Page images

One year later one of the turrets of the great temple took fire without any cause, and continued to burn in defiance of all attempts to extinguish it. One year later three comets were seen, and, not long before your arrival, a strange light broke forth in the east. It was broad at its base on the horizon, and, rising in a pyramidal form, tapered off as it approached the zenith, like a great sheet of fire thickly powdered with stars. At the same time, low voices were heard on the air, and doleful wailings, as if to announce some strange, mysterious calamity. Are you really the fair god returned ?” . Marina asked in conclusion.

“Tell them I am, and that I will destroy all who do not submit to me.”

The shrewd Cortez was both politician and diplomat, and he determined to take advantage of the superstition of the Mexicans. Just as he seemed to reach smooth waters there arose a disaffection among his own followers. His people became divided. A part of them, loyal to Velasquez, wanted to return to Cuba, while another party, headed by Estevan, remained true to Cortez. The city of Vera Cruz (The True Cross) was laid out and duly incorporated in the name of the king of Spain. A mayor, alguacil, and officers were elected. Cortez shrewdly had his friends placed in office under the new municipality, and, resign

ing to them, asked that a leader be appointed. IIe was of course appointed governor general of Mexico, and thus claimed to have a commission from the crown, and a higher authority than Velasquez.

A number of persons, with the priest Juan Diaz at their head, ill-affected toward the administration of Cortez, laid a plan to seize a ship and make the best of their way back to Cuba and report to the governor. The plot was conducted with so much secrecy that supplies were placed on board without arousing suspicion, and had not one of the party relented at the last moment and betrayed the scheme, it would have been successful. The accused parties were arrested and found guilty. Two of the ringleaders were condemned to death, the pilot lost his feet, and all others, save the priest, who claimed benefit of clergy, were whipped.

One of the condemned men was Escudero, the alguacil who arrested Cortez before the sanctuary in Cuba. Although the governor, on signing the death warrant, regretted that he had ever learned to write, yet to Escudero he betrayed no such emotion.

“I promised to hang you, and you see I keep my word,” he said.

At sun-rise next morning, the doomed men were


"So perish all your enemies,” said Doña Marina, who had been a witness to the execution, turning to Cortez.

“Doña Marina, will you always be faithful to me?” he asked.

Pointing to the swaying bodies, she answered: “When I am not, let my fate be the same!"



MONTHS and years went by and Christina awaited the return of her husband. Rumors of all sorts were rife, but authentic news was scarce. Velasquez came frequently to her house to try, by bribes and threats, to induce Christopher to reveal the hiding. place of Zuna, but in vain.

“Tell me where I can find the old slave, lad, who told you of the city of gold, and I will make it profitable to you. I will forgive your father his crime.

“I will not!"

“Will not, when I promise to forgive your father?”

“My father has done nothing to be forgiven,”

“By St. Anthony! he is too wise for his years. Come, good Christopher, tell me of the slave's hiding-place.”

“You would drag her back and beat her. She would die on the rack before she would reveal the The governor occasionally lost his temper, and swore he would imprison the lad and torture the secret from him. But he dared not do this, arbitrary as his power was. One day, as Christopher was roaming through the forests near the town of St. Jago, lie was startled by the crack of a matchlock. The report of a gun in the wood was too common to excite more than momentary attention, had he not immediately heard the shriek of a woman.


Christopher had grown to be a stout lad, and. could wield a crossbow quite effectively. On this morning he had his weapon with him, and involuntarily seized a bolt on hearing the shriek of pain.

“It is another slave-hunter,” he said. “Surely God will not let these crimes go unpunished.”

Impelled by curiosity, the lad pressed on through the everglades and luxuriant shrubbery of the tropics, his heart beating wildly, and his hands clutching his crossbow. He came in sight of two Spaniards armed with arquebuses and swords. They did not see him, although he was so near that, crouching behind some palms, he could hear what they said:

“She has escaped, Bernardo,” said one.

“But she bleeds, Pedro. Put the bloodhound on her trail and he will soon rend her to pieces,

« PreviousContinue »