"He might be cute enough to take the papers just to throw us off the scent," suggested Ralph.
"You're wrong, Ralph, for he wouldn't know one paper from another."
"But he'd know the land papers were important, because of the seals on them," persisted the youngest Radbury.
The Indian in the corner now demanded their attention. He was plainly in a bad way, and Poke Stover said it was very doubtful if he would live.
"If he does pull through it will only be because he's a redskin and as tough as all creation," added the old frontiersman.
In his guttural tongue the redskin appealed to Dan for a drink of water.
"Certainly, I'll give you a drink," answered the boy, kindly, and went out to get some water that was cool. After the Indian had had his fill, Dan used the remainder of the water in washing his wounds and then bound them up. After this he got out an old blanket, and he and Ralph placed the wounded fellow on this. Before, the red man's face had had a scowl on it, but now it became more friendly.
"White boys heap good," he grunted. "Big Foot no forget dem," and he nodded his head suggestively. He had been shot in the leg, and was suffering from loss of blood.
"Tell me who robbed the cabin," said Dan, for he felt that Big Foot had had nothing to do with it.
The Indian knit his brow in speculation.
"White boy ask Big Foot hard question," he said, presently.
"But you must know."
"Big Foot t'ink know, not sure. Big Foot crawl in here out of hot sun. He half dead. Udder man come, rob place while Big Foot half dead."
"Well, who do you imagine the other man was? It couldn't have been one of your tribe."
"I t'ink him half my tribe. I t'ink him 'Merican-Indian, um Hank Stiger."
"Hank Stiger!" cried Dan. "Father, did you hear that?"
"What is it, Dan?"
"This Indian was half in a faint when the cabin was robbed, but he thinks the thief was Hank Stiger."
"That is not improbable, for Stiger was around this vicinity and did not fight with the Comanches. He could easily have come in after we went off on the trail. When was the robbery committed?"
"Him come in at the last sundown," answered Big Foot, meaning the evening before.
"And which way did he go?"
The wounded red man could not answer this query, and he now became so exhausted that the others questioned him no further.
The fire was started up, and a generous meal for all hands was prepared, of which the Indian was given all that was good for him. Then the red man went to sleep, while the Radburys began to mend the battered door and put things into shape generally. Poke Stover went off to the timber, to find out what had become of Ralph's deer, and to see if any of the enemy were still lurking in the vicinity.
It was learned by nightfall that no Indians were around for miles, and this made the Radburys breathe much more easily. Strange to say, Stover had found the deer just where Mr. Radbury had left it, and now brought it in.
"A good shot, lad," said the old frontiersman to Ralph. "No one could have made a better."
"Yes, it was a good shot," answered the boy. "I'm afraid I'll not be able to do as well every time."
"You mustn't expect it. If you could do as well every time you'd be as fine a shot as Davy Crockett himself."
"They tell me Crockett thinks of coming down to Texas," put in Mr. Radbury. "They say he is tired of things up in Tennessee."
"Yes, I heard he was coming down," replied Poke Stover. "Well, he's a wonderful old fighter, and if we have any trouble with the Mexicans ye can reckon on it as how he'll be to the front from the very start." How true was the old frontiersman's prediction the future chapters of our tale will show.
They hardly knew what to do with the Indian. Stover wished to turn him out to shift for himself, but the boys pleaded for the wounded red man, and in the end he was allowed to remain where he was. The Radburys retired to their sleeping-apartment, while Stover made himself comfortable in front of the big open fireplace. All, however, slept, as the saying goes, "with one eye open."
The next week was a busy one. It was found that not only had the Indians attacked the cabin, but they had also tried to wreck the cattle shed, and both structures had to be mended and put into order. During the absence of the settlers some of the cattle and the mustangs had strayed away to other ranges, and these had to be rounded up, for in those days men of limited means, like Mr. Radbury, did not allow their live stock to wander far away, to be rounded up once or twice a year. If they had allowed this, cattle and ponies might have gotten into the Indian country and never been heard of again.
At the end of the week Poke Stover left, stating that he was going to make a trip to San Antonio de Bexar, to learn how matters were going politically.
"There may be a scrap on already," he remarked, "and, if so, I don't want to be sitting here, sucking my thumbs."
"I admire your sentiment," replied Mr. Radbury. "If there is trouble, can I rely upon you to give me warning?"
"Certainly," answered Poke Stover.
He left on Saturday morning, and on Sunday Big Foot sat up for the first time. The Radburys had done their best for him, and for this he was extremely grateful.
"Big Foot pay back some day," he said. "Pay back sure." The boys hardly gave attention to these words, but had good cause to remember them later.
During the next few months matters ran smoothly, until one day when some of the settlers from Gonzales came in. They reported another Indian uprising farther eastward, and declared that the local government was doing nothing to check the red men.
"We must take the law into our own hands, neighbour Radbury," said one, who lived a matter of thirty miles away, yet considered himself a fairly close neighbour. "The Mexicans don't care a rap for us, and I reckon they'd just as lief see the Injuns ride over us as not."
"I trust Santa Anna does the right thing by us," answered Mr. Radbury.
"I wouldn't trust any of 'em."
"Well, if they don't do right, they had better look out for Sam Houston, or he'll be on their heels."
"Yes, I've great faith in Houston," was the other settler's answer. "He's a lawyer and a fighter, and I reckon he can whip 'em both in the court-room or on the battle-field."
THE SITUATION IN MEXICO.
In his conversation with his neighbour, Mr. Radbury had mentioned Santa Anna, and it may be as well to look for a moment at this remarkable personage, who at that time, and for several years to follow, was the most important man in Mexico.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was born in Jalapa, in 1795, and entered the army at an early age. With Iturbide he joined in the revolution and came out a brigadier-general, and was made commandant of Vera Cruz. A few years later he organised a revolt and overthrew the man he had aided, and in 1828 he deposed Pedraza and put Guerrero in his place.
So much of war would have satisfied any ordinary man, but it did not satisfy General Santa Anna, who was cruel and cunning to the last degree, and prided himself on being "The Napoleon of the West," as he styled himself. He wanted Mexico for his own, and in 1829 he defeated a large division of the Spanish army, that had landed at Tampico for the purpose of reconquering the country.
Having saved the Confederation, as he put it, Santa Anna considered that he had more of a right to Mexico than ever, and in 1832 he got into a wrangle with Bustamente, who was then occupying the Mexican presidential chair, with the result that Bustamente was banished by Santa Anna's followers, who forthwith made the general president. At this Santa Anna went still further by dissolving the Mexican congress, which action made him virtually a dictator. How it was that the Mexicans at large stood such treatment is one of the political mysteries of the age that has never been explained.
Yet Santa Anna's dictatorship, if such it may be called, was a position full of peril. There was constant wrangling in nearly every state of the Confederation, and in a number of places there were actual outbreaks, which might have resulted seriously had Santa Anna not nipped them promptly in the bud. Stephen Austin had gone to Mexico to further the interests of the Texans, and been there imprisoned for political reasons. This helped along the war between Texas and Mexico, which was bound to burst sooner or later.
The first dark cloud came in the passage of a decree reducing the number of the militia to one man for every five hundred inhabitants, and requiring all the remaining armed persons to give up their weapons. The Texans refused to submit, stating that they needed all the protection they could get, on account of the Indians and because of the desperadoes who flocked into the territory. In the meantime Mexico had sent many of her jailbirds to settle in Texas.
While this was going on, during the summer of 1835, Austin returned from his imprisonment in Mexico, and was given a grand public banquet at Brazoria. In his speech there he counselled moderation, but declared that the civil government was going to pieces, and that the Texans must take care of themselves. He still believed in Santa Anna and his golden promises, hoping against hope for a peaceful change for the better.
At San Antonio were stationed five hundred Mexican soldiers, under Colonel Ugartchea, and, according to orders, this command commenced to disarm such of the Texans as had failed to comply with the decree regarding firearms. At Gonzales, fifty miles to the eastward, the settlers had a four-pounder, a brass cannon given to them by the government for protection against the Indians.
"The people of Gonzales must give up the cannon," said Colonel Ugartchea. "Tell them to send it to Bexar without delay."
"We need the cannon," said the people of Gonzales. "It's the only cannon we have along the whole river front."
"Santa Anna's orders must be obeyed," was the Mexican colonel's comment, and he despatched a force of one hundred and fifty dragoons, under Captain Castinado, to take the cannon by force. The Mexican soldiers arrived at the river on September 28th. On the opposite side of the stream was Gonzales, but the ferry-boat was on that side, too.
The Mexican commander waved for the boat, but no attention was paid to his movement. Then a horn was blown, but still the Texans paid no attention.
"We will march to the ford," cried the Mexican captain, and the dragoons started. But on reaching the ford, half a mile below the town, they found themselves confronted by Captain Albert Martin, a merchant of the place, backed up by several dozens of determined-looking Texans.
The alarm had now gone forth, and express riders rode their steeds almost to death to summon the people of Bastrop, Victoria, and other places. Soon the settlers began to flock in, all on horseback and armed, ready to do or die for Texas, as the case might be. With the number were Mr. Radbury and Dan. Dan had been to Gonzales to buy some household stores, and his father, hearing of the uprising, had hastened down the river to find his son and see that no harm befell him. This had left Ralph home alone, saving for the company of Pompey Shuck, a negro, who had, during the summer, followed Mr. Radbury from the old home in Georgia and insisted that he be taken in and set to work, "jess as on de ole plantation, Mars' Radbury." Big Foot, the Indian, had departed some time before Pompey's arrival.
"This looks like a fight, father," observed Dan, as his parent joined him on the bank of the stream, where Dan had gone, following Captain Martin.
"It certainly looks like trouble," answered Mr. Radbury, as he gazed at the Mexican dragoons with anxiety. "That cannon may be responsible for a whole lot of bloodshed."
"Well, they haven't any right to disarm us," returned the youth, determinedly. "You'll fight first, won't you?"
"Perhaps I will; it will depend upon circumstances," was the non-committal reply. Amos Radbury was no "fire-eater," and, like Austin, preferred a settlement without a passage at arms.
At the ford the Mexican commander had ridden into the water to consult with the leader of the Texans.
"I am sent here to obtain the cannon you are holding," he said. "There is my order," and he held it out.
"We don't dispute the order, captain," was the reply. "But we consider it unjust to ask us to give up a piece that we may need against the Indians."
"If you will give up the cannon you will be protected."
"We haven't been protected for a long while. We have had to protect ourselves."
"You are thinking of using that cannon against the government," was the angry remark of the Mexican commander.
"We are not thinking of doing so,—but it may be we will be forced to do so," was the significant reply.
"I am coming over, and I demand the cannon," went on the Mexican leader, pompously.
"If you dare to come over, it will be at the peril of your life," was the calm return.
The Mexican commander continued to bluster and threaten, but all to no purpose, and at length he withdrew his force from the ford, and went into temporary camp in a valley opposite to Gonzales.
It was now night, and the town was at a white heat. Meetings were held in half a dozen places, and while some counselled delay others were for forcing the fighting. In the end, however, it was decided to wait, and in the meantime pickets were sent out to watch the Mexicans so that they might not enter Gonzales by stealth.
"I wonder if they will come over to-night," said Dan, as he and his father picked their way along the river to where forty or fifty horsemen who owned ranches in the vicinity had pitched their headquarters, the taverns in the town being already overcrowded.
"I doubt it, Dan. We have fully as many men, if not more, and a Mexican soldier never loves to fight in the dark."
"Perhaps the Mexican captain has sent back for reinforcements."
"That may be. Well, all we can do is to watch and be on guard."
By this it will be seen that Mr. Radbury was as anxious as any one to keep the cannon. He had refused to give up any of his firearms, and had buried two of his pistols under the floor of the cabin home.
The night wore away without any alarm sounding, and the next day the Mexican commander sent another demand for the cannon, and on the day following he asked that a time be set for a general conference regarding the now precious bit of property.
The conference was refused, and instead he was asked to vacate his position so close to Gonzales. This he would not do, and all of the settlers now agreed that he was awaiting reinforcements from Bexar.
"He will wait for Colonel Ugartchea to come up with the balance of the command, and then wipe us out altogether," said one.
"Or perhaps he is waiting for Cos to come up," said another. It was known that the Mexican general, Cos, was on the march for San Antonio de Bexar with six hundred additional troops for the garrison of that city.
The morning of the first of October came foggy and disagreeable. But little could be seen beyond the river bank, and it was not known if the Mexican command was advancing, retreating, or standing still. Again the leaders of the Texans met, and it was unanimously decided not to delay action longer, but if the Mexicans were still on the opposite side of the stream to compel them to move away before their force could be increased. Volunteers were called for to cross the river with the brass cannon and begin an attack, and a hundred and sixty Texans rode to the front for that purpose. Mr. Radbury was too loyal-hearted a man to hang back, and as Dan begged very hard to go too, he was permitted to join half a dozen young men who brought up the rear.
THE OPENING OF THE WAR.
To get so many men across the river by boat would have taxed the resources of Gonzales to the utmost, so the majority of the Texans went around by way of the ford, only a few going over in the ferry with the four-pounder.
The trip was made during the night of October first, and every man was cautioned to be as silent as possible.
"We'll give them a surprise," said Dan to one of the young men, a ranchero named Henry Parker. He had known Henry Parker for over a year, and the two were warm friends.
"Or get a surprise," was the answer. "They may be watching us just as hard as we are watching them."
"Pooh! I am not afraid of a greaser!"
"Neither am I. But it will pay to be careful."
They had passed the ford, and now in the utter darkness the little band made its way through the brush toward the spot where the Mexican command had been in camp before the fog settled down.
Coming closer, the Texans were spread out in a sort of skirmish line, with the four-pounder in the centre. Dan and his friend were on the extreme right, down by the water's edge.
Here there was more than one little inlet to cross, and while Dan's horse was picking his steps the youth fancied he detected a sudden movement among the bushes overhanging the water's edge.
"Hold on," he cried to Henry Parker. "Something is in that bush."
"Man or beast?" whispered Henry, and placed his hand to the trigger of his gun.
"I can't say. Wait till I investigate."
Leaving his mustang in his friend's care, Dan leaped to the ground and ran close to the bushes. As he did this, he stumbled into a hole and fell. He picked himself up, and while doing so heard a splash and saw some dark object disappear beneath the river's surface.
"Come here! Something is up!" he called to Henry, and at once his friend complied, and both ran down to the water's edge and strained their eyes to pierce the gloom and the fog.
"What did you see?"
"Something slipped into the water, and I am half of the opinion it was a man."
"Then it must have been a Mexican!"
"To be sure. Stay here and watch, and I'll go down the stream a bit. He ought to come up soon."
Dan had hardly spoken when he espied a head coming up but thirty or forty feet away. It was the head of a Mexican soldier, evidently a spy.
"Halt there!" cried Dan. "Come back here, or I'll fire!"
It is doubtful if he would have fired on the swimmer, having no desire to open the war in person, but his threat had considerable effect.
"No shoota me!" cried the Mexican. "No shoota!" And then he continued to talk in Spanish, which Dan and his friend understood, but imperfectly.
"I want you to come back here," went on the youth, and he pointed his gun.
At this the Mexican dove out of sight, not to come up for a distance of a rod or more.
"Shoot him—you have the right," urged Henry. "Or else I'll do it."
"Don't, Henry, it might be murder. Besides, we were ordered not to discharge any firearms until we received orders. A shot down here would alarm the whole Mexican camp."
"But we don't want that rascal to escape, Dan."
"I have it." Dan looked around and soon found several fair-sized stones. "Come back at once!" he ordered, and, taking aim, he let drive with one of the stones.
Dan had always been good at that sort of thing, and the stone landed, as intended, on the Mexican's back. He let out a howl of pain, so loud that several Texans at once rode up to the vicinity to learn what was the matter.
"Yes, he's got to come ashore," declared one of the men. "He may be a spy who has been over to Gonzales, and carries some kind of a message." He raised his voice in Spanish. "Come ashore, or we'll shoot you; do you hear?"
"Si, capitan" ("Yes, captain"), was the answer, and without further ado the Mexican turned and came back to the river bank. As he crawled out, wet and muddy, he looked the picture of despair.
"It's Pietro the gambler, from Bastrop," said one of the Texans, after a close scrutiny. "I'll wager he was going to give us away to the greasers in camp."
"No, no, me watch fight, dat's all, senor," said the Mexican, who was noted not only for his skill at cards but also for his skill at cheating. "Pietro fight for Texans when fight 't all."
"That don't go down, you card-sharp!" cried another of the men. "I know him well, and he would cheat his own grandmother if he could. Let us make him a prisoner, at least until this business we are on is over."
So it was agreed, and despite the gamblers' protests he was bound hands and feet and tied up to a near-by tree. Had he not been captured, the fight so close at hand would probably not have come off.
On went the Texans, until a point was gained overlooking the camping spot of the Mexicans. The advance guard reported that Captain Castinado was still at the place with his dragoons.
"Then we'll wait until daybreak and open up on them," said the Texans, and went into temporary camp. It is doubtful if any of the number closed his eyes for the balance of that never-to-be-forgotten night. To them this contest was to be like that of Concord and Lexington to the patriots of 1775,—it was to mark the dawn of Texan liberty.
The Mexicans had located at a spot called DeWitt's mound; while the Texans occupied a position farther down the valley and close to the river. As soon as it began to grow light, the four-pounder was placed in position, and the rough but rugged little army was drawn up in battle array. Only here and there was there a man in uniform, and the weapons were of all sorts and sizes. Leaders and privates had come over, some on horseback, some on ponies, and others on foot.
"Give it to them!" came the sharp order, when it was light enough to locate the Mexicans with certainty, and the brass four-pounder belched forth its contents, and the battle was opened at last.
"Forward!" was the cry down the line, and away swept the Texans, in two long lines, Mr. Radbury well to the front, and Dan not very far behind.
The Mexicans had been taken completely by surprise and for the moment knew not what to do. But they quickly organised and returned the fire, and then the Texans swept closer, and the constant crack, crack, of the musketry could be heard upon every side.
"Gracious, this is war, sure!" cried Dan, as he discharged his gun and proceeded to reload with all speed, while still riding forward. "It looks as if we were going to have a hand-to-hand encounter."
"Forward, for the liberty of Texas!" shouted one of the leaders, and a score of voices took up the cry. "For the liberty of Texas! For the liberty of Texas!" It was a battle-cry fit to inspire any body of men.
The Mexicans could not withstand such an onslaught, and, having fired several rounds, they broke and began to retreat before the Texans could get within two hundred yards of them. Away they went for the road leading to San Antonio, the Texans following them for some distance and then giving up the chase.
The first fight for Texan independence had been fought and won, and a mighty cheer went up, which was several times repeated. It was found that four of the Mexicans had been killed and several wounded, while the Texans had suffered little or nothing.
"Father, we have gained the day!" exclaimed Dan, as he rode up to his parent. Somehow, he had never felt so proud before in his life.
"Yes, we have gained the day," answered Mr. Radbury. "The question is, what next? You may be sure the government will not let this go by unnoticed."
"The government! What government?" put in one old settler. "I acknowledge no government but that of the independent State of Texas!" And a cheer went up.
"Let us hope it will be so, neighbour Johnson," went on Mr. Radbury. "But what if Santa Anna send out a large army to crush us?"
"He can't do it!" came from a dozen voices. "Let him come, and we'll show him what real American blood and backbone can do."
"We must organise, and without further delay," said one of the leaders. "We must have a regularly formed Texan army inside of thirty days, or else we'll have to pay the piper, and that means with Santa Anna that we'll either get a dose of lead or else dance on nothing," meaning they would all be shot or hung. This may seem an extravagant statement, but in view of what followed it was far from being so.
THE MARCH ON SAN ANTONIO.
The Mexicans had been routed, and for over a week matters went along quietly in the vicinity of Gonzales; that is, there was no further fighting. Meetings there were without number, and young and old began to drill and to talk of nothing but military matters.
"Will you join the army, father?" asked Dan, when, two days after the fight, he and his parent returned to the ranch home.
"I do not see how I can avoid it," answered Mr. Radbury. "Many of the neighbours are going, and it might appear cowardly to hang back. Besides, I must say that, after long thought, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing for us to do but to fight for our rights."
"Hurrah! I knew you would say that," cried Dan. "We must be free by all means, and then perhaps some day we'll become joined to the United States."
"That is for after consideration," smiled Mr. Radbury, but the thought had often crossed his own mind.
Ralph and the negro were anxious to hear the particulars of what had occurred, and the boy listened to his brother's tale in open-mouthed amazement.
"A real battle! Oh, Dan, how I wish I had been there!"
"Well, to tell the truth, it was rather one-sided. The Mexicans did not stand up in front of us long."
"And what are they going to do next?"
"Nobody knows. But there will be war, beyond a doubt."
"Oh, yes, I suppose General Santa Anna will be as mad as a hornet when he hears of the affair. And all over an old brass cannon, too!" And Ralph gave a laugh.
Matters were going along smoothly at the ranch, for Pompey was a faithful worker and had dropped into the routine without an effort. Mr. Radbury was glad that he had come, for he felt that he wanted a man around, in case the coming war carried him a distance from home.
As intimated, the fight at Gonzales became the talk of all Texas, and, the day after the contest, the committee organised at San Felipe issued a statement and called upon each man in Texas to decide for himself whether or not he would submit to the destruction of his rights and liberties by the central government of Mexico, and stating that the war had begun.
While meetings were going on in a dozen places or more, and frontiersmen and settlers were hurrying to the scene of action, a force of about forty men, under the leadership of Captain Collingsworth, gathered for the purpose of capturing Goliad, a small town on the lower San Antonio River. The river was gained on the night of October 9th, and while scouts were out reconnoitring, the brave little band was joined by Colonel Ben Milam, an old Texan empresario, who had been confined for political reasons in the jail at Monterey. Of this gallant man we will hear more later.
Finding the coast clear, the band entered the town, and silently made their way to the quarters of Lieutenant-Colonel Sandoval, the commandant. They were less than a hundred feet from the garrison when a sentry discovered them and gave the alarm. The sentry was shot down on the spot, and then the door was splintered to kindling-wood with axes, and the Texans poured into the building, and the commandant was made a prisoner. There was great surprise for several minutes, but the Mexican soldiers had been taken off their guard, and could offer little resistance. Twenty-five were captured, and the rest escaped in the darkness. By this quick movement the Texans gained a quantity of valuable army stores, horses, three pieces of artillery, and five hundred guns and pistols.
As Gonzales had been the starting-point of the war, it now became the general centre for the gathering Texan army, and by the middle of October there were gathered there between three and four hundred men who were willing and anxious to serve their country. By common consent Austin was appointed chief in command, with the title of general. The volunteers, as they were called, were formed into a regiment, with John H. Moore as colonel. Old Colonel Milam, who had just arrived from Goliad, was made chief of a band of scouts,—men who did valiant service from the beginning to the end of the war.
It was to this regiment that Mr. Radbury became attached, and Dan and Ralph rode down to Gonzales to see their parent join. As Mr. Radbury was a veteran of the war of 1812, he was given the position of a lieutenant. Drilling went on constantly, and the little regiment was gotten into the best condition that the means at hand afforded. In the meantime other volunteers poured in daily.
At first the Texans had thought to act only on the defensive, but, as the days slipped by, the war spirit grew on the settlers, and they said they wanted the thing "over and done with," that they might return to their homes and prepare for the winter. It was then decided to march toward San Antonio, to see if the Mexicans would come out of the stronghold to do them battle.
"Good-bye, boys," said Mr. Radbury, when the order was passed around to prepare for the march. "It may be some time before I see you again."
"I wish I could go," answered Dan, pleadingly.
"Your time may come, Dan. But for the present I think we have enough men for this expedition. I think you and Ralph will have enough to do around the ranch, with me absent."
"But if I hear you are in trouble, father, I shall come on at once," went on Dan, and from this decision his parent could not dissuade him.
The troops were soon on the way, Dan and Ralph riding several miles with their parent. Then, at the top of the hill, they separated. But the boys remained on the hill until the soldiers were lost to sight in the distance on the dusty plain below.
"Good-bye, and may success go with them!" cried Ralph, half sadly. "I do hope father comes back safe and sound."
"If he doesn't, I shall take his place in the ranks," replied Dan, quickly. "But come, we must be getting home now, or Pompey will be anxious about us."
"Here comes a horseman, riding like the wind," came from the younger Radbury, a moment later. "I declare, it's Poke Stover!"
"Hullo, boys!" cried the old frontiersman, as he came up. "What are ye a-doin' here?"
"We just saw the troops off for San Antonio," answered Dan.
"Gone this way?"
"An hour ago. See that black line over yonder? That's our army."
"Whoopee! I was afraid I'd be too late. Good-bye. We are bound to bring them greasers to terms this trip!" And, with a wave of his sombrero, Poke Stover rode off as rapidly as he had come.
"He'll be a whole company in himself," was Ralph's comment. "He doesn't think any more of a Mexican soldier than he does of a fly, to bother him."
They were soon on the way to Gonzales, where they loaded their ponies with stores for the ranch. This accomplished, they set on up the river, hoping to reach the ranch home by night.
In those days the banks of the Guadalupe River were altogether different from to-day. Where numerous settlements now exist were then immense belts of timber, with here and there a burn, or a stretch of thorns and entangling vines. In some spots the banks were steep and rocky as to-day, and these rocks were the homes of numerous wild animals, including the fierce Texan wolf, the puma, the jaguar, the wildcat, and the black bear. The stream was full of fish, the best of which was the black bass, which, I believe, still holds its own in many Texan waters.
As the boys passed along the narrow wagon trail, which their father and other pioneers had blazed for themselves, they kept their eyes on the alert for any wild beasts that might appear, having no desire to let a fierce and hungry wolf pounce down suddenly upon themselves or their steeds, or a black bear stalk out to embrace them. Their packs lay behind them, and they held their guns on the saddle in front.
They were thus passing through the largest of the timber belts when the howl of a wolf reached their ears. It was immediately answered by a similar howl from another wolf. Both came from directly in front.
"Hullo! a wolf—two wolves!" cried Ralph, as he brought his pony to a halt. "I don't like that much."
"Is your gun all right?" came quickly from his brother.
The two lads remained motionless in the saddle for several minutes, listening. No other howl reached their ears, and the only sounds were that of the rushing stream as it tumbled over some rocks, and the cries of the night birds and the humming of the insects.
"Let us set up a yell," suggested Dan. "That may scare them off."
They called out at the top of their lungs several times. One distant howl answered them, then all became as silent as before.
"We may as well go on," said the older brother. "We'll be as safe moving as standing still. But keep your eyes peeled, Ralph."
They moved on slowly, with eyes turned to the right and the left, and keeping as far as possible from the brushwood and the low-hanging boughs of the trees. The mustangs seemed to realise that all was not right, and pricked up their ears and smelled the air.
A FIGHT WITH A PUMA.
"By George! Something is wrong now!"
It was Dan who uttered the words, as he again drew rein, followed by Ralph. They had passed along a distance of less than quarter of a mile, and the end of the forest was still a goodly distance ahead.
A fierce howling had arisen, followed by a snarling and a snapping which caused the hearts of both boys to beat violently. The mustangs trembled, and acted as if they wished to turn and run.
"It's a wildcat or a painter, or something, and he's got into a fight with the wolves," continued Dan, as he strained his ears to catch the sounds of the encounter. "They are having a lively tussle, aren't they?"
"Let them fight it out," answered Ralph, with something of a shudder. "I hope they all kill each other, too," he added.
The howling and snapping and snarling continued for several minutes, then gradually died away in the distance. Still listening, they heard some large beast trailing through the brush to one side of them. They turned in the direction, and levelled their guns, but the animal did not show itself.
Darkness was now coming on, and the boys wished themselves safe at the ranch. It was one thing to ride through the timber in the daylight; it was quite another to do so at night, and especially when the wild animals were on the move.
"The worst of it is, one wild beast sets the other to fighting," said Dan.
"And it's so dark a fellow can't see fifty feet ahead of him."
What to do was indeed a question, but neither of the lads wished to remain in the timber all night, and, after another consultation, they decided to rush their ponies along until the next burn was gained.
"If we go fast enough, no wild animal will have time to organise an attack," said Ralph.
The wind was coming up, setting the dying leaves to scattering in all directions. As the wind increased, the boughs of the trees swayed violently over their heads.
Suddenly Dan, who was ahead, set up a shrill cry of alarm. He had seen two eyes glaring down at him from the branches of a tree he was just passing. He tried to pull back his mustang, and on the same instant a huge puma, or, as he is commonly called in the southwest, a painter, landed almost directly on his pony's neck.
The attack was a fierce one, and had it not been for a lucky accident either Dan or his steed must have been killed within a few seconds, for the puma is a heavy-built and powerful beast, and its bite, or a stroke of its huge paw, is generally meant to be deadly.
But, as mentioned before, Dan held his gun over his saddle, and as the painter came down the weapon went off, and the beast received the full charge in the upper part of his left shoulder. The wound did not kill him, or even seriously wound him, but it shocked and surprised the beast so much that he fell back, and tumbled to the ground.
"Oh, Dan, look out!" shrieked Ralph, and pulled in his own steed. Then, as his brother's mustang reared to one side, and the puma prepared to make a second leap, he endeavoured to get a bead on the beast.
The puma had struck on his back. Now he had turned over and was crouching down, like a cat getting ready to pounce upon a bird, his bushy tail sweeping the grass with quick, nervous motion.
Bang! Ralph's gun spoke up just as the painter was in the act of springing for Dan, and the shot took the beast in the stomach, making a jagged and ugly wound. Again the beast dropped back, uttering a mingled snarl of rage and pain. The snarl was exactly like that the boys had previously heard, and they felt that this must be the beast that had gotten into the fight with the wolves. Probably the wolves had gotten away from him, and this and the taste of their blood had angered him into making the present attack.
Both mustangs were now kicking and plunging, and the boys had all they could do to keep their seats. The steeds backed away from the wounded painter, and then Dan's mustang started to bolt. His course was under a tree with low branches, and in a second the youth was brushed from his back, and sent spinning to the ground.
Half stunned by his fall, Dan had yet sense enough left to know that he must get away at once or the painter would be on him to rend him to pieces. He leaped up, and as the fierce beast came on, grabbed the nearest tree limb, to which he clung with might and main.
"He's coming!" roared Ralph. "Pull yourself up!" And he started to reload with all possible speed, no light task while on the back of a mustang that was so nervous and inclined to bolt.
Dan was doing as advised, when the puma limped up, his eyes blazing with a fury which is indescribable. He did his best to make the leap, and his teeth struck one of Dan's boot heels. But the boy kicked him away and drew himself still higher, and for the moment was safe.
The wounds of the painter were now beginning to tell upon him, and he could scarcely suppress a whine of pain. But his savage nature was not yet conquered, and, unable to leap directly into the tree, he sprang for the trunk and came up, slowly but steadily. When he was opposite to where Dan lay, he paused, as if uncertain what should be his next move.
If the puma was undecided, so was the youth. If he leaped to the ground again he was certain the beast would follow him, and he had no desire to face the painter at such close quarters, especially as he had no weapon of any kind with him, unless the jack-knife in his pocket might be brought into play.
Ralph settled the question, both for his brother and the puma. As the mustang refused to come closer, the youngest Radbury slipped to the earth and ran up directly under the bough upon which Dan rested. At this point he could get a fair view of the painter, and once more he blazed away, aiming for the beast's neck and head.
Ralph's shot was all that could be wished for, and it was lucky that, having fired, he leaped back, for, the instant after, the painter came tumbling down, with a thud that fairly shook the earth. The shock also brought down Dan, who landed just in front of the beast and lost no time in retreating to his brother's side.
"Good for you, Ralph!"
"Look out, he's not dead yet!" answered Ralph. "See, he is going to make another leap!"
But in this the youngest Radbury was mistaken. Fatally wounded, the painter was merely endeavouring to get up on his legs, that he might crawl into the bushes. He stood for a moment, then stumbled and fell flat. Twice did he try thus to rise, then with a final whining growl he lay out, stretched himself, and gave a quiver or two—and all was over.
"He's dead," said Ralph, when he could collect himself sufficiently to speak. He was trembling like a leaf in a gale of wind.
"Don't be too sure,—they are as tough as a pine-knot," answered Dan. "Load up again," and he picked up his own gun, which had fallen when he was thrown from his saddle.
But the puma was dead, beyond a doubt, and they gradually drew closer to inspect the beast they had brought down. He was at least four feet long, and correspondingly tall and heavy, with a powerful tail and a rather small head. His colour was of a tawny tint, fading out to a dirty white between the limbs. The tip of the tail was black.
"He's a big fellow," remarked Ralph. "I wish we could get that skin home. It would make a splendid rug."
"That's true, Ralph, but do you want to stay here long enough to skin him?"
"No. But maybe we can tie him up in the tree and come back for him to-morrow or next day."
This was decided upon, and then Dan set about catching his mustang. The pony had run to a considerable distance, but he knew Dan's whistle well, and after this was repeated several times he came back timidly, although he would not go within a hundred feet of the dead puma.
Ralph carried a lariat, and this was tied to the dead beast and the carcass was swung to the breeze, so that the other beasts of prey might not get at it.
"Of course the vultures and hawks may attack him, but that can't be helped," said Dan.
The work finished, they lost no time in continuing on their way, riding rapidly, and keeping their eyes and ears on the alert as before. But nothing else happened to alarm them, and shortly before midnight they came within sight of the cabin.
"Home, sweet home!" cried Ralph. "I'll tell you I am glad to be back."
"And so am I," added Dan. "No more fights with a painter for me."
Pompey Shuck had heard them coming, and now ran out with a lantern to take care of the horses, just as he had been in the habit of doing for his master in Georgia, years before.
"I'se dun glad to see yo' back," he said, with a broad smile on his ebony face. "Did de sodgers git away?"
"Yes, they are off for San Antonio," replied Dan. And then he told of the adventure in the timber.
"A painter!" gasped Pompey. "I declar' to gracious, Mars' Dan, yo' an' Mars' Ralph dun gittin' to be reg'lar hunters, he! he! I'se glad dat beast didn't cotch dis chile!"
"I'm not anxious to hunt any more, at least for the present," said Ralph, soberly. "I'll go back for that skin, and then I'm going to work around the ranch, and wait for news from father and the army."
THE BATTLE OF CONCEPCION.
At the time of the war between Texas and the government of Mexico, San Antonio de Bexar could truthfully be said to be a city of importance gone to decay. Many of the churches, convents, and missions were deserted and fast going to ruin. The friars had returned to Mexico, and with them had gone many of the best of the old Spanish families, although here and there some Castilians remained, to keep up the style of the times as best they could.
All told, the city numbered about twenty-five hundred inhabitants, the majority of whom were Mexicans, with a fair sprinkling of American trappers and traders. It was situated mostly on the west bank of the river, at a point where both banks of the stream were lined with pecan and other trees. There were two large public squares, once the scene of much gaiety, but now overrun with grass and weeds, and between the two squares stood the grand old buildings of the San Fernando Church. On the east side of the river, about half a mile from the city proper, stood the mission, with its church, convent, and walled courtyard, commonly called the Alamo.
General Cos had now arrived at San Antonio with six hundred Mexican militia, and as soon as he learned that the Texans were gathering for another contest, he sent down to the Rio Grande for additional troops and extra pieces of artillery. In the meantime, the troops under Austin moved up to Salado Creek, four miles from San Antonio.
The time was a momentous one, and, arriving at the creek, the Texans sent forth a flag with a message to General Cos, demanding the surrender of the place.
"I refuse to surrender," was the Mexican commander's answer. "And if you send another such flag it will be fired upon." This, of course, brought negotiations to a complete standstill. Austin waited for reinforcements, and the Mexicans spent the time in barricading the highways leading out of the city and in strengthening their several fortifications.
"We are not getting along very fast," remarked Mr. Radbury, to one of his brother officers, while in the camp at Salado Creek.
"I believe Sam Houston is coming on to take charge," was the answer. "He's an old war-horse and will be certain to lead us to victory."
Everybody felt that under Houston the Texan cause could not fail. But, although Houston came up, he did not take command, declaring that the expedition was in the hands of Austin, and that he was needed elsewhere.
Several days passed, with much anxiety on both sides, and then Colonel Bowie and Colonel James W. Fannin were ordered to take a band of scouts with them and reconnoitre the enemy's position, with a view to moving the Texan army still closer to San Antonio.
"We'll do it," said both officers, without hesitation, and hurried off, taking about ninety men with them. In this body was a detachment under Mr. Radbury, and Poke Stover was also along.
The party moved along slowly and cautiously through the clumps of trees and mesquite-bushes, until some time during the afternoon, when they came to a bend in the river known as the Horseshoe, where was located the Mission Concepcion.
"This is a strong position," said Colonel Bowie. "The river and timber will shelter us from behind, and in front is the bluff. It's an ideal place."
"You are right," said Colonel Fannin. "General Austin cannot do better than bring the army here."
The orders had been to return, if possible, before nightfall, but at this time in the year it grew dark rapidly, and it was decided to go into camp for the night; and outposts were accordingly stationed in all directions, that they might not be surprised.
Although the Texans were not aware of it, the Mexican scouts had been watching them closely, and no sooner did the party go into camp than the enemy resolved to surround them in the darkness, and either shoot them all down, or take them prisoners. For this purpose General Cos sent out four hundred of his best troops, determined to teach the Texans a lesson that they should never forget.
Lieutenant Radbury, as we must now call him, had charge of the outposts along the river, and, anxious to see that his men did their duty, he remained out with them, travelling slowly from one sentinel to another. On duty at one point was Stover, as alert as though after some big game.
"Any alarm, Poke?" asked the lieutenant, in a whisper, for it was not known but that the Mexicans might be close at hand.
"Yes, and no," answered the old frontiersman, slowly. "Perhaps my hearsight is deceivin' me, but I 'most reckoned as how I heard the creakin' o' wheels about—thar they go ag'in!"
He broke off short, and held up his hand for silence. Both men listened intently, and from the river bank they heard the steady, lumbering creak as of heavy wagon wheels.
"Am I right, leftenant?" demanded the frontiersman, when the sounds had come to an end.
"You are, Poke; do you know what it was?"
"Can't say exactly."
"It was the creaking of artillery wheels."
"Whoopee! Then they must be comin' over fer fair!"
"Yes. I will report at once."
Lieutenant Radbury lost no time in making his way to the tent in which Colonel Fannin was poring over an old map of San Antonio.
"I have to report the coming of some artillery," he said, as he saluted.
"Artillery?" repeated the commander. "Mexican artillery?"
"I think so, colonel." And Lieutenant Radbury related as much as he knew. He had scarcely finished, when Colonel Bowie came in on the run.
"They are starting to surround us!" he cried. "They are bringing over men and cannon!"
The whole camp was soon in alarm, and, after a short talk among the officers, it was decided to bring up the men in a semicircle, close to the bluff's edge. While this was going on, a shot rang out, and then another, showing that one of the outposts had been fired upon.
As the night wore away, a heavy mist swept up the river, and even when dawn came but little could be seen. Yet, anxious to avenge the loss at Gonzales, the Mexicans opened fire at once, which, however, did no harm. As the mists cleared away, the Mexican cavalry surrounded the whole front of the Texans' position.
"Give it to 'em!" shouted the Texan officers. "Give it to 'em hot!"
The cry was drowned out by a solid fire from the Mexicans, who continued to pour in volley after volley just as fast as they could reload.
The Texans did not fire by volleys. The orders were: "Fire at will, and make every shot bring down a greaser!" And there was a constant crack! crack! and the Mexicans were seen to fall in all directions.
Lieutenant Radbury now found himself under actual fire, and instantly his mind took him back to his service in the war of 1812. He carried a rifle as well as a pistol, and did as good work as any man on the field.
"They are preparing for a charge! They are bringing up a cannon!" was the cry that soon rang along the line, and then the Mexican bugler sounded out the command, and the cavalry came on with a rush calculated to sweep everything before it. But the Texans stood firm.
"Drop 'em!" roared Colonel Bowie. "The first line, boys!" And a score of shots rang out, and the first row of saddles was emptied almost completely. Some of the horses were killed or wounded, and these, falling, caused some confusion. In the meantime, other Mexicans continued to drop, and soon the cavalry retreated to reform.
"Now they are going to use the cannon!" was the cry which went up directly afterward, and then a four-pounder, stationed on a bluff, was discharged. The cannon was aimed much too high, and it is said that every shot from the piece went over the Texans' heads.
The cavalry now came on again, and it was seen that the Mexicans intended to shift the position of the cannon so that they might enfilade the line,—that is, shoot from one end to the other.
"Not much ye don't!" sang out Poke Stover, and, leaping to a slight knoll, he took careful aim at one of the mules attached to the piece and fired. Then he discharged his pistol at a second mule. Both beasts were badly wounded, and, breaking away, they tore first through the cavalry and then through the infantry, throwing the latter into much confusion.
"We have 'em on the run!" Like magic the cry arose from nearly every Texan's throat. The cavalry had charged again, and again the leading line had gone down. Now they were retreating, with the infantry beside them. Seeing it was of no use to remain longer, the cannoneer attempted to spike the four-pounder, but a Texan sharpshooter cut him down in the act.
"Come on, boys, let us follow 'em into San Antonio!" cried several, but this the leaders would not allow, for they were only ninety strong, and all were exhausted from the battle, which had been sharp if not of long duration. So the Mexicans were allowed to form in the plain half a mile away, and from there they marched rapidly back to the city. Their loss was sixty-seven killed and forty wounded, which showed how deadly had been the Texans' aim. The Texans lost but one killed and several slightly wounded.
DAN TURNS THE TABLES.
To the boys at the ranch the days passed impatiently enough. But few settlers came that way, so that they were cut off almost entirely from communication with the outside world.
The puma skin had been brought in and cared for, and now they turned their attention to getting ready for the winter, which was close at hand.
One day, unable to stand it longer, Dan rode down to Gonzales for the news. He found the town bubbling over with joy because of the victory at Concepcion.
"They can't stand up against our men," said the storekeeper who was talking to Dan. "The Texans are brave and nearly all good shots, and they are fighting for their homes. The greasers, on the other hand, are lazy and unreliable, paid to do what they are doing, and consequently think of nothing but saving their own skin."
"Oh, I reckon some of them are patriotic enough," answered Dan. "But they are in the minority."
"How can they be patriotic, and follow such a man as Santa Anna, who is continually leading all Mexico by the nose? No, they are doing it for the pay, and nothing else."
At the post-office Dan found a brief letter from his father, stating that he was well, and that if no more fighting came off in the near future he would come home on a short visit. So far there had been no regular enlistments in the Texan army, and volunteers came and went pretty much as they pleased.
From the storekeeper Dan learned that several bands of Indians had been seen in the vicinity, moving to the west and north. Some were Comanches, and others friendly Caddos.
"Well, I don't mind the Caddos," thought the boy, "but I don't want to fall in with any more Comanches."
He had thought to go home that afternoon, or evening, as it is called in Texas, but, after learning about the Indians, resolved to remain in Gonzales all night and make the journey the first thing in the morning.
On the outskirts of Gonzales was the farm belonging to Henry Parker's father, and thither he went, satisfied that he would be sure of a warm welcome. He found Henry at home, and also Mrs. Parker, Mr. Parker being away on business.
"Why, of course you must stay," said Mrs. Parker. "I am glad to have company."
The balance of the day passed pleasantly, and after supper the young man and Dan took a stroll up into the town to learn if any later news had come in.
They had just gained the main street of the town when Dan saw before him a figure that looked familiar. He quickened his pace, and soon ranged up alongside of the man, who proved to be the half-breed, Hank Stiger.
Stiger was partly under the influence of liquor, or otherwise he would not have shown himself in Gonzales at that time, when the Indian raid was still fresh in the settlers' minds. He glared angrily at Dan when he saw the boy.
"Stiger, I want to have a talk with you," said Dan, with more firmness than is usual in one of his age.
"What you want now?" demanded the half-breed.
"I want to know what you have done with my father's papers."
"What papers do you mean?"
"The papers you stole from my father's cabin while we were out after the Indians."
"I was not near your house—I took no papers!" cried the half-breed, fiercely. "Who says so tells a lie."
"I know you did take them, and unless you give them up I will have you placed under arrest."
"Ha! don't you talk to Hank Stiger that way, or you will be sorry for it." The half-breed's hand stole under his coat, and he showed the handle of his hunting-knife. "Do you see dat?"
Dan sprang back, for he knew how treacherous the man before him could be. But now Henry Parker stepped up.
"None of that, Stiger," he said, sharply, and placed his hand on the handle of the pistol he carried in his belt.
"He wants to make trouble for me. He says I stole some papers," growled Hank Stiger, sullenly.
"And I guess he is right, too," returned Henry. "If I understand the matter, he has proof against you."
"Ha! did Big Foot tell——" Stiger broke off short, realising that he was exposing himself.
"Yes, Big Foot told me everything," said Dan. "And you must give up those papers, or take the consequence."
Hank Stiger's face grew as dark as a thunder-cloud.
"I'll pay off that Injun for it!" he cried. "I knew he wasn't to be trusted, the skunk! But I ain't got no papers, never had 'em! This is a put-up job to get squar' on account o' that deer," he continued, trying to change the subject. "You got the deer, what more do you want?"
"I am not talking deer now,—I am asking for those papers,—and the other things which were stolen," resumed Dan, doggedly. "What have you done with them?"
"Find out fer yourself!" growled Hank Stiger, and turning swiftly, he started on a run for the nearest corner.
"Stop! or I'll fire!" cried Henry Parker, as he drew his pistol, but before he could make up his mind whether or not he had a right to fire on the half-breed, Stiger was out of sight. Dan ran after him, and his friend joined in the chase.
Stiger's course was toward the river, and having reached this, he leaped into a canoe which was handy and began to paddle with all speed for the opposite shore. A large lumber-raft was lying in midstream, and this he kept as much as possible between himself and his pursuers.
"He's bound to get away if he can," observed Henry, as the pair gained the bank of the Guadalupe almost out of breath.
"Here is another canoe—let us follow him in that," replied Dan.
Henry was willing, and they were soon on the river. Dan could paddle well, and they made rapid progress around the raft and in the direction Hank Stiger was taking.
Reaching the opposite shore at a point some distance below Gonzales, the half-breed leaped into the bushes and made his way to a pine grove farther away from the bank. The pursuers followed him to the point of embarkation with ease, but here came to a halt.
"If it wasn't so dark we might follow his trail," observed Henry. "But I can't see a thing under the trees."
"Here it is," came from Dan, who was on his hands and knees. "He went into the pines. I'm going a bit farther," and he stalked off. Henry remained behind to fasten the canoe, that the current might not carry the craft off.
Dan had scarcely come up to the first row of pines when he saw something moving over to his left. Satisfied that it was Stiger, he sped in the direction. The half-breed saw him, and ran on.
"I've spotted him!" cried Dan to his friend. "Come on!"
"All right, I'm coming!" answered Henry.
On through the tall pines ran pursued and pursuers, until nearly quarter of a mile had been covered. Dan was in front, with Henry close behind.
"You are fools to follow me here!" roared Hank Stiger, as he came to a halt. "Take that for your foolishness."
"Hide! he is going to fire!" exclaimed Dan, but before either he or his friend could gain any shelter Hank Stiger discharged a pistol which he carried. The bullet missed Dan, but struck Henry Parker across the temple, and the young man went down, stunned and unconscious.
The unexpected turn of affairs made Dan's heart leap into his throat, and he felt how imprudent both had been to thus expose themselves in such an out of the way spot to a man in Stiger's condition. He drew his own pistol, but the half-breed knew enough to dart out of sight behind a thick clump of bushes.
"Henry, are you badly hurt?" questioned the boy, anxiously, but no reply came back, and running to Parker, he found the young man flat on his back and as still as death.
Never had Dan felt so badly as at this moment, for if his friend was dead he felt that he would be more or less responsible for the murder.
He bent down and made a closer examination, and as he did this Henry gave a deep shudder and opened his eyes for an instant.
"Thank God, he is alive!" burst from Dan's lips. Then, noticing the blood trickling from Henry's temple, he bound up the young man's forehead with his handkerchief.
In the meantime, Hank Stiger was making a detour, expecting to come up behind Dan and surprise him. He had drank just enough to be utterly reckless, and carried his pistol in his hand ready for another shot.
Providence saved Dan from the anticipated attack. While Stiger was still two rods off, the boy happened to turn and catch sight of him. His pistol was still in his hand, and, without stopping to think twice, he fired on the half-breed.
The effect of the shot was curious, and the feat performed would be hard to duplicate. The bullet from Dan's pistol struck the hammer of Stiger's weapon, and while the pistol exploded and the ball sank into the ground, the hammer was knocked off and hit the half-breed in the cheek, inflicting an ugly wound. The bullet itself, having hit the hammer, glanced downward and lodged in Stiger's leg, close to his half-bent knee. The man gave a howl of pain and then fell flat.
In a moment Dan was ready for a second shot, but it was not needed. Stiger's pistol was now useless, and as he could not stand up, because of the intense pain in his knee, handling his knife was out of the question. As he sat up, the boy faced him sternly.
"Up with your hands, Stiger," he said, sternly; and the hands went up, and Dan was master of the situation.
AFTER A MISSING MUSTANG.
"What are you going to do with me?" asked Hank Stiger, after a moment of painful silence, during which Dan glanced toward Henry, to find his friend reviving rapidly.
"You'll find out later, Stiger. I can tell you one thing, you've gotten yourself in a pretty tight box."
"It wasn't my fault,—you forced the shooting," was the sullen response. "Why didn't you leave me alone from the start?"
"Because I am bound to have those papers and the other articles you stole, that's why."
"I took nothing, I swear it."
"Do you expect me to believe you,—after what has happened here, and after that affair of the deer?"
At this Stiger was silent. He wanted to get up and rush at Dan, despite the levelled pistol, but the wounded knee held him back. Had he been a full-blooded Indian he would have suffered in silence, but, being only a half-breed, and of poor Indian and white blood at that, he groaned dismally.
"Dan!" The cry came faintly from Henry, who had slowly raised himself. "Where—what—oh, I remember, now!" And he sank back again.
"It's all right, Henry; I've made Stiger a prisoner."
"A prisoner!" whined the half-breed. "Ain't I suffered enough already? My leg is somethin' fearful!" and he groaned again.
"You brought it all on yourself, Stiger, so you need not complain to me."
"I didn't, you——"
"I won't listen to any more explanations. Throw your knife over here, and be careful you don't hit anybody with it."
The half-breed fumed and raved, but all to no purpose, and at last the knife came over, and was followed by the broken pistol.
"Now don't you dare to move," went on Dan, and then turned his attention to Henry. Not far away was a little brook flowing into the Guadalupe, and here Dan procured some water with which he bathed his friend's wound.
The departure from the town shore had been noted by several lumbermen, and, having heard the pistol-shots, several came over to learn if a fight was going on. By calling out, the lumbermen managed to locate our friends and soon came up to them. They listened to Dan's tale with close attention.
"We ought to go fer to string the half-breed up," was the comment of one of the woodsmen. "We've got enough trouble on hand without allowin' sech chaps to make more."
"Thet's jest the size on it," added another. "String him up on the spot."
But Dan would not countenance this, nor would Henry, who had now fully recovered, although the bullet had left an ugly scratch which he was bound to wear to the day of his death. Finally a compromise was made with Stiger, who offered to hobble down to the river, although scarcely able to walk. The threat to hang him had rendered the half-breed thoroughly sober.
The return to the town was made without incident, and at the local lockup Dan told his story, and it was decided to keep Stiger a prisoner for the time being. He was searched, and in one of his pockets was found some small silver trinkets, which Dan at once identified as belonging to his father. But no trace was there of the papers relating to the land grant.
"But these trinkets prove that Stiger was the thief," said Dan. "I would like you to keep him a prisoner until my father can come here and make a regular charge against him." And so the matter was allowed to rest. Stiger was in a rage, and vowed that he would surely get even with Dan some day.
When Henry Parker arrived home his mother was much alarmed to find that he had been shot. Yet beyond the shock the young man had suffered little, and after having the wound properly dressed he felt as well as ever.
"I might rather have gone off to the war," he grumbled. "Dan and I are getting all the fighting by staying at home."
It was hardly daybreak when Dan started to return to the ranch. He would not have gone back at all just then, only he knew Ralph would grow anxious if he did not return. As soon as he could arrange it, the youth had determined to ride over to where the army was encamped, to tell his parent of the encounter with Stiger, and learn if Mr. Radbury wished to take up the case.
Dan had not to take the trip alone, as two of the lumbermen were going up the Guadalupe on business. As yet only a small portion of the Texans had joined the army, many of the others having no idea that a regular revolution was at hand.
"It won't amount to shucks," said one of the lumbermen, as the three rode along the river trail. "We'll have a lot of meetings and a scrimmage or two, and then Santa Anna will come over with a big army, and our leaders won't dare to call their souls their own."
"I cannot agree with you," answered Dan. "Our folks have suffered too much to turn back now."
"But we ain't got no army,—only a lot o' farmers and rancheros, and blacklegs who have run away from the United States to escape justice. Mexico has a finely trained lot o' soldiers."
"Well, the United States didn't have any trained army at the opening of the Revolution," retorted Dan, warmly. "But we showed King George's men a thing or two before we got through with them."
"Well, if we do fight 'em and obtain our liberty, what then?" put in the second lumberman. "The politicians will run everything to suit themselves. We won't have any more rights than we have now."
"Never mind, I think matters will be a good deal better," answered Dan. "Anyway," he added, with a peculiar smile, "do you believe in giving up your arms?"
"Not much!" answered both lumbermen, promptly. "That's a fool law."
"Then what are you going to do, if the greasers demand your guns and pistols, as they demanded that cannon?"
This proved a clincher, and the lumbermen changed the subject. They were for peace, but it may be as well to state here that, in the end, they joined the army, and fought as nobly for liberty as did the average Texan soldier.
Before the journey was half over, it had begun to rain, and by the time the ranch home was reached, Dan and his companions were wet to the skin. As it still poured down steadily, the lumbermen were glad to avail themselves of the Radburys' offer to stay at the cabin for the balance of the day.
"Hurrah for our side!" cried Ralph, when told of the battle at the Mission Concepcion. "If they have a few more such fights, perhaps the Mexicans will wake up to the idea that we have some rights they are bound to respect."
He was glad to hear that Stiger had been jailed, and sorry that Henry Parker had been wounded. "Henry can make a charge even if father doesn't," he said.
Ralph and Pompey had had troubles of their own during Dan's brief absence. Two prize mustangs, not yet broken in, had gotten out of the corral near the cattle shed, and although the boy and the negro had managed to round up one of the steeds, the other had persisted in keeping just out of their reach.
"I tried to lasso him," said Ralph, "but I wasn't equal to it, and, of course, Pompey knows nothing of a lasso."
"Well, we can go after him when the storm clears away," answered Dan.
Pompey had prepared a substantial dinner, and the balance of the day passed off pleasantly enough. By morning the storm had cleared away, and the lumbermen took their departure. Then Dan procured a lasso, and he and Ralph mounted their steeds and set off on a search for the missing mustang, which was a beauty, and which Mr. Radbury prized very highly.
"He went off to the southwest," said Ralph, as the brothers rode away. "Of course, there is no telling how far he ran. I suppose it will be a good deal like looking for a needle in a haystack to locate him."
"Well, we can do our best, Ralph. I know father set a great store by that white pony. He was thinking of breaking him in for his own use."
"I know it, and that is why I tried so hard to capture him. But I can't get the hang of the lasso," and Ralph shook his head, for he had tried to land the loop over the mustang's head at least a score of times.
"You'll learn in time. It's more the knack of it than anything else. Come, let us hurry!" and Dan set off at a gallop. He was thinking altogether of the mustang, and never dreamed of the other odd adventure in store for him,—an adventure which was to make a soldier of him almost before he was aware.
THE GRASS FIGHT, AND WHAT FOLLOWED.
The victory at Concepcion, as was natural, greatly strengthened the cause of the Texans, and immediately afterward the number of volunteers in the army increased. Seeing this, Austin moved his command still closer, and settled into a regular siege of San Antonio. The scouts, under Colonel Bowie, surrounded the town, to give warning of the approach of any reinforcements for General Cos, who remained within, still barricading the streets and wondering how soon the revolutionists would attack him.
In the meantime, a general meeting of citizens and political leaders was held at San Felipe, and at this convention, as it was termed, Austin was elected as a commissioner to seek aid in the United States. This left Austin's place in the army vacant, and General Edward Burleson, an old Indian fighter, was selected to fill the position.
General Cos was boxed up in San Antonio with a force estimated at from twelve hundred to sixteen hundred men. Many of his soldiers belonged to mounted companies, and it became a problem, not only how to feed the men, but also how to feed so many animals. There were rations to hold out for some time, but little forage. To make the matter still more difficult for the Mexican commander, Bowie and others ordered all the grass in the immediate vicinity of San Antonio burnt. This caused one or two small fires among the huts on the outskirts of the town, and came near to starting a panic.
At last General Cos felt that he must either have forage for his soldiers' horses, or else slaughter them, and he hired bodies of the Mexican farmers to go out, during the night, to gather such grass as could be gotten within a reasonable distance of the town. These bodies of men invariably went out under the protection of one or more companies of cavalry.
The expeditions after forage brought on what was called the Grass Fight. Among Bowie's scouts was an old frontiersman called Deaf Smith, and one day when Smith was out he discovered a body of farmers and cavalry, about a hundred strong. The panniers of the horses and mules were stuffed with grass, but as the body was a long way off, Smith mistook them for some troops come to reinforce General Cos, and supposed the stuffed panniers to be filled with silver to pay off the Bexar garrison.
Without waiting to make certain about his discovery, Deaf Smith rode pell-mell into the camp of the Texans. "The reinforcements are coming!" he shouted. "Ugartchea is here!"
"Ugartchea! Ugartchea!" was the cry taken up on all sides, and it was not long before Colonel Bowie set off with a hundred of the best Texan horsemen to intercept the supposed newcomers.
The Mexicans saw them approach, but it was too late to get back into San Antonio, and while a few of the farmers managed to escape, the Mexican cavalry took up a position in the bed of a dry creek. The plight of those outside of the city was seen by those within, and General Cos instantly despatched more cavalry to the relief, and also two pieces of artillery.
The creek, which was in reality a deep gully, was overgrown on either side with tall brush, and Bowie had some difficulty in bringing up his command to a firing position. But some of the scouts could not be held back, and rushing up they speedily laid several of the Mexicans low.
"Now then, fire on them!" shouted Bowie, when the proper range was obtained; but the Texans had scarcely opened up, when the relief guard of the Mexicans swung into position behind the Texans, and they found themselves caught between two fires. They wheeled about, and charged those behind them, who speedily scattered in every direction, leaving their dead and dying behind them.
In the meantime, the main body of the Texan army was coming up, and, arriving at the gully, they drove out the cavalry, killing a dozen or more of them, and capturing many mules and horses, and a large quantity of grass, the so-called "silver" which was supposed to fill the panniers, and which caused many a laugh for long afterward. The loss to the Texans was small.
In the midst of the conflict one of the officers dashed up to Amos Radbury. "Lieutenant, several Mexicans are escaping in yonder direction," he said, pointing with his sword. "You will take a detachment of twelve men, and go after them."
"I will, major," answered the lieutenant, and saluted. He was soon on the way, with Poke Stover, and eleven others, for Poke happened to be near him when the order was given. The Mexicans they had been sent to capture were four in number, and one of them looked like an officer of considerable rank.
"I think we can ride them down, Poke," observed Lieutenant Radbury, as he dashed over the prairies at the full speed of his mustang.
"Well, we kin give 'em a putty tough ride fer it, anyhow," drawled the frontiersman.
"We must catch them, if possible, before they gain yonder timber land."
"Thet's so. If we don't, it won't be no easy work to locate 'em in the brush."
The party of thirteen were all fair riders, but for once the number seemed fated to be really unlucky. Less than quarter of a mile had been covered when one of the mustangs, going at full speed, stepped into the hole of some wild animal, and pitched headlong with a broken leg. The rider behind the one to go down, pitched in on top of him, and in a thrice there lay on the prairie a mustang so badly injured that he had to be shot, and two men so bruised that further pursuit for them of the Mexicans was out of the question.
"Halt!" cried Lieutenant Radbury, and brought the balance of his command to a standstill. "Are you much hurt, Readwell?"
"I—I reckon not," was the answer, but when Readwell attempted to stand up he found his foot and back badly strained.
"And you, Alton?"
"My left arm is bruised,—I don't know but what it is broken."
"The mustang is done fer," put in Poke Stover, after examining Readwell's steed. "Might as well shoot him, and put him out of his misery."
This was ordered by the lieutenant, and the command carried out on the spot. The second mustang was slightly injured, but could still be ridden.
"Both of you had better go back, on the one mustang," said Amos Radbury. "And, Glenwood, you can go back with them, for fear they may have trouble with other Mexicans who may be wandering about."
So it was arranged, and this brought the lieutenant's force down to ten men. The two parties separated without delay, and those in pursuit of the flying Mexicans went on as fast as before.
But the delay had given the enemy an advantage, and before the Texans could come within good firing distance the four Mexicans reached the timber. At the edge they came to a halt.
"They are going to fire on us, leftenant!" cried Stover.
"Down!" cried Amos Radbury, and the Texans had scarcely time to drop to the sheltered sides of the steeds, a favourite trick with old frontiersmen, when a volley sounded out, and the bullets whistled over their heads. Another volley followed; then, as the Texans swept closer, and fired in return, the Mexicans disappeared into the timber.
Ordinary soldiers would have hesitated about following the Mexicans into the forest, but all of the Texans were expert in woodcraft, and thought they could keep out of an ambuscade as well in the woods as out of it.
"Stover, supposing you and Dilberry go ahead and reconnoitre," suggested the lieutenant. "I know I can trust you to keep out of trouble."
"Certainly, I'll go ahead, if ye want me to," answered Poke Stover, in his free and easy manner, and rode on with the other soldier mentioned. As soon as they got into the thickets of the timber, they dismounted, tied their steeds to a tree, and advanced on foot. In the meantime, Amos Radbury spread out the balance of his party into a line fifty yards long, extending from a deep ravine on the right to a steep hill on the left. He felt that the Mexicans could not climb the hill very well, for it was covered with large and loose stones, and to take their ponies down into the ravine would be equally difficult.
The advance of Stover and his companion was necessarily slow, for they had no desire to be picked off by some Mexican concealed behind a tree. Yet they kept on for a dozen rods before finding any trace of the enemy.
"The trail goes toward the ravine," said Stover, presently. "They are following an old Comanche path."
"Right ye air," answered the other frontiersman. "Years ago, them air Comanches had a village in this ravine, erbout four miles from hyer."
"I've heard tell on it, Dilberry, though I never sot eyes on it myself. It war the home o' thet Bison Head, the wust of 'em as ain't dead yet."
Having made certain that the Mexicans had gone straight on for a goodly distance, the two scouts so reported, and the entire party set off along the ravine, which at some points was broad and shallow and at others narrow and deep.
Suddenly the report of a gun rang out, coming from a point where the ravine made an abrupt turn to the north. Several other reports followed.
"They must be shooting at something," said Lieutenant Radbury. "But they are not aiming at us, for no bullets have come this way, so far as I can ascertain."
"Perhaps they are having a brush with some Indians," suggested another of the party. "They may—Hello, what's this coming along the trail? A white mustang, I declare, with a black blaze on his forehead. None o' those greasers rode that animal, I'm certain on it."
"A white mustang!" cried Amos Radbury, and then, as the animal came closer, he gave a start. "It's the same, I declare!"
"The same?" queried Poke Stover. "What do ye mean, leftenant?"
"That mustang belongs to me. I was trying to break him in when the call to arms came. He must have gotten away from my boys. But what is he doing away out here?"
That question could not be answered just then, and in another moment the white mustang was out of sight. Then, as the firing ahead had ceased, the movement forward was continued.
DAN COMES TO GRIEF.
"Well, this looks as if it was going to be a long-winded search."
"So it does, Ralph; but you must remember that a wild mustang who had been shut up in a corral for a couple of weeks will feel very much like stretching his legs when he gets out."
"We must have come at least eight miles."
"It's nearer ten."
"And we haven't seen the least sign of him."
"Oh, yes, we have; we discovered that trail."
"But we are not sure it was the mustang's."
"I take for granted that it was, for I do not believe any other pony passed this way since it rained."
The boys had not gone on straight ahead, but in a grand semicircle, until the footprints mentioned had been discovered. Now they were riding over a broad patch of prairie land, with a belt of timber to the north and another to the south.
"I wonder if there are any Indians in the vicinity," resumed Ralph, a while later. "I won't care to fall in with some of those Comanches who made it so hot for us at the cabin."
"Oh, they were chased a good many miles off, Ralph. Besides, they won't dare to show up here while they know that all of our best fighters are massing between Gonzales and San Antonio."
"I wonder how matters are going on at the front. I should think our army would march on Bexar without delay."
"They don't want to make an attack until they are strong enough to overcome General Cos's force. He may have considerable reinforcements by this time."
So the boys talked and rode until noon was passed. Both were now hungry, and coming to a pool in the prairie surrounded by mesquite-trees and bushes, they drew rein and tethered their ponies, and sat down to enjoy the midday meal they had brought along.
Pompey had packed for them a tempting hamper, and the boys remained over the repast rather longer than anticipated. The sun shone bright, and as there was no wind, the day was pleasant, even though late in the season.
"I suppose some day all this territory will be built up with towns and villages," remarked Dan, as he dug his knife-blade into the earth in a meditative way. "And when it is, I wonder if the boys of that generation will ever remember what a howling wilderness it was in our generation."
"A few will, but not many," laughed Ralph. "We are too much of a go-ahead people to do much looking back." The youngest Radbury leaped suddenly to his feet. "What's that, Dan?"
The brother sprang up also, and gave a searching glance in the direction Ralph pointed out.
"Unless I am greatly mistaken, it's the mustang."
"Just what I thought. He seems to be grazing just at the edge of the timber. How had we best get at him?"
The matter was talked over for several minutes, and they came to the conclusion to ride to the timber at some point below where the pony was grazing and then work up behind him.
"Then, if he bolts, it will be for the prairie," said Dan. "That will give me a chance to lasso him."
The timber was soon gained, and they skirted this with the silence of Indians until within a hundred yards of the white mustang. Then the older brother called another halt.
"Now you take the north side, and I'll keep to the south," said Dan. "Have you got your lasso ready?"
Ralph had, and it was decided that he should make the first throw, but not until Dan was prepared to make the second.
With great caution the two boys advanced to the point agreed upon. Then they rode out to where the lassoes could be used freely.
In the meantime the mustang was grazing peacefully, utterly unconscious of their presence in the vicinity. But now, as they drew still closer, he stopped cropping the grass and raised his head as if to listen.
"Throw!" cried Dan, and the lasso left Ralph's hand with a whizzing sound. A few seconds later Dan made his own cast.
As luck would have it, both landed over the mustang's head, but while Dan's was drawn tight with great quickness, Ralph's remained loose, so that in a twinkle the mustang shook it off, and then of course the line tightened around Dan's lariat instead.
"Hold back!" yelled Dan, as he saw Ralph sit bewildered in the saddle. "Run off to the other side!"
The younger Radbury attempted to obey, but as quick as a flash the mustang turned and rushed forward, bringing the lasso around Ralph's own steed. Then came a snap of the lariat, and Ralph went down, with the mustang on top of him.
All this took scarcely more time than to describe it, and now Dan found himself holding the white mustang alone, with Ralph's lariat end entangled in his own. Then off went the wild animal, kicking and plunging in a desperate fashion, which even the tightened leather about his neck did not appear to hinder. His course was straight for the timber, and he went on dragging Dan's pony after him. It is true the pony might have held back, but he was not well broken for such a purpose, having participated in but few round-ups.
"Look out! You'll be killed!" yelled Ralph, as he struggled to get out from under his pony. The wind had been knocked out of him, but otherwise he was uninjured.
Dan scarcely heard him, so busy was he trying to bring the white mustang to a halt. Soon he disappeared into the timber, and then Ralph arose, mounted the pony once more, and came after him.
The white mustang did not enter the forest far before the lariat around his neck began to hurt him. He tried to circle around several trees, and thereby cut himself short to such an extent that he was in great danger of choking to death.
"Hold my pony!" shouted Dan to Ralph, and slipped to the ground. The free end of the lariat was passed around a tree and tied, and Dan sprang forward toward the white mustang, who was now acting as if ready to give up the battle.
"Easy now, easy," said Dan, soothingly, and watching his chance, he hopped up on the mustang's back. Immediately the animal bucked and plunged, trying his best to throw his rider. The lariat was depriving him of his wind, and of a sudden he stopped short and trembled, as if about to fall.
Not wishing to strangle the animal now he had caught him, Dan cried to Ralph to come up and help hobble the steed, that he might walk but not run. At the same time he continued to talk soothingly to the mustang and patted him on the neck. Then, fearing he would breathe his last if the lariat remained as it was, he drew his knife and cut the leather.
In a twinkle the whole manner of the mustang changed, and, before Ralph could reach his big brother's side, the steed was off like a streak of lightning, with Dan clinging fast to his neck. Over some low brush the pair went, and then under some tall pines and out of sight.
"Hi! hi!" cried Ralph, but Dan had too much to do to call back to him. On and on went the mustang, and the youth could neither stop him, nor did he dare try to leap to the ground, for fear of a kick from one of those flying hoofs. It was such a wild ride as Dan never forgot.
By instinct the white mustang seemed to know the best course to pursue, and went on where the trees were high branched and tolerably far apart. This was lucky for Dan, for had the limbs been low he must certainly have been knocked off and killed. He bent as low as he could.
"Go it, if you must," he thought, grimly. "You'll get tired some time. But I hope you don't go all the way to Bexar."
Fully two miles were covered, when the white mustang came out of the woods at the edge of a ravine. He ran like the wind until the very edge was reached, then stopped short all in an instant.
Dan was holding on with might and main, but no boy's grip could withstand such a shock, and up flew his body, and over the pony's head he sailed. Then he felt himself going downward, toward the bottom of the ravine. Some brushwood scratched his hands and face, there followed a great thump,—and then he knew no more.
THE CAVE IN THE RAVINE.
When Dan came to his senses all was dark around him. The sun had set over the timber in the west, and scarcely a sound broke the stillness of the night.
For several minutes the youth could not imagine where he was or what had happened. Then slowly the realisation of the events just passed dawned upon his muddled brain.
He tried to pull himself together and sit up, but the effort was so painful he was glad enough to give it up and rest just as he lay. The brushwood had saved him from death, but it had not saved him from a nasty fall on the flat rocks which rested at the bottom of the ravine at this particular point.
"It must be at least two or three hours since I went over," he thought, dismally. "I wonder what became of the mustang, and where Ralph and the ponies are?"
He tried to see the face of the silver watch he carried,—an heirloom from his mother,—but it was too dark, and he had to give it up. Then he attempted to call out, but his voice was so feeble no one standing fifty yards off would have heard it. And Ralph was miles and miles away, hopelessly lost in his hunt after his missing brother.
Not a bone had been broken nor a muscle strained to any extent, yet it was almost daybreak before Dan felt like getting on his feet, and in the meantime he had fallen into a doze and dreamed all manner of horrible dreams. When he awoke, his mouth was parched for water, and his first move was in the direction of the wet portion of the ravine, beyond the rocks.
As it was the fall of the year, the night had been cold, and after procuring a drink he was glad enough to sit down again beside a fire made of leaves and such small brush as was handy. He was now hungry, but nothing was at hand to satisfy the cravings of the inner man. His gun had been left behind, but in his belt still rested his hunting-knife,—something he had taken to carrying constantly since the brush with the Comanches.
Dan could not help but wonder what had become of Ralph, and wished that he had some firearm by which he might discharge a shot as a signal.
Slowly the morning wore away, and by noon the lad felt that he must make a move. "I'll get out of the ravine first," he thought, but this was no easy matter, for the sides were steep and he was still too weak to exert himself in climbing.
Presently he imagined that he heard, at a great distance, the firing of a volley of shots. To make sure he was right, he laid on the ground and listened. Soon the volley was repeated, and a number of single reports followed.
"There is a fight on of some sort," he thought, but could not locate the direction of the shots with any degree of accuracy. "I trust Ralph is out of danger."
He walked along the ravine, looking for some convenient spot where he might ascend to the level of the timber beyond, until he came to where there was a split in the hollow. Here, in the centre of the ravine, was a huge pile of rocks, overgrown with a tangle of vines and thorns, which hid a cave of fair dimensions. In those days this cave was known to the Indians as the Haunted Rock. It is said that many a Mexican trader was lured there, only to be killed and robbed.
As Dan was passing the cave he saw, with much surprise, a Mexican soldier leading two mustangs into the opening. Each saw the other at the same time, and instantly the Mexican set up a shout in Spanish, and, letting go of the horses, levelled a pistol at the boy's head.
Dan did not understand the Spanish, but he understood the motion of the soldier.
"Don't shoot!" he cried. "I am unarmed!" And he held up his hands to verify his statement.
"You surrender?" asked the Mexican, in broken English.
"I suppose I'll have to," answered Dan. "But what are you doing here, and why do you wish to make me a prisoner? I am not a soldier."
At this the Mexican shrugged his bony shoulders and called out again in Spanish, whereupon three other Mexicans showed themselves at the mouth of the cave.
"Come in here, boy," said one of the three, who was evidently a captain, by his uniform. "Are you alone?"
"I am," answered Dan, as he entered the mouth of the cave.
"Where are the soldiers?"
"The rascally Texans who were after us."
"I know nothing of any soldiers, captain."
"You are telling me the truth?" And the Mexican captain turned a pair of piercing black eyes on the youth.
"I am, sir; I have seen no soldiers for a week or more, and they were nowhere about here."
Dan's frank manner apparently impressed the Mexican officer favourably, for he breathed more freely. He paused for a moment, as if in deep thought.
"What brought you here, boy?"
In a few simple words Dan told his tale. When he mentioned the white mustang, two of the Mexicans smiled.
"I saw him," said one. "He was running like the wind, directly for those soldiers, too."
"And who are the soldiers you speak about?" asked Dan.
"It is not for you to ask questions," answered the captain, abruptly. "Sit down on yonder rock and keep quiet. A noise might betray us, and then it might become necessary to put a bullet in you."
As there was no help for it, Dan walked still farther into the cave, and sank down on the rock pointed out. He noted that there were but four of the Mexicans, and that each had a mustang that seemed to be much exhausted.
"I reckon I am worse off than I was before," was his mental comment, after reviewing the situation. "These chaps are evidently in hiding, and they won't let me go for fear of exposing them. Well, I sha'n't stay any longer than I have to."
In the matter of eating, the Mexicans were as badly off as the youth. "You have had nothing, eh?" said one. "Well, we are just as hungry, and perhaps more so. It cannot be helped, and we must make the best of it."
"But we can't remain here and starve to death," insisted Dan.
At this the Mexican drew up his face into a scowl and turned away. To comfort themselves, the men smoked cigarettes incessantly, being used to the tobacco habit from childhood. Dan had as yet found no comfort in the use of the weed.
While two of the Mexicans remained in the cave to care for the mustangs, the others went out on guard, one stationing himself just above the opening and the other below. The numerous rocks afforded both excellent hiding-places.
From those in care of the mustangs Dan learned but little, yet, during the Mexicans' talk, the youth managed to gain a bit of information which led him to believe that there had been a battle, and the four had become separated from their companions and had been pursued. The Mexicans thought to remain in the cave until night, and then escape under cover of the darkness.
As the hours went by Dan became more hungry, and with this empty feeling came one of desperation. He must escape, be the cost what it might.
"If only I could collar one of their mustangs, and get away on it," he thought. "Perhaps I might find those soldiers and have the Mexicans made prisoners."
The more he thought of this plan the more did it appeal to him, and then he cast about for some means of putting it into operation.
The chance came shortly before sundown. A distant shot was heard, and the two Mexicans in the cave hurried to join their companions, to learn what it might mean. Dan had cast himself down as if asleep, and one of the soldiers did not, therefore, pick up his gun as he hurried past the entrance of the cave.
No sooner were the men out of sight, than Dan leaped upon the back of the nearest mustang, and turned him straight for the entrance. He made the animal do his best from the start, yet, as he passed the entrance to the cave, he hung out from the saddle and managed to pick up the gun that rested against the wall.
"He is escaping!" cried one of the Mexicans, in Spanish, and leaped in front of the mustang. The next instant the horse knocked him flat and galloped over his body.
The Mexicans were bewildered, for, on the brink of the ravine, one of them had caught sight of several Texan soldiers in the distance. If they fired on Dan, they would betray themselves, and, if they did not, the youth would surely escape.
"After him!" cried the captain, and two of the soldiers made a dash for the boy. But they might have as well tried to catch the wind, for the mustang was fresh from his rest, and Dan made him do his level best.
Then along the ravine sped animal and boy, Dan riding as never before, and expecting a shot at any moment. He knew not where he was going, and hardly cared, so long as he made his escape from the Mexicans.
FLIGHT AND PURSUIT.
Lieutenant Radbury's party had come up to the ravine at a point opposite to the cave, about half an hour before Dan attempted to make his escape.
"I see nothing of the Mexicans here," he remarked to Poke Stover, as he swept the ravine from one end to the other with his well-trained eye.
"No more do I see anything," answered the old frontiersman. "But they may be behind yonder rocks, leftenant. If ye say the word, I'll climb down and scout around a bit."
"There is a cave among yonder rocks," put in another of the Texans. "It is called Haunted Rock by the Indians. The Comanches used to use it as a meeting-place when they were out for plunder. I've often heard old Si Bilkens tell about it."
"I have heard of such a cave," answered Amos Radbury. "If the Mexicans knew of it, they might think it just the right sort of a hiding-place. Yes, Poke, you can scout around. But be careful. They may be watching for a shot."
The frontiersman nodded, to show that he understood, and went off immediately on foot, it being impossible to go down the ravine's side on mustang-back, no matter how sure-footed the animal might be.
The descent into the ravine took time, and Poke Stover was still some distance from the cave's entrance when he heard a commotion among the bushes and rocks.
"A mustang a-comin' this way," he muttered to himself. "And somebody ridin', too. It must be one of them dirty greasers trying to git away. I'll cut him short."
He raised his rifle, and stepped out into the open to get a better aim. Then of a sudden his weapon dropped to his side.
"Dan! Dan Radbury! What in thunder are you doing out here?"
At first Dan did not hear the call, for the hoof-strokes of the mustang made considerable noise on the rocks over which he was clattering. But then the youth caught sight of the old frontiersman and his face beamed with joy.
"Poke Stover! and is it really you?" he exclaimed.
"Yes. What are you doing here?"
"I just escaped from four Mexican soldiers, who are hiding in a cave up the ravine."
"The greasers we are after!"
"Are you after them? They said something about being followed."