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Cortes enraged at their obstinacy, was preparing to urge by force, what he could not accomplish by persuasion; and was going to overturn their altars, and throw down their idols, if father Bartholomew de Olmedo, chaplain to the expedition, had not checked his inconsiderate impetuosity. He represented the imprudence of such an attempt; and that religion was not to be propagated by the sword, nor infidels to be converted by violence-; that other weapons were to be employed in their ministry, that patient instruction must enlighten the understanding, and pious example captivate the heart, before men could be brought to embrace the great truths of the christian religion. That a monk in the sixteenth century, when the idea of toleration was unknown, and when the rights of conscience were little understood, should be among the first advocates against persecution, and appear in behalf of religious liberty, is really astonishing, and the mind is soothed with unexpected pleasure, to find such humane and liberal sentiments avowed in those dark ages of superstition.
The remonstrances of Olmedo had their proper weight with Cortes; he left the Tlascalans to the undisturbed exercise of their own rites, requiring only that they should desist from their horrid practice of offering human victims in sacrifice.
Cortes as soon as the troops were fit for service, resolved to continue his march towards Mexico, notwithstanding the earnest dissuasives of the Tlascalans, who represented Montezuma as a faithless and cruel prince, who waited for an opportunity to destroy him.
Accompanied by six thousand Tlascalans, they, on the thirteenth of October, 1519, directed their course toward Cholula; Montezuma, who had at length consented to admit the Spaniards into his presence, informed Cortes that he had given orders for his friendly reception there. Cholula was a considerable town, and though only five leagues distant from Tlascala, was formerly an independent state: but had lately been subjected to the Mexican empire.
This was considered by all the natives as a holy place, the sanctuary of their gods, to which devotees resorted from every province, and a greater number of human vie- . fims were offered in its temple, than in that of Mexico. -)
It was strongly suspected that Montezuma, either from superstitious hope, that the gods would there revenge the insults with which the Spaniards everywhere treated them, or that he might have a greater certainty of success, as being under the protection of his gods. The event shewed these suspicions were not ill founded.
Cortes, who had been warned by the Tlascalans to keep a watchful eye upon the Cholulans, though received mto the town with much seeming respect and cordiality, soon observed several circumstances in their conduct, which excited suspicion. Two of the-Tlascalans, who were encamped at some distance from the town, and who were not admitted by their ancient enemies within their precincts, found means to enter in disguise, and informed Cortes that they observed the children of the principal citizens retiring in great haste every night, and that six children had been sacrificed in the chief temple; a rite that indicated the execution of some warlike enterprize was near at hand. At the same time,, Marina the interpreter, received information from an Indian woman of distinction, whose confidence she had gained, that the destruction of her friends was concerted; that a body of Mexican troops. concealed near the town; that some of the streets w$re barricadoed, and in others pits and deep trenches were dug, and slightly covered over, into which the horse might fall, that stones and missile weapons were collected on the tops of the temples, with which to.overwhelm the infantry; that the fatal hour was now afchand, and their ruin unavoidable.
Cortes alarmed at this concurring evidence, secretly arrested three of the chief priests; from these he extorted a confession that confirmed the intelligence he had received. He therefore instantly resolved to prevent his enemies effecting their designs; and to inflict such an exemplary vengeance, as would strike Montezuma and his subjects with terror.
The Spaniards and Zempoallans were drawn up in a large square, which had been allotted them for quarters, near the centre of the town: the Tlascalans had orders to advance; the magistrates and chief citizens were sent for under various pretexts, seized and confined. On a signal given, the troops rushed out, and fell upon the multitude who were destitute of leaders, and so much asi. nished that the weapons fell from their hands, while they stocd mctionless, incapable of defence. As the Spaniards pressed them in front, the Tlascalans attacked them in the rear. The streets were filled with bloodshed and death. The temples, which afforded a retreat to the priests, and some of the leading natives, were set on fire, and they perished in the flames. This scene of horror continued two days r sit length the carnage ceased, after the slaughter of six thousand Cholulans, without the loss of a single Spaniard.
Cortes then released the magistrates, reproaching them bitterly 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, andUso 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 men who had embrued their hands 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 descended 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 it& 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 satisfiedJthat the country was rich, beyond what they had and flattered themselves that they should sooij'-difi$Vim ample reward for all their services and sufferingsff
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, adorned 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 inmost respect^and submission. They announced the approach of Montezuma himself; and socn after his harbingerseamein sight.
There appeared first, two hundred persons in an uniform dress, with rargephrfhes 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 favourites 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 himself 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 politeness, 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 stonewall, with towers at proper distances, which served for defence as well as ornament; and was so large as to accommodate both the Spaniards and their Indian allies.
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 centincls at proper distances, with orders to observe the same vigilance, as if they were in sight of an enemy's camp. t
In the evening, Montezuma returned to visit his guests, with the same pomp as at their first interview; and brought presents of such value, not only to Cortes and his officers, but even to the private men, as proved the liberality of the monarch, and the opulence of the kingdom.
A long conference ensued, in which Cortes learned whaj was the option of Montezuma, with respect to the Spaniards. He told him, that it was an established opinior araong the Mexicans> handed down to them by tradition, that their ancestors came originally from a remote region, and conquered the provincesthat were now subject to his dominion; that after they were settled there, the great captain who conducted them, returned to his own country i and promised, that at some future period his descendants should visit them, assume the government, and reform their constitution and laws; and that fi om what he had seen of Cortes and his followers, he was convinced they were the very persons their traditions and prophecies had