Page:The Story of Mexico.djvu/176

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Mexico, and immediately resolved to avail himself of these people if necessary. He determined, in spite of the repeated requests of Montezuma that he should go away, to march to Anahuac, and personally visit the monarch, and he set forth from Cempoallan on the 16th of August, 1519, on his way to Tlaxcalla,—probably taking the road to Jalapa. Jalapa is an old town, over four thousand feet above the level of the sea, with a superb view of the lofty peaks of Orizaba and the Cofre di Perote, covered always with snow, rising behind hills and valleys and lesser mountains; it is probable that the Spaniards regarded less the splendor of the prospect than the difficulties it presented to their passage.

Before leaving the sea-coast, Cortés with great resolution destroyed the greater part of his ships by beaching them. This was to put an end to any scheme of retreat which might have sprung up in the breasts of discontented members of his party. Three months had now passed since he arrived in Mexico. The ships, with the exception of one of the smallest, were destroyed. There was no chance to turn back; and the conqueror boldly prepared for his enterprise.

The body of men which he called his army was composed of 415 infantry, and 16 horses; they took with them 7 cannon. With this handful of men he risked himself in a hostile country, inhabited by people wholly unknown to him in manner and language. He began by destroying his only means of escape, in case of defeat; relying only on his own courage, and the devoted bravery of his little band.