Imágenes de páginas

had disappeared. He had been slain. The blindness of panic suddenly infected the whole host, which broke and fled in wild terror and confusion. The Spaniards and Tlascalans were not slow in taking advantage of this new aspect of affairs. Forgetting their wounds and fatigue, they dashed in revengeful fury on the flying foe, cutting them down by hundreds as they fled. Not until they had amply repaid their losses on the bloody causeway did they return to gather up the booty which strewed the field. It was great, for, in accordance with Cortez's instructions, they had struck especially at the chiefs, and many of these were richly ornamented with gold and jewels.

Thus ended the famous battle of Otumba, the most remarkable victory, in view of the great disparity of forces, ever won in the New World. Chance gave the Spaniards victory, but it was a chance made useful only by the genius of a great commander. The following day the fugitive army reached the soil of Tlascala and were safe among their friends. History has not a more heroic story to tell than that of their escape from the Aztec capital, nor a more striking one than that of their subsequent return and conquest.



The great expedition to the land of gold, which Vasco Nuñez de Balboa had planned to make, was left by his death to be carried out by one of his companions in the discovery of the South Sea, the renowned Francisco Pizarro. It was an expedition full of romantic adventure, replete with peril and suffering, crowded with bold ventures and daring deeds. But we must pass over all the earlier of these and come at once to the climax of the whole striking enterprise, the story of the seizure of the Inca of Peru in the midst of his army and the tale of his incredible ransom.

Many and strange were the adventures of Pizarro, from the time when, with one small vessel and about one hundred desperate followers, he sailed from Panama in 1524, and ventured on the great unknown Pacific, to the time when, in 1531, he sailed again with one hundred and eighty men and about thirty horses and landed on the coast of Peru, which he designed to conquer as Cortez had conquered Mexico. A faithless and cruel wretch was this Francisco Pizarro, but he had the military merits of courage, enterprise, daring and persistency, and these qualities carried him through sufferings and adversities that would have discouraged

almost any man and brought him to magical success in the end. It was the beacon of gold that lured him on through desperate enterprises and deadly perils and led him to the El Dorado of the Spanish adventurers.

Landing and capturing a point on the coast of Peru, he marched with his handful of bold followers, his horses and guns, eastward into the empire, crossed the vast and difficult mountain wall of the Andes, and reached the city of Caxamalca. Close by this city the Inca, Atahualpa, lay encamped with an army, for a civil war between him and his brother Huascar had just ended in the defeat and imprisonment of the latter.

Desperate was the situation of the small body of Spanish soldiers, when, in the late afternoon of the 15th of November, 1532, they marched into Caxamalca, which they found empty of inhabitants. About one hundred more men, with arms and horses, had joined them, but in a military sense they were but a handful still, and they had every reason to dread the consequences of their rash enterprise.

All seemed threatening,—the desertion of the city by its people, the presence of the Inca, with a powerful army, within a league's distance, the probable hostility of the Indian emperor. All the Spaniards had to rely on were their arms,-cannon, muskets and swords of steel,-new and terrible weapons in that land, and their war-horses, whose evolutions had elsewhere filled the soul of the Indian with dismay. Yet what were these in the hands of less than three hundred men, in the presence of a strong and victorious army? Filled with anxiety, Pizarro at once despatched a body of horsemen, led by his brother Hernando and the famous cavalier Hernando de Soto, to visit the Inca in his camp.

Great was the astonishment of the Indian soldiers as this strange cavalcade, with clang of arms and blast of trumpet, swept by, man and horse seeming like single beings to their unaccustomed eyes. De Soto, the best mounted of them all, showed his command of his steed in the Inca's presence, by riding furiously over the plain, wheeling in graceful curves, and displaying all the vigor and beauty of skilled horsemanship, finally checking the noble animal in full career when so near the Inca that some of the foam from its lips was thrown on the royal garments. Yet, while many of those near drew back in terror, Atahualpa maintained an unflinching dignity and composure, hiding every show of dread, if any such inspired him.

To the envoys he said, through an interpreter the Spaniards had brought, “Tell your captain that I am keeping a fast, which will end to-morrow morning. I will then visit him with my chieftains. Meanwhile, let him occupy the public buildings on the square, and no other.”

Refreshments were now offered the Spaniards, but these they declined, as they did not wish to dismount. Yet they did not refuse to quaff the sparkling drink offered them in golden vases of great size brought by beautiful maidens. Then they

rode slowly back, despondent at what they had seen, —the haughty dignity of the Inca and the strength and discipline of his army.

That night there were gloomy forebodings throughout the camp, which were increased as its occupants saw the watch-fires of the Peruvian army, glittering on the hill-sides, as one said, “as thick as the stars in heaven." Scarcely a man among them except Pizarro retained his courage; but he went round among his men, bidding them to keep up their spirits, and saying that Providence would not desert them if they trusted to their strength and their cause, as Christians against pagans. They were in Heaven's service and God would aid them.

He then called a council of his officers and unfolded to them a desperate plan he had conceived. This was no less than to lay an ambuscade for the Inca and seize him in the face of his army, holding him as a hostage for the safety of the Christians. Nothing less decisive than this would avail them, he said. It was too late to retreat. At the first sign of such a movement the army of the Inca would be upon them, and they would all be destroyed, either there or in the intricacies of the mountain-passes. Nor could they remain inactive where they were. The Inca was crafty and hostile, and would soon surround them with a net-work of peril, from which they could not escape. To fight him in the open field was hazardous, if not hopeless. The only thing to do was to take him by surprise on his visit the next day, drive back his fol

« AnteriorContinuar »