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CORTES DESCENDS FROM THE TABLELAND- NEGOTIATES WITH NARVAEZ-PREPARES TO ASSAULT HIM- QUARTERS OF NARVAEZ-ATTACKED BY NIGHT- NARVAEZ DEFEATEDTRAVERSING the southern causeway, by which they had entered thecapital, the little party were soon on their march across thebeautiful valley. They climbed the mountain-screen which Nature has soineffectually drawn around it; passed between the huge volcanoes that,like faithless watch-dogs on their posts, have long since beenburied in slumber; threaded the intricate defiles where they hadbefore experienced such bleak and tempestuous weather; and, emergingon the other side, descended the eastern slope which opens on the wideexpanse of the fruitful plateau of Cholula.They heeded little of what they saw on their rapid march, norwhether it was cold or hot. The anxiety of their minds made themindifferent to outward annoyances; and they had fortunately none toencounter from the natives, for the name of Spaniard was in itself acharm,- a better guard than helm or buckler to the bearer.In Cholula, Cortes had the inexpressible satisfaction of meetingVelasquez de Leon, with the hundred and twenty soldiers intrusted tohis command for the formation of a colony. That faithful officer hadbeen some time at Cholula, waiting for the general's approach. Hadhe failed, the enterprise of Cortes must have failed also. The idea ofresistance, with his own handful of followers, would have beenchimerical. As it was, his little band was now trebled, and acquired aconfidence in proportion.Cordially embracing their companions in arms, now knit togethermore closely than ever by the sense of a great and common danger,the combined troops traversed with quick step the streets of thesacred city, where many a dark pile of ruins told of theirdisastrous visit on the preceding autumn. They kept the high road toTlascala; and, at not many leagues' distance from that capital, fellin with Father Olmedo and his companions on their return from the campof Narvaez. The ecclesiastic bore a letter from that commander, inwhich he summoned Cortes and his followers to submit to his authority,as captain-general of the country, menacing them with condignpunishment, in case of refusal or delay. Olmedo gave many curiousparticulars of the state of the enemy's camp. Narvaez he describedas puffed up by authority, and negligent of precautions against afoe whom he held in contempt. He was surrounded by a number of pompousconceited officers, who ministered to his vanity, and whose braggarttones, the good father, who had an eye for the ridiculous, imitated,to the no small diversion of Cortes and the soldiers. Many of thetroops, he said, showed no great partiality for their commander, andwere strongly disinclined to a rupture with their countrymen; astate of feeling much promoted by the accounts they had received ofCortes, by his own arguments and promises, and by the liberaldistribution of the gold with which he had been provided. Inaddition to these matters, Cortes gathered much important intelligencerespecting the position of the enemy's force, and his general planof operations.At Tlascala, the Spaniards were received with a frank and friendlyhospitality. It is not said whether any of the Tlascalan alliesaccompanied them from Mexico. If they did, they went no further thantheir native city. Cortes requested a reinforcement of six hundredfresh troops to attend him on his present expedition. It was readilygranted; but, before the army had proceeded many miles on its route,the Indian auxiliaries fell off, one after another, and returned totheir city. They had no personal feeling of animosity to gratify inthe present instance, as in a war against Mexico. It may be, too, thatalthough intrepid in a contest with the bravest of the Indian races,they had too fatal experience of the prowess of the white men tocare to measure swords with them again. At any rate, they desertedin such numbers that Cortes dismissed the remainder at once, saying,good-humouredly, "He had rather part with them then, than in thehour of trial."The troops soon entered on that wild district in the neighbourhoodof Perote, strewed with the wreck of volcanic matter, which forms sosingular a contrast to the general character of beauty with whichthe scenery is stamped. It was not long before their eyes weregladdened by the approach of Sandoval and about sixty soldiers fromthe garrison of Vera Cruz, including several deserters from the enemy.It was a most important reinforcement, not more on account of thenumbers of the men than of the character of the commander. He had beencompelled to fetch a circuit, in order to avoid falling in with theenemy, and had forced his way through thick forests and wildmountain passes, till he had fortunately, without accident, reachedthe appointed place of rendezvous, and stationed himself once moreunder the banner of his chieftain. At the same place, also, Cortes wasmet by Tobillos, a Spaniard whom he had sent to procure the lancesfrom Chinantla. They were perfectly well made, after the pattern whichhad been given; double-headed spears, tipped with copper, and of greatlength.Cortes now took a review of his army,- if so paltry a force may becalled an army,- and found their numbers were two hundred andsixty-six, only five of whom were mounted. A few muskets and crossbowswere sprinkled among them. In defensive armour they were sadlydeficient. They were for the most part cased in the quilted doublet ofthe country, thickly stuffed with cotton, the escaupil, recommended byits superior lightness, but which, though competent to turn thearrow of the Indian, was ineffectual against a musket-ball. Most ofthis cotton mail was exceedingly out of repair, giving evidence, inits unsightly gaps, of much rude service, and hard blows. Few, in thisemergency, but would have given almost any price- the best of the goldchains which they wore in tawdry display over their poorhabiliments- for a steel morion or cuirass, to take the place of theirown hacked and battered armour.The troops now resumed their march across the tableland, until,reaching the eastern slope, their labours were lightened, as theydescended towards the broad plains of the tierra caliente, spreadout like a boundless ocean of verdure below them. At some fifteenleagues' distance from Cempoalla, where Narvaez, as has beennoticed, had established his quarters, they were met by anotherembassy from that commander. It consisted of the priest, Guevara,Andres de Duero, and two or three others. Duero, the fast friend ofCortes, had been the person most instrumental, originally, inobtaining him his commission from Velasquez. They now greeted eachother with a warm embrace, and it was not till after muchpreliminary conversation on private matters, that the secretarydisclosed the object of his visit.He bore a letter from Narvaez, couched in terms somewhat differentfrom the preceding. That officer required, indeed, theacknowledgment of his paramount authority in the land, but offered hisvessels to transport all who desired it, from the country, togetherwith their treasures and effects, without molestation or inquiry.The more liberal tenor of these terms was, doubtless, to be ascribedto the influence of Duero. The secretary strongly urged Cortes tocomply with them, as the most favourable that could be obtained, andas the only alternative affording him a chance of safety in hisdesperate condition. "For, however valiant your men may be, how canthey expect," he asked, "to face a force so much superior in numbersand equipment as that of their antagonists?" But Cortes had set hisfortunes on the cast, and he was not the man to shrink from it. "IfNarvaez bears a royal commission," he returned, "I will readily submitto him. But he has produced none. He is a deputy of my rival,Velasquez. For myself I am a servant of the king, I have conquered thecountry for him; and for him I and my brave followers will defendit, to the last drop of our blood. If we fall, it will be glory enoughto have perished in the discharge of our duty."His friend might have been somewhat puzzled to comprehend howthe authority of Cortes rested on a different ground from that ofNarvaez; and if they both held of the same superior, the governor ofCuba, why that dignitary should not be empowered to supersede hisown officer in case of dissatisfaction, and appoint a substitute.But Cortes here reaped the full benefit of that legal fiction, if itmay be so termed, by which his commission, resigned to theself-constituted municipality of Vera Cruz, was again derivedthrough that body from the crown. The device, indeed, was too palpableto impose on any but those who chose to be blinded.Duero had arranged with his friend in Cuba, when he took commandof the expedition, that he himself was to have a liberal share ofthe profits. It is said that Cortes confirmed this arrangement atthe present juncture, and made it clearly for the other's interestthat be should prevail in the struggle with Narvaez. This was animportant point, considering the position of the secretary. Fromthis authentic source the general derived much informationrespecting the designs of Narvaez, which had escaped the knowledgeof Olmedo. On the departure of the envoys, Cortes intrusted themwith a letter for his rival, a counterpart of that which he hadreceived from him. This show of negotiation intimated a desire onhis part to postpone if not avoid hostilities, which might thebetter put Narvaez off his guard. In the letter he summoned thatcommander and his followers to present themselves before him withoutdelay, and to acknowledge his authority as the representative of hissovereign. He should otherwise be compelled to proceed against them asrebels to the crown! With this missive, the vaunting tone of which wasintended quite as much for his own troops as the enemy, Cortesdismissed the envoys. They returned to disseminate among theircomrades their admiration of the general and of his unboundedliberality, of which he took care they should experience full measure,and they dilated on the riches of his adherents, who, over theirwretched attire, displayed with ostentatious profusion, jewels,ornaments of gold, collars, and massive chains winding several timesround their necks and bodies, the rich spoil of the treasury ofMontezuma.The army now took its way across the level plains of the tierracaliente. Coming upon an open reach of meadow, of some extent, theywere, at length, stopped by a river or rather stream, called Rio deCanoas, "the River of Canoes," of no great volume ordinarily, butswollen at this time by excessive rains; it had rained hard thatday. The river was about a league distant from the camp of Narvaez.Before seeking out a practical ford, by which to cross it, Cortesallowed his men to recruit their exhausted strength by stretchingthemselves on the ground. The shades of evening had gathered round;and the rising moon, wading through dark masses of cloud, shone with adoubtful and interrupted light. It was evident that the storm hadnot yet spent its fury. Cortes did not regret this. He had made up hismind to an assault that very night, and in the darkness and uproarof the tempest his movements would be most effectually concealed.Before disclosing his design, he addressed his men in one of thosestirring, soldierly harangues, to which he had recourse in emergenciesof great moment, as if to sound the depths of their hearts, and, whereany faltered, to re-animate them with his own heroic spirit. Hebriefly recapitulated the great events of the campaign, the dangersthey had surmounted, the victories they had achieved over the mostappalling odds, the glorious spoil they had won. But of this they werenow to be defrauded; not by men holding a legal warrant from thecrown, but by adventurers, with no better title than that ofsuperior force. They had established a claim on the gratitude of theircountry and their sovereign. This claim was now to be dishonoured;their very services were converted into crimes, and their namesbranded with infamy as those of traitors. But the time had at lastcome for vengeance. God would not desert the soldier of the Cross.Those, whom he had carried victorious through greater dangers, wouldnot be left to fail now. And, if they should fail, better to dielike brave men on the field of battle, than, with fame and fortunecast away, to perish ignominiously like slaves on the gibbet.- Thislast point he urged upon his hearers; well knowing there was not oneamong them so dull as not to be touched by it.They responded with hearty acclamations, and Velasquez de Leon,and de Lugo, in the name of the rest, assured their commander, if theyfailed, it should be his fault, not theirs. They would follow whereverhe led.- The general was fully satisfied with the temper of hissoldiers, as he felt that his difficulty lay not in awakening theirenthusiasm, but in giving it a right direction. One thing isremarkable. He made no allusion to the defection which he knew existedin the enemy's camp. He would have his soldiers, in this last pinch,rely on nothing but themselves.He announced his purpose to attack the enemy that very night, whenhe should be buried in slumber, and the friendly darkness mightthrow a veil over their own movements, and conceal the poverty oftheir numbers. To this the troops, jaded though they were by incessantmarching, and half famished, joyfully assented. In their situation,suspense was the worst of evils. He next distributed the commandsamong his captains. To Gonzalo de Sandoval he assigned the importantoffice of taking Narvaez. He was commanded, as alguacil mayor, toseize the person of that officer as a rebel to his sovereign, and,if he made resistance, to kill him on the spot. He was provided withsixty picked men to aid him in this difficult task, supported byseveral of the ablest captains, among whom were two of theAlvarados, de Avila and Ordaz. The largest division of the force wasplaced under Christoval de Olid, or according to some authorities,Pizarro, one of that family so renowned in the subsequent conquestof Peru. He was to get possession of the artillery, and to cover theassault of Sandoval by keeping those of the enemy at bay, who wouldinterfere with it. Cortes reserved only a body of twenty men forhimself, to act on any point that occasion might require. Thewatchword was Espiritu Santo, it being the evening of Whitsunday.Having made these arrangements, he prepared to cross the river.During the interval thus occupied by Cortes, Narvaez hadremained at Cempoalla, passing his days in idle and frivolousamusement. From this he was at length roused, after the return ofDuero, by the remonstrances of the old cacique of the city. "Why areyou so heedless?" exclaimed the latter; "do you think Malinche isso? Depend on it, he knows your situation exactly, and, when you leastdream of it, he will be upon you."Alarmed at these suggestions and those of his friends, Narvaezat length put himself at the head of his troops, and, on the veryday on which Cortes arrived at the River of Canoes, sallied out tomeet him. But, when he had reached this barrier, Narvaez saw no signof an enemy. The rain, which fell in torrents, soon drenched thesoldiers to the skin. Made somewhat effeminate by their long andluxurious residence at Cempoalla, they murmured at their uncomfortablesituation. "Of what use was it to remain there fighting with theelements? There was no sign of an enemy, and little reason toapprehend his approach in such tempestuous weather. It would bewiser to return to Cempoalla, and in the morning they should be allfresh for action, should Cortes make his appearance."Narvaez took counsel of these advisers, or rather of his owninclinations. Before retracing his steps, he provided againstsurprise, by stationing a couple of sentinels at no great distancefrom the river, to give notice of the approach of Cortes. He alsodetached a body of forty horse in another direction, by which hethought it not improbable the enemy might advance on Cempoalla. Havingtaken these precautions, he fell back again before night on his ownquarters.He there occupied the principal teocalli. It consisted of astone building on the usual pyramidal basis; and the ascent was by aflight of steep steps on one of the faces of the pyramid. In theedifice or sanctuary above he stationed himself with a strong party ofarquebusiers and crossbowmen. Two other teocallis in the same areawere garrisoned by large detachments of infantry. His artillery,consisting of seventeen or eighteen small guns, he posted in thearea below, and protected it by the remainder of his cavalry. Whenhe had thus distributed his forces, he returned to his own quarters,and soon after to repose, with as much indifference as if his rivalhad been on the other side of the Atlantic, instead of aneighbouring stream.That stream was now converted by the deluge of waters into afurious torrent. It was with difficulty that a practicable fordcould be found. The slippery stones, rolling beneath the feet, gaveway at every step. The difficulty of the passage was much increased bythe darkness and driving tempest. Still, with their long pikes, theSpaniards contrived to make good their footing, at least, all but two,who were swept down by the fury of the current. When they hadreached the opposite side, they had new impediments to encounter intraversing a road never good, now made doubly difficult by the deepmire and the tangled brushwood with which it was overrun.Here they met with a cross, which had been raised by them on theirformer march into the interior. They hailed it as a good omen; andCortes, kneeling before the blessed sign, confessed his sins, anddeclared his great object to be the triumph of the holy Catholicfaith. The army followed his example, and, having made a generalconfession, received absolution from Father Olmedo, who invoked theblessing of heaven on the warriors who had consecrated their swords tothe glory of the Cross. Then rising up and embracing one another, ascompanions in the good cause, they found themselves wonderfullyinvigorated and refreshed. The incident is curious, and wellillustrates the character of the time,- in which war, religion, andrapine were so intimately blended together. Adjoining the road was alittle coppice; and Cortes, and the few who had horses, dismounting,fastened the animals to the trees, where they might find someshelter from the storm. They deposited there, too, their baggage andsuch superfluous articles as would encumber their movement. Thegeneral then gave them a few last words of advice. "Everything,"said he, "depends on obedience. Let no man, from desire ofdistinguishing himself, break his ranks. On silence, despatch, and,above all, obedience to your officers, the success of our enterprisedepends."Silently and stealthily they held on their way without beat ofdrum or sound of trumpet, when they suddenly came on the two sentinelswho had been stationed by Narvaez to give notice of their approach.This had been so noiseless, that the videttes were both of themsurprised on their posts, and one only, with difficulty, effectedhis escape. The other was brought before Cortes. Every effort was madeto draw from him some account of the present position of Narvaez.But the man remained obstinately silent; and, though threatened withthe gibbet, and having a noose actually drawn round his neck, hisSpartan heroism was not be vanquished. Fortunately no change had takenplace in the arrangements of Narvaez since the intelligence previouslyderived from Duero.The other sentinel, who had escaped, carried the news of theenemy's approach to the camp. But his report was not credited by thelazy soldiers, whose slumbers he had disturbed. "He had beendeceived by his fears," they said, "and mistaken the noise of thestorm, and the waving of the bushes, for the enemy. Cortes and his menwere far enough on the other side of the river, which they would beslow to cross in such a night." Narvaez himself shared in the sameblind infatuation, and the discredited sentinel slunk abashed to hisown quarters, vainly menacing them with the consequences of theirincredulity.Cortes, not doubting that the sentinel's report must alarm theenemy's camp, quickened his pace. As he drew near, he discerned alight in one of the lofty towers of the city. "It is the quarters ofNarvaez," he exclaimed to Sandoval, "and that light must be yourbeacon." On entering the suburbs, the Spaniards were surprised to findno one stirring, and no symptom of alarm. Not a sound was to be heard,except the measured tread of their own footsteps, half-drowned inthe howling of the tempest. Still they could not move so stealthily asaltogether to elude notice, as they defiled through the streets ofthis populous city. The tidings were quickly conveyed to the enemy'squarters, where, in an instant, all was bustle and confusion. Thetrumpets sounded to arms. The dragoons sprang to their steeds, theartillerymen to their guns. Narvaez hastily buckled on his armour,called his men around him, and summoned those in the neighbouringteocallis, to join him in the area. He gave his orders withcoolness; for, however wanting in prudence, he was not deficient inpresence of mind or courage.All this was the work of a few minutes. But in those minutes theSpaniards had reached the avenue leading to the camp. Cortes orderedhis men to keep close to the walls of the buildings, that thecannon-shot might have free range. No sooner had they presentedthemselves before the inclosure than the artillery of Narvaez opened ageneral fire. Fortunately the pieces were pointed so high that most ofthe balls passed over their heads, and three men only were struckdown. They did not give the enemy time to reload. Cortes shoutingthe watchword of the night, "Espiritu Santo! Espiritu Santo! Uponthem!" in a moment Olid and his division rushed on the artillerymen,whom they pierced or knocked down with their pikes, and got possessionof their guns. Another division engaged the cavalry, and made adiversion in favour of Sandoval, who with his gallant little bandsprang up the great stairway of the temple. They were received witha shower of missiles, arrows and musketballs, which, in the hurriedaim, and the darkness of the night, did little mischief. The nextminute the assailants were on the platform, engaged hand to handwith their foes. Narvaez fought bravely in the midst, encouraginghis followers. His standard-bearer fell by his side, run through thebody. He himself received several wounds; for his short sword wasnot match for the long pikes of the assailants. At length, he receiveda blow from a spear, which struck out his left "Santa Maria!"exclaimed the unhappy man, "I am slain!" The cry was instantly takenup by the followers of Cortes, who shouted, "Victory!"Disabled, and half-mad with agony from his wound, Narvaez waswithdrawn by his men into the sanctuary. The assailants endeavoured toforce an entrance, but it was stoutly defended. At length a soldier,getting possession of a torch, or firebrand, flung it on thethatched roof, and in a few moments the combustible materials of whichit was composed were in a blaze. Those within were driven out by thesuffocating heat and smoke. A soldier, named Farfan, grappled with thewounded commander, and easily brought him to the ground; when he wasspeedily dragged down the steps, and secured with fetters. Hisfollowers, seeing@ the fate of their chief, made no furtherresistance.During this time, Cortes and the troops of Olid had been engagedwith the cavalry, and had discomfited them, after some ineffectualattempts on the part of the latter to break through the dense array ofpikes, by which several of their number were unhorsed and some of themslain. The general then prepared to assault the other teocallis, firstsummoning the garrisons to surrender. As they refused, he brought upthe heavy guns to bear on them, thus turning the artillery against itsown masters. He accompanied this menacing movement with offers ofthe most liberal import; an amnesty of the past, and a fullparticipation in all the advantages of the Conquest. One of thegarrisons was under the command of Salvatierra, the same officer whotalked of cutting off the ears of Cortes. From the moment he hadlearned the fate of his own general, the hero was seized with aviolent fit of illness which disabled him from further action. Thegarrison waited only for one discharge of the ordnance, when theyaccepted the terms of capitulation. Cortes, it is said, received, onthis occasion, a support from an unexpected auxiliary. The air wasfilled with cocuyos,- a species of large beetle which emits an intensephosphoric light from its body, strong enough to enable one to read byit. These wandering fires, seen in the darkness of the night, wereconverted by the excited imaginations of the besieged, into an armywith matchlocks. Such is the report of an eye-witness. But thefacility with which the enemy surrendered may quite as probably tobe referred to the cowardice of the commander, and the disaffection ofthe soldiers, not unwilling to come under the banners of Cortes.The body of cavalry posted, it will be remembered, by Narvaez onone of the roads to Cempoalla, to intercept his rival, havinglearned what had been passing, were not long in tendering theirsubmission. Each of the soldiers in the conquered army was required,in token of his obedience, to deposit his arms in the hands of thealguacils, and to take the oaths to Cortes as Chief justice andCaptain General of the colony.The number of the slain is variously reported. It seems probablethat no more than twelve perished on the side of the vanquished, andof the victors half that number. The small amount may be explainedby the short duration of the action, and the random aim of themissiles in the darkness. The number of the wounded was much moreconsiderable.The field was now completely won. A few brief hours had sufficedto change the condition of Cortes from that of a wandering outlaw atthe head of a handful of needy adventurers, a rebel with a priceupon his head, to that of an independent chief, with a force at hisdisposal strong enough not only to secure his present conquests, butto open a career for still loftier ambition. While the air rung withthe acclamations of the soldiery, the victorious general, assuming adeportment corresponding with his change of fortune, took his seatin a chair of state, and, with a rich embroidered mantle thrown overhis shoulders, received, one by one, the officers and soldiers, asthey came to tender their congratulations. The privates weregraciously permitted to kiss his hand. The officers he noticed withwords of compliment or courtesy; and, when Duero, Bermudez thetreasurer, and some others of the vanquished party, his old friends,presented themselves, he cordially embraced them.Narvaez, Salvatierra, and two or three of the hostile leaders wereled before him in chains. It was a moment of deep humiliation forthe former commander, in which the anguish of the body, howeverkeen, must have been forgotten in that of the spirit. "You havegreat reason, Senor Cortes," said the discomfited warrior, "to thankfortune for having given you the day so easily, and put me in yourpower."- "I have much to be thankful for," replied the general; "butfor my victory over you, I esteem it as one of the least of myachievements since my coming into the country!" He then ordered thewounds of the prisoners to be cared for, and sent them under astrong guard to Vera Cruz.Notwithstanding the proud humility of his reply, Cortes couldscarcely have failed to regard his victory over Narvaez as one ofthe most brilliant achievements in his career. With a few scores offollowers, badly clothed, worse fed, wasted by forced marches, underevery personal disadvantage, deficient in weapons and military stores,he had attacked in their own quarters, routed, and captured the entireforce of the enemy, thrice his superior in numbers, well provided withcavalry and artillery, admirably equipped, and complete in all themunitions of war! The amount of troops engaged on either side was,indeed, inconsiderable. But the proportions are not affected bythis: and the relative strength of the parties made a result sodecisive one of the most remarkable events in the annals of war. 2b1af7f3a8