You're here: oChristian.com » Articles Home » Charles Kingsley » True Words for Brave Men, 26 - THE STORY OF CORTEZ

True Words for Brave Men, 26 - THE STORY OF CORTEZ

By Charles Kingsley


      THE STORY OF CORTEZ; OR PLUCK IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
      A LECTURE DELIVERED AT ALDERSHOT CAMP, NOV. 1858.

      It seemed to me that, having to speak to-night to soldiers, that I ought to speak about soldiers. Some story, I thought, about your own profession would please you most and teach you most. Some story, I say, for it is not my business to tell you what soldiers ought to be like. That, I daresay, you know a great deal better than I; and I only hope I may do my duty as a parson half as well as British soldiers do their duty, and will always do it.

      So I thought of telling you to-night some sort of a story--a true one, of course, about wars and battles--some story about the British army; but then I thought there are plenty of officers who can do that far better than I,--so I will take some story of foreign armies, and one of old times too. And though no soldier myself, but only a scholar, and reader of queer old books, I may make my scholarship of some use to you who have to drill and fight, and die too, for us comfortable folks who sit at home and read our books by our fireside.

      Then I thought of the story of Cortez the Spaniard, and how he conquered the great empire of Mexico with a handful of brave men. That, I thought, would be an example to you of what men can do who have stout hearts and good weapons, and who have faith too in God, and believe that if they do their duty God will prosper them. And I thought I could do it all the better, because I like the story, and enjoy reading it again and again; for I know no such dashing and desperate deed of courage in history, except Havelock's advance upon Lucknow.

      So now I will begin my story, telling you first where Mexico is, and what it was like when Cortez landed in it, more than three hundred years ago.

      You, all of you, have heard of the West India station--some of you have been there. Beyond those West India Islands lies the great Gulf of Mexico, and beyond that the mainland of North America, and Mexico itself. It is now thinly peopled by Spaniards, the descendants of settlers who came over after Cortez's time; and a very lazy, cowardly set most of them are,--very different from the old heroes, their forefathers. Our Yankee cousins can lick them now, one to five, and will end, I believe, in conquering the whole country. But in Cortez's time, the place was very different. It was full of vast numbers of heathens, brownish coloured people, something like the Red Indians you see in Canada, but a fairer, handsomer, stouter, heavier-bodied race; and much more civilised also. They had great cities and idol temples, aqueducts for water, and all sorts of noble buildings, all of most curiously carved stone; which is all the more wonderful and creditable to them, when we remember that they had no iron--not a knife--not a nail of iron among them. But they had found out how to make bronze by mixing tin and copper, and with it could work the hardest stones, as well as we can with iron. They had another stuff which was curious enough, of which they made knives, razors, arrow heads, and saw-edged swords as keen as razors--and that was glass. They did not make the glass--they found it about the burning mountains, of which Mexico is full; itztli they called it; we call it obsidian. It is tougher than our glass, and chips to a fine razor edge. I have seen arrows of it, which I am certain would go clean through a man, and knives which would take his arm off, bone and all. I want you to remember these glass weapons, for Cortez's Spaniards had cause enough to remember them when they came to fight. Gunpowder, of course, they knew nothing of, nor of horses or cattle either. They had no beasts of draught; and all the stones and timber for their magnificent buildings were carried by hand. But they were first-rate farmers; and for handicraft work, such as pottery, weaving, and making all kinds of ornaments, I can answer for it, for I have seen a good deal of their work--they had not then their equals in the world. They made the most beautiful dresses out of the feathers of birds--parrots, humming birds, and such like, which fill the forests in hot countries. And what was more, their country abounded in gold and jewels, and they knew how to work them, just as well as we do. They could work gold into the likeness of flowers, of birds with every feather like life, and into a thousand trinkets. Their soil was most fruitful of all that man can want--there was enough of the best for all to eat; and altogether there never was a richer, and need never have been a happier people, if they had but been good. But that was just what they were not. A bad lot they were, cruel and blood-thirsty, continually at war with each other; and as for cruelty, just take this one story. At the opening of a great temple to one of their idols in 1486, about thirty years before the Spaniards came, they sacrificed to the idol seventy-thousand human beings!

      This offering in sacrifice of human beings to their idols was their regular practice. They got these poor creatures by conquering all the nations round, and carrying back their prisoners to sacrifice; and if they failed, they took poor people of their own, for blood they and their false gods must have. Men, and sometimes women and children, were murdered by them in their temples, often with the most horrible tortures, to the number, I am afraid there is no doubt of it, of many thousands every year; and their flesh afterwards cooked delicately, was eaten as a luxury by people who, as far as outward show went, were just as fine gentlemen and ladies as there are now.

      When the Spaniards got into Mexico, they found the walls of the temples crusted inches thick in blood, the altars of the idols heaped with smoking human hearts, and whole houses full of skulls. They counted in one house one hundred and thirty-six thousand skulls. It was high time to get rid of those Mexicans off the face of the earth; and in God's good time a man was found to rid the earth of them, and that man was Hernando Cortez.

      And who was Cortez? He was a poor young Spanish gentleman, son of an infantry captain, who, in his youth, was sickly and weakly; and his father tried to make a lawyer of him, and would have done it, but young Cortez kicked over the traces, as we say, right and left, and turned out such a wild fellow, that he would not stay at college; and after getting into plenty of scrapes, started as a soldier to the West Indies when he was only nineteen. Little did people think what stuff there was in that wild, sickly lad!

      How he got on in the Spanish West Indies would be a long story. I will only tell you that he turned out a thoroughly good soldier, and a very dashing smart fellow, a first-rate rider and fencer, a great dandy in his dress; but also--and if you go to hot climates, keep this in mind--a particularly sober and temperate man, who drank nothing, and could eat anything. And he had, it is said, the most extraordinary power of managing his men. He was always cool and determined; and what he said had to be done, and they knew it; but his way with them was so frank and kind, and he was so ready to be the foremost in daring and enduring, living worse often than his own men, while he was doing every thing for their comfort, that there was nothing they would not do for him, as the event proved--for if those soldiers had not trusted him for life and death, I should not have this grand story to tell.

      At last he married a very pretty woman, and got an estate in the West Indies, and settled down there; and the chances were ten to one that no one ever heard of him. However, dim reports came to the West Indies of this great empire of Mexico, and of all its wonders and wealth, and that stirred up Cortez's blood; and nothing would serve him but that leaving wife and estate, he must start out again to seek his fortune.

      He got a commission from the Governor, such as it was, for they were lawless places those Spanish West Indies then; and everybody fulfilled a certain Irishman's notion of true liberty--for he did "what was right in the sight of his own eyes, and what was wrong too"--and Cortez's commission was to go and discover this country, and trade with the people, and make Christians of them--that is, if he could.

      So he got together a little army, and sailed away with it for the unknown land. He had about one hundred sailors, five hundred and fifty soldiers armed with sword and pike, and among them thirty-two cross-bow men, and thirteen musketeers. Above all, he had sixteen horses, ten heavy guns--or what may be called heavy guns in those times--about 9-pounders, I suppose, and four smaller guns; and with that he set out to conquer a new world; and he conquered it!

      He did not know whither he was going. All he knew was, that this wonderful country of Mexico was somewhere, and treasures inestimable in it. And one other thing he knew, that if mortal man could get there, he would.

      He landed at Tabasco--where Vera Cruz city stands now--fought with the Indians, who ran away at the sight of the horses and noise of the cannon; and then made friends with them. From them he got presents, and among others, a present which was worth more than its weight in gold to him, namely, a young slave girl, who had been born near Mexico, and knew the language. She was very clever, and very beautiful; and soon learnt to speak Spanish. She had been a princess in her own country, and was sold as a slave by her cruel stepmother. They made a Christian of her, and called her Dona Marina,--her Indian name was Malinche,--and she became Cortez's interpreter to the Indians, and his secretary. And she loved him and served him as faithfully as true woman ever loved man, and saved him and his from a hundred dangers. And the Spaniards reverence her name still; and call a mighty snow mountain after her, Malinche, to this day.

      After that he marched inland, hearing more and more of the wonders of Mexico, till he came at last, after many adventures, to a country called Tlascala, up among high mountains.

      The men who lived there seem to have been rough honest fellows; and brave enough they showed themselves. The Mexicans who lived in the plains below never could conquer them, though they had been fighting with them for full two hundred years. These Tlascalans turned out like men, and fought Cortez--one hundred Indians to one Spaniard they fought for four mortal hours; but horses and cannon were too much for them, and by evening they were beaten off. They attempted to surprise him the same night, and were beaten off again with great slaughter. Whereon a strange thing happened.

      Cortez, through Dona Marina, his interpreter, sent them in fair terms. If they would make peace he would forget and forgive all; if not, he would kill every man of them, and level their city to the ground. Whereon, after more fighting, the Tlascalans behaved like wise and brave men. They understood at last that Cortez's point was not Tlascala, but Mexico; and the Mexicans were their bitterest enemies; and they had the good sense to shake hands with the Spaniards, and make all up. And faithful friends they were, and bravely they fought side by side during all the terrible campaign that followed. Meanwhile, Cortez's own men began to lose heart. They had had terrible fighting already, and no plunder. As for getting to Mexico, it was all a dream. But Cortez and Dona Marina, this wonderful Indian girl, kept them up. No doubt they were in awful danger--a handful of strangers walking blindfold in a vast empire, not one foot of ground of which they knew: but Cortez knew the further they went the further they must go, for it was impossible to go back. So on and on they went; and as they went they met ambassadors from Montezuma, the great Emperor of Mexico. The very sight of these men confirmed all that they had heard of the riches of that great empire, for these Indian lords came blazing with gold and jewels, and the most magnificent dresses; and of their power, for at one city which had let Cortez in peaceably without asking the Emperor's leave, they demanded as a fine five and twenty Indian young men and forty girls to be offered in sacrifice to their idols. Cortez answered that by clapping them in irons, and then sending them back to the Emperor, with a message that whether he liked or not, he was coming to Mexico.

      You may call that desperate rashness; but like a good deal of rashness, it paid. This great Emperor Montezuma was utterly panic-stricken. There were old prophecies that white gods should come over the sea and destroy him and his empire; and he took it into his head that these Spaniards were the white gods, and that there was no use resisting them. He had been a brave man in his youth, and a great warrior; but he utterly lost his head now. He sent magnificent presents to the Spaniards to buy them off; but that only made them the more keen to come on; and come they did, till they saw underneath them the city of Mexico, which must have been then one of the wonders of the world.

      It lay in the midst of a great salt lake, and could only be reached from shore by long causeways, beautifully built of stone. On this lake were many islands; and what was most curious of all, floating gardens, covered with all sorts of vegetables and flowers.

      How big the city was no one will ever know now; but the old ruins of it show how magnificent its buildings must have been, full of palaces and temples of every kind of carved stone, surrounded by flower gardens, while the whole city was full of fountains, supplied with pure water brought in pipes from the mountains round. I suppose so beautiful a sight as that city of Mexico has never been seen since on earth. Only one ugly feature there was in it--great pyramids of stone, hundreds of them, with idol temples on the top, on each of which was kept up a perpetual fire, fed with the fat of human beings.

      To their surprise the Emperor received them peaceably, came out to meet them, gave them such presents, that the common soldiers were covered with chains of gold; invited them into the city, and gave them a magnificent palace to live in, and endless slaves to wait upon them. It sounds all like a fairy tale; but it is as true as that you and I are here.

      But the cunning emperor had been plotting against them all the while; and no great blame to him; and at last one of those plots came to light; and Cortez made up his mind to take the Emperor prisoner. And he did it. Right or wrong, we can hardly say now. This Montezuma was a bad, false man, a tyrant and a cannibal; but still it looks ugly to seize a man who is acting as your friend. However, Cortez had courage, in the midst of that great city, with hundreds of thousands of Indians round him, to go and tell the Emperor that he must come with him. And--so strong is a man when he chooses to be strong--the Emperor actually went with Cortez a prisoner.

      Cortez--and that was an unworthy action--put him in irons for an hour, to show him that he was master; and then took off his irons, and treated him like a king. The poor Emperor had all he wanted--all his wives, and slaves, and finery, and eatables, and drinkables; but he was a mere puppet in the Spaniard's hands; and knew it. And strangely enough, not being able to get out of his mind the fancy that these Spaniards were gods, or at least, the children of the gods, he treated them so generously and kindly, that they all loved him; he obeyed them in everything; took up a great friendship with several; and ended actually by giving them all his treasures of gold to melt down and part among themselves. As I say, it sounds all like a fairy tale, but it happened in this very month of November 1519.

      But Cortez had been too prosperous not to meet with a mishap. Every great man must be tried by trouble; and so was Cortez. News came to him that a fresh army of Spaniards had landed, as he thought at first, to help him. They had nine hundred men, eighty of whom were horse soldiers, eighty musqueteers, one hundred and fifty cross-bow men, a good train of heavy guns, ammunition, &c. What was Cortez's disgust when he found that the treacherous Governor of Cuba had sent them, not to help him, but to take him prisoner as a rebel? It was a villainous business got up out of envy of Cortez's success, and covetousness of his booty. But in the Spanish colonies in those days, so far from home, there was very little law; and the governors and adventurers were always quarrelling and fighting with each other.

      What did Cortez do? made up his mind as usual to do the desperate thing, and marched against Narvaez with only seventy men, no guns, and hardly any muskets--seventy against nine hundred. It was fearful odds; but he was forced to leave the rest to keep Mexico down. And he armed his men with very long lances, tipped at both ends with copper--for he had no iron; with them he hoped to face Narvaez's cavalry.

      And he did it. Happily on his road he met an old friend with one hundred and twenty soldiers, who had been sent off to form a colony on the coast. They were as true as steel to him. And with that one hundred and ninety he surprised and defeated by night Narvaez's splendid little army. And what is more, after beating them, made such friends with them, that he engaged them all next morning to march with him wherever he wanted. The man was like a spider--whoever fell into his net, friend or foe, never came out again till he had sucked him dry.

      Now he hurried back to Mexico, and terribly good reason he had; for Alvarado whom he had left in garrison had quarrelled with the Mexicans, and set upon them at one of their idol feasts, and massacred great numbers of their leading men. It was a bloody black business, and bitterly the Spaniards paid for it. Cortez when he heard it actually lost his temper for once, and called his lieutenant-general a madman and a traitor; but he could not afford to cashier him, for after all he was the best and bravest man he had. But the mischief was done. The whole city of Mexico, the whole country round, had risen in fury, had driven the Spanish garrison into the great palace; and worst of all, had burnt the boats, which Cortez had left to get off by, if the bridges were burst down. So there was Alvarado shut up, exactly like the English at Lucknow, with this difference, that the Spaniards deserved what they got, and the English, God knows, did not. And there was Cortez like another Havelock or Colin Campbell marching to deliver them. But he met a very different reception. These crafty Mexicans never struck a blow. All was as still as the grave. As they came over the long causeways and bridges, there was not a canoe upon the lake, not an Indian in the floating gardens. As they marched through the streets of the glorious city, the streets were as empty as a desert. And the Spaniard knew that he was walking into a trap, out of which none of them might come out alive; but their hearts never failed them, and they marched on to the sound of their bugles, and were answered by joyful salutes of cannon from the relieved garrison.

      The Mexicans had shut up the markets, and no food was to be got. Cortez sent to open them. He sent another messenger off to the coast to say all was safe, and that he should soon conquer the rebels. But here, a cleverer man than I must tell the story.

      "But scarcely had his messenger been gone half an hour, when he returned breathless with terror and covered with wounds. 'The city,' he said, 'was all in arms! the drawbridges were raised, and the enemy would soon be upon them! He spoke truth. It was not long before a hoarse sullen sound became audible, like that of the roaring of distant waters. It grew louder and louder, till from the parapet surrounding the enclosure, the great avenues which led to it might be seen dark with the masses of warriors, who came rolling on in a confused tide towards the fortress. At the same time the terraces and flat roofs in the neighbourhood were thronged with combatants, brandishing their missiles, who seemed to have risen up as if by magic! It was a spectacle to appall the stoutest. The Spanish forces were crowded into a small compact mass in the palace, and the whole army could be assembled at a moment's notice. No sooner, therefore, did the trumpet call to arms, than every soldier was at his post--the cavalry mounted, the artillerymen at their guns, and the archers and arquebusiers stationed so as to give the assailants a warm reception. On they came, with the companies, or irregular masses, into which the multitude was divided, rushing forward each in its own dense column, with many a gay banner displayed, and many a bright gleam of light reflected from helmet, arrow, and spear head, as they were tossed about in their disorderly array. As they drew near, the Aztecs set up a hideous yell, which rose far above the sound of shell and atabat, and their other rude instruments of warlike melody. They followed this by a tempest of missiles--stones, darts, arrows--which fell thick as rain on the besieged. The Spaniards waited till the foremost column had arrived, when a general discharge of artillery and arquebusses swept the ranks of the assailants, and mowed them down by hundreds." {222} . . .

      So the fight raged on with fury for two days, while the Aztecs, Indians who only fought by day, howled out to the wretched Spaniards every night. On the third day Cortez brought out the Emperor Montezuma, and commanded him to quiet the Indians. The unhappy man obeyed him. He had made up his mind that these Spaniards were the white gods, who were to take his kingdom from him, and he submitted to them like a sheep to the butcher. He went up to a tower in all his royal robes and jewels. At the sight the Indians who filled the great square below were all hushed--thousands threw themselves on their faces; and to their utter astonishment, he asked them what they meant by rebelling. He was no prisoner, he said, but the Spaniard's guest and friend. The Spaniards would go peaceably, if they would let them. In any case he was the Spaniard's friend.

      The Indians answered him by a yell of fury and contempt. He was a dog--a woman--fit only to weave and spin; and a volley of stones and arrows flew at him. One struck him on the head and dropped him senseless. The Indians set up a howl of terror; and frightened at what they had done, fled away ashamed.

      The wretched Emperor refused comfort, food, help, tore the bandages from his wounds, and died in two days. He had been a bad man, a cannibal, and a butcher, blood-thirsty and covetous, a ravisher of virgins, and a tyrant to his people. But the Spaniards had got to love him in spite of all; for a true friend he had been to them, and a fearful loss to them just now. The battle went on worse than ever. The great idol temple commanded the palace, and was covered with Mexican warriors. And next day Cortez sent a party to storm it. They tried to get up the winding stairs, and were driven back three times with fearful loss. Cortez, though he had but one hand to fight with, sallied out and cleared the pyramid himself, after a fearful hand-to-hand fight of three hours, up the winding stairs, along the platforms, and at last upon the great square on the top, an acre in breadth. Every Mexican was either killed, or hurled down the sides. The idol, the war god, with its gold disc of bleeding hearts smoking before it, was hurled down and the whole accursed place set on fire and destroyed. Three hundred houses round were also burnt that night; but of what use?

      The Spaniards were starving, hemmed in by hundreds of thousands. They were like a single wasp inside a bee-hive. Let him kill the bees by hundreds, he must be killed himself at last. He made up his mind to evacuate the city, to leave all his conquests behind him. It was a terrible disappointment, but it had to be done.

      They marched out by night in good order, with all their guns and ammunition, and with immense plunder; as much of poor Montezuma's treasures as they could carry. The old hands took very little; they knew what they were about. The fresh ones from Narvaez's army loaded themselves with gold and jewels, and had to pay dear for them. Cortez, I ought to tell you, took good care of Dona Marina. He sent her forward under a strong guard of Tlascalans, with all the other women. The great street was crossed by many canals. Then the causeway across the lake, two miles long, was crossed by more canals, and at every one of these the Indians had taken away the bridges. Cortez knew that, and had made a movable bridge; but he had only time to make one, and that of course had to be taken up at the rear, and carried forward to the front every time they crossed a dyke; and that made endless delay. As long as they were in the city, however, all went well; but the moment they came out upon the lake causeway, out thundered the serpent-skin drums from the top of every temple, the conch shells blew, and out swarmed the whole hive of bees, against the one brave wasp who was struggling. The Spaniards cleared the dyke by cavalry and artillery, and got to the first canal, laid down the bridge, and over slowly but safely, amid a storm of stones and arrows. They got to the second canal, fifteen or twenty feet broad. Why, in God's name, was not the bridge brought on? Instead of the bridge came news from the rear. The weight of the artillery had been too great for the bridge, and it was jammed fast. And there they were on a narrow dyke fifty feet broad, in the midst of the lake, in the dark midnight, with countless thousands of Indians, around, before, behind, and the lord have mercy on them!

      What followed you may guess--though some of the brave men who fought there, and who wrote the story themselves--which I have read--hardly knew.

      The cavalry tried to swim their horses over. Some got safe, others rolled into the lake. The infantry followed pell mell, cut down like sheep by arrows and stones, by the terrible glass swords of the Indians, who crowded round their canoes. The waggons prest on the men, the guns on them, the rear on them again, till in a few minutes the canal was choked with writhing bodies of men and horses, cannon, gold and treasure inestimable, over which the survivors scrambled to the further bank. Cortez, who was helping the rear forded the gap on horseback, and hurried on to find a third and larger canal which no one dare cross. But the Indians were not so thick here, and plunging into the water they got through as they could. And woe that night to the soldier who had laden himself with Indian treasure. Dragged to the bottom by the weight of their plunder, hundreds died there drowned by that very gold to find which they had crossed the seas, and fought so many a bloody battle.

      What is the use of making a sad story long? They reached the shore, and sat down like men desperate and foredone in a great idol temple. Several of their finest officers, three-fourths of their men, were killed and missing, three-fourths too of their horses--all Cortez's papers, all their cannon, all their treasure. They had not even a musket left. Nothing to face the Indians with but twenty-three crippled horses, a few damaged crossbows, and their good old swords. Cortez's first question was for poor Dona Marima, and strange to say she was safe. The trusty Tlascalan Indians had brought her through it all. Alvarado the lieutenant was safe too. If he had been the cause of all that misery, he did his best to make up for it. He stayed behind fighting at the last canal till all were over, and the Indians closing round him. Then he set his long lance in the water, and to the astonishment of both armies, leapt the canal clean, while the Indians shouted, "This is indeed the Tonatiah, the child of the Sun." The gap is shown now, and it is called to this day, Alvarado's Leap. God forgive him! for if he was a cruel man, he was at least a brave one!

      Cortez sat down, a ruined man, and as he looked round for his old comrades, and missed one face after another, he covered his face with his hands and cried like a child.

      And was he a ruined man? Never less. No man is ruined till his pluck is gone. He got his starving and shivering men together, and away for the mountains to get back to the friendly people of Tlascala. The people followed them along the hills shouting, "Go on! you will soon find yourselves where you cannot escape." But he went on--till he saw what they meant.

      Waiting for him in a pass was an army of Indians--two hundred thousand, some writers say--all fresh and fully armed. What could he do? To surrender, was to be sacrificed every man to the idols; so he marched on. He had still twenty horses, and he put ten on each flank. He bade his men not strike with their sword but give the point. He made a speech to his men. They had beaten the Indians, he said, many a time at just as fearful odds. God had brought them through so far, God would not desert them, for they were fighting on His side against the heathen; and so he went straight at the vast army of Indians. They were surrounded, swallowed up by them for a few minutes. In the course of an hour the Spaniards had routed them utterly with immense slaughter.

      Of all the battles I ever read of, this battle of Otumba is one of the most miraculous. Some say that Cortez conquered Mexico by gunpowder: he had none then, neither cannon nor musket. The sword and lance did it all, and they in the hands of men worn out with famine, cold, and fatigue, and I had said broken-hearted into the bargain. But there was no breaking those men's hearts--what won that battle, what won Mexico, was the indomitable pluck of the white man, before which the Indian, whether American or Hindoo, never has stood, and never will stand to the world's end. The Spaniards proved it in America of old, though they were better armed than the Indian. But there are those who have proved it upon Indians as well armed as themselves. Ay, my friends, I should be no Englishman, if while I told this story, I could help thinking all the while of our brave comrades in India, who have conquered as Cortez conquered, and against just as fearful odds; whose enemies were armed, not with copper arrows and glass knives, but with European muskets, European cannon, and most dangerous of all, European discipline. I say Cortez did wonders in his time; but I say too that our Indian heroes have done more, and done it in a better cause.

      And that is the history of the conquest of Mexico. What, you may ask, is that the end? When we are leaving the Spaniards a worn-out and starving handful struggling back for refuge to Tlascala, without anything but their old swords; do you call that a conquest?

      Yes, I do; just as I call the getting back to Cawnpore, after the relief of Lucknow, the conquest of India. It showed which was the better man, Englishman or sepoy, just as the retreat from Mexico showed which was the better man, Spaniard or Indian. The sepoys were cowed from that day, just as the Mexicans were cowed after Otumba. They had fought with all possible odds on their side, and been licked; and when men are once cowed, all the rest is merely a work of time.

      So it was with Cortez. He went back to Tlascala. He got by mere accident, as we say, a reinforcement of Spaniards. He stirred up all the Indian nations round, who were weary of the cruel tyranny of the Mexicans; he made large boats to navigate the lake, and he marched back upon Mexico the next year with about six hundred Spaniards and nine cannon--about half the force which he had had before; but with a hundred thousand Indian allies, who, like the sturdy Tlascalans, proved as true to him as steel. Truly, if he was not a great general, who is?

      He marched back, taking city after city as he went, and besieged Mexico. It was a long and weary siege. The Indians fought like fiends. The causeways had to be taken yard by yard; but Cortez, wise by sad experience, put his cannon into the boats and swept them from the water. Then the city had to be taken house by house. The Indians drove him back again and again, till they were starved to skeletons, and those who used to eat their enemies were driven to eat each other. Still they would not give in. At last, after many weeks of fighting, it was all over. The glorious Mexican empire was crumbled to dust. Those proud nobles, who used to fat themselves upon the bodies of all the nations round, were reduced to a handful of starving beggars. The cross of Christ was set up, where the hearts of human creatures were offered to foul idols, and Mexico has been ever since the property of the Spaniards, a Christian land.

      And what became of Cortez? He died sadly and in disgrace. He sowed, and other men reaped. If he was cruel and covetous, he was punished for it in this world heavily enough. He had many noble qualities though. He was a better man than those around him; and one good thing he did, which was to sweep off the face of the earth as devilish a set of tyrants as ever defiled the face of the earth. Give him all due honour for it, and let him rest in peace. God shall judge him and not we.

      But take home with you, soldiers all, one lesson from this strange story, that while a man can keep his courage and his temper, he is not only never really beaten, but no man can tell what great things he may not do.

Back to Charles Kingsley index.

Loading

Like This Page?


© 1999-2016, oChristian.com. All rights reserved.