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النشر الإلكتروني

BOOK II

FTER listening to what the messengers said, Cortes was not chary of his condemnation of their masters, but nevertheless he declared himself ready to pardon their crimes and admit them to his friendship, on condition that they should for the future conduct themselves as faithful subjects of the King of all the Spains. The following day fifty nobles appeared before him unarmed, and under pretext of settling the conditions of their alliance, studied the approaches to the camp. Cortes noticed their spying manner and the want of frankness that characterised them. He suspected that they had come to study the situation of the camp. Taking one of these messengers aside, he had him questioned by a confidential interpreter, urging him to confess the truth. Flatteries and bribes prevailed, and the messenger revealed the plot. He declared that Quesitangal," the chief of the province, was hidden with numerous soldiers, in an ambuscade, intending to surprise the camp on the following night. Under pretext of treating for peace, he had sent the messengers to spy out the best place to attack, or the easiest approach to the huts of boughs the Spaniards had built as a protection against the night air. Once inside the camp, the barbarians were to fire the cabins, and while our people were busy putting out the flames, they would attack and massacre them. Their chief had declared he would use stratagem and artifice, since, in spite of his men's courage in battle, they had suffered so cruelly. Desiring to confirm this first information concerning the plot, Cortes took five other messengers aside, either threatening them with his anger or promising them his friendship. All agreed in confirming the statement of the first. Before the news of this investigation became known, Cortes ordered all the fifty messengers to be seized. He cut off the right hand of each, and sent them back to their masters with these instructions: “Tell your chief that it is unworthy of brave soldiers and upright citizens to stoop to such odious stratagems. As for you, vile messengers, who have presented yourselves here as envoys, being our enemies the while, you are punished for your crime, by losing your right hands and may return to those who chose you to perpetrate such villainy. Above all, tell them that we are ready to receive them at any hour. Let them attack us by night or by day, and they will learn the strength of the handful of men whom they seek to destroy.” The messengers departed to report what they had seen, and to exhibit their mutilation. At night a mass of barbarians, divided into two bodies, appeared. Evening was falling, and Cortes judged it wiser to fight while there was still light, as the barbarians would then be frightened by the strange and unaccustomed appearance of the horses as well as by the noise of the cannon. If, on the contrary, he waited till the night, he and his men would be exposed to a thousand dangers incident to a strange country, and would be ignorant of the lay of the land, on which they would have to manoeuvre. And thus it happened that the sight of the horses and the noise of the cannon frightened the barbarians, who fled through the harvest fields, scattering and seeking to conceal themselves. The harvests were of maize, as we have often said. Cortes was thus left entirely free in his movements. Nevertheless, for several days he did not venture to leave his camp, for he had learned that a league distant from the camp there was a hostile city where an immense crowd assembled in response to a trumpet-call. He has written, and those who have returned from that country agree in stating, that this town of Tascalteca numbers twenty thousand houses. As soon as he was assured by his scouts that the inhabitants of that great city were off their guard and feared no attack, he entered it during the second watch of the night and surprised the inhabitants asleep. He first occupied the strongest part of the city. At daybreak the principal citizens appeared before him, begging him to spare them. They declared themselves willing to obey him, and promised to supply him with an abundance of provisions out of their stores. After this victory Cortes returned to his camp, where he found his companions discontented with him. They complained that they had been led into a situation from whence they could not possibly escape, and they were unwilling to go any farther." They feared they would be killed to the last man, since they were surrounded by so many ferocious warriors, or would perish of hunger and cold, in case they escaped the arrows of the barbarians. Moreover the result of wars was uncertain and victory did not always depend on the men. They therefore prayed and begged Cortes to return to the coast. If he * Cortes reported in his letter to the Emperor that he overheard some of his rebellious followers quoting a proverb in which the sobriquet of Pedro Carbonero was applied to him. Pierre le charbonnier sava it bien ou il était, mais il ignorait les moyens d'en sortir. He suppressed the sedition were unwilling to do so, they declared they were ready to abandon him. Now Cortes had resolved to push on to Temistitan, the most important town of all that region. Thinking it better to use prudence and flattery rather than violence to his men, he spoke to them as follows: “What is the matter, my comrades? Why do you have these fears? Is it not evident that God protects us, since we have been successful in every engagement? Do you think that the men whom you will encounter are better or more courageous than yourselves? Do you not understand that it depends upon you to extend indefinitely the Christian religion? Do you not realise that you are about acquiring for yourselves and your sovereign entire kingdoms? What remains to be done is very little, and if by chance (which I do not fear) you fall, what happier end could you have? Would it be possible to end more gloriously one's life? Remember, moreover, that you are Spaniards, and that Spaniards know no fear, and hold their life as nothing in the service of God or the achievement of glory. On the other hand, where shall we go? What shall we do on the coast, where we would languish in idleness? Take courage, my friends, and help me to conquer these nations and bring them under the law of Christ and the obedience of our sovereign. What fame will you bequeath to your posterity in consequence of these great deeds such as no living person has ever accomplished! Upon our return home we shall be honoured by our neighbours as Hercules never was in Greece when he returned from Spain, although the remembrance of those honours lives to our own day. Our achievements will have been greater, and their recompense in proportion. Rouse yourselves, therefore, and finish courageously what you have begun, never again doubting victory.” Cortes showed himself astute in this harangue. His captains stood by him, and he was likewise applauded by the crowd which, more changeable than the waves, always moves before the wind and lends ears and tongue to the last man who speaks. As soon as this sedition was suppressed, Cortes received messengers from the chief commander of that region called Zentegal.' They came to seek pardon for the recent events and their hostility, saying: “Be not astonished that we have never desired a king and have never obeyed anybody, and that we so dearly love liberty, for we and our ancestors have endured great evils rather than accept the yoke of Muteczuma. For example, we have gone without cotton clothes and without salt to season our food, since we could not obtain them in face of Muteczuma's prohibition. Nevertheless, if you will admit us to your alliance, we promise to obey your commands.” Cortes pardoned them and made an alliance with them. The messengers begged him to honour the town of Tascalteca, which lay six leagues distant from the camp, with his visit. For a long time he refused, but finally allowed himself to be moved by the entreaties of the lords, and consented. Before continuing the account of what happened in that town, we must interpose another occurrence. Six messengers of Muteczuma, bearing magnificent presents, had visited Cortes. These gifts consisted of different necklaces and garments embroidered in gold, worth one thousand castellanos. In addition there were cotton dresses dyed in various colours. When they learned that Cortes intended to visit Muteczuma in his capital, they asked him in the emperor's name to abandon this project, because the city of Temistitan was built in the middle of a lake and, owing to its position, was destitute of everything. Unless it was provisioned from outside, there would not be enough for such a large number of people. The messengers averred that Muteczuma

* Xicotencal the younger, son of one of the Regents of Tlaxcala bearing the same name, was commander-in-chief of the forces of the Republic. Cortes spelled his name, Sintegal, while Bernal de Diaz came nearer to a correct spelling, writing the name Xicotenga.

with one of his characteristic appeals to their Catholic zeal, their Spanish pride, and their cupidity, mingling blandishments with threats and scorn.

"Another and incorrect spelling for Xicotencal.

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