suppose it to be real, they could not depend upon it; as an order flowing from his caprice, or word uttered in passion, might irrevocably determine their fate. These reflections made a deep impression upon the mind of Cortes.

Before he set out from Cholula, he had received advice from Villa Rica, that Qualpopoca, one of the Mexican generals, having assembled an army in order to attack some of the people, whom the Spaniards had encouraged to throw off the Mexican yoke; Escalante, with seven of his men, had been mortally wounded; he having, with part of the garrison, marched out to succour his allies; that one Spaniard had been surrounded and taken alive, and his head cut off, and sent in triumph to the dift ferent cities, and last to Mexico, to convince the people their in


vaders were not invulnerable.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Cortes, though alarmed with this intelligence, as an indication of Montezuma's hostile intentions, had nevertheless continued his march. But as soon as he entered Mexico, he became sensible that he had pushed forwards into a situation where it was difficult to continue, and from which it was dangerous to retire. Disgrace, and perhaps death, would be the certain consequence of the latter.

The success of the enterprize depended upon supporting that high opinion which the natives had formed with respect to the irresistible power of his arms: upon the first appearance of timidity on his part, their veneration would cease, and Montezuma would be encouraged to let loose upon him the whole force of his empire.


His situation was trying, but his mind was equal to it: and after revolving the matter with deep attention, he resolved upon a measure, the boldest and most daring that ever entered into the mind of man; which was no less than seizing Montezuma in his palace, and to carry him a prisoner to the Spanish quarters. This he immediately proposed to his officers. The timid was startled at a measure so audacious. The more intelligent and resolute warmly approved of it, conscious that it was the only resource in which there was any prospect of safety; and brought over their companions so cordially to be of the same opinion, that it was agreed instantly to make the attempt. At his usual hour of visiting Montezuma, Cortes went to the palace, accompanied by Alvarado, Sandoval, Lugo, Velasquez de Leon, and Davilla, five of his principal officers, and as many trusty soldiers.

Thirty chosen men followed; not in regular order, but sauntering at some distance, as if their only object was curiosity; other small parties were posted at proper intervals, in all the streets leading from the Spanish quarters to the palace, and the remainder of his troops, with the Tlascalan allies were under arms, ready to sally out on the first alarm. Cortes and his companions were admitted without suspicion, the Mexican attendants retiring out of respect. He addressed the monarch in a tone very different from that which he had formerly been accustomed to,


reproaching him bitterly as the author of the violent assault, made upon the Spaniards by one of his officers, and demanded public reparation for the loss he had sustained, by the death of some of his companions, as well as for the insult offered to the great prince, whose servants they were. Montezuma, confounded at this unexpected accusation, and changing colour, either from consciousness of guilt, or from feeling the indignity with which he was treated, asserted his own innocence with great earnestness; and as a proof of it, gave orders instantly to bring Qualpopoca and his accomplices prisoners to Mexico. Cortes replied, that a declaration so respectable left no doubt on his own mind, but that something more was requisite to satisfy his followers, who would never be convinced that Montezuma did not harbour hostile intentions against them, unless, as a proof of his confidence and attachment, he removed from his own palace, and took up his residence in the Spanish quarters, where he should be served and honoured as became a great monarch.

This strange proposition at first bereaved Montezuma of speech, and almost of motion. At length indignation gave him utterance, and he haughtily answered "That persons of his rank, were not "accustomed voluntarily to give up themselves as prisoners; and "were he mean enough to do so, his subjects would not permit "such an affront to be offered to their sovereign." Cortes unwilling to employ force, endeavoured by turns to intimidate and soothe him. The altercation became warm, and having continued three hours, Velasquez de Leon, an impetuous and gallant young man, impatiently exclaimed, "Why waste more time in vain? "let us either seize him instantly, or stab him to the heart." The threatening voice and fierce gestures with which these words were uttered, struck Montezuma. He was sensible the Spaniards had now proceeded too far to hope they would recede.

His own danger was imminent, the necessity unavoidable. He saw both, and abandoning himself to his fate complied with their request. His officers were called, he communicated to them his resolution. Though astonished and afflicted, they presumed not to question the will of their master, but carried him in silent pomp, all bathed in tears to the Spanish quarters.

When it became publicly known that the strangers were conveying away the emperor, the people broke out into the wildest excesses of grief and rage, threatening the Spaniards with immediate destruction for their impious audacity. But as soon as Montezuma appeared with a seeming gaiety of countenance, and waved his hand, the tumult was hushed; and upon his declaring it to be his own choice that he went to reside for a short time among his new friends, the multitude, taught to revere every intimation of their sovereign's pleasure, quietly dispersed.

Thus this powerful prince, at noon day, in the midst of his capital, was seized and carried off a prisoner, by a few strangers. When we consider the temerity of the attempt, and its successful execution, we can with propriety assert there is nothing in history

« ZurückWeiter »