Part 7 out of 8
in convenient places where the sides of the cliff were broken, and
in such fashion that rocks from above could not be rolled on them.
Then I sent trusty men as spies to warn me of the approach of the
Spaniards, and others whose mission it was to offer themselves to
them as guides.
Now I thought my plan good, and everything looked well, and yet it
missed failure but by a very little. For Maxtla, our enemy and the
friend of the Spaniards, was in my camp--indeed, I had brought him
with me that I might watch him--and he had not been idle.
For when the Spaniards were half a day's march from the mouth of
the defile, one of those men whom I had told off to watch their
advance, came to me and made it known that Maxtla had bribed him to
go to the leader of the Spaniards and disclose to him the plan of
the ambuscade. This man had taken the bribe and started on his
errand of treachery, but his heart failed him and, returning, he
told me all. Then I caused Maxtla to be seized, and before
nightfall he had paid the price of his wickedness.
On the morning after his death the Spanish array entered the pass.
Half-way down it I met them with my five hundred men and engaged
them, but suffered them to drive us back with some loss. As they
followed they grew bolder and we fled faster, till at length we
flew down the defile followed by the Spanish horse. Now, some
three furlongs from its mouth that leads to the City of Pines, this
pass turns and narrows, and here the cliffs are so sheer and high
that a twilight reigns at the foot of them.
Down the narrow way we ran in seeming rout, and after us came the
Spaniards shouting on their saints and flushed with victory. But
scarcely had we turned the corner when they sang another song, for
those who were watching a thousand feet above us gave the signal,
and down from on high came a rain of stones and boulders that
darkened the air and crashed among them, crushing many of them. On
they struggled, seeing a wider way in front where the cliffs
sloped, and perhaps half of them won through. But here the archers
were waiting, and now, in the place of stones, arrows were hailed
upon them, till at length, utterly bewildered and unable to strike
a blow in their own defence, they turned to fly towards the open
country. This finished the fight, for now we assailed their flank,
and once more the rocks thundered on them from above, and the end
of it was that those who remained of the Spaniards and their Indian
allies were driven in utter rout back to the plain beyond the Pass
After this battle the Spaniards troubled us no more for many years
except by threats, and my name grew great among the people of the
One Spaniard I rescued from death and afterwards I gave him his
liberty. From him I inquired of the doings of de Garcia or
Sarceda, and learned that he was still in the service of Cortes,
but that Marina had been true to her word, and had brought disgrace
upon him because he had threatened to put Otomie to the torture.
Moreover Cortes was angry with him because of our escape, the
burden of which Marina had laid upon his shoulders, hinting that he
had taken a bribe to suffer us to pass the gate.
Of the fourteen years of my life which followed the defeat of the
Spaniards I can speak briefly, for compared to the time that had
gone before they were years of quiet. In them children were born
to me and Otomie, three sons, and these children were my great joy,
for I loved them dearly and they loved me. Indeed, except for the
strain of their mother's blood, they were English boys and not
Indian, for I christened them all, and taught them our English
tongue and faith, and their mien and eyes were more English than
Indian, though their skins were dark. But I had no luck with these
dear children of mine, any more than I have had with that which
Lily bore me. Two of them died--one from a fever that all my skill
would not avail to cure, and another by a fall from a lofty cedar
tree, which he climbed searching for a kite's nest. Thus of the
three of them--since I do not speak now of that infant, my
firstborn, who perished in the siege--there remained to me only the
eldest and best beloved of whom I must tell hereafter.
For the rest, jointly with Otomie I was named cacique of the City
of Pines at a great council that was held after I had destroyed the
Spaniards and their allies, and as such we had wide though not
absolute power. By the exercise of this power, in the end I
succeeded in abolishing the horrible rites of human sacrifice,
though, because of this, a large number of the outlying tribes fell
away from our rule, and the enmity of the priests was excited
against me. The last sacrifice, except one only, the most terrible
of them all, of which I will tell afterwards, that was ever
celebrated on the teocalli in front of the palace, took place after
the defeat of the Spaniards in the pass.
When I had dwelt three years in the City of Pines and two sons had
been born to me there, secret messengers arrived that were sent by
the friends of Guatemoc, who had survived the torture and was still
a prisoner in the hands of Cortes. From these messengers we
learned that Cortes was about to start upon an expedition to the
Gulf of Honduras, across the country that is now known as Yucatan,
taking Guatemoc and other Aztec nobles with him for he feared to
leave them behind. We heard also that there was much murmuring
among the conquered tribes of Anahuac because of the cruelties and
extortions of the Spaniards, and many thought that the hour had
come when a rising against them might be carried to a successful
This was the prayer of those who sent the envoys, that I should
raise a force of Otomies and travel with it across the country to
Yucatan, and there with others who would be gathered, wait a
favourable opportunity to throw myself upon the Spaniards when they
were entangled in the forests and swamps, putting them to the sword
and releasing Guatemoc. Such was the first purpose of the plot,
though it had many others of which it is useless to speak, seeing
that they came to nothing.
When the message had been delivered I shook my head sadly, for I
could see no hope in such a scheme, but the chief of the messengers
rose and led me aside, saying that he had a word for my ear.
'Guatemoc sends these words,' he said; 'I hear that you, my
brother, are free and safe with my cousin Otomie in the mountains
of the Otomie. I, alas! linger in the prisons of the Teules like a
crippled eagle in a cage. My brother, if it is in your power to
help me, do so I conjure you by the memory of our ancient
friendship, and of all that we have suffered together. Then a time
may still come when I shall rule again in Anahuac, and you shall
sit at my side.'
I heard and my heart was stirred, for then, as to this hour, I
loved Guatemoc as a brother.
'Go back,' I said, 'and find means to tell Guatemoc that if I can
save him I will, though I have small hopes that way. Still, let
him look for me in the forests of Yucatan.'
Now when Otomie heard of this promise of mine she was vexed, for
she said that it was foolish and would only end in my losing my
life. Still, having given it she held with me that it must be
carried out, and the end of it was that I raised five hundred men,
and with them set out upon my long and toilsome march, which I
timed so as to meet Cortes in the passes of Yucatan. At the last
moment Otomie wished to accompany me, but I forbade it, pointing
out that she could leave neither her children nor her people, and
we parted with bitter grief for the first time.
Of all the hardships that I underwent I will not write. For two
and a half months we struggled on across mountains and rivers and
through swamps and forests, till at last we reached a mighty
deserted city, that is called Palenque by the Indians of those
parts, which has been uninhabited for many generations. This city
is the most marvellous place that I have seen in all my travels,
though much of it is hidden in bush, for wherever the traveller
wanders there he finds vast palaces of marble, carven within and
without, and sculptured teocallis and the huge images of grinning
gods. Often have I wondered what nation was strong enough to build
such a capital, and who were the kings that dwelt in it. But these
are secrets belonging to the past, and they cannot be answered till
some learned man has found the key to the stone symbols and
writings with which the walls of the buildings are covered over.
In this city I hid with my men, though it was no easy task to
persuade them to take up their habitation among so many ghosts of
the departed, not to speak of the noisome fevers and the wild
beasts and snakes that haunted it, for I had information that the
Spaniards would pass through the swamp that lies between the ruins
and the river, and there I hoped to ambush them. But on the eighth
day of my hiding I learned from spies that Cortes had crossed the
great river higher up, and was cutting his way through the forest,
for of swamps he had passed more than enough. So I hurried also to
the river intending to cross it. But all that day and all that
night it rained as it can rain nowhere else in the world that I
have seen, till at last we waded on our road knee deep in water,
and when we came to the ford of the river it was to find a wide
roaring flood, that no man could pass in anything less frail than a
Yarmouth herring boat. So there on the bank we must stay in
misery, suffering many ills from fever, lack of food, and plenitude
of water, till at length the stream ran down.
Three days and nights we waited there, and on the fourth morning I
made shift to cross, losing four men by drowning in the passage.
Once over, I hid my force in the bush and reeds, and crept forward
with six men only, to see if I could discover anything of the
whereabouts of the Spaniards. Within an hour I struck the trail
that they had cut through the forest, and followed it cautiously.
Presently we came to a spot where the forest was thin, and here
Cortes had camped, for there was heat left in the ashes of his
fires, and among them lay the body of an Indian who had died from
sickness. Not fifty yards from this camp stood a huge ceiba, a
tree that has a habit of growth not unlike that of our English oak,
though it is soft wooded and white barked, and will increase more
in bulk in twenty years than any oak may in a hundred. Indeed I
never yet saw an oak tree so large as this ceiba of which I write,
either in girth or in its spread of top, unless it be the Kirby oak
or the tree that is called the 'King of Scoto' which grows at
Broome, that is the next parish to this of Ditchingham in Norfolk.
On this ceiba tree many zaphilotes or vultures were perched, and as
we crept towards it I saw what it was they came to seek, for from
the lowest branches of the ceiba three corpses swung in the breeze.
'Here are the Spaniard's footprints,' I said. 'Let us look at
them,' and we passed beneath the shadow of the tree.
As I came, a zaphilote alighted on the head of the body that hung
nearest to me, and its weight, or the wafting of the fowl's wing,
caused the dead man to turn round so that he came face to face with
me. I looked, started back, then looked again and sank to the
earth groaning. For here was he whom I had come to seek and save,
my friend, my brother, Guatemoc the last emperor of Anahuac. Here
he hung in the dim and desolate forest, dead by the death of a
thief, while the vulture shrieked upon his head. I sat bewildered
and horror-stricken, and as I sat I remembered the proud sign of
Aztec royalty, a bird of prey clasping an adder in its claw. There
before me was the last of the stock, and behold! a bird of prey
gripped his hair in its talons, a fitting emblem indeed of the fall
of Anahuac and the kings of Anahuac.
I sprang to my feet with an oath, and lifting the bow I held I sent
an arrow through the vulture and it fell to the earth fluttering
and screaming. Then I bade those with me to cut down the corpses
of Guatemoc and of the prince of Tacuba and another noble who hung
with him, and hollow a deep grave beneath the tree. There I laid
them, and there I left them to sleep for ever in its melancholy
shadow, and thus for the last time I saw Guatemoc my brother, whom
I came from far to save and found made ready for burial by the
Then I turned my face homewards, for now Anahuac had no king to
rescue, but it chanced that before I went I caught a Tlascalan who
could speak Spanish, and who had deserted from the army of Cortes
because of the hardships that he suffered in their toilsome march.
This man was present at the murder of Guatemoc and his companions,
and heard the Emperor's last words. It seems that some knave had
betrayed to Cortes that an attempt would be made to rescue the
prince, and that thereon Cortes commanded that he should be hung.
It seems also that Guatemoc met his death as he had met the
misfortunes of his life, proudly and without fear. These were his
last words: 'I did ill, Malinche, when I held my hand from taking
my own life before I surrendered myself to you. Then my heart told
me that all your promises were false, and it has not lied to me. I
welcome my death, for I have lived to know shame and defeat and
torture, and to see my people the slaves of the Teule, but still I
say that God will reward you for this deed.'
Then they murdered him in the midst of a great silence.
And so farewell to Guatemoc, the most brave, the best and the
noblest Indian that ever breathed, and may the shadow of his
tormentings and shameful end lie deep upon the fame of Cortes for
so long as the names of both of them are remembered among men!
For two more months I journeyed homeward and at length I reached
the City of Pines, well though wearied, and having lost only forty
men by various misadventures of travel, to find Otomie in good
health, and overjoyed to know me safe whom she thought never to see
again. But when I told her what was the end of her cousin Guatemoc
she grieved bitterly, both for his sake and because the last hope
of the Aztec was gone, and she would not be comforted for many
ISABELLA DE SIGUENZA IS AVENGED
For many years after the death of Guatemoc I lived with Otomie at
peace in the City of Pines. Our country was poor and rugged, and
though we defied the Spaniards and paid them no tribute, now that
Cortes had gone back to Spain, they had no heart to attempt our
conquest. Save some few tribes that lived in difficult places like
ourselves, all Anahuac was in their power, and there was little to
gain except hard blows in the bringing of a remnant of the people
of the Otomie beneath their yoke, so they let us be till a more
convenient season. I say of a remnant of the Otomie, for as time
went on many clans submitted to the Spaniards, till at length we
ruled over the City of Pines alone and some leagues of territory
about it. Indeed it was only love for Otomie and respect for the
shadow of her ancient race and name, together with some reverence
for me as one of the unconquerable white men, and for my skill as a
general, that kept our following together.
And now it may be asked was I happy in those years? I had much to
make me happy--no man could have been blessed with a wife more
beautiful and loving, nor one who had exampled her affection by
more signal deeds of sacrifice. This woman of her own free will
had lain by my side on the stone of slaughter; overriding the
instincts of her sex she had not shrunk from dipping her hands in
blood to secure my safety, her wit had rescued me in many a
trouble, her love had consoled me in many a sorrow: surely
therefore if gratitude can conquer the heart of man, mine should
have been at her feet for ever and a day, and so indeed it was, and
in a sense is still. But can gratitude, can love itself, or any
passion that rules our souls, make a man forget the house where he
was born? Could I, an Indian chief struggling with a fallen people
against an inevitable destiny, forget my youth and all its hopes
and fears, could I forget the valley of the Waveney and that Flower
who dwelt therein, and forsworn though I might be, could I forget
the oath that I once had sworn? Chance had been against me,
circumstances overpowered me, and I think that there are few who,
could they read this story, would not find in it excuse for all
that I had done. Certainly there are very few who, standing where
I stood, surrounded as I was by doubts, difficulties, and dangers,
would not have acted as I did.
And yet memory would rise up against me, and time upon time I would
lie awake at night, even by the side of Otomie, and remember and
repent, if a man may repent of that over which he has no control.
For I was a stranger in a strange land, and though my home was
there and my children were about me, the longing for my other home
was yet with me, and I could not put away the memory of that Lily
whom I had lost. Her ring was still upon my hand, but nothing else
of her remained to me. I did not know if she were married or
single, living or dead. The gulf between us widened with the
widening years, but still the thought of her went with me like my
shadow; it shone across the stormy love of Otomie, I remembered it
even in my children's kiss. And worst of all I despised myself for
these regrets. Nay, if the worst can have a worse, there was one
here, for though she never spoke of it, I feared that Otomie had
read my mind.
Heart to heart,
Though far apart,
so ran the writing upon Lily's betrothal ring, and so it was with
me. Far apart we were indeed, so far that no bridge that I might
imagine could join that distance, and yet I could not say that we
had ceased from being 'heart to heart.' Her heart might throb no
more, but mine beat still toward it. Across the land, across the
sea, across the gulf of death--if she were dead--still in secret
must I desire the love that I had forsworn.
And so the years rolled on, bringing little of change with them,
till I grew sure that here in this far place I should live and die.
But that was not to be my fate.
If any should read this, the story of my early life, he will
remember that the tale of the death of a certain Isabella de
Siguenza is pieced into its motley. He will remember how this
Isabella, in the last moments of her life, called down a curse upon
that holy father who added outrage and insult to her torment,
praying that he might also die by the hands of fanatics and in a
worse fashion. If my memory does not play me false, I have said
that this indeed came to pass, and very strangely. For after the
conquest of Anahuac by Cortes, among others this same fiery priest
came from Spain to turn the Indians to the love of God by torment
and by sword. Indeed, of all of those who entered on this mission
of peace, he was the most zealous. The Indian pabas wrought
cruelties enough when, tearing out the victim's heart, they offered
it like incense to Huitzel or to Quetzal, but they at least
dismissed his soul to the Mansions of the Sun. With the Christian
priests the thumb-screw and the stake took the place of the stone
of sacrifice, but the soul which they delivered from its earthly
bondage they consigned to the House of Hell.
Of these priests a certain Father Pedro was the boldest and the
most cruel. To and fro he passed, marking his path with the
corpses of idolaters, until he earned the name of the 'Christian
Devil.' At length he ventured too far in his holy fervour, and was
seized by a clan of the Otomie that had broken from our rule upon
this very question of human sacrifice, but which was not yet
subjugated by the Spaniards. One day, it was when we had ruled for
some fourteen years in the City of Pines, it came to my knowledge
that the pabas of this clan had captured a Christian priest, and
designed to offer him to the god Tezcat.
Attended by a small guard only, I passed rapidly across the
mountains, purposing to visit the cacique of this clan with whom,
although he had cast off his allegiance to us, I still kept up a
show of friendship, and if I could, to persuade him to release the
priest. But swiftly as I travelled the vengeance of the pabas had
been more swift, and I arrived at the village only to find the
'Christian Devil' in the act of being led to sacrifice before the
image of a hideous idol that was set upon a stake and surrounded
with piles of skulls. Naked to the waist, his hands bound behind
him, his grizzled locks hanging about his breast, his keen eyes
fixed upon the faces of his heathen foes in menace rather than in
supplication his thin lips muttering prayers, Father Pedro passed
on to the place of his doom, now and again shaking his head
fiercely to free himself from the torment of the insects which
buzzed about it.
I looked upon him and wondered. I looked again and knew. Suddenly
there rose before my mind a vision of that gloomy vault in Seville,
of a woman, young and lovely, draped in cerements, and of a thin-
faced black-robed friar who smote her upon the lips with his ivory
crucifix and cursed her for a blaspheming heretic. There before me
was the man. Isabella de Siguenza had prayed that a fate like to
her own fate should befall him, and it was upon him now. Nor
indeed, remembering all that had been, was I minded to avert it,
even if it had been in my power to do so. I stood by and let the
victim pass, but as he passed I spoke to him in Spanish, saying:
'Remember that which it may well be you have forgotten, holy
father, remember now the dying prayer of Isabella de Siguenza whom
many years ago you did to death in Seville.'
The man heard me; he turned livid beneath his bronzed skin and
staggered until I thought that he would have fallen. He stared
upon me, with terror in his eye, to see as he believed a common
sight enough, that of an Indian chief rejoicing at the death of one
of his oppressors.
'What devil are you,' he said hoarsely, 'sent from hell to torment
me at the last?'
'Remember the dying prayer of Isabella de Siguenza, whom you struck
and cursed,' I answered mocking. 'Seek not to know whence I am,
but remember this only, now and for ever.'
For a moment he stood still, heedless of the urgings of his
tormentors. Then his courage came to him again, and he cried with
a great voice: 'Get thee behind me, Satan, what have I to fear from
thee? I remember that dead sinner well--may her soul have peace--
and her curse has fallen upon me. I rejoice that it should be so,
for on the further side of yonder stone the gates of heaven open to
my sight. Get thee behind me, Satan, what have I to fear from
Crying thus he staggered forward saying, 'O God, into Thy hand I
commend my spirit!' May his soul have peace also, for if he was
cruel, at least he was brave, and did not shrink beneath those
torments which he had inflicted on many others.
Now this was a little matter, but its results were large. Had I
saved Father Pedro from the hands of the pabas of the Otomie, it is
likely enough that I should not to-day be writing this history here
in the valley of the Waveney. I do not know if I could have saved
him, I only know that I did not try, and that because of his death
great sorrows came upon me. Whether I was right or wrong, who can
say? Those who judge my story may think that in this as in other
matters I was wrong; had they seen Isabella de Siguenza die within
her living tomb, certainly they would hold that I was right. But
for good or ill, matters came about as I have written.
And it came about also, that the new viceroy sent from Spain was
stirred to anger at the murder of the friar by the rebellious and
heathen people of the Otomie, and set himself to take vengeance on
the tribe that wrought the deed.
Soon tidings reached me that a great force of Tlascalan and other
Indians were being collected to put an end to us, root and branch,
and that with them marched more than a hundred Spaniards, the
expedition being under the command of none other than the Captain
Bernal Diaz, that same soldier whom I had spared in the slaughter
of the noche triste, and whose sword to this day hung at my side.
Now we must needs prepare our defence, for our only hope lay in
boldness. Once before the Spaniards had attacked us with thousands
of their allies, and of their number but few had lived to look
again on the camp of Cortes. What had been done could be done a
second time--so said Otomie in the pride of her unconquerable
heart. But alas! in fourteen years things had changed much with
us. Fourteen years ago we held sway over a great district of
mountains, whose rude clans would send up their warriors in
hundreds at our call. Now these clans had broken from our yoke,
which was acknowledged by the people of the City of Pines alone and
those of some adjacent villages. When the Spaniards came down on
me the first time, I was able to muster an army of ten thousand
soldiers to oppose them, now with much toil I could collect no more
than between two and three thousand men, and of these some slipped
away as the hour of danger drew nigh.
Still I must put a bold face on my necessities, and make what play
I might with such forces as lay at my command, although in my heart
I feared much for the issue. But of my fears I said nothing to
Otomie, and if she felt any she, on her part, buried them in her
breast. In truth I do believe her faith in me was so great, that
she thought my single wit enough to over-match all the armies of
Now at length the enemy drew near, and I set my battle as I had
done fourteen years before, advancing down the pass by which alone
they could approach us with a small portion of my force, and
stationing the remainder in two equal companies upon either brow of
the beetling cliffs that overhung the road, having command to
overwhelm the Spaniards with rocks, hurled upon them from above, so
soon as I should give the signal by flying before them down the
pass. Other measures I took also, for seeing that do what I would
it well might happen that we should be driven back upon the city, I
caused its walls and gates to be set in order, and garrisoned them.
As a last resource too, I stored the lofty summit of the teocalli,
which now that sacrifices were no longer offered there was used as
an arsenal for the material of war, with water and provisions, and
fortified its sides by walls studded with volcanic glass and by
other devices, till it seemed well nigh impossible that any should
be able to force them while a score of men still lived to offer a
It was on one night in the early summer, having bid farewell to
Otomie and taking my son with me, for he was now of an age when,
according to the Indian customs, lads are brought face to face with
the dangers of battle, that I despatched the appointed companies to
their stations on the brow of the precipice, and sallied into the
darksome mouth of the pass with the few hundred men who were left
to me. I knew by my spies that the Spaniards who were encamped on
the further side would attempt its passage an hour before the
daylight, trusting to finding me asleep. And sure enough, on the
following morning, so early that the first rays of the sun had not
yet stained the lofty snows of the volcan Xaca that towered behind
us, a distant murmuring which echoed through the silence of the
night told me that the enemy had begun his march. I moved down the
pass to meet him easily enough; there was no stone in it that was
not known to me and my men. But with the Spaniards it was
otherwise, for many of them were mounted, and moreover they dragged
with them two carronades. Time upon time these heavy guns remained
fast in the boulder-strewn roadway, for in the darkness the slaves
who drew them could find no places for the wheels to run on, till
in the end the captains of the army, unwilling to risk a fight at
so great a disadvantage, ordered them to halt until the day broke.
At length the dawn came, and the light fell dimly down the depths
of the vast gulf, revealing the long ranks of the Spaniards clad in
their bright armour, and the yet more brilliant thousands of their
native allies, gorgeous in their painted helms and their glittering
coats of feathers. They saw us also, and mocking at our poor
array, their column twisted forward like some huge snake in the
crack of a rock, till they came to within a hundred paces of us.
Then the Spaniards raised their battle cry of Saint Peter, and
lance at rest, they charged us with their horse. We met them with
a rain of arrows that checked them a little, but not for long.
Soon they were among us, driving us back at the point of their
lances, and slaying many, for our Indian weapons could work little
harm to men and horses clad in armour. Therefore we must fly, and
indeed, flight was my plan, for by it I hoped to lead the foe to
that part of the defile where the road was narrow and the cliffs
sheer, and they might be crushed by the stones which should hail on
them from above. All went well; we fled, the Spaniards followed
flushed with victory, till they were fairly in the trap. Now a
single boulder came rushing from on high, and falling on a horse,
killed him, then rebounding, carried dismay and wounds to those
behind. Another followed, and yet another, and I grew glad at
heart, for it seemed to me that the danger was over, and that for
the second time my strategy had succeeded.
But suddenly from above there came a sound other than that of the
rushing rocks, the sound of men joining in battle, that grew and
grew till the air was full of its tumult, then something whirled
down from on high. I looked; it was no stone, but a man, one of my
own men. Indeed he was but as the first rain-drop of a shower.
Alas! I saw the truth; I had been outwitted. The Spaniards, old in
war, could not be caught twice by such a trick; they advanced down
the pass with the carronades indeed because they must, but first
they sent great bodies of men to climb the mountain under shelter
of the night, by secret paths which had been discovered to them,
and there on its summit to deal with those who would stay their
passage by hurling rocks upon them. And in truth they dealt with
them but too well, for my men of the Otomie, lying on the verge of
the cliff among the scrub of aloes and other prickly plants that
grew there, watching the advance of the foe beneath, and never for
one moment dreaming that foes might be upon their flank, were
utterly surprised. Scarcely had they time to seize their weapons,
which were laid at their sides that they might have the greater
freedom in the rolling of heavy masses of rock, when the enemy, who
outnumbered them by far, were upon them with a yell. Then came a
fight, short but decisive.
Too late I saw it all, and cursed the folly that had not provided
against such chances, for, indeed, I never thought it possible that
the forces of the Spaniards could find the secret trails upon the
further side of the mountain, forgetting that treason makes most
THE SIEGE OF THE CITY OF PINES
The battle was already lost. From a thousand feet above us swelled
the shouts of victory. The battle was lost, and yet I must fight
on. As swiftly as I could I withdrew those who were left to me to
a certain angle in the path, where a score of desperate men might,
for a while, hold back the advance of an army. Here I called for
some to stand at my side, and many answered to my call. Out of
them I chose fifty men or more, bidding the rest run hard for the
City of Pines, there to warn those who were left in garrison that
the hour of danger was upon them, and, should I fall, to conjure
Otomie my wife to make the best resistance in her power, till, if
it were possible, she could wring from the Spaniards a promise of
safety for herself, her child, and her people. Meanwhile I would
hold the pass so that time might be given to shut the gates and man
the walls. With the main body of those who were left to me I sent
back my son, though he prayed hard to be allowed to stay with me.
But, seeing nothing before me except death, I refused him.
Presently all were gone, and fearing a snare the Spaniards came
slowly and cautiously round the angle of the rock, and seeing so
few men mustered to meet them halted, for now they were certain
that we had set a trap for them, since they did not think it
possible that such a little band would venture to oppose their
array. Here the ground lay so that only a few of them could come
against us at one time, nor could they bring their heavy pieces to
bear on us, and even their arquebusses helped them but little.
Also the roughness of the road forced them to dismount from their
horses, so that if they would attack at all, it must be on foot.
This in the end they chose to do. Many fell upon either side,
though I myself received no wound, but in the end they drove us
back. Inch by inch they drove us back, or rather those who were
left of us, at the point of their long lances, till at length they
forced us into the mouth of the pass, that is some five furlongs
distant from what was once the wall of the City of Pines.
To fight further was of no avail, here we must choose between death
and flight, and as may be guessed, for wives' and children's sake
if not for our own, we chose to fly. Across the plain we fled like
deer, and after us came the Spaniards and their allies like hounds.
Happily the ground was rough with stones so that their horses could
not gallop freely, and thus it happened that some of us, perhaps
twenty, gained the gates in safety. Of my army not more than five
hundred in all lived to enter them again, and perchance there were
as many left within the city.
The heavy gates swung to, and scarcely were they barred with the
massive beams of oak, when the foremost of the Spaniards rode up to
them. My bow was still in my hand and there was one arrow left in
my quiver. I set it on the string, and drawing the bow with my
full strength, I loosed the shaft through the bars of the gate at a
young and gallant looking cavalier who rode the first of all. It
struck him truly between the joint of his helm and neck piece, and
stretching his arms out wide he fell backward over the crupper of
his horse, to move no more. Then they withdrew, but presently one
of their number came forward bearing a flag of truce. He was a
knightly looking man, clad in rich armour, and watching him, it
seemed to me that there was something in his bearing, and in the
careless grace with which he sat his horse, that was familiar to
me. Reining up in front of the gates he raised his visor and began
I knew him at once; before me was de Garcia, my ancient enemy, of
whom I had neither heard nor seen anything for hard upon twelve
years. Time had touched him indeed, which was scarcely to be
wondered at, for now he was a man of sixty or more. His peaked
chestnut-coloured beard was streaked with grey, his cheeks were
hollow, and at that distance his lips seemed like two thin red
lines, but the eyes were as they had always been, bright and
piercing, and the same cold smile played about his mouth. Without
a doubt it was de Garcia, who now, as at every crisis of my life,
appeared to shape my fortunes to some evil end, and I felt as I
looked upon him that the last and greatest struggle between us was
at hand, and that before many days were sped, the ancient and
accumulated hate of one or of both of us would be buried for ever
in the silence of death. How ill had fate dealt with me, now as
always. But a few minutes before, when I set that arrow on the
string, I had wavered for a moment, doubting whether to loose it at
the young cavalier who lay dead, or at the knight who rode next to
him; and see! I had slain one with whom I had no quarrel and left
my enemy unharmed.
'Ho there!' cried de Garcia in Spanish. 'I desire to speak with
the leader of the rebel Otomie on behalf of the Captain Bernal
Diaz, who commands this army.'
Now I mounted on the wall by means of a ladder which was at hand,
and answered, 'Speak on, I am the man you seek.'
'You know Spanish well, friend,' said de Garcia, starting and
looking at me keenly beneath his bent brows. 'Say now, where did
you learn it? And what is your name and lineage?'
'I learned it, Juan de Garcia, from a certain Donna Luisa, whom you
knew in your days of youth. And my name is Thomas Wingfield.'
Now de Garcia reeled in his saddle and swore a great oath.
'Mother of God!' he said, 'years ago I was told that you had taken
up your abode among some savage tribe, but since then I have been
far, to Spain and back indeed, and I deemed that you were dead,
Thomas Wingfield. My luck is good in truth, for it has been one of
the great sorrows of my life that you have so often escaped me,
renegade. Be sure that this time there shall be no escape.
'I know well that there will be no escape for one or other of us,
Juan de Garcia,' I answered. 'Now we play the last round of the
game, but do not boast, for God alone knows to whom the victory
shall be given. You have prospered long, but a day may be at hand
when your prosperity shall cease with your breath. To your errand,
Juan de Garcia.'
For a moment he sat silent, pulling at his pointed beard, and
watching him I thought that I could see the shadow of a half-
forgotten fear creep into his eyes. If so, it was soon gone, for
lifting his head, he spoke boldly and clearly.
'This is my message to you, Thomas Wingfield, and to such of the
Otomie dogs with whom you herd as we have left alive to-day. The
Captain Bernal Diaz offers you terms on behalf of his Excellency
'What are his terms?' I asked.
'Merciful enough to such pestilent rebels and heathens,' he
answered sneering. 'Surrender your city without condition, and the
viceroy, in his clemency, will accept the surrender. Nevertheless,
lest you should say afterwards that faith has been broken with you,
be it known to you, that you shall not go unpunished for your many
crimes. This is the punishment that shall be inflicted on you.
All those who had part or parcel in the devilish murder of that
holy saint Father Pedro, shall be burned at the stake, and the eyes
of all those who beheld it shall be put out. Such of the leaders
of the Otomie as the judges may select shall be hanged publicly,
among them yourself, Cousin Wingfield, and more particularly the
woman Otomie, daughter of Montezuma the late king. For the rest,
the dwellers in the City of Pines must surrender their wealth into
the treasury of the viceroy, and they themselves, men, women and
children, shall be led from the city and be distributed according
to the viceroy's pleasure upon the estates of such of the Spanish
settlers as he may select, there to learn the useful arts of
husbandry and mining. These are the conditions of surrender, and I
am commanded to say that an hour is given you in which to decide
whether you accept or reject them.'
'And if we reject them?'
'Then the Captain Bernal Diaz has orders to sack and destroy this
city, and having given it over for twelve hours to the mercy of the
Tlascalans and other faithful Indian allies, to collect those who
may be left living within it, and bring them to the city of Mexico,
there to be sold as slaves.'
'Good,' I said; 'you shall have your answer in an hour.' Now,
leaving the gate guarded, I hurried to the palace, sending
messengers as I went to summon such of the council of the city as
remained alive. At the door of the palace I met Otomie, who
greeted me fondly, for after hearing of our disaster she had hardly
looked to see me again.
'Come with me to the Hall of Assembly,' I said; 'there I will speak
We went to the hall, where the members of the council were already
gathering. So soon as the most of them were assembled, there were
but eight in all, I repeated to them the words of de Garcia without
comment. Then Otomie spoke, as being the first in rank she had a
right to do. Twice before I had heard her address the people of
the Otomie upon these questions of defence against the Spaniards.
The first time, it may be remembered, was when we came as envoys
from Cuitlahua, Montezuma her father's successor, to pray the aid
of the children of the mountain against Cortes and the Teules. The
second time was when, some fourteen years ago, we had returned to
the City of Pines as fugitives after the fall of Tenoctitlan, and
the populace, moved to fury by the destruction of nearly twenty
thousand of their soldiers, would have delivered us as a peace
offering into the hands of the Spaniards.
On each of these occasions Otomie had triumphed by her eloquence,
by the greatness of her name and the majesty of her presence. Now
things were far otherwise, and even had she not scorned to use
them, such arts would have availed us nothing in this extremity.
Now her great name was but a shadow, one of many waning shadows
cast by an empire whose glory had gone for ever; now she used no
passionate appeal to the pride and traditions of a doomed race, now
she was no longer young and the first splendour of her womanhood
had departed from her. And yet, as with her son and mine at her
side, she rose to address those seven councillors, who, haggard
with fear and hopeless in the grasp of fate, crouched in silence
before her, their faces buried in their hands, I thought that
Otomie had never seemed more beautiful, and that her words, simple
as they were, had never been more eloquent.
'Friends,' she said, 'you know the disaster that has overtaken us.
My husband has given you the message of the Teules. Our case is
desperate. We have but a thousand men at most to defend this city,
the home of our forefathers, and we alone of all the peoples of
Anahuac still dare to stand in arms against the white men. Years
ago I said to you, Choose between death with honour and life with
shame! To-day again I say to you, Choose! For me and mine there
is no choice left, since whatever you decide, death must be our
portion. But with you it is otherwise. Will you die fighting, or
will you and your children serve your remaining years as slaves?'
For a while the seven consulted together, then their spokesman
'Otomie, and you, Teule, we have followed your counsels for many
years and they have brought us but little luck. We do not blame
you, for the gods of Anahuac have deserted us as we have deserted
them, and the gods alone stand between men and their evil destiny.
Whatever misfortunes we may have borne, you have shared in them,
and so it is now at the end. Nor will we go back upon our words in
this the last hour of the people of the Otomie. We have chosen; we
have lived free with you, and still free, we will die with you.
For like you we hold that it is better for us and ours to perish as
free men than to drag out our days beneath the yoke of the Teule.'
'It is well,' said Otomie; 'now nothing remains for us except to
seek a death so glorious that it shall be sung of in after days.
Husband, you have heard the answer of the council. Let the
Spaniards hear it also.'
So I went back to the wall, a white flag in my hand, and presently
an envoy advanced from the Spanish camp to speak with me--not de
Garcia, but another. I told him in few words that those who
remained alive of the people of the Otomie would die beneath the
ruins of their city like the children of Tenoctitlan before them,
but that while they had a spear to throw and an arm to throw it,
they would never yield to the tender mercies of the Spaniard.
The envoy returned to the camp, and within an hour the attack
began. Bringing up their pieces of ordnance, the Spaniards set
them within little more than an hundred paces of the gates, and
began to batter us with iron shot at their leisure, for our spears
and arrows could scarcely harm them at such a distance. Still we
were not idle, for seeing that the wooden gates must soon be down,
we demolished houses on either side of them and filled up the
roadway with stones and rubbish. At the rear of the heap thus
formed I caused a great trench to be dug, which could not be passed
by horsemen and ordnance till it was filled in again. All along
the main street leading to the great square of the teocalli I threw
up other barricades, protected in the front and rear by dykes cut
through the roadway, and in case the Spaniards should try to turn
our flank and force a passage through the narrow and tortuous lanes
to the right and left, I also barricaded the four entrances to the
great square or market place.
Till nightfall the Spaniards bombarded the shattered remains of the
gates and the earthworks behind them, doing no great damage beyond
the killing of about a score of people by cannon shot and arquebuss
balls. But they attempted no assault that day. At length the
darkness fell and their fire ceased, but not so our labours. Most
of the men must guard the gates and the weak spots in the walls,
and therefore the building of the barricades was left chiefly to
the women, working under my command and that of my captains.
Otomie herself took a share in the toil, an example that was
followed by every lady and indeed by every woman in the city, and
there were many of them, for the women outnumbered the men among
the Otomie, and moreover not a few of them had been made widows on
that same day.
It was a strange sight to see them in the glare of hundreds of
torches split from the resin pine that gave its name to the city,
as all night long they moved to and fro in lines, each of them
staggering beneath the weight of a basket of earth or a heavy
stone, or dug with wooden spades at the hard soil, or laboured at
the pulling down of houses. They never complained, but worked on
sullenly and despairingly; no groan or tear broke from them, no,
not even from those whose husbands and sons had been hurled that
morning from the precipices of the pass. They knew that resistance
would be useless and that their doom was at hand, but no cry arose
among them of surrender to the Spaniards. Those of them who spoke
of the matter at all said with Otomie, that it was better to die
free than to live as slaves, but the most did not speak; the old
and the young, mother, wife, widow, and maid, they laboured in
silence and the children laboured at their sides.
Looking at them it came into my mind that these silent patient
women were inspired by some common and desperate purpose, that all
knew of, but which none of them chose to tell.
'Will you work so hard for your masters the Teules?' cried a man in
bitter mockery, as a file of them toiled past beneath their loads
'Fool!' answered their leader, a young and lovely lady of rank; 'do
the dead labour?'
'Nay,' said this ill jester, 'but such as you are too fair for the
Teules to kill, and your years of slavery will be many. Say, how
shall you escape them?'
'Fool!' answered the lady again, 'does fire die from lack of fuel
only, and must every man live till age takes him? We shall escape
them thus,' and casting down the torch she carried, she trod it
into the earth with her sandal, and went on with her load. Then I
was sure that they had some purpose, though I did not guess how
desperate it was, and Otomie would tell me nothing of this woman's
'Otomie,' I said to her that night, when we met by chance, 'I have
ill news for you.'
'It must be bad indeed, husband, to be so named in such an hour,'
'De Garcia is among our foes.'
'I knew it, husband.'
'How did you know it?'
'By the hate written in your eyes,' she answered.
'It seems that his hour of triumph is at hand,' I said.
'Nay, beloved, not HIS but YOURS. You shall triumph over de
Garcia, but victory will cost you dear. I know it in my heart; ask
me not how or why. See, the Queen puts on her crown,' and she
pointed to the volcan Xaca, whose snows grew rosy with the dawn,
'and you must go to the gate, for the Spaniards will soon be
As Otomie spoke I heard a trumpet blare without the walls.
Hurrying to the gates by the first light of day, I could see that
the Spaniards were mustering their forces for attack. They did not
come at once, however, but delayed till the sun was well up. Then
they began to pour a furious fire upon our defences, that reduced
the shattered beams of the gates to powder, and even shook down the
crest of the earthwork beyond them. Suddenly the firing ceased and
again a trumpet called. Now they charged us in column, a thousand
or more Tlascalans leading the van, followed by the Spanish force.
In two minutes I, who awaited them beyond it together with some
three hundred warriors of the Otomie, saw their heads appear over
the crest of the earthwork, and the fight began. Thrice we drove
them back with our spears and arrows, but at the fourth charge the
wave of men swept over our defence, and poured into the dry ditch
Now we were forced to fly to the next earthwork, for we could not
hope to fight so many in the open street, whither, so soon as a
passage had been made for their horse and ordnance, the enemy
followed us. Here the fight was renewed, and this barricade being
very strong, we held it for hard upon two hours with much loss to
ourselves and to the Spanish force. Again we retreated and again
we were assailed, and so the struggle went on throughout the live-
long day. Every hour our numbers grew fewer and our arms fainter,
but still we fought on desperately. At the two last barricades,
hundreds of the women of the Otomie fought by the sides of their
husbands and their brothers.
The last earthwork was captured by the Spaniards just as the sun
sank, and under the shadow of approaching darkness those of us that
remained alive fled to the refuge which we had prepared upon the
teocalli, nor was there any further fighting during that night.
THE LAST SACRIFICE OF THE WOMEN OF THE OTOMIE
Here in the courtyard of the teocalli, by the light of burning
houses, for as they advanced the Spaniards fired the town, we
mustered our array to find that there were left to us in all some
four hundred fighting men, together with a crowd of nearly two
thousand women and many children. Now although this teocalli was
not quite so lofty as that of the great temple of Mexico, its sides
were steeper and everywhere faced with dressed stone, and the open
space upon its summit was almost as great, measuring indeed more
than a hundred paces every way. This area was paved with blocks of
marble, and in its centre stood the temple of the war-god, where
his statue still sat, although no worship had been offered to him
for many years; the stone of sacrifice, the altar of fire, and the
storehouses of the priests. Moreover in front of the temple, and
between it and the stone of sacrifice, was a deep cemented hole the
size of a large room, which once had been used as a place for the
safe keeping of grain in times of famine. This pit I had caused to
be filled with water borne with great toil to the top of the
pyramid, and in the temple itself I stored a great quantity of
food, so that we had no cause to fear present death from thirst or
But now we were face to face with a new trouble. Large as was the
summit of the pyramid, it would not give shelter to a half of our
numbers, and if we desired to defend it some of the multitude
herded round its base must seek refuge elsewhere. Calling the
leaders of the people together, I put the matter before them in few
words, leaving them to decide what must be done. They in turn
consulted among themselves, and at length gave me this answer: that
it was agreed that all the wounded and aged there, together with
most of the children, and with them any others who wished to go,
should leave the teocalli that night, to find their way out of the
city if they could, or if not, to trust to the mercy of the
I said that it was well, for death was on every side, and it
mattered little which way men turned to meet it. So they were
sorted out, fifteen hundred or more of them, and at midnight the
gates of the courtyard were thrown open, and they left. Oh! it was
dreadful to see the farewells that took place in that hour. Here a
daughter clung to the neck of her aged father, here husbands and
wives bade each other a last farewell, here mothers kissed their
little children, and on every side rose up the sounds of bitter
agony, the agony of those who parted for ever. I buried my face in
my hands, wondering as I had often wondered before, how a God whose
name is Mercy can bear to look upon sights that break the hearts of
sinful men to witness.
Presently I raised my eyes and spoke to Otomie, who was at my side,
asking her if she would not send our son away with the others,
passing him off as the child of common people.
'Nay, husband,' she answered, 'it is better for him to die with us,
than to live as a slave of the Spaniards.'
At length it was over and the gates had shut behind the last of
them. Soon we heard the distant challenge of the Spanish sentries
as they perceived them, and the sounds of some shots followed by
'Doubtless the Tlascalans are massacring them,' I said. But it was
not so. When a few had been killed the leaders of the Spaniards
found that they waged war upon an unarmed mob, made up for the most
part of aged people, women and children, and their commander,
Bernal Diaz, a merciful man if a rough one, ordered that the
onslaught should cease. Indeed he did more, for when all the able-
bodied men, together with such children as were sufficiently strong
to bear the fatigues of travel, had been sorted out to be sold as
slaves, he suffered the rest of that melancholy company to depart
whither they would. And so they went, though what became of them I
do not know.
That night we spent in the courtyard of the teocalli, but before it
was light I caused the women and children who remained with us,
perhaps some six hundred in all, for very few of the former who
were unmarried, or who being married were still young and comely,
had chosen to desert our refuge, to ascend the pyramid, guessing
that the Spaniards would attack us at dawn. I stayed, however,
with the three hundred fighting men that were left to me, a hundred
or more having thrown themselves upon the mercy of the Spaniards,
with the refugees, to await the Spanish onset under shelter of the
walls of the courtyard. At dawn it began, and by midday, do what
we could to stay it, the wall was stormed, and leaving nearly a
hundred dead and wounded behind me, I was driven to the winding way
that led to the summit of the pyramid. Here they assaulted us
again, but the road was steep and narrow, and their numbers gave
them no great advantage on it, so that the end of it was that we
beat them back with loss, and there was no more fighting that day.
The night which followed we spent upon the summit of the pyramid,
and for my part I was so weary that after I had eaten I never slept
more soundly. Next morning the struggle began anew; and this time
with better success to the Spaniards. Inch by inch under cover of
the heavy fire from their arquebusses and pieces, they forced us
upward and backward. All day long the fight continued upon the
narrow road that wound from stage to stage of the pyramid. At
length, as the sun sank, a company of our foes, their advance
guard, with shouts of victory, emerged upon the flat summit, and
rushed towards the temple in its centre. All this while the women
had been watching, but now one of them sprang up, crying with a
'Seize them; they are but few.'
Then with a fearful scream of rage, the mob of women cast
themselves upon the weary Spaniards and Tlascalans, bearing them
down by the weight of their numbers. Many of them were slain
indeed, but in the end the women conquered, ay, and made their
victims captive, fastening them with cords to the rings of copper
that were let into the stones of the pavement, to which in former
days those doomed to sacrifice had been secured, when their numbers
were so great that the priests feared lest they should escape. I
and the soldiers with me watched this sight wondering, then I cried
'What! men of the Otomie, shall it be said that our women outdid us
in courage?' and without further ado, followed by a hundred or more
of my companions, I rushed desperately down the steep and narrow
At the first corner we met the main array of Spaniards and their
allies, coming up slowly, for now they were sure of victory, and so
great was the shock of our encounter that many of them were hurled
over the edge of the path, to roll down the steep sides of the
pyramid. Seeing the fate of their comrades, those behind them
halted, then began to retreat. Presently the weight of our rush
struck them also, and they in turn pushed upon those below, till at
length panic seized them, and with a great crying the long line of
men that wound round and round the pyramid from its base almost to
its summit, sought their safety in flight. But some of them found
none, for the rush of those above pressing with ever increasing
force upon their friends below, drove many to their death, since
here on the pyramid there was nothing to cling to, and if once a
man lost his foothold on the path, his fall was broken only when
his body reached the court beneath. Thus in fifteen short minutes
all that the Spaniards had won this day was lost again, for except
the prisoners at its summit, none of them remained alive upon the
teocalli; indeed so great a terror took them, that bearing with
them their dead and wounded, they retreated under cover of the
night to their camp without the walls of the courtyard.
Now, weary but triumphant, we wended back towards the crest of the
pyramid, but as I turned the corner of the second angle that was
perhaps nearly one hundred feet above the level of the ground, a
thought struck me and I set those with me at a task. Loosening the
blocks of stone that formed the edge of the roadway, we rolled them
down the sides of the pyramid, and so laboured on removing layer
upon layer of stones and of the earth beneath, till where the path
had been, was nothing but a yawning gap thirty feet or more in
'Now,' I said, surveying our handiwork by the light of the rising
moon, 'that Spaniard who would win our nest must find wings to fly
'Ay, Teule,' answered one at my side, 'but say what wings shall WE
'The wings of Death,' I said grimly, and went on my upward way.
It was near midnight when I reached the temple, for the labour of
levelling the road took many hours and food had been sent to us
from above. As I drew nigh I was amazed to hear the sound of
solemn chanting, and still more was I amazed when I saw that the
doors of the temple of Huitzel were open, and that the sacred fire
which had not shone there for many years once more flared fiercely
upon his altar. I stood still listening. Did my ears trick me, or
did I hear the dreadful song of sacrifice? Nay, again its wild
refrain rang out upon the silence:
To Thee we sacrifice!
Save us, O Huitzel,
Huitzel, lord god!
I rushed forward, and turning the angle of the temple I found
myself face to face with the past, for there as in bygone years
were the pabas clad in their black robes, their long hair hanging
about their shoulders, the dreadful knife of glass fixed in their
girdles; there to the right of the stone of sacrifice were those
destined to the god, and there being led towards it was the first
victim, a Tlascalan prisoner, his limbs held by men clad in the
dress of priests. Near him, arrayed in the scarlet robe of
sacrifice, stood one of my own captains, who I remembered had once
served as a priest of Tezcat before idolatry was forbidden in the
City of Pines, and around were a wide circle of women that watched,
and from whose lips swelled the awful chant.
Now I understood it all. In their last despair, maddened by the
loss of fathers, husbands, and children, by their cruel fate, and
standing face to face with certain death, the fire of the old faith
had burnt up in their savage hearts. There was the temple, there
were the stone and impliments of sacrifice, and there to their
hands were the victims taken in war. They would glut a last
revenge, they would sacrifice to their fathers' gods as their
fathers had done before them, and the victims should be taken from
their own victorious foes. Ay, they must die, but at the least
they would seek the Mansions of the Sun made holy by the blood of
the accursed Teule.
I have said that it was the women who sang this chant and glared so
fiercely upon the victims, but I have not yet told all the horror
of what I saw, for in the fore-front of their circle, clad in white
robes, the necklet of great emeralds, Guatemoc's gift, flashing
upon her breast, the plumes of royal green set in her hair, giving
the time of the death chant with a little wand, stood Montezuma's
daughter, Otomie my wife. Never had I seen her look so beautiful
or so dreadful. It was not Otomie whom I saw, for where was the
tender smile and where the gentle eyes? Here before me was a
living Vengeance wearing the shape of woman. In an instant I
guessed the truth, though I did not know it all. Otomie, who
although she was not of it, had ever favoured the Christian faith,
Otomie, who for years had never spoken of these dreadful rites
except with anger, whose every act was love and whose every word
was kindness, was still in her soul an idolater and a savage. She
had hidden this side of her heart from me well through all these
years, perchance she herself had scarcely known its secret, for but
twice had I seen anything of the buried fierceness of her blood.
The first time was when Marina had brought her a certain robe in
which she might escape from the camp of Cortes, and she had spoken
to Marina of that robe; and the second when on this same day she
had played her part to the Tlascalan, and had struck him down with
her own hand as he bent over me.
All this and much more passed through my mind in that brief moment,
while Otomie marked the time of the death chant, and the pabas
dragged the Tlascalan to his doom.
The next I was at her side.
'What passes here?' I asked sternly.
Otomie looked on me with a cold wonder, and empty eyes as though
she did not know me.
'Go back, white man,' she answered; 'it is not lawful for strangers
to mingle in our rites.'
I stood bewildered, not knowing what to do, while the flame burned
and the chant went up before the effigy of Huitzel, of the demon
Huitzel awakened after many years of sleep.
Again and yet again the solemn chant arose, Otomie beating time
with her little rod of ebony, and again and yet again the cry of
triumph rose to the silent stars.
Now I awoke from my dream, for as an evil dream it seemed to me,
and drawing my sword I rushed towards the priest at the altar to
cut him down. But though the men stood still the women were too
quick for me. Before I could lift the sword, before I could even
speak a word, they had sprung upon me like the jaguars of their own
forests, and like jaguars they hissed and growled into my ear:
'Get you gone, Teule,' they said, 'lest we stretch you on the stone
with your brethren.' And still hissing they pushed me thence.
I drew back and thought for a while in the shadow of the temple.
My eye fell upon the long line of victims awaiting their turn of
sacrifice. There were thirty and one of them still alive, and of
these five were Spaniards. I noted that the Spaniards were chained
the last of all the line. It seemed that the murderers would keep
them till the end of the feast, indeed I discovered that they were
to be offered up at the rising of the sun. How could I save them,
I wondered. My power was gone. The women could not be moved from
their work of vengeance; they were mad with their sufferings. As
well might a man try to snatch her prey from a puma robbed of her
whelps, as to turn them from their purpose. With the men it was
otherwise, however. Some of them mingled in the orgie indeed, but
more stood aloof watching with a fearful joy the spectacle in which
they did not share. Near me was a man, a noble of the Otomie, of
something more than my own age. He had always been my friend, and
after me he commanded the warriors of the tribe. I went to him and
said, 'Friend, for the sake of the honour of your people, help me
to end this.'
'I cannot, Teule,' he answered, 'and beware how you meddle in the
play, for none will stand by you. Now the women have power, and
you see they use it. They are about to die, but before they die
they will do as their fathers did, for their strait is sore, and
though they have been put aside, the old customs are not
'At the least can we not save these Teules?' I answered.
'Why should you wish to save the Teules? Will they save us some
few days hence, when WE are in their power?'
'Perhaps not,' I said, 'but if we must die, let us die clean from
'What then do you wish me to do, Teule?'
'This: I would have you find some three or four men who are not
fallen into this madness, and with them aid me to loose the Teules,
for we cannot save the others. If this may be done, surely we can
lower them with ropes from that point where the road is broken
away, down to the path beneath, and thus they may escape to their
'I will try,' he answered, shrugging his shoulders, 'not from any
tenderness towards the accursed Teules, whom I could well bear to
see stretched upon the stone, but because it is your wish, and for
the sake of the friendship between us.'
Then he went, and presently I saw several men place themselves, as
though by chance, between the spot where the last of the line of
Indian prisoners, and the first of the Spaniards were made fast, in
such a fashion as to hide them from the sight of the maddened
women, engrossed as they were in their orgies.
Now I crept up to the Spaniards. They were squatted upon the
ground, bound by their hands and feet to the copper rings in the
pavement. There they sat silently awaiting the dreadful doom,
their faces grey with terror, and their eyes starting from their
'Hist!' I whispered in Spanish into the ear of the first, an old
man whom I knew as one who had taken part in the wars of Cortes.
'Would you be saved?'
He looked up quickly, and said in a hoarse voice:
'Who are you that talk of saving us? Who can save us from these
'I am Teule, a man of white blood and a Christian, and alas that I
must say it, the captain of this savage people. With the aid of
some few men who are faithful to me, I purpose to cut your bonds,
and afterwards you shall see. Know, Spaniard, that I do this at
great risk, for if we are caught, it is a chance but that I myself
shall have to suffer those things from which I hope to rescue you.'
'Be assured, Teule,' answered the Spaniard, 'that if we should get
safe away, we shall not forget this service. Save our lives now,
and the time may come when we shall pay you back with yours. But
even if we are loosed, how can we cross the open space in this
moonlight and escape the eyes of those furies?'
'We must trust to chance for that,' I answered, and as I spoke,
fortune helped us strangely, for by now the Spaniards in their camp
below had perceived what was going forward on the crest of the
teocalli. A yell of horror rose from them and instantly they
opened fire upon us with their pieces and arquebusses, though,
because of the shape of the pyramid and of their position beneath
it, the storm of shot swept over us, doing us little or no hurt.
Also a great company of them poured across the courtyard, hoping to
storm the temple, for they did not know that the road had been
Now, though the rites of sacrifice never ceased, what with the roar
of cannon, the shouts of rage and terror from the Spaniards, the
hiss of musket balls, and the crackling of flames from houses which
they had fired to give them more light, and the sound of chanting,
the turmoil and confusion grew so great as to render the carrying
out of my purpose easier than I had hoped. By this time my friend,
the captain of the Otomie, was at my side, and with him several men
whom he could trust. Stooping down, with a few swift blows of a
knife I cut the ropes which bound the Spaniards. Then we gathered
ourselves into a knot, twelve of us or more, and in the centre of
the knot we set the five Spaniards. This done, I drew my sword and
'The Teules storm the temple!' which was true, for already their
long line was rushing up the winding path. 'The Teules storm the
temple, I go to stop them,' and straightway we sped across the open
None saw us, or if they saw us, none hindered us, for all the
company were intent upon the consummation of a fresh sacrifice;
moreover, the tumult was such, as I afterwards discovered, that we
were scarcely noticed. Two minutes passed, and our feet were set
upon the winding way, and now I breathed again, for we were beyond
the sight of the women. On we rushed swiftly as the cramped limbs
of the Spaniards would carry them, till presently we reached that
angle in the path where the breach began. The attacking Spaniards
had already come to the further side of the gap, for though we
could not see them, we could hear their cries of rage and despair
as they halted helplessly and understood that their comrades were
beyond their aid.
'Now we are sped,' said the Spaniard with whom I had spoken; 'the
road is gone, and it must be certain death to try the side of the
'Not so,' I answered; 'some fifty feet below the path still runs,
and one by one we will lower you to it with this rope.'
Then we set to work. Making the cord fast beneath the arms of a
soldier we let him down gently, till he came to the path, and was
received there by his comrades as a man returned from the dead.
The last to be lowered was that Spaniard with whom I had spoken.
'Farewell,' he said, 'and may the blessing of God be on you for
this act of mercy, renegade though you are. Say, now, will you not
come with me? I set my life and honour in pledge for your safety.
You tell me that you are still a Christian man. Is that a place
for Christians?' and he pointed upwards.
'No, indeed,' I answered, 'but still I cannot come, for my wife and
son are there, and I must return to die with them if need be. If
you bear me any gratitude, strive in return to save their lives,
since for my own I care but little.'
'That I will,' he said, and then we let him down among his friends,
whom he reached in safety.
Now we returned to the temple, giving it out that the Spaniards
were in retreat, having failed to cross the breach in the roadway.
Here before the temple the orgie still went on. But two Indians
remained alive; and the priests of sacrifice grew weary.
'Where are the Teules?' cried a voice. 'Swift! strip them for the
But the Teules were gone, nor, search where they would, could they
'Their God has taken them beneath His wing,' I said, speaking from
the shadow and in a feigned voice. 'Huitzel cannot prevail before
the God of the Teules.'
Then I slipped aside, so that none knew that it was I who had
spoken, but the cry was caught up and echoed far and wide.
'The God of the Christians has hidden them beneath His wing. Let
us make merry with those whom He rejects,' said the cry, and the
last of the captives were dragged away.
Now I thought that all was finished, but this was not so. I have
spoken of the secret purpose which I read in the sullen eyes of the
Indian women as they laboured at the barricades, and I was about to
see its execution. Madness still burned in the hearts of these
women; they had accomplished their sacrifice, but their festival
was still to come. They drew themselves away to the further side
of the pyramid, and, heedless of the shots which now and again
pierced the breast of one of them--for here they were exposed to
the Spanish fire--remained a while in preparation. With them went
the priests of sacrifice, but now, as before, the rest of the men
stood in sullen groups, watching what befell, but lifting no hand
or voice to hinder its hellishness.
One woman did not go with them, and that woman was Otomie my wife.
She stood by the stone of sacrifice, a piteous sight to see, for
her frenzy or rather her madness had outworn itself, and she was as
she had ever been. There stood Otomie, gazing with wide and
horror-stricken eyes now at the tokens of this unholy rite and now
at her own hands--as though she thought to see them red, and
shuddered at the thought. I drew near to her and touched her on
the shoulder. She turned swiftly, gasping,
'It is I,' I answered, 'but call me husband no more.'
'Oh! what have I done?' she wailed, and fell senseless in my arms.
And here I will add what at the time I knew nothing of, for it was
told me in after years by the Rector of this parish, a very learned
man, though one of narrow mind. Had I known it indeed, I should
have spoken more kindly to Otomie my wife even in that hour, and
thought more gently of her wickedness. It seems, so said my friend
the Rector, that from the most ancient times, those women who have
bent the knee to demon gods, such as were the gods of Anahuac, are
subject at any time to become possessed by them, even after they
have abandoned their worship, and to be driven in their frenzy to
the working of the greatest crimes. Thus, among other instances,
he told me that a Greek poet named Theocritus sets out in one of
his idyls how a woman called Agave, being engaged in a secret
religious orgie in honour of a demon named Dionysus, perceived her
own son Pentheus watching the celebration of the mysteries, and
thereon becoming possessed by the demon she fell on him and
murdered him, being aided by the other women. For this the poet,
who was also a worshipper of Dionysus, gave her great honour and
not reproach, seeing that she did the deed at the behest of this
god, 'a deed not to be blamed.'
Now I write of this for a reason, though it has nothing to do with
me, for it seems that as Dionysus possessed Agave, driving her to
unnatural murder, so did Huitzel possess Otomie, and indeed she
said as much to me afterwards. For I am sure that if the devils
whom the Greeks worshipped had such power, a still greater strength
was given to those of Anahuac, who among all fiends were the first.
If this be so, as I believe, it was not Otomie that I saw at the
rites of sacrifice, but rather the demon Huitzel whom she had once
worshipped, and who had power, therefore, to enter into her body
for awhile in place of her own spirit.
Taking Otomie in my arms, I bore her to one of the storehouses
attached to the temple. Here many children had been placed for
safety, among them my own son.
'What ails our mother, father?' said the boy. 'And why did she
shut me in here with these children when it seems that there is
'Your mother has fainted,' I answered, 'and doubtless she placed
you here to keep you safe. Now do you tend her till I return.'
'I will do so,' answered the boy, 'but surely it would be better
that I, who am almost a man, should be without, fighting the
Spaniards at your side rather than within, nursing sick women.'
'Do as I bid you, son,' I said, 'and I charge you not to leave this
place until I come for you again.'
Now I passed out of the storehouse, shutting the door behind me. A
minute later I wished that I had stayed where I was, since on the
platform my eyes were greeted by a sight more dreadful than any
that had gone before. For there, advancing towards us, were the
women divided into four great companies, some of them bearing
infants in their arms. They came singing and leaping, many of them
naked to the middle. Nor was this all, for in front of them ran
the pabas and such of the women themselves as were persons in
authority. These leaders, male and female, ran and leaped and
sang, calling upon the names of their demon-gods, and celebrating
the wickednesses of their forefathers, while after them poured the
howling troops of women.
To and fro they rushed, now making obeisance to the statue of
Huitzel, now prostrating themselves before his hideous sister, the
goddess of Death, who sat beside him adorned with her carven
necklace of men's skulls and hands, now bowing around the stone of
sacrifice, and now thrusting their bare arms into the flames of the
holy fire. For an hour or more they celebrated this ghastly
carnival, of which even I, versed as I was in the Indian customs,
could not fully understand the meaning, and then, as though some
single impulse had possessed them, they withdrew to the centre of
the open space, and, forming themselves into a double circle,
within which stood the pabas, of a sudden they burst into a chant
so wild and shrill that as I listened my blood curdled in my veins.
Even now the burden of that chant with the vision of those who sang
it sometimes haunts my sleep at night, but I will not write it
here. Let him who reads imagine all that is most cruel in the
heart of man, and every terror of the evillest dream, adding to
these some horror-ridden tale of murder, ghosts, and inhuman
vengeance; then, if he can, let him shape the whole in words and,
as in a glass darkly, perchance he may mirror the spirit of that
last ancient song of the women of the Otomie, with its sobs, its
cries of triumph, and its death wailings.
Ever as they sang, step by step they drew backwards, and with them
went the leaders of each company, their eyes fixed upon the statues
of their gods. Now they were but a segment of a circle, for they
did not advance towards the temple; backward and outward they went
with a slow and solemn tramp. There was but one line of them now,
for those in the second ring filled the gaps in the first as it
widened; still they drew on till at length they stood on the sheer
edge of the platform. Then the priests and the women leaders took
their place among them and for a moment there was silence, until at
a signal one and all they bent them backwards. Standing thus,
their long hair waving on the wind, the light of burning houses
flaring upon their breasts and in their maddened eyes, they burst
into the cry of:
'SAVE US, HUITZEL! RECEIVE US, LORD GOD, OUR HOME!'
Thrice they cried it, each time more shrilly than before, then
suddenly they were GONE, the women of the Otomie were no more!
With their own self-slaughter they had consummated the last
celebration of the rites of sacrifice that ever shall be held in
the City of Pines. The devil gods were dead and their worshippers
A low murmur ran round the lips of the men who watched, then one
cried, and his voice rang strangely in the sudden silence: 'May our
wives, the women of the Otomie, rest softly in the Houses of the
Sun, for of a surety they teach us how to die.'
'Ay,' I answered, 'but not thus. Let women do self-murder, our
foes have swords for the hearts of men.'
I turned to go, and before me stood Otomie.
'What has befallen?' she said. 'Where are my sisters? Oh! surely
I have dreamed an evil dream. I dreamed that the gods of my
forefathers were strong once more, and that once more they drank
the blood of men.
'Your ill dream has a worse awakening, Otomie,' I answered. 'The
gods of hell are still strong indeed in this accursed land, and
they have taken your sisters into their keeping.'
'Is it so?' she said softly, 'yet in my dream it seemed to me that
this was their last strength ere they sink into death unending.
Look yonder!' and she pointed toward the snowy crest of the volcan
I looked, but whether I saw the sight of which I am about to tell
or whether it was but an imagining born of the horrors of that most
hideous night, in truth I cannot say. At the least I seemed to see
this, and afterwards there were some among the Spaniards who swore
that they had witnessed it also.
On Xaca's lofty summit, now as always stood a pillar of fiery
smoke, and while I gazed, to my vision the smoke and the fire
separated themselves. Out of the fire was fashioned a cross of
flame, that shone like lightning and stretched for many a rod
across the heavens, its base resting on the mountain top. At its
foot rolled the clouds of smoke, and now these too took forms vast
and terrifying, such forms indeed as those that sat in stone within
the temple behind me, but magnified a hundredfold.
'See,' said Otomie again, 'the cross of your God shines above the
shapes of mine, the lost gods whom to-night I worshipped though not
of my own will.' Then she turned and went.
For some few moments I stood very much afraid, gazing upon the
vision on Xaca's snow, then suddenly the rays of the rising sun
smote it and it was gone.
Now for three days more we held out against the Spaniards, for they
could not come at us and their shot swept over our heads
harmlessly. During these days I had no talk with Otomie, for we
shrank from one another. Hour by hour she would sit in the
storehouse of the temple a very picture of desolation. Twice I
tried to speak with her, my heart being moved to pity by the dumb
torment in her eyes, but she turned her head from me and made no
Soon it came to the knowledge of the Spaniards that we had enough
food and water upon the teocalli to enable us to live there for a
month or more, and seeing that there was no hope of capturing the
place by force of arms, they called a parley with us.
I went down to the breach in the roadway and spoke with their
envoy, who stood upon the path below. At first the terms offered
were that we should surrender at discretion. To this I answered
that sooner than do so we would die where we were. Their reply was
that if we would give over all who had any part in the human
sacrifice, the rest of us might go free. To this I said that the
sacrifice had been carried out by women and some few men, and that
all of these were dead by their own hands. They asked if Otomie
was also dead. I told them no, but that I would never surrender
unless they swore that neither she nor her son should be harmed,
but rather that together with myself they should be given a safe-
conduct to go whither we willed. This was refused, but in the end
I won the day, and a parchment was thrown up to me on the point of
a lance. This parchment, which was signed by the Captain Bernal
Diaz, set out that in consideration of the part that I and some men
of the Otomie had played in rescuing the Spanish captives from
death by sacrifice, a pardon was granted to me, my wife and child,
and all upon the teocalli, with liberty to go whither-soever we
would unharmed, our lands and wealth being however declared forfeit
to the viceroy.
With these terms I was well content, indeed I had never hoped to
win any that would leave us our lives and liberty.
And yet for my part death had been almost as welcome, for now
Otomie had built a wall between us that I could never climb, and I
was bound to her, to a woman who, willingly or no, had stained her
hands with sacrifice. Well, my son was left to me and with him I
must be satisfied; at the least he knew nothing of his mother's
shame. Oh! I thought to myself as I climbed the teocalli, oh! that
I could but escape far from this accursed land and bear him with me
to the English shores, ay, and Otomie also, for there she might
forget that once she had been a savage. Alas! it could scarcely
Coming to the temple, I and those with me told the good tidings to
our companions, who received it silently. Men of a white race
would have rejoiced thus to escape, for when death is near all
other loss seems as nothing. But with these Indian people it is
not so, since when fortune frowns upon them they do not cling to
life. These men of the Otomie had lost their country, their wives,
their wealth, their brethren, and their homes; therefore life, with
freedom to wander whither they would, seemed no great thing to
them. So they met the boon that I had won from the mercy of our
foes, as had matters gone otherwise they would have met the bane,
in sullen silence.
I came to Otomie, and to her also I told the news.
'I had hoped to die here where I am,' she answered. 'But so be it;
death is always to be found.'
Only my son rejoiced, because he knew that God had saved us all
from death by sword or hunger.
'Father,' he said, 'the Spaniards have given us life, but they take
our country and drive us out of it. Where then shall we go?'
'I do not know, my son,' I answered.
'Father,' the lad said again, 'let us leave this land of Anahuac
where there is nothing but Spaniards and sorrow. Let us find a
ship and sail across the seas to England, our own country.'
The boy spoke my very thought and my heart leapt at his words,
though I had no plan to bring the matter about. I pondered a
moment, looking at Otomie.
'The thought is good, Teule,' she said, answering my unspoken
question; 'for you and for our son there is no better, but for
myself I will answer in the proverb of my people, "The earth that
bears us lies lightest on our bones."'
Then she turned, making ready to quit the storehouse of the temple
where we had been lodged during the siege, and no more was said
about the matter.
Before the sun set a weary throng of men, with some few women and
children, were marching across the courtyard that surrounded the
pyramid, for a bridge of timbers taken from the temple had been
made over the breach in the roadway that wound about its side.
At the gates the Spaniards were waiting to receive us. Some of
them cursed us, some mocked, but those of the nobler sort said
nothing, for they pitied our plight and respected us for the
courage we had shown in the last struggle. Their Indian allies
were there also, and these grinned like unfed pumas, snarling and
whimpering for our lives, till their masters kicked them to
silence. The last act of the fall of Anahuac was as the first had
been, dog still ate dog, leaving the goodly spoil to the lion who
At the gates we were sorted out; the men of small condition,
together with the children, were taken from the ruined city by an
escort and turned loose upon the mountains, while those of note
were brought to the Spanish camp, to be questioned there before
they were set free. I, with my wife and son, was led to the
palace, our old home, there to learn the will of the Captain Diaz.
It is but a little way to go, and yet there was something to be
seen in the path. For as we walked I looked up, and before me,
standing with folded arms and apart from all men, was de Garcia. I
had scarcely thought of him for some days, so full had my mind been
of other matters, but at the sight of his evil face I remembered
that while this man lived, sorrow and danger must be my bedfellows.
He watched us pass, taking note of all, then he called to me who
'Farewell, Cousin Wingfield. You have lived through this bout also
and won a free pardon, you, your woman and your brat together. If
the old war-horse who is set over us as a captain had listened to
me you should have been burned at the stake, every one of you, but
so it is. Farewell for a while, friend. I am away to Mexico to
report these matters to the viceroy, who may have a word to say.'
I made no answer, but asked of our conductor, that same Spaniard
whom I had saved from the sacrifice, what the senor meant by his
'This, Teule; that there has been a quarrel between our comrade
Sarceda and our captain. The former would have granted you no
terms, or failing this would have decoyed you from your stronghold
with false promises, and then have put you to the sword as infidels
with whom no oath is binding. But the captain would not have it
so, for he said that faith must be kept even with the heathen, and
we whom you had saved cried shame on him. And so words ran high,
and in the end the Senor Sarceda, who is third in command among us,
declared that he would be no party to this peacemaking, but would
be gone to Mexico with his servants, there to report to the
viceroy. Then the Captain Diaz bade him begone to hell if he
wished and report to the devil, saying that he had always believed
that he had escaped thence by mistake, and they parted in wrath
who, since the day of noche triste, never loved each other much;
the end of it being that Sarceda rides for Mexico within an hour,
to make what mischief he can at the viceroy's court, and I think
that you are well rid of him.'
'Father,' said my son to me, 'who is that Spaniard who looks so
cruelly upon us?'
'That is he of whom I have told you, son, de Garcia, who has been
the curse of our race for two generations, who betrayed your
grandfather to the Holy Office, and murdered your grandmother, who
put me to torture, and whose ill deeds are not done with yet.
Beware of him, son, now and ever, I beseech you.'
Now we were come to the palace, almost the only house that was left
standing in the City of Pines. Here an apartment was given to us
at the end of the long building, and presently a command was
brought to us that I and my wife should wait upon the Spanish
So we went, though Otomie desired to stay behind, leaving our son
alone in the chamber where food had been brought to him. I
remember that I kissed him before I left, though I do not know what
moved me to do so, unless it was because I thought that he might be
asleep when I returned. The Captain Diaz had his quarters at the
other end of the palace, some two hundred paces away. Presently we
stood before him. He was a rough-looking, thick-set man well on in
years, with bright eyes and an ugly honest face, like the face of a
peasant who has toiled a lifetime in all weathers, only the fields
that Diaz tilled were fields of war, and his harvest had been the
lives of men. Just then he was joking with some common soldiers in
a strain scarcely suited to nice ears, but so soon as he saw us he
ceased and came forward. I saluted him after the Indian fashion by
touching the earth with my hand, for what was I but an Indian
'Your sword,' he said briefly, as he scanned me with his quick
I unbuckled it from my side and handed it to him, saying in
'Take it, Captain, for you have conquered, also it does but come
back to its owner.' For this was the same sword that I had
captured from one Bernal Diaz in the fray of the noche triste.
He looked at it, then swore a great oath and said:
'I thought that it could be no other man. And so we meet again
thus after so many years. Well, you gave me my life once, and I am
glad that I have lived to pay the debt. Had I not been sure that
it was you, you had not won such easy terms, friend. How are you
named? Nay, I know what the Indians call you.'
'I am named Wingfield.'
'Friend Wingfield then. For I tell you that I would have sat
beneath yonder devil's house,' and he nodded towards the teocalli,
'till you starved upon its top. Nay, friend Wingfield, take back
the sword. I suited myself with another many years ago, and you
have used this one gallantly; never have I seen Indians make a
better fight. And so that is Otomie, Montezuma's daughter and your
wife, still handsome and royal, I see. Lord! Lord! it is many
years ago, and yet it seems but yesterday that I saw her father
die, a Christian-hearted man, though no Christian, and one whom we
dealt ill with. May God forgive us all! Well, Madam, none can say
that YOU have a Christian heart. If a certain tale that I have
heard of what passed yonder, some three nights since, is true. But
we will speak no more of it, for the savage blood will show, and
you are pardoned for your husband's sake who saved my comrades from
To all this Otomie listened, standing still like a statue, but she
never answered a word. Indeed she had spoken very rarely since
that dreadful night of her unspeakable shame.
'And now, friend Wingfield,' went on the Captain Diaz, 'what is
your purpose? You are free to go where you will, whither then will
'I do not know,' I answered. 'Years ago, when the Aztec emperor
gave me my life and this princess my wife in marriage, I swore to
be faithful to him and his cause, and to fight for them till Popo
ceased to vomit smoke, till there was no king in Tenoctitlan, and
the people of Anahuac were no more a people.'
'Then you are quit of your oath, friend, for all these things have
come about, and there has been no smoke on Popo for these two
years. Now, if you will be advised by me, you will turn Christian
again and enter the service of Spain. But come, let us to supper,
we can talk of these matters afterwards.'
So we sat down to eat by the light of torches in the banqueting
hall with Bernal Diaz and some other of the Spaniards. Otomie
would have left us, and though the captain bade her stay she ate
nothing, and presently slipped away from the chamber.
During that meal Bernal Diaz spoke of our first meeting on the
causeway, and of how I had gone near to killing him in error,
thinking that he was Sarceda, and then he asked me what was my
quarrel with Sarceda.
In as few words as possible I told him the story of my life, of all
the evil that de Garcia or Sarceda had worked upon me and mine, and
of how it was through him that I was in this land that day. He
'Holy Mother!' he said at length, 'I always knew him for a villain,
but that, if you do not lie, friend Wingfield, he could be such a
man as this, I did not know. Now by my word, had I heard this tale
an hour ago, Sarceda should not have left this camp till he had
answered it or cleared himself by combat with you. But I fear it
is too late; he was to leave for Mexico at the rising of the moon,
to stir up mischief against me because I granted you terms--not
that I fear him there, where his repute is small.'
'I do not lie indeed,' I answered. 'Much of this tale I can prove
if need be, and I tell you that I would give half the life that is
left to me to stand face to face in open fight with him again.
Ever he has escaped me, and the score between us is long.'
Now as I spoke thus it seemed to me that a cold and dreadful air
played upon my hands and brow and a warning sense of present evil
crept into my soul, overcoming me so that I could not stir or speak
for a while.
'Let us go and see if he has gone,' said Diaz presently, and
summoning a guard, he was about to leave the chamber. It was at
this moment that I chanced to look up and see a woman standing in
the doorway. Her hand rested on the doorpost; her head, from which
the long hair streamed, was thrown back, and on her face was a look
of such anguish that at first, so much was she changed, I did not
know her for Otomie. When I knew her, I knew all; one thing only
could conjure up the terror and agony that shone in her deep eyes.
'What has chanced to our son?' I asked.
'DEAD, DEAD!' she answered in a whisper that seemed to pierce my
I said nothing, for my heart told me what had happened, but Diaz
asked, 'Dead--why, what has killed him?'
'De Garcia! I saw him go,' replied Otomie; then she tossed her
arms high, and without another sound fell backwards to the earth.
In that moment I think that my heart broke--at least I know that
nothing has had the power to move me greatly since, though this
memory moves me day by day and hour by hour, till I die and go to
seek my son.
'Say, Bernal Diaz,' I cried, with a hoarse laugh, 'did I lie to you
concerning this comrade of yours?'
Then, springing over Otomie's body I left the chamber, followed by
Bernal Diaz and the others.
Without the door I turned to the left towards the camp. I had not
gone a hundred paces when, in the moonlight, I saw a small troop of
horsemen riding towards us. It was de Garcia and his servants, and
they headed towards the mountain pass on their road to Mexico. I
was not too late.
'Halt!' cried Bernal Diaz.
'Who commands me to halt?' said the voice of de Garcia.
'I, your captain,' roared Diaz. 'Halt, you devil, you murderer, or
you shall be cut down.'
I saw him start and turn pale.
'These are strange manners, senor,' he said. 'Of your grace I ask--"
At this moment de Garcia caught sight of me for the first time, for
I had broken from the hold of Diaz who clutched my arm, and was
moving towards him. I said nothing, but there was something in my
face which told him that I knew all, and warned him of his doom.
He looked past me, but the narrow road was blocked with men. I
drew near, but he did not wait for me. Once he put his hand on the
hilt of the sword, then suddenly he wheeled his horse round and
fled down the street of Xaca.
De Garcia fled, and I followed after him, running fast and low like
a hound. At first he gained on me, but soon the road grew rough,
and he could not gallop over it. We were clear of the town now, or
rather of its ruins, and travelling along a little path which the
Indians used to bring down snow from Xaca in the hot weather.
Perhaps there are some five miles of this path before the snow line
is reached, beyond which no Indian dared to set his foot, for the
ground above was holy. Along this path he went, and I was content
to see it, for I knew well that the traveller cannot leave it,
since on either side lie water-courses and cliffs. Mile after mile
de Garcia followed it, looking now to the left, now to the right,
and now ahead at the great dome of snow crowned with fire that
towered above him. But he never looked behind him; he knew what
was there--death in the shape of a man!
I came on doggedly, saving my strength. I was sure that I must
catch him at last, it did not matter when.
At length he reached the snow-line where the path ended, and for
the first time he looked back. There I was some two hundred paces
behind him. I, his death, was behind him, and in front of him
shone the snow. For a moment he hesitated, and I heard the heavy
breathing of his horse in the great stillness. Then he turned and
faced the slope, driving his spurs into the brute's sides. The
snow was hard, for here the frost bit sharply, and for a while,
though it was so steep, the horse travelled over it better than he
had done along the pathway. Now, as before, there was only one
road that he could take, for we passed up the crest of a ridge, a
pleat as it were in the garment of the mountain, and on either side
were steeps of snow on which neither horse nor man might keep his
footing. For two hours or more we followed that ridge, and as we
went through the silence of the haunted volcan, and the loneliness
of its eternal snows, it seemed to me that my spirit entered into
the spirit of my quarry, and that with its eyes I saw all that was
passing in his heart. To a man so wronged the dream was pleasant
even if it were not true, for I read there such agony, such black
despair, such haunting memories, such terror of advancing death and
of what lay beyond it, that no revenge of man's could surpass their
torment. And it was true--I knew that it was true; he suffered all
this and more, for if he had no conscience, at least he had fear
and imagination to quicken and multiply the fear.
Now the snow grew steeper, and the horse was almost spent, for he
could scarcely breathe at so great a height. In vain did de Garcia
drive his spurs into its sides, the gallant beast could do no more.
Suddenly it fell down. Surely, I thought, he will await me now.
But even I had not fathomed the depth of his terrors, for de Garcia
disengaged himself from the fallen horse, looked towards me, then
fled forward on his feet, casting away his armour as he went that
he might travel more lightly.
By this time we had passed the snow and were come to the edge of
the ice cap that is made by the melting of the snow with the heat
of the inner fires, or perhaps by that of the sun in hot seasons, I
know not, and its freezing in the winter months or in the cold of
the nights. At least there is such a cap on Xaca, measuring nearly
a mile in depth, which lies between the snow and the black rim of
the crater. Up this ice climbed de Garcia, and the task is not of
the easiest, even for one of untroubled mind, for a man must step
from crack to crack or needle to needle of rough ice, that stand
upon the smooth surface like the bristles on a hog's back, and woe
to him if one break or if he slip, for then, as he falls, very
shortly the flesh will be filed from his bones by the thousands of
sword-like points over which he must pass in his descent towards
the snow. Indeed, many times I feared greatly lest this should
chance to de Garcia, for I did not desire to lose my vengeance
thus. Therefore twice when I saw him in danger I shouted to him,
telling him where to put his feet, for now I was within twenty
paces of him, and, strange to say, he obeyed me without question,
forgetting everything in his terror of instant death. But for
myself I had no fear, for I knew that I should not fall, though the
place was one which I had surely shrunk from climbing at any other
All this while we had been travelling towards Xaca's fiery crest by
the bright moonlight, but now the dawn broke suddenly on the
mountain top, and the flame died away in the heart of the pillar of
smoke. It was wonderful to see the red glory that shone upon the
ice-cap, and on us two men who crept like flies across it, while
the mountain's breast and the world below were plunged in the
shadows of night.
'Now we have a better light to climb by, comrade!' I called to de
Garcia, and my voice rang strangely among the ice cliffs, where
never a man's voice had echoed before.
As I spoke the mountain rumbled and bellowed beneath us, shaking
like a wind-tossed tree, as though in wrath at the desecration of
its sacred solitudes. With the rumbling came a shower of grey
ashes that rained down on us, and for a little while hid de Garcia
from my sight. I heard him call out in fear, and was afraid lest
he had fallen; but presently the ashes cleared away, and I saw him
standing safely on the lava rim that surrounds the crater.
Now, I thought, he will surely make a stand, for could he have
found courage it had been easy for him to kill me with his sword,
which he still wore, as I climbed from the ice to the hot lava. It
seemed that he thought of it, for he turned and glared at me like a
devil, then went on again, leaving me wondering where he believed
that he would find refuge. Some three hundred paces from the edge
of the ice, the smoke and steam of the crater rose into the air,
and between the two was lava so hot that in places it was difficult
to walk upon it. Across this bed, that trembled as I passed over