« PreviousContinue »
against the capital at the head of a numerous body of his own subjects.
While Cortes was thus circumscribing the Mexican power, a dangerous conspiracy had nearly ruined all his schemes. The soldiers of Narvaez, who still remained with him, had never perfectly united with the original companions of Cortes, neither did they enter so cordially into his measures. And now on a near view of what they had to encounter, in attempting to reduce a city so inaccessible as Mexico, and defended by a numerous army, their reselution began to fail. They now began to cabal and censure their general's measures, and propose plans for their own safety, of which they deemed their commander totally negligent.
Antonio Villefagna, a private soldier, but bold, intriguing, and strongly attached to Velasquez, artfully fomented this growing disaffection. His quarters became the rendezvous of the malecontents, where, after many consultations they agreed that their only remedy was, to assassinate Cortes and his most considerable officers, and conferring the connmand on some person who would relinquish his pkins, and adopt measures which, in their opinion, were more consistent with the general security. Despair inspired them with courage. The hour for executing their design the destined victims, and the officers to succeed them, were all named. These resolutions were signed by the conspirators, who bound themselves to each other by the most solemn oaths to mutual fidelity.
But on the evening before the appointed day, one of Cortes's ancient followers, who had been seduced, touched with compunction at the imminent danger of a man whom he had been long accustomed to revere, went privately 19 his general, and revealed to him all he knew. Cortes though deeply alarmed, repaired instantly to the quarters of Villefagna, accompanied by some of his most trusty officers. The astonishment at this unexpected visit, anticipated the confession of his guilt. While his attendants seized him, Cortes snatched from his bosom a paper containing the association, signed by the conspirators. Impatient to know how far the defection extended, he retired to read it, and found in it names which filled him with surprize and sorrow. Policy made him confine his enquiries to Villefagna alone, as the proofs of his guilt were manifest. He was condemned, after a short trial, and next morning was seen hanging before the door of the house in which he had lodged.
Cortes called his troops together, and having explained to them the atrocious designs of the conspirators, as well as the justice of the punishment of Villefagna, he added with an appearance of satisfaction, that he was entirely ignorant of the other conspirators; as the traitor when arrested had suddenly torn and swallowed a paper which probably gave an account of the conspiracy ; and could not be made, under the greatest tortures to discover his accomplices. This artful declaration restored tranquillity to many a breast, that was throbbing with apprehension.
Cortes did not allow them leisure to ruminate on what · had happened, but immediately called forth his troops to
action. He had received intelligence that the materials for building the brigantines were ready. He therefore sent a convoy of two hundred foot-soldiers, fifteen horsemen, and two field pieces, under the command of Sandoval, whose activity and courage was manifested upon every occasion, and who had acquired the confidence, not only of Cortes, but of his fellow-soldiers. The service was singular and important: the whole utensils, the beams, plank, masts, cordage, sails, iron-work, and an infinite variety of articles, were to be carried sixty miles over land, through a mountainous country, by people who were unacquainted with the aid of domestic animals, or the use of machines.
The Tlascalans furnished for this purpose eight thousand Tamemes, an inferior order of men destined for servile uses, to carry the materials on their shoulders, and appointed fifteen thousand warriors to accompany and defend them. Sandoval placed the Tamemes in the centre, one body of warriors in the front, and another in the rear, with considerable parties to cover the flanks. To each of these he joined some Spaniards to assist them in danger, and accustom them to regularity and subordination. "A body so numerous and so encumbered, advanced but slowly, but in excellent order. In some places, where they were confined by woods or mountains, the line of march extended above six miles. Parties of Mexicans frequently appeared hovering around them on the high grounds, but perceiving that there was no prospect of success in attack
ing an enemy always on his guard, they did not venture to molest them.
Sandoval had the glory of conducting safely to Tezcuco a convoy on which all the future operations of his country. men depended.
The joy occasioned by the safe arrival of the convoy was encreased by the arrival of four ships from Hispaniola, with two hundred soldiers, eighty horses, two battering cannon, and a fresh supply of arms and ammunition. Elevated with this additional strength, Cortes was impatient to begin the siege in form, and hastened the launching of the brigantines.
He employed a vast number of Indians for two months in deepening a small creek that emptied into the lake, so as to form a canal two miles in length. The Mexicans aware of the danger that threatened them, endeavoured to interrupt the labourers, or to burn the brigantines, but in vain : the work was at last compleated, On the twentyeighth of April, 1521, all the Spanish troops with the auxiliary Indians, were drawn up on the banks of the canal; and with great military pomp, rendered more solemn by the celebration of religious rites, the brigantines were launched.
As they passed down the canal, father Olmedo blessed them, and gave to each a name. Every eye followed them with wonder and hope, until they entered the lake, when they hoisted their sails, and bore away before the wind.
A general shout of joyi was raised; all admiring that bold inventive genius, which by means so extraordinary had acquired the command of a fleet, without the aid of which, Mexico would have set power and arms at defiance.
Cortes prepared to attack the city from three different quarters, from Tezcuco on the east side of the lake, from Tacuba on the west, and from Cuyocan towards the south. Those towns were situated on the principal causeways which led to the capital, and intended for their defence. Sandoval commanded in the first, Pedro de Alvarado in the second, and Christoval de Olid in the third ; allotting to each a numerous body of Indian auxiliaries, together with an equal division of Spaniards, who, by the junction of the troops from Hispaniola amounted to eighty-six horsemen, and eight hundred and eighteen foot-soldiers ; of whom one hundred and eighteen were armed with muskets or cross bows. Their train of artillery was three battering cannon, and fifteen field-pieces. He reserved for himself, as the station of the greatest importance and danger, the conduct of the brigantines, each armed with one of his small cannon, and manned with twenty-five Spaniards.
As Alvarado and Olid proceeded to the posts assigned them they broke down the aqueducts which the Mexicans had erected to convey water into the capital, and was the beginning of the distresses which the inhabitants were destined to suffer. The towns which they were ordered to take possession of were déserted by the inhabitants who had fled for safety to the capital, where Guatimozin hac collected the chilf force ot' his empire, as the only place where he could hope to raake a successful stand against such formidable enemies, who were approaching to assault him.
The first effort of, the Mexicans was to destroy the bri. grantines, the fatal effects of whose operations they foresaw and dreaded. Necessity urged Guatimozin to hazard | an attack : he assembled such a multitude of canoes as
covered the face of the lake, hoping to overwhelm them with numbers. They rowed on boldly to the charge, while the brigantines retarded by a dead calm could scarce17 advance to meet them. But as the enemy drew near, a breeze suddenly sprung up, in a moment the sails were spread, and the brigantines, with irresistible impetuosity, broke through their feeble opponents ; overset many of their canoes, and dispersed the whole armament with such
slaughter, as convinced the Mexicans, that their enemies - were as formidable on this new element as they had found them on land
Cortés after this remained absolute master of the lake, and the brigantines preserved a communication between the Spaniards in their different stations, though at a considerable distance from each other, and at the same time covered the causeways, keeping off the canoes when they attempted to annoy the troops as they advanced towards the city. The Mexicans, in theii' own defence, displayed such valour as was hardly inferior to that with which the Spaniards attacked themi On land, on water, by night and by day, one furious conflict succeeded another. Several
Spaniards were killed, more wounded, and all were ready to sink under the toils of unremitting service, which had become more intolerable by the injuries of the season ; the periodical rains having set in with their usual violence.
Cortes, astonished at the difficulties and length of the siege, determined to make one great effort to get posses. sion of the city, before he relinquished the plan which he had hitherto proposed. With this view he sent instructions to Alvarado and Sandoval, to advance with their divisions to a general assault, and took the command in person of that posted on the causeway of Cuyocan. Animated by his presence, and expecting some decisive event, the Spaniards pressed forward with irresistible impetuosity. They broke down one barricade after another, forced their way over the ditches and canals, and having entered the city, they gained ground incessantly, notwithstanding the multitude and ferocity of their enemies.
Cortes, though delighted with the rapidity of his progress, did not forget éthat he might find it necessary to make a retreat ; and in order to secure it appointed Julian de Alderete, a captain of chief note in the troops which he had received from Hispanioła, to fill up the canals and gaps, in the causeway, as the main body advanced. That officer thinking it beneath him to be thus employed, while his companions were in the heat of action, and in full career of victory, neglected the important charge, and hurried on to join his companions in arms.
The Mexicans, whose military skill was daily improve ing, no sooner observed this, than they carried an account of it to their monarch. Guatimozin instantly discerned the consequences of the error which the Spaniards had committed, and with admirable presence of mind, prepared to take advantage of it. He commanded the troops posted in the front to slacken their efforts that the Spaniards might be allured to push forwards, while he dispatched a large body of chosen warriors through different streets, some by land, and others by water, towards the great breach in the causeway which had been left open.
On a signal given, the priests in the principal temple, struck the great drum consecrated to the god of war. No