THE BRIDGE OF AFFLICTION
 VERY weary grew both officers and men of the long, toilsome siege, and very earnestly they urged their
general to give up his plan of slowly starving the city into surrender. "Better far," they cried,
"to encamp in the market-place than to retreat each evening to the causeways!" But the sure judgment
of CortÚs saw at once the weak points in such a course. They might become the besieged instead of
the besiegers, and endure another Noche Triste! At last, however, yielding to the
temper of his men, he gave a reluctant consent, and a simultaneous assault was agreed upon.
CortÚs divided his own force into three companies, one to advance along each of the streets leading
from the southern dyke to the market-place. Strict orders were given to the captains to secure
retreat by filling up all breaches and levelling all barricades in their forward march. No needless
risks were to be taken. "I knew," he says, "from the men they were they would advance to whatever
spot I told them to gain, even if it cost them their lives."
Early on the appointed day CortÚs, marching
 on foot at the head of his infantry, advanced up one of the side streets, while the gallant but rash
Alderete, the royal treasurer, commanded the company in the main avenue.
Slowly but surely the general's division drove the enemy before them, filling up each gap they
crossed, throwing down each barricade. From the adjoining streets they could hear their comrades'
shouts of victory, and several messages came from Alderete to say he was not far from the square.
Fearing this rapid advance, CortÚs left his own company and went with his bodyguard to the main
street. There lay an open breach nearly twelve paces wide! Intoxicated with victory no man in the
race for glory had stayed to fill up the gap. Suddenly, as the general was trying to remedy the
fault, fierce and wild rang out the Aztec battle-cry, followed by a rushing sound like the tramp of
a multitude of flying men.
In a moment Spaniards and allies appeared racing wildly onwards towards the open breach. Behind were
hosts of yelling warriors, and on either side of the street the waterways were dark with canoes,
while the house-tops bristled with Aztecs raining death on the struggling mass below. CortÚs and his
bodyguard on the farther side of the gap watched in helpless horror.
Alderete in his rash haste had fallen into one of Guatemozin's traps, and his men, overwhelmed and
panic-stricken, were now flying for their lives. Plunging into the gulf, they tried to swim across,
but many were drowned and many more were captured. The general, who with outstretched hands
 strove to rescue his unfortunate followers, was speedily recognised by the enemy, and now the cry,
"Malintzin! Malintzin!" rose high above the tumult of the fight. Six Aztec warriors springing from
their canoe, seized their arch foe, the most splendid of victims, and dragged him towards their
boat. To the rescue dashed Christoval de Olea, and ere he received his death-blow four of the
Mexican chiefs were slain. CortÚs, wounded in the leg, lay on the ground disabled beside his
faithful follower. More warriors rushed up, and. Malintzin was once more dragged in triumph into the
"The general is taken! The general is taken!" flew from lip to lip, and at the terrible words
Quinones, captain of the bodyguard, followed by several of his men, rushed into the water, tore
CortÚs from the very arms of the Aztecs, and lifted him with a desperate effort to the roadway. At
that instant the page, who ran up with a horse for his master, fell mortally wounded, and Guzman,
the chamberlain, sprang forward to take the boy's place. But even as CortÚs was lifted into the
saddle some Aztec warriors seized the unfortunate Guzman, flung him into a canoe, and rowed swiftly
"My master's life is too important to the army to be thrown away here," exclaimed Quinones, as he
resolutely turned the horse's head from this "bridge of affliction." Surrounded by his faithful
body-guard, CortÚs reached at last his own division, which he found broken and confused. The few who
remained of Alderete's company struggled up, and with difficulty the troops regained the Camp of the
 shattered and exhausted and pursued to the last by the triumphant foe.
Alvarado and Sandoval, meanwhile, had united their forces, and had almost reached the market-place,
when they heard with sinking hearts the Aztec yells of victory, and the sounds of desperate battle
growing fainter in the distance. Their comrades must be retreating! And now their own enemies were
reinforced by a strong body of Aztecs—the warriors who had just routed the general's own
division. Five bleeding heads were flung before the Spaniards, and with savage glee the Indians
shouted, "Thus will we slay you as we have slain Malintzin!" Then at the blast of Guatemozin's horn
they made so furious an onslaught that, "though it is now present to my eyes," says Diaz, "I can
give but a faint idea to the reader. God alone could have brought us off safe from the perils of
CORTES AND HIS MEN AT THE GAP.
Was CortÚs indeed slain? Sandoval could not rest until he had heard the fate of his beloved leader.
Wounded as he was he mounted his good chestnut Motilla, and rode alone to the Camp of the Causeway.
He was chased by some of Guatemozin's scouts, but Motilla, the best horse in the army, bore him
swiftly onward, and the arrows glanced harmlessly from his steel armour.
"The general is safe!" were the first glad words he heard at the camp, but then followed a story of
disaster. Sixty-two Spaniards had been captured alive! Many were wounded and many had been killed,
but death and wounds were as naught to the horror of capture.
 "O Senor Captain! what is this?" exclaimed Sandoval as he met his general.
"Son Sandoval," answered CortÚs, with tears in his eyes, "it is for my sins that this misfortune has
befallen me; but the fault is with the treasurer Alderete, who was ordered by me to fill up the bad
pass where the enemy threw us into confusion." Then to this most trusted officer he told his plans.
For some days the men must rest and recover their nerve, fighting only to defend their camps.
"You must take my place," he said, "for I am too much crippled at present to discharge my duties.
You must watch over the safety of the camps. Give especial heed to Alvarado's. He is a gallant
soldier, I know it well; but I doubt the Mexican hounds may some hour take him at disadvantage."
It was the hour of vespers when Sandoval reached Alvarado's camp, and the sun was sinking in a sea
of golden light. Suddenly into the peace and stillness of the evening broke a blood-curdling
sound—the drum of Huitzilopotchli! The camp was not a mile from the city, and with one accord
the soldiers turned to gaze at the great temple. In fascinated horror they watched a long procession
of priests and warriors winding snake-like round and round the terraces of the teocalli
with white-skinned victims in their midst. In the clear air the soldiers could almost recognise
their comrades. "We perceived," says Diaz, "that when they had brought the unfortunate victims to
the summit, where were the adoratories, they put plumes upon their heads, and with a kind of fan in
the hand of each made them
 dance before their accursed idols. When they had done this, they laid them upon their backs, on the
stone used for the purpose, where they cut out their hearts, alive, and having presented them yet
palpitating to their gods, they drew the bodies down the steps by the feet, where they were taken by
others of their priests. Let the reader think what were our sensations. 'Oh, heavenly God!' said we
to ourselves, 'do not suffer us to be sacrificed by these wretches! do not suffer us to die so cruel
a death!' and then how terrible a reflection, that we could not relieve our poor friends thus
murdered before our eyes!"
They were roused from their frozen gaze by another onslaught on the camp. "Look!" yelled the Aztecs
as they charged the Spanish lines, "that is the way in which you all shall die, for our gods have
promised this to us many times!"
There was joy and exultation in the city of Mexico. The gods had spoken at last! In the darkness of
the night Guatemozin sent across the lake from city to city the heads of white men and of horses
with this message, "The priests announce that Huitzilopotchli is appeased by the sacrifice of so
many of his foes, and will deliver the strangers into the hands of his faithful people ere eight
days have passed!"
With sinking hearts the allies heard this prediction. They too had gazed on the sacrifice of the
Teules, whom they had once deemed invincible, and perhaps divine. Surely they had sinned to
aid the foes of their gods, and now the time of punishment
 was at hand. Silently in the night-time they began to steal away from the Spanish camps to expiate
their sin. Tribe after tribe disappeared, and CortÚs was powerless to prevent the desertion. Even
the faithful Tlascalans, with the words of the priests ringing ominously in their ears, returned to
their little republic. Several of the caciques with their own immediate followers
indeed remained. They had fought by the side of the white men in victory and in defeat, and the
feeling of comradeship was strong within them. Ixtlilxochitl, the new king of Tezcuco, also held to
his allegiance, though most of his subjects departed.
At last out of every thousand only about two of the allies remained. Day and night the soldiers had
to watch and fight, for fierce and unceasing were the Aztec attacks, and every evening the dismal
roll of the great drum announced over city and lake that fresh victims were being led to the stone
Yet amid all the toil and danger the courage of the Spaniards did not fail. A few had brought their
wives with them to Mexico, and these women set a noble example of heroism and endurance. They had
refused to be left in Tlascala. "It is the duty of Castilian wives," they said proudly, "to share
the danger of their husbands—to die with them, if need be!" One of these women named Beatriz
de Palacios used to don her husband's armour, and when he was overcome with weariness, mount guard
in his place. Another once rushed into the fight when the soldiers were retreating, and led them on
 with sword and lance. But it was the wounded who had most cause to bless the women, since the
greatest service they rendered was the tending of the sick. And so, in watching and fighting, the
eight days passed painfully away.
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