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The Famous Retreat Of Cortez And The Spaniards
by [?]

There is no chapter in all history more crowded with interesting and romantic events than the story of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards under Cortez. And of all these records of desperate daring and wonderful success, the most extraordinary is the tale of the Noche Triste, the terrible night-retreat of the Spaniards from the Aztec capital. No one can read this story, and that of the remarkable victory of Otumba which followed it, without feeling that Cortez and his men were warriors worthy of the most warlike age. This oft-told story we shall here again relate.

In a preceding tale we described how Cortez set out from Cuba on his great expedition, with a few hundred soldiers and a small number of cannon, muskets, and horses. It may briefly be stated here that he sought to conquer a warlike and powerful nation with this insignificant force, less than a modern regiment. We might relate how he landed in Mexico; won, with the terror of his horses and guns and the valor of his men, victory in every battle; gained allies among the foes of the Aztecs; made his way into their capital; seized and held prisoner their emperor, Montezuma, and for a time seemed to be full master of the land. We might go on to tell how at length the Mexicans rose in fury, attacked the Spaniards with the courage of desperation, mortally wounded their own emperor, and at length brought the invaders into such terrible straits that they were forced to fight their way out of the city as their last hope of life.

To understand what followed, it must be stated that the city of Mexico lay, not in the open country, but on an island in the centre of a large lake, and that all the roads leading to it passed over narrow causeways of earth across this lake. Each of these causeways was broken at intervals by wide ditches, with bridges crossing them. But the Aztecs had removed these bridges, and thus added immensely to the difficulty of the night-march which the desperate Spaniards were obliged to make.

It was at midnight on the 1st of July, 1520, that Cortez and his men threw open the gates of the palace fortress in which they had long defended themselves against the furious assaults of thousands of daring foes. The night was dark and cloudy, and a drizzling rain was falling. Not an enemy was to be seen, and as they made their way with as little noise as possible along the great street of Tlacopan, all was hushed in silence, Hope rose in their hearts. The tramp of the horses and the rumble of the guns and baggage-wagons passed unheard, and they reached the head of the causeway without waking a sleeping Aztec warrior.

Here was the first break in the causeway, and they had brought with them a bridge to lay across it. But here also were some Indian sentinels, who fled in haste on seeing them, rousing the sleeping city with their cries. The priests on the summit of the great temple pyramid were also on the watch, and when the shouts of alarm reached their ears from below, they sounded their shells and beat their huge drum, which was only heard in times of peril or calamity. Instantly the city broke from its slumber, and as the leading Spaniards crossed the bridge a distant sound was heard, which rapidly approached. Soon from every street and lane poured enemies, flinging stones and arrows into the crowded ranks of the Spaniards as they came. On the lake was heard a splashing sound, as of many oars, and the war-cry of a host of combatants broke on the air. A brief interval had sufficed to change the silence into a frightful uproar of sound and the restful peace into the fast growing tumult of furious battle.