The Story of Mexico/Chapter 18

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During the two years occupied, with varying fortunes, in the conquest of Mexico, Cortés was always accompanied by Malintzi, who was indeed indispensable to him as interpreter. Her tent was always near that of the commander. His lieutenants treated her with consideration and respect, always giving her the title of Doña.

Through his reverses, and on the terrible Noche triste, it is said, that Malintzi never lost her courage. She was put in charge of some brave Tlaxcallans, by Cortés, who could not have her with him at the head of the fray, and their devotion brought her through the wild confusion of flight.

The long struggle over, Cortés, as we have seen, went to live at Coyoacán. Doña Marina was with him.

Now she is happy. Her hero rules triumphant over millions of men. She lives in a palace, with her guards, her maids of honor, her pages, and esquires. The long, sad days of her youth of slavery are at an end, she has resumed her rank. She has a son, baptized under the name of Martin Cortés, whom she tenderly loves, and with this child and his father, now at peace with all the vast empire he has conquered for his sovereign, she passes a tranquil, happy life.

Suddenly, to break in upon this dream, comes the news that Doña Catalina Juarez Cortés has landed at Vera Cruz, and is approaching the capital.

Very likely Cortés had forgotten to mention his marriage to Marina. Perhaps he had forgotten it himself. But the reader will remember Doña Catalina, the cause of the jealousy of Velasquez in the early days of Fernando's career. It is said that his first ardor for her cooled off after a time, and that the marriage would never have taken place but for the persistence of the Doña. It was not happy, and the adventurer sailed away, without regret for the cheerless home he left behind in Cuba.

Her name was never mentioned during the long period which passed between the landing of the Spaniards and their successful establishment in Mexico. But the deeds of Fernando Cortés were known to all the world, and especially sounded about in the island whence he set out. Doña Catalina, with every right on her side, set out to join her recusant spouse, encouraged by Diégo Velasquez, who saw with no pleasure the continued triumphs of Cortés.

Bernal Diaz says that Cortés hated his wife, but he dared not bring down upon himself the wrath of the Church by ignoring her, and Doña Catalina was received on her arrival with all the honors due to the wife of the great conqueror. She made a splendid entrance into the capital, and at once stepped into the position of head of his household, and succeeded to the homage of maids of honor, pages, and esquires.

Malintzi withdrew, persuaded of the necessity by the good father Olmedo, who baptized her, trained her in the Christian faith, and now, in the hour of trial, stood by her side.

Doña Catalina was not destined to enjoy long her new state. The air of the lofty plateau did not suit her constitution, accustomed to the lower atmosphere of Cuba. She died suddenly.

At Coyoacán there is a tale that Doña Catalina was drowned by her husband, and the well is even shown to tourists into which she is supposed to have been thrown. This legend is probably of later date than the time of her death, but even then rumors arose that it had been a violent one, and reports were rapidly circulated about Cortés likely to injure his reputation and, moreover, that of the Malintzi.

At that time Cortés was thinking of a return to Spain. He was thirty-five, still young enough to thirst for a full recognition at home of his great deeds. While making his preparation for departure, he heard of the insurrection of his lieutenant Olid in Honduras, who had declared himself independent. It was necessary for him to hasten at once to chastise his boldness. Aguilar, the interpreter, was dead, and Cortés, who had never troubled himself to acquire the Mexican dialects, had to send for Marina to accompany him, as interpreter only. This caused the rumors about the death of his wife to circulate more than before. Cortés, warned of the danger, took a decisive step to silence all such insinuations. At Orizaba, he caused the sudden marriage of Marina with one of his officers, Don Juan de Jaramillo.

Poor Marina was required to carry her devotion, her absolute obedience to her chief, to the extreme point of marrying a man she scarcely knew. She yielded. It is said that she never lived with her husband, but withdrew at once to her birthplace, at Païnala, where her own family still lived; that her guilty relatives threw themselves at her feet, afraid that she would have them destroyed by the Spaniard. She forgave them, and passed the rest of her life far away from the capital, in obscurity. She died young, when Cortés was yet at the height of his fame, before he had suffered the mortification of seeing himself overlooked by the court of Spain.

Not long after the expedition to Honduras, Cortés carried out his intention of crossing to Spain. On this first visit he was, as we have seen, received with acclamations, and loaded with praise and honors. When he again entered Mexico, with the title of Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca, he brought with him a Spanish bride. Doña Juana de Zuñiga, daughter of the second Count of Aguilar, and niece of the Duke de Bejar.

So Malintzi, if her shade returns to wander under the ahuehuetes of Chapultepec, has her own grief to mourn, in addition to the ruin she helped to bring upon her people.