HERNAN Cortes was a Spanish gentleman whose achievements in the new world earned him a fame almost as great and almost as fantastic as that of any of the mediæval heroes. He was first taken out to the West Indies as secretary to Diego Velasquez, Governor of Cuba, whose arbitrary acts excited so much discontent, that a commission of inquiry was sent out from Spain, which established its head-quarters at Hispaniola . It was a perilous enterprise to carry the complaint of Cuba over to the commission; and as no one could be found to undertake the service, Hernan Cortes resolved to go himself, though he had to cross the straits in an open boat. The governor had been on the watch, and one of the swiftest boats under his orders succeeded in overtaking Cortes's boat, and putting him in irons to bring him back to shore.
Hernan Cortes was one of the handsomest of men; and his beauty and misfortunes exciting the sympathy of his keepers, he was not very vigilantly watched. Possessing great natural pluck and dexterity, he managed in the night, as they neared the land, to slip his chains and gain the shore. Here he hid himself in the jungle till daybreak, when he found sanctuary in a little church. For several days he remained here in safety, but among the frequenters of the shrine was Melinda Xuares, whose piety, and modest demeanour in spite of her exceeding beauty, attracted his attention and won his heart. Her brother, Juan Xuares, with whom she lived, for she was an orphan, was delighted to cultivate the acquaintance of a man he admired so much, and therefore received him cordially.
In his remote retreat he thought himself so safe that he ventured daily to spend some hours at Juan Xuares' house; but the governor's spies were down upon him. They caught him one day outside the limits of the sanctuary, and clapped him in prison.
When he had been seized before, it was by an arbitrary stretch of power: now there was a formal charge against him, for having broken prison; and he was liable to be hanged.
Melinda's grief was indescribable: but she was brave as beautiful; she no sooner heard of Hernan's imprisonment than she hastened to the governor, and so successfully pleaded her lover's cause, that he ordered him to be set free and restored to her.
Thus a noble life was spared; and Hernan Cortes afterwards became the conqueror of Mexico.