Графични страници
PDF файл

ment their army.

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 nejcessity of returning to Cuba, in order to refit the fleet, and aug.

Diego de Ordaz, one of his principal officers, who was charged with this commission, delivered it with 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 teniper 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.issued orders that the army should be ready to e nbark the next day for Cuba.

No sooner was this known, than the disappointed adventurers exclaimed and threatened; the emissaries of Cortes mingling with them, in flamed their rage; the ferment became general; the whole camp was almost in open muliny; all demanding with eagerness to see their commander Cortes was not slow in appear. ing: 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 ipfamous 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 surpris. ed at what he heard. declaring that his order to prepare for embarking 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 arrificed his own private opinion, which was firmly bent on establishing immediately a settlement on the sea-coast, and thea 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 career 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 senti. ments, to avoid the appearance of disaffection to their general, as well as the imputation of cowardice from their fellow-soldiers. In order to give a beginning to the colony, he assembled the principal 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 persone chosen, were firmly devoted to Cortes, and the instrument of their election was framed in the kings'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 discourses, by some prompt and vigorous measures: arrested Ordez, 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 envent both fortunate and seasonable. Some Indians having approached bis 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 distance. 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 sovereiga

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 caz que.

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 north ward, 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 respeet 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 grievances, 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 Quiabislan, who had such a high opinion of the Spaniards, as to consider them a superior order of beings: and encouraged by the promises of Cortes, they ventared to insult the Mexican power; at the very Dame 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 buman victims, as an expia. tion 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 threaten


ed 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 completed their union, by acknowledging themselves subjects to the Spanish monarch. Their example was followed by the Totonaques, 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 being inflamed by a mutinous spirit, which had, at sundry times, made its appearance, instigated by the partizans of Velasquez. With universal consent, the ships were drawn ashore; and, after stripping them of their rigging and iron-work, they were broke in pieces. Thus, from a magnanimous effort, five hundred men voluntarily consented to be shut up in a hostile country, inhabited by powerful and unknown inhabitants; left without any other resource but their own valour and perseverance.

Cortes began his march from Zempoalla, on the sixteenth of August, 1519, with five hundred men, fifteen horses, and six field pieces. The rest of the troops, consisting of those who, from age and infirmity, were unfit for actual service, he left as a garrison at Villa Rica, under the command of Escalante, an officer of merit, and warmly attached to his interest. The cazique of Zempoalla supplied him with provisions, and with two hundred of those Indians, called Tamemes, whose office it was to carry burdens, and perform all servile labour. These were a great relief to the Spanish soldiers, as they not only eased them of their baggage, but also dragged along the artillery by main force. The cazique offered a considerable body of his troops, but Cortes was satisfied with four hundred, taking care to choose such persons of note, as might prove hostages for the fidelity of their master.

No material occurrence happened, until they arrived on the .confines of Tlascala. The inhabitants of that province were a warlike people, and although they were implacable enemies of Montezuma, and had maintained an obstinate and successful contest agairst him, were not inclined to admit these formida. ble strangers into their territory. Cortes had hoped that their comity to the Mexicans, and the example of their ancient allies, the Zempoallans, might induce them to give him a friendly re. ception.

In order to dispose them to this, four Zempoallans, of great eminence, were sent as ambassadors, to request in Cortes' name, and in that of their eazique, that they would permit the Spaniards to pass through their country, on their way to Mexico. But instead of a favourable answer, which was expected, the Tlascalans seized the ambassadors, and without any regard to their public character, made preparations for sacrificing them to their gods. At the same time, they assembled their troops, in order to oppose those unknown invaders, if they should attempt to make their passage good, by the force of arms. Vuoaccustomed to any intercourse with foreigners, they were apt to consider every stranger as an enemy; and, upon the least suspicion of hostility, were easily excited to arms. They concluded from Cortes' proposal of visiting Montezuina, in his capital, notwithstanding all his professions to the contrary, that he courted the friendship of that monarch, whom they hated and feared. The Spaniards, from the smallness of their number, were objects of contempt; not having any idea of the superiority which they derived from their arms and discipline,

Cortes, after waiting some days, in vain, the return of the ambassadors, advanced into the territory of the Tlascalans. As the resolutions of people who delight in war, are executed with no less promptitude than they are formed, he found troops ready in the field to oppose him. They attacked him with great intrepidity; and in the first encounter, wounded some of the Spaniards, and killed two horses; a loss, in their situation, of great moment, because it was irreparable. From this specimen of the courage of his new enemies, Cortes saw the necessity of proceeding with caution. His army marched in close order; he chose his stations where he halted with attention, and fortified his camp with great care.

During fourteen days he was exposed to almost uninterrupted assaults; the Tlascalans advancing with numerous armies, and renewing the attack in various forms, with that valour and perseverance, to which the Spaniards had seen nothing parallel in the New World. But the account of battles must appear uninteresting, when there is no equality of danger; and when the narrative closes with an account of thousands slain on one side, and that not a single person falls on the other.

The Spanish historians relate these combats with great pomp, and intermix incredible events; but they cease to command attention, when there was so great a disproportion between the parties. There were some circumstances, however, that merit notice, as they display the character of the natives, and of their conquerors. Though the Tlascalans brought into the field such

« ПредишнаНапред »