« PreviousContinue »
the opulent country, to which they were bound, than zealous to propagate the Christian faith among its inhabitants, they set out with that confidence, which arises from security of success, and certainty of divine protection.
Cortes steered directly for the island of Cozumel, which Grijalva had visited; there he had the good fortune to redeem Jerome de Aguilar, a Spaniard, who had been eight years a prisoner among the Indians. This man was perfectly acquainted with a dialect of their language, understood through a large extent of country, and who possessed besides, a considerable share of prudence and sagacity; and who proved extremely useful as an interpreter.
From Cozumel, Cortes proceeded to Tabasco, in hopes of meeting as friendly a reception from the natives, as Grijalva had; and of finding guld in the same abundance: but the disposition of the natives was entirely changed. After endeavouring in vain, to conciliate their good will, he was constrained to have recourse to violence. Though the forces of the enemy were numerous, and advanced with extraordinary courage, they were routed with great slaughter, in several successive actions. The loss they sustained, and still more the astonishment and terror excited by the destructive effects of the fire-arms, and the dreadful appearance of the horses, humbled their fierce spirits, and induced them to sue for peace. They acknowledged the king of Castile as their sovereign, and granted Cortes a supply of provisions, with a present of cotton garments, some gold, and twenty female slaves.
The next place they touched at, was St. Juan de Ulua. As he entered the harbour, a large canoe, full of people, amongst whom there appeared two persons of distinction, who approached the ship with signs of peace, and friendship. They came on board without fear, or shewing any symptoms of distrust, and addressed Cortes in a most respectful manner, but in a language unknown to Aguilar. Cortes was in the utmost perplexity at an event, which he instantly foresaw would be attended with very disagreeable consequences. But he did not remain long in this embarrassed situation. One of the female slaves, whom he had received from the cazique of Tabasco, was present at the interview: she saw the distress of Cortes, and the confusion of Aguilar; and, as she perfectly understood the Mexican language, she explained what they said in the Yucatan tongue. This woman, known afterwards by the
name of Donna Marina, will make a considerable figure in the history of the New World: having being carried off a captive by some hostile party, after a variety of adventures, had fallen into the hands of the Tabascans, though formerly a native of the Mexican empire.
Though it was tedious and troublesome to converse by the intervention of two different interpreters, Cortes was so highly pleased, that he considered it in the transports of his joy, as a visible interposition of Divine Providence in his favour.
The two persons whom he had received on board his ship, were deputies from Pilpatoe, and Teutile; the one governor of that province, under a great monarch, whom they called Montezuma; and the other, the commander of his forces there. They informed Cortes, that they were sent to inquire what were his views in visiting their coast; and to offer him assistance if he stood in need, in order to continue his voyage. Cortes, struck with the appearance of those people, as well as the tenor of their message, assured them in respectful terms, that he approached their country with the most friendly intentions; that he came to propose matters of great importance to the welfare of their prince and people, which he would unfold more fully in person to the governor and general.
Next morning, without waiting for an answer, he landed his troops, his horses and artillery ; and began to erect huts, and fortify his camp. The natives, instead of opposing the entrance of those fatal guests into their country, assisted them in all their operations, with an alacrity of which they afterwards had good reason to repent.
Next day Pilpatoe and Teutile entered the Spanish camp with a numerous retinue ; and Cortes treated them with that respect due to the ministers of a great monarch, and received them with much formal ceremony. He informed them that he came as ambassador from Don Carlos of Austria, king of Castile, the greatest monarch of the east: and was entrusted with propositions of such moment, that he could impart them to none but the emperor Montezuma himself; and therefore required them to conduct him without delay into the presence of their master.
The Mexican officers could not conceal their uneasiness at a request which they knew would be disagreeable to their sovereign, whose mind had been filled with many
disquieting apprehensions, ever since the Spaniards had first appeared on their coasts. Before they offered to dis. suade Cortes from his demand, they endeavoured to conciliate his good will, by entreating him to accept of certain presents, which, as humble slaves to Montezuma, they laid at his feet. These they introduced with great parade, and consisted of fine cotton cloth, of plumes of various colours, and of ornaments of gold and silver, to a conside erable value; the workmanship was curious, and the materials rich.
The effect of these was very different to what they intended. Instead of satisfying the Spaniards, it encreased their avidity, and rendered them so impatient of becoming masters of a country which abounded with such precious commodities, that Cortes could hardly listen with patience to the arguments of Pilpatoe and Teutile, to dissuade him from visiting the capital : and in a haughty and determined tone, insisted on being admilled to a personal audience of their sovereign.
During this interview, some painters in the train of the Mexican chiefs, had been diligently employed in delineating upon white cotton-cloth, figures of the ships and horses, the artillery, the soldiers, and whatever clse appeared to them new and singular. When Cortes was informed that these pictures were to be sent to Montezuma ; to render the representation still more animating and interesting, and make the impression more awful, he ordered the trumpets to sound an alarm, the troops in a moment formed in order of battle, the infantry performed such martial exercises, as were best suited to display the effect of their different weapons; the horse, in various evolutions, shewed their agility and strength; the artillery pointed towards the thick woods, which was in front of the camp, made dreadful havock among the trees. The Mexicans looked on with silent amazement, at objects so awful, and above their comprehension. At the explosion of the cannon, many of them fled, some fell on the ground, and all were so much confounded at the sight of men, whose
power, in their opinion, so nearly resembled the gods, that Cortes, with difficulty, composed them. The ingenuity of the painters was put to the test, to invent figures and characters to represent things so new and extraordinary. Messengers were immediately dispatched to Montezuma, with those pictures, and a full account of
every thing that had passed since the arrival of the Spaniards ; and by them Cortes sent a present of some European curiosities to Montezuma.
The Mexican monarchs, in order to obtain early information of every occurrence in all the corners of their vast empire, had posted couriers, or runners at different stations, along the principal roads, who relieved one another, at proper distances; by which method they conveyed intelligence with surprizing rapidity.
Though the capital of Montezuma was one hundred and eighty miles from St. Julian de Ulua, the presents to Cortes were carried thither, and an answer received of his demands in a few days. The same officers who had hitherto treated with the Spaniards, were employed to deliver this answer ; but as they knew how repugnant the determination of their master was to the wishes of the Spanish coinmander, they would not venture to make it known, until they had first endeavoured to soothe and inollify him. They therefore renewed the negociation by introducing a train of a hundred Indians loaded with presents, sent him by Montezuma.
The magnificence of these presents exceeded any they had yet received, and raised their ideas of the wealth of the country, and the grandeur of the monarch. They were placed upon mats on the ground, in such order as shewed them to the greatest advantage. Cortes and his followers viewed with admiration, the various manufactures of the country ; the cotton stuffs were of so fine a texture, as to resemble silk; pictures of animals, trees, and other Batural objects, formed with feathers of different colours, disposed and mingled with such skill and elegance, as to rival the works of the pencil in beauty of imitation. But what principally attracted their attention, was two large plates of a circular form, one of massive gold, representing the sun, the other of silver, an emblem of the moon; these were accompanied with bracelets, collars, rings, and other trinkets of gold, with boxes of pearls, precious stones, and grains of unwrought gold. Cortes received these with an appearance of profound veneration for the monarch, by whom they were bestowed.
But when the Mexicans, presuming upon this, informed him, that their master, though he desired him to accept of what he had sent, as expressive of that regard for the prince who had sent him; yel, at the same time informed
him, that he would not give his consent that foreign troops should approach nearer his capital ; or even allow them to continue longer in his dominions. Cortes declared in a manner more resolute and peremptory than formerly, that he must insist on his first demand, as he could not, without dishonour, return to his own sovereign, until he had been permitted to visit the prince, agreeably to his instructions.
The Mexicans were astonished, that any man should dare to oppose ihat will which they were accustomed to consider as supreme and irresistible: yet afraid of coming to an open rupture with such formidable enemies, prevail. ed with Cortes to continue in his present camp until fur. ther instructions from Montezuma.
The Mexican monarch had now no other choice, but either to receive Cortes as a friend, or oppose him openly as an enemy. The latter was what might have been expected from a haughty prince in possession of such exten. sive powers ; his authority unbounded, 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 en. terprize.
As the power of Montezuma enabled him to take this spirited 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.