Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history



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Cortes returned in time at the head of thirteen hundred soldiers, of whom one hundred were horsemen. He found the city wholly turned against him. June 24, 1520 A.D. The next day, a formidable attack was made. The streets and terraced roofs of the houses could not be seen, so densely were they covered by assailants; stones were thrown in such numbers that it seemed as if it rained stones; the arrows shot by the Mexicans so covered the courts of the fortress that it became difficult to move about. The Indians attempted almost successfully to scale the walls, offering their undefended bosoms, with reckless disregard of life, to the musketry and artillery, whose discharge swept them down by hundreds. Their feeble weapons wounded, but scarcely ever killed; but at the close of each day Cortes found his fighting strength diminished by the loss of sixty or eighty men. Food could scarcely be obtained, for the people withheld supplies. To such a measure of intensity had the cruelty of their oppressors kindled the hatred of the Indians, that they were willing to spend thousands of their own lives, if by the costly sacrifice they might compass the death of one Spaniard. It was necessary for Cortes to be gone. First, however, he would endeavour to conjure his assailants into submission by the voice of their King. The unhappy Montezuma came forth upon a balcony and besought the infuriated people to cease from resistance. But the spell had lost its power, and the fallen monarch was struck down and fatally injured by a shower of arrows and of stones. Cortes left the city that night. July 1, 1520 A.D. His stealthy retreat was discovered, and the vengeful savages caught him at fearful disadvantage. They swarmed in their canoes around the broken bridges where the Spaniards had to pass. In the darkness the retreat speedily became a hopeless and bloody rout. Four hundred and fifty Spaniards perished, with a large number of their Indian allies and one-half of the horses. The artillery was wholly lost. It is said that when Cortes became aware of the ruin which had been wrought, he sat down upon a great stone in a Mexican village and wept bitterly.2323
  The great cypress-tree, behind which Cortes hid himself at one period during the Noche Trista, still retains some measure of vitality. Beside it stands “The Church of the Sad Night.” A tramway line runs to the temple at Tacuba, where he is said to have reviewed his troops next day. Part of the temple was removed to give space for the tramway.


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Cortes withdrew to Tlascala, where his allies, unacquainted with the practice of civilized life, adhered with unswerving loyalty to a fallen cause. Many of his soldiers were eager to quit the scene of their crushing defeat.

Cortes resolved to maintain his hold upon the country he had won. He united many states in a great league for the overthrow of Mexico. He sent ships to Hispaniola for horses, men, and arms. He ordered brigantines to be built at Tlascala. Six months after his defeat he was again before Mexico with a force of nearly a thousand Spaniards and a hundred thousand native allies – with horsemen, and musketeers, and a fleet of brigantines, to command the lake and the approaches to the city. It was not till May, however, that active operations were commenced.

The siege lasted for almost three months. During many days Cortes forced his way constantly into the city, retiring at nightfall to his camps in the outskirts. Always he inflicted fearful slaughter upon the Indians, sparing neither age nor sex: occasionally the brave savages had their revenge, and the Spaniards, looking up to the summit of the great temple, witnessed in horror comrades offered in sacrifice to the Mexican gods. Unwonted horrors attended this cruel siege. The Indian allies of Cortes frequently banqueted upon the bodies of their slain enemies, and frequently supplied the materials for a like ghastly feast. Famine and disease pressed heavily on the doomed city; but no suffering or danger quelled the heroic resistance of the despairing people. At length Cortes resolved to destroy the beautiful city, step by step as he gained it. The houses were pulled down and their materials thrown into the lake. The Mexicans refused to yield; they desired only to die. Enfeebled by hunger they ceased to fight, and the siege became little more than a ruthless slaughter of unresisting wretches. Aug. 13, 1520 A.D. At length the new King was taken, and all opposition was at an end. The great mass of the population had perished. The lake and the houses and the streets were full of dead bodies. Palaces and temples and private dwellings had fallen. The Spanish historian,2424
  Bernal Diaz.


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who was present, and who in his time had witnessed many horrors, “does not know how he may describe” these. He had read the awful story of the destruction of Jerusalem, but he doubts whether its terrors equalled those which attended the fall of Mexico.

The fame of this appalling success spread far and wide in Central America. From great distances southward embassies sought the conqueror, to conciliate his favour, to offer submission to the great monarch whose servants had beaten to the ground the power of the Aztec tyrants. A thousand miles away Cortes had allies and vassals. Still farther to the south was the rich province of Guatemala, with great and well-built cities, the home of a people whose progress in the arts of civilized life was not inconsiderable. Regarding these people reports were carried to Cortes that they had lately manifested to his allies dispositions less cordial than had heretofore existed. Three years had now passed since the conquest of Mexico, and Cortes and his followers were ready for new enterprises. An expedition, composed of two hundred and eighty men, with four cannon, with “much ammunition and powder,” was sent forth under Pedro de Alvarado to ascertain the truth of those statements which had been reported to Cortes. Dec. 1523 A.D. Alvarado, a gallant but ruthless warrior, forced his way into the fertile valleys of Guatemala. He fought many battles against great native armies, and inflicted vast slaughter – himself almost unharmed. He slew the King; he overthrew cities; he gathered together the chiefs of a certain province, “and as it was for the good and pacification of this country he burned them.” The people were given over as slaves to Spaniards who desired them. While busied with these awful arrangements the devout Alvarado did not fail to entreat that Cortes would appoint a solemn procession of Mexican clergy, to the effect that Our Lady might procure for him the succour of Heaven against the urgent perils of his enterprise. Under such auspices Guatemala became a Spanish possession.

Among the followers of Vasco Nu?ez there was a middle-aged Spanish warrior, slow, silent, but gifted with a terrible pertinacity in following out his purposes. His name was Francisco Pizarro. He probably heard the young Indian tell of the wealth of Peru.2525
  See page 434.


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He was beside Vasco Nu?ez when that eager discoverer waded into the waters of the Pacific. A little later he arrested his chief and led him to a death of violence. He had taken part in an expedition in which the Spaniards, pursued by overwhelming forces, stabbed their prisoners as they retreated, and left them dying on the way, in order to hinder the pursuit. He was wholly without education, and was unable even to sign his own name. At this time he was living near Panama, on certain lands which he had obtained, along with the customary allotment of Indian labourers. Here he applied himself to cattle-farming; and his labours and his gains were shared with two partners – Almagro, the son of a labouring man, and De Luque, a schoolmaster. The associates prospered in their industry, and it seemed probable that they would live in obscurity, and die wealthy country gentlemen. But Pizarro had never ceased to brood over the assurances which he had heard ten years before, that there were in the south regions whose wealth surpassed all that the Spaniards had yet discovered. He wished to find a shorter path to greatness than cattle-farming supplied, and he was able to inspire his associates with the same ambition. The scope of the copartnery was strangely widened. The rearing of cattle was abandoned, and a formal contract was entered into for the discovery and conquest of Peru. Pizarro was to conduct the enterprise; Almagro was to bring to him reinforcements and needful stores; De Luque was to procure funds. The profits resulting from their efforts were to be equally divided. They were ridiculed in Panama as madmen; but the courage and tenacity of Pizarro sufficed to crown with terrible success purposes which in their origin seemed wholly irrational.

Nov. 1524 A.D. The early history of the expedition was disastrous. Pizarro sailed from Panama on his career of conquest, attended by eighty men and four horses. He crept down the coast; landing occasionally to find only a rugged and barren country. Hunger fell on his followers, and many died. The Indians assailed them with poisoned arrows, and slew some. The forests were impenetrably dense; the climate was unwholesome. Almagro brought a small reinforcement; but the employment became intolerable, and the men, losing heart, returned to Panama. Pizarro, with only fourteen followers, sought shelter on an uninhabited island, “which those who have seen it compare to the infernal regions.” Here they spent three wretched months, living on shell-fish and what else the sharpened eye of hunger could discover. 1527 A.D. Strengthened by supplies which Almagro was able to send, they set forth once more and moved southward along the coast. And now they found the region of which they had dreamed so long. They landed in the northern part of Peru. Gold was everywhere. They found a temple whose walls were lined with plates of gold; a palace where every vessel, for use or for ornament, was formed of gold. The people were gentle, and received them hospitably. But Pizarro had no more than fourteen men with him – a force wholly inadequate for purposes of conquest. 1528 A.D. He returned to Panama, and thence to Spain, bearing to the King the thrilling story of his marvellous discovery. The King bestowed large rights of government upon the successful adventurer; and as the conversion of the natives was an end steadily prosecuted by the Spanish Government, a bishopric in the newly-found territory was assigned to his partner De Luque. But Pizarro had omitted to obtain honours or advantages for Almagro – an omission which drew in its train a long series of destructive strifes among the conquerors.

Dec. 1530 A.D. Once more Pizarro set forth to conquer the great kingdom of which he now claimed to be governor. His forces consisted of one hundred and eighty-three men and thirty-seven horses. He found it necessary to wait for additional strength; and he encamped in an unhealthy locality, where his men suffered severely. At length he was joined by a reinforcement of fifty-six men, one-half of whom were mounted. He had incurred a delay of seven months; but the time was well spent. While he waited the Peruvians lightened his task by a civil war, in which multitudes perished. To secure retreat, in event of disaster, Pizarro resolved to found a city. He chose a convenient site, and erected several strong buildings, among which were a church, a court-house, and a fortress. He left fifty men to garrison his settlement, to which he gave the name of San Miguel, in recognition of services rendered to him by that saint in a recent battle. He divided the neighbouring lands among his citizens, and assigned to each a certain number of Indians – an arrangement which, as he was assured, was not merely indispensable to the comfort of the settlers, but “would serve the cause of religion and tend greatly to the spiritual welfare” of the savages thus provided for.

And now his simple preparations were completed. He had learned that at the distance of twelve days’ journey eastward beyond the great mountain barrier of the Cordilleras the Peruvian monarch was encamped with a powerful army, flushed with victory in the civil war which had just closed. It seemed a wild adventure to go forth with a hundred and eighty men against an enemy computed at fifty thousand. But Pizarro knew what Cortes had accomplished with means apparently as inadequate; he trusted in the well-proved courage of his men, the vast superiority of their arms, and the favour of the saints. He had placed himself where hesitation must draw in its train inevitable ruin. But there was no hesitation in the steady purpose of the resolute, tenacious Pizarro. He determined to encounter the victorious Inca. Sept. 24, 1532 A.D. He marched forth from the gates of his little town, eastward towards the mountains and the unknown perils which lay beyond.

For several days the march of the Spaniards led them across the rich plains which lay between the mountains and the sea. Their progress was easy and pleasant, and they passed several well-built and apparently prosperous towns, whose inhabitants hospitably supplied their wants. At length the vast heights of the Andes cast their shadows on the little army, and the toilsome ascent was begun. The path was so steep that the cavalry dismounted and with difficulty led their horses upward; so narrow that there was barely room for a horse to walk; in many places it overhung abysses thousands of feet in depth, into which men and horses looked with fear. As they rose, the opulent vegetation of the tropics was left behind, and they passed through dreary forests of stunted pine-wood. The piercing cold was keenly felt by men and horses long accustomed to the sultry temperature of the plains. But the summit was reached in safety, and the descent of the eastern slope begun. As they followed the downward path, each step disclosed some new scene of grandeur or of beauty.

On the seventh day, the hungry eyes of the adventurers looked down on a fertile valley. A broad stream flowed through its well-cultivated meadows; the white walls of a little city glittered in the evening sun; far as the eye could reach there stretched along the slopes of the surrounding hills the tents which sheltered the Peruvian army. The Spaniards had reached their destination. They had reached the city of Cassamarca, and they were almost in presence of the Inca Atahualpa, whom they had come to subdue and destroy. In the stoutest heart of that little party there was for the moment “confusion, and even fear.” But no retreat was possible now. Pizarro formed his men in order of battle, and with unmoved countenance strode towards the city.

Nov. 15, 1532 A.D. The Inca knew of the coming of his visitors, and had made some preparations for their reception. Quarters were assigned to them in a range of buildings which opened upon a vast square. It was evening when they arrived; but Pizarro lost no time in sending one of his brothers, with Fernando de Soto and a small troop of horsemen, to wait upon the Inca and ascertain his dispositions. The ambassadors were admitted to the royal presence and informed that next morning the monarch with his chieftains would visit Pizarro. Riding back to their quarters, the men thought gloomily of the overwhelming force into whose presence they had rashly thrust themselves. Their comrades shared the foreboding which the visit to the Peruvian camp had inspired. When night came on they looked out almost hopelessly upon the watch-fires of the Peruvians, which seemed to them “as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

Happily for the desponding warriors, the courage of their chief was unshaken by the dangers which surrounded him. Pizarro did not conceal from himself the jeopardy in which he stood. He saw clearly that ruin was imminent. But he saw, too, how by a measure of desperate boldness he might not only save his army from destruction, but make himself master of the kingdom. He would seize the Inca in presence of his army. Once in possession of the sacred person he could make his own terms. He could wait for the reinforcements which his success was sure to bring; at the worst, he could purchase a safe retreat to the coast. He informed the soldiers of his purpose, and roused their sinking courage by assurances of divine favour and protection.

Nov. 16, 1532 A.D. At sunrise next morning Pizarro began to make his preparations. In the halls which formed the ground-floor of the buildings beside the grand square he disposed his horsemen and footmen. His two pieces of artillery were planted on the fortress which looked down on the square. The arms of the men were carefully examined, and the chief made himself sure that swords were sharp and arquebusses loaded. Then mass was said, and the men, who stood ready to commit one of the foulest crimes in history, joined devoutly in the chant, “Rise, O Lord, and judge thine own cause.” About noon the sentinel on the fortress reported that the Inca had set out from his camp. He himself, seated on a throne of massive gold, was borne aloft on the shoulders of his principal nobles; before him moved a crowd of attendants whose duty it was to sweep every impurity from the path about to be honoured by the advance of royalty; on either hand his soldiers gathered towards the road to guard their King. At a little distance from the city, Atahualpa paused, in seeming doubt as to the measure he was adopting, and sent word to Pizarro that he would defer his visit till the morrow. Pizarro dreaded to hold his soldiers longer under the strain which approaching danger laid upon them. He sent to entreat the Inca to resume his journey, and the Inca complied with the treacherous request.

About sunset the procession reached the gates of the square. The servants, drawing aside, opened an avenue along which the monarch was borne. After him a multitude of Peruvians of all ranks crowded into the square, till five or six thousand men were present. No Spaniard had yet been seen; for Pizarro apparently shunned to look in the face of the man whom he had betrayed. At length his chaplain advanced and began to explain to the astonished monarch the leading doctrines of the Christian religion. As his exposition proceeded, it was noticed that the Peruvian troops were drawing closer to the city. Pizarro hastened now to strike the blow which he had prepared. A gun was fired from the fortress. At this appointed signal the Spaniards rushed from their hiding-places. The musketeers plied their deadly weapons. The cavalry spurred fiercely among the unarmed crowd. High overhead flashed the swords of the pitiless assailants. The ground was quickly heaped with dead, and even flight was impossible until a portion of the wall which bounded the square yielded under the pressure of the crowd and permitted many to gain the open country. Around the Inca a fierce battle raged, – such a battle as can be fought between armed and steel-clad men and others without arms, offering their defenceless bosoms to the steel of the slayer in the vain hope that thus they might purchase the safety of their master. The bearers of the Inca were struck down, and he himself was taken prisoner and instantly secured. The cavalry, giving full scope to the fierce passions which the fight aroused, urged the pursuit of the fugitives far beyond the limits of the city. The Peruvian army, panic-stricken by these appalling circumstances, broke and fled. Less than an hour ago Atahualpa was a great monarch, whose wish was the law of a nation; the possessor of vast treasures; the commander of a powerful army. Now his throne was overturned; his army had disappeared; he himself was a captive in the hands of strangers, regarding whom he knew only that their strength was irresistible and their hearts fierce and cruel.

The fallen monarch, perceiving the insatiable greed of gold which inspired his captors, sought to regain his liberty by offers whose magnitude bewildered the Spaniards. He offered to fill with gold, up to a height of nine feet, a room whose area was seventeen feet in breadth and twenty-two feet in length. A room of smaller dimensions was to be twice filled with silver; and he asked only two months to collect this enormous ransom. The offer was accepted, and the Inca sent messengers to all his cities commanding that temples and palaces should be stripped of their ornaments. In a few weeks Indian bearers began to arrive at Cassamarca, laden to their utmost capacity with silver and gold. Day by day they poured in, bearing great golden vessels, which had been used in the palaces; great plates of gold, which had lined the walls and roofs of temples; crowns and collars and bracelets of gold, which the chieftains gave up in the hope that they would procure the liberty of their master. At length the room was filled up to the red line which Pizarro had drawn upon the wall as his record of this extraordinary bargain. When it was acknowledged that the Inca had completely fulfilled his stipulation,2626
  It has been estimated that the ransom paid by the Inca would be equal, when the greater value of money at that time is allowed for, to three or four million sterling at the present day. It yielded a sum equal for each foot-soldier to ?4000, and for each horseman to ?8800.


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Pizarro executed an Act in presence of a notary, and proclaimed it to the sound of the trumpet in the great square of Cassamarca. By this document he certified that the Inca had paid the stipulated ransom, and was now in consequence liberated. But he did not, in actual fact, set the captive monarch free. On the contrary, he informed him that until a larger number of Spaniards arrived to hold the country, it was necessary for the service of the King of Spain that Atahualpa should continue a prisoner.



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