THE BEAUTIFUL CITY OF THE FLOATING ISLANDS
 COLUMBUS had gone on his great journey to find gold, but nowhere did he find it. Other Spaniards came to America, all looking for
gold, like Columbus. But gold does not grow in the street nor on the dusty roads. It is found in gold mines, deep, deep
under the earth, where men work by candle-light and dig and dig.
Now, there was a man named Cortez, who wanted gold—much gold. He wanted to become a very rich man and go back to Spain,
and live in a beautiful castle, with servants, and horses, and fine clothes, and jewels of many colors that glistened in
the sun. Cortez was a very young man when he went to America to live. He was only nineteen, but he was strong and as
brave as a lion. There was a Spanish Governor in the island where Cortez lived, and the Governor did not like Cortez. He
threw the young man into prison, and when Cortez escaped, the Governor threw him in again. But Cortez was very brave and
very clever, and so once more he got away,
 and hid himself so that the Governor could not find him.
Now, there had come news from further west, from the land which we now call Mexico, that there was much gold in that
land. So the Governor of the island said to himself, "I will send some soldiers there, and they will take the gold away
from the Indians and bring it to me; then I shall be a rich man, and can go back to Spain and live in a castle." For in
those days there were castles in Spain, large and gray and beautiful, with great iron gates and a ditch of water all
around, so that no man could enter except the friends of the owner. You see the Governor of this island wanted to be
rich and great, and that is why he sent a little army of Spanish soldiers to the new land of Mexico.
"Who is the man that will lead my army?" asked the Governor. "There will be many dangers. Perhaps the ships will go down
in a storm and all will be drowned; perhaps the food will give out and the soldiers and their Generals will die from
hunger, or it may be that the Indians will fight them and shoot them to death with bows and arrows. I must have a good
General—strong, and as brave as a lion." And then he
 thought of Cortez, the brave, strong young Spaniard, and he made him General of the little army.
So one day the ships sailed away to the new land of Mexico. Cortez cheered the men by telling them stories of the great
country they were going to find. "We are to sail and to fight," said he; "to fight for our good King, for Spain and for
God. The people that live in this land are not Christians. They do not believe in our God, and we must teach them about
Him and make them Christians." But even while he spoke, the young Cortez thought of gold, gold, gold—dollars of gold
piled up to the sky; goblets and plates and dishes of gold; tables and chairs of gold. Gold, gold, yellow gold, that
would make the young Spaniard the richest man in all the world.
The little ships took up their anchors and sailed west towards the sun setting in the waters. It was a beautiful sea,
all green and blue, with here and there reefs of white coral, and at last, far in the distance, they saw the beautiful
new land of Mexico. The sun shone bright upon the green trees of the forest, and all the flowers of the field, red and
purple and blue and yellow, glistened in the bright light. The boats came up to the shore.
 "Here," cried Cortez, as he stood on the white beach, "here I shall found my city, and I shall call it the 'City of the
True Cross,' in honor of God and the good King of Spain." And to this day the city bears that name—the "City of the True
Now, there lived in the new land of Mexico, high up behind the mountains, a nation of Indians called Aztecs. They were
very proud and strong and brave, and had conquered many peoples. These Aztecs were not like the Indians we see in the
circus. They had a beautiful city made of wood and stone, with houses full of gold and silver ornaments, and this
wonderful city was built upon floating islands. The King of the Aztecs was a very great man. His name was Montezuma, and
his father had been King before him and his grandfather had been King before him; and so, for so many, many years, that
no one among the Aztecs, even the oldest, could remember.
"THE KIND KING MONTEZUMA WANTED PEACE, AND SAID THAT HE WOULD GIVE THE SPANIARDS
MORE GOLD IF THEY WOULD ONLY GO BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY."
Now, there was a story among the Aztecs that some day the Children of the Sun would come from the East and drive
Montezuma and his Indians away. These Children of the Sun, according to the story, were not red like the
 Aztecs, but white like Cortez and his Spanish soldiers. So when Montezuma heard of the white men, who had come and
founded the City of the True Cross, he called his wise men together. They were very old and very wise, and they bowed
deep to Montezuma, because he was King, and they listened to what he said.
"Now, my Lords," said Montezuma to the wise men about him, "I have strange news to tell you. There have come from the
East the Children of the Sun. They are white men, with black hair and beards, and their clothes are made of metal as
bright as silver, so that it glistens in the sun. They ride on big, strong animals that run faster than a man." You see,
Montezuma had never seen horses. "And," went on the King, "these children have come here in houses that sail on the
sea—in ships such as we Aztecs know not of. I fear that, when they see our beautiful city, they will kill our people,
and then the Aztec nation will be no more."
The King paused, and in the great hall, where the wise men were gathered, all was silent, so silent that the breathing
of the wise men could be heard. Then again the King spoke:
 "My Lords!" he called out, "what shall I do?"
And a young man, the bravest of all the Aztec princes, arose quietly and, facing the King, answered his question.
"The Aztecs, my Lord," he said, "have always fought. We must do as our fathers have ever done, fight for our King and
our beautiful 'City of the Floating Islands.'"
Montezuma was silent as he listened to the brave words of the young prince, and all the wise men were silent too.
Then a very old man, the oldest and wisest of all the wise men in the kingdom, rose in his turn; and all the wise men
listened as the old man spoke.
"Not so, my gracious King, not so," he said slowly. "We are brave men, but we cannot fight the Children of the Sun. It
is true that our soldiers are many and the white men are few; but the Sun has given to them his fire. They have tubes
that are called guns, and when the Indians fight these white children, the tubes speak out fire and noise, which kill
the red men. Where are our brothers to the East who have fought the white men? Dead, my Lord, dead.
 We cannot fight against the Sun or against his children. We must send to the white men presents—rich presents of gold
and silver, and beg them to go away in their houses that sail the sea—to go away, they, and their horses, and their
guns, and not come up to our beautiful city."
And as the old man had said, so the King Montezuma did. He gathered together great chests of gold and silver, dresses
and cloaks of bright green peacock feathers, and heaps and heaps of red rubies, and milky white pearls, and precious
jewels that glistened in the sun. "Take these to the white men," he said to his servants; "take this gold and silver and
all these beautiful gifts to the white men, who are Children of the Sun, and beg them to go away and not come up to our
The servants did as Montezuma had bidden them. They did not have horses, but all day and all night they ran as swift as
the bird flies, until at last they came to where Cortez and his soldiers waited. Then they fell on their knees and bowed
their heads to the ground.
"Behold, oh Children of the Sun," they said, "this gold and silver, and all these rubies and precious stones, and all
these beautiful things
 are the presents of our good King Montezuma to the white men who have come from the East; and our King Montezuma begs
the white men not to go up to his beautiful city, but to take the gold and silver and to go away in their wonderful
houses that sail on the sea."
Now, when Cortez saw all the gold and silver that Montezuma had sent, he became very greedy. He wanted still more gold,
and he knew that if Montezuma could send him such beautiful presents, there must be great riches in the wonderful city.
So he said to the waiting servants, "Tell your good King Montezuma that I thank him for the gold and silver which he has
sent me, and that I and all my men with me will come to visit him in his beautiful city."
Then the servants went back with the message. Now, it was a long and dangerous journey to the beautiful city of the
Aztecs, and Cortez feared that his men might be afraid to go so far from their ships, so he called them together. "I am
going on a long and dangerous journey," he said; "those who go with me shall become rich, very rich, but those who are
afraid can stay here on the seacoast." And the soldiers answered, "You are our General, Cortez, and
 where you go we will go too." Then Cortez burned his ships so that no one could turn back, and with his little army
marched up to the beautiful city where King Montezuma lived.
Now, when Montezuma heard that the white men were coming to his beautiful city, he did not know what to do. Some of his
wise men said, "Let us fight the Children of the Sun," and others said, "Let us have peace; let us welcome the white men
as guests to our city." So Montezuma did not know what to do.
When Cortez reached the high lands and looked out upon the city, he saw the strangest sight in the world. The city was
built on islands that floated on the lakes, and there was water all about it, and bridges with gates, and soldiers that
stood by the gates to keep the white men out. And Cortez was afraid. You see the bridges were very narrow, and it would
have been very easy for the Aztecs to shoot the Spanish soldiers as they crossed the bridges; so the crafty Cortez said
to the Indians, "Listen, my friends; let us come into your beautiful City of the Floating Islands, for we are tired
after our long journey. Let us rest with you a little, for we are your friends and we wish you to be ours."
 So the Aztecs let the white men cross the bridges and enter the gates of their city. Now, as soon as Cortez and his
soldiers were inside the city they behaved very badly. They went out on the streets and quarreled with the Aztecs. They
found fault with the palace, which the good King Montezuma had given them to live in, and they always thought of ways in
which to take from the Aztecs their gold and silver and precious stones. Now, Cortez, who was very strong and brave, was
also very cruel and deceitful. He invited Montezuma to come and see him in his palace, and when the Aztec King came to
see him, Cortez told his soldiers to hold him prisoner. Then the white men went out into the streets and fought the good
Indians and killed many of them. The kind King Montezuma wanted peace, and said that he would give the Spaniards more
gold if they would only go back to their own country. But the Spaniards did not wish to go back, not until they had
found all the gold and silver in all the land of the Aztecs. So they fought battles, many battles, and the Spaniards,
who were brave, but very, very cruel, conquered all that country. Many of the Aztecs were killed, and even the good King
Montezuma lost his life.
 Thus it all came to pass just as the wise men had foretold, and the City of the Floating Islands became the white men's
But it did not go well with Cortez. To be sure, at first he became very rich, and had beautiful houses, and lands, and
horses, and gold and silver; but he did not long keep these things. He grew poor again, and when he got to be an old
man, he was very sad and unhappy. And sometimes I think he must have been sorry for his cruelties, and lies, and
wickedness, and for all the unkind things he did to the poor Aztecs when he and his soldiers went up into Mexico and
conquered the beautiful City of the Floating Islands.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics