"Yes, I am after them, and so is your father, who is in command of our party."
"Father! Where is he?"
"At the top of the ravine—in that direction," and Poke Stover pointed it out. "He jest sent me out to do a bit o' scoutin'."
"To locate the greasers?"
"I can tell you all about them. They are at the cave on guard. I took this mustang from them, and also this musket."
"Then thar won't be no need fer me to scout any more, Dan, and we might as well join the rest," answered Poke Stover. "We must capture them greasers."
"How did you come to go after them?"
Stover told the particulars as they were climbing out of the ravine, Dan leading the mustang by the head. In a short while, the youth was with his father.
Of course the parent was astonished to find his son in this wilderness, so many miles from the ranch home, and Dan had to tell his story in detail.
"I am glad you are safe," said Amos Radbury. "But what of Ralph?"
"I can tell you nothing of him, father."
"We saw the white mustang twice, but nothing of him," added Amos Radbury, thoughtfully. And then he decided to go on a hunt for his boy as soon as the affair of the four Mexicans was settled.
To the others Dan pointed out the exact location of the cave, and the entire party drew within a hundred yards of the opening, without exposing themselves. The Mexicans, also, kept out of sight.
"We are now eleven to four," said Amos Radbury. "I believe if they understood the matter, they would surrender, rather than risk being shot."
"If they won't surrender I know what you can easily do," returned Dan.
"And what is that?"
"Starve them out. They are all as hungry as bears,—and so am I, for the matter of that."
"An excellent idea. But if you are hungry, here are rations in the saddle-bags," and Dan was speedily supplied with sufficient food to stay his hunger for the time being.
One of the party, who could talk Spanish fluently, was now ordered to show a white handkerchief tied to a stick, and this he did, moving to the very edge of the ravine for that purpose. At first, owing, probably, to the darkness, the Mexicans did not see the flag of truce, but at last the captain came forward, and demanded to know what was wanted.
"We want you to surrender," said the Texan.
"We will not do so, and you will attack us at your peril," was the Mexican's sharp reply.
"You are but four, while we number twelve."
"We will fight, even so, senor. A Mexican never surrenders."
"What if we starve you out?"
"You cannot do that. Still, you may try it, if you wish," continued the capitan hurriedly. If the Americans tried starving them out, it would give them time in which to perfect some plan for escape.
The talk continued for several minutes, and then the Texan came back with the information that the enemy would agree to nothing.
"He's willing to be starved out," went on the ranger. "But I think he wants the chance to get away in the darkness."
"We will draw closer to the cave as the darkness settles down," answered Amos Radbury. This was the first time, as an officer, that he had been sent out on a commission, and he was resolved not to fail.
The night came on swiftly. Evidently a storm was brewing, for not a star lit up the heavens.
"We'll catch it, in more ways than one, soon," said Stover to Dan, suggestively.
The Texans had had a small fire, but now this was deserted, and the party moved down into the ravine on foot.
Just as the first rain of the coming storm began to fall, one of the men of the party set up a shout.
"There they go!"
He was right. The Mexicans were making a mad dash for liberty up the ravine, the four men on three mustangs.
"Fire at them!" ordered Lieutenant Radbury, and instantly half a dozen shots rang out. None of the enemy was hit, but two of the mustangs pitched headlong, carrying three of the riders down with them. The fourth Mexican, the captain, continued on his way, forcing his steed along at a greater pace than ever.
Before those on the ground could rise, they found themselves surrounded.
"Surrender!" cried Lieutenant Radbury. "Surrender, or we must shoot you down!"
"I surrender!" cried one of the Mexicans. "No shoot me!" And he held up his hands.
But the others were game, so to speak, and, rising, they discharged their muskets, and continued their flight on foot. They had scarcely gone a dozen steps, when the Texans opened fire again, and one dropped, shot through the heart. The second man was wounded, but kept on and disappeared up the side of the ravine, in a thick pine brake, where all was now pitch dark.
"Make that man a close prisoner!" shouted Lieutenant Radbury to two of his followers. "Come on!" and he dashed away after the Mexican captain. Several, including Poke Stover and Dan, followed him, while others went after the fellow in the pine brake.
It was largely a go-as-you-please hunt, for, as mentioned before, the army was not yet sworn in, and every man felt that he could do about as he wished.
Before leaving the Mexican who had surrendered, Lieutenant Radbury had appropriated his horse, consequently he readily outdistanced those who followed. But he could not catch his man, although he got close enough to note that the fellow left the ravine where there was a cut upward, and took to the timber on the north.
"We can't follow him in this darkness," said Amos Radbury. "We will have to wait until morning. It is raining now, and probably there will be an easy trail to follow."
They returned to the others, and then the entire party went into camp in the cave the Mexicans had just vacated, the horses being also brought in, to keep them out of the storm, for it was now raining in torrents. A fire was kindled and a warm supper prepared.
"Two out o' four," declared Poke Stover. "That wasn't so bad, after all."
The captured Mexican was questioned, and said the missing officer was Captain Arguez, from Santa Cruz.
"He belongs to a most noble family," said the prisoner. "He will never give up."
"He will if I lay my hands on him," said Amos Radbury, quietly.
Both father and son were much worried over Ralph, and wondered what had become of him. It was agreed that while looking for Captain Arguez they should hunt for the boy also.
WHAT HAPPENED TO RALPH.
"I'm lost, and that is all there is to it!"
Ralph sat on the back of his mustang the picture of dismay. He had tried to follow his big brother and had failed, and had spent the night on the bank of the ravine, but at a point several miles from the cave.
Ralph was not nearly as well versed in woodcraft as his big brother, and he hardly knew how to turn or what to do. All about him was one vast wilderness, and the silence and loneliness made him shiver in spite of himself.
"If I only knew what had become of him," he said, over and over. "But perhaps he is dead!" And the tears started to his eyes.
He had eaten nothing since the evening before, but he was too worried now to satisfy the cravings of his stomach. He had his own mustang and that of Dan with him, and they were feasting on the rich grass close at hand. Procuring a drink at a stream near by, he watered the animals and set forth once again on the hunt.
The day drifted by swiftly, and Ralph found neither Dan nor the way out of the belt of timber. He was now weak from so much travelling, and was compelled to rest and partake of the scant lunch still left in the hamper Pompey had provided.
As night came on so did the storm, and with the first fall of rain he sought shelter under some overhanging rocks near the top of one side of the ravine.
It was anything but a pleasant position, and no wonder Ralph wished himself safe at home again.
The storm increased until the rain came down in a deluge, forming a good-sized stream in the basin of the ravine. Ralph was thankful that there was but little thunder and lightning.
Having found a dry place in a corner of the rocks, he was on the point of falling into a doze when a clatter not far off aroused him.
"It must be Dan," he thought. "Dan! Dan!" he cried, starting up. "Is that you?"
At the sound of his voice the clatter ceased, and only the violence of the storm broke the stillness. Then Ralph called again, that his brother might not go astray.
"Who calls?" The voice was a strange one, and the words were spoken with a Spanish accent. Ralph fell back in dismay, but it was too late, and soon the newcomer showed himself, riding a jaded steed, and carrying a long horse-pistol in his hand.
"Ha, boy, are you alone?" demanded the man, who was none other than Captain Arguez.
"I am," answered Ralph.
"And what brought you here?"
"I was out looking for a lost mustang, and missed my way."
"Ha, that is what the other boy told me!" muttered Captain Arguez, half savagely.
"The other boy? Then you have seen my brother?"
"Where is he now?"
"I cannot tell you. He ran away, taking one of my soldier's mustangs."
"But I don't understand," stammered Ralph. "Are you a Mexican army officer?"
"And Dan was with you?"
"I think he fell in with us by accident, and he got away just as we were having a brush with some of your accursed Americans." The Mexican captain looked around suspiciously. "You are quite sure you are alone?"
"You have two ponies."
"One belongs to my brother. He got on the white mustang,—the one that ran away,—and that is the last I saw of him. You have no idea where he is now?"
"Probably with the Texans who attacked my party."
"And where are they?"
Captain Arguez's brow grew dark. "You are asking too many questions for a mere boy," he growled. "I do not know where they are, nor do I care, so long as they do not bother me any more," and in this he spoke the exact truth. He cared nothing for his men, and wished only to get back to San Antonio in safety.
The Mexican had had nothing to eat throughout the day, and was glad enough to avail himself of what little was left in the hamper. Then he put his mustang beside the others, and made himself as comfortable as possible near Ralph.
"Do you know the way to Bexar?" he demanded.
Ralph shook his head. "I don't know the way anywhere; I am totally lost."
"From whence do you come?"
"From the Guadalupe River, at least thirty or forty miles from here."
"Then I must be almost as far from Bexar?"
"Yes; perhaps farther."
"It is too bad! I was foolish. But let that pass, what is done cannot be undone."
Captain Arguez had relapsed into Spanish, so Ralph did not understand his last words. He remained silent, wondering what the officer would say next. But instead of talking, the Mexican rolled a cigarette, and began smoking vigorously.
Ralph was sleepy, and in spite of his repeated attempts to keep awake, he soon dozed off, and then fell into a sound slumber, from which he did not rouse up until daylight.
The captain was asleep, snoring loudly, and with a half-smoked cigarette between his fingers. At first Ralph thought to leave without disturbing him, but no sooner had the boy risen to his feet than the Mexican opened his eyes and stared about him.
"So it is morning?" he muttered. "Very good. Let us be on our way."
"I do not know which way to go," returned Ralph.
"That is easily answered, boy. You will go with me."
"Yes. I am lonely and want company."
"But you are going to San Antonio de Bexar."
"You are right. It is an ancient Mexican town, and there you will be quite safe."
"But I don't want to go there,—I want to go home."
"You will be better off with me; anyway, you must come on. If I let you out of my sight, and you fall in with those Americans, you will betray me to them. Come, we must lose no time."
Ralph attempted to argue, but the Mexican officer would not listen, and soon they were in the saddle, riding side by side, and with the extra mustang behind. Captain Arguez had noted how the water was flowing in the ravine, and now he crossed the hollow, and struck out down the water-course, but on the opposite side to where the Texans had encamped.
It must be confessed that Ralph felt more downhearted than ever. It was true he had wished for company, but this Mexican was not desirable, and the thought of being taken to the fortified town filled him with dismay.
Yet there was no help for it, and he rode along as directed, and thus they journeyed for many miles, until they struck a road leading directly into San Antonio. Here Captain Arguez met the Mexican who had escaped into the brush, and the two compared notes, the result of which was that both, along with Ralph, made a long detour to the north and the west.
Once on the way the party passed several Indians, but no words were exchanged. In this party was Big Foot, the Comanche, who had been nursed at the Radbury ranch, but Ralph did not recognise the red man, for he was too far away.
The storm had let up a little during the day, but now as night came on it broke forth once more, as furiously as ever.
"This just suits me," said Captain Arguez. "It will wet us to the skin, to be sure, but it will put the Texans off their guard."
Once during the afternoon Ralph had thought to escape, but the captain had threatened to shoot him on the spot, and the attempt had amounted to nothing. The boy's weapons had been taken from him, and the mustang belonging to Dan had been appropriated by the Mexican private.
The private knew the vicinity of San Antonio well, and said they had better halt at a certain gully until two or three in the morning. This was done, and by four o'clock they were safely inside of San Antonio without the Texan pickets being the wiser, the rain and darkness proving the Mexicans' best ally.
As soon as he was safe, Captain Arguez went to headquarters to report, taking the private and Ralph with him. Ralph was put in a side room of the quarters, and left under guard for several hours.
"We have resolved to keep you here for the present," said the soldier, who came to him at last.
"Keep me here!" gasped Ralph. "What for? Surely you don't count me a prisoner of war?"
"Captain Arguez is convinced that your brother was a spy, and that you will help him if you can. It will, therefore, be safer for us to keep you here."
This was all the satisfaction Ralph could get, and soon after he was marched away to the San Antonio jail, there to remain for some time to come.
THE ATTACK ON SAN ANTONIO.
"This looks like a hopeless task, father."
"So it does, Dan, but while I am willing to give up looking for that Mexican captain, I am not willing to give up looking for Ralph."
"Nor I. But the question is, which way shall we turn next?"
Amos Radbury shook his head slowly. The party had been out in the timber two days, and, though they had followed several trails, it had availed them nothing.
"Perhaps Ralph went back to the ranch," suggested Poke Stover.
"We found no trail leading in that direction," said Lieutenant Radbury.
"That is true, but he might have gone back, even so, leftenant."
Amos Radbury shook his head slowly. "You only wish to give me a little encouragement, Poke," he said, with a sad smile. "I am afraid he has fallen into the hands of the Indians."
"Talk about Indians, here come several Indians now," put in Dan, who was riding beside his father. "They look like Comanches, too."
The red men, who were three in number, had appeared at the brow of a small hill. Now, on discovering the whites, they seemed on the point of turning to run away.
One, however, gave the Texans a searching look, and then his face lit up with satisfaction. He came running toward Dan, holding up both hands in token of peace.
"Big Foot!" exclaimed the youth, as he recognised the Indian.
"Good Dan," answered the Indian. "I glad I see you. How! How!" and he looked at Amos Radbury and the others.
"I reckon this is the critter ye nursed at the ranch," remarked Stover.
"It is," answered Dan. He turned to the Indian. "So you are glad to see me, eh?"
"Yes, much glad." The Indian looked at one and another of the party. "Where little brudder Raf?"
"Ralph is missing," put in Lieutenant Radbury; and then added, quickly, "Do you know anything of him, Big Foot?"
The Indian nodded slowly.
"Yes, see little Raf wid Mexican soldiers."
"With the Mexican soldiers!" cried father and son, simultaneously. "You are certain?"
The Indian nodded again.
"When was this?"
As well as he could, with his limited knowledge of English, Big Foot told of the meeting with Captain Arguez, the Mexican private, and Ralph. "They all go into Bexar," he concluded.
"Then Ralph is a prisoner of the enemy," said Amos Radbury.
"But will they hold a mere boy like that?" snorted Poke Stover. "It seems to me thet ain't human nater, nohow."
"The Mexicans will do anything to harass the Texans," answered the lieutenant, quietly. "I don't know but what I would rather have Ralph a prisoner in Bexar than lost in the timber or in the hands of some treacherous Indians."
"If only we could get into Bexar after him," sighed Dan.
"We'll get in pretty soon," returned another member of the party. "I heard old Ben Milam say that if our troops didn't start pretty soon he'd form an attack on his own account."
Big Foot was anxious to learn what all the trouble was about, and Dan explained to the Indian. At the conclusion of the talk Big Foot stared stolidly at Dan for fully ten seconds.
"You say so, Big Foot go into Bexar an' hunt out little Raf," he said at last.
"Oh, will you?" cried Dan. "It will be very kind."
"Big Foot not so kind as Good Dan," returned the Indian. "Yes, will go right now. Where Big Foot find Good Dan if have news for him?"
"At the camp of the Texan army," answered Dan, before his father could speak. Then he turned to his parent. "Father, you must let me go with you. I am sure I am old enough to fight."
"Why, Dan, you are but a boy!"
"I think I can fight as well as some of the men," said the youth, boldly. "I am a pretty good shot, and I wouldn't be a coward and run," he added, earnestly. "I don't want to go back to the ranch alone."
"But life in the army is no easy thing, my son. We may have untold hardships before this struggle comes to an end."
"I am willing to take what comes. Please say I can go."
Amos Radbury could not resist his son's appeal, especially as he was glad to have the boy where he might have an eye on him. So it was settled that Dan should accompany his parent; and thus did the youth become a soldier to fight for the liberty of Texas.
A while later Big Foot left, stating that he would endeavour to get into San Antonio that night, and the party under the lieutenant rode off to the camp of the Texan army. Here Amos Radbury reported what he had done, and there, for the time being, matters rested.
In the meantime, the Texan army had moved slightly closer to San Antonio de Bexar, but, as yet, nothing had been done toward storming the town. Volunteers came and went, and the army lacked so much of complete organisation that the leaders hesitated upon opening an attack upon such a force as General Cos had under him.
"If we lose, the Texan cause is lost for ever," said one of the leaders. "We cannot afford to put up the stake at this time."
Bowie, Crockett, and other scouts were off doing duty of another kind, otherwise the attack might have opened without delay. But now the old veterans, especially those of the war of 1812, became impatient, and among these was old Ben Milam, previously mentioned. One day Milam could contain himself no longer, and, rushing out in front of the general headquarters, he swung his hat into the air, and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Who will follow old Ben Milam into Bexar?"
"I will!" "I will!" came from a score of throats, and soon over a hundred men were gathered around the old fighter. In the number were Amos Radbury, Poke Stover, and a party of scouts who had served under Crockett. Dan, of course, followed his father.
As soon as it was learned how enthusiastic the soldiers were, it was decided that Milam's party should meet on the following day at an old mill near the camp. At this mill the company of volunteers numbered exactly three hundred and one, and this force was divided into two divisions, the first under Milam and the second under Colonel Frank W. Johnson.
"We will move on the town about three o'clock in the morning," said Colonel Milam, and this was done, the first division going down Acequia Street and the second taking to Soledad Street. Both streets led directly to the main plaza of San Antonio, and each was heavily barricaded and swept by General Cos's artillery.
The two divisions moved with caution, but as they crept along between the low-lying stone houses a Mexican sentinel saw the body under Johnson, and gave the alarm.
"We are discovered!" came the cry, and the next instant the rifle of Deaf Smith spoke up, and the sentinel fell dead where he had stood.
Further attempts at concealment were now useless, and both divisions rushed into the town as far as possible. Johnson's command went as far as the house of the vice-governor, Veramendi, and here sought shelter from the Mexicans, who swarmed down upon them in great numbers.
"Dan, take care of yourself," cried Lieutenant Radbury, who with his son had joined Colonel Milam's division. "Don't run any risks if you can help it."
"I'll stick close to you, father," answered Dan.
They were going down Acequia Street on a dead run, every Texan firing as rapidly as he could reload.
"The plaza! The plaza!" was the cry; but that square was still a hundred yards off, when the Mexican garrison appeared, with their artillery, as if ready to sweep the Texans from the face of the earth. Then came the cry, "To shelter!" and Milam's men, about a hundred and forty strong, broke into the nearest mansion, which was that of De La Garcia.
"Drop!" The cry came from Poke Stover, and he called to Amos Radbury, as he saw a Mexican in the act of picking off the lieutenant from the garden of a residence opposite to that of De La Garcia. He raised his gun to fire on the man, but the weapon was empty.
Dan heard the cry and noted where Stover was looking. He, too, saw the Mexican about to fire on his father, and his heart leaped into his throat. Then, by instinct more than reason, he raised his own gun and blazed away. Both guns spoke up at once, and Dan saw the Mexican throw up his arms and fall backward. Then his father dropped like a lump of lead.
"Father!" cried the boy, hoarsely, and knelt beside his parent. "Are you hit?"
"I—I guess not," stammered Lieutenant Radbury. Then he passed his hand over his ear and withdrew it covered with blood. "But I reckon he nipped me."
"That's wot he did," put in Stover. "But Dan plugged him for it," he went on, with much satisfaction.
The Texans got into the house as soon as possible, much to the surprise and consternation of the family, who protested in vain at the intrusion. Once within, doors and windows were barricaded, and the residence turned into a veritable fort.
It was now growing daylight, and without delay the Mexicans began a furious onslaught. The crack of musketry and the roaring of cannon was incessant, but the Texans were wise enough to keep out of sight, and but little damage to human life was done. The Texans stationed themselves at convenient loopholes and calmly picked off every Mexican soldier who showed himself within range.
"I wonder how the second division is making out," said Lieutenant Radbury, as the day wore away and the cracking of firearms continued. "They seem to be doing about as much firing as we are."
"They are at the vice-governor's house," announced one of the other officers. "We could join them were it not that the greasers are sweeping Soledad Street with their twelve-pounder."
Rations were scarce and water was more so, yet the men under Milam did not complain. They had come to take the city, and they meant to do it.
"I hope Ralph won't suffer through this," remarked Dan, while on guard at one of the loopholes, with his father not far away.
"We must trust for the best," answered Amos Radbury, and breathed a silent prayer that all might go well with his younger offspring.
As night came on it was resolved to dig a trench across Soledad Street, so that the two divisions might communicate with each other. This was dangerous work, for the Mexicans kept a strict guard and fired every time a head was exposed to view. The trench was started at each end and was completed long before daybreak. While this was going on the Mexicans also dug a trench, hoping thereby to catch the Texans in a cross-fire, but the scheme failed.
THE SURRENDER OF THE CITY.
"If only I was at liberty once again!"
Ralph had said this to himself over and over, as he sat on the hard wooden bench which served him both for a seat and a couch in the little stone cell which he occupied in the San Antonio lockup.
Several days had gone by, and no one had come to see the youth but his jailer, who delivered food twice a day, morning and afternoon. The jailer spoke nothing but Spanish, so communications between the two were limited.
Ralph often wondered what had become of Dan and the white mustang. Was his brother lost in the timber, or had he fallen in with the Indians?
There was a tiny window in the cell, high up over the couch. From this Ralph could get a slight view of the river and of a patch of sky, and that was all.
But one afternoon, when all was quiet, Ralph noticed a shadow at the window, and, gazing up, made out part of an Indian face stationed there. Quickly he stood on the bench.
"Big Foot,——" he began, when the Indian let out a low hiss of warning.
"Soldier hear Raf," said the Indian, in a whisper. "Me come to find you,—tell fadder and Good Dan would do dat."
"Father and Dan!" returned the boy. "Then they are together?"
"Yes, both in big army outside of dis place. Big Foot say he find Raf. Must go now. Maybe save Raf soon. You watch!"
And then the Indian disappeared as quickly as he had come. By some means known only to himself, he had found out where Ralph was located, and had watched for thirty hours on a stretch for a chance to communicate with the lad. He had caught a sentinel off guard, and had mounted to the window by means of a lariat thrown around one of the bars of the opening. As he leaped down, the sentinel turned in time to catch him winding up his lariat.
"What are you doing there?" demanded the Mexican.
"Indian squaw in dare?" asked Big Foot, meekly.
"No, we do not keep squaws here," answered the Mexican. "Begone, or I'll shoot you;" and then, as the Comanche loped off, he resumed his cigarette smoking.
The coming of Big Foot comforted Ralph greatly, for he now knew that Dan was with their father, and that both were in the army, outside of San Antonio. That night he slept soundly.
He awoke to hear loud firing, showing that a battle of some kind had started. The firing continued, and, before long, the lockup was struck by a cannon-ball, although little damage was done. The attack created a great confusion, and Ralph was left largely to himself.
At night, while the sounds of firing still kept up, Big Foot appeared, with both his lariat and a short iron bar. Mounting to the window, in the gloom, he called Ralph, and passed him the bar.
"Break window and drop out," he whispered. "Big Foot wait for you close to river."
He fell back, and with the bar Ralph set to work to liberate himself. The masonry of the window was old and loosened, and he soon had two of the bars out, leaving a space just large enough to admit of the passage of his body.
As he leaped into the window-opening, he heard voices in the corridor, outside of the cell. Then his jailer and a Mexican officer appeared at the cell door.
"Ha! he is escaping!" roared the jailer, in Spanish. "Stop!" And he ran to Ralph, to detain him, but the boy dropped to the court outside, and scampered off as fast as his feet would carry him.
An alarm at once sounded, and the cry arose that the prisoners throughout the jail were rising. This, of course, was not so, yet the excitement was great within the walls, and, for the minute, Ralph was allowed to depart unmolested.
In the darkness Big Foot joined him, and thrust into his hands a stout club. "Club much good, sometime," said the Comanche. "Knock down Mexican, maybe, if in way."
He led the way down one street and another, until the vicinity of the plaza was gained.
Suddenly, as they turned an alleyway, a volley from the Mexican garrison was fired.
"Run! run! or get shot!" shouted the Comanche, and then, as Ralph turned in one direction, the Indian turned in another, and, in a trice, they became separated in the darkness.
Ralph kept on running, he knew not where, only that he might escape the bullets, which appeared to be flying in all directions.
He could not go around by the plaza nor by the church, and so cut into a gloomy courtyard. Still running, he reached the stone wall of a house. A window was close at hand, and he leaped through this, to pitch headlong on the floor beyond, too exhausted to go another step.
As related before, the firing kept up all this night, and was renewed with vigour in the morning. In the meantime, the trench across the street had been completed, so that the two divisions were in communication with one another. It was fighting at close quarters, and San Antonio looked as if in the throes of a big riot.
The Texans had been trying to bring a twelve-pounder into position, but, so far, they had failed. Now, however, it was mounted at a commanding point, and fired several times, with fair effect. In the meantime, Deaf Smith and a party began to do some sharpshooting from the top of the vice-governor's residence, but the Mexicans drove them off, and Smith was severely wounded.
When Ralph came to himself, he found that he was in a room that was pitch-dark. From a distance came a hum of voices, and the steady blows of some blunt instruments, probably axes or picks. The firing continued steadily.
He felt his way along from the room in which he found himself to the one adjoining. From this a stairs led upward, and he went to the upper floor. Here, from a window, he saw part of the fighting, and as the morning came, he saw still more.
The noise below kept on steadily, and as daylight advanced, the firing on all sides became almost incessant. In the midst of this, there came a loud hurrah, and a detachment of Texans, under Lieutenant W. McDonald, ran out into the street, and battered down the door of the very house where Ralph was in hiding.
"Hullo, a boy!" shouted one of the Texans, as he caught sight of Ralph. And then he continued, quickly, "By George! ain't you Amos Radbury's youngster?"
"I am," answered Ralph. "And you are Mr. Martin, from the Pecan Grove Ranch."
"Right, my lad. How in the world did you come here?"
"I just escaped from the lockup, and was trying to reach the Texan lines. Do you know anything of my father?"
"Do I? Why, he's in the house just below here, along with your brother. We came—— Back, or you'll be shot!"
Ralph retreated, and none too soon, for a second later several bullets entered the window and buried themselves in the wall opposite. The Mexicans were firing from several roofs in the neighbourhood. This fire was returned with such good interest that soon the Mexicans were as glad to get out of sight as those who opposed them.
Ralph wished to join his father and Dan without delay, but Mr. Martin held him back.
"Wait until dark," said the settler. "You are fairly safe here, and it would be foolhardy to expose yourself."
"Do you think we will win out?" asked the lad, anxiously.
"I do,—but it is going to be a tougher struggle than any of us expected."
On the morning of the third day of the attack matters were at first quiet, but then came a fierce fire by the Mexicans on the Texans' trench. The sharpshooters were called again to the front, and in an hour the enemy had stopped almost entirely.
"Here goes for another dash!" came the cry at noon, and sure enough another dash was led to a house still closer to the plaza, and the building was soon in the possession of the Texans. They were gaining their victory slowly but surely.
At evening Colonel Milam attempted to leave his own position to consult with Colonel Johnson, still at the Veramendi house. "You must be careful, colonel," came the warning, as the gallant fighter stood in the courtyard. The words had scarcely been spoken when a bullet took Milam in the head, killing him instantly.
The loss at this critical moment was a severe one, and the officers were called into hasty consultation, the result of which was that Colonel Johnson was placed at the head of the expedition.
The battle was now growing fiercer and fiercer, and, angered over the loss of Colonel Milam, the Texans forced their way to another house, which fronted the Military Plaza and was but a block from the Main Plaza.
"Down with the Mexicans! Hurrah for the liberty of Texas!" were the cries, and the Texans grew more enthusiastic than ever. In the midst of this uproar Ralph discovered his father and Dan at the doorway to one of the houses, and ran to join them.
"Ralph, my son!" cried Amos Radbury, and caught the lad to his breast, and Dan hugged his brother with a bear-like grip. "You are quite well?"
"Yes, father. But what a fight this is!"
"Yes, and it will be worse before it is over."
"Did you see Big Foot?" questioned Dan.
"Yes, he helped me to get out of prison."
There was no time just then to say more, for the Texans were fighting hotly, holding several houses and endeavouring to keep the Mexicans out of such buildings where they might have an advantage.
On the fourth day of the attack the Texans fought their way to what was called the Zambrano Row, which line of stone buildings reached to one end of the Main Plaza. "Let us get to the Main Plaza, and Cos will be done for!" was the cry.
From one house the Texans cut their way through the thick stone walls to the next, until at last the whole row was theirs, and the Mexicans were driven in every direction.
The Main Plaza could now be covered in part, but during the coming night the Texans captured still another building, called the Priest's House, which fronted directly on the great square. As soon as this was captured, the Texans barricaded doors and windows, and made of the house a regular fort.
"We've got 'em on the run," said more than one Texan, after the Priest's House had been barricaded, and this proved to be true. With both the Military Plaza and the Main Plaza swept by the fire of the enemy, the Mexicans knew not what to do. The citizens of the town were in a panic, and men, women, and children ran the streets as if insane. Then the cry went up in Spanish: "To the Alamo! To the Alamo!" and away went the civilians, some with their household effects on their backs. Seeing this, the Mexicans also withdrew, meaning at first to protect the inhabitants (which was unnecessary, for the Texans did not wish to molest them), and then to reorganise at the Alamo for an attack on General Burleson's camp. But at the Alamo things were in the utmost confusion, and before General Cos could call his troops together, some of them fled, making straight for the Rio Grande River.
This wound up the fighting, and it was not long before the Mexican general sent out a flag of truce, asking upon what terms the Texans would receive his surrender. The Texans were very lenient, and the matter was quickly settled. The loss to the Texans had been about thirty killed and wounded; the loss to the Mexicans was six or eight times greater.
A MIDNIGHT DISCOVERY.
In view of what was to follow at Goliad, it will be well for us to look for a moment at the terms which the Texans made with General Cos at the time of the latter's surrender.
The Texans, having things all their own way, might have been very dictatorial in their demands, yet they agreed to allow General Cos and his officers to retain their arms and all of their private property. The Mexican soldiers were to return home or remain in Texas as they preferred, the convicts which had been pressed into the service were to be conducted across the Rio Grande River under guard, and the sick and wounded were to be left to the care of the Texans. On his retreat General Cos took with him over eleven hundred men, many of whom were armed against a possible attack by the Indians.
"I think he is getting off easy," observed Dan, when it became known under what conditions the Mexican commander was leaving. "I don't believe he would be so considerate with us."
"Not by a long shot," put in Poke Stover. "He'd be for treating us wuss nor prairie-dogs."
"Well, it is always best to be considerate," said Amos Radbury. "It may be the means of bringing this contest to a happier conclusion."
"Well, we're going to keep the regular muskets and army stores, aren't we?" asked Ralph.
"Yes, all public property comes to Texas," said his father.
General Cos left San Antonio on the 14th of December, and on the following day General Burleson resigned from the Texan army, and a good many of the volunteers went home, to learn how matters were progressing for the winter. On all sides it was felt that no other movement of importance would occur for some time to come, for, in those days in Texas, there were no railroads to carry an army wherever wanted, and the distance from San Antonio to the lower Rio Grande River was a distance of several hundred miles.
"We may as well go home, too, boys," said Lieutenant Radbury, two days after his commander had resigned. "I am anxious to know how Pompey is getting along."
"What of the white mustang?" questioned Dan.
"I reckon we will have to let the white mustang take care of himself,—at least for the present," smiled Amos Radbury.
It was decided that Poke Stover, who had become very much attached to the Radburys, should accompany them, and, a few days later, they set out for the ranch on the Guadalupe by way of Gonzales.
The stop at Gonzales was made to see what had been done with Hank Stiger.
"He must not be given his liberty until he confesses what he has done with my claim papers," said Amos Radbury.
The ride to Gonzales was made without special incident, but along the whole of the road it was seen that the people were aroused to the highest pitch. Everybody wondered what Mexico would do next.
It was a bitter cold day when Gonzales was reached, and it looked as if the first norther of the season was at hand.
"You're too late," said one of the citizens, to Amos Radbury, as they rode up to the lockup.
"What do you mean?" asked Dan.
"You're after that Hank Stiger, I take it?"
"He skipped out, day before yesterday."
"Well, not exactly that, Radbury. Louis Reemer was a-watching of him, and Louis got drunk and left the jail door unlocked, and——"
"And Stiger walked out, I suppose," finished Lieutenant Radbury, bitterly.
"We allow as how he run out—an' putty quick-like, too."
"Did anybody make a hunt for him?"
"To be sure. But he had two or three hours the start of us, and so we couldn't find his trail."
"Reemer ought to be locked up himself."
"We ducked him in the horse-trough. But he wasn't so much to blame, after all. We had a jollification because of the capture of Bexar, and a good many of the men weren't jest as straight as they might be."
With a heavy heart, Amos Radbury rode down to the jail. But Reemer was away, and a new man had taken his place,—a man who knew absolutely nothing concerning the half-breed who had gotten away thus easily.
"We may as well go home," said the lieutenant.
"I would like to see Henry Parker first," said Dan, and received permission to take a run to Henry's house, while his father did some necessary trading.
Dan found Henry Parker as well as ever, and hard at work preparing for the winter, for his father could do but little. Henry was deeply interested in the particulars of the attack on San Antonio.
"I wish I had been there," he cried. "But I am going when the army reorganises; mother and father have promised it."
"There wasn't much fun in it," said Dan, soberly. "It was real hard fighting from start to finish. The fellows who went in for a mere dust-up got left."
"Oh, I know war is no play, Dan. But I mean to do my duty by Texas, and that is all there is to it," concluded Henry Parker.
Early the next morning the party of four began the journey up the river to the ranch home. It was still cloudy, and Ralph declared that he saw a number of snowflakes come down, but the others were not so sure of this. Yet the weather was dismal enough.
"We are going to have a pretty heavy winter for this section," said Amos Radbury,—and the prediction proved a true one.
As they journeyed along, the wind swept mournfully through the pines and pecans, but not once did they catch sight of any wild animal, outside of a few squirrels and hares. Some of these Poke Stover brought down, "jest to keep his hand in," as he declared.
While yet they were a long distance off, Pompey saw them coming and ran forward to meet them.
"Bless de Lawd yo' is all safe!" he cried. "I dun fink one or de udder of yo' been shot suah!" And he shook hands with his master and fairly embraced the boys.
"And how have you been, Pompey?" asked Amos Radbury.
"I'se been all right, Mars' Radbury. Had quite a job 'tendin' to fings alone, but I'se dun gwine an' done it, neberdeless, sah. But las' night I'se dun got scared, mars'," and Pompey rolled his eyes mysteriously.
"Got scared? At what?"
"A man, sah, wot was a-creepin' around de ranch, sah, peepin' in de doah an' de winders, sah."
"Hank Stiger, I'll wager a dollar!" cried Dan.
"It must have been that fellow," added Ralph.
"What became of the man, Pompey?" went on Mr. Radbury.
"I can't say as to dat, sah. As soon as I dun spot him, sah, I got de gun, an' he run away like de Old Boy was after him, sah."
Asked to describe the stranger, Pompey gave a fairly good description of him, and this fitted Hank Stiger exactly.
"He is around for no good purpose," said Amos Radbury. "Are all of the mustangs safe?"
"Yes, sah. I'se dun watch dem de whole night, sah."
"We must keep a watch to-night, too, and to-morrow we can go on a hunt and see if he is hiding anywhere near."
In honour of the home-coming, Pompey, as tired as he was, spread a generous table, and all sat around this for several hours, eating, drinking, and discussing the situation. The Radburys were glad Poke Stover had accompanied them, for now the frontiersman could help keep guard against the half-breed, should the latter mean mischief.
The next day proved so stormy and cold that the boys were glad to remain indoors. It did not snow, but the rain was a half hail and the wind was of the kind that reaches one's marrow. Only Amos Radbury and Poke Stover went out, to the cattle shed and the nearest range, and they were glad enough to come in long before evening.
"Hank Stiger won't stir around much in this weather," observed Mr. Radbury, as he shook the water from his greatcoat. "He's too much afraid of himself."
"Yes, but he'll want shelter somewhere," said Ralph.
"Perhaps he has gone after the Comanches," said Dan. "He may have been just on a journey when Pompey saw him."
So the talk ran on, but nothing came of it. That night, completely tired out, all retired early. Just before he went to bed Dan looked out of the window and saw that it was clearing off, and that the stars were trying to break through the clouds.
Down in a corner of the cattle shed rested a small keg of powder which Amos Radbury had brought home from Gonzales, for his stock of this article had run low. As Dan lay in bed he could not get this keg of powder out of his head.
"I hope it didn't get wet," he thought. "But surely father must have covered it up with great care."
For thinking of the keg, Dan could not get to sleep, and at last he arose and walked out into the living-apartment of the cabin. Here, in the middle of the floor, he came to a sudden standstill, as a noise outside reached his ears.
What the noise came from he could not determine. First there was a slight bump, and then a rolling sound, and then he heard a scratching, as of steel upon flint.
"I'm going to investigate this," he said to himself, and, catching up his gun, he ran to the door and threw it open.
What he saw surprised him beyond measure. There, in the darkness, stood Hank Stiger. The half-breed had a bit of lighted tinder in his hand, and at his feet lay the keg of powder with a long fuse attached to the open bung-hole!
MARCH OF SANTA ANNA INTO TEXAS.
"You rascal! Get back, or I'll shoot!"
Such were the words which burst from Dan's lips as soon as he recovered sufficiently from his surprise to speak.
But Hank Stiger was already retreating, carrying the lighted tinder in his hand. He could not make out who was there, but saw it was somebody with a gun, and the sight of the weapon was enough for him.
"What's up?" came from Poke Stover, who had been snoring in the corner, and the old frontiersman scrambled to his feet and joined Dan at the doorway.
"There goes Hank Stiger! He was going to blow up the cabin with our keg of gunpowder."
"Can it be possible! I'll stop him." Stover ran outside. "Stop, Hank Stiger, or you're a dead man!" he called out, loudly.
But the half-breed was now running like a deer and paid no attention to the words. Taking hasty but careful aim at Stiger's legs, Poke Stover pulled the trigger of his gun.
The report, which awakened all of the others, was followed by a scream of pain from the half-breed, who went a step or two more and then sank in a heap.
"What does this mean?" demanded Amos Radbury, as he, too, seized his gun. "Are we attacked by Indians?"
"No, we were attacked by Hank Stiger," answered Dan, and pointed to the keg of powder.
"My powder! What was he going to do with that?"
"Blow us all sky-high."
"And you saw him?"
"Yes, I caught him in the act of lighting the fuse lying there."
"But how came you to be up?"
"I was restless,—thinking about the keg and other things."
"It must have been an act of Providence," murmured Amos Radbury. "Who fired the shot?"
"Poke Stover. He has gone after Stiger," concluded Dan.
All ran out of the cabin, and found the frontiersman and the half-breed at the edge of the clearing. Hank Stiger had been struck in the knee and was evidently suffering great pain, for after screaming for awhile he fell back in a dead faint.
Stover and Pompey were for leaving him where he had fallen, but neither Amos Radbury nor his sons had the heart to do this, and in the end the half-breed was carried to the cattle shed and put in the corner from whence he had removed the powder. All were anxious to question him about his actions, but the wounded man was in no condition to talk.
"After this I'll put this powder in a safer place," said Mr. Radbury, and stored it in a corner of the dugout, under the living-room.
Hank Stiger's wound was dressed, and then Pompey was set to watch him for the remainder of the night. The negro was given a pistol and was instructed to discharge it at the first intimation of danger of any kind.
But the balance of the night passed quietly, and toward morning Dan got into a sound sleep, from which he did not awaken until long after the others were up.
After breakfast Amos Radbury started to question Hank Stiger. He found the half-breed resting easily, but in a sullen mood. At first he utterly refused to talk.
"Very well," said Mr. Radbury. "If you won't talk, neither shall you eat nor drink."
"Then take me back to the Gonzales lockup," muttered Stiger.
"We will,—when we have the time. At present we have other matters to attend to."
Left once more in charge of Pompey, the half-breed flew into a rage and muttered all sorts of imprecations against those who had outwitted him. Then, as the day wore on, he calmed down, and tried to bribe the coloured man into giving him something to eat and to drink.
Pompey was obdurate. "Can't do it, nohow," he said. "It's ag'in Mars' Radbury's ordahs, sah."
A wounded man always craves water, and by one o'clock in the afternoon the half-breed's tongue was fairly lolling out of his mouth. He stood it awhile longer, then summoned Pompey.
"Give me a drink,—I am dyin'."
"I dun tole you dat it was ag'in the massah's ordahs, sah."
"He said I could have water if I would talk," growled Stiger.
"Is yo' ready to talk?"
At once the negro called his master, who was busy, with the boys and Poke Stover, in putting down some hog-meat for the winter. Knowing how greatly Stiger must suffer, Amos Radbury went to him without delay.
"So you are willing to talk now, Stiger?"
"How can I help myself?"
"Then tell me why you tried to blow up my cabin?"
"I wanted to git squar' fer havin' me locked up."
"But you deserved to be locked up, after that attack on Dan and Henry Parker."
At this the half-breed shrugged his shoulders.
"And you must remember perfectly well what you did before that," continued Amos Radbury.
"I didn't get Bison Head to attack you,—he did that on his own account."
"But you came in afterward and robbed the place. It is useless for you to deny any longer that you took those papers relating to this grant of land."
For several minutes Stiger was silent. At last he lifted his eyes.
"Are you goin' to give me dat drink?" he asked, falling back into his Indian accent.
"Yes,—if you'll promise to tell me about the papers."
Pompey was at once sent for a pitcher of fresh water, and when it arrived Hank Stiger grabbed it with both hands and drained it dry. Nectar could not have tasted sweeter to him.
"Now what did you do with the papers?" Amos Radbury asked, after Stiger had given a long sigh of satisfaction.
"I—I lost 'em."
Instantly Amos Radbury's face flushed, and he sprang to his feet.
"Stiger, you are falsifying! I do not believe you!" he exclaimed.
"It's de truf."
"It is not. You have either hidden the papers or else given them to somebody."
At this the half-breed shrugged his shoulders again.
"You cannot deceive me longer," went on the settler. "By and by you will want food and more water. You shall have neither."
"Goin' ter starve me to death?"
"It will be your own fault. I am now treating you with more kindness than you deserve. Many a man would have strung you up to the nearest tree for your misdeeds."
At this Hank Stiger winced, for he knew only too well that Mr. Radbury spoke the truth. He felt that he could not go too far or he might get into deeper trouble.
"I'll tell yer all," he said at last. "But give me somethin' to eat first."
"Not a mouthful until you have told your story. Then you can have all the food and water you wish, and we'll try to make you as comfortable as we can."
This was the straw which broke the camel's back, so far as Hank Stiger was concerned, and with much hesitation he told his story, which in substance was as follows:
About six months before, he had fallen in with a man of mixed American and Spanish blood named Carlos Martine, who was anxious to obtain possession of a large grant of land on the Guadalupe from the Radbury claim northward.
Carlos Martine was in league with a number of Mexican officials, and had obtained ownership of a large portion of the land without much difficulty. But the best of the land, that fronting the river, belonged to Amos Radbury, and this Martine could not obtain, although he tried to do so through a certain John Morgan. Morgan had asked Mr. Radbury to sell several times, but had been refused.
Carlos Martine had had a hold on Hank Stiger, and during the Indian raid had asked the half-breed to obtain possession of the papers relating to the land, if they could be found in the Radbury cabin. What Martine was going to do with the papers Stiger did not know.
Having obtained the papers, Hank Stiger had gone off to Gonzales with them. From there he had journeyed to Goliad, and there met Carlos Martine. The latter had promised him twenty dollars, Mexican money, for the documents, but at the time of the meeting the half-breed had been so intoxicated that he could not remember whether he received the cash or not. Certainly, when he had sobered up, two days later, every cent of the money was missing.
"And have you seen Carlos Martine since?" questioned Amos Radbury.
"Then you do not know where he is?"
Once more Hank Stiger shrugged his shoulders. "I think he got afraid and went to Mexico. A good many people around Gonzales do not like him, and I think he was afraid I would expose him," he ventured.
Amos Radbury questioned the half-breed, and at last concluded that the story must be largely true. This being so, he ordered Pompey to fetch some more water and prepare such a meal as might be good for the sick man. The planter had had considerable experience at doctoring, and he attended to the wounded knee with almost as much skill as a surgeon.
As Carlos Martine was out of reach, nothing could at present be done toward getting back the missing documents.
"But I shall fortify myself as much as possible," said Amos Radbury; and on the following day he wrote down Hank Stiger's confession in full, made the half-breed sign it with his mark, and had Poke Stover witness the paper.
"Thet might not hold with the Mexican government," drawled the old frontiersman, "but I calkerlate 'twill hold with the government o' this free an' enlightened State o' Texas, hear me!" And at this the others had to laugh.
The holidays came and went, and nothing of more than ordinary interest happened at the ranch. It was at times bitter cold, the sweeping "northers," as they are called, hurling themselves over Texas with great fury. During those times everybody remained indoors hugging the fire. Hank Stiger still kept to his couch at the cattle shed, and was provided regularly with all that he needed to eat and drink. If the truth must be told, the half-breed was thankful that he had such a comfortable home for the time being, knowing it was much better than any the Indians could offer him, or better than he would get at the Gonzales lockup.
In the meantime, matters politically were in a very mixed-up state throughout Texas. The majority of the settlers were for liberty, but some, while wishing State rights, still thought it best to remain in the Mexican Confederation, while others wanted annexation to the United States without delay.
Many meetings were held, but this only increased the confusion, and though a portion of the Texans set up a provisional government, others continued to act largely on their own responsibility. There were many wrangles and, to look back, it is a great wonder that anarchy did not reign supreme. But it is a satisfaction to know that, in the end, law and order conquered. With the political troubles our tale has nothing to do.
While the Texans were speculating upon what to do next, Santa Anna, in Mexico, was not idle. At the head of a party peculiarly his own, he had cut off many of the rights of the Mexican citizens, and made himself virtually a dictator, although still called simply the president. This accomplished, he set out to subdue Texas, the only spot where his authority was resisted.
Santa Anna had sent out a small command to relieve General Cos at San Antonio. The two forces met at the Rio Grande River, and there waited for further orders. Early in February, General Santa Anna came up to Monova with about four thousand troops. These soldiers were joined by those on the Rio Grande, thus increasing the Mexican army to about seven thousand.
The order now came for a direct advance upon San Antonio, and the army set off on its wearisome journey of about six hundred miles over a plain which was hardly protected by any timber from the cutting winter winds. Slow progress was made, and, food falling short, the whole army had to be put on short rations. Some of the soldiers tried to desert, but these were promptly shot by Santa Anna's orders. Whenever a settlement was passed, the inhabitants were made to give the hungry Mexicans all the provisions they could possibly spare. Once the whole army came close to open rebellion, but Santa Anna's orders were supreme, and on the 22d day of February, 1836, the first of his troops appeared within sight of San Antonio; and the war, which had hung fire since the December before, was again begun.
WILD TURKEYS AND ANOTHER TRAIL.
One day, early in February, Amos Radbury came riding back from a trip to Gonzales with news that he had heard from Carlos Martine.
"The man has been at San Felipe," he declared, "and I have it on good authority that he intends to claim my land."
"Well, what are ye going to do?" queried Poke Stover, who was still at the ranch.
"I hardly know. But I wish I could have a talk with Martine. It might be the means of saving a good deal of trouble."
"Is Martine still at San Felipe?"
"No, Gusher told me that he had gone to San Antonio."
"Then why not take a trip to San Antonio and find him?" suggested the old frontiersman. "I reckon that is what I would do."
"I think you are right, Poke, and I'll start tomorrow," answered the planter.
He went in to talk the matter over with his sons, and the land claim was the chief topic of conversation for the balance of the evening.
"I now wish I had kept Hank Stiger here," said Mr. Radbury. The half-breed had left the ranch but three days before, apparently very grateful for the manner in which he had been treated.
"Well, one thing is certain," declared Dan, "I don't stand for giving up the claim. I'll fight first. Those Mexican officials can do as they please, but they can't budge me."
"Good fer Dan!" shouted Stover. "He's the kind the State o' Texas will want in days to come."
On the next day Mr. Radbury was too busy to think of leaving the ranch. There was much work at the cattle shed, part of which had been blown down by a norther which had proved little less than a hurricane.
In working upon the shed the planter had a mishap. The rung of a short ladder broke beneath his weight, and he came down flat on his back. No bones were broken, but he was hurt otherwise, and decided that it would be best for him to keep off his horse for a week or ten days.
He was apparently much worried to think he could not see Carlos Martine, and, noticing this, Dan went to him, and asked if he could not do the errand.
"Yes, father. I know you think I am but a boy, yet——"
"No, my son," interposed Mr. Radbury. "I used to think you were but a boy, but, since you showed your fighting qualities at Bexar, I have changed my mind. You are but a boy in years."
"Then let me go and see if I can hunt up this Carlos Martine. I can at least have a talk with him, and learn how matters stand."
Amos Radbury shook his head, but in the end he consented to let Dan go, providing Poke Stover would accompany him on the trip. The old frontiersman was willing, and early on the following morning the pair set off on their mustangs, each carrying his gun, which was now a custom with all of the settlers.
In those days there were two main trails, or wagon roads, crossing the Guadalupe River. The lower trail was the one running through San Felipe, Gonzales, and San Antonio, and this could very properly be termed the main highway of Texas. From fifty to a hundred miles north of this was the trail running through Nacogdoches, and across a hilly and uncultivated territory to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. At San Antonio the two trails came together in the form of the letter V, and in the notch thus formed stood the Franciscan Mission, commonly called the Alamo, which means the cottonwood-tree. Of this mission, which was to be so bravely defended, we will soon learn many interesting details.
The Radburys usually rode to San Antonio by way of Gonzales, but Dan and Poke Stover decided to ride through the timber lands to the northwest until the upper trail was gained. This way might be a trifle rougher, but it was no longer, and the trees along the upper trail would serve to break the force of the northers which were continually sweeping the face of the country.
The two set off in high spirits, each with his saddle-bags well stocked with provisions, and each well armed.
"Who knows but what we may meet some Indians on the way?" said Dan.
"I doubt if the Indians are active now," replied the old frontiersman. "They have had some pretty good lessons lately, and, besides, they know that all of the settlers are arming against the Mexicans, and are, consequently, ready for them."
"Do you know why I came this way?" went on Dan, after a pause.
"I didn't calkerlate you had any perticklar reason, Dan."
"I have an idea we can run across that white mustang father lost."
"Humph! That nag may be miles an' miles away from this deestrict."
"That is true. But yesterday, when I rode up to the edge of this timber, I caught sight of something that looked very much like the white mustang."
"You did! Then why didn't you say so afore?"
"I didn't want to worry father. I thought I would tell you,—when we got out,—and I've done it," added Dan.
"Where did ye spot the critter?"
"Right over to the left, near that fallen pine. But I'm not sure it was the white mustang. But it was some creature in white."
"If it wasn't the mustang, it couldn't be anything else. There are no other white critters here,—'ceptin' it might be a silver deer, and they are as scarce as snowstorms in July."
They were now in the timber, and moving along at a steady gait. On all sides the ground was as hard as a rock, and the keen air was bracing to the last degree. A stiff breeze was blowing, swaying the branches overhead, and occasionally bringing down a belated nut on their heads.
By noon they calculated that they had covered eighteen miles, which was not bad, considering the nature of the ground they had traversed. With the rising of the sun it grew warmer, and, seeking a sheltered spot, they dismounted and partook of their midday meal. They had still twenty-six miles to go, but hoped to cover that distance before nightfall.
"I wonder how the garrison at San Antonio is making out," said Dan, as they sat eating.
"Like as not a good many of the soldiers went home for Christmas," returned Stover. "To my mind, it's a great pity that Sam Houston ain't succeeded in organising the army as he intended. He seems to be the only leader who thinks that Santa Anna will come over here with a big force to knock the spots out of us. All the others are quarrelling over politics and places."
"I don't think it's quite as bad as that," laughed Dan. "But it seems to me they ought to get an army together."
"The leaders ought to act in concert, Dan. If they don't, their soldiers are licked afore they go into battle," remarked the old frontiersman, sagely. "What Texas needs most of all is one first-class leader, whom all obey." And in this speech Stover came very near to telling the exact truth.
The meal finished, they were soon in the saddle again, and less than an hour later they came upon the trail leading directly into San Antonio. There was a hill of rocks on one side and a belt of timber on the other, with here and there a water-course to be crossed.
So far, nothing had been seen of any game but a deer that was too far away to be brought down, and a few hares, which neither took the trouble to shoot. But now Poke Stover called attention to a flock of wild turkeys resting along the rocks not a hundred yards distant.
"A fine shot, Dan!" he whispered. "We can make a good trade with 'em, down in Bexar."
"That's so," answered the boy. "I'm ready to shoot when you are."
"Let us go into the timber, and come up in front of 'em," suggested the old frontiersman. "The rocks kind o' hide 'em from this p'int."
They dismounted and tied their mustangs to a tree. Then, with guns ready for use, they crept off in a semicircle, coming up to within sixty yards of the turkeys before they were discovered.
"Fire!" cried Stover, and bang! bang! went the two guns, one directly after the other. They had loaded with large shot, and five turkeys fell, two killed outright and the others badly wounded. Rushing in, Stover quickly caught the wounded ones and wrung their necks.
"That's what I call a pretty good haul," cried Dan, enthusiastically.
"It's not bad, lad, although I've seen better. I wish I could have gotten a second shot at 'em. We might have——" The old frontiersman broke off short. "What's that?"
"It's a horse's hoofs on the trail," answered Dan. "Somebody is coming this way."
He ran out of the bushes into which the wild turkeys had fallen, and gazed along the road. Just above was a curve, and around this came sweeping something which caused his heart to bound with delight.
It was the white mustang.
"By hookey!" came from Poke Stover. "It's him, eh, Dan?"
"Yes. Oh, if only I had my lasso!" For that article was attached to the saddle of the mustang in the timber. Dan was on the point of crossing the trail when Stover caught him by the arm.
"Don't scare the pony——" began the frontiersman, but he was too late. The white mustang had caught sight of Dan and he came to a halt instantly. Then he reared and plunged and swept by, and the last they saw of him, he was running toward San Antonio at the top of his speed.
"We've seen him,—and that's all the good it will do us," remarked Poke Stover, as Dan gazed blankly up the road, and then at his companion.
"Can't we catch him, Poke? Oh, we must!"
"Might as well try to catch a streak o' greased lightning, lad."
"I don't know about that. He looked tired, as if he had been running a long while."
"You are sure on that? I didn't git no fair view of the critter."
"Yes, he was covered with sweat. Perhaps somebody else has been following him."
"Well, it won't do no harm to go after him,—seein' as how he is steerin' in our direction," said the old frontiersman, and, picking up the dead turkeys, they ran for their mustangs and leaped into the saddles.
Several miles were covered, and they were on the point of giving up the chase when they encountered a settler with his prairie schooner, or big covered wagon, on his way to Guadalupe.
"Ye-as, I seen thet air white critter jest below yere," the settler drawled. "He war goin' 'bout fifteen miles an hour, I reckoned. Looked tired. I wanted to go arfter him, but Susy, she wouldn't allow it."
"No, Sam Dickson, ye sha'n't go arfter no game or sech," came from the interior of the schooner. "Ye'll settle down an' go ter farmin', an' the sooner the better 'twill be fer yer hide, mind me!" And the dark, forbidding face of a woman, some years older than the man, appeared from behind the dirty flaps of the wagon-covering. At once the settler cracked his whip and drove on.
Poke Stover chuckled to himself. "Thar's married life fer ye, Dan," he remarked. "Do ye wonder I'm a single man?"
"My mother wasn't of that kind," answered the youth, and then Stover abruptly changed the subject, and away they galloped again after the white mustang, little dreaming of the trouble into which that chase was to lead them.
THE MEXICAN ARMY AT SAN ANTONIO.
The day was almost spent when, from a slight hill, they came in sight of San Antonio, the setting sun gilding the tops of the church steeples, and making the sluggish river appear like a stream of gold.
"No white mustang yet," said Dan. "I reckon we might as well give up the chase and go right into the city."
"Not yet!" cried Poke Stover, pointing with his hand to the northwestward. "Thar ye are, Dan!"
Dan looked in the direction, and in a patch of cottonwoods made out a white object, moving slowly along. It was the mustang they were after, so tired out that he could scarcely move from one spot to the next.
"We've got him now!" ejaculated the youth, enthusiastically. "And just as I was ready to give up, too! Come on!"
Away he swept, with all the quickness of which his own wearied steed was capable, and Poke Stover followed him. The white mustang saw them coming, and set off into the timber on a feeble run.
The course of the pursued creature was around the northern approach to San Antonio and then toward the Medina River. Many times they thought to give up the chase, but then the white mustang seemed so near and so ready to drop that they kept on until the river bank was gained. Here the mustang disappeared into a pine brake; and it may be as well to add, right here, that neither the Radburys nor Poke Stover ever saw him again.
"Where is he?" asked Dan, a few minutes after the animal had disappeared. "Do you think he leaped into the water?"
"I heard a splash," answered the old frontiersman. "There it goes again." He tried to pierce the darkness with his eyes. "There is something over yonder, that—— Whoopee, Dan, look!"
There was no need for Poke Stover to call the boy's attention to what was on the other side of the Medina, for Dan was already looking, "with all eyes," as the saying is. He had made out a number of Mexican cavalrymen, moving up and down along the west bank, and now he noted two pieces of artillery, which the cannoneers were trying to run out on two rafts moored close at hand.
"The Mexican army, as sure as you are born!" cried Stover, in an excited whisper. "Lad, we have made an important discovery. They must be bound for Bexar!"
"Yes, and there are thousands of them," answered Dan. His heart was beating so rapidly that he could scarcely speak. "Poke, what had we best do?"
"Find out what their game is, first, and then ride back to Bexar as fast as our mustangs can make it. If the garrison isn't warned, there will surely be a great slaughter."
There was a stiff norther blowing, making the swollen stream rough and dangerous to cross, and the Mexicans were consulting among themselves as to how they should proceed. With bated breath, the boy and the old frontiersman watched every movement, and, at the same time, tried to figure up mentally how many Mexicans there were.
"At least a thousand," said Poke Stover, but, as we know, he was mistaken; the force of the enemy numbered nearly seven times that many, although, to be sure, they were not all in that immediate vicinity.
"We will cross the river and investigate," said one of the officers, presently, and a large flat-bottomed boat was brought around and a dozen soldiers leaped into it.
"We had better get out now," whispered Poke Stover, and turned his pony to ride away from the river bank.
"Halt! Who goes?" came the cry, in Spanish, from one of the Mexican guards.
"We are discovered," whispered Dan. "Come on!"
He turned away from the river bank and dove straight into the pine brake. Then came a shot of warning, but the Mexican fired high, not daring to take aim for fear of hitting a friend.
The shot caused a commotion, and soon Dan and Stover felt that they were being followed. They tried to make their mustangs move on a run, but the animals could not be urged farther.
"They will catch us, sure," gasped the boy, as the steps of the enemy sounded nearer and nearer. "What shall we do?"
"Move to the right, and we'll see if we can't throw them off the trail," answered Poke Stover.
To the right there was a slight hollow, filled with mesquite-trees and bushes, and beyond this was a sandy plain covered with cacti. But of the latter both were ignorant.
Down into the hollow they dove, their horses glad enough of the chance to get a drink at the pool among the bushes. Under the mesquite-trees they halted, and Stover went back to reconnoitre.
The scout was gone for fully quarter of an hour, and came back chuckling softly to himself.
"We threw 'em nicely," he said. "We are safe now, providin' we don't make too much noise."
"Then let us go on, Poke. We must carry the news to Bexar."
"It's funny there are no scouts around," was the old frontiersman's comment. "They ought to be on the watch." But none of the Texan soldiers were on guard, the greater portion of them being in attendance at a Mexican fandango in the town, never suspecting the attack so close at hand. Santa Anna heard of this fandango, and would have pushed forward to capture San Antonio at once, but could not get his army across the Medina River.
Leaving the pool, Dan and the frontiersman ascended to the plain, and presently found themselves among the cacti. This was anything but pleasant, and they had to pick their way with great care in the darkness, and even then their steeds often refused to budge, so prickly were the plants. It was almost morning when they arrived in sight of the jacals, or huts, which dotted the outskirts of the city.
The pair at once sought out the commander of the garrison, Lieutenant-Colonel William B. Travis, who was still sleeping. Travis was a dashing young soldier of twenty-eight, a lawyer by profession, and a native of North Carolina. The commander was "red-hot" for independence, and one who never gave up, as we shall soon see.
"So you wish to see me," he said to Stover, whom he had met before. "It's rather an early visit."
"I have to report that a large body of Mexicans are approaching the town," answered the old frontiersman, saluting in true military style. "Young Radbury here and myself were down along the Medina, when we spotted them trying to bring a couple of cannon over on a raft."
"Mexican soldiers?" exclaimed the lieutenant-colonel. "You are certain of this?"
"How many of them do you think?"
"At least a thousand."
The commander knit his brows in perplexity. "It is odd none of my scouts have brought me word. But a fandango——" He broke off short, as another officer came in. "What is it, Chester?"
"It is reported that some Mexican dragoons are in the vicinity, colonel."
"These people here tell me a whole army is coming. Where did your report come from?"
"The church steeple. The dragoons are in the vicinity of Prospect Hill," went on the officer, mentioning a hill to the west of San Antonio.
"I must have the particulars of this without delay," said the commander, hurriedly; and while he questioned Stover and Dan he sent for several scouts, who were hurried off to verify the reports. When the scouts came back, they reported that Santa Anna's army was coming straight for San Antonio, several thousand strong.
The whole city was at once thrown into a commotion, and it was felt that the garrison could do little or nothing toward defending the place.
"We are but a hundred and forty odd strong," said Lieutenant A. M. Dickenson, one of the attachees of the garrison. "We cannot hold the plaza, no matter how hard we try. Let us retreat to the Alamo, until we can summon reinforcements."
The matter was hastily discussed, and it was decided to retreat to the Alamo without delay. Later on, express riders were sent off for help,—but help never came for those who fought so nobly and bitterly to the very last.
The retreat from the town to the mission was necessarily a rapid one, for Santa Anna was advancing with all possible speed. Few stores could be taken along, but as the garrison swept across the plain lying between the city and the mission, they came upon a herd of cattle, numbering thirty-six heads, and drove these before them into the mission's courtyard.
"Let us go with the soldiers!" cried Dan, who was as excited as anybody. "If there is a battle ahead it will be all foolishness to attempt to look for Carlos Martine."
"Well, lad, I'm willing," replied Stover. "But I don't want to get you into trouble."
"I'll risk the trouble, Poke; come on," and on they went after the garrison. It was not long before they reached the soldiers, who were just rounding up the cattle mentioned, and in this operation the two assisted.
It was felt that the soldiers might be besieged in the Alamo for quite some time, so as soon as the cattle were rounded up some of the men visited the near-by houses, and collected all the stores at hand, including a number of bushels of wheat and some dried fruits.
In the meantime Santa Anna's army had marched into San Antonio, and taken possession. This done, the general held a consultation with his leading officers, and sent out a flag of truce toward the mission.
"Flag of truce," announced one of the guards.
"Very well, we'll see what they demand," said Lieutenant-Colonel Travis, and despatched Major Morris and Captain Marten to hold the interview.
"General Santa Anna demands the immediate surrender of the mission," said the official sent out by the Mexican president.
"We will convey your message to our commander," replied the major of the Texans, and withdrew.
Travis received the message with all the quiet dignity for which he was noted.
"I will send him his answer at once," he replied, and ordered a cannon-shot to be fired over the heads of the Mexican army.
This threw the Mexicans into a rage, and they quickly hung a blood-red flag from the tower of the San Fernando Church in San Antonio. This flag meant "no quarter," and, as it went up, several cannon-shots were aimed at the Alamo; and thus was the battle begun.
WITHIN THE WALLS OF THE MISSION.
The Alamo church, the principal building of the mission, was built in the form of a cross, of rough stone, with walls several feet thick. At the time of the battle which was to witness its downfall the centre of the structure was roofless, but the ends were well covered. The sides of the church were over twenty feet high, and the windows were exceedingly narrow, for the building had been built to resist attacks by the Indians. It faced both the river and San Antonio proper.
Attached to the left wing of the church was a large square called the convent yard, with walls of heavy stone sixteen feet high. Spread out in front of this yard, and beyond it, was the convent, two stories high, and nearly two hundred feet long. In front of the convent was a long and broad plaza, covering over two acres, and surrounded by walls at either end and by the convent in the rear, and a house and wall in the front. On the right of the plaza was a small prison and a gateway, and from the corner of the prison there was a stockade of cedar logs extending to the nearest corner of the church.
For this extensive fortress, if such we may call it, Lieutenant Travis had less than twenty cannon, and the construction of the place was such that but few of the pieces could be placed to advantage, and even then hardly any of the soldiers knew how to do any effective firing.
Next in command to Travis was Colonel James Bowie, already mentioned in these pages, and among the best of the fighters was Davy Crockett, celebrated as a hunter and trapper, who had come down to Texas, with twelve other Tennesseans, about three weeks before the arrival of Santa Anna. Crockett carried with him his favourite rifle, "Betsy," and as a fighter on this memorable occasion proved a whole host in himself.
"We'll whip 'em," said Crockett, confidently. "They can't stand up against real Americans."
"You're right, Davy," answered Bowie. "An American who isn't equal to a dozen greasers isn't fit to live." And so the talk ran on from one to another of the garrison. Once Crockett came to Dan, and eyed him curiously.
"You're rather a young soldier boy," he observed.
"Yes, sir, but I can shoot."
"Can you bring down a bird on the wing?"
"Yes, he can, and he has done it lots of times," put in Poke Stover.
"If that's so, he's all right," said Crockett.
Santa Anna did not make an immediate attack on the Alamo, for the reason that all of his troops had not yet arrived, and because he wished to give his soldiers a little rest after the long journey northward. He ordered General Castrillon to knock down some of the old houses near the river, and construct a bridge with the timbers.
"They are going to build a bridge!" was the cry that went through the Alamo.
"A bridge? Where?" asked Crockett, and, when told, he smiled, and patted his rifle. "Let 'em try it!"
The Mexicans did try, and soon a detachment of at least a hundred were at work. About forty of the garrison, led by Bowie and Crockett, opened fire upon the workers, and at least a dozen were killed.
"Down they go!" was the cry. "Give 'em another round!" And again the rifles cracked at a lively rate. With thirty killed outright, and a number badly wounded, the Mexicans left the river in a great hurry, and hid in the neighbouring houses.
On February 24th, Travis sent out a strong appeal for assistance. "I am besieged by a thousand or more of Mexicans, under Santa Anna," he wrote. "I have sustained a continual bombardment for twenty-four hours, and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion; otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword if the place is taken. I have answered the summons with a cannon-shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender, or retreat!" Could anything be more unflinchingly patriotic than that?
This appeal was followed by another, and a despatch was sent to Colonel Fannin, at Goliad, asking him to bring reinforcements without delay.
"They are drawing in closer to us," said Poke to Dan, on the morning of the 25th, as the two mounted one of the walls for a survey of the situation. Far off, a portion of the Mexican army could be distinctly seen.
"A division of the soldiers is approaching with some cannon," answered the youth. He was right, and presently Santa Anna attempted to plant a battery three hundred yards south of the gateway to the plaza of the mission.
"Shall we allow that?" asked the Texan commander, while the Mexican soldiers were coming up.
"No! No!" came back the cry. "Down with the Mexicans!" And in less than five minutes the garrison was pouring through the gateway and out on the plain beyond. The sharpshooters were in front, and so deadly were their aims that the enemy was speedily forced to retreat, dragging their cannon with them.
"Hurrah! They are running!" shouted the Texans, joyfully. This second repulse made them more determined to resist than ever.
But when the following morning came, it was seen that Santa Anna had taken advantage of the darkness and planted the battery, anyway, and so well was it protected that none of the guns from the Alamo could reach it. But the sharpshooters under Crockett watched the gunners, and one Mexican was shot dead while in the very act of discharging a shot at the plaza gate.
"It looks as if we might hold this place for an indefinite period," said Dan, on the day following. "That is, if we don't fall short of provisions."
"The meat we drove in will last us for some time, lad," answered Stover. "And they have found a lot of grain in one of the friar's houses. But about holding the place, that's a question. We are only about a hundred and fifty strong. What if Santa Anna storms the place some night, with several thousand men? We'll all be put to the bay'net afore sunrise."
"Do you really think he'll do such a barbarous thing, Poke?"
"Think it? I know it. He's one of the most bloodthirsty Mexicans a man ever met. To surrender to him would be foolish. We've got to do as Travis says, fight or die."
"Then I'll fight,—and to the bitter end," answered the boy, earnestly. The enthusiasm of those around him had entered his soul, and he had forgotten the meaning of the word fear.
As one day and another passed, Santa Anna's army increased in size, and he succeeded in planting many other batteries around the Alamo. The bombarding was continual, yet but few of the Texans suffered from this, being well protected by the heavy stone walls of the mission.
On the first of March, when the garrison was much worn by constant guard duty, there was a commotion during the night. At first it was thought that the Mexicans had begun an attack, but soon it was discovered that the newcomers were Texans. They numbered thirty-two men from Gonzales, who had stolen through the Mexican lines with scarcely any difficulty.
"Henry Parker!" cried Dan, as he recognized his friend in the crowd. "I never dreamed of seeing you here."
"I couldn't stay behind, after I read Travis's appeal for help," answered Henry Parker. "I guess a lot more of our men are coming, too." But in this Parker was mistaken; none others arrived at the ill-fated place. Colonel Fannin started from Goliad with three hundred men and a few pieces of artillery, but his ammunition wagon broke down, he had no rations but a little rice and dried beef, and at the river his cannon got stuck and could not be gotten across. So the party returned whence it had come.
Henry Parker and the others had come in on Monday night, and by Tuesday the last of Santa Anna's troops arrived at San Antonio. Following this came three days in which but little was done upon either side.
"This looks as if the Mexicans were going to give up trying to take the place," remarked Dan to Stover, as both rested in one of the side rooms of the convent on a litter of straw.
"Don't worry, lad; it may be the calm afore the storm," was the answer. "Sumthin' is bound for to happen soon, hear me!"
"If it doesn't, I'll be for going home," went on Dan. "I believe I can get through the Mexican lines just as well as Henry Parker and those others."
"It would be risky, Dan, mighty risky." Poke Stover puffed away thoughtfully at the corncob pipe he was smoking. "We missed it altogether on the white mustang and on Carlos Martine, didn't we?"
"Yes. I would like to know if Martine is still in San Antonio."
"Like as not—and hobnobbing with some of them Mexican officers, too. Well, he sha'n't have your pap's land, and that's all there is about it."
So the talk ran on, man and boy hardly knowing how to put in their time when not on guard duty. At first the mission had proved of much interest, with its quaint carvings and curious decorations, but now even this was beginning to pall.
On Saturday Santa Anna called a counsel of war, and at this it was decided that a general assault should be made upon the Alamo at daybreak on Sunday. The assaulting troops numbered twenty-five hundred against a pitiful one hundred and eighty-two Texans!—and were divided into four columns, the first of which was under the command of General Cos, the same Mexican who had surrendered to the Texans but a short time before.
Each column of the attacking party was furnished with ropes, scaling-ladders, crowbars, and axes, as well as with their ordinary military weapons. As the soldiers advanced, the cavalry were drawn up in a grand circle around the Alamo, so that no Texans might escape. In the meantime the blood-red flag of "no quarter" was still flying high from the Mexican camp, and now the band struck up the Spanish quickstep, "Deguelo," or "Cut-throat," as an inspiration to the soldiers to have no mercy on the rebels!
THE FALL OF THE ALAMO.
"The enemy are upon us!"
This cry, ringing clearly throughout the Alamo, aroused everybody to action, and hither and thither ran the soldiers to their various points of duty,—some in uniform, and others just as they had leaped up from their couches.
"Are they really coming?" demanded Henry Parker, who had been sleeping beside Dan, in one of the rooms of the convent.
"I reckon they are, Henry," was the quick response, and up leaped the youth, and ran, gun in hand, to where Poke Stover was doing guard duty.
"Are they coming, Poke?"
"Yes, Dan, and plenty of 'em, too. They are divided into several divisions."
There was no time to say more, for already one of the divisions, commanded by Colonel Duque, was attacking the northern wall. Here Lieutenant-Colonel Travis commanded in person. The commander was bareheaded, and carried a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other.
"Now, boys, give it to them hot!" he shouted. "Don't let them get over the wall. Fire to kill! Fire to save your own lives!" And then the cannon belched forth, followed by a crack-cracking of the smaller firearms. The aim of the Texans was so deadly that the column was repulsed for the moment, and Colonel Duque was seriously wounded.
By this time the divisions to attack the other sides of the mission had come up. As one column tried to raise their scaling-ladders, Davy Crockett threw his coonskin cap at them in defiance, and laid one of the officers low with a shot from his trusty "Betsy." Fifty other shots rang out, and the morning air became heavy with the smoke of rifles and cannon.
"We must beat 'em back!" cried Stover, who was close to Crockett, and as the old hunter blazed away so did the frontiersman and Dan, and the youth had the satisfaction of seeing the Mexican he had aimed at go down, rope and gun in hand, shot through the ankle.
The fighting was now incessant on all sides, but gradually the Mexicans concentrated on the northern wall. They were yelling like so many demons, and their officers urged them forward by threats and sword blows, until the first rank was fairly wedged against the stone wall of the mission. A cannon belched forth, doing fearful havoc, but those in front could not retreat because of those pushing behind them, and in a twinkle one Mexican soldier was piled above another, until the top of the wall was gained, and, as one authority states, they came "tumbling over it like sheep," falling, in some cases, directly on the bodies of the Texans below.