BLTC Press Titles

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Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

History of the conquest of Mexico

by William Hickling Prescott


Evert thing being now restored to quiet in Cholula, the allied army of Spaniards and Tlascalans set forward in high spirits, and resumed the march on Mexico. The road lay through the beautiful savannas and luxuriant plantations that spread out for several leagues in every direction. On the march, they were met occasionally by embassies from the neighbouring places, anxious to claim the protection of'the white men, and to propitiate them by gifts, especially of gold, for which their appetite was generally known throughout the country.

Some of these places were allies of the Tlascalans, and all showed much discontent with the oppressive rule of Montezuma. The natives cautioned the Spaniards against putting themselves in his power, by entering his capital; and they stated, as evidence of his hostile disposition, that he had caused the direct road to it to be blocked up, that the strangers might be compelled to choose another, which, from its narrow passes and strong positions, would enable hirn to take them at great disadvantage.

The information was not Jost on Cortes, who kept a strict eye on the movements of the Mexican envoys, and redoubled his own precautions against surprise.1 Cheerful and active, he was ever wheie his presence was needed, sometimes in the van, ai others in the rear, encouraging the weak, stimulating the sluggish, and striving to kindle in the breasts of others the same courageous spirit which glowed in his own. At night he never omitted to go the rounds, to see that every man was at his post. On one occasion, his vigilance had well-nigh proved fatal to him. He approached so near a sentinel, that the man, unable to distinguish his person in the dark, levelled his crossbow at him, when ^fortunately an exclamation of the general, who gave the watchword of the night, arrested a movement, which might else have brought the campaign to a close, and given a respite for some time longer to the empire of Montezuma.

The army came at length to the place mentioned by the friendly Indie ns, where the road forked, and one arm of it was found, as they had foretold, obstructed with large trunks of trees, and huge sti ne,s which had been strewn across it. Cortes inqu.r»! the meaning of this from the Mexican ambassadors. They said it was done by the emperor's orders, to prevent their taking a route which, after some distance, they would find nearly impracticable for the cavalry. They acknowledged, however, that it was the most direct road; and Cortes, declaring that this was enough to decide him in favor of it, as the Spaniards made no account of obstacles, commanded the rubbish to be cleared away. Some of the timber might still be seen by the road-side, as Bernal Diaz tells us, many years after. The event left little doubt in the general's mind of the meditated treachery of the Mexicans. But he was too politic to betray his suspicions.2

1 "Andauamos," says Diaz, in orabro." Hist, de la Conquista, the homely, but expressive Span- cap. 86. ish proverb, "la barba sobre el

They were now leaving the pleasant champaign country, as the road wound up the bold sierra which separates the great plateaus of Mexico and Puebla. The air, as they ascended, became keen and piercing; and the blasts, sweeping down the frozen sides of the mountains, made the soldiers shiver in their thick harness of cotton, and benumbed the limbs of both men and horses.

They were passing between two of the highest mountains on the North American continent; Popocatepetl, "the hill that smokes," and Iztaccihuatl, or "white woman,"3 — a name suggested, doubtless, by the bright robe of snow spread over its broad and broken surface. A puerile superstition of the Indians regarded these celebrated mountains as gods, and Iztaccihuat l as the wife of her more formidable neighbour.4 A tradition of a higher character described the northern volcano, as the abode of the departed spirits of wicked rulers, whose fiery agonies, in their prison-house, caused the fearful bellowings and convulsions in times of eruption. It was the classic fable of Antiquity.5 These superstitious legends had invested the mountain with a mysterious horror, that made the natives shrink from attempting its ascent, which, indeed, was from natural causes a work of incredible difficulty.

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