Part 5 out of 8
shadow of death, and if there has been a stranger love scene in the
world, I have never heard its story.
'Oh! I am repaid,' she said again; 'I would gladly die a score of
deaths to win this moment, indeed I pray that I may die before you
take back your words. For, Teule, I know well that there is one
who is dearer to you than I am, but now your heart is softened by
the faithfulness of an Indian girl, and you think that you love
her. Let me die then believing that the dream is true.'
'Talk not so,' I answered heavily, for even at that moment the
memory of Lily came into my mind. 'You give your life for me and I
love you for it.'
'My life is nothing and your love is much,' she answered smiling.
'Ah! Teule, what magic have you that you can bring me, Montezuma's
daughter, to the altar of the gods and of my own free will? Well,
I desire no softer bed, and for the why and wherefore it will soon
be known by both of us, and with it many other things.'
THE TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS
'Otomie,' I said presently, 'when will they kill us?'
'When the point of light lies within the ring that is painted over
your heart,' she answered.
Now I turned my head from her, and looked at the sunbeam which
pierced the shadow above us like a golden pencil. It rested at my
side about six inches from me, and I reckoned that it would lie in
the scarlet ring painted upon my breast within some fifteen
minutes. Meanwhile the clamour of battle grew louder and nearer.
Shifting myself so far as the cords would allow, I strained my head
upwards and saw that the Spaniards had gained the crest of the
pyramid, since the battle now raged upon its edge, and I have
rarely seen so terrible a fight, for the Aztecs fought with the
fury of despair, thinking little of their own lives if they could
only bring a Spaniard to his death. But for the most part their
rude weapons would not pierce the coats of mail, so that there
remained only one way to compass their desire, namely, by casting
the white men over the edge of the teocalli to be crushed like
eggshells upon the pavement two hundred feet below. Thus the fray
broke itself up into groups of foes who rent and tore at each other
upon the brink of the pyramid, now and again to vanish down its
side, ten or twelve of them together. Some of the priests also
joined in the fight, thinking less of their own deaths than of the
desecration of their temples, for I saw one of them, a man of huge
strength and stature, seize a Spanish soldier round the middle and
leap with him into space. Still, though very slowly, the Spaniards
and Tlascalans forced their way towards the centre of the platform,
and as they came the danger of this dreadful end grew less, for the
Aztecs must drag them further.
Now the fight drew near to the stone of sacrifice, and all who
remained alive of the Aztecs, perhaps some two hundred and fifty of
them, besides the priests, ringed themselves round us and it in a
circle. Also the outer rim of the sunbeam that fell through the
golden funnel, creeping on remorselessly, touched my painted side
which it seemed to burn as hot iron might, for alas, I could not
command the sun to stand still while the battle raged, as did
Joshua in the valley of Ajalon. When it touched me, five priests
seized my limbs and head, and the father of them, he who had
conducted me from the palace, clasped his flint knife in both
hands. Now a deathly sickness took me and I shut my eyes dreaming
that all was done, but at that moment I heard a wild-eyed man, the
chief of the astronomers whom I had noted standing by, call out to
the minister of death:
'Not yet, O priest of Tezeat! If you smite before the sunbeam lies
upon the victim's heart, your gods are doomed and doomed are the
people of Anahuac.'
The priest gnashed his teeth with rage, and glared first at the
creeping point of light and then over his shoulder at the advancing
battle. Slowly the ring of warriors closed in upon us, slowly the
golden ray crept up my breast till its outer rim touched the red
circle painted upon my heart. Again the priest heaved up his awful
knife, again I shut my eyes, and again I heard the shrill scream of
the astronomer, 'Not yet, not yet, or your gods are doomed!'
Then I heard another sound. It was the voice of Otomie crying for
'Save us, Teules; they murder us!' she shrieked in so piercing a
note that it reached the ears of the Spaniards, for one shouted in
answer and in the Castilian tongue, 'On, my comrades, on! The dogs
do murder on their altars!'
Then there was a mighty rush and the defending Aztecs were swept in
upon the altar, lifting the priest of sacrifice from his feet and
throwing him across my body. Thrice that rush came like a rush of
the sea, and each time the stand of the Aztecs weakened. Now their
circle was broken and the swords of the Spaniards flashed up on
every side, and now the red ray lay within the ring upon my heart.
'Smite, priest of Tezcat,' screamed the voice of the astronomer;
'smite home for the glory of your gods!'
With a fearful yell the priest lifted the knife; I saw the golden
sunbeam that rested full upon my heart shine on it. Then as it was
descending I saw the same sunbeam shine upon a yard of steel that
flashed across me and lost itself in the breast of the murderer
priest. Down came the great flint knife, but its aim was lost. It
struck indeed, but not upon my bosom, though I did not escape it
altogether. Full upon the altar of sacrifice it fell and was
shattered there, piercing between my side and that of Otomie, and
gashing the flesh of both so that our blood was mingled upon the
stone, making us one indeed. Down too came the priest across our
bodies for the second time, but to rise no more, for he writhed
dying on those whom he would have slain.
Then as in a dream I heard the wail of the astronomer singing the
dirge of the gods of Anahuac.
'The priest is dead and his gods are fallen,' he cried. 'Tezcat
has rejected his victim and is fallen; doomed are the gods of
Anahuac! Victory is to the Cross of the Christians!'
Thus he wailed, then came the sound of sword blows and I knew that
this prophet was dead also.
Now a strong arm pulled the dying priest from off us, and he
staggered back till he fell over the altar where the eternal fire
burned, quenching it with his blood and body after it had flared
for many generations, and a knife cut the rope that bound us.
I sat up staring round me wildly, and a voice spoke above me in
Castilian, not to me indeed but to some comrade.
'These two went near to it, poor devils,' said the voice. 'Had my
cut been one second later, that savage would have drilled a hole in
him as big as my head. By all the saints! the girl is lovely, or
would be if she were washed. I shall beg her of Cortes as my
The voice spoke and I knew the voice. None other ever had that
hard clear ring. I knew it even then and looked up, slipping off
the death-stone as I looked. Now I saw. Before me fully clad in
mail was my enemy, de Garcia. It was HIS sword that by the good
providence of God had pierced the breast of the priest. He had
saved me who, had he known, would as soon have turned his steel
against his own heart as on that of my destroyer.
I gazed at him, wondering if I dreamed, then my lips spoke, without
my will as it were:
He staggered back at the sound of my voice, like a man struck by a
shot, then stared at me, rubbed his eyes with his hand, and stared
again. Now at length he knew me through my paint.
'Mother of God!' he gasped, 'it is that knave Thomas Wingfield, AND
I HAVE SAVED HIS LIFE!'
By this time my senses had come back to me, and knowing all my
folly, I turned seeking escape. But de Garcia had no mind to
suffer this. Lifting his sword, he sprang at me with a beastlike
scream of rage and hate. Swiftly as thought I slipped round the
stone of sacrifice and after me came the uplifted sword of my
enemy. It would have overtaken me soon enough, for I was weak with
fear and fasting, and my limbs were cramped with bonds, but at that
moment a cavalier whom by his dress and port I guessed to be none
other than Cortes himself, struck up de Garcia's sword, saying:
'How now, Sarceda? Are you mad with the lust of blood that you
would take to sacrificing victims like an Indian priest? Let the
poor devil go.'
'He is no Indian, he is an English spy,' cried de Garcia, and once
more struggled to get at me.
'Decidedly our friend is mad,' said Cortes, scanning me; 'he says
that this wretched creature is an Englishman. Come, be off both of
you, or somebody else may make the same mistake,' and he waved his
sword in token to us to go, deeming that I could not understand his
words; then added angrily, as de Garcia, speechless with rage, made
a new attempt to get at me:
'No, by heaven! I will not suffer it. We are Christians and come
to save victims, not to slay them. Here, comrades, hold this fool
who would stain his soul with murder.'
Now the Spaniards clutched de Garcia by the arms, and he cursed and
raved at them, for as I have said, his rage was that of a beast
rather than of a man. But I stood bewildered, not knowing whither
to fly. Fortunate it was for me indeed that one was by who though
she understood no Spanish, yet had a quicker wit. For while I
stood thus, Otomie clasped my hand, and whispering, 'Fly, fly
swiftly!' led me away from the stone of sacrifice.
'Whither shall we go?' I said at length. 'Were it not better to
trust to the mercy of the Spaniards?'
'To the mercy of that man-devil with the sword?' she answered.
'Peace, Teule, and follow me.'
Now she led me on, and the Spaniards let us by unharmed, ay, and
even spoke words of pity as we passed, for they knew that we were
victims snatched from sacrifice. Indeed, when a certain brute, a
Tlascalan Indian, rushed at us, purposing to slay us with a club,
one of the Spaniards ran him through the shoulder so that he fell
wounded to the pavement.
So we went on, and at the edge of the pyramid we glanced back and
saw that de Garcia had broken from those who held him, or perhaps
he found his tongue and had explained the truth to them. At the
least he was bounding from the altar of sacrifice nearly fifty
yards away, and coming towards us with uplifted sword. Then fear
gave us strength, and we fled like the wind. Along the steep path
we rushed side by side, leaping down the steps and over the
hundreds of dead and dying, only pausing now and again to save
ourselves from being smitten into space by the bodies of the
priests whom the Spaniards were hurling from the crest of the
teocalli. Once looking up, I caught sight of de Garcia pursuing
far above us, but after that we saw him no more; doubtless he
wearied of the chase, or feared to fall into the hands of such of
the Aztec warriors as still clustered round the foot of the
We had lived through many dangers that day, the princess Otomie and
I, but one more awaited us before ever we found shelter for awhile.
After we had reached the foot of the pyramid and turned to mingle
with the terrified rabble that surged and flowed through the
courtyard of the temple, bearing away the dead and wounded as the
sea at flood reclaims its waste and wreckage, a noise like thunder
caught my ear. I looked up, for the sound came from above, and saw
a huge mass bounding down the steep side of the pyramid. Even then
I knew it again; it was the idol of the god Tezcat that the
Spaniards had torn from its shrine, and like an avenging demon it
rushed straight on to me. Already it was upon us, there was no
retreat from instant death, we had but escaped sacrifice to the
spirit of the god to be crushed to powder beneath the bulk of his
marble emblem. On he came while on high the Spaniards shouted in
triumph. His base had struck the stone side of the pyramid fifty
feet above us, now he whirled round and round in the air to strike
again within three paces of where we stood. I felt the solid
mountain shake beneath the blow, and next instant the air was
filled with huge fragments of marble, that whizzed over us and past
us as though a mine of powder had been fired beneath our feet,
tearing the rocks from their base. The god Tezcat had burst into a
score of pieces, and these fell round us like a flight of arrows,
and yet we were not touched. My head was grazed by his head, his
feet dug a pit before my feet, but I stood there unhurt, the false
god had no power over the victim who had escaped him!
After that I remember nothing till I found myself once more in my
apartments in Montezuma's palace, which I never hoped to see again.
Otomie was by me, and she brought me water to wash the paint from
my body and the blood from my wound, which, leaving her own
untended, she dressed skilfully, for the cut of the priest's knife
was deep and I had bled much. Also she clothed herself afresh in a
white robe and brought me raiment to wear, with food and drink, and
I partook of them. Then I bade her eat something herself, and when
she had done so I gathered my wits together and spoke to her.
'What next?' I said. 'Presently the priests will be on us, and we
shall be dragged back to sacrifice. There is no hope for me here,
I must fly to the Spaniards and trust to their mercy.'
'To the mercy of that man with the sword? Say, Teule, who is he?'
'He is that Spaniard of whom I have spoken to you, Otomie; he is my
mortal enemy whom I have followed across the seas.'
'And now you would put yourself into his power. Truly, you are
'It is better to fall into the hands of Christian men than into
those of your priests,' I answered.
'Have no fear,' she said; 'the priests are harmless for you. You
have escaped them and there's an end. Few have ever come alive
from their clutches before, and he who does so is a wizard indeed.
For the rest I think that your God is stronger than our gods, for
surely He must have cast His mantle over us when we lay yonder on
the stone. Ah! Teule, to what have you brought me that I should
live to doubt my gods, ay, and to call upon the foes of my country
for succour in your need. Believe me, I had not done it for my own
sake, since I would have died with your kiss upon my lips and your
word of love echoing in my ears, who now must live knowing that
these joys have passed from me.'
'How so?' I answered. 'What I have said, I have said. Otomie, you
would have died with me, and you saved my life by your wit in
calling on the Spaniards. Henceforth it is yours, for there is no
other woman in the world so tender and so brave, and I say it
again, Otomie, my wife, I love you. Our blood has mingled on the
stone of sacrifice and there we kissed; let these be our marriage
rites. Perhaps I have not long to live, but till I die I am yours,
Otomie my wife.'
Thus I spoke from the fulness of my heart, for my strength and
courage were shattered, horror and loneliness had taken hold of me.
But two things were left to me in the world, my trust in Providence
and the love of this woman, who had dared so much for me.
Therefore I forgot my troth and clung to her as a child clings to
its mother. Doubtless it was wrong, but I will be bold to say that
few men so placed would have acted otherwise. Moreover, I could
not take back the fateful words that I had spoken on the stone of
sacrifice. When I said them I was expecting death indeed, but to
renounce them now that its shadow was lifted from me, if only for a
little while, would have been the act of a coward. For good or
evil I had given myself to Montezuma's daughter, and I must abide
by it or be shamed. Still such was the nobleness of this Indian
lady that even then she would not take me at my word. For a little
while she stood smiling sadly and drawing a lock of her long hair
through the hollow of her hand. Then she spoke:
'You are not yourself, Teule, and I should be base indeed if I made
so solemn a compact with one who does not know what he sells.
Yonder on the altar and in a moment of death you said that you
loved me, and doubtless it was true. But now you have come back to
life, and say, lord, who set that golden ring upon your hand and
what is written in its circle? Yet even if the words are true that
you have spoken and you love me a little, there is one across the
sea whom you love better. That I could bear, for my heart is fixed
on you alone among men, and at the least you would be kind to me,
and I should move in the sunlight of your presence. But having
known the light, I cannot live to wander in the darkness. You do
not understand. I will tell you what I fear. I fear that if--if
we were wed, you would weary of me as men do, and that memory would
grow too strong for you. Then by and by it might be possible for
you to find your way back across the waters to your own land and
your own love, and so you would desert me, Teule. This is what I
could not bear, Teule. I can forego you now, ay, and remain your
friend. But I cannot be put aside like a dancing girl, the
companion of a month, I, Montezuma's daughter, a lady of my own
land. Should you wed me, it must be for my life, Teule, and that
is perhaps more than you would wish to promise, though you could
kiss me on yonder stone and there is blood fellowship between us,'
and she glanced at the red stain in the linen robe that covered the
wound upon her side.
'And now, Teule, I leave you a while, that I may find Guatemoc, if
he still lives, and others who, now that the strength of the
priests is shattered, have power to protect you and advance you to
honour. Think then on all that I have said, and do not be hasty to
decide. Or would you make an end at once and fly to the white men
if I can find a means of escape?'
'I am too weary to fly anywhere,' I answered, 'even if I could.
Moreover, I forget. My enemy is among the Spaniards, he whom I
have sworn to kill, therefore his friends are my foes and his foes
my friends. I will not fly, Otomie.'
'There you are wise,' she said, 'for if you come among the Teules
that man will murder you; by fair means or foul he will murder you
within a day, I saw it in his eyes. Now rest while I seek your
safety, if there is any safety in this blood-stained land.'
THOMAS IS MARRIED
Otomie turned and went. I watched the golden curtains close behind
her; then I sank back upon the couch and instantly was lost in
sleep, for I was faint and weak, and so dazed with weariness, that
at the time I scarcely knew what had happened, or the purpose of
our talk. Afterwards, however, it came back to me. I must have
slept for many hours, for when I awoke it was far on into the
night. It was night but not dark, for through the barred window
places came the sound of tumult and fighting, and red rays of light
cast by the flames of burning houses. One of these windows was
above my couch, and standing on the bed I seized the sill with my
hands. With much pain, because of the flesh wound in my side, I
drew myself up till I could look through the bars. Then I saw that
the Spaniards, not content with the capture of the teocalli, had
made a night attack and set fire to hundreds of houses in the city.
The glare of the flames was that of a lurid day, and by it I could
see the white men retreating to their quarters, pursued by
thousands of Aztecs, who hung upon their flanks, shooting at them
with stones and arrows.
Now I dropped down from the window place and began to think as to
what I should do, for again my mind was wavering. Should I desert
Otomie and escape to the Spaniards if that were possible, taking my
chance of death at the hands of de Garcia? Or should I stay among
the Aztecs if they would give me shelter, and wed Otomie? There
was a third choice, indeed, to stay with them and leave Otomie
alone, though it would be difficult to do this and keep my honour.
One thing I understood, if I married Otomie it must be at her own
price, for then I must become an Indian and give over all hope of
returning to England and to my betrothed. Of this, indeed, there
was little chance, still, while my life remained to me, it might
come about if I was free. But once my hands were tied by this
marriage it could never be during Otomie's lifetime, and so far as
Lily Bozard was concerned I should be dead. How could I be thus
faithless to her memory and my troth, and on the other hand, how
could I discard the woman who had risked all for me, and who, to
speak truth, had grown so dear to me, though there was one yet
dearer? A hero or an angel might find a path out of this tangle,
but alas! I was neither the one nor the other, only a man afflicted
as other men are with human weakness, and Otomie was at hand, and
very sweet and fair. Still, almost I determined that I would avail
myself of her nobleness, that I would go back upon my words, and
beg her to despise me and see me no more, in order that I might not
be forced to break the troth that I had pledged beneath the beech
at Ditchingham. For I greatly dreaded this oath of life-long
fidelity which I should be forced to swear if I chose any other
Thus I thought on in pitiable confusion of mind, not knowing that
all these matters were beyond my ordering, since a path was already
made ready to my feet, which I must follow or die. And let this be
a proof of the honesty of my words, since, had I been desirous of
glozing the truth, I need have written nothing of these struggles
of conscience, and of my own weakness. For soon it was to come to
this, though not by her will, that I must either wed Otomie or die
at once, and few would blame me for doing the first and not the
last. Indeed, though I did wed her, I might still have declared
myself to my affianced and to all the world as a slave of events
from which there was no escape. But it is not all the truth, since
my mind was divided, and had it not been settled for me, I cannot
say how the struggle would have ended.
Now, looking back on the distant past, and weighing my actions and
character as a judge might do, I can see, however, that had I found
time to consider, there was another matter which would surely have
turned the scale in favour of Otomie. De Garcia was among the
Spaniards, and my hatred of de Garcia was the ruling passion of my
life, a stronger passion even than my love for the two dear women
who have been its joy. Indeed, though he is dead these many years
I still hate him, and evil though the desire be, even in my age I
long that my vengeance was still to wreak. While I remained among
the Aztecs de Garcia would be their enemy and mine, and I might
meet him in war and kill him there. But if I succeeded in reaching
the Spanish camp, then it was almost sure that he would bring about
my instant death. Doubtless he had told such a tale of me already,
that within an hour I should be hung as a spy, or otherwise made
But I will cease from these unprofitable wonderings which have but
one value, that of setting out my strange necessity of choice
between an absent and a present love, and go on with the story of
an event in which there was no room to balance scruples.
While I sat musing on the couch the curtain was drawn, and a man
entered bearing a torch. It was Guatemoc as he had come from the
fray, which, except for its harvest of burning houses, was finished
for that night. The plumes were shorn from his head, his golden
armour was hacked by the Spanish swords, and he bled from a shot
wound in the neck.
'Greeting, Teule,' he said. 'Certainly I never thought to see you
alive to-night, or myself either for that matter. But it is a
strange world, and now, if never before in Tenoctitlan, those
things happen for which we look the least. But I have no time for
words. I came to summon you before the council.'
'What is to be my fate?' I asked. 'To be dragged back to the stone
'Nay, have no fear of that. But for the rest I cannot say. In an
hour you may be dead or great among us, if any of us can be called
great in these days of shame. Otomie has worked well for you among
the princes and the counsellors, so she says, and if you have a
heart, you should be grateful to her, for it seems to me that few
women have loved a man so much. As for me, I have been employed
elsewhere,' and he glanced at his rent armour, 'but I will lift up
my voice for you. Now come, friend, for the torch burns low. By
this time you must be well seasoned in dangers; one more or less
will matter as little to you as to me.'
Then I rose and followed him into the great cedar-panelled hall,
where that very morning I had received adoration as a god. Now I
was a god no longer, but a prisoner on trial for his life. Upon
the dais where I had stood in the hour of my godhead were gathered
those of the princes and counsellors who were left alive. Some of
them, like Guatemoc, were clad in rent and bloody mail, others in
their customary dress, and one in a priest's robe. They had only
two things in common among them, the sternness of their faces and
the greatness of their rank, and they sat there this night not to
decide my fate, which was but a little thing, but to take counsel
as to how they might expel the Spaniards before the city was
When I entered, a man in mail, who sat in the centre of the half
circle, and in whom I knew Cuitlahua, who would be emperor should
Montezuma die, looked up quickly and said:
'Who is this, Guatemoc, that you bring with you? Ah! I remember;
the Teule that was the god Tezcat, and who escaped the sacrifice
to-day. Listen, nobles. What is to be done with this man? Say,
is it lawful that he be led back to sacrifice?'
Then the priest answered: 'I grieve to say that it is not lawful
most noble prince. This man has lain on the altar of the god, he
has even been wounded by the holy knife. But the god rejected him
in a fateful hour, and he must lie there no more. Slay him if you
will, but not upon the stone of sacrifice.'
'What then shall be done with him?' said the prince again.
'He is of the blood of the Teules, and therefore an enemy. One
thing is certain; he must not be suffered to join the white devils
and give them tidings of our distresses. Is it not best that he be
put away forthwith?'
Now several of the council nodded their heads, but others sat
silent, making no sign.
'Come,' said Cuitlahua, 'we have no time to waste over this man
when the lives of thousands are hourly at stake. The question is,
Shall the Teule be slain?'
Then Guatemoc rose and spoke, saying: 'Your pardon, noble kinsman,
but I hold that we may put this prisoner to better use than to kill
him. I know him well; he is brave and loyal, as I have proved,
moreover, he is not all a Teule, but half of another race that
hates them as he hates them. Also he has knowledge of their
customs and mode of warfare, which we lack, and I think that he may
be able to give us good counsel in our strait.'
'The counsel of the wolf to the deer perhaps,' said Cuitlahua,
coldly; 'counsel that shall lead us to the fangs of the Teules.
Who shall answer for this foreign devil, that he will not betray us
if we trust him?'
'I will answer with my life,' answered Guatemoc.
'Your life is of too great worth to be set on such a stake, nephew.
Men of this white breed are liars, and his own word is of no value
even if he gives it. I think that it will be best to kill him and
have done with doubts.'
'This man is wed to Otomie, princess of the Otomie, Montezuma's
daughter, your niece,' said Guatemoc again, 'and she loves him so
well that she offered herself upon the stone of sacrifice with him.
Unless I mistake she will answer for him also. Shall she be
summoned before you?'
'If you wish, nephew; but a woman in love is a blind woman, and
doubtless he has deceived her also. Moreover, she was his wife
according to the rule of religion only. Is it your desire that the
princess should be summoned before you, comrades?'
Now some said nay, but the most, those whose interest Otomie had
gained, said yea, and the end of it was that one of their number
was sent to summon her.
Presently she came, looking very weary, but proud in mien and
royally attired, and bowed before the council.
'This is the question, princess,' said Cuitlahua. 'Whether this
Teule shall be slain forthwith, or whether he shall be sworn as one
of us, should he be willing to take the oath? The prince Guatemoc
here vouches for him, and he says, moreover, that you will vouch
for him also. A woman can do this in one way only, by taking him
she vouches as her husband. You are already wed to this foreigner
by the rule of religion. Are you willing to marry him according to
the custom of our land, and to answer for his faith with your own
'I am willing,' Otomie answered quietly, 'if he is willing.'
'In truth it is a great honour that you would do this white dog,'
said Cuitlahua. 'Bethink you, you are princess of the Otomie and
one of our master's daughters, it is to you that we look to bring
back the mountain clans of the Otomie, of whom you are
chieftainess, from their unholy alliance with the accursed
Tlascalans, the slaves of the Teules. Is not your life too
precious to be set on such a stake as this foreigner's faith? for
learn, Otomie, if he proves false your rank shall not help you.'
'I know it all,' she replied quietly. 'Foreigner or not, I love
this man and I will answer for him with my blood. Moreover, I look
to him to assist me to win back the people of the Otomie to their
allegiance. But let him speak for himself, my lord. It may happen
that he has no desire to take me in marriage.'
Cuitlahua smiled grimly and said, 'When the choice lies between the
breast of death and those fair arms of yours, niece, it is easy to
guess his answer. Still, speak, Teule, and swiftly.'
'I have little to say, lord. If the princess Otomie is willing to
wed me, I am willing to wed her,' I answered, and thus in the
moment of my danger all my doubts and scruples vanished. As
Cuitlahua had said, it was easy to guess the choice of one set
between death and Otomie.
She heard and looked at me warningly, saying in a low voice:
'Remember our words, Teule. In such a marriage you renounce your
past and give me your future.'
'I remember,' I answered, and while I spoke, there came before my
eyes a vision of Lily's face as it had been when I bade her
farewell. This then was the end of the vows that I had sworn.
Cuitlahua looked at me with a glance which seemed to search my
heart and said:
'I hear your words, Teule. You, a white wanderer, are graciously
willing to take this princess to wife, and by her to be lifted high
among the great lords of this land. But say, how can we trust you?
If you fail us your wife dies indeed, but that may be naught to
'I am ready to swear allegiance,' I answered. 'I hate the
Spaniards, and among them is my bitterest enemy whom I followed
across the sea to kill--the man who strove to murder me this very
day. I can say no more, if you doubt my words it were best to make
an end of me. Already I have suffered much at the hands of your
people; it matters little if I die or live.'
'Boldly spoken, Teule. Now, lords, I ask your judgment. Shall
this man be given to Otomie as husband and be sworn as one of us,
or shall he be killed instantly? You know the matter. If he can
be trusted, as Guatemoc and Otomie believe, he will be worth an
army to us, for he is acquainted with the language, the customs,
the weapons, and the modes of warfare of these white devils whom
the gods have let loose upon us. If on the other hand he is not to
be trusted, and it is hard for us to put faith in one of his blood,
he may do us much injury, for in the end he will escape to the
Teules, and betray our counsels and our strength, or the lack of
it. It is for you to judge, lords.'
Now the councillors consulted together, and some said one thing and
some another, for they were not by any means of a mind in the
matter. At length growing weary, Cuitlahua called on them to put
the question to the vote, and this they did by a lifting of hands.
First those who were in favour of my death held up their hands,
then those who thought that it would be wise to spare me. There
were twenty-six councillors present, not counting Cuitlahua, and of
these thirteen voted for my execution and thirteen were for saving
'Now it seems that I must give a casting vote,' said Cuitlahua when
the tale had been rendered, and my blood turned cold at his words,
for I had seen that his mind was set against me. Then it was that
Otomie broke in, saying:
'Your pardon, my uncle, but before you speak I have a word to say.
You need my services, do you not? for if the people of the Otomie
will listen to any and suffer themselves to be led from their evil
path, it is to me. My mother was by birth their chieftainess, the
last of a long line, and I am her only child, moreover my father is
their emperor. Therefore my life is of no small worth now in this
time of trouble, for though I am nothing in myself, yet it may
chance that I can bring thirty thousand warriors to your standard.
The priests knew this on yonder pyramid, and when I claimed my
right to lie at the side of the Teule, they gainsayed me, nor would
they suffer it, though they hungered for the royal blood, till I
called down the vengeance of the gods upon them. Now my uncle, and
you, lords, I tell you this: Slay yonder man if you will, but know
that then you must find another than me to lure the Otomie from
their rebellion, for then I complete what I began to-day, and
follow him to the grave.'
She ceased and a murmur of amazement went round the chamber, for
none had looked to find such love and courage in this lady's heart.
Only Cuitlahua grew angry.
'Disloyal girl,' he said; 'do you dare to set your lover before
your country? Shame upon you, shameless daughter of our king.
Why, it is in the blood--as the father is so is the daughter. Did
not Montezuma forsake his people and choose to lie among these
Teules, the false children of Quetzal? And now this Otomie follows
in his path. Tell us how is it, woman, that you and your lover
alone escaped from the teocalli yonder when all the rest were
killed. Are you then in league with these Teules? I say to you,
niece, that if things were otherwise and I had my way, you should
win your desire indeed, for you should be slain at this man's side
and within the hour.' And he ceased for lack of breath, and looked
upon her fiercely.
But Otomie never quailed; she stood before him pale and quiet, with
folded hands and downcast eyes, and answered:
'Forbear to reproach me because my love is strong, or reproach me
if you will, I have spoken my last word. Condemn this man to die
and Prince you must seek some other envoy to win back the Otomie to
the cause of Anahuac.'
Now Cuitlahua pondered, staring into the gloom above him and
pulling at his beard, and the silence was great, for none knew what
his judgment would be. At last he spoke:
'So be it. We have need of Otomie, my niece, and it is of no avail
to fight against a woman's love. Teule, we give you life, and with
the life honour and wealth, and the greatest of our women in
marriage, and a place in our councils. Take these gifts and her,
but I say to you both, beware how you use them. If you betray us,
nay, if you do but think on treachery, I swear to you that you
shall die a death so slow and horrible that the very name of it
would turn your heart to water; you and your wife, your children
and your servants. Come, let him be sworn!'
I heard and my head swam, and a mist gathered before my eyes. Once
again I was saved from instant death.
Presently it cleared, and looking up my eyes met those of the woman
who had saved me, Otomie my wife, who smiled upon me somewhat
sadly. Then the priest came forward bearing a wooden bowl, carved
about with strange signs, and a flint knife, and bade me bare my
arm. He cut my flesh with the knife, so that blood ran from it
into the bowl. Some drops of this blood he emptied on to the
ground, muttering invocations the while. Then he turned and looked
at Cuitlahua as though in question, and Cuitlahua answered with a
'Let him be baptized with the blood of the princess Otomie my
niece, for she is bail for him.'
'Nay, lord,' said Guatemoc, 'these two have mingled bloods already
upon the stone of sacrifice, and they are man and wife. But I also
have vouched for him, and I offer mine in earnest of my faith.'
'This Teule has good friends,' said Cuitlahua; 'you honour him
overmuch. But so be it.'
Then Guatemoc came forward, and when the priest would have cut him
with the knife, he laughed and said, pointing to the bullet wound
upon his neck:
'No need for that, priest. Blood runs here that was shed by the
Teules. None can be fitter for this purpose.'
So the priest drew away the bandage and suffered the blood of
Guatemoc to drop into a second smaller bowl. Then he came to me
and dipping his finger into the blood, he drew the sign of a cross
upon my forehead as a Christian priest draws it upon the forehead
of an infant, and said:
'In the presence and the name of god our lord, who is everywhere
and sees all things, I sign you with this blood and make you of
this blood. In the presence and the name of god our lord, who is
everywhere and sees all things, I pour forth your blood upon the
earth!' (here he poured as he spoke). 'As this blood of yours
sinks into the earth, so may the memory of your past life sink and
be forgotten, for you are born again of the people of Anahuac. In
the presence and the name of god our lord, who is everywhere and
sees all things, I mingle these bloods' (here he poured from one
bowl into the other), 'and with them I touch your tongue' (here
dipping his finger into the bowl he touched the tip of my tongue
with it) 'and bid you swear thus:
'"May every evil to which the flesh of man is subject enter into my
flesh, may I live in misery and die in torment by the dreadful
death, may my soul be rejected from the Houses of the Sun, may it
wander homeless for ever in the darkness that is behind the Stars,
if I depart from this my oath. I, Teule, swear to be faithful to
the people of Anahuac and to their lawful governors. I swear to
wage war upon their foes and to compass their destruction, and more
especially upon the Teules till they are driven into the sea. I
swear to offer no affront to the gods of Anahuac. I swear myself
in marriage to Otomie, princess of the Otomie, the daughter of
Montezuma my lord, for so long as her life shall endure. I swear
to attempt no escape from these shores. I swear to renounce my
father and my mother, and the land where I was born, and to cling
to this land of my new birth; and this my oath shall endure till
the volcan Popo ceases to vomit smoke and fire, till there is no
king in Tenoctitlan, till no priest serves the altars of the gods,
and the people of Anahuac are no more a people."
'Do you swear these things, one and all?'
'One and all I swear them,' I answered because I must, though there
was much in the oath that I liked little enough. And yet mark how
strangely things came to pass. Within fifteen years from that
night the volcan Popo had ceased to vomit smoke and fire, the kings
had ceased to reign in Tenoctitlan, the priests had ceased to serve
the altars of the gods, the people of Anahuac were no more a
people, and my vow was null and void. Yet the priests who framed
this form chose these things as examples of what was immortal!
When I had sworn Guatemoc came forward and embraced me, saying:
'Welcome, Teule, my brother in blood and heart. Now you are one of
us, and we look to you for help and counsel. Come, be seated by
I looked towards Cuitlahua doubtfully, but he smiled graciously,
and said: 'Teule, your trial is over. We have accepted you, and
you have sworn the solemn oath of brotherhood, to break which is to
die horribly in this world, and to be tortured through eternity by
demons in the next. Forget all that may have been said in the hour
of your weighing, for the balance is in your favour, and be sure
that if you give us no cause to doubt you, you shall find none to
doubt us. Now as the husband of Otomie, you are a lord among the
lords, having honour and great possessions, and as such be seated
by your brother Guatemoc, and join our council.'
I did as he bade me, and Otomie withdrew from our presence. Then
Cuitlahua spoke again, no longer of me and my matters, but of the
urgent affairs of state. He spoke in slow words and weighty, and
more than once his voice broke in his sorrow. He told of the
grievous misfortunes that had overcome the country, of the death of
hundreds of its bravest warriors, of the slaughter of the priests
and soldiers that day on the teocalli, and the desecration of his
nation's gods. What was to be done in this extremity? he asked.
Montezuma lay dying, a prisoner in the camp of the Teules, and the
fire that he had nursed with his breath devoured the land. No
efforts of theirs could break the iron strength of these white
devils, armed as they were with strange and terrible weapons. Day
by day disaster overtook the arms of the Aztecs. What wisdom had
they now that the protecting gods were shattered in their very
shrines, when the altars ran red with the blood of their
ministering priests, when the oracles were dumb or answered only in
the accents of despair?
Then one by one princes and generals arose and gave counsel
according to their lights. At length all had spoken, and Cuitlahua
said, looking towards me:
'We have a new counsellor among us, who is skilled in the warfare
and customs of the white men, who till an hour ago was himself a
white man. Has he no word of comfort for us?'
'Speak, my brother?' said Guatemoc.
Then I spoke. 'Most noble Cuitlahua, and you lords and princes.
You honour me by asking my counsel, and it is this in few words and
brief. You waste your strength by hurling your armies continually
against stone walls and the weapons of the Teules. So you shall
not prevail against them. Your devices must be changed if you
would win victory. The Spaniards are like other men; they are no
gods as the ignorant imagine, and the creatures on which they ride
are not demons but beasts of burden, such as are used for many
purposes in the land where I was born. The Spaniards are men I
say, and do not men hunger and thirst? Cannot men be worn out by
want of sleep, and be killed in many ways? Are not these Teules
already weary to the death? This then is my word of comfort to
you. Cease to attack the Spaniards and invest their camp so
closely that no food can reach them and their allies the
Tlascalans. If this is done, within ten days from now, either they
will surrender or they will strive to break their way back to the
coast. But to do this, first they must win out of the city, and if
dykes are cut through the causeways, that will be no easy matter.
Then when they strive to escape cumbered with the gold they covet
and came here to seek, then I say will be the hour to attack them
and to destroy them utterly.'
I ceased, and a murmur of applause went round the council.
'It seems that we came to a wise judgment when we determined to
spare this man's life,' said Cuitlahua, 'for all that he tells us
is true, and I would that we had followed this policy from the
first. Now, lords, I give my voice for acting as our brother
points the way. What say you?'
'We say with you that our brother's words are good,' answered
Guatemoc presently, 'and now let us follow them to the end.'
Then, after some further talk, the council broke up and I sought my
chamber well nigh blind with weariness and crushed by the weight of
all that I had suffered on that eventful day. The dawn was flaring
in the eastern sky, and by its glimmer I found my path down the
empty corridors, till at length I came to the curtains of my
sleeping place. I drew them and passed through. There, far up the
room, the faint light gleaming on her snowy dress, her raven hair
and ornaments of gold, stood Otomie my bride.
I went towards her, and as I came she glided to meet me with
outstretched arms. Presently they were about my neck and her kiss
was on my brow.
'Now all is done, my love and lord,' she whispered, 'and come good
or ill, or both, we are one till death, for such vows as ours
cannot be broken.'
'All is done indeed, Otomie, and our oaths are lifelong, though
other oaths have been broken that they might be sworn,' I answered.
Thus then I, Thomas Wingfield, was wed to Otomie, princess of the
Otomie, Montezuma's daughter.
THE NIGHT OF FEAR
Long before I awoke that day the commands of the council had been
carried out, and the bridges in the great causeways were broken
down wherever dykes crossed the raised roads that ran through the
waters of the lake. That afternoon also I went dressed as an
Indian warrior with Guatemoc and the other generals, to a parley
which was held with Cortes, who took his stand on the same tower of
the palace that Montezuma had stood on when the arrow of Guatemoc
struck him down. There is little to be said of this parley, and I
remember it chiefly because it was then for the first time since I
had left the Tobascans that I saw Marina close, and heard her sweet
and gentle voice. For now as ever she was by the side of Cortes,
translating his proposals of peace to the Aztecs. Among those
proposals was one which showed me that de Garcia had not been idle.
It asked that the false white man who had been rescued from the
altars of the gods upon the teocalli should be given in exchange
for certain Aztec prisoners, in order that he might be hung
according to his merits as a spy and deserter, a traitor to the
emperor of Spain. I wondered as I heard, if Marina knew when she
spoke the words, that 'the false white man' was none other than the
friend of her Tobascan days.
'You see that you are fortunate in having found place among us
Aztecs, Teule,' said Guatemoc with a laugh, 'for your own people
would greet you with a rope.'
Then he answered Cortes, saying nothing of me, but bidding him and
all the Spaniards prepare for death:
'Many of us have perished,' he said; 'you also must perish, Teules.
You shall perish of hunger and thirst, you shall perish on the
altars of the gods. There is no escape for you Teules; the bridges
And all the multitude took up the words and thundered out, 'There
is no escape for you Teules; the bridges are broken!'
Then the shooting of arrows began, and I sought the palace to tell
Otomie my wife what I had gathered of the state of her father
Montezuma, who the Spaniards said still lay dying, and of her two
sisters who were hostages in their quarters. Also I told her how
my surrender had been sought, and she kissed me, and said smiling,
that though my life was now burdened with her, still it was better
so than that I should fall into the hands of the Spaniards.
Two days later came the news that Montezuma was dead, and shortly
after it his body, which the Spaniards handed over to the Aztecs
for burial, attired in the gorgeous robes of royalty. They laid it
in the hall of the palace, whence it was hurried secretly and at
night to Chapoltepec, and there hidden away with small ceremony,
for it was feared that the people might rend it limb from limb in
their rage. With Otomie weeping at my side, I looked for the last
time on the face of that most unhappy king, whose reign so glorious
in its beginning had ended thus. And while I looked I wondered
what suffering could have equalled his, as fallen from his estate
and hated by the subjects whom he had betrayed, he lay dying, a
prisoner in the power of the foreign wolves who were tearing out
his country's heart. It is little wonder indeed that Montezuma
rent the bandages from his wounds and would not suffer them to tend
his hurts. For the real hurt was in his soul; there the iron had
entered deeply, and no leech could cure it except one called Death.
And yet the fault was not all his, the devils whom he worshipped as
gods were revenged upon him, for they had filled him with the
superstitions of their wicked faith, and because of these the gods
and their high priest must sink into a common ruin. Were it not
for these unsubstantial terrors that haunted him, the Spaniards had
never won a foothold in Tenoctitlan, and the Aztecs would have
remained free for many a year to come. But Providence willed it
otherwise, and this dead and disgraced monarch was but its
Such were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I gazed upon
the body of the great Montezuma. But Otomie, ceasing from her
tears, kissed his clay and cried aloud:
'O my father, it is well that you are dead, for none who loved you
could desire to see you live on in shame and servitude. May the
gods you worshipped give me strength to avenge you, or if they be
no gods, then may I find it in myself. I swear this, my father,
that while a man is left to me I will not cease from seeking to
Then taking my hand, without another word she turned and passed
thence. As will be seen, she kept her oath.
On that day and on the morrow there was fighting with the
Spaniards, who sallied out to fill up the gaps in the dykes of the
causeway, a task in which they succeeded, though with some loss.
But it availed them nothing, for so soon as their backs were turned
we opened the dykes again. It was on these days that for the first
time I had experience of war, and armed with my bow made after the
English pattern, I did good service. As it chanced, the very first
arrow that I drew was on my hated foe de Garcia, but here my common
fortune pursued me, for being out of practice, or over-anxious, I
aimed too high, though the mark was an easy one, and the shaft
pierced the iron of his casque, causing him to reel in his saddle,
but doing him no further hurt. Still this marksmanship, poor as it
was, gained me great renown among the Aztecs, who were but feeble
archers, for they had never before seen an arrow pierce through the
Spanish mail. Nor would mine have done so had I not collected the
iron barbs off the crossbow bolts of the Spaniards, and fitted them
to my own shafts. I seldom found the mail that would withstand
arrows made thus, when the range was short and the aim good.
After the first day's fight I was appointed general over a body of
three thousand archers, and was given a banner to be borne before
me and a gorgeous captain's dress to wear. But what pleased me
better was a chain shirt which came from the body of a Spanish
cavalier. For many years I always wore this shirt beneath my
cotton mail, and it saved my life more than once, for even bullets
would not pierce the two of them.
I had taken over the command of my archers but forty-eight hours, a
scant time in which to teach them discipline whereof they had
little, though they were brave enough, when the occasion came to
use them in good earnest, and with it the night of disaster that is
still known among the Spaniards as the noche triste. On the
afternoon before that night a council was held in the palace at
which I spoke, saying, I was certain that the Teules thought of
retreat from the city, and in the dark, for otherwise they would
not have been so eager to fill up the canals in the causeway. To
this Cuitlahua, who now that Montezuma was dead would be emperor,
though he was not yet chosen and crowned, answered that it might
well be that the Teules meditated flight, but that they could never
attempt it in the darkness, since in so doing they must become
entangled in the streets and dykes.
I replied that though it was not the Aztec habit to march and fight
at night, such things were common enough among white men as they
had seen already, and that because the Spaniards knew it was not
their habit, they would be the more likely to attempt escape under
cover of the darkness, when they thought their enemies asleep.
Therefore I counselled that sentries should be set at all the
entrances to every causeway. To this Cuitlahua assented, and
assigned the causeway of Tlacopan to Guatemoc and myself, making us
the guardians of its safety. That night Guatemoc and I, with some
soldiers, went out towards midnight to visit the guard that we had
placed upon the causeway. It was very dark and a fine rain fell,
so that a man could see no further before his eyes than he can at
evening through a Norfolk roke in autumn. We found and relieved
the guard, which reported that all was quiet, and we were returning
towards the great square when of a sudden I heard a dull sound as
of thousands of men tramping.
'Listen,' I said.
'It is the Teules who escape,' whispered Guatemoc.
Quickly we ran to where the street from the great square opens on
to the causeway, and there even through the darkness and rain we
caught the gleam of armour. Then I cried aloud in a great voice,
'To arms! To arms! The Teules escape by the causeway of
Instantly my words were caught up by the sentries and passed from
post to post till the city rang with them. They were cried in
every street and canal, they echoed from the roofs of houses, and
among the summits of a hundred temples. The city awoke with a
murmur, from the lake came the sound of water beaten by ten
thousand oars, as though myriads of wild-fowl had sprung suddenly
from their reedy beds. Here, there, and everywhere torches flashed
out like falling stars, wild notes were blown on horns and shells,
and above all arose the booming of the snakeskin drum which the
priests upon the teocalli beat furiously.
Presently the murmur grew to a roar, and from this direction and
from that, armed men poured towards the causeway of Tlacopan. Some
came on foot, but the most of them were in canoes which covered the
waters of the lake further than the ear could hear. Now the
Spaniards to the number of fifteen hundred or so, accompanied by
some six or eight thousand Tlascalans, were emerging on the
causeway in a long thin line. Guatemoc and I rushed before them,
collecting men as we went, till we came to the first canal, where
canoes were already gathering by scores. The head of the Spanish
column reached the canal and the fight began, which so far as the
Aztecs were concerned was a fray without plan or order, for in that
darkness and confusion the captains could not see their men or the
men hear their captains. But they were there in countless numbers
and had only one desire in their breasts, to kill the Teules. A
cannon roared, sending a storm of bullets through us, and by its
flash we saw that the Spaniards carried a timber bridge with them,
which they were placing across the canal. Then we fell on them,
every man fighting for himself. Guatemoc and I were swept over
that bridge by the first rush of the enemy, as leaves are swept in
a gale, and though both of us won through safely we saw each other
no more that night. With us and after us came the long array of
Spaniards and Tlascalans, and from every side the Aztecs poured
upon them, clinging to their struggling line as ants cling to a
How can I tell all that came to pass that night? I cannot, for I
saw but little of it. All I know is that for two hours I was
fighting like a madman. The foe crossed the first canal, but when
all were over the bridge was sunk so deep in the mud that it could
not be stirred, and three furlongs on ran a second canal deeper and
wider than the first. Over this they could not cross till it was
bridged with the dead. It seemed as though all hell had broken
loose upon that narrow ridge of ground. The sound of cannons and
of arquebusses, the shrieks of agony and fear, the shouts of the
Spanish soldiers, the war-cries of the Aztecs, the screams of
wounded horses, the wail of women, the hiss of hurtling darts and
arrows, and the dull noise of falling blows went up to heaven in
one hideous hurly-burly. Like a frightened mob of cattle the long
Spanish array swayed this way and that, bellowing as it swayed.
Many rolled down the sides of the causeway to be slaughtered in the
water of the lake, or borne away to sacrifice in the canoes, many
were drowned in the canals, and yet more were trampled to death in
the mud. Hundreds of the Aztecs perished also, for the most part
beneath the weapons of their own friends, who struck and shot not
knowing on whom the blow should fall or in whose breast the arrow
would find its home.
For my part I fought on with a little band of men who had gathered
about me, till at last the dawn broke and showed an awful sight.
The most of those who were left alive of the Spaniards and their
allies had crossed the second canal upon a bridge made of the dead
bodies of their fellows mixed up with a wreck of baggage, cannon,
and packages of treasure. Now the fight was raging beyond it. A
mob of Spaniards and Tlascalans were still crossing the second
breach, and on these I fell with such men as were with me. I
plunged right into the heart of them, and suddenly before me I saw
the face of de Garcia. With a shout I rushed at him. He heard my
voice and knew me. With an oath he struck at my head. The heavy
sword came down upon my helmet of painted wood, shearing away one
side of it and felling me, but ere I fell I smote him on the breast
with the club I carried, tumbling him to the earth. Now half
stunned and blinded I crept towards him through the press. All
that I could see was a gleam of armour in the mud. I threw myself
upon it, gripping at the wearer's throat, and together we rolled
down the side of the causeway into the shallow water at the edge of
the lake. I was uppermost, and with a fierce joy I dashed the
blood from my eyes that I might see to kill my enemy caught at
last. His body was in the lake but his head lay upon the sloping
bank, and my plan was to hold him beneath the water till he was
drowned, for I had lost my club.
'At length, de Garcia!' I cried in Spanish as I shifted my grip.
'For the love of God let me go!' gasped a rough voice beneath me.
'Fool, I am no Indian dog.'
Now I peered into the man's face bewildered. I had seized de
Garcia, but the voice was not his voice, nor was the face his face,
but that of a rough Spanish soldier.
'Who are you?' I asked, slackening my hold. 'Where is de Garcia--
he whom you name Sarceda?'
'Sarceda? I don't know. A minute ago he was on his back on the
causeway. The fellow pulled me down and rolled behind me. Let me
be I say. I am not Sarceda, and if I were, is this a time to
settle private quarrels? I am your comrade, Bernal Diaz. Holy
Mother! who are you? An Aztec who speaks Castilian?'
'I am no Aztec,' I answered. 'I am an Englishman and I fight with
the Aztecs that I may slay him whom you name Sarceda. But with you
I have no quarrel, Bernal Diaz. Begone and escape if you can. No,
I will keep the sword with your leave.'
'Englishman, Spaniard, Aztec, or devil,' grunted the man as he drew
himself from his bed of ooze, 'you are a good fellow, and I promise
you that if I live through this, and it should ever come about that
I get YOU by the throat, I will remember the turn you did me.
Farewell;' and without more ado he rushed up the bank and plunged
into a knot of his flying countrymen, leaving his good sword in my
hand. I strove to follow him that I might find my enemy, who once
more had escaped me by craft, but my strength failed me, for de
Garcia's sword had bitten deep and I bled much. So I must sit
where I was till a canoe came and bore me back to Otomie to be
nursed, and ten days went by before I could walk again.
This was my share in the victory of the noche triste. Alas! it was
a barren triumph, though more than five hundred of the Spaniards
were slain and thousands of their allies. For there was no warlike
skill or discipline among the Aztecs, and instead of following the
Spaniards till not one of them remained alive, they stayed to
plunder the dead and drag away the living to sacrifice. Also this
day of revenge was a sad one to Otomie, seeing that two of her
brothers, Montezuma's sons whom the Spaniards held in hostage,
perished with them in the fray.
As for de Garcia I could not learn what had become of him, nor
whether he was dead or living.
THE BURYING OF MONTEZUMA'S TREASURE
Cuitlahua was crowned Emperor of the Aztecs in succession to his
brother Montezuma, while I lay sick with the wound given me by the
sword of de Garcia, and also with that which I had received on the
altar of sacrifice. This hurt had found no time to heal, and in
the fierce fighting on the Night of Fear it burst open and bled
much. Indeed it gave me trouble for years, and to this hour I feel
it in the autumn season. Otomie, who nursed me tenderly, and so
strange is the heart of woman, even seemed to be consoled in her
sorrow at the loss of her father and nearest kin, because I had
escaped the slaughter and won fame, told me of the ceremony of the
crowning, which was splendid enough. Indeed the Aztecs were almost
mad with rejoicing because the Teules had gone at last. They
forgot, or seemed to forget, the loss of thousands of their bravest
warriors and of the flower of their rank, and as yet, at any rate,
they did not look forward to the future. From house to house and
street to street ran troops of young men and maidens garlanded with
flowers, crying, 'The Teules are gone, rejoice with us; the Teules
are fled!' and woe to them who were not merry, ay, even though
their houses were desolate with death. Also the statues of the
gods were set up again on the great pyramid and their temples
rebuilt, the holy crucifix that the Spaniards had placed there
being served as the idols Huitzel and Tezcat had been served, and
tumbled down the sides of the teocalli, and that after sacrifice of
some Spanish prisoners had been offered in its presence. It was
Guatemoc himself who told me of this sacrilege, but not with any
exultation, for I had taught him something of our faith, and though
he was too sturdy a heathen to change his creed, in secret he
believed that the God of the Christians was a true and mighty God.
Moreover, though he was obliged to countenance them, because of the
power of the priests, like Otomie, Guatemoc never loved the horrid
rites of human sacrifice.
Now when I heard this tale my anger overcame my reason, and I spoke
'I am sworn to your cause, Guatemoc, my brother, and I am married
to your blood, but I tell you that from this hour it is an accursed
cause; because of your bloodstained idols and your priests, it is
accursed. That God whom you have desecrated, and those who serve
Him shall come back in power, and He shall sit where your idols sat
and none shall stir Him for ever.'
Thus I spoke, and my words were true, though I do not know what put
them into my heart, since I spoke at random in my wrath. For to-
day Christ's Church stands upon the site of the place of sacrifice
in Mexico, a sign and a token of His triumph over devils, and there
it shall stand while the world endures.
'You speak rashly, my brother,' Guatemoc answered, proudly enough,
though I saw him quail at the evil omen of my words. 'I say you
speak rashly, and were you overheard there are those,
notwithstanding the rank we have given you, the honour which you
have won in war and council, and that you have passed the stone of
sacrifice, who might force you to look again upon the faces of the
beings you blaspheme. What worse thing has been done to your
Christian God than has been done again and again to our gods by
your white kindred? But let us talk no more of this matter, and I
pray you, my brother, do not utter such ill-omened words to me
again, lest it should strain our love. Do you then believe that
the Teules will return?'
'Ay, Guatemoc, so surely as to-morrow's sun shall rise. When you
held Cortes in your hand you let him go, and since then he has won
a victory at Otompan. Is he a man, think you, to sheathe the sword
that he has once drawn, and go down into darkness and dishonour?
Before a year is past the Spaniards will be back at the gates of
'You are no comforter to-night, my brother,' said Guatemoc, 'and
yet I fear that your words are true. Well, if we must fight, let
us strive to win. Now, at least, there is no Montezuma to take the
viper to his breast and nurse it till it stings him.' Then he rose
and went in silence, and I saw that his heart was heavy.
On the morrow of this talk I could leave my bed, and within a week
I was almost well. Now it was that Guatemoc came to me again,
saying that he had been bidden by Cuitlahua the emperor, to command
me to accompany him, Guatemoc, on a service of trust and secrecy.
And indeed the nature of the service showed how great a confidence
the leaders of the Aztecs now placed in me, for it was none other
than the hiding away of the treasure that had been recaptured from
the Spaniards on the Night of Fear, and with it much more from the
secret stores of the empire.
At the fall of darkness we started, some of the great lords,
Guatemoc and I, and coming to the water's edge, we found ten large
canoes, each laden with something that was hidden by cotton cloths.
Into these canoes we entered secretly, thinking that none saw us,
three to a canoe, for there were thirty of us in all, and led by
Guatemoc, we paddled for two hours or more across the Lake Tezcuco,
till we reached the further shore at a spot where this prince had a
fair estate. Here we landed, and the cloths were withdrawn from
the cargoes of the canoes, which were great jars and sacks of gold
and jewels, besides many other precious objects, among them a
likeness of the head of Montezuma, fashioned in solid gold, which
was so heavy that it was as much as Guatemoc and I could do to lift
it between us. As for the jars, of which, if my memory serves me,
there were seventeen, six men must carry each of them by the help
of paddles lashed on either side, and then the task was not light.
All this priceless stuff we bore in several journeys to the crest
of a rise some six hundred paces distant from the water, setting it
down by the mouth of a shaft behind the shelter of a mound of
earth. When everything was brought up from the boats, Guatemoc
touched me and another man, a great Aztec noble, born of a
Tlascalan mother, on the shoulder, asking us if we were willing to
descend with him into the hole, and there to dispose of the
'Gladly,' I answered, for I was curious to see the place, but the
noble hesitated awhile, though in the end he came with us, to his
Then Guatemoc took torches in his hand, and was lowered into the
shaft by a rope. Next came my turn, and down I went, hanging to
the cord like a spider to its thread, and the hole was very deep.
At length I found myself standing by the side of Guatemoc at the
foot of the shaft, round which, as I saw by the light of the torch
he carried, an edging of dried bricks was built up to the height of
a man above our heads. Resting on this edging and against the wall
of the shaft, was a massive block of stone sculptured with the
picture writing of the Aztecs. I glanced at the writing, which I
could now read well, and saw that it recorded the burying of the
treasure in the first year of Cuitlahua, Emperor of Mexico, and
also a most fearful curse on him who should dare to steal it.
Beyond us and at right angles to the shaft ran another passage, ten
paces in length and high enough for a man to walk in, which led to
a chamber hollowed in the earth, as large as that wherein I write
to-day at Ditchingham. By the mouth of this chamber were placed
piles of adobe bricks and mortar, much as the blocks of hewn stone
had been placed in that underground vault at Seville where Isabella
de Siguenza was bricked up living.
'Who dug this place?' I asked.
'Those who knew not what they dug,' answered Guatemoc. 'But see,
here is our companion. Now, my brother, I charge you be surprised
at nothing which comes to pass, and be assured I have good reason
for anything that I may do.'
Before I could speak again the Aztec noble was at our side. Then
those above began to lower the jars and sacks of treasure, and as
they reached us one by one, Guatemoc loosed the ropes and checked
them, while the Aztec and I rolled them down the passage into the
chamber, as here in England men roll a cask of ale. For two hours
and more we worked, till at length all were down and the tale was
complete. The last parcel to be lowered was a sack of jewels that
burst open as it came, and descended upon us in a glittering rain
of gems. As it chanced, a great necklace of emeralds of surpassing
size and beauty fell over my head and hung upon my shoulders.
'Keep it, brother,' laughed Guatemoc, 'in memory of this night,'
and nothing loth, I hid the bauble in my breast. That necklace I
have yet, and it was a stone of it--the smallest save one--that I
gave to our gracious Queen Elizabeth. Otomie wore it for many
years, and for this reason it shall be buried with me, though its
value is priceless, so say those who are skilled in gems. But
priceless or no, it is doomed to lie in the mould of Ditchingham
churchyard, and may that same curse which is graved upon the stone
that hides the treasure of the Aztecs fall upon him who steals it
from my bones.
Now, leaving the chamber, we three entered the tunnel and began the
work of building the adobe wall. When it was of a height of
between two and three feet, Guatemoc paused from his labour and
bade me hold a torch aloft. I obeyed wondering what he wished to
see. Then he drew back some three paces into the tunnel and spoke
to the Aztec noble, our companion, by name.
'What is the fate of discovered traitors, friend?' he said in a
voice that, quiet though it was, sounded very terrible; and, as he
spoke, he loosed from his side the war club set with spikes of
glass that hung there by a thong.
Now the Aztec turned grey beneath his dusky skin and trembled in
'What mean you, lord?' he gasped.
'You know well what I mean,' answered Guatemoc in the same terrible
voice, and lifted the club.
Then the doomed man fell upon his knees crying for mercy, and his
wailing sounded so awful in that deep and lonely place that in my
horror I went near to letting the torch fall.
'To a foe I can give mercy--to a traitor, none,' answered Guatemoc,
and whirling the club aloft, he rushed upon the noble and killed
him with a blow. Then, seizing the body in his strong embrace, he
cast it into the chamber with the treasure, and there it lay still
and dreadful among the gems and gold, the arms, as it chanced,
being wound about two of the great jars as though the dead man
would clasp them to his heart.
Now I looked at Guatemoc who had slain him, wondering if my hour
was at hand also, for I knew well that when princes bury their
wealth they hold that few should share the secret.
'Fear not, my brother,' said Guatemoc. 'Listen: this man was a
thief, a dastard, and a traitor. As we know now, he strove twice
to betray us to the Teules. More, it was his plan to show this
nest of wealth to them, should they return again, and to share the
spoil. All this we learned from a woman whom he thought his love,
but who was in truth a spy set to worm herself into the secrets of
his wicked heart. Now let him take his fill of gold; look how he
grips it even in death, a white man could not hug the stuff more
closely to his breast. Ah! Teule, would that the soil of Anahuac
bore naught but corn for bread and flint and copper for the points
of spears and arrows, then had her sons been free for ever. Curses
on yonder dross, for it is the bait that sets these sea sharks
tearing at our throats. Curses on it, I say; may it never glitter
more in the sunshine, may it be lost for ever!' And he fell
fiercely to the work of building up the wall.
Soon it was almost done; but before we set the last bricks, which
were shaped in squares like the clay lump that we use for the
building of farmeries and hinds' houses in Norfolk, I thrust a
torch through the opening and looked for the last time at the
treasure chamber that was also a dead-house. There lay the
glittering gems; there, stood upon a jar, gleamed the golden head
of Montezuma, of which the emerald eyes seemed to glare at me, and
there, his back resting against this same jar, and his arms
encircling two others to the right and left, was the dead man. But
he was no longer dead, or so it seemed to me; at the least his eyes
that were shut had opened, and they stared at me like the emerald
eyes of the golden statue above him, only more fearfully.
Very hastily I withdrew the torch, and we finished in silence.
When it was done we withdrew to the end of the passage and looked
up the shaft, and I for one was glad to see the stars shining in
heaven above me. Then we made a double loop in the rope, and at a
signal were hauled up till we hung over the ledge where the black
mass of marble rested, the tombstone of Montezuma's treasure, and
of him who sleeps among it.
This stone, that was nicely balanced, we pushed with our hands and
feet till presently it fell forward with a heavy sound, and
catching on the ridge of brick which had been prepared to receive
it, shut the treasure shaft in such a fashion that those who would
enter it again must take powder with them.
Then we were dragged up, and came to the surface of the earth in
Now one asked of the Aztec noble who had gone down with us and
returned no more.
'He has chosen to stay and watch the treasure, like a good and
loyal man, till such time as his king needs it,' answered Guatemoc
grimly, and the listeners nodded, understanding all.
Then they fell to and filled up the narrow shaft with the earth
that lay ready, working without cease, and the dawn broke before
the task was finished. When at length the hole was full, one of
our companions took seeds from a bag and scattered them on the
naked earth, also he set two young trees that he had brought with
him in the soil of the shaft, though why he did this I do not know,
unless it was to mark the spot. All being done we gathered up the
ropes and tools, and embarking in the canoes, came back to Mexico
in the morning, leaving the canoes at a landing-place outside the
city, and finding our way to our homes by ones and twos, as we
thought unnoticed of any.
Thus it was that I helped in the burying of Montezuma's treasure,
for the sake of which I was destined to suffer torture in days to
come. Whether any will help to unbury it I do not know, but till I
left the land of Anahuac the secret had been kept, and I think that
then, except myself, all those were dead who laboured with me at
this task. It chanced that I passed the spot as I came down to
Mexico for the last time, and knew it again by the two trees that
were growing tall and strong, and as I went by with Spaniards at my
side, I swore in my heart that they should never finger the gold by
my help. It is for this reason that even now I do not write of the
exact bearings of the place where it lies buried with the bones of
the traitor, though I know them well enough, seeing that in days to
come what I set down here might fall into the hands of one of their
And now, before I go on to speak of the siege of Mexico, I must
tell of one more matter, namely of how I and Otomie my wife went up
among the people of the Otomie, and won a great number of them back
to their allegiance to the Aztec crown. It must be known, if my
tale has not made this clear already, that the Aztec power was not
of one people, but built up of several, and that surrounding it
were many other tribes, some of whom were in alliance with it or
subject to it, and some of whom were its deadly enemies. Such for
instance were the Tlascalans, a small but warlike people living
between Mexico and the coast, by whose help Cortes overcame
Montezuma and Guatemoc. Beyond the Tlascalans and to the west, the
great Otomie race lived or lives among its mountains. They are a
braver nation than the Aztecs, speaking another language, of a
different blood, and made up of many clans. Sometimes they were
subject to the great Aztec empire, sometimes in alliance, and
sometimes at open war with it and in close friendship with the
Tlascalans. It was to draw the tie closer between the Aztecs and
the Otomies, who were to the inhabitants of Anahuac much what the
Scottish clans are to the people of England, that Montezuma took to
wife the daughter and sole legitimate issue of their great chief or
king. This lady died in childbirth, and her child was Otomie my
wife, hereditary princess of the Otomie. But though her rank was
so great among her mother's people, as yet Otomie had visited them
but twice, and then as a child. Still, she was well skilled in
their language and customs, having been brought up by nurses and
tutors of the tribes, from which she drew a great revenue every
year and over whom she exercised many rights of royalty that were
rendered to her far more freely than they had been to Montezuma her
Now as has been said, some of these Otomie clans had joined the
Tlascalans, and as their allies had taken part in the war on the
side of the Spaniards, therefore it was decided at a solemn council
that Otomie and I her husband should go on an embassy to the chief
town of the nation, that was known as the City of Pines, and strive
to win it back to the Aztec standard.
Accordingly, heralds having been sent before us, we started upon
our journey, not knowing how we should be received at the end of
it. For eight days we travelled in great pomp and with an ever-
increasing escort, for when the tribes of the Otomie learned that
their princess was come to visit them in person, bringing with her
her husband, a man of the Teules who had espoused the Aztec cause,
they flocked in vast numbers to swell her retinue, so that it came
to pass that before we reached the City of Pines we were
accompanied by an army of at least ten thousand mountaineers, great
men and wild, who made a savage music as we marched. But with them
and with their chiefs as yet we held no converse except by way of
formal greeting, though every morning when we started on our
journey, Otomie in a litter and I on a horse that had been captured
from the Spaniards, they set up shouts of salutation and made the
mountains ring. Ever as we went the land like its people grew
wilder and more beautiful, for now we were passing through forests
clad with oak and pine and with many a lovely plant and fern.
Sometimes we crossed great and sparkling rivers and sometimes we
wended through gorges and passes of the mountains, but every hour
we mounted higher, till at length the climate became like that of
England, only far more bright. At last on the eighth day we passed
through a gorge riven in the red rock, which was so narrow in
places that three horsemen could scarcely have ridden there
abreast. This gorge, that is five miles long, is the high road to
the City of Pines, to which there was no other access except by
secret paths across the mountains, and on either side of it are
sheer and towering cliffs that rise to heights of between one and
two thousand feet.
'Here is a place where a hundred men might hold an army at bay,' I
said to Otomie, little knowing that it would be my task to do so in
a day to come.
Presently the gorge took a turn and I reined up amazed, for before
me was the City of Pines in all its beauty. The city lay in a
wheelshaped plain that may measure twelve miles across, and all
around this plain are mountains clad to their summits with forests
of oak and cedar trees. At the back of the city and in the centre
of the ring of mountains is one, however, that is not green with
foliage but black with lava, and above the lava white with snow,
over which again hangs a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of
fire by night. This was the volcan Xaca, or the Queen, and though
it is not so lofty as its sisters Orizaba, Popo, and Ixtac, to my
mind it is the loveliest of them all, both because of its perfect
shape, and of the colours, purple and blue, of the fires that it
sends forth at night or when its heart is troubled. The Otomies
worshipped this mountain as a god, offering human sacrifice to it,
which was not wonderful, for once the lava pouring from its bowels
cut a path through the City of Pines. Also they think it holy and
haunted, so that none dare set foot upon its loftier snows.
Nevertheless I was destined to climb them--I and one other.
Now in the lap of this ring of mountains and watched over by the
mighty Xaca, clad in its robe of snow, its cap of smoke, and its
crown of fire, lies, or rather lay the City of Pines, for now it is
a ruin, or so I left it. As to the city itself, it was not so
large as some others that I have seen in Anahuac, having only a
population of some five and thirty thousand souls, since the
Otomie, being a race of mountaineers, did not desire to dwell in
cities. But if it was not great, it was the most beautiful of
Indian towns, being laid out in straight streets that met at the
square in its centre. All along these streets were houses each
standing in a garden, and for the most part built of blocks of lava
and roofed with a cement of white lime. In the midst of the square
stood the teocalli or pyramid of worship, crowned with temples that
were garnished with ropes of skulls, while beyond the pyramid and
facing it, was the palace, the home of Otomie's forefathers, a
long, low, and very ancient building having many courts, and
sculptured everywhere with snakes and grinning gods. Both the
palace and the pyramid were cased with a fine white stone that
shone like silver in the sunlight, and contrasted strangely with
the dark-hued houses that were built of lava.
Such was the City of Pines when I saw it first. When I saw it last
it was but a smoking ruin, and now doubtless it is the home of bats
and jackals; now it is 'a court for owls,' now 'the line of
confusion is stretched out upon it and the stones of emptiness fill
Passing from the mouth of the gorge we travelled some miles across
the plain, every foot of which was cultivated with corn, maguey or
aloe, and other crops, till we came to one of the four gates of the
city. Entering it we found the flat roofs on either side of the
wide street crowded with hundreds of women and children who threw
flowers on us as we passed, and cried, 'Welcome, princess!
Welcome, Otomie, princess of the Otomie!' And when at length we
reached the great square, it seemed as though all the men in
Anahuac were gathered there, and they too took up the cry of
'Welcome, Otomie, princess of the Otomie!' till the earth shook
with the sound. Me also they saluted as I passed, by touching the
earth with their right hands and then holding the hand above the
head, but I think that the horse I rode caused them more wonder
than I did, for the most of them had never seen a horse and looked
on it as a monster or a demon. So we went on through the shouting
mass, followed and preceded by thousands of warriors, many of them
decked in glittering feather mail and bearing broidered banners,
till we had passed the pyramid, where I saw the priests at their
cruel work above us, and were come to the palace gates. And here
in a strange chamber sculptured with grinning demons we found rest
for a while.
On the morrow in the great hall of the palace was held a council of
the chiefs and head men of the Otomie clans, to the number of a
hundred or more. When all were gathered, dressed as an Aztec noble
of the first rank, I came out with Otomie, who wore royal robes and
looked most beautiful in them, and the council rose to greet us.
Otomie bade them be seated and addressed them thus:
'Hear me, you chiefs and captains of my mother's race, who am your
princess by right of blood, the last of your ancient rulers, and
who am moreover the daughter of Montezuma, Emperor of Anahuac, now
dead to us but living evermore in the Mansions of the Sun. First I
present to you this my husband, the lord Teule, to whom I was given
in marriage when he held the spirit of the god Tezcat, and whom,
when he had passed the altar of the god, being chosen by heaven to
aid us in our war, I wedded anew after the fashion of the earth,
and by the will of my royal brethren. Know, chiefs and captains,
that this lord, my husband, is not of our Indian blood, nor is he
altogether of the blood of the Teules with whom we are at war, but
rather of that of the true children of Quetzal, the dwellers in a
far off northern sea who are foes to the Teules. And as they are
foes, so this my lord is their foe, and as doubtless you have
heard, of all the deeds of arms that were wrought upon the night of
the slaying of the Teules, none were greater than his, and it was
he who first discovered their retreat.
'Chiefs and captains of the great and ancient people of the Otomie,
I your princess have been sent to you by Cuitlahua, my king and
yours, together with my lord, to plead with you on a certain
matter. Our king has heard, and I also have heard with shame, that
many of the warriors of our blood have joined the Tlascalans, who
were ever foes to the Aztecs, in their unholy alliance with the
Teules. Now for a while the white men are beaten back, but they
have touched the gold they covet, and they will return again like
bees to a half-drained flower. They will return, yet of themselves
they can do nothing against the glory of Tenoctitlan. But how
shall it go if with them come thousands and tens of thousands of
the Indian peoples? I know well that now in this time of trouble,
when kingdoms crumble, when the air is full of portents, and the
very gods seem impotent, there are many who would seize the moment
and turn it to their profit. There are many men and tribes who
remember ancient wars and wrongs, and who cry, "Now is the hour of
vengeance, now we will think on the widows that the Aztec spears
have made, on the tribute which they have wrung from our poverty to
swell their wealth, and on the captives who have decked the altars
of their sacrifice!"
'Is it not so? Ay, it is so, and I cannot wonder at it. Yet I ask
you to remember this, that the yoke you would help to set upon the
neck of the queen of cities will fit your neck also. O foolish
men, do you think that you shall be spared when by your aid
Tenoctitlan is a ruin and the Aztecs are no more a people? I say
to you never. The sticks that the Teules use to beat out the life
of Tenoctitlan shall by them be broken one by one and cast into the
fire to burn. If the Aztecs fall, then early or late every tribe
within this wide land shall fall. They shall be slain, their
cities shall be stamped flat, their wealth shall be wrung from
them, and their children shall eat the bread of slavery and drink
the water of affliction. Choose, ye people of the Otomie. Will
you stand by the men of your own customs and country, though they
have been your foes at times, or will you throw in your lot with
the stranger? Choose, ye people of the Otomie, and know this, that
on your choice and that of the other men of Anahuac, depends the
fate of Anahuac. I am your princess, and you should obey me, but
to-day I issue no command. I say choose between the alliance of
the Aztec and the yoke of the Teule, and may the god above the
gods, the almighty, the invisible god, direct your choice.'
Otomie ceased and a murmur of applause went round the hall. Alas,
I can do no justice to the fire of her words, any more than I can
describe the dignity and loveliness of her person as it seemed in
that hour. But they went to the hearts of the rude chieftains who
listened. Many of them despised the Aztecs as a womanish people of
the plains and the lakes, a people of commerce. Many had blood
feuds against them dating back for generations. But still they
knew that their princess spoke truth, and that the triumph of the
Teule in Tenoctitlan would mean his triumph over every city
throughout the land. So then and there they chose, though in after
days, in the stress of defeat and trouble, many went back upon
their choice as is the fashion of men.
'Otomie,' cried their spokesman, after they had taken counsel
together, 'we have chosen. Princess, your words have conquered us.
We throw in our lot with the Aztecs and will fight to the last for
freedom from the Teule.'
'Now I see that you are indeed my people, and I am indeed your
ruler,' answered Otomie. 'So the great lords who are gone, my
forefathers, your chieftains, would have spoken in a like case.
May you never regret this choice, my brethren, Men of the Otomie.'
And so it came to pass that when we left the City of Pines we took
from it to Cuitlahua the emperor, a promise of an army of twenty
thousand men vowed to serve him to the death in his war against the
THE CROWNING OF GUATEMOC
Our business with the people of the Otomie being ended for a while,
we returned to the city of Tenoctitlan, which we reached safely,
having been absent a month and a day. It was but a little time,
and yet long enough for fresh sorrows to have fallen on that most
unhappy town. For now the Almighty had added to the burdens which
were laid upon her. She had tasted of death by the sword of the
white man, now death was with her in another shape. For the
Spaniard had brought the foul sicknesses of Europe with him, and
small-pox raged throughout the land. Day by day thousands perished
of it, for these ignorant people treated the plague by pouring cold
water upon the bodies of those smitten, driving the fever inwards
to the vitals, so that within two days the most of them died.* It
was pitiful to see them maddened with suffering, as they wandered
to and fro about the streets, spreading the distemper far and wide.
They were dying in the houses, they lay dead by companies in the
market places awaiting burial, for the sickness took its toll of
every family, the very priests were smitten by it at the altar as
they sacrificed children to appease the anger of the gods. But the
worst is still to tell; Cuitlahua, the emperor, was struck down by
the illness, and when we reached the city he lay dying. Still, he
desired to see us, and sent commands that we should be brought to
his bedside. In vain did I pray Otomie not to obey; she, who was
without fear, laughed at me, saying, 'What, my husband, shall I
shrink from that which you must face? Come, let us go and make
report of our mission. If the sickness takes me and I die, it will
be because my hour has come.'
* This treatment is followed among the Indians of Mexico to this
day, but if the writer may believe what he heard in that country,
the patient is frequently cured by it.
So we went and were ushered into a chamber where Cuitlahua lay
covered by a sheet, as though he were already dead, and with
incense burning round him in golden censers. When we entered he
was in a stupor, but presently he awoke, and it was announced to
him that we waited.
'Welcome, niece,' he said, speaking through the sheet and in a
thick voice; 'you find me in an evil case, for my days are
numbered, the pestilence of the Teules slays those whom their
swords spared. Soon another monarch must take my throne, as I took
your father's, and I do not altogether grieve, for on him will rest
the glory and the burden of the last fight of the Aztecs. Your
report, niece; let me hear it swiftly. What say the clans of the
Otomie, your vassals?'
'My lord,' Otomie answered, speaking humbly and with bowed head,
'may this distemper leave you, and may you live to reign over us
for many years! My lord, my husband Teule and I have won back the
most part of the people of the Otomie to our cause and standard.
An army of twenty thousand mountain men waits upon your word, and
when those are spent there are more to follow.'
'Well done, daughter of Montezuma, and you, white man,' gasped the
dying king. 'The gods were wise when they refused you both upon
the stone of sacrifice, and I was foolish when I would have slain
you, Teule. To you and all I say be of a steadfast heart, and if
you must die, then die with honour. The fray draws on, but I shall
not share it, and who knows its end?'
Now he lay silent for a while, then of a sudden, as though an
inspiration had seized him, he cast the sheet from his face and sat
upon his couch, no pleasant sight to see, for the pestilence had
done its worst with him.
'Alas!' he wailed, 'and alas! I see the streets of Tenoctitlan red
with blood and fire, I see her dead piled up in heaps, and the
horses of the Teules trample them. I see the Spirit of my people,
and her voice is sighing and her neck is heavy with chains. The
children are visited because of the evil of the fathers. Ye are
doomed, people of Anahuac, whom I would have nurtured as an eagle
nurtures her young. Hell yawns for you and Earth refuses you
because of your sins, and the remnant that remains shall be slaves
from generation to generation, till the vengeance is accomplished!'
Having cried thus with a great voice, Cuitlahua fell back upon the
cushions, and before the frightened leech who tended him could lift
his head, he had passed beyond the troubles of this earth. But the
words which he had spoken remained fixed in the hearts of those who
heard them, though they were told to none except to Guatemoc.
Thus then in my presence and in that of Otomie died Cuitlahua,
emperor of the Aztecs, when he had reigned but fifteen weeks. Once
more the nation mourned its king, the chief of many a thousand of
its children whom the pestilence swept with him to the 'Mansions of
the Sun,' or perchance to the 'darkness behind the Stars.'
But the mourning was not for long, for in the urgency of the times
it was necessary that a new emperor should be crowned to take
command of the armies and rule the nation. Therefore on the morrow
of the burial of Cuitlahua the council of the four electors was
convened, and with them lesser nobles and princes to the number of
three hundred, and I among them in the right of my rank as general,
and as husband of the princess Otomie. There was no great need of
deliberation, indeed, for though the names of several were
mentioned, the princes knew that there was but one man who by
birth, by courage, and nobility of mind, was fitted to cope with
the troubles of the nation. That man was Guatemoc, my friend and
blood brother, the nephew of the two last emperors and the husband
of my wife's sister, Montezuma's daughter, Tecuichpo. All knew it,
I say, except, strangely enough, Guatemoc himself, for as we passed
into the council he named two other princes, saying that without
doubt the choice lay between them.
It was a splendid and a solemn sight, that gathering of the four
great lords, the electors, dressed in their magnificent robes, and
of the lesser council of confirmation of three hundred lords and
princes, who sat without the circle but in hearing of all that
passed. Very solemn also was the prayer of the high priest, who,
clad in his robes of sable, seemed like a blot of ink dropped on a
glitter of gold. Thus he prayed:
'O god, thou who art everywhere and seest all, knowest that
Cuitlahua our king is gathered to thee. Thou hast set him beneath
thy footstool and there he rests in his rest. He has travelled
that road which we must travel every one, he has reached the royal
inhabitations of our dead, the home of everlasting shadows. There
where none shall trouble him he is sunk in sleep. His brief
labours are accomplished, and soiled with sin and sorrow, he has
gone to thee. Thou gavest him joys to taste but not to drink; the
glory of empire passed before his eyes like the madness of a dream.
With tears and with prayers to thee he took up his load, with
happiness he laid it down. Where his forefathers went, thither he
has followed, nor can he return to us. Our fire is an ash and our
lamp is darkness. Those who wore his purple before him bequeathed
to him the intolerable weight of rule, and he in his turn bequeaths
it to another. Truly, he should give thee praise, thou king of
kings, master of the stars, that standest alone, who hast lifted
from his shoulders so great a burden, and from his brow this crown
of woes, paying him peace for war and rest for labour.
'O god our hope, choose now a servant to succeed him, a man after
thine own heart, who shall not fear nor falter, who shall toil and
not be weary, who shall lead thy people as a mother leads her
children. Lord of lords, give grace to Guatemoc thy creature, who
is our choice. Seal him to thy service, and as thy priest let him
sit upon thy earthly throne for his life days. Let thy foes become
his footstool, let him exalt thy glory, proclaim thy worship, and
protect thy kingdom. Thus have I prayed to thee in the name of the
nation. O god, thy will be done!'
When the high priest had made an end of his prayer, the first of
the four great electors rose, saying:
'Guatemoc, in the name of god and with the voice of the people of
Anahuac, we summon you to the throne of Anahuac. Long may you live
and justly may you rule, and may the glory be yours of beating back
into the sea those foes who would destroy us. Hail to you,
Guatemoc, Emperor of the Aztecs and of their vassal tribes.' And
all the three hundred of the council of confirmation repeated in a
voice of thunder, 'Hail to you, Guatemoc, Emperor!'
Now the prince himself stood forward and spoke:
'You lords of election, and you, princes, generals, nobles and
captains of the council of confirmation, hear me. May the gods be
my witness that when I entered this place I had no thought or
knowledge that I was destined to so high an honour as that which
you would thrust upon me. And may the gods be my witness again
that were my life my own, and not a trust in the hands of this
people, I would say to you, "Seek on and find one worthier to fill
the throne." But my life is not my own. Anahuac calls her son and
I obey the call. War to the death threatens her, and shall I hang
back while my arm has strength to smite and my brain has power to
plan? Not so. Now and henceforth I vow myself to the service of
my country and to war against the Teules. I will make no peace
with them, I will take no rest till they are driven back whence
they came, or till I am dead beneath their swords. None can say
what the gods have in store for us, it may be victory or it may be
destruction, but be it triumph or death, let us swear a great oath
together, my people and my brethren. Let us swear to fight the
Teules and the traitors who abet them, for our cities, our hearths
and our altars; till the cities are a smoking ruin, till the
hearths are cumbered with their dead, and the altars run red with
the blood of their worshippers. So, if we are destined to conquer,
our triumph shall be made sure, and if we are doomed to fail, at
least there will be a story to be told of us. Do you swear, my
people and my brethren?'
'We swear,' they answered with a shout.
'It is well,' said Guatemoc. 'And now may everlasting shame
overtake him who breaks this oath.'
Thus then was Guatemoc, the last and greatest of the Aztec
emperors, elected to the throne of his forefathers. It was happy
for him that he could not foresee that dreadful day when he, the
noblest of men, must meet a felon's doom at the hand of these very
Teules. Yet so it came about, for the destiny that lay upon the
land smote all alike, indeed the greater the man the more certain
was his fate.
When all was done I hurried to the palace to tell Otomie what had
come to pass, and found her in our sleeping chamber lying on her
'What ails you, Otomie?' I asked.
'Alas! my husband,' she answered, 'the pestilence has stricken me.
Come not near, I pray you, come not near. Let me be nursed by the
women. You shall not risk your life for me, beloved.'
'Peace,' I said and came to her. It was too true, I who am a
physician knew the symptoms well. Indeed had it not been for my
skill, Otomie would have died. For three long weeks I fought with
death at her bedside, and in the end I conquered. The fever left
her, and thanks to my treatment, there was no single scar upon her
lovely face. During eight days her mind wandered without ceasing,
and it was then I learned how deep and perfect was her love for me.
For all this while she did nothing but rave of me, and the secret
terror of her heart was disclosed--that I should cease to care for
her, that her beauty and love might pall upon me so that I should
leave her, that 'the flower maid,' for so she named Lily, who dwelt
across the sea should draw me back to her by magic; this was the
burden of her madness. At length her senses returned and she
'How long have I lain ill, husband?'
I told her and she said, 'And have you nursed me all this while,
and through so foul a sickness?'
'Yes, Otomie, I have tended you.'
'What have I done that you should be so good to me?' she murmured.
Then some dreadful thought seemed to strike her, for she moaned as
though in pain, and said, 'A mirror! Swift, bring me a mirror!'
I gave her one, and rising on her arm, eagerly she scanned her face
in the dim light of the shadowed room, then let the plate of
burnished gold fall, and sank back with a faint and happy cry:
'I feared,' she said, 'I feared that I had become hideous as those
are whom the pestilence has smitten, and that you would cease to
love me, than which it had been better to die.'
'For shame,' I said. 'Do you then think that love can be
frightened away by some few scars?'
'Yes,' Otomie answered, 'that is the love of a man; not such love
as mine, husband. Had I been thus--ah! I shudder to think of it--
within a year you would have hated me. Perhaps it had not been so
with another, the fair maid of far away, but me you would have
hated. Nay, I know it, though I know this also, that I should not
have lived to feel your hate. Oh! I am thankful, thankful.'
Then I left her for a while, marvelling at the great love which she
had given me, and wondering also if there was any truth in her
words, and if the heart of man could be so ungrateful and so vile.
Supposing that Otomie was now as many were who walked the streets
of Tenoctitlan that day, a mass of dreadful scars, hairless, and
with blind and whitened eyeballs, should I then have shrunk from
her? I do not know, and I thank heaven that no such trial was put
upon my constancy. But I am sure of this; had I become a leper
even, Otomie would not have shrunk from me.
So Otomie recovered from her great sickness, and shortly afterwards
the pestilence passed away from Tenoctitlan. And now I had many
other things to think of, for the choosing of Guatemoc--my friend
and blood brother--as emperor meant much advancement to me, who was
made a general of the highest class, and a principal adviser in his
councils. Nor did I spare myself in his service, but laboured by
day and night in the work of preparing the city for siege, and in
the marshalling of the troops, and more especially of that army of
Otomies, who came, as they had promised, to the number of twenty
thousand. The work was hard indeed, for these Indian tribes lacked
discipline and powers of unity, without which their thousands were
of little avail in a war with white men. Also there were great
jealousies between their leaders which must be overcome, and I was
myself an object of jealousy. Moreover, many tribes took this
occasion of the trouble of the Aztecs to throw off their allegiance
or vassalage, and even if they did not join the Spaniards, to
remain neutral watching for the event of the war. Still we
laboured on, dividing the armies into regiments after the fashion
of Europe, and stationing each in its own quarter drilling them to
the better use of arms, provisioning the city for a siege, and
weeding out as many useless mouths as we might; and there was but
one man in Tenoctitlan who toiled at these tasks more heavily than
I, and that was Guatemoc the emperor, who did not rest day or
night. I tried even to make powder with sulphur which was brought
from the throat of the volcan Popo, but, having no knowledge of
that art, I failed. Indeed, it would have availed us little had I
succeeded, for having neither arquebusses nor cannons, and no skill
to cast them, we could only have used it in mining roads and
gateways, and, perhaps, in grenades to be thrown with the hand.
And so the months went on, till at length spies came in with the
tidings that the Spaniards were advancing in numbers, and with them
countless hosts of allies.
Now I would have sent Otomie to seek safety among her own people,
but she laughed me to scorn, and said:
'Where you are, there I will be, husband. What, shall it be
suffered that you face death, perhaps to find him, when I am not at
your side to die with you? If that is the fashion of white women,
I leave it to them, beloved, and here with you I stay.'
THE FALL OF TENOCTITLAN