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taught them to expect; 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 replied 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 Spaniards.
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 appearance 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 climate 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, communicate 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 artificial 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 Spaniards had seen in America, might be termed magni.
But, how much the novelty of those objects might amuse or astonish the Spaniards, they felt the utmost solicitude with respect to their own situation. They were now lodged in the capital, in which they reckoned there were at least sixty thousand inhabitants : shut up, as it were, in a snare, from which it seemed 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 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 different cities, and last to Mexico, to convince the people their invaders were not invulnerable.
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 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 sus. tained, 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 how noured 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, bis subjects would not permit such an saffront 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 in
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 publickly 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 parallel to it: and were it not so well authenticated by the most unquestionable evidence, the whole narration would appear so wild and extravagant, as to go beyond the bounds of that veri, similitude which must be preserved even in fictitious publications.
Montezuma was received at the Spanish quarters with great ceremonious respect. He was attended by his own domestics. His principal officers had free access to him, and carried on all the functions of government, as if he had been at perfect liberty. He was, nevertheless, watched with all the scrupulous vigilance requisite in guarding such an important prize: from captive princes, the hour of humiliation and suffering is not far distant. Qualpopoca and his son, with five of the principal officers who had served under him, were brought prisoners to the capital, by order of Montezuma, and given up to Cortes ; who after undergoing the form of trial by a Spanish court martial, and though they acted as brave and loyal subjects in obeying the orders of their sovereign, in opposing the
invaders of their country, they were condemned to be burned alive.
The unhappy victims were instantly led forth. The pile on which they were laid was composed of the weapons collected in the royal niagazine for the public defence. An innumerable multitude of Mexicans, beheld in silent astonishment, this fresh insult offered to the majesty of their empire : an officer of distinction committed to the flames, by the authority of strangers, for having done what he owed in duty to his sovereign : and the arms provided by their ancestors for avenging such wrongs, consumed before their eyes.
Cortes convinced that Qualpopoca would not have ventured to attack Escalante without orders from his master, was not satisfied with the punishment of the instrument, while the author escaped with impunity. Just before Qualpopoca was led out to suffer, Cortes entered the apartment of Montezuma, followed by some of his officers, and a soldier carrying a pair of fetters; and approaching the monarch with a stern countenance, told him, that the persons who were now going to suffer, had charged him as the cause of the outrage that was committed ; and that it was necessary that he likewise should make atonement for that guilt ; without waiting for a reply, he commanded his soldiers to clap the fetters on his legs. The orders were instantly obeyed.
The monarch who had been accustomed to have his person acknowledged as sacred and inviolable, considered this profanation of it as a prelude to his death ; broke out into loud lamentations and complaints. His attendants fell at his feet, and bathed them with their tears, bearing up the fetters in their hands with officious tenderness, to lighten their pressure.
When Cortes returned from the execution, he appear. ed with a cheerful countenance; and ordered the fetters to be taken off. As Montezuma's spirits had sunk with un manly dejection, they now rose to indecent exultation, and he passed at once from the anguish of despair, to transports of joy and fondness, towards his deliverers. The spirits of Montezuma were now subdued. Cortes availed himself to the utmost of the power he had acquired over him.