W. W. (William Whiteman) Fosdick.

The cavaliers of the Cross; a historical romance online

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the noble animal struck the farther bank of the canal, and de-
spite of the stones and missiles which hailed upon him, he
mounted the rocky sides, and came upon the causeway, pierced
with fifty arrow-heads, but unbroken in his fiery spirit. Here
Cortes found himself in the midst of a handful of Christians,
who were contending with a numberless multitude of heathens,
whose wild cries, in the dark, were dreadful, and in the water of
the canal numbers were struggling and splashing in the gloom to
reach the shore ; and so direful was the carnage upon the brink
of the canal that the host of Christians, Tlascalans and Aztecs
that fell and rolled into the canal, had choked up the whole bed,
until the living were even standing upon the dead in the water, and
dealing death-strokes at each other. But despite the disorder
and confusion, the aim of the Christians was still onward, and
after a majority of the troops had crossed, an effort was made to
bring over the artillery. The lighter armament was successfully
moved across, but as the mass of Tlascalans came dragging on
the heavy ordnance, the timbers of the bridge, which had already
fallen, creaked and groaned beneath the ponderous load, and
when the great guns had reached midway the bridge, one tre-
mendous crash was heard, and the whole fabric snapped in two
in the centre, and the heavy cannon sank instantly in the middle
of the canal, and bearing down one end of the bridge, it carried
with it numbers of both parties who were standing upon it, some
contending, and others drawing on the artillery.

1 1 length, by dint of strife and labor, the Spaniards and their
auxiliaries effected a passage, and pursued their course on to-
wards the next sluice, where the bridge was again gone, and the
shores of the canal were of that soft, black mud which was al-
most quick -sand in many parts, and here in the dark they again
essayed to lay one of their portable bridges across the deep,
sluggish stream ; but the opposition of the enemy rendered it


almost impossible, and the nature of the ground contributed to
make the object a most difficult one to achieve. A constant clan*
and hum of battle struck upon the ear in the darkness, and the
various cries which were used by the parties were the chief means
by which the combatants could be distinguished. At this time,
when Cortes and his officers were making the most vigorous efforts
to arrange their troops and allies upon the causeway, the darkness
of the night had grown more deep than ever. Every object had
become so shadowed, that the face of friend or foe could not be dis-
tinguished, and only the dim outline of forms in the midst of the
gloom, could be discerned. At this moment the wild peal of
Guatemozin's horn again swelled forth terribly from the top of
the great temple, and instantly, as by a work of magic, the whole
pinnacle of the mighty temple became illuminated with one
vast watchfire, whose brilliant burst of flame shot up into the
black sky, and reddened the ebon roof above, while it threw a
sheet of glowing crimson far down upon the city, and scattered
a broad stream of ruddy light upon the midnight surface of the
lake. The sight which the strange glare revealed to the eyes of
Cortes and his companions, was appalling, for when the sable
skies blushed, and the red shadow of the huge pyre flashed upon
the bosom of the lake, it disclosed to their amazed vision, the
whole face of the waters alive with boats filled with thousands
upon thousands of dusky warriors, making their way fast towards
the causeway and the Christians. The boats were numberless,
and swarmed in every direction. As far as the eye could stretch
they came crowding on the quays, the canals, the reedy shores
and the marshy margin of the lake appeared to move with their
uncounted throng, and almost immediately the nearer craft com-
menced their attack upon Cortes and his comrades, and in a few
moments they multiplied so fast around the Christians, that one
continued rain of missiles was showered from the boats, until
the Spaniards and Tlascalans were almost blinded by the terrific
storm. The muskets of the Cavaliers blazed forth, and scattered
the hosts, who climbed the causeway ; but where the dead fell,
countless living leaped up, and came thrice as thick in their places,
and the water-craft lined thickly the rocky sides of the causeway
and poured forth their legions upon the land, until the whole


embankment swarmed with living myriads, who rushed upon
Cortes and his colleagues with such fiery assault that the Christians
were completely overwhelmed and scattered confusion and rout
followed. Vainly did Cortes attempt to keep all of his troops and
allies together, but they were broken to pieces, severed and sepa-
rated in all directions ; every division was cut off from the other ;
to stand against the infinite multitude was impossible ; to retreat
was equally so ; and every step which they now advanced, as the
light glared brightly, Cortes could see his companions fall, and
the infuriate enemy clinging to them with frightful ferocity, and
grasping the reins and the rider of every steed which charged
along the causeway through the midst of the multitude.

By tremendous exertion, Sandoval gained and passed another
canal, but could not with all his efforts extricate the temporary
portable bridge which he had thrown over it ; the timbers sank
deep in the soft, black mud, and many lost their lives in the water
or were dragged off by the enemy in the boats as they were
struggling in the mire.

The parties were now divided, and Sandoval, finding the
bridge inextricable, passed on without it, pushing the enemy be-
fore him at the point of the sword, until he was separated by a
wide space from Cortes, who was closely beset by a multitude of
the enemy, and fighting desperately, hand to hand, in the midst
of a dreadful slaughter.

Far behind and beyond the bridge was Alvarado, with his sol-
diers battling stoutly, but vainly contending with the multitudi-
nous foe. And now, the evil of their burthen of riches became
apparent, for those who clung to their heavy baggage were cut
down and fell sacrifices to their avarice. Thus thousands de-
serted pillage and countless others died attempting to defend their
wealth, or fell in bearing it off; some staggered forward under a
ponderous load, and fought until they were exhausted and over-
powered by exertion or the enemy.

Cortes kept near the great mass of the treasure and guarded
it, but from time to time he was compelled to relinquish portions
of his rich spoil, and by degrees he beheld it diminishing rapidly,
and every effort to protect it seemed fatal. Gold was the dead
weight which dragged the soldiers down, and it was only when


their strength was almost entirely gone that they would abandon
it. It was a strange struggle between life and gold, and fearful
was the number who lost both. Many, who, tired out with their
burthens, had thrown them away, finding themselves far behind
their companions, made desperate but futile efforts to reach the
company, and overpowered with numbers, sank beneath the
blows of the Aztec enemy.

Everything was now disorder ; the whole army was scattered
along the causeway, in separate squadrons, and between them
were hosts of the enemy, cutting the Christians and Tlascalans
off from each other, and forcing them to fight in handfuls and
hundreds against legions, whose number was incalculable. All
the bright armor of the Spaniards was smeared and bloody, and
thick mud clung upon them, which they had caught in passing
the sluices ; but still they strove manfully, yet their heroic
prowess was unavailing, for the enemy seemed to gather and in-
crease in numbers momentarily ; in front and rear, right and left,
on land and shore, in every place could the fiery eyes of the Az-
tecs be seen ; and in every direction they poured a torrent of
barbs, javelins, stones, and arrows, without cessation, upon the
Tlascalans and the Spaniards, who, confused and desperate, knew
not whither to turn in the darkness, for fear of falling at once in
the hands of the foe. In the next instant the flame from the
temple would flash forth, and they would behold themselves sur-
rounded by hosts whose number seemed a death-blow to all hope
of opposition or escape.

Thus passed the hours of the mournful night, amid carnage,
shouts, shrieks, groans, the clang of arms, the rush of men and
horses, the wild confusion, the dismay and despair of bewildered
and hope-forsaken men. Far in the van, brave Sandoval breasted
the night-storm, and led his decimated followers on, cheering
them with the hope that the main-land might yet be reached.
Behind him, in the distance, came the courageous Cortes ; in the
red glare of the fire-light his countenance showed strangely ; he
was pale, but his eye shone with a wild and desperate fierceness ;
it was a look of despair half hidden by a deathless determina-
tion ; his stroke was the fellest which came upon the enemy, and
his shout sent a thrill home to the hearts of his desponding


followers ; around him the stalwart cavaliers thronged and dealt
fatal blows in the face of the foe.

^ Lingering on the skirts of the army came Alvarado, far in the
rear and surrounded by a swarming myriad of Mexicans, who
poured upon him and his troops the whirlwind of their rage ;
loudly they yelled and roared around him ; heads came up over
the bank of the causeway in thick masses, and pressing on behind
came a cloud of warriors that darkened the night as they crowd-
ed on hotly after Alvarado and his men, as well as their auxilia-
ries. The terrified Tlascalans, who had fought nobly in the
earlier part of the night, now were so panic stricken by their
hopeless situation, that they ran madly and plunged headlong into
the lake, and the dark waters closed over them. All efforts to
rally them, upon the part of Alvarado, proved fruitless ; away
they fled, and precipitated themselves over the causeway, or ran
unwittingly on and were transfixed by the sharp spears of their
adversaries. Around the impulsive and fiery Spaniard there
stood now but a handful! of Christians, but they were men of
steel ; for five long hours had they fought the foe face to face,
and yet they flinched not they fell, but fell fighting, dropping
upon the stones, and still fighting when they were down.

Alvarado fought on upon his powerful black mare, and still
held in his arms before him the beautiful Tecalco, over whom he
had thrown his shield, while with the same hand he guided his
courser, and with a tremendous broadsword in the other, he
slashed right and left, making horrid havoc wherever his trenchant
blade fell.

But still the multitude increased in number and rage ; fresh
legions pouring in perpetually, charged upon the wreck of a divi-
sion who yet remained with Alvarado, and with such disastrous
effect, that half the handful who were left tell and the rest, in
mad desperation, rushed into the midst of the Aztecs, determin-
ing to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Thus man after man
departed and fell, until there stood by Alvarado but a single,
stern old soldier, a grey-headed veteran, who had followed the
fortunes of Alvarado from his most youthful adventures.

" Tecalco !" shouted an Aztec, as he flourished a burning
torch before the head of Alvarado's horse. "Tecalco, where?"


echoed a voice which Alvarado recognized at once as belonging
to Malmiztic ; and in an instant the broad, dark form of the Tol-
tec appeared by the red light blazing from the temple, close by
the side of Alvarado's horse, with his electric blade flashing in
his hand.

"Ah, he !" said Alvarado, "then the moon of my fortune is
waning and losing herself in the gloomy clouds of this night.
Here, Juan, take my horse, and fly with this damsel ; remember
that she is a princess, and if thou lovest me, mount, and hie
away with her."

"What !" exclaimed the old man, to Alvarado, who had dis-
mounted, "leave thee ! I, who have followed thy fortunes so far,
fly from thee now ! No, never ! I cannot, I will not desert
thee !"

"Nay," replied the other, "we waste words the foe is upon
us in the name of God and the Virgin, I command you, go !
As you would do a favor to your captain, as you would execute
his last request, lose not an instant save the princess, and I
will save myself fly, and bid Cortes succour me ; remember that
is my only hope of salvation !"

"What ! shall I leave thee ?" said the soldier.

"Away, and not a word more !" said Alvarado, half lifting
the old man into the saddle, and lightly swinging the form of Te-
calco up before the grey-headed veteran. " God speed thee," he
cried, as the powerful black mare leaped away with the old man
and his charge in spite of the throng which surrounded them.

"Now, infidels and devils, come on \" cried Alvarado, as he
turned upon those who were rattling darts and arrows against
his steel bonnet and close-riveted armor ; "and you, dark night-
raven !" said he,. as he came in an instant face to face with Mal-
miztic, "I have a reckoning to make with you. Now, Christ
and Santiago, aid me, a poor defender of the Cross, against thee,
thou sable-robed son of Satan. Life or death ! Spain or Mexico !
have at you !"

And with these words, he darted towards the Toltec, and
their swords met in the air with a sharp clang. The multitude
fell back from the combatants, who dealt rapid blows at each
other which made the sparks of fire glitter in the gloom. Right


manfully did the handsome Spaniard wheel his keen broadsword
before him, and deftly did he catch the swift blows which were
dealt at him. Now he sprang forward, and again he leaped back,
to give or avoid a stroke ; and busy was his eye to ward and parry
the sharp cuts and thrusts of his antagonist, who forced Alva-
rado to retreat step by step, until he had reached the brink of
the causeway, where with a fell swoop upon his helmet the Span-
iard fell and rolled over the embankment nearly to the edge of
the water, stunned and apparently lifeless.

Malmiztic waited not a moment, but dashed on after the old
soldier and Tecalco, who had reached one of the sluices or
canals, and by the extraordinary power of the black mare were
enabled to pass to the other side ; but here, the violent struggles
of the animal, in attempting to mount the miry shore, only
plunged it deeper in the soft, black mud. In every effort to ex-
tricate itself, the animal plunged violently, but the result was
each. time to weaken and sink the noble beast under the oppres-
sive weight which it bore.

Numbers of the enemy now swarmed around those on horse-
back, in the midst of the water ; the Aztecs strove to sink the steed,
and to pull the old Spaniard from his saddle. This they at last^uc-
ceeded in, by force, and in spite of his desperate struggles, the
old man, pierced by a hundred arrows, and cut fearfully in the
head by a blow of a lance, from which the blood streamed into
his eyes, grew giddy and faint from bleeding and weakness, and
they dragged him into the dark and bloody waters, and in a few
moments beads of foam came bubbling up from the spot where
the grey head of the old man sank in the dark canal.

At this instant, Malmiztic reached the opposite side of the
sluice, and seeing, through the dusky gloom of the red light, a
white form floating upon the water, his quick thought divined it
to be the princess, and instantly he sprang into the canal, half
choked with dead bodies and living swimmers, and had just
reached the spot where he had seen the figure before it disap-
peared. Sudden as an otter, his dark form descended where the
body sank, and by chance he caught upon the loose robes of an
object at the bottom of the stream, and grasping the form he
rose to the surface. The lurid glare of the distant fire fell upon


the pale face of Tecalco ! and Malraiztic's heart shrank within
him, for death seemed in her countenance. A few powerful
strokes brought" the Toltec and his charge to the shore, where,
upon the verge of the causeway, he poured the strangling water
from her throat, pressed her chest, and rolled her body to and
fro but no spark of vitality appeared. Wildly he threw back
her long, dripping tresses, and violently he chafed her form with
his hands, and stared strangely into her motionless face ; he
pressed his cheek to her mouth but there was no breath he
started half back, frantic, and again rapidly rubbed the body
but movement there was none. The Toltec clasped his brow with
his hands, horror stricken ; his large black eyes quivered in their
sockets, as he gazed on the lovely but ghastly features before
him. Suddenly he bent over her, and pressing his lips firmly
upon those of the pale girl, he breathed into her mouth a full,,
strong breath ; instantly her lungs filled, and a tremor ran through
her whole frame. Malmiztic felt the thrill, and hope sprang .up in
his heart. Again he breathed upon her lips, and, like one startled
from a dream, she breathed ! quick and heavily. Respiration
now came free, but a heart-sickness came over her new death-
throe* but yet she breathed, and her black eyes opened in her
pallid face, and Malmiztic lifted her up in his arms.

By^ this time, Alvarado, who had regained his strength from
the stunning blow, arose from the edge of the water, and mounted
the causeway, when a party of Aztecs set suddenly upon him.
He was 'weakened greatly, and although he struggled manfully,
the numbers were crushing him. Feeling the contest hopeless,
he cried for his companions but they answered not no voices
came, save far away in the distance the hum of contest mingled
with the cries and counter cries of the contending hosts. Alva-
rado fled, shouting piteously and imploringly, pursued by a prty
of Aztecs, who howled at his heels like famished wolves.

At length he came to a canal, whose sluggish, deep stream
presented an impassable barrier ; he now turned and faced the
foe, in the last hopeless state of desperation. His wild cries
even reached the ears of Cortes, far ahead upon the causeway.

" Hark !" said the general, " what voice is that ? By heaven,
'tis Alvarado. Holy Virgin, he must be saved !"


"It is death, certain death to turn back," replied an officer to

"What! must he perish?" cried Cortes, vehemently.

" No power can save him," returned the knight.

" By the blood of Christ and the Cross, he shall not die
alone," exclaimed the brave general. " Is there no Spaniard
here to follow me to rescue him ? Hark ! he cries again ! In
the name of Santiago, is there a man of Castile who can hear
that cry, and still refuse him aid ? I will go, if I go alone !"

With these words, Cortes turned the head of his horse towards
the city, and, striking his spurs into him, galloped back on the
causeway. A dozen brave knights, on horseback, in an instant
came clattering on behind him.

Malmiztic beheld them coming, and lay quietly on the earth,
as if dead, with his fair ward. The cavaliers charged on until
they came to the canal. Cortes hesitated not, but plunged in,
and instantly his horse foundered in the mud. Every exertion
of the knights was necessary to pluck him from his perilous po-

At this moment, they could discover, through the gloom, on
the other side of the broad canal, the form of Alvarado, flying
towards them, hotly pursued by a fierce party of Mexicans, who
sent at him a shower of arrows, which made Cortes and his
knights turn away when a voice cried with the most heart-
rending tones :

" For Christ's sake, leave me not ; I am Alvarado !"

" Plunge into the canal," cried one of the knights.

"Nay," shouted Cortes, "try it not; thine armor will sink
thee !"

"God help me !" he cried, throwing his heavy broadsword
away, and stooping to the earth, he picked up from the causeway
a long-handled, copper-headed lance, and wheeling it around his
head, with both hands, he drove back th,e enemy, when, with the
full velocity of his extraordinary agile frame, he flew to the brink
of the canal, and planting his spear in the deep, black mud at the
bottom, he strung his sinews for one tremendous bound, and his
active form went flying through the air, over the lance, like a
night-bird sailing through the gloom. It was a fearful spring,


but he bounded away through the air, over the canal, heaped
with its dead, and alighted in the quagmire on the other side,
but fell backwards in the black and muddy stream, and was sink-
ing in the Stygian waters, when Cortes rushed to the shore, and
reached him the handle of a pike ; Alvarado clasped it with a
death-gripe, and the Spanish general drew him safe ashore. A
shout of exultation involuntarily burst from the band of brave
knights at the delivery of their chivalrous companion, and turn-
ing again towards Tlacopan, they hastened to join the few scat-
tered troops under Sandoval, which survived and constituted the
main army. In vain the knights prayed Cortes to take one of
their horses, but he resolutely refused, and marched hastily along
on foot, by the side of Alvarado. Suddenly, as they were pro-
gressing rapidly, Alvarado exclaimed :

"By Santiago and the Virgin! behold the princess and that
dark idolater !"

" By my conscience, it is true," exclaimed Cortes, in return,
as he boldly advanced to seize them, followed by the remaining
cavaliers, who drew their swords and struck at the Toltec, who
was half supporting the form of the princess. Instantly he re-
leased her, and swept his brilliant sword around so rapidly, and
caught the coming blades so quick, that a ring of fire played
about his head, from the surrounding sparks which flew from the
flashing steel.

"Hosts of heaven ! surely this is the demon !" cried Cortes, as
he beheld the force and skill with which Malmiztic defended him-
self, upon the brink of the causeway, thereby keeping his foes all
before him. The ringing of Malmiztic's mysterious weapon
sounded like the clash of fifty swords, more than like one, and
attracted a party of Aztecs from the lake, who leaped ashore,
and rushed to the rescue of the Toltec.

Cortes fell back petrified, as he beheld, by the crimson glare
of the fading fire, the snow-white head and ebon eyes of Cacama.
It was an appalling spectre, which chilled his blood to behold ;
the pallid face and ghastly glare of the Tezcucan's gaze unnerved
him. The figure seemed more an apparition from a sepulchre,
than a real and living being.

Instantly, the Aztecs attacked the Christians, and Cacama,


seeing Cortes stoop to seize the princess, fell fiercely upon him
with a maquahuitl. Cortes struck it in twain with a blow, and
Cacama immediately drew a sword of itzli, but the Toledo-
tempered blade of the Spaniard shivered it like a piece of porce-
lain. With this, the fiery Tezcucan rushed back to snatch a
weapon from the dead, who strewed the earth around the spot,
and Cortes again made a grasp for the princess. Two cavaliers
were hand to hand with Malmiztic, and the general, watching the
opportunity, seized Tecalco cautiously behind the back of the
Toltec, and escaped with her to the other side of the causeway,
where he was once more confronted by Cacama, with a maqua-
huitl in hand, which the Tezcucan had found.

" Fly with the girl," said Cortes, hastily, to Alvarado. " Mount
the nearest horse and away !"

To follow his directions was the work of but a few seconds ;
but in that short space Tcalco beheld Cacama rush furiously
upon Cortes with his maquahuitl, and in an instant the ferocious
Castilian hewed down the weapon with his sword, and immedi-
ately the Tezcucan ran up and clenched him by the throat and
almost strangled the Christian before he could make use of his
sword. At length, Cortes, by a convulsive struggle, escaped
from his grasp, by drawing a dagger at the same time with his
left hand, and burying it in the side of Cacama, while with his
right, he gave a desperate sword-thrust which pierced the heart
of the ghastly prince, who gave one shriek of agony and per-
ished at the foot of the Spanish commander.

By this time, a host of Aztecs, that covered the causeway, had
come to the assistance of the Toltec, who had laid several of the
knights on the wet earth, as he stood at bay. Seeing the folly

Online LibraryW. W. (William Whiteman) FosdickThe cavaliers of the Cross; a historical romance → online text (page 22 of 31)