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UNDER the direction of the pilot Alaminos, the Spaniards reached the mouth of the river1 formerly visited by Grijalva. Sand-banks obstruct its entrance, similar to those alleged to exist at the mouth of the Nile, when the etesian2 winds are blowing. It was, therefore, impossible to enter the river with the brigantines, although higher up, the stream was navigable for caravels. Cortes landed two hundred soldiers, by means of the brigantines and the shallops of the caravels. Aguilar made peaceful overtures to the natives, who enquired what the Spaniards wanted. Geronimo answered "Food." A large sandy square lay in front of the town, and the natives made the Spaniards understand that they should assemble there; after which they departed. Next day they returned, bringing eight of their chickens which resemble our peacocks, and are of the same size and taste, but are dark coloured. They also brought sufficient maize to feed ten hungry people. At the same time they intimated to the Spaniards to leave as quickly as possible; this, however, the latter refused to do. A large multitude of men gathered round them, repeatedly asking the intentions of those unknown navigators. Through the intermediary of Aguilar, the Spaniards answered that they wished peace and to trade for food and also gold if any was to be had. The barbanans answered that they wanted neither peace nor war, but that the strangers should leave unless they wished to be massacred to the last man. They then promised to bring provisions in the morning; but this was a falsehood, for three days passed during which the Spaniards remained camping on that shore and there passing the night, before the same small amount of food as formerly was brought them, with an intimation in the cacique's name to leave. The Spaniards answered that they wished to visit the town and required a larger supply of food. The barbarians refused and gathered about them muttering threats. The men being hungry and obliged to find food, Cortes landed his lieutenants with fifty men as reinforcements, who explored the country round about the town in different directions. The barbarians attacked and ill-treated one of these companies, but the others being near at hand came to their companions' assistance at the first sound of trouble. Meanwhile Cortes used the brigantines and shallops to land some cannon and had brought the rest of his men and sixteen horses on shore. In order to protect the coasts and to prevent the landing, the barbarians assembled, fully armed, letting fly their arrows and spears at the Spaniards, of whom they wounded about twenty who were taken off their guard. Cortes had the cannon fired at the enemy, who were frightened by the effect of the bullets and by the noise and flash. While they were still up to their knees in the water, the Spaniards pursued the disorderly natives and reached the town at the same time they did. The barbarians ran straight through the town and abandoned their houses.
1 The Tabasco River.
* Etesia being mild winds blowing from the north-west, about the time of the summer solstice. Lucretius, E., 741.
It is reported that this town extends along the banks of the river. I hardly dare say what its length is. The pilot Alaminos mentions a league and a half. It contains twenty-five thousand houses. His companions reduce this number and diminish its grandeur, though they agree that it is large and spacious. The houses are separated by gardens from one another, and are of stone covered with plaster, built by architects of real talent. The habitable parts of these houses are reached by staircases with six or seven steps. Nobody is allowed to rest his beams or carpenter work upon the roof of his neighbour, and all the houses are separated by an interval of at least three feet. The majority are covered with thatch made of straw or marsh reeds. Many are roofed with square, flat stones.
The barbarians admit that there were forty thousand of them engaged in the battle1; if they were defeated by a handful of men it was because of the horses, a novel feature of war with which they were not acquainted, and the cannon. Our horsemen had thrown themselves upon the enemy's rear, dispersing their companies, striking to the right and left, as shepherds do among disorderly sheep. Astonished by this novelty, the unfortunate creatures hesitated, and never again found the opportunity of using their arms. Thus they believed in the fable told of the centaurs, that man and horse were one animal. The Spaniards remained in possession of the town for twenty-two days, living luxuriously and under shelter, while the barbarians were perishing of hunger in the open country, not daring to attack them. They chose the strongest part of the town for a citadel, but never went to sleep without having first posted a guard for the night; for they were on the alert, fearing an attack of the natives and their cacique Tanosco. This town is called Potonchan, but in honour of the victory they won there, they named it Victoria. Astonishing things are told of the magnificence, the size and the beauty, of the country houses built by the natives round about, for their pleasure. They are constructed like ours, with courtyards shaded from the sun and with sumptuous apartments.
'The battle of Ceutla was fought on March 25th. Andres de Tapia states that 48,000 Indians were in the engagement, but these figures are based on no actual count and merely represent the idea of multitude. In the Cronica of Gomara, as well as in Tapia's Relation, the victory is attributed to the intervention of St. James, the patron saint of Spain. Bernal Diaz does not question the miraculous apparition but observes with truly Christian humility that he was too miserable a sinner to be worthy to behold it.
Thanks to the interpreters and the prisoners taken in the battle, the cacique and his principal officers were prevailed upon to return and sue for peace. Having consented to this step, all the people returned to their homes, and peace was made on condition that they renounced the horrible human sacrifices in honour of the dead, and the odious demons whose idols they adored, and henceforth lifted up their souls to the Lord Jesus, Father of heaven and earth, born of a virgin and crucified for the salvation of the human race. They destroyed their idols, and confessed themselves subjects of the King of Spain. They promised everything, and the Spaniards instructed them as much as was possible in so short a time, distributing presents amongst them, and afterwards dismissing them. These natives believe that the Spaniards are envoys from Heaven, since being so few they dared to give battle to so great a multitude. They presented the Spaniards with a few articles of gold and twenty female slaves.1
1 Among these women was Marina of Painalla, an Aztec girl whose mother had some years previously sold her to some Indians of Xicalango in order to secure the girl's inheritance to a son by her second husband. Marina was taken to Tabasco and finally fell to the share of Portocarrero when the female booty was divided amongst the Spaniards. Knowing the language of the coast tribes which resembled that of Yucatan, she was able to communicate with Aguilar; Aztec was her mother tongue, and when the envoys from Montezuma appeared, it was speedily discovered that only through Marina could Cortes negotiate intelligibly with the Mexicans. Marina was thereupon promoted to the commander's tent, where she remained during the entire conquest, her importance daily increasing. She is described by Bernal Diaz as a woman of remarkable beauty and superior character. She betrayed her people and was faithful to the Spaniards throughout. She bore Cortes one son, Martin, and a daughter; possibly other children. In 1524 she was married to a Spanish soldier Juan Xaramillo and in the year 1537 she was still living. Consult Alaman, Disertaciones Historicas; also MacNutt's Letters of Cortes. Appendix I. to Second Letter, vol. i.
Everything being thus settled, Cortes left to explore other countries along the same coast. They visited the gulf noted by Alaminos during the voyage of Grijalva, and named it the Bay of San Juan; bay in the Spanish being the same thing as gulf. A mile from the bank was a walled town, containing about five hundred houses, built upon a hill. The inhabitants offered hospitality and the half of their town, if the Spaniards cared to stay permanently. It is probable that they were frightened by what had happened to the inhabitants of Potonchan, the news of which had reached them, and they hoped to secure protection of such heroes against their neighbours, for they likewise are afflicted by that malady which never disappears, and is in some fashion inborn in humanity; like all men, they thirst for dominion. The Spaniards refused to stop there permanently but agreed to make a halt.1 When they returned to the coast the people followed them and quickly built huts of green branches covered by improvised roofs against the rain. On that spot the Spaniards pitched their camp. To provide them with occupation Cortes commanded the pilot Alaminos and Francisco Montejo to explore the country towards the west, and meantime his weary men rested and those who had been wounded at Potonchan were cared for.
Fifty men embarked upon the two brigantines, the other soldiers remaining behind with the chief. Up to that time the gulf current had moderated, but hardly had the Spaniards advanced somewhat to the west, than they were seized, as it were, by a torrent rushing down from
1 Cortes landed on Good Friday which fell that year on April 21st.