"Relying implicitly on what the Padre asserted, Mary, I have never investigated these subjects as I should have done, before giving my credence and support; but of the doctrine in question I can henceforth entertain but one opinion—a detestable and infamous method of filling the papal coffers; for since you have led me to think on this subject, I clearly remember that a large portion of the enormous expense incurred by the building, ornamenting, and repairing of St. Peter's, was defrayed by money obtained through the sale of indulgences. Oh, Mary, how could I have been so deluded—allowed myself to be so deceived!" She took from her pocket the rosary and crucifix which had been given to her father, and threw them impatiently into the river gurgling at her feet.
"The perfect harmony with which the entire system works is unparalleled in the civil, religious, or political annals of the world. A complete espionage is exercised in papal countries, from the Adriatic to the Californian gulf. And the greater portion of this is accomplished by means of the confessional. The Superior at Rome can become, at pleasure, as perfectly conversant with your domestic arrangements, and the thousand incidents which daily occur, as you or I, who are cognizant of them. To what is all this tending? Ah, Florry, look at the blood-stained records of the past. The voices of slaughtered thousands, borne to us across the waste of centuries, bid us remember the Duke of Alva, the Albigensian crusade, the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and the blazes of Smithfield. Ignatius Loyola! happy would it have been for millions lost, and millions yet to be, hadst thou perished at the siege of Pampeluna. Florry, contrast Italy and Germany, Spain and Scotland, and look at Portugal, and South America, and Mexico, and oh, look at this benighted town! A fairer spot by nature the face of earth cannot boast; yet mark the sloth, the penury, the degradation of its people, the misery that prevails. And why? Because they languish under the iron rule of the papal see—iron, because it admits of no modification. Entire supremacy over both body and soul, or total annihilation of their power. May the time speedily come when they shall spurn their oppressors, and trample their yoke in the dust, as their transatlantic brethren will ultimately do. Oh, Florry, does not your heart yearn toward benighted Italy? Italy, once so beautiful and noble—once the acknowledged mistress of the world, as she sat in royal magnificence enthroned on her seven hills; now a miserable waste, divided between petty sovereigns, and a by-word for guilt and degradation! The glorious image lies a ruin at our feet: for the spirit that gave beauty and strength, and shed a halo of splendor round its immortal name, has fled afar, perhaps forever; banished by the perfidious system of Papacy—that sworn foe to liberty, ecclesiastical or political.
"How incomprehensible the apathy with which the English regard the promulgation of Puseyism in their church! It is stealing silently but swiftly to the very heart of their ecclesiastical institutions, and total subversion will ultimately ensue. That Americans should contemplate without apprehension the gradual increase of papal power is not so astonishing, for this happy land has never groaned beneath its iron sway. But that the descendants of Latimer and of Ridley, of Hooper and of Cranmer, should tamely view the encroachments of this monster hydra, is strange indeed. Do not imagine, Florry, that I doubt the sincerity of all who belong to the Church of Rome. I know and believe that there are many earnest and conscientious members—of this there cannot be a doubt; yet it is equally true, that the most devoted Papists are to be found among the most ignorant, bigoted, and superstitious of men. The masses of your church are deceived with pretended miracles and wondrous legends, such as the one currently reported respecting the holy house of Loretto, which seems so migratory, and flies hundreds of miles in a night. These marvelous tales are credited by the uneducated; yet no enlightened man or woman of the present age, who has fully investigated this subject, can say with truth that they conscientiously believe the doctrines of the Romish Church to be those taught by our Saviour, or its practises in accordance with the general tenor of the Bible. This may seem a broad assertion, yet none who calmly consider the subject in all its bearings, and consult the page of history, will pronounce it a hasty one."
"Yet remember, Mary, that the sect in question is proverbial for charitable institutions. One vital principle is preserved. Surely this is a redeeming virtue. Catholics are untiring in schemes of benevolence and philanthropy."
"You will start, and perhaps condemn me, when I reply, that their boasted charity is but the mask behind which they disseminate the doctrines of the Romish Church. I may appear very uncharitable in the expression of this opinion; yet hear me, Florry; facts are incontrovertible. If you will think a moment, you cannot fail to remember Patrick, the porter at our friend Mrs. D——'s. Having received a dangerous wound in his foot, he was sent to the hospital, where several of the nurses were Sisters of Charity. He remained nearly a month, and on his return related to Mrs. D——, in my presence, some of the circumstances of his long illness. His words made a lasting impression on my mind:
"'Indeed, and I am glad enough to come home, ma'am; for never was I treated worse in my life. The first week Sister Agnes, who nursed in my room, was kind and tender as could be, and thought I, if ever angels come to earth, this good woman is one; but I can tell ye I did not think so long: she read some saints' lives to us, and asked me if I was a Catholic. I said no, I was no Catholic. Then she tried every way to make me one, and told me if I refused I would surely die and go to purgatory. Faith! the more she talked that way the more I wouldn't be a Catholic; and then she just let me alone, and not another thing would she do for me. I might call from then till now, and never a step would she come, or nurse me a bit. It is no good care of hers that has brought me back alive and well: I tell you, Sister Agnes won't do for any but Catholics.'
"Florry, is such charity akin to that taught by the Bible? Catholics boast of their asylums; and by means of fairs and suppers, large amounts are annually collected for the support of these numerous institutions. I have been told by a directress of a Protestant orphan asylum, that on one occasion a squalid woman, accompanied by two boys, presented herself and entreated that her children might be received into the asylum. The unhappy mother informed the directress that she was a Roman Catholic, and had claimed the protection of her own sect; but, said she, tearfully, 'Indeed I had no money to pay for their entrance, and they refused to take my children.'
"Such, Florry, is their boasted charity; and I might add, their lives are little in accordance with the spirit inculcated by our Saviour, who said, 'When ye do your alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth.' There are thousands who daily dispense charities of various kinds; yet they do not term themselves Sisters of Charity; neither promenade the streets in a garb so antiquated and peculiar as to excite attention, or elicit encomiums on their marvelously holy lives and charitable deeds. Do not suppose, Florry, because I speak thus, that I doubt the sincerity of all who enroll themselves as Sisters. I do believe that there are many pious and conscientious women thus engaged; yet they are but tools of the priests, and by them placed in these institutions for the purpose of making proselytes."
A pause ensued, and Florence paced slowly along the bank. Somewhat abruptly she replied:
"Yet you will admit, Mary, that we owe much to the monks, by whose efforts light and knowledge were preserved during the dark ages? But for them every vestige of literature, every record of the past, would inevitably have been lost."
"Tell me, Florry, what caused the dark ages? Was it not the gradual withdrawal of light and knowledge—the crushing, withering influence exerted on the minds of men? And tell me if this influence was not wielded by the priests of Rome—corrupted, fallen Rome? During the dark period in question, papal power was at its height; the thunders of the Vatican were echoed from the Adriatic to the Atlantic—from the Mediterranean to the North Sea. An interdict of its profligate Pope clothed cities, and kingdoms, and empires in mourning; the churches were closed, the dead unburied, and no rite, save that of baptism, performed. Ignorance and superstition reigned throughout the world; and it is said, that in the ninth century scarce a person was to be found in Rome itself who knew even the alphabet. Yet monasteries crowned every eminence, and dotted the vales of southern Europe. The power of the priesthood was supreme. Florry, I do admit that what remained of light and learning was hid in the cell of the anchorite; not disseminated, but effectually concealed. They forgot our Saviour's injunction—'Let your light shine before men.' Oh! Florry, did not the teachers of the dark ages put their light under a bushel? Dark ages will ever follow the increase of papal power. It is part of their system to keep the masses in ignorance. How truly it has been said that Rome asked but one thing, and that Luther denied her—'A fulcrum of ignorance on which to rest that lever by which she can balance the world.' They dare not allow their people light and knowledge; and what to others was indeed a dark age, is regarded by the priests of Rome as a golden season. Can you point to a single papal country which is not enveloped in the black cloud of superstition and crime? To Italy, and Spain, and Portugal, the dark ages have not passed away; neither will they, till liberty of conscience is allowed, and the Bible permitted in the hands of the laity. Under papal rule, those unfortunate nations will never rise from their degradation; for their masters and teachers 'love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.' It has often been said by those who fail properly to consider this subject, that the Roman Catholic schools and colleges which abound in the United States are far superior to similar Protestant institutions. Why do not these very superior teachers disseminate knowledge at home? Why do they not first enlighten the Spaniards ere they cross the Atlantic to instruct American pupils? The ignorance of Neapolitans is proverbial; yet Naples is the peculiarly favored city of Romanism. Tell me why these learned professors do not teach their own people? Florry, papal institutions in America are but branches of the Propaganda. They but come to proselyte. I have heard it repeatedly averred of a certain nunnery, 'that no efforts were made to affect the religious views of the pupils.' Yet I know that such is not the case. They are far too politic openly to attack the religion; yet secretly it is undermined. I will tell you how, Florry, for you look wonderingly at me. Prizes are awarded for diligence, and application; and these prizes are books, setting forth in winning language the doctrines of their church. I have seen one of these which was given to M—— K——, and I also read it most carefully. It was titled 'Alethea; or, a Defense of Catholic Doctrines.' Yet most indignantly they deny any attempts toward proselyting the pupils intrusted to their care."
"Who will deny the truth of your statements, Mary! Yet, if such are the facts, how can the world be so utterly ignorant of, or indifferent to them? Strange that they can thus regard a subject so fraught with interest to every lover of liberty—to every patriot."
"Florry, Papists are unacquainted with these things; for, begirt with darkening, crushing influence, they are effectually secluded from even a wandering ray of light on this subject. The avenue through which all information is conveyed at the present day is barred to them. Books are denied to the Catholic laity. You may ask how this is effected in this enlightened and liberal age. The prelates of Rome, who long ago resorted to ignorance as their bulwark, are ever on the alert. No sooner is a new publication announced, than it is most carefully perused by them; and if calculated to point out the fallacy of their doctrines, or depict their abuse of power, a papal bull is forthwith issued, prohibiting all Catholics from reading the heretical book. The writings of the prince of novelists, Walter Scott, which are universally read by other sects, are peremptorily refused to all Papists. And why? Because many of his darts are aimed at their profligate priesthood. Now if, as they tell their people, these are but slanderous attacks on their religion, surely the shafts would fall harmless on the armor of truth. Why then so strenuously oppose their reading such works? Florry, the trite adage, 'Truth is the hardest of all to bear,' is applicable to these prelates of papacy; who, knowing their danger, are fully resolved to guard the avenues of light and knowledge. The Pope of imperial Rome, surrounded as he is with luxury, magnificence, and hosts of scarlet-liveried cardinals, who stand in readiness to convey his mandates to the remotest corners of the earth, has been made to tremble on his throne by the pen of feeble woman. The truthful delineations of Charlotte Elizabeth startled his Holiness of the Vatican, and the assistant conclave of learned cardinals are trembling lest their laity of the Green Isle should catch a glimpse of light. A bull was quickly fulminated against her heretical productions. Alas! when, when will the Romish Church burst the iron bands which begirt her?
"The world at large—I mean the world as composed of Protestants, latitudinarians, politicians, statesmen, and fashionable dunces, are in a great measure acquainted with these facts; but knowing the rapidly increasing power of papal Rome, and the vast influence already wielded in this happy land by its priesthood, they prefer to float along with the tide, rather than vigorously resist this blasting system of ignorance, superstition, and crime which, stealthily approaching from the east and from the west, will unite and crush the liberties of our glorious Republic. As patriots, they are called on to oppose strenuously its every encroachment—yet they dare not; for should they venture to declaim against its errors, they endanger their popularity and incur the risk of defeat at an ensuing election. Florry, I was once conversing on this subject with a lady who had recently visited Europe, and inquired of her if she had not marked the evils and abuses which existed in the papal dominions through which she traveled. She whisperingly replied—'Certainly, my dear, I could not fail to mark the ignorance and degradation which prevailed, but I never speak of it, because, you know, it makes one very unpopular,' Here, Florry, you have the clew to the mystery. Americans quietly contemplate this momentous subject, and silently view the abuses which are creeping into our communities, because if they expose them, it is at the hazard of becoming unpopular,"
"Mary, can I ever, ever forget that hour in the churchyard?" Florence sadly said, as they rose and proceeded to the house. "Oh! it seems branded on my brain; yet I must cast this new grief from me, for enough of anguish was mine before. Still I feel that there is a path just ahead, and it seems lighted up. But a slight barrier intervenes, and when that is passed all will be well. Pray for me, Mary, that I may be enabled to lead the life of a Christian, and at last die the death of the righteous."
Clasping tightly the hand which rested in her own, Mary replied:
"While life remains, it shall indeed be my prayer that you may be blessed on earth, and rewarded in heaven. Oh, Florry, I thank God that the scales have fallen from your eyes, and that truth shines brightly before you." She stopped suddenly, and pressed her hand to her side, while the pale brow wrinkled with pain.
"I have been talking too much, there is a suffocating sensation here."
"It is only momentary, I hope."
Mary shook her head, and smiled sadly: "I don't know, Florry; I have felt strangely of late."
That evening as the household were busily preparing for their intended departure, Dr. Bryant abruptly entered, and informed them, with a clouded brow, that removal was impossible, as he could not procure a pair of horses for any price.
"It is perfectly unaccountable what has possessed the Mexican from whom I purchased as many as I thought necessary. We agreed as to price, and they were to be sent this afternoon; but about two hours ago, he came to me, and declared that he had changed his mind, and would not part with them. I offered double the original amount, but he said money was no inducement. I strove to borrow or hire for any given time, but every proposal was peremptorily declined, and as it is impossible to leave here, I came over to entreat you to remain with my sister, at least for a few days, till we can determine what is advisable to do."
His proposal was accepted, and the ensuing day saw them inmates of Mrs. Carlton's.
"We're the sons of sires that baffled Crowned and mitered tyranny: They defied the field and scaffold For their birth-rights—so will we!"
The issue of the engagement of the 8th October placed Goliad, with valuable munitions, in the hands of the Texans. Many and joyous acclamations rose from their camp, hope beamed on every face, and sanguine expectations were entertained of a speedy termination of the conflict. Slowly the little band proceeded toward Bexar, receiving daily accessions from headquarters, and girding themselves for a desperate struggle. General Cos, fully appreciating the importance of the post he held, made active preparation for its defense, never doubting, however, that the strong fortifications of the Alamo would prove impregnable to assailants so feeble numerically. Under the direction of the cautious Spaniard, the town already assumed a beleaguered aspect, and in addition to the watchman stationed on the observatory of the fortress, a sentinel paced to and fro on the flat roof of the gray old church, having orders to give instant alarm in case of danger by the ringing of the several bells. Silver-haired men, bending beneath the weight of years, alone passed along the deserted streets, and augured of the future in the now silent Plaza. The stores were closed, and anxiously the few Americans awaited the result; rising at dawn with the belief that ere twilight closed again their suspense would be terminated. On the morning of the 28th the booming of distant artillery was borne on the southern breeze. With throbbing hearts the inhabitants gathered about their doors, and strained their eyes toward the south. A large body of Mexicans, availing themselves of the cover of night, sallied from the Alamo, hoping to cut off a squad of ninety-two men, who, leaving the main body of the Texan army, had advanced for the purpose of reconnoitering, and were posted at the old Mission of Conception, some two miles below the town; and here the contest was waged. The watchman on the church listened intently as each report reached his ear, and kept his fingers firmly on the bell-rope. An hour passed on, and the sun rode high in heaven; gradually the thundering died away. Quicker grew the breathing, and tighter the cold fingers clasped each other. The last sound ceased: a deathlike silence reigned throughout the town, and many a cheek grew colorless as marble. There came a confused sound of shouts—the mingling of many voices—the distant tramp of cavalry; and then there fell on the aching ears the deep, thrilling tones of the church bells.
An intervening bend in the river was quickly passed, and a body of Mexican cavalry dashed at full gallop across the plain, nor slackened their pace till secure behind the somber walls of the Alamo.
At intervals of every few moments, small squads pushed in, then a running band of infantry, and lastly a solitary horseman, reeling in his saddle, dripping with gore. Madly his wounded horse sprung on, when just as the fort was gained, his luckless rider rolled senseless at the entrance. One deep groan was echoed from church to fortress. Victory, which had hovered doubtful o'er the bloody field, settled at last on the banner of the "Lone Star." Against what fearful odds is victory ofttimes won! The intrepid Texans, assaulted by forces which trebled their own, fought as only Texans can. With unerring precision they lifted their rifles, and artillerymen and officers rolled together in the dust. The brave little band conquered, and the flying Mexicans left them sole masters of the field of the "Horseshoe." On the hill which rose just beyond the town stood, in bold relief against the eastern sky, a tall square building, to which the sobriquet of "Powder-House" was applied. Here, as a means of increased vigilance, was placed a body of horse, for the purpose of watching the plain which stretched along the river. Fearing every moment to see the victorious Texans at the heels of their retreating infantry, they had orders to dash in, at the first glimpse of the advance-guard of the enemy. But night closed and none appeared, and, dreading the morning light, many lay down to sleep at the close of that eventful day. Several hours elapsed, and then the Texan forces, under General Burleson, wound across the valley, and settled along the verge of the town. The Alamo was beleaguered.
Forced, as it were, to remain a witness of the horrors of the then approaching conflict, the cousins strove to cast from them the gloomy forebodings which crept into their hearts, darkening the present and investing the future with phantoms of terror. Mrs. Carlton and Mary were far more hopeful than the remainder of the little circle, and kept up the semblance of cheerfulness, which ever flies at the approach of danger. The girls saw but little of the gentlemen, for Mr. Carlton was ever out in search of tidings from the camp, and Frank, in opposition to his sister's tearful entreaties, had enlisted immediately after General Burleson's arrival. His manner, during his brief visits, was considerate and kind; yet Mary fancied at times that he avoided her, though, marking her declining health, he had prescribed some simple remedy, and never failed to inquire if she were not improving. Still there was a certain something, indescribable, yet fully felt, which made her shrink from meeting him, and as week after week passed, her cheek grew paler, and her step more feeble.
With an anxious heart, Mrs. Carlton watched her failing strength; but to all inquiries and fears Mary replied that she did not suffer, save from her cough, and for a time dispelled her apprehensions.
One evening Mary stood leaning against the window, looking earnestly, wistfully upon the beautiful tints which ever linger in the western sky. She stretched her arms toward the dim outline, murmuring slowly:
"Oh! that my life may fade away as gently as those tints, and that I may at last rest on the bosom of my God."
Darkness closed around—the soft hues melted into the deep blue of the zenith as she stood communing with her own heart, and she started when a shawl was wrapped about her, and the window closed.
"As ministering physician, I cannot allow such neglect of injunctions. How dare you expose yourself after my express direction to keep close?"
"I have kept very closely all day, and did not know that star-gazing was interdicted."
As she spoke, a violent fit of coughing succeeded; he watched her anxiously.
"Do you suffer any acute pain?"
"Occasionally I do; but nothing troubles me so much as an unpleasant fluttering about my heart, which I often have."
"You must be very careful, or your cough will increase as winter comes on."
Mary repressed a sigh which struggled up from her heart, and inquired if there was any news.
"We cannot learn exactly what is transpiring within the Alamo, but feel assured the crisis is at hand; some excitement has prevailed in the garrison all day, and it is confidently expected in our camp that the assault will soon be made."
"Oh! may God help you in the coming strife, and adjudge victory to the side of justice and liberty."
"Apparently the chances are against us, Miss Irving; yet I regard the future without apprehension, for the Texans are fearless, and General Burleson in every respect worthy the confidence reposed in him. Allow gloomy forebodings no room in your heart, but, like myself anticipate a speedy termination of the war."
"Yet your situation is perilous in the extreme; hourly you incur danger, and each day may be your last. Oh! why will you hazard your life, and cause your sister such bitter anguish?" Mary replied, with quivering lips, while the tone faltered, despite her efforts to seem calm.
"At least, I could not die in a better cause; and, as the price of independence, I would willingly yield up my life. Yet Ellen's tears are difficult to bear; I bade her adieu a few moments since, and must not meet her again till all is decided. So good-by, Miss Irving."
He held her hand in his, pressing it warmly, then lifted the cold fingers to his lips, and quietly turned away.
"It rains—what lady loves a rainy day? She loves a rainy day who sweeps the hearth, And threads the busy needle, or applies The scissors to the torn or threadbare sleeve; And blesses God that she has friends and home."
"Mary, where is your cousin? I have not seen her since breakfast," inquired Mrs. Carlton, as the two friends sat conversing in the chamber of the latter.
"She laid aside her book just now, declaring it was so dark she could scarcely read. This gloomy day has infected her spirits; she is probably in the dining-room. I will seek her." And rising, Mary left the apartment.
For two days the rain had fallen in torrents, and now on the third morning, the heavens were still overcast, and at intervals of every few moments the heavy clouds discharged themselves in copious showers. The despondency induced by the unsettled times was enhanced by the gloomy weather, and many an earnest wish was expressed that sunshine would soon smile again upon the town.
Weary with pacing up and down the dining-room, Florence had stationed herself at the window, and stood with her cheek pressed against the panes, gazing dreamily out upon the deluged streets. She was roused from her reverie by Mary's entrance.
"Florry, I have come in quest of you. Pray, how are you amusing yourself here, all alone?"
"Communing with my own thoughts, as usual. Here, Mary, stand beside me. As you came in I was puzzling myself to discover how those Mexican women across the street are employing themselves. They seem distressed, yet every now and then chatter with most perfect unconcern. There, they are both on their knees, with something like a picture hanging on the fence before them. They dart in and out of the house in a strange, excited manner. Perhaps you can enlighten me?"
Mary looked earnestly in the direction indicated by her cousin, and at length replied:
"You will scarcely credit my explanation: yet I assure you I perfectly understand the pantomime. Florry, look more particularly at the picture suspended in the rain. What does it most resemble, think you?"
"Ah, I see now—it is an image of the Virgin! But I should suppose they considered it sacrilegious to expose it to the inclemencies of the weather."
"Look closely, Florry, there are praying to the Virgin, and imploring a cessation of the rain. I once happened at Senor Gonzale's during a thunder-storm, and, to my astonishment, the family immediately hung out all the paintings of saints they possessed. I inquired the meaning, and was told in answer, that the shower would soon pass over, as they had petitioned the images to that effect. Those women have repeated a certain number of aves, and withdrawn into the house, but ere long you will see them return, and go through the same formula."
"It is almost incredible that they should ascribe such miraculous power to these little bits of painted canvas," replied Florence, gazing curiously upon the picture which was suspended with the face toward her.
"No, not incredible, when you remember the quantity of relics annually exported from Rome, such as 'chips of the Cross,' 'bones of the Apostles,' and 'fragments of the Virgin's apparel,' which Papists conscientiously believe are endowed with magical powers sufficient to relieve various infirmities. I doubt not that those women confidently expect a favorable response to their petition; and if such intercession could avail, it was certainly never more needed. Absurd as the practise appears to us, a doubt of the efficacy of their prayers never crossed their minds. They are both devout and conscientious."
"But, Mary, such superstitious ignorance is entirely confined to the degraded and uneducated classes. No really intelligent mind could rely on yonder picture to dispel these clouds, and win a ray of sunshine. I think you are too hasty in supposing that the enlightened portion of the Catholic Church place such implicit confidence in images and relics."
"What do you term the enlightened portion of the church? Would not its prelates be considered as belonging to that class?"
"Most certainly they would, Mary: for doubtless many of the greatest minds Europe has produced, were and are still to be found among the Roman Catholic clergy. Yet you would not insinuate that these rely on the efficacy of such mummery as that we have just witnessed?" replied Florence, fixing her eyes inquiringly upon her cousin's face.
"Allow me to ask one question ere I reply. Florry, do you believe the days of miracles have passed away, or do you suppose that the laws of nature are still constantly infringed, the harmony of cause and effect destroyed, and wonderful phenomena still vouchsafed to favored Europeans?"
"Of course I do not advocate the theory that miracles occur at the present day. It is too preposterous to advance in this enlightened age. There are perhaps natural phenomena, only to be explained by scientific research; yet in the common acceptation of the term miracle, I unhesitatingly declared that I believe none have occurred since the days of Christ and the Apostles."
"Then, Florry, your position is untenable, for Romish prelates of the present day do most unquestionably defend the theory of the annual occurrence of miracles. Bishop ——, whose intellectual endowments are the constant theme of encomiums, has recently visited Italy. On his return to America, he brought with him a valuable collection of relics, which he distributed among the members of his church. Florry, I can vouch for the truth of what I now say. He declared himself extremely fortunate in having happened at Naples during the anniversary of the death of St. Janarius. Said he, 'I repaired to the place of his martyrdom, and took into my own hand the vial containing the blood of the blessed saint, now decomposed. As the hour rolled around I watched the holy dust in breathless anxiety; at the appointed moment I perceived a change in its appearance, and while I held the vial in my hand the ashes liquefied and became veritable blood; while the dark spots on a neighboring stone turned of a deep crimson.' Now the bishop related this miracle far and wide and priests ministering at the altar repeated his words to their listening flocks. Sanctioned by the example of their prelates, do you wonder that the ignorant masses of the Romish church should implicitly rely upon the intercession of saints, and place unbounded confidence in the miraculous powers imputed to relics? Again, the Manuals placed in the hands of the laity, are compiled under the special supervision of these ecclesiastical professors, who necessarily indorse all we see there advanced. In the Ursuline Manual I find this assertion: 'The Hail Mary was composed in Heaven, dictated by the Holy Ghost, and delivered to the faithful by the Angel Gabriel!' Now, Florry, does not this seem blasphemy, bordering on the absurd? What conscientious, honest, enlightened Christian would unblushingly defend such a declaration?"
"But, Mary, admitting as you do, that you believe there exist many truly conscientious members of this sect, why indulge your apprehension at the promulgation of its tenets?" replied Florence.
"I might answer you, Florry, in the words of Henry IV., who inquired of a celebrated Protestant divine, 'if a man might be saved by the Roman Catholic religion?' 'Undoubtedly,' replied the clergyman, 'if his life and heart be holy.' 'Then,' said the king, 'according to both Catholics and Protestants, I may be saved by the Catholic religion; but if I embrace your religion, I shall not be saved according to the Catholics.' Thus Henry most unquestionably adjudged Protestants the more tolerant of the two sects. Here, Florry, you have the clew to my anti-Romanism. I fear the extension of papal doctrines, because liberty of conscience was never yet allowed where sufficient power was vested in the Roman Catholic clergy to compel submission. To preserve the balance of power in ecclesiastical affairs is the only aim of Protestants. We but contend for the privilege of placing the Bible in the hands of the masses—of flashing the glorious flambeau of truth into the dark recesses of ignorance and superstition—into the abysmal depths of papal iniquity. Unscrupulously employing every method conducive to the grand end of disseminating Romish dogmas, the fagot, the wheel, and all the secret horrors of the Inquisition, were speedily brought to bear upon all who dared to assume the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of an unfettered conscience. If the bloody tragedies of the Middle Ages are no longer enacted upon the theater of a more enlightened world, it is because the power so awfully abused has been wrested from the scarlet-robed tenants of the Vatican, The same fierce, intolerable tyranny is still exercised where their jurisdiction is unquestioned. From the administration of the pontifical states of Italy to the regulation of convent discipline, we trace the workings of the same iron rule. No barriers are too mighty to be overborne, no distinctions too delicate to to be thrust rudely aside. Even the sweet sacredness of the home circle is not exempt from the crushing, withering influence. Ah! how many fair young members of the household band have been decoyed from the hearthstone and immured in gloomy cells. Ah! how many a widowed parent has mourned over the wreck of all that was beautiful in a cherished daughter, snatched by the hand of bigotry from her warm embrace, and forever incarcerated in monastic gloom. Oh! tell me, Florry, if compulsory service is acceptable to all-seeing God? If the warm young heart, beating behind many a convent grate, yearns to burst asunder the iron bands which enthrall her, and, mingling again upon the stage of life to perform the duties for which she was created, oh! where in holy writ is sanction found for the tyrannical decree which binds her there forever—a living sacrifice?"
"'Tis the light that tells the dawning Of the bright millennial day, Heralding its blessed morning, With its peace-restoring ray.
* * * * *
"Man no more shall seek dominion Through a sea of human gore; War shall spread its gloomy pinion O'er the peaceful earth no more."
It was a dark, tempestuous night in December, and the keen piercing blasts whistled around the corners and swept moaningly across the Plaza. Silence reigned over the town. No sound of life was heard—the shout of laughter, the shriek of pain, or wail of grief was stilled. The voices of many who had ofttimes hurried along the now silent and deserted streets were hushed in death. The eventful day had dawned and set, the records of its deeds borne on to God by the many that had fallen. Oh! when shall the millennium come? When shall peace and good-will reign throughout the world? When shall hatred, revenge, and malice die? When shall the fierce, bitter strife of man with fellow-man be ended? And oh! when shall desolating war forever cease, and the bloody records of the past be viewed as monster distortions of a maddened brain? These things shall be when the polity of the world is changed. When statesmen cease their political, and prelates their ecclesiastical intrigues; when monarch, and noble, and peasant, alike cast selfishness and dissimulation far from them; when the Bible is the text-book of the world, and the golden rule observed from pole to pole.
The 11th of December is marked with a white stone in the calendar of the Texans. During the fortnight which elapsed from the engagement of Conception, the Alamo had been closely invested by General Burleson, and brief though bloody struggles almost daily occurred. The besiegers numbered only eight hundred, while the fortress was garrisoned by twenty-five hundred Mexican troops. Yet well-directed valor has ever proved more than a match for numerical superiority. On the morning of the 11th a desperate assault was made, a violent struggle ensued, and ere long victory declared for the "Lone Star." With unutterable chagrin General Cos was forced to dispatch a messenger bearing the white banner of submission to the Texan commander, and night saw the Alamo again in Texan hands, and General Cos and his disheartened band prisoners of war.
Dr. Bryant had received, during the engagement, a wound in the arm, which he caused to be dressed, and, placing the injured member in a sling, strove to soothe the dying and relieve the wounded. Early he dispatched tidings of his safety to his anxious sister, and now devoted himself to the suffering soldiery. Midnight found him beside the couch of pain, and even as he bent to administer a sedative, a hand was lightly laid on his shoulder. Looking up, Frank perceived the muffled form of a female, though unable to determine who stood beside him, for the face was entirely concealed by the mantilla.
"Can I do anything for you, Senora?"
"Dr. Bryant, will you leave your people here to see a dying Mexican—one who fell fighting against you?"
"Most assuredly, if I can render relief; but, Inez, you should not have ventured here on such an errand; could no messenger be found? It was imprudent in you to come at this hour."
"No matter; I felt no fear of your people, and mine would not molest me. But I have little time to wait. Manuel is sorely wounded: we bore him from the Alamo, and he lies at my father's. Can you do nothing for him?"
"I hope it is not too late to render assistance; we will go immediately." And drawing his cloak over the wounded arm, he followed her to Don Garcia's. Neither spoke till they reached the threshold; then Frank said:
"Inez, does Manuel know you came for me?"
"Yes; he objected at first, but as the pain grew more acute, he begged us to do something for him. I told him there was none to help save you. He frowned a little, but nodded his head, and then I lost no time."
They entered the apartment of the sufferer, and Inez started at the change which had taken place during her temporary absence. Manuel feebly turned his head as the door opened, and his eyes brightened as they rested on Inez. He motioned her to sit beside him, and she complied, lifting his head and carefully leaning it upon her bosom. Dr. Bryant examined the wound, felt the pulse, and stooping over him, asked:
"Nevarro, do you suffer much?"
Manuel laid his hand on the bleeding side, and feebly inclined his head.
"Inez, I can only use one hand, will you assist me in binding this wound?"
She attempted to rise, but Nevarro clutched her hand and gasped—"Too late—too late!"
Resolved to do something, if possible, for his relief, Frank beckoned to the Don, who stood near, and with some difficulty they succeeded in passing a bandage round the mouth of the wound. The groans of the dying man caused even the cheek of the fearless Inez to blanch. She who scorned danger, and knew not fear, could not witness with out a pang the sufferings of another. She moaned in very sympathy, and stroked gently back the straight raven hair, now clotted with blood. The exertion necessarily made proved fatal; the breathing grew short and painful, the pulse slow and feeble. Appealing was the look which the wounded one bent on Inez: he strove to utter his wishes, but, alas, it was indeed too late. The blood gushed anew from his side, crimsoning bandage and couch, and dyeing Inez's dress. Dr. Bryant took one of the cold hands and pressed it kindly. Manuel opened his eyes, and looked gratefully on one who had at least endeavored to relieve him. Convulsively the fingers closed over his physician's hand; again he turned his face to Inez, and with a groan expired.
Frank took the lifeless form from her arms, and laying it gently back upon the pillow, closed the eyes forever, and covered the face.
No words, save "Holy Mary!" escaped the Don's lips, as he quitted the room of death.
Inez's lips Quivered, and the convulsive twitching of her features plainly indicated her grief at this mournful parting with the playmate of her youth—with her affianced husband. Yet the large dark eyes were undimmed: and her tone calm, as though the "King of Terrors" were not there in all his gloom.
"Inez, I sympathize with you in this affliction, and sincerely regret that the fatal wound was inflicted by one of my nation. Yet the past is irretrievable, though painful, and many are, like you, bereft of friends and relatives. Inez, in your hours of gloom and sadness can you not think of your reunion with Manuel, where death and parting are unknown!"
She had averted her head, and a look of unutterable bitterness rested on the pale, stern face.
"I thank you for coming; though you could not give Manuel relief. It was good and kind in you to try, and none but Frank Bryant would have done it: again I thank you. I shall not forget this night, and you, Senor, shall be requited. I trust you are not suffering with your arm; why is it bound up?" And she laid her hand softly on it.
"I received a slight though rather painful wound during the engagement, and placed it in a sling for convenience and relief; but, Inez, it is well-nigh day, see how the stars are waning. You need rest, so good night, or rather morning; I will see you again to-morrow." And Frank sought his sister, knowing full well her anxiety, and wishing speedily to allay it.
"Where is the place of meeting? At what hour rises the moon? I repair to what? to hold a council in the dark With common ruffians leagued to ruin states!"
The fierce storm of war had swept over the town, and quiet seemed succeeding. No sound of strife disturbed the stillness which settled around. Many had fallen, and the grass began to bud on the grave of Manuel; no tear moistened the sod beneath which he rested. Inez often stood beside the newly-raised mound with folded arms, and a desolate, weary look on her beautiful features, which too plainly indicated a longing to sleep near him. Yet she never wept; for her love for Nevarro had been that of a cousin, perhaps not so fervent. Still, now that his steps no longer echoed at their door, and his deep voice sounded not again on her ear, a lonely feeling stole into her heart, and often she crept from her dreary home and sought the churchyard.
Christmas had come and gone; a joyless season to many saddened hearts accustomed to hail it with delight. The cousins had returned to their home, and were busily arranging their yard, and making some alterations for the New Year. Florence had begun of late to grow cheerful again, and Mary watched, with silent joy, the delicate tinge come back to her marble cheek. She seemed very calm, and almost hopeful; and the spirit of peace descended and rested on their hearth. Only one cause of sorrow remained—Mary's declining health: yet she faded so gently, and almost painlessly, that their fears were ofttimes lulled.
Dr. Bryant was still engaged in nursing the wounded, and only came occasionally, regretting often that it was not in his power to see them more frequently. A change had come over him of late; the buoyancy of his spirits seemed broken, and his gay tone of raillery was hushed; the bright, happy look of former days was gone, and a tinge of sadness was sometimes perceptible on his handsome face. Mrs. Carlton had spoken on her last visit of Frank's departure. She said she hoped he would return soon, as his business required attention at home. He would not leave, however, as long as his services were in requisition.
One Sabbath morning Inez attended mass—something unusual for her of late, for since Nevarro's death she had secluded herself as much as possible. She knelt in her accustomed place, with covered head, seemingly rapt in devotion, but the eyes rested with an abstracted expression on the wall beside her: her thoughts were evidently wandering from her rosary, and now and then the black brows met as her forehead wrinkled; still the fingers slid with mechanical precision up and down the string of beads. The services were brief and the few who had assembled quietly departed. As Inez rose to go, the Padre, who was hastening down the aisle, was stopped by a Mexican in the garb of a trader. They stood quite near, and the hoarse whisper of the latter fell on her listening ear.
"Meet me at the far end of the Alameda, when the moon rises to-night."
"I will be there before you: is there any good news?"
A finger was laid on the lip, and a significant nod and wink were not lost upon the maiden, who, bowing low before the Padre, walked slowly away. The day wore on, much as Sabbaths ordinarily do, yet to her it seemed as though darkness would never fall again, and many times she looked out on the shadows cast by the neighboring houses athwart the street. Twilight closed at last, and having placed her father's evening meal before him, she cautiously gazed down the narrow alley, and perceiving no one stirring, sallied forth. The stars gave a faint light, and she hurried on toward the bridge: swift was her step, yet noiseless, and she glided on like a being from another world, so stealthy were her movements. The bridge was gained at length and almost passed, when she descried in the surrounding gloom a dark figure approaching from the opposite direction. Closer she drew the mantle about her form, and slackened her rapid pace. They met, and the stranger paused and bent eagerly forward:
"Who goes there?"
The voice was well known. Inez's heart gave a quick bound, and she answered:
"Inez de Garcia!"
"Why, where are you roaming to this dark night, Inez? Are you not afraid to venture out alone and so far from home?"
"No, Doctor, I have no fears; I was never a coward you know; and besides, who would harm me, an unoffending woman? Surely your people will not molest me?"
"No, certainly not. But, Inez, I hope you are not bending your steps toward the Alamo?"
"I am a friend to the Americans, though they have taken the last of my family there was to give. Yet I will be true to Mary and to you. Fear nothing for me, and let me pass on my errand."
He stood aside. "Bueno noche, Senorita."
"Bueno noche;" and she glided on. "I fear I have lost time;" and hastily glancing toward the east, she saw a faint light stealing up from the horizon. Redoubling her speed she pushed on, but, despite her efforts, the moon rose with uncommon brilliance as she approached the place of rendezvous, and soon every object was bathed in a flood of light.
The Alameda, which she had just entered, was a long double row of majestic cotton-woods, which, stretching out in the direction of the Powder-House, was the favorite promenade with the inhabitants of the town. Previous to the breaking out of the war numbers were to be seen here every afternoon, some walking, others playing games, another group dancing, and the graver portion of the company resting on the rude seats supplied for the purpose. But their favorite resort was blood-stained, for the Alameda was the battle-field in the late desperate conflict, and the smooth surface was torn and trampled by the stamp of prancing cavalry. Dark spots were still visible, that were yet damp with gore. Just to the west rose the grim walls of the fort, distinctly seen through the opening between the trees. Beyond where the avenue ceased, stood a low, irregular building of stone, thatched with tule.
Inez stood at the threshold and listened intently. The place bore a desolate air, and neither sound nor light betokened the presence of a human being. It had long been uninhabited, and some declared it was haunted, so that the Padre had some time before sprinkled holy water profusely about, in order to drive away the evil one.
Cautiously Inez tried the fastening; it swerved not beneath her firm, strong grasp. She shook it slightly: a hollow echo answered back. Entrance was impossible; and even as she lingered irresolute, the sound of approaching steps was borne to her listening ears by the night wind. What should she do? Without a moment's hesitation she glided swiftly to a cluster of chapperal, and crouched low among its thorny branches. Inez had scarcely secreted herself, when the figure of a man, directing his steps to the house she had just left, warned her to keep quiet. He stood still a moment, then knocked. Drearily the knock resounded through the empty building. Again was the signal for admission given, but no response greeted the anxious tympanums.
"Why in the name of twenty devils don't you open the door?" and he shook it violently: still no answer.
"I swear I'll batter it down, and stretch you on it to boot, if you don't let me in. Why do you keep me waiting? I am too late already."
"Nay, nay; restrain your impatience," said a voice behind him.
"By the saints, you are come in good time, Padre. I had well-nigh made a soldier's entrance."
"No need of violence, Senor. Why could not you wait in Christian patience?"
"Look here, my good friend. I came not all the way from Mexico to listen to a lecture; and you will do well to save your canting for a better time and a worse man. So, Mazzolin, just open the door of this cursed den."
Roused by the bold language of the stranger, the Padre, though anxious to learn his errand, was still true to his policy, and could in no measure compromise the dignity of his person.
"There is no obligation resting on me to do so against my will, and no man shall bully or threaten me, a priest of our holy church." He had partially opened the door, but closed it again.
Enraged beyond degree, the soldier grasped what little collar was afforded by the habit he wore.
"You infernal, canting hypocrite! I swear by Cortes I'll kick you to a jelly—I'll bastinade you till you won't know the Virgin from the Devil, if you don't instantly let me in, and keep your lying tongue in your Jesuit head. Think you to gull me with your holy talk? I know you all: you are a blessed, holy brotherhood, truly. Have I not seen your letters to Mexico, you canting scoundrel?" He shook the Padre violently as he delivered this benediction.
Now Father Mazzolin, like many of his sex, was fond of supporting his dignity, and reverence for his sacred person was especially inculcated by his teachings. Yet when firmly met his threats melted away, and, to all appearances, his choler too, for he knew full well when to succumb and when to oppose belligerent demonstrations. The expression of rage that darkened the face of the soldier, left no doubt that he would execute his threat if further opposed. And Father Mazzolin, fully satisfied that the organ of reverence was altogether omitted in his cranium, thought it best to comply.
"Ha! you can understand Irish logic as well as the next brave one." And he entered, followed by the Padre, who ground his teeth with mortification.
An hour later they stood again on the threshold in earnest converse, not perceiving the dark form which fled, on the reopening of the door, to the old hiding-place. They turned to go in different directions; the stranger stopped, and calling to the Padre, desired him to keep well the secret, and in no way divulge a breath of their conference.
"It could not be in safer hands," was answered back, and they parted.
A low, bitter laugh escaped Inez's lips as, waiting till it was safe to venture forth, she rose from the chapperal and hastened homeward.
"Padre, cunning though you are, we are well mated; there are few like unto you and me."
"I simply tell thee peril is at hand, And would preserve thee!"
Two days later the cousins sat in their front room, Florence intently reading, Mary watching beside the couch of pain, bathing her aunt's brow, and chafing the hands. Aunt Lizzy was suffering from violent nervous headache: all day she had tossed restlessly about, and now, soothed by the gentle touches on her brow, had fallen asleep. Her fingers had tightly clasped Mary's small, thin hands, but gradually relaxing their hold, sunk beside her. Softly smoothing back the disordered hair, the young nurse failed to perceive the entrance of Dr. Bryant, and only looked up when a beautiful bouquet of flowers was laid upon her lap. The feverish glow deepened on her cheek as she warmly thanked him.
"I am glad you like them, Miss Irving."
"How could I do otherwise?"
"My bunch is equally beautiful," cried Florence, holding it up for inspection. "Pray, Doctor, how came you so thoroughly acquainted with our different tastes? You have selected admirably."
"I am gratified at succeeding so happily in my arrangement of them. But I hope your aunt is not seriously indisposed?"
"No, merely a bad nervous attack, to which she is subject."
"Miss Mary, as you are free from apprehension on her account, can you take a short ride this evening? I have a gentle horse at the gate, and if you will trust yourself with me, I think a good canter will benefit you exceedingly: will you go?"
Mary sought Florence's eye; it brightened with pleasure.
"Certainly, Mary; why do you hesitate? I am very glad Dr. Bryant suggested it; I will take good care of aunt, and the ride will doubtless benefit you."
"You are very kind, Doctor; I will only detain you while I change my dress." And she withdrew.
"Don't you think she looks much better to-day?" asked Florence, anxiously, as her cousin left the room.
"She has certainly more color, but I am afraid it is only a feverish glow. Let me entreat you, Miss Hamilton, to watch over her with the greatest care: the slightest exposure might cause a return of that terrible cough, and in her feeble state I fear for the consequences."
"She has grown very, very thin, within the last month; but then, when warm weather comes again, I doubt not she will grow rosy and strong once more." They both sighed heavily, as though against conviction each had striven to cheer the other.
Mary re-entered the room equipped for her ride, and now, for the first time, Florence thought her cousin beautiful. Beneath her straw hat floated back from her fair face a luxuriant mass of brown curls; a bright blush mantled the delicate cheek, and the gentle blue eyes seemed unusually large and brilliant. A smile dimpled round her lip as she met the fond glance bent upon her. Florence tenderly clasped her hand a moment, then kissed her warmly, and bade Dr. Bryant take all care of her. He promised to do so, and soon they had passed beyond her sight. They rode slowly, lest Mary should be too much fatigued; and often the eyes of her companion rested on the frail but lovely being by his side.
"Which way shall we ride?"
"If you have no preference, suppose we go to San Pedro?"
"You could not have selected more in accordance with my own wishes."
A long silence ensued, broken only by the clatter of their horses' hoofs along the gravel path.
"The prospect of leaving forever these beautiful environs, which I have so often admired, fills me with inexpressible regret. My heart clings to San Antonio, though my residence here has been very brief;" said Dr. Bryant sadly.
"Do you go to return no more?" asked Mary, with averted head.
"Yes, most probably I shall never see this place again; for I wish to visit Europe so soon as my business affairs are arranged at home, and on my return, shall devote myself to my profession." He fixed his eyes earnestly on her face as he spoke.
Slowly the head drooped, till the hat concealed her features.
"We shall miss you very much when you are gone. Florry and I feel deeply grateful for your continued kindness, and never—no, never shall we forget your care of my uncle."
"Take care—take care; you are dropping your reins."
He gathered them up and replaced them in her hand.
"Thank you; I had quite forgotten them."
"Do you not think it would be best for you and Florence to return to your friends in Louisiana? This is an unpleasant home for you."
"It was my uncle's wish that we should remain here, and I know Florry would not consent to leave, unless some danger threatened. We have learned to love San Antonio more dearly than any other place, except our old home;" replied Mary, earnestly.
"By the bye, I had almost forgotten to mention that I have had a letter from an old friend, who inquired very particularly after you—Dudley Stewart; you knew him, I think, in New Orleans. His letter is dated six months ago; but I am happy to receive it at all during these unsettled times."
"We heard of his marriage," said Mary, in a low tone, as the image of Florence rose before her.
"His marriage! Oh, no! you must be mistaken. He would most certainly have mentioned it, for we are old and intimate friends."
"It was reported that he had married his cousin."
"Ah! is that all? I am not much surprised that you should have heard that, for before I left home it was quite current. His widowed mother was very anxious to make the match; but Stewart assured me he would never comply with her wishes, as he had fully resolved never to wed a woman he did not tenderly love; and though quite pretty, Ellen is not sufficiently intellectual to attract such a man."
"Are you quite sure of this, Dr. Bryant?" said Mary, in a quick, eager tone.
"Certainly; I had it from his own lips."
"Oh! I"—She stopped short, and her cheek crimsoned, as she met the piercing glance of his dark eye bent upon her face. Her small hands trembled so that the reins quivered, and she closed her eyes for a moment, while the glow fled from her cheeks, leaving them pale as marble.
He caught her hand, and steadied her in her saddle.
"Forgive my inattention, Miss Irving, you are not strong enough to extend your ride. Your face is very pale, and you look fatigued."
"Yes, let us go home—home." Her voice was low and faltering, and she with difficulty restrained the tears which sprung to her eyes.
They turned their horses' heads, and neither attempted to remove the restraint which both experienced. They entered the town, and then seeing her hand glide quickly to her side, he gently said:
"I am afraid we are riding too fast for you."
Her lips writhed for a moment with acute pain; but with a faint smile, which touched him with its sadness, she replied:
"I am better now—the pain has almost left me, I am very sorry to trouble you so much, Dr. Bryant,"
"Trouble!" he murmured, as if communing with his own heart. "I see you do not know me, nor ever will; for none have truly read my soul or sympathized." A look of bitterness passed over his face, and a sterner expression rested there than Mary had ever marked before. She knew not what to reply, for she could not comprehend the change, and even as she pondered, he pointed to the western sky, and, much in his usual tone, asked:
"Don't you think the sunsets here exceed any you ever beheld elsewhere?"
"In brilliancy they certainly do. Yet I love still better the soft tints which often linger till the stars come out. I think they blend and harmonize more beautifully with the deep blue of the zenith than any I have seen before, and I have watched sunsets from my childhood."
"You are right; I have noticed in more northern latitudes a very perceptible difference in the appearance of the firmament. The moon, for instance, on cold, clear nights, presents a silvery, glittering disk, but the soft mellow light of a southern clime is wanting."
While he spoke, the figure of a woman emerged from a house near by, and, softly approaching Mary's horse, laid her finger on her lips, and, pressing a piece of paper into her hand, returned as silently as she came. Dr. Bryant turned his head toward Mary as he finished speaking, and, catching a glimpse of the retreating form, looked inquiringly at her.
"I believe it was Inez, though the face was entirely concealed. She did not speak, but gave me this paper," and Mary unrolled the note:
"Santa Anna has crossed the Rio Grande with eight thousand men. I warn you of your danger. You can get horses now, for the Padre cannot control your people. There are brave men in the Alamo, tell them of their danger. Again I say, fly quickly from San Antonio.
With a groan, Mary handed him the paper. In silence he perused and returned it to her.
"Tell me, was it Inez who warned you before?"
"Yes, she told me we incurred unknown dangers by remaining here." He mused for several moments.
"Ah! I can understand it all now. Several nights ago, returning from the Alamo, I met her on the bridge alone; she seemed excited, I thought, and impatient at meeting me, for I questioned her rambling so late."
"Inez is a warm friend, and what she advises I feel almost bound to do, for she is not timid, and only real danger rouses her apprehension."
"Eight thousand men! and not two hundred to man the Alamo. Inez is right; this is not a proper place for you. We will go, as we once decided, to Washington; and when you are in safety, I will return and lend my efforts to the feeble garrison."
They reached the gate, and he gently lifted the frail form from the saddle; and, drawing her arm through his, led her to the house. As they entered, he bent his head and said, in, a low tone:
"Tell me candidly, are you able to undergo the fatigue incident to this journey? I fear you are not."
"Yes, I shall perhaps grow stronger; at any rate, if you do not change your mind, let no fears for me influence you."
When leaving, he said it was probable that all would be in readiness for their departure within a couple of days, as he wished to see them secure, and then return.
"Mrs. Carlton will accompany us when she learns this terrible news?" said Mary, inquiringly.
"Oh yes; I cannot consent for her to remain, and besides Mr. Carlton has been anxious for some time regarding his family."
Florence, having read the note, fully approved their promptly removing, and all necessary preparations were made for immediate departure.
Mary longed inexpressibly to impart to her cousin what she had learned respecting Mr. Stewart, but shrank instinctively from reviving hopes which might never be realized—hopes which Florence had long since crushed and cast out of her heart as dead. With an earnest prayer that her cousin might yet be blessed and happy, Mary determined not to broach the subject at least for a time. Dr, Bryant without delay apprised the garrison of the rumor which had reached him, and a courier was immediately despatched to headquarters for reinforcements sufficient to defend this important fortress—this key of the state—from the powerful force now advancing to assault it. Horses were supplied with alacrity, for he had made many and warm friends, and two large tents, together with a baggage-wagon, were readily granted to one who so nobly contributed to the relief of the sick, wounded, and dying.
At length every arrangement was completed, and the next morning appointed for their departure. Aunt Lizzy had objected at first, but speedily became reconciled when Dr. Bryant painted, in a graphic manner, the horrors which were about to ensue.
As the shades of evening came gently on, the girls set out for Mrs. Carlton's, as from her dwelling they commenced their journey. Aunt Lizzy remained to give some final direction, and then came a sorrowful parting with their servants, one of whom took Mary in her arms and bade God bless her, while the tears rolled over her wrinkled face. Mary could not repress her own, and she sobbed convulsively. Dr. Bryant, who had come over for them, laid his hand on the shoulder of the true-hearted negress, and said:
"Why, Aunt Fanny, you must not excite Miss Irving; she is not strong, you know, and has a long ride before her to-morrow."
"Oh yes, Doctor, it will do well enough for you to tell me not to cry, but I can't help it, for I love her as if she was my own child, and if I thought to see her again I should not grieve so much; but I saw her mother before her, and I know how she grew pale and thin, and then took to the sofa, and never rose up till she was carried to her grave; and can't I see that blessed child going just like her? Oh I it's no use talking to me; she ain't long for this world, and it's hard—yes, it's hard for her to die away from old Fanny!" and she covered her face with her apron, and sobbed aloud.
Mary wiped her own tears quickly away, and taking the hand of her old friend, led her back to the kitchen. For several moments her companions waited anxiously for her; and soon she advanced slowly to meet them. Frank drew her arm through his, and sadly they walked away. Passing the gate, Mary paused and looked out on the river, where she had so often sat at this hour; and sad though sweet associations, infinite in number, crowded upon her mind.
How calm and beautiful all nature seemed, as though arrayed in its loveliest garb to chain her affection, that, in after years, the memory of that western home might steal gently up amidst surrounding gloom, to charm away the anguish of some bitter hour, and soothe the saddened spirit. Her heart was inexpressibly touched, and she averted her head to conceal the expression of keen sorrow which rested on her face.
"This view of the San Antonio has often struck me as particularly fine," said Dr. Bryant, turning to Florence, whose pale cheek alone attested regret at leaving her home.
"Yes, I know none superior; and our favorite ramble was along this bank, and down the river side."
"Its windings are multitudinous, yet how graceful every curve: and then, the deep blue of its waters adds not a little to the beauty of the whole. But we have not leisure to admire it now, for your cousin must not be chilled, and the wind blows freshly from the north."
He stepped on as he spoke, but feeling the small hands clasped over his arm, looked earnestly down into the pale face at his side. Mary was bending a last, long look on house and tree and river; as they walked on, the different objects passed beyond her view, and then a faint moan escaped her lips. She met the anxious gaze of her friend, and replied to its silent questioning:
"Forgive what doubtless seems a great weakness. You and Florry can not sympathize with me now. You will both return ere long, but my eyes have rested for the last time on each loved object. I have dreaded this parting from the home that has grown so dear to me—but the pang is over."
Her deep blue eyes rested on his face, and touchingly sad was the expression, as she swept back the clustering hair from her brow. The lips quivered, as of late they often did when she was excited. Florence did not hear her words, for she had crossed the street; but Frank's heart throbbed violently as he listened to her low, sad tone. Laying his hand on hers, that were tightly clasped, he pressed them gently, and said, in a slightly faltering voice:
"For Florence's sake—for mine—for your own, do not give way to such gloomy forebodings! Your depressed spirits will act injuriously on your health. Let me beg you to place no confidence in Aunt Fanny's words at parting; she was herself scarce conscious of their import."
"I have no gloomy forebodings, no apprehension of the future, and generally no depressed spirits; but I know full well that my life is gradually wasting away, slowly, gently, and almost without pain, I am sinking to an early tomb. Yet I would not have it otherwise if I could. Death has long lost all terrors for me; I have no fear—all is peace and quiet. I am paining you. Forgive me, Dr. Bryant; but knowing that you and Florry were anxious about me, I thought it best to tell you that I am fully aware of my danger, if so I can term what I would not avert."
A shudder crept over the strong man as he looked down at the calm, colorless face of her who spoke so quietly of death, and of quitting forever the scenes she loved so truly.
"I cannot—will not believe you are so ill. You will grow stronger when we leave this place, and a year hence, when quite well again, you will beg pardon for the pain you have given me."
A faint smile played round the thin lips, and in silence they proceeded to Mrs. Carlton's.
"Who's here besides foul weather?"
Far away stretched the prairie, bounded, ocean-like, only by the horizon; the monotony occasionally relieved by clumps of aged live oaks, which tossed their branches to and fro in summer breezes and in wintry blasts, and lent a mournful cadence to the howlings of the tempest. Now and then a herd of deer, lifting proudly their antlered heads, seemed to scorn danger from the hand of man, as they roamed so freely over the wide, desolate waste which possessed no visible limits. And groups of cattle, starting at the slightest sound, tossed their horns in defiance, and browsed along the mosquit, in many places so luxuriant as well-nigh to conceal their forms. The day had been unusually warm for January, and the sun beamed down with a sickening intensity which made the blood tingle in the veins. Toward noon the sky assumed a dull, leaden cast, and light flakes of cloud, like harbingers of evil, scudded ominously overhead. The sun passed the zenith, and a low sighing breeze swept moaningly across the wide waste, even as the wail of lost spirits floats out on the midnight air, and then is hushed forever.
The cattle that stood leisurely cropping about, and now and then moving a few paces, lifted their heads, snuffed the air, and, with a simultaneous lowing, started at full speed to the timbered tracts, where they were wont to resort for shelter from the winds of winter. On, on they rushed, till in the distance one might fancy them a quantity of beetles, or other insects, dotting the surface before them. Soon not a vestige remained of the flying herd, and happy it was for them they made good their retreat, and gained a place of refuge ere the "norther" burst in all its keenness on the unprotected plain. Wildly the piercing blasts whistled through the trees, and rushed furiously on, unimpeded by the forests, which in more eastern lands present a formidable barrier to the progress. The rain began to fall heavily, when a small cavalcade sought the protection of a clump of oaks, by placing the leafy boughs between themselves and the beating, driving torrents. The party consisted of several ladies and gentlemen, two children, and as many servants; the latter in a wagon, the remainder on horseback. With all possible speed the gentlemen dismounted, and, tightly buttoning their great-coats about them, proceeded to stretch two tents, by means of poles and pins, carried in the wagon.
Night closed in, and finding a sheltered spot beneath the trees, a large fire was kindled, which threw its ruddy light into the surrounding tents, and illumined the entire grove. The horses were picketed out, almost within reach from the tents, and the wagon containing their stores drawn so near as, in some degree, to shelter them. The servants prepared the evening meal—simple, it is true, yet enjoyed far more than a sumptuous repast of Indian delicacies, and untold ragouts, eaten without the sauce of hunger produced by their long ride. More than a week had elapsed since leaving San Antonio, and Mary had borne better than they dared to hope the fatigue of the journey.
To-night, however, she lay exhausted on her pallet, the thin cheek bright with fever: gently she declined all that was proffered, and her hollow cough chased the smile from the lips of her friends. Dr. Bryant knelt beside her, and taking one hot hand in his own, asked, in a low anxious voice, if she suffered.
Turning away her face, she said—"Oh no, not much. There is, however, such a painful throbbing about my heart I can scarcely breathe. And I not feverish?" she continued.
"Yes;" and he placed his fingers on the pulse, beating violently. "I am afraid you have taken severe cold—the day has been so inclement." And, with a somewhat unsteady hand, he administered a potion.
"Don't feel uneasy about me, Doctor, I shall be better when I sleep." And she turned away, and wearily closed her eyes.
When the camp-fire burned low, and all slumbered save Mary, who could not calm her feverish excitement, and lay wide awake, she fancied she heard steps around the tent. All was silent; then again came the sound; and raising herself, she thought she perceived some one standing near the entrance. The figure disappeared, and then followed a rumbling, stamping, kicking, as though the horses were verily bewitched. "The Indians!" thought Mary; and quickly rising, she threw a black mantle round her, and creeping to the door of the tent, peeped cautiously out. The horses still seemed restless, stamping and snorting, and she thought she could softly reach the adjoining tent and rouse the gentlemen, knowing that their arms were in readiness. She had just stepped out of her own tent, and stood out of doors, when she caught a glimpse of a dark, muffled figure walking toward her. The rain had ceased, but it was very dark, and only by the aid of the firelight, now grown dim, she perceived it. A cold shudder crept over her, as, raising her eyes to the blackened sky but an instant, she sprung forward toward the place where she fancied the gentlemen were sleeping. A hand was laid on her arm, and a deep voice sounded in her ear:
"Be not alarmed, Miss Mary, I am here!"
She trembled so that she could scarcely stand. He supported her a moment, ere she replied in a whisper—
"What causes the disturbance to-night?"
"I feel assured there are Indians about, though you need fear nothing, for they are not in sufficient numbers to attack us. There are four men in our party—nearly a dozen muskets, besides my pistols, and plenty of ammunition. Were you one of the timid sort, I should not venture to tell you my apprehensions: but I know that you are not. I have not slept, or even lain down; and a while ago, I heard the sound of hoofs approaching. Taking my pistols, I went round to the horses, and had not waited many moments before I saw two figures, evidently reconnoitering and planning the abduction of our horses, who seemed much alarmed. I suppose the intruders must have seen me, for they suddenly wheeled off and galloped away."
"Perhaps there is a party not far distant, for whose assistance they have gone."
"Possibly, though I think not; but you must not stand on this wet ground." He led her to the tent, and seating himself near the door, continued:
"I shall not sleep to-night, and rest assured you will be most carefully guarded. You were imprudent to venture out on such a night."
"What! when I thought there was danger, and none, save myself, aware of it?"
"Did you think I could rest, knowing, as I do, how you are suffering?"
"I never imagined you were up, or watching, for I heard no sound near me."
"Well, no matter; sleep, if you can, and dream of peace, and quiet, and perfect happiness." He sighed heavily as he spoke, and rising, renewed the fire.
Mary lay watching him as he paced to and fro in front of the burning logs—his arms folded across his chest, and his cap drawn over the brow: gradually a sense of utter weariness stole over her, and she slept.
At dawn a bustle commenced in the camp, and preparation made—first for breakfast, then for moving.
When Mary came out, her pale face and wearied look attracted Mrs. Carlton's attention.
"My dear child, I am afraid you are scarcely able to travel to-day; did you not sleep well?"
"Not so soundly as I could have wished," she said, passing her hand over her brow, as if to remove some painful thought.
Dr. Bryant acquainted them with the adventures of the night suggesting, that in future some of the party should watch, as security for their horses; and all agreed that it was advisable.
"How readily one might suppose this a gipsy encampment. Miss Hamilton and myself are quite dark enough to favor the illusion, and Ellen and Mr. Carlton would pass as of gipsy descent; but what would they think of Miss Mary? She is decidedly anti-gipsy in her appearance."
"I can tell you, Uncle Frank," cried Elliot, clapping his hands; "they would take Miss Mary for an angel that came to our tent, like the one that came down to see Abraham."
"Unfortunately, angels never appear in the form of a lady, Elliot; so you must tax your ingenuity to dispose of me in a different manner," said Mary, smiling gently on the noble boy beside her.
"Indeed, I would sooner think you ought to be an angel than any gentleman I know, or lady either; don't you think so too, Uncle Frank?"
"Certainly I do; but, Elliot, you should not have made me say so in Miss Florence's presence. You forget that she is also a young lady."
"No, I don't, uncle, and I ask her pardon if I was rude; but I heard you say Miss Mary was an angel, and though I like Miss Florence very much indeed, I can't help thinking so too."
Dr. Bryant's cheek flushed, and he glanced quickly at Mary. Mr. and Mrs. Carlton and Florence laughed good-naturedly; and laying his hand on the boy's head, Frank said:
"My very promising nephew, you will never be accused of want of candor if you grow up in your present spirit."
Mary drew the child to her, and whispered in his ear:
"Your uncle meant that I should soon be in Heaven, Elliot; and I hope it will not be very long before I am an angel. Don't you see how thin and pale I am?"
Elliot's eyes filled, as he looked earnestly at the gentle girl, so wasted of late, and throwing his arms about her neck, he hid his face on her shoulder, and murmured:
"Oh! you must not go from us—we can't spare you even to God! Why does he want to take you? He has plenty of angels already around him! Mother and uncle and I had almost as soon die ourselves as see you go away forever."
None heard what passed between them; but Mrs. Carlton saw a look of pain on Mary's pure white brow, and gently drawing her son away, changed the conversation by asking if it would not be better for Mary to ride awhile in the wagon.
"I am afraid she would find the jolting rather too much for her. However, it will answer as a change, and by driving myself, I can avoid many inequalities. So, Miss Irving, make up your mind to relinquish your babicca at least for to-day."
"You are very kind, Dr. Bryant, but I greatly prefer your riding as usual. Indeed you need not look so incredulous. I won't allow you to make such a sacrifice."
"I was not aware that I was making any sacrifice," he coldly answered, and turned away.
Mary's lip quivered with internal pain, but she offered no further opposition.
All was in readiness for moving on. Dr. Bryant stood arranging Florence's bridle, and bantering her on her inattention to the reins. She laughed in her turn.
"Indeed, Doctor, don't you think me a capital horse-woman? you will certainly admit it, after being vanquished in a race?"
"Really, Miss Florence, I rather think the credit due to your fine horse than to your skill as a rider.
"Ah, incorrigible as usual, I see, Doctor!" and she rode off to join Mr. Carlton.
Mr. Carlton had placed Mary in the wagon, and carefully arranged her shawls that she might rest easily. Frank quietly seated himself, and drove on.
"I shall not exert myself in the least to entertain you, so you need not expect it; for having very politely told me you did not desire my company, I shall not disturb you with my chatter, I promise you, and take this opportunity to inform you that my tympanums are at your service the remainder of the day."
He glanced over his shoulder at the frail form nearly buried beneath the weight of shawls and cloaks wrapt about her. She smiled, and laid her head on her arm: as she did so, he, looking at her, failed to perceive a large stone in the track, and the wheels passing directly over it caused the wagon to jolt most unmercifully.
Florence was just in the rear, and, unable to control her mirth, laughed outright as Frank and Mary bounced up and down; and, riding up to them, merrily asked "if Mary duly appreciated her good fortune in having so careful and scientific a driver?"
Not a little amused, yet scarce able to laugh, the latter replied that "she did indeed congratulate herself on the change of drivers, as she would not have survived the day had it been otherwise."
Frank joined heartily in their merriment.
"Miss Hamilton," said he, "if you only knew what caused me to overlook that unfortunate stone, you would be more lenient in your criticisms."
"I am very sure you will adduce every possible reason in your own favor, sir, and therefore feel no sympathy for your carelessness," she retorted.
"Really you make me out as incorrigible a self-excuser as the heroine of Miss Edgeworth's juvenile tales; though even she chanced upon a good excuse occasionally. Come, try me, and see what I can urge in my own defense."
"Well, then, I ask you, a la Godfrey, what you were thinking of when you, who had an ailing lady in your cart, drove directly over the largest rock you have seen in a week?"
"In the first place, I did not see it. You need not look quite so incredulous; I assure you I did not."
"That is very evident, but no excuse at all. Pray, where were your eyes?"
"Where nature intended them to be, I suppose."
"Nonsense! why didn't you use them?"
"Because I have not the faculty of looking two ways at once, like Brahma; and my optics were irresistibly drawn in an opposite direction."