Still proud and defiant, though he seemed but a living skeleton, Guatemoc walked straight to where the Spaniard stood, and spoke, Marina translating his words.
‘I am Guatemoc, the emperor, Malinche,’ he said. ’What a man might do to defend his people, I have done. Look on the fruits of my labour,’ and he pointed to the blackened ruins of Tenoctitlan that stretched on every side far as the eye could reach. ’Now I have come to this pass, for the gods themselves have been against me. Deal with me as you will, but it will be best that you kill me now,’ and he touched the dagger of Cortes with his hand, ‘and thus rid me swiftly of the misery of life.’
‘Fear not, Guatemoc,’ answered Cortes. ’You have fought like a brave man, and such I honour. With me you are safe, for we Spaniards love a gallant foe. See, here is food,’ and he pointed to a table spread with such viands as we had not seen for many a week; ’eat, you and your companions together, for you must need it. Afterwards we will talk.’
So we ate, and heartily, I for my part thinking that it would be well to die upon a full stomach, having faced death so long upon an empty one, and while we devoured the meat the Spaniards stood on one side scanning us, not without pity. Presently, Tecuichpo was brought before Cortes, and with her Otomie and some six other ladies. He greeted her graciously, and they also were given to eat. Now, one of the Spaniards who had been watching me whispered something into the ear of Cortes, and I saw his face darken.
‘Say,’ he said to me in Castilian, ’are you that renegade, that traitor who has aided these Aztecs against us?’
‘I am no renegade and no traitor, general,’ I answered boldly, for the food and wine had put new life into me. ’I am an Englishman, and I have fought with the Aztecs because I have good cause to hate you Spaniards.’
‘You shall soon have better, traitor,’ he said furiously. ’Here, lead this man away and hang him on the mast of yonder ship.’
Now I saw that it was finished, and made ready to go to my death, when Marina spoke into the ear of Cortes. All she said I could not catch, but I heard the words ‘hidden gold.’ He listened, then hesitated, and spoke aloud: ’Do not hang this man to-day. Let him be safely guarded. Tomorrow I will inquire into his case.’
THOMAS IS DOOMED
At the words of Cortes two Spaniards came forward, and seizing me one by either arm, they led me across the roof of the house towards the stairway. Otomie had heard also, and though she did not understand the words, she read the face of Cortes, and knew well that I was being taken to imprisonment or death. As I passed her, she started forward, a terror shining in her eyes. Fearing that she was about to throw herself upon my breast, and thus to reveal herself as my wife, and bring my fate upon her, I glanced at her warningly, then making pretence to stumble, as though with fear and exhaustion, I fell at her feet. The soldiers who led me laughed brutally, and one of them kicked me with his heavy boot. But Otomie stooped down and held her hand to me to help me rise, and as I did so, we spoke low and swiftly.