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GRAND and imposing was the entrance of Cortez into Tlascala, while so magnificently hospitable was his entertainment that opportunity was offered not only for acquainting himself with the resources of the Empire, but for persuading the Tlascalans to join him in the enterprise of overthrowing Montezuma. So well did he succeed that the entire fighting force of the province was placed at his disposal, and preparations were begun on a gigantic scale for the invasion. In the meantime, however, Montezuma had been made acquainted with the result of Cortez' conquests, and his fears being excited that the gods were in some mysterious way working to accomplish his ruin, with the hope of averting such fate the Emperor sent an embassy of five noblemen, accompanied by a retinue of 300 prominent men of the empire, to visit the Spanish conqueror; nor did he forget to send with them such valuable presents that the gold which they brought is alone estimated to have been equal in value to $50,000. Accompanying the presents was a message couched in the most respectful language, beseeching him not to invade the empire and pledging the assistance of the Emperor in any undertaking which Cortez might have in mind that did no violence to his own territory. Surprised and angered at this sudden change in the disposition of Montezuma, whose invitation to visit the capital had only a few weeks before been extended to him, Cortez returned a reply full of courtesy, but declaring his intention nevertheless to visit the Mexican capital in obedience to his sovereign's order, and intimating that he should do so regardless of the wishes of the Emperor, even to the extent of employing force and laying waste the country.

Before departing from Tlascala, Cortez had carried his crusade against idol worship and the cruel practices of the natives so far that he prevailed upon his new allies to discharge the prisoners whom they had in the temples fattening for the next sacrifice; and he also obtained from them a promise to discontinue such heathen practices thereafter, a promise, however, which was no longer kept than the stay of Cortez in their capital continued, for almost immediately upon his departure the old orgies and bloody rites were re-instituted, and their altars flowed with the blood of the offerings of hundreds of victims almost before the sound of the tramp of the vanishing Spaniards had died away.


But Cortez nevertheless left some of the seeds of the church, by receiving into baptism five beautiful maidens who had been offered to him by the chief of the province, as wives for his soldiers. These, having been first formally baptized and received by the church, were left with one priest to propagate the faith in Tlascala, while Cortez at the head of an immense army continued his journey towards the Mexican capital. About this time also Cortez received a second embassy, with even richer presents than those which the first had carried, and these, making the most abject obeisance to the white conqueror, presented their gifts, together with a message assuring Cortez of the emperor's high consideration and regard, and in the hope of winning his friendship as well as averting the fate which he believed was impending, he renewed his invitation to Cortez to visit his capital and promised him an enthusiastic and friendly welcome. But he besought him to form no alliance with the Tlascalans, whom he designated as the most fierce and unrelenting foes of his empire, and whose natures were so treacherous that they might not be depended upon even in the face of the strongest protestations of fidelity. But Cortez no longer regarded the messages from Montezuma, having now a sufficient force to easily make his way against any resistance that the Emperor was able to offer.

Indeed, the Tlascalans flocked to his standard in such numbers that Cortez declares he might easily have enlisted 100,000 volunteers. But instead of taking soldiers from among these indiscriminately, he accepted but 6000 select troops, with which large re-enforcement he now set out, with banners streaming, trumpets sounding, and his enthusiastic soldiers shouting, for the great Mexican capital.

The great city of Cholula, having a population of 100,000 souls was only eighteen miles from Tlascala. But it was situated in the Mexican empire, and the bitterest animosities then prevailed between its inhabitants and the Tlascalans. Cortez was, therefore, warned against treachery in case he made an entrance into this city. But, regarding these alarms merely as the fears of an excited people, he continued on to this great metropolis, and when in sight of its gates a delegation came out to receive him and to pay their respectful homage. But though they welcomed him with smoking censers, waving banners, and bands of music, the people of Cholula declined to admit their enemies within the city walls, and to avoid giving offence before he had been able to ascertain what were the defensive forces of the city, Cortez ordered his Tlascalan allies to camp outside the walls. It was a city not only of extraordinary proportions, but distinguished for its handsome streets and magnificent dwellings, while here and there the most splendid temples rose in grandeur from the city's squares, and there was every indication of extraordinary wealth and the rewards of successful industry.


While viewing the grandeur of the place, Cortez had not failed to note several suspicious movements, which his quick, comprehension taught him to believe denoted that some treachery was in contemplation. To re-enforce this belief, two Tlascalans, who had been acting as spies, having entered the city in disguise, reported to him that six children had just been sacrificed in the chief temple, as an offering to the god of war and as an imploration for the destruction of the Spanish invaders. This information did not serve to considerably increase the fears of Cortez, half-believing that it might be prompted by the sincere desire of the
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Tlascalans to embroil Cortez with their inveterate enemies. But the facts as they disclosed them were presently confirmed by testimony furnished by Marina, the faithful native wife of Cortez. This woman had by some means obtained the confidence of a wife of one of the Cholulan nobles, who, to save Marina, had disclosed to her a plot then in progress designed to accomplish the ruin of the Spaniards, She told how deep graves had been dug in the streets and concealed, which were intended to serve as pitfalls for the Spanish cavalry, and that stones had been carried to the tops of the houses and temples to be hurled at the proper moment upon the heads of the invaders, as they marched through the streets. To counteract this treachery, and to bring punishment upon the inhospitable people, Cortez conceived a horrible project: He gave orders to quietly assemble all the Spaniards and Totonacs, at a given moment, in the chief market place of the city, and to come prepared for a desperate measure. At the same time he ordered the Tlascalans to approach at a given signal, and when he should signify, they were to rush in and fall upon the Cholulans, whom they were to strike down and massacre without mercy. He next sent, a friendly message to the chief men of the city and nobles, requesting their immediate presence at a public place in the city, and when these responded, an order for the slaughter was given. Taken completely by surprise the Cholulans could offer no resistance while the Tlascalans, finding this their opportunity for a savage vengeance upon their implacable enemies, swept through the streets like devouring wolves, and instituted a carnival of blood more terrible than that which drenched the streets of Paris during the slaughter of the Huguenots. They were no respecters of persons: children, women, old age, alike fell before the merciless hand of slaughter, and when the carnage ceased the pillage began. For two days this riot of murder, plunder, and burning continued, until at last the city presented the sad spectacle of nothing but smouldering ruins, while the streets were filled with mutilated carcasses polluting the air. Six thousand persons were thus massacred, the other inhabitants fortunately escaping to the hills and avoiding pursuit. A proclamation of amnesty was now issued to the fugitives, who were induced to return to the ruins from which they had fortunately escaped; and, as some amends for the ruthless desecration and spoliation that he had wrought, Cortez set about erecting other buildings and restoring order, so as to make the place again habitable. The idols had all been broken up and the temples defaced, so that Cortez thought now was a suitable time to institute the Christian religion. Accordingly, he set up in several places crosses and images of the Virgin, and ordered public thanksgivings to God for having purified the temples of the heathen, and for the establishment of the holy religion in the places built by idolaters.

Some idea of the extraordinary size of the temples which were built in Cholula may be formed by a statement made by the Hon. Widdy Thompson, who visited the place where once the city of Cholula stood, in 1843. He says that not a single vestige of that great city remains except the ruins of the principal pyramid or temple, which still stands in solitary and gloomy grandeur in the vast plain which surrounds it. Its dimensions at the base are 1440 feet, its present height 177 feet, while the area on the summit is something more than 45,310 square feet, or a little more than 313 feet square. A Catholic chapel now crowns the summit of this enormous mound, the sides of which are covered with grass and trees.

The terrible massacre of the inhabitants of Cholula was a great advantage to Cortez, for the news spread rapidly to all the other cities of Mexico, and so appalled the people that from every point came messages of humble submission, accompanied by rich presents and offerings, as a propitiation to secure the favor of the Spaniards. Montezuma, when he heard of the thunder and lightning of Cortez' artillery, aided by cavalry horses, destroying thousands in the streets of Cholula, and that they had even put to flight the vast armies of Tlascalans, trembled with fright, and, retiring to his secret chamber, spent a week in consultation with his priests, and in petitionings to his gods for protection against the ruthless invaders. But the gods of Montezuma had deserted him, as they had the Totonacs, the Tlascalans, and the Cholulans, and Montezuma read his fate as plainly as Belshazzar perceived the handwriting on the falling walls of Babylon.

The success of Cortez had also drawn to him many disaffected parties from other provinces who had real of imagined grievances against Montezuma, and who, while seeking to avenge their wrongs, sought to protect themselves by joining the standard of the invader. Thus Cortez found his force continually increasing, until it became so unwieldy that further accessions to his ranks were refused. From less than 500 in the beginning his force had augmented until it now numbered nearly 20,000, and it might have easily been recruited to ten times as many without effort on his part. The most of these, however, were hardly available in battle, except as they might be used to draw the fire of the enemy and act as a barrier for his own men. With this vast army Cortez left the ruined city of Cholula and marched towards Mexico, which lay less than seventy miles towards the east.

The country through which he advanced was luxuriant and immensely populous; provisions were everywhere abundant; the water was clear and wholesome, and the journey being without annoyances was pleasant in the extreme. There were on every side rivers, orchards, lakes, beautiful villages, highly cultivated fields, splendid villas, and a tropical growth of flowers and vegetation positively amazing. Through this Edenic country Cortez continued his journey with short advances, being in no anxiety to reach the end of what was proving only a delightful excursion.


It was not until seven days after leaving Cholula that the Spaniards gained the heights of Ithualco, from which a majestic and splendid view of Mexico was obtained. Under the spell of the landscape that spread out in picturesque panorama below him, Cortez stood in pious contemplation of how God had protected and aided him in carrying the banners of Spain and of the cross
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over such a stretch of productive country, to be planted in the heart of the richest heathen nation of the world. As the verdant landscape stretched away into the distance, there were outlined against the sky mountain peaks and the snow-covered volcanoes of Pococatapetl and Iztaccihuatl, rising in grandeur and over-topping the great city of Mexico, which lay in queenly splendor upon islands in the bosom of Lake Tezcuco, more than five hundred miles in circumference. On the margin of the lake were suburbs of the capital, with lofty temples, snow-white dwellings, from which long causeways led to the main city that was surrounded by the lake. There were everywhere the indications of a refinement fully equal, if not superior, to that found anywhere in Europe. The architecture would rival that of the Moors, who introduced into Spain a style which has never since been abandoned. There were bridges, and buildings, and tunnels that exhibited the most splendid engineering skill; factories that provided the most costly fabrics; plantations that were most perfectly cultivated, and machinery of various kinds that manifested the progressive spirit of the people. Before these sights the boldness of the Spaniards recoiled, considering how few they were in number and in the centre of a hostile country where so many hundreds of thousands of bold warriors might be mustered upon a call from the Emperor, and how easily destruction might be brought upon them if their allies should be weaned from the loyalty which they professed. But Cortez exhibited the most striking self-assurance, reposing a perfect reliance in the destructive power of gunpowder and the protection which the Sacred banner of the cross afforded.

Though Cortez was in sight of Mexico, he was yet some considerable distance from the city, and it was necessary to pass through several large towns which lay in the Mexican valley. He accordingly marched through the cities of Amaquemecan and Ayotzingo, which, Venetian-like, was built in Lake Chalco, and Cuitlahuac, which was also in the lake, where many floating gardens were constructed that moved about like beds of roses driven by the wind; and thence on to Iztapalapan, which latter place was near the city of Mexico, and was remarkable for a gigantic stone reservoir which had been built of such ample dimensions that it held sufficient water to irrigate the grounds over a district many miles in extent. It also possessed an aviary filled with birds of the most gorgeous plumage and of sweetest song. Here Cortez halted for a day, and was most hospitably entertained by the people, who were in constant dread lest he should violate their beautiful homes and put them to the sword.


On the following day, which was the 8th of November, 1519, Cortez proceeded on his journey to Mexico, and when within two miles of the outskirts of the city, he was met by a procession of a thousand of the principal inhabitants, each of whom was provided with a waving plume and clad in the most exquisitely embroidered mantle. They came to announce the approach of their beloved Emperor, who desired to personally welcome the strangers to his chief city. This procession met Cortez as he approached the principal causeway leading from the mainland to the island city. It was nearly two miles in length, substantially built, and wide enough to admit of a dozen horsemen riding abreast. On either side the lake was covered with gondolas and boats of various shapes, all laden with interested spectators, while further down the long avenue was seen approaching the glittering train of the Emperor, that reflected the sunlight back in dazzling splendor from the tinsel decorations of his retinue. Montezuma was himself seated in a gorgeous palanquin trimmed with gold, and borne on the shoulders of four noblemen, while from the top spread out six gigantic plumes of various colors. Immediately before the palanquin three officers walked, each holding a golden mace, while over his head four attendants carried a canopy of skilful workmanship, gorgeously embellished with green feathers, gold, and precious gems, that sheltered him from the sun. The Emperor wore upon his head a crown of gold, which, being open at the top, permitted a beautiful headdress of plumes to project. Over his shoulders he carried a mantle that was embroidered with costly ornaments, and was brought together in front with a rosette composed entirely of jewels. Buskins fastened with gold lace work were worn upon his feet and legs, while the soles of his sandals were of pure gold. His features were peculiarly handsome, but he was of an effeminate appearance, evidently unused to public appearance and seldom exposed to the sun.


As the Emperor drew near, Cortez dismounted from his horse, as Montezuma alighted from his palanquin, and they proceeded towards each other. Montezuma was supported by two of the highest dignitaries of his court, and other attendants spread before him rich carpets, that his sacred feet might not be profaned by contact with the ground. He showed in his face the deep anxiety and melancholy which had depressed him constantly since news of the arrival of the Spaniards had reached his capital. Cortez
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greeted him, and the two extended courtesies in a manner which outwardly professed high appreciation, but inwardly there was a distrustful feeling felt by each. After an interchange of civilities, Montezuma conducted Cortez to the quarters which had been prepared for his reception in the heart of the metropolis. In order to reach, these it was necessary for the immense cortege to pass over the causeway again, and through streets thronged with thousands of men, women and children, who viewed with painful anxiety the visit of the strangers. The place assigned to the Spaniards was a palace of immense proportions, having a correspondingly large court. It stood in the centre of the metropolis, and had been erected by Montezuma's father, who, not always feeling secure of his person, had surrounded the palace with a strong stone wall, surmounted with towers for defence. The proportions of this building may be understood when we know that it was ample for the accommodation of seven thousand men, who found very comfortable lodgment in the chambers with which it was provided. The rooms which were assigned to Cortez were tapestried with the finest cotton cloths, elegantly embroidered, while mats were spread upon the floor, soft and downy, which might easily be removed for purposes of cleanliness. Cortez immediately set about securing himself against the possibility of surprise or treachery, and besides keeping nearly the half of his army posted by night and day, he planted his artillery in such a manner that it would sweep every street leading to the palace. Nor were these precautions ill-advised, as subsequent events showed.

On the following evening after his arrival, Montezuma paid a visit to Cortez, taking with him presents of great value, which he distributed among the officers and the privates also, after which he retired to the royal audience chamber and there held a lengthy interview with Cortez, in which each professed a friendship for the other, not omitting to expatiate upon the grandeur of their
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respective countries. When these matters had been talked of to the satisfaction of each, Cortez conveyed to Montezuma a request, which he claimed to have brought from his sovereign, Charles V., to adopt certain laws and customs which had obtained in Spain, and to accept the holy Catholic religion as superior to the bloody creed which the Mexicans professed. As Montezuma lent a willing ear to an explanation of the tenets of Christianity, Cortez was impelled to press his request for an abolition of the rites of human sacrifice and the eating of the flesh of the victims, to which Montezuma made no other reply than a nod of the head, which might be construed either as an acknowledgment of the awfulness of these rites, or a determination to continue in their practice. After the interview had terminated, Cortez ordered all his artillery, at the moment of the setting of the sun, to be discharged simultaneously, in the belief that the noise would bring Montezuma to an understanding of the great power which he possessed. At the sound of the booming guns, and sight of the dense smoke that rolled up in stifling volume, the Mexicans fled in terrorized amazement, confirmed in the previously circulated opinion that the Spaniards were favored of the gods and fought with supernatural weapons, against which no human agency could contend.