"A few more steps, Ned," cried Crockett, "an' we're in! Ah, there go our friends!"
The Texan cannon over their heads now fired into the pursuing Mexican masses, and the sharpshooters on the walls also poured in a deadly hail. The Mexicans recoiled once more and then Crockett's party made good the gate.
"All here!" cried Crockett, as those inside held up torches. He ran over the list rapidly himself and counted them all, but his face fell when he saw his young friend the Bee-Hunter stagger. Crockett caught him in his arms and bore him into the hospital. He and Ned watched by his side until he died, which was very soon. Before he became unconscious he murmured some lines from an old Scotch poem:
"But hame came the saddle, all bluidy to see. And hame came the steed, but never hame came he."
They buried him that night beside the other two, and Ned was more solemn than ever when he sought his usual place in the hospital by the wall. It had been a day of victory for the Texans, but the omens, nevertheless, seemed to him to be bad.
The next day he saw the Mexicans spreading further and further about the Alamo, and they were in such strong force that the Texans could not now afford to go out and attack any of these bands. A light cold rain fell, and as he was not on duty he went back to the hospital, where he sat in silence.
He was deeply depressed and the thunder of the Mexican cannon beat upon his ears like the voice of doom. He felt a strange annoyance at the reports of the guns. His nerves jumped, and he became angry with himself at what he considered a childish weakness.
Now, and for the first time, he felt despair. He borrowed a pencil and a sheet of paper torn from an old memorandum book and made his will. His possessions were singularly few, and the most valuable at hand was his fine long-barreled rifle, which he left to his faithful friend, Obed White. He bequeathed his pistol and knife to the Panther, and his clothes to Will Allen. He was compelled to smile at himself when he had finished his page of writing. Was it likely that his friends would ever find this paper, or, if finding it, was it likely that any one of them could ever obtain his inheritance? But it was a relief to his feelings and, folding the paper, he put it in the inside pocket of his hunting shirt.
The bombardment was renewed in the afternoon, but Ned stayed in his place in the hospital. After a while Davy Crockett and several others joined him there. Crockett as usual was jocular, and told more stories of his trips to the large eastern cities. He had just finished an anecdote of Philadelphia, when he turned suddenly to Ned.
"Boy," he said, "you and I have fought together more than once now, an' I like you. You are brave an' you've a head full of sense. When you grow older you'll be worth a lot to Texas. They'll need you in the council. No, don't protest. This is the time when we can say what is in us. The Mexican circle around the Alamo is almost complete. Isn't that so, boys?"
"Then I'll say what we all know. Three or four days from now the chances will be a hundred to one against any of us ever gettin' out of here. An' you're the youngest of the defence, Ned, so I want you to slip out to-night while there's yet time. Mebbe you can get up a big lot of men to come to our help."
Ned looked straight at Crockett, and the veteran's eyes wavered.
"It's a little scheme you have," said Ned, "to get me out of the way. You think because I'm the youngest I ought to go off alone at night and save my own life. Well, I'm not going. I intend to stay here and fight it out with the rest of you."
"I meant for the best, boy, I meant for the best," said Crockett. "I'm an old fellow an' I've had a terrible lot of fun in my time. About as much, I guess, as one man is entitled to, but you've got all your life before you."
"Couldn't think of it," said Ned lightly; "besides, I've got a password in case I'm taken by Santa Anna."
"What's that?" asked Crockett curiously.
"It's the single word 'Roylston.' Mr. Roylston told me if I were taken by Santa Anna to mention his name to him."
"That's queer, an' then maybe it ain't," said Crockett musingly. "I've heard a lot of John Roylston. He's about the biggest trader in the southwest. I guess he must have some sort of a financial hold on Santa Anna, who is always wantin' money. Ned, if the time should ever come, don't you forget to use that password."
The next night was dark and chilly with gusts of rain. In the afternoon the Mexican cannonade waned, and at night it ceased entirely. The Alamo itself, except for a few small lights within the buildings, was kept entirely dark in order that skulking sharpshooters without might not find a target.
Ned was on watch near one of the lower walls about the plaza. He wrapped his useful serape closely about his body and the lower part of his face in order to protect himself from the cold and wet, and the broad brim of his sombrero was drawn down to meet it. The other Texans on guard were protected in similar fashion, and in the flitting glimpses that Ned caught of them they looked to him like men in disguise.
The time went on very slowly. In the look backward every hour in the Alamo seemed to him as ten. He walked back and forth a long time, occasionally meeting other sentinels, and exchanging a few words with them. Once he glanced at their cattle, which were packed closely under a rough shed, where they lay, groaning with content. Then he went back to the wall and noticed the dim figure of one of the sentinels going toward the convent yard and the church.
Ned took only a single glance at the man, but he rather envied him. The man was going off duty early, and he would soon be asleep in a warm place under a roof. He did not think of him again until a full hour later, when he, too, going off duty, saw a figure hidden in serape and sombrero passing along the inner edge of the plaza. The walk and figure reminded him of the man whom he had seen an hour before, and he wondered why any one who could have been asleep under shelter should have returned to the cold and rain.
He decided to follow, but the figure flitted away before him down the plaza and toward the lowest part of the wall. This was doubly curious. Moreover, it was ground for great suspicion. Ned followed swiftly. He saw the figure mounting the wall, as if to take position there as a sentinel, and then the truth came to him in a flash. It was Urrea playing the congenial role of spy.
Ned rushed forward, shouting. Urrea turned, snatched a pistol and fired. The bullet whistled past Ned's head. The next moment Urrea dropped over the wall and fled away in the darkness. The other sentinels were not able to obtain a shot at him.
THE DESPERATE DEFENCE
Ned's report created some alarm among the defenders of the Alamo, but it passed quickly.
"I don't see just how it can help 'em," said Crockett. "He's found out that we're few in number. They already knew that. He's learned that the Alamo is made up of a church an' other buildings with walls 'roun' them. They already knew that, too, an' so here we all are, Texans an' Mexicans, just where we stood before."
Nevertheless, the bombardment rose to a fiercer pitch of intensity the next day. The Mexicans seemed to have an unlimited supply of ammunition, and they rained balls and shells on the Alamo. Many of the shells did not burst, and the damage done was small. The Texans did not reply from the shelter of their walls for a long time. At last the Mexicans came closer, emboldened perhaps by the thought that resistance was crushed, and then the Texan sharpshooters opened fire with their long-barreled rifles.
The Texans had two or three rifles apiece, and they poured in a fast and deadly fire. So many of the Mexicans fell that the remainder retreated with speed, leaving the fallen behind them. But when the smoke lifted others came forward under a white flag, and the Texans allowed them to take away their dead.
The cannonade now became spasmodic. All the Mexican cannon would fire continuously for a half hour or so, and then would ensue a silence of perhaps an hour.
In the afternoon Bowie was taken very ill, owing to his great exertions, and a bed was made for him in the hospital. Ned sat there with him a while. The gentle mood that had distinguished the Georgian throughout the siege was even more marked now.
"Ned," he said, "you ought to have gone out the other night when we wanted you to go. Fannin may come to our help or he may not, but even if he should come I don't think his force is sufficient. It would merely increase the number of Texans in the trap."
"I've quite made up my mind that I won't go," said Ned.
"I'm sorry," said Bowie. "As for me, it's different. I'm a man of violence, Ned. I don't deny it. There's human blood on my hands, and some of it is that of my own countrymen. I've done things that I'd like to call back, and so I'm glad to be here, one of a forlorn hope, fighting for Texas. It's a sort of atonement, and if I fall I think it will be remembered in my favor."
Ned was singularly impressed. Crockett had talked in much the same way. Could these men, heroes of a thousand dangers, have really given up? Not to give up in the sense of surrender, but to expect death fighting? But for himself he could not believe such a thing possible. Youth was too strong in him.
He was on the watch again for part of the next night, and he and Crockett were together. They heard sounds made by the besiegers on every side of them. Mexicans were calling to Mexicans. Bridle bits rattled, and metal clanked against metal.
"I suppose the circle is complete," said Ned.
"Looks like it," said Crockett, "but we've got our cattle to eat an' water to drink an' only a direct attack in force can take us. They can bang away with their cannon till next Christmas an' they won't shake our grip on the Alamo."
The night was fairly dark, and an hour later Ned heard a whistle. Crockett heard it, too, and stiffened instantly into attention.
"Did that sound to you like a Mexican whistling?" he asked.
"No, I'd say it came from American lips, and I'd take it also for a signal."
"An' so it is. It's just such a whistle as hunters use when they want to talk to one another without words. I've whistled to my pardners that way in the woods hundreds of times. I think, Ned, that some Texans are at hand waitin' a chance to slip in."
Crockett emitted a whistle, low but clear and penetrating, almost like the song of a night bird, and in a half minute came the rejoinder. He replied to it briefly, and then they waited. Others had gathered at the low plaza wall with them. Hidden to the eyes, they peered over the parapet.
They heard soft footsteps in the darkness, and then dim forms emerged. Despite the darkness they knew them to be Texans, and Crockett spoke low:
"Here we are, boys, waitin' for you! This way an' in a half minute you're in the Alamo!"
The men ran forward, scaled the wall and were quickly inside. They were only thirty-two. Ned had thought that the Panther, Obed, and Will Allen might be among them, but they were not there. The new men were shaking hands with the others and were explaining that they had come from Gonzales with Captain Smith at their head. They were all well armed, carried much ammunition, and were sure that other parties would arrive from different points.
The thirty-two were full of rejoicings over their successful entry, but they were worn, nevertheless, and they were taken into one of the buildings, where food and water were set before them. Ned stood by, an eager auditor, as they told of their adventures.
"We had a hard time to get in here to you," said Captain Smith, "and from the looks of things I reckon we'll have as hard a time to get out. There must be a million Mexicans around the Alamo. We tried to get up a bigger force, but we couldn't gather any more without waiting, and we thought if you needed us at all you needed us in a hurry."
"Reckon you're right about the need of bein' in a hurry," said Crockett. "When you want help you want it right then an' there."
"So you do," said Smith, as he took a fresh piece or steak, "and we had it in mind all the time. The wind was blowing our way, and in the afternoon we heard the roaring of cannon a long distance off. Then as we came closer we heard Mexicans buzzing all around the main swarm, scouts and skirmishers everywhere.
"We hid in an arroyo and waited until dark. Then we rode closer and found that there would never be any chance to get into the Alamo on horseback. We took the saddles and bridles off our horses, and turned them loose on the prairie. Then we undertook to get in here, but it was touch and go. I tell you it was touch and go. We wheeled and twisted and curved and doubled, until our heads got dizzy. Wherever we went we found Mexicans, thousands of 'em."
"We've noticed a few ourselves," said Crockett.
"It was pretty late when we struck an opening, and then not being sure we whistled. When we heard you whistle back we made straight for the wall, and here we are."
"We're mighty glad to see you," said Crockett, "but we ain't welcomin' you to no picnic, I reckon you understand that, don't you, Jim Smith?"
"We understand it, every one of us," replied Smith gravely. "We heard before we started, and now we've seen. We know that Santa Anna himself is out there, and that the Mexicans have got a big army. That's the reason we came, Davy Crockett, because the odds are so heavy against you."
"You're a true man," said Crockett, "and so is every one of these with you."
The new force was small—merely a few more for the trap—but they brought with them encouragement. Ned shared in the general mental uplift. These new faces were very welcome, indeed. They gave fresh vigor to the little garrison, and they brought news of that outside world from which he seemed to have been shut off so long. They told of numerous parties sure to come to their relief, but he soon noticed that they did not particularize. He felt with certainty that the Alamo now had all the defenders that it would ever have.
Repeated examinations from the walls of the church confirmed Ned in his belief. The Mexican circle was complete, and their sheltered batteries were so near that they dropped balls and shells whenever they pleased inside the Alamo. Duels between the cannon and the Texan sharpshooters were frequent. The gunners as they worked their guns were forced to show themselves at times, and every exposure was instantly the signal for a Texan bullet which rarely missed. But the Mexicans kept on. It seemed that they intended to wear out the defenders by the sheer persistency of their cannon fire.
Ned became so hardened to the bombardment that he paid little attention to it. Even when a ball fell inside the Alamo the chances were several hundred to one that it would not hit him. He had amused himself with a mathematical calculation of the amount of space he occupied compared with the amount of space in the Alamo. Thus he arrived at the result, which indicated comparatively little risk for himself.
The shrewdest calculations are often wrong. As he passed through the convent yard he met Crockett, and the two walked on together. But before they had gone half a dozen steps a bomb hissed through the air, fell and rolled to their feet. It was still hissing and smoking, but Ned, driven by some unknown impulse, seized it and with a mighty effort hurled it over the wall, where it burst. Then he stood licking his burned fingers and looking rather confusedly at Crockett. He felt a certain shyness over what he had done.
The veteran frontiersman had already formed a great affection for the boy. He knew that Ned's impulse had come from a brave heart and a quick mind, and that he had probably saved both their lives. He took a great resolution that this boy, the youngest of all the defenders, should be saved.
"That was done well, Ned," he said quietly. "I'm glad, boy, that I've known you. I'd be proud if you were a son of mine. We can talk plainly here with death all around us. You've got a lot in that head of yours. You ought to make a great man, a great man for Texas. Won't you do what I say and slip out of the Alamo while there's still a chance?"
Ned was much moved, but he kept his resolution as he had kept it before. He shook his head.
"You are all very good to me here," he said. "Mr. Bowie, too, has asked me to go, but if I should do so and the rest of you were to fall I'd be ashamed of myself all the rest of my life. I'm a Texan now, and I'm going to see it through with the rest of you."
"All right," said Crockett lightly. "I've heard that you can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink, an' if a boy don't want to go you can't make him go. So we'll just go into this little improvised armory of ours, an' you an' I will put in our time moldin' bullets."
They entered one of the adobe buildings. A fire had been built on the hearth, and a half dozen Texans were already busy there. But they quickly made room for Crockett and Ned. Crockett did not tell Ned that their supplies of powder and lead were running low, and that they must reduce their fire from the walls in order that they might have sufficient to meet an attack in force.
But it was a cheerful little party that occupied itself with molding bullets. Ned put a bar of lead into a ladle, and held it over the fire until the bar became molten. Then he poured it into the mold until it was full, closed it, and when he opened it again a shining bullet dropped out. He worked hour after hour. His face became flushed with the heat, but with pride he watched his heap of bullets grow.
Crockett at last said they had done enough for one day, and Ned was glad when they went outside and breathed the fresh air again. There was no firing at that time, and they climbed once more upon the church wall. Ned looked out upon the scene, every detail of which was so familiar to him now. But conspicuous, and seeming to dominate all, was the blood-red flag of no quarter floating from the tower of the church of San Fernando. Wind and rain had not dimmed its bright color. The menace in its most vivid hue was always there.
Travis, who was further along the wall with a pair of strong field glasses, came back and joined Ned and Crockett.
"If you would like to see Santa Anna you can," he said to Ned. "He is on the church of San Fernando now with his generals looking at us. Take these glasses and your gaze may meet his."
Ned took the glasses, and there was Santa Anna standing directly under the folds of the banner with his own glasses to his eyes, studying the Alamo and its defenders. About him stood a half dozen generals. Ned's heart swelled with anger. The charm and genius of Santa Anna made him all the more repellent now. Ned knew that he would break any promise if it suited him, and that cunning and treachery were his most potent tools.
Santa Anna, at that very moment, was discussing with Sesma, Cos, Gaona and others the question of an immediate assault with his whole army upon the Alamo. They had heard rumors of an advance by Fannin with help for the Texans, but, while some of the younger spirits wished prompt attack, Santa Anna decided on delay.
The dictator doubted whether Fannin would come up, and if he did he would merely put so many more rats in the trap. Santa Anna felt secure in his vast preponderance of numbers. He would take the Texans in his own good time, that is, whenever he felt like it. He did not care to hurry, because he was enjoying himself greatly in San Antonio. Capable of tremendous energy at times, he gave himself up at other times to Babylonian revels.
Ned handed the glasses to Crockett, who also took a long look.
"I've heard a lot of Santa Anna," he said, "an' maybe I'll yet meet him eye to eye."
"It's possible," said Travis, "but, Davy, we've got to wait on the Mexicans. It's always for them to make the move, and then we'll meet it if we can. I wish we could hear from Bonham. I'm afraid he's been taken."
"Not likely," said Crockett. "One man, all alone, an' as quick of eye an' foot as Bonham, would be pretty sure to make his way safely."
"I certainly hope so," said Travis. "At any rate, I intend to send out another letter soon. If the Texans are made to realize our situation they will surely come, no matter how far away they may be."
"I hope they will," said Crockett. But Ned noticed that he did not seem to speak with any great amount of confidence. Balancing everything as well as he could, he did not see how much help could be expected. The Texan towns were tiny. The whole fringe of Texan settlements was small. The Texans were but fifty or sixty thousands against the seven or eight millions of Mexico, and now that they knew a great Mexican army was in Texas the scattered borderers would be hard put to it to defend themselves. He did not believe that in any event they could gather a force great enough to cut its way through the coil of Santa Anna's multitude.
But Travis' faith in Bonham, at least, was justified. The next night, about halfway between midnight and morning, in the darkest hour, a man scaled the wall and dropped inside the plaza. It proved to be Bonham himself, pale, worn, covered with mud and dust, but bringing glad tidings. Ned was present when he came into the church and was met by Travis. Bowie, Crockett and Smith. Only a single torch lighted up the grim little group.
"Fannin has left Goliad with 300 men and four cannon to join us," Bonham said. "He started five days ago, and he should be here soon. With his rifles and big guns he'll be able to cut his way through the Mexicans and enter the Alamo."
"I think so, too," said Travis, with enthusiasm.
But Ned steadily watched Bowie and Crockett. They were the men of experience, and in matters such as these they had minds of uncommon penetration. He noticed that neither of them said anything, and that they showed no elation.
Everybody in the Alamo knew the next day that Bonham had come from Fannin, and the whole place was filled with new hope. As Ned reckoned, it was about one hundred and fifty miles from San Antonio de Bexar to Goliad; but, according to Bonham, Fannin had already been five days on the way, and they should hear soon the welcome thunder of his guns. He eagerly scanned the southeast, in which direction lay Goliad, but the only human beings he saw were Mexicans. No sound came to his ears but the note of a Mexican trumpet or the crack of a vaquero's whip.
He was not the only one who looked and listened. They watched that day and the next through all the bombardment and the more dangerous rifle fire. But they never saw on the horizon the welcome flash from any of Fannin's guns. No sound that was made by a friend reached their ears. The only flashes of fire they saw outside were those that came from the mouths of Mexican cannon, and the only sounds they heard beyond the Alamo were made by the foe. The sun, huge, red and vivid, sank in the prairie and, as the shadows thickened over the Alamo, Ned was sure in his heart that Fannin would never come.
* * * * *
A few days before the defenders of the Alamo had begun to scan the southeast for help a body of 300 men were marching toward San Antonio de Bexar. They were clad in buckskin and they were on horseback. Their faces were tanned and bore all the signs of hardship. Near the middle of the column four cannon drawn by oxen rumbled along, and behind them came a heavy wagon loaded with ammunition.
It was raining, and the rain was the raw cold rain of early spring in the southwest. The men, protecting themselves as well as they could with cloaks and serapes, rarely spoke. The wheels of the cannon cut great ruts in the prairie, and the feet of the horses sank deep in the mud.
Two men and a boy rode near the head of the column. One of these would have attracted attention anywhere by his gigantic size. He was dressed completely in buckskin, save for the raccoon skin cap that crowned his thick black hair. The rider on his right hand was long and thin with the calm countenance of a philosopher, and the one on his left was an eager and impatient boy.
"I wish this rain would stop," said the Panther, his ensanguined eye expressing impatience and anger. "I don't mind gettin' cold an' I don't mind gettin' wet, but there is nothin' stickier or harder to plough through than the Texas mud. An' every minute counts. Them boys in that Alamo can't fight off thousands of Mexicans forever. Look at them steers! Did you ever see anything go as slow as they do?"
"I'd like to see Ned again," said Will Allen. "I'd be willing to take my chance with him there."
"That boy of ours is surely with Crockett and Bowie and Travis and the others, helping to fight off Santa Anna and his horde," said Obed White. "Bonham couldn't have made any mistake about him. If we had seen Bonham himself we could have gone with him to the Alamo."
"But he gave Ned's name to Colonel Fannin," said Will, "and so it's sure to be he."
"Our comrade is certainly there," said Obed White, "and we've got to help rescue him as well as help rescue the others. It's hard not to hurry on by ourselves, but we can be of most help by trying to push on this force, although it seems as if everything had conspired against us."
"It shorely looks as if things was tryin' to keep us back," exclaimed the Panther angrily. "We've had such a hard time gettin' these men together, an' look at this rain an' this mud! We ought to be at Bexar right now, a-roarin', an' a-t'arin', an' a-rippin', an' a-chawin' among them Mexicans!"
"Patience! Patience!" said Obed White soothingly. "Sometimes the more haste the oftener you trip."
"Patience on our part ain't much good to men sixty or eighty miles away, who need us yelling' an' shootin' for them this very minute."
"I'm bound to own that what you say is so," said Obed White.
They relapsed into silence. The pace of the column grew slower. The men were compelled to adapt themselves to the cannon and ammunition wagon, which were now almost mired. The face of the Panther grew black as thunder with impatience and anger, but he forced himself into silence.
They stopped a little while at noon and scanty rations were doled out. They had started in such haste that they had only a little rice and dried beef, and there was no time to hunt game.
They started again in a half hour, creeping along through the mud, and the Panther was not the only man who uttered hot words of impatience under his breath. They were nearing the San Antonio River now, and Fannin began to show anxiety about the fort. But the Panther was watching the ammunition wagon, which was sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. It seemed to him that it was groaning and creaking too much even for the deep mud through which it was passing.
The driver of the ammunition wagon cracked his long whip over the oxen and they tugged at the yoke. The wheels were now down to the hub, and the wagon ceased to move. The driver cracked his whip again and again, and the oxen threw their full weight into the effort. The wheels slowly rose from their sticky bed, but then something cracked with a report like a pistol shot. The Panther groaned aloud, because he knew what had happened.
The axle of the wagon had broken, and it was useless. They distributed the ammunition, including the cannon balls, which they put in sacks, as well as they could, among the horsemen, and went on. They did not complain, but every one knew that it was a heavy blow. In two more hours they came to the banks of the muddy San Antonio, and stared in dismay at the swollen current. It was evident at once to everybody that the passage would be most difficult for the cannon, which, like the ammunition wagon, were drawn by oxen.
The river was running deep, with muddy banks, and a muddy bottom, and, taking the lightest of the guns, they tried first to get it across. Many of the men waded neck deep into the water and strove at the wheels. But the stream went completely over the cannon, which also sank deeper and deeper in the oozy bottom. It then became an effort to save the gun. The Panther put all his strength at the wheel, and, a dozen others helping, they at last got it back to the bank from which they had started.
Fannin, not a man of great decision, looked deeply discouraged, but the Panther and others urged him on to new attempts. The Panther, himself, as he talked, bore the aspect of a huge river god. Yellow water streamed from his hair, beard, and clothing, and formed a little pool about him. But he noticed it not at all, urging the men on with all the fiery energy which a dauntless mind had stored in a frame so great and capable.
"If it can be done the Panther will get the guns across," said Will to Obed.
"That's so," said Obed, "but who'd have thought of this? When we started out we expected to have our big fight with an army and not with a river."
They took the cannon into the water a second time, but the result was the same. They could not get it across, and with infinite exertion they dragged it back to the bank. Then they looked at one another in despair. They could ford the river, but it seemed madness to go on without the cannon. While they debated there, a messenger came with news that the investment of the Alamo by Santa Anna was now complete. He gave what rumor said, and rumor told that the Mexican army numbered ten or twelve thousand men with fifty or sixty guns. Santa Anna's force was so great that already he was sending off large bodies to the eastward to attack Texan detachments wherever they could be found.
Fannin held an anxious council with his officers. It was an open talk on the open prairie, and anybody who chose could listen. Will Allen and Obed White said nothing, but the Panther was vehement.
"We've got to get there!" he exclaimed. "We can't leave our people to die in the Alamo! We've got to cut our way through, an', if the worst comes to the worst, die with them!"
"That would benefit nobody," said Fannin. "We've made every human effort to get our cannon across the river, and we have failed. It would not profit Texas for us to ride on with our rifles merely to be slaughtered. There will be other battles and other sieges, and we shall be needed."
"Does that mean we're not goin' on?" asked the Panther.
"We can't go on."
Fannin waved his hand at the yellow and swollen river.
"We must return to Goliad," he said, "I have decided. Besides, there is nothing else for us to do. About face, men, and take up the march."
The men turned slowly and reluctantly, and the cannon began to plough the mud on the road to Goliad, from which they had come.
The Panther had remounted, and he drew to one side with Will and Obed, who were also on their horses. His face was glowing with anger. Never had he looked more tremendous as he sat on his horse, with the water still flowing from him.
"Colonel Fannin," he called out, "you can go back to Goliad, but as for me an' my pardners, Obed White an' Will Allen, we're goin' to Bexar, an' the Alamo."
"I have no control over you," said Fannin, "but it would be much better for you three to keep with us."
"No," said the Panther firmly. "We hear the Alamo callin'. Into the river, boys, but keep your weapons an' ammunition dry."
Their horses, urged into the water, swam to the other bank, and, without looking back the three rode for San Antonio de Bexar.
* * * * *
While the Panther, Obed White and Will Allen were riding over the prairie, Ned Fulton sat once more with his friend. Davy Crockett, in one of the adobe buildings. Night had come, and they heard outside the fitful crackle of rifle fire, but they paid no attention to it. Travis, at a table with a small tallow candle at his elbow, was writing his last message.
Ned was watching the commander as he wrote. But he saw no expression of despair or even discouragement on Travis' fine face. The letter, which a messenger succeeded in carrying through the lines that night, breathed a noble and lofty courage. He was telling again how few were his men, and how the balls and bombs had rained almost continuously for days upon the Alamo. Even as his pen was poised they heard the heavy thud of a cannon, but the pen descended steadily and he wrote:
"I shall continue to hold it until I get relief from my countrymen, or perish in its defence."
He wrote on a little longer and once more came the heavy thud of a great gun. Then the pen wrote:
"Again I feel confident that the determined spirit and desperate courage heretofore exhibited by my men will not fail them in the last struggle, and, although they may be sacrificed to the vengeance of a Gothic enemy, the victory will cost that enemy so dear that it will be worse than a defeat."
"Worse than a defeat!" Travis never knew how significant were the words that he penned then. A minute or two later the sharp crack of a half dozen rifles came to them, and Travis wrote:
"A blood-red flag waves from the church of Bexar and in the camp above us, in token that the war is one of vengeance against rebels."
They heard the third heavy thud of a cannon, and a shell, falling in the court outside, burst with a great crash. Ned went out and returned with a report of no damage. Travis had continued his letter, and now he wrote:
"These threats have no influence upon my men, but to make all fight with desperation, and with that high-souled courage which characterizes the patriot who is willing to die in defence of his country, liberty and his own honor, God and Texas.
"Victory or death."
He closed the letter and addressed it. An hour later the messenger was beyond the Mexican lines with it, but Travis sat for a long time at the table, unmoving and silent. Perhaps he was blaming himself for not having been more watchful, for not having discovered the advance of Santa Anna. But he was neither a soldier nor a frontiersman, and since the retreat into the Alamo he had done all that man could do.
He rose at last and went out. Then Crockett said to Ned, knowing that it was now time to speak the full truth:
"He has given up all hope of help."
"So have I," said Ned.
"But we can still fight," said Crockett.
The day that followed was always like a dream to Ned, vivid in some ways, and vague in others. He felt that the coil around the Alamo had tightened. Neither he nor any one else expected aid now, and they spoke of it freely one to another. Several who could obtain paper wrote, as Ned had done, brief wills, which they put in the inside pockets of their coats. Always they spoke very gently to one another, these wild spirits of the border. The strange and softening shadow which Ned had noticed before was deepening over them all.
Bowie was again in the hospital, having been bruised severely in a fall from one of the walls, but his spirit was as dauntless as ever.
"The assault by the Mexicans in full force cannot be delayed much longer," he said to Ned. "Santa Anna is impatient and energetic, and he surely has brought up all his forces by this time."
"Do you think we can beat them off?" asked Ned.
Bowie hesitated a little, and then he replied frankly:
"I do not. We have only one hundred and seventy or eighty men to guard the great space that we have here. But in falling we will light such a flame that it will never go out until Texas is free."
Ned talked with him a little longer, and always Bowie spoke as if the time were at hand when he should die for Texas. The man of wild and desperate life seemed at this moment to be clothed about with the mantle of the seer.
The Mexican batteries fired very little that day, and Santa Anna's soldiers kept well out of range. They had learned a deep and lasting respect for the Texan rifles. Hundreds had fallen already before them, and now they kept under cover.
The silence seemed ominous and brooding to Ned. The day was bright, and the flag of no quarter burned a spot of blood-red against the blue sky. Ned saw Mexican officers occasionally on the roofs of the higher buildings, but he took little notice of them. He felt instinctively that the supreme crisis had not yet come. They were all waiting, waiting.
The afternoon drew its slow length away in almost dead silence, and the night came on rather blacker than usual. Then the word was passed for all to assemble in the courtyard. They gathered there, Bowie dragging his sick body with the rest. Every defender of the Alamo was present. The cannon and the walls were for a moment deserted, but the Mexicans without did not know it.
There are ineffaceable scenes in the life of every one, scenes which, after the lapse of many years, are as vivid as of yesterday. Such, the last meeting of the Texans, always remained in the mind of Ned. They stood in a group, strong, wiry men, but worn now by the eternal vigilance and danger of the siege. One man held a small torch, which cast but a dim light over the brown faces.
Travis stood before them and spoke to them.
"Men," he said, "all of you know what I know, that we stand alone. No help is coming for us. The Texans cannot send it or it would have come. For ten days we have beaten off every attack of a large army. But another assault in much greater force is at hand. It is not likely that we can repel it. You have seen the red flag of no quarter flying day after day over the church, and you know what it means. Santa Anna never gives mercy. It is likely that we shall all fall, but, if any man wishes to go, I, your leader, do not order him to stay. You have all done your duty ten times over. There is just a chance to escape over the walls and in the darkness. Now go and save your lives if you can."
"We stay," came the deep rumble of many voices together. One man slipped quietly away a little later, but he was the only one. Save for him, there was no thought of flight in the minds of that heroic band.
Ned's heart thrilled and the blood pounded in his ears. Life was precious, doubly so, because he was so young, but he felt a strange exaltation in the face of death, an exaltation that left no room for fear.
The eyes of Travis glistened when he heard the reply.
"It is what I expected," he said. "I knew that every one of you was willing to die for Texas. Now, lads, we will go back to the walls and wait for Santa Anna."
BEFORE THE DICTATOR
Ned's feeling of exaltation lasted. The long siege, the incessant danger and excitement, and the wonderful way in which the little band of Texans had kept a whole army at bay had keyed him up to a pitch in which he was not himself, in which he was something a little more than human. Such extraordinary moments come to few people, and his vivid, imaginative mind was thrilled to the utmost.
He was on the early watch, and he mounted the wall of the church. The deep silence which marked the beginning of the night still prevailed. They had not heard any shots, and for that reason they all felt that the messenger had got through with Travis' last letter.
It was very dark that night and Ned could not see the red flag on the tower of the church of San Fernando. But he knew it was there, waving a little in the soft wind which blew out of the southwest, herald of spring. Nothing broke the silence. After so much noise, it was ominous, oppressive, surcharged with threats. Fewer lights than usual burned in the town and in the Mexican camp. All this stillness portended to Ned the coming storm, and he was right.
His was a short watch, and at 11 o'clock he went off duty. It was silent and dark in the convent yard, and he sought his usual place for sleep in the hospital, where many of the Texans had been compelled to go, not merely to sleep, but because they were really ill, worn out by so many alarms, so much fighting and so much watching. But they were all now asleep, overpowered by exhaustion. Ned crept into his own dark little corner, and he, too, was soon asleep.
But he was awakened about four hours later by some one pulling hard at his shoulder. He opened his eyes, and stared sleepily. It was Crockett bending over him, and, Bowie lying on his sick bed ten feet away, had raised himself on his elbow. The light was so faint that Ned could scarcely see Crockett's face, but it looked very tense and eager.
"Get up, Ned! Get up!" said Crockett, shaking him again. "There's great work for you to do!"
"Why, what is it?" exclaimed the boy, springing to his feet.
"It's your friends, Roylston, an' that man, the Panther, you've been tellin' me about," replied Crockett in quick tones. "While you were asleep a Mexican, friendly to us, sneaked a message over the wall, sayin' that Roylston, the Panther, an' others were layin' to the east with a big force not more'n twenty miles away—not Fannin's crowd, but another one that's come down from the north. They don't know whether we're holdin' out yet or not, an' o' course they don't want to risk destruction by tryin' to cut through the Mexican army to reach us when we ain't here. The Mexican dassent go out of San Antonio. He won't try it, 'cause, as he says, it's sure death for him, an' so somebody must go to Roylston with the news that we're still alive, fightin' an' kickin'. Colonel Travis has chose you, an' you've got to go. No, there's no letter. You're just to tell Roylston by word of mouth to come on with his men."
The words came forth popping like pistol shots. Ned was swept off his feet. He did not have time to argue or ask questions. Bowie also added a fresh impetus. "Go, Ned, go at once!" he said. "You are chosen for a great service. It's an honor to anybody!"
"A service of great danger, requirin' great skill," said Crockett, "but you can do it, Ned, you can do it."
Ned flushed. This was, in truth, a great trust. He might, indeed, bring the help they needed so sorely.
"Here's your rifle an' other weapons an' ammunition," said Crockett. "The night's at its darkest an' you ain't got any time to waste. Come on!"
So swift was Crockett that Ned was ready almost before he knew it. The Tennesseean never ceased hurrying him. But as he started, Bowie called to him:
The boy turned back and offered his hand. The Georgian shook it with unusual warmth, and then lay back calmly on his blankets.
"Good-by, Ned," he repeated, "and if we don't meet again I hope you'll forget the dark things in my life, and remember me as one who was doing his best for Texas."
"But we will meet again," said Ned. "The relieving force will be here in two or three days and I'll come with it."
"Out with you!" said Crockett. "That's talk enough. What you want to do now is to put on your invisible cap an' your seven league boots an' go like lightnin' through the Mexican camp. Remember that you can talk their lingo like a native, an' don't forget, neither, to keep always about you a great big piece of presence of mind that you can use on a moment's notice."
Ned wore his serape and he carried a pair of small, light but very warm blankets, strapped in a pack on his back. His haversack contained bread and dried beef, and, with his smaller weapons in his belt, and his rifle over his shoulder, he was equipped fully for a long and dangerous journey.
Crockett and the boy passed into the convent yard.
The soft wind from the southwest blew upon their faces, and from the high wall of the church a sentinel called: "All's well!" Ned felt an extraordinary shiver, a premonition, but it passed, unexplained. He and Crockett went into the main plaza and reached the lowest part of the wall.
"Ought I to see Colonel Travis?" asked Ned, as they were on the way.
"No, he asked me to see to it, 'cause there ain't no time to waste. It's about three o'clock in the mornin' now, an' you've got to slip through in two or three hours, 'cause the light will be showin' then. Now, Ned, up with you an' over."
Ned climbed to the summit of the wall. Beyond lay heavy darkness, and he neither saw nor heard any human being. He looked back, and extended his hand to Crockett as he had to Bowie.
"Good-by, Mr. Crockett," he said, "you've been very good to me."
The great brown hand of the frontiersman clasped his almost convulsively.
"Aye, Ned," he said, "we've cottoned to each other from the first. I haven't knowed you long, but you've been like a son to me. Now go, an' God speed you!"
Ned recalled afterward that he did not say anything about Roylston's relieving force. What he thought of then was the deep feeling in Crockett's words.
"I'm coming back," he said, "and I hope to hunt buffalo with you over the plains of a free Texas."
"Go! go! Hurry, Ned!" said Crockett.
"Good-by," said Ned, and he dropped lightly to the ground.
He was outside the Alamo after eleven days inside, that seemed in the retrospect almost as many months. He flattened himself against the wall, and stood there for a minute or two, looking and listening. He thought he might hear Crockett again inside, but evidently the Tennesseean had gone back at once. In front of him was only the darkness, pierced by a single light off toward the west.
Ned hesitated. It was hard for him to leave the Alamo and the friends who had been knitted to him by so many common dangers, yet his errand was one of high importance—it might save them all—and he must do it. Strengthening his resolution he started across an open space, walking lightly. As Crockett had truly said, with his perfect knowledge of the language he might pass for a Mexican. He had done so before, and he did not doubt his ability to do so again.
He resolved to assume the character of a Mexican scout, looking into the secrets of the Alamo, and going back to report to Santa Anna. As he advanced he heard voices and saw earthworks from which the muzzles of four cannon protruded. Behind the earthwork was a small fire, and he knew that men would be sitting about it. He turned aside, not wishing to come too much into the light, but a soldier near the earthwork hailed him, and Ned, according to his plan, replied briefly that he was on his way to General Santa Anna in San Antonio.
But the man was talkative.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Pedro Miguel Alvarado," replied Ned on the spur of the moment.
"Well, friend, it is a noble name, that of Alvarado."
"But it is not a noble who bears it. Though a descendant of the great Alvarado, who fought by the side of the glorious and mighty conquistador, Hernando Cortez, I am but a poor peasant offering my life daily for bread in the army of General Santa Anna."
The man laughed.
"You are as well off as I am," he said. "But what of the wicked Texans? Are they yet ready to surrender their throats to our knives? The dogs hold us over long. It is said that they number scarce two hundred within the mission. Truly they fight hard, and well they may, knowing that death only is at the end."
Ned shuddered. The man seemed to take it all so lightly. But he replied in a firm voice:
"I learned little of them save that they still fight. I took care not to put myself before the muzzle of any of their rifles."
The Mexican laughed again.
"A lad of wisdom, you," he said. "They are demons with their rifles. When the great assault is made, many a good man will speed to his long home before the Alamo is taken."
So, they had already decided upon the assault. The premonition within the Alamo was not wrong. It occurred to Ned that he might learn more, and he paused.
"Has it been finally settled?" he asked. "We attack about three days from now, do we not?"
"Earlier than that," replied the Mexican. "I know that the time has been chosen, and I think it is to-morrow morning."
Ned's heart beat heavily. To-morrow morning! Even if he got through, how could he ever bring Roylston and the relief force in time?
"I thank you," he said, "but I must hurry with my report."
"Adios, Senor," said the man politely, and Ned repeated his "Adios" in the same tone. Then he hurried forward, continually turning in toward the east, hoping to find a passage where the Mexican line was thinnest. But the circle of the invaders was complete, and he saw that he must rely upon his impersonation of a Mexican to take him through.
He was in a fever of haste, knowing now that the great assault was to come so soon, and he made for a point between two smoldering camp fires fifty or sixty yards apart. Boldness only would now avail, and with the brim of his sombrero pulled well down over his face he walked confidently forward, coming fully within the light of the fire on his left.
A number of Mexican soldiers were asleep around the fire, but at least a half dozen men were awake. They called to Ned as he passed and he responded readily, but Fortune, which had been so kind to him for a long time, all at once turned her back upon him. When he spoke, a man in officer's uniform who had been sitting by the fire rose quickly.
"Your name?" he cried.
"Pedro Miguel Alvarado," replied Ned instantly. At the same moment he recognized Urrea.
"It is not so!" cried Urrea. "You are one of the Texans, young Fulton. I know your voice. Upon him, men! Seize him!"
His action and the leap of the Mexicans were so sudden that Ned did not have time to aim his rifle. But he struck one a short-arm blow with the butt of it that sent him down with a broken head, and he snatched at his pistol as three or four others threw themselves upon him. Ned was uncommonly strong and agile, and he threw off two of the men, but the others pressed him to the ground, until, at Urrea's command, his arms were bound and he was allowed to rise.
Ned was in despair, not so much for himself but because there was no longer a chance that he could get through to Roylston. It was a deep mortification, moreover, to be taken by Urrea. But he faced the Mexican with an appearance of calmness.
"Well," he said, "I am your prisoner."
"You are," said Urrea, "and you might have passed, if I had not known your voice. But I remind you that you come from the Alamo. You see our flag, and you know its meaning."
The black eyes of the Mexican regarded Ned malignantly. The boy knew that the soul of Urrea was full of wicked triumph. The officer could shoot him down at that moment, and be entirely within orders. But Ned recalled the words of Roylston. The merchant had told him to use his name if he should ever fall again into the hands of Santa Anna.
"I am your prisoner," he repeated, "and I demand to be taken before General Santa Anna. Whatever your red flag may mean, there are reasons why he will spare me. Go with me and you will see."
He spoke with such boldness and directness that Urrea was impressed.
"I shall take you to the general," he said, "not because you demand it, but because I think it well to do so. It is likely that he will want to examine you, and I believe that in his presence you will tell all you know. But it is not yet 4 o'clock in the morning, and I cannot awaken him now. You will stay here until after daylight."
"Very well," said Ned, trying to be calm as possible. "As you have bound me I cannot walk, but if you'll put me on a blanket there by the fire I'll sleep until you want me."
"We won't deny you that comfort," replied Urrea grimly.
When Ned was stretched on his blanket he was fairly easy so far as the body was concerned. They had bound him securely, but not painfully. His agony of mind, though, was great. Nevertheless he fell asleep, and slept in a restless way for three or four hours, until Urrea awoke him, and told him they were going to Santa Anna.
It was a clear, crisp dawn and Ned saw the town, the river, and the Alamo. There, only a short distance away, stood the dark fortress, from which he had slipped but a few hours before with such high hopes. He even saw the figures of the sentinels, moving slowly on the church walls, and his heart grew heavy within him. He wished now that he was back with the defenders. Even if he should escape it would be too late. At Urrea's orders he was unbound.
"There is no danger of your escaping now," said the young Mexican. "Several of my men are excellent marksmen, and they will fire at the first step you take in flight. And even should they miss, what chance do you think you have here?"
He swept his right hand in a circle, and, in the clear morning air, Ned saw batteries and troops everywhere. He knew that the circle of steel about the Alamo was complete. Perhaps he would have failed in his errand even had he got by. It would require an unusually strong force to cut through an army as large as that of Santa Anna, and he did not know where Roylston could have found it. He started, as a sudden suspicion smote him. He remembered Crockett's hurried manner, and his lack of explanation. But he put it aside. It could not be true.
"I see that you look at the Alamo," said Urrea ironically. "Well, the rebel flag is still there, but it will not remain much longer. The trap is about ready to shut down."
Ned's color rose.
"It may be so," he said, "but for every Texan who falls the price will be five Mexicans."
"But they will fall, nevertheless," said Urrea. "Here is food for you. Eat, and I will take you to the general."
They offered him Mexican food, but he had no appetite, and he ate little. He stretched and tensed his limbs in order to restore the full flood of circulation, and announced that he was ready. Urrea led the way, and Ned followed with a guard of four men about him.
The boy had eyes and ears for everything around him, but he looked most toward the Alamo. He could not, at the distance, recognize the figures on the wall, but all those men were his friends, and his eyes filled with tears at their desperate case. Out here with the Mexicans, where he could see all their overwhelming force and their extensive preparations, the chances of the Texans looked worse than they did inside the Alamo.
They entered the town and passed through the same streets, along which Ned had advanced with the conquering army of the Texans a few months before. Many evidences of the siege remained. There were tunnels, wrecked houses and masses of stone and adobe. The appearance of the young prisoner aroused the greatest curiosity among both soldiers and people. He heard often the word "Texano." Women frequently looked down at him from the flat roofs, and some spoke in pity.
Ned was silent. He was resolved not to ask Urrea any questions or to give him a chance to show triumph. He noticed that they were advancing toward the plaza, and then they turned into the Veramendi house, which he had cause to remember so well.
"This was the home of the Vice-Governor," said Urrea, "and General Santa Anna is here."
"I know the place," said Ned. "I am proud to have been one of the Texans who took it on a former occasion."
"We lost it then, but we have it now and we'll keep it," said Urrea. "My men will wait with you here in the courtyard, and I'll see if our illustrious general is ready to receive you."
Ned waited patiently. Urrea was gone a full half hour, and, when he returned, he said:
"The general was at breakfast with his staff. He had not quite finished, but he is ready to receive you now."
Then Urrea led the way into the Veramendi house. Luxurious fittings had been put in, but many of the rents and scars from the old combat were yet visible. They entered the great dining room, and, once more, Ned stood face to face with the most glorious general, the most illustrious dictator, Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. But Ned alone stood. The dictator sat at the head of the table, about which were Castrillon, Sesma, Cos, Gaona, the Italian, Filisola and others. It seemed to Ned that he had come not only upon a breakfast but upon a conference as well.
The soldiers who had guarded Ned stepped back, Urrea stood by the wall, and the boy was left to meet the fixed gaze of Santa Anna. The dictator wore a splendid uniform, as usual. His face seemed to Ned fuller and more flushed than when they had last met in Mexico. The marks of dissipation were there. Ned saw him slip a little silver box from the pocket of his waistcoat and take from it a pinch of a dark drug, which he ate. It was opium, but the Mexican generals seemed to take no note of it.
Santa Anna's gaze was fixed and piercing, as if he would shoot terror into the soul of his enemy—a favorite device of his—but Ned withstood it. Then Santa Anna, removing his stare from his face, looked him slowly up and down. The generals said nothing, waiting upon their leader, who could give life or death as he chose. Ned was sure that Santa Anna remembered him, and, in a moment, he knew that he was right.
"It is young Fulton, who made the daring and ingenious escape from our hospitality in the capital," he said, "and who also departed in an unexpected manner from one of the submarine dungeons of our castle of San Juan de Ulua. Fate does not seem to reward your courage and enterprise as they deserve, since you are in our hands again."
The dictator laughed and his generals laughed obediently also. Ned said nothing.
"I am informed by that most meritorious young officer, Captain Urrea," continued Santa Anna, "that you were captured about three o'clock this morning trying to escape from the Alamo."
"That is correct," said Ned.
"Why were you running away in the dark?"
Ned flushed, but, knowing that it was an unworthy and untruthful taunt, he remained silent.
"You do not choose to answer," said Santa Anna, "but I tell you that you are the rat fleeing from the sinking ship. Our cannon have wrecked the interior of the Alamo. Half of your men are dead, and the rest would gladly surrender if I should give them the promise of life."
"It is not true!" exclaimed Ned with heat. "Despite all your fire the defenders of the Alamo have lost but a few men. You offer no quarter and they ask none. They are ready to fight to the last."
There was a murmur among the generals, but Santa Anna raised his hand and they were silent again.
"I cannot believe all that you say," he continued. "It is a boast. The Texans are braggarts. To-morrow they die, every one of them. But tell us the exact condition of everything inside the Alamo, and perhaps I may spare your life."
Ned shut his teeth so hard that they hurt. A deep flush surged into the dark face of Santa Anna.
"You are stubborn. All the Texans are stubborn. But I do not need any information from you. I shall crush the Alamo, as my fingers would smash an eggshell."
"But your fingers will be pierced deep," Ned could not keep from replying. "They will run blood."
"Be that as it may," said Santa Anna, who, great in some things, was little enough to taunt an enemy in his power, "you will not live to see it. I am about to give orders to have you shot within an hour."
His lips wrinkled away from his white teeth like those of a great cat about to spring, and his cruel eyes contracted. Holding all the power of Mexico in his hands he was indeed something to be dreaded. The generals about the table never spoke. But Ned remembered the words of Roylston.
"A great merchant named John Roylston has been a good friend to me," he said. "He told me that if I should ever fall into your hands I was to mention his name to you, and to say that he considered my life of value."
The expression of the dictator changed. He frowned, and then regarded Ned intently, as if he would read some secret that the boy was trying to hide.
"And so you know John Roylston," he said at length, "and he wishes you to say to me that your life is of value."
Ned saw the truth at once. He had a talisman and that talisman was the name of Roylston. He did not know why it was so, but it was a wonderful talisman nevertheless, because it was going to save his life for the time being, at least. He glanced at the generals, and he saw a look of curiosity on the face of every one of them.
"I know Roylston," said Santa Anna slowly, "and there are some matters between us. It may be to my advantage to spare you for a while."
Ned's heart sprang up. Life was sweet. Since he was to be spared for a while it must mean ultimately exchange or escape. Santa Anna, a reader of the human face, saw what was in his mind.
"Be not too sanguine," he said, "because I have changed my mind once it does not mean that you are to be free now or ever. I shall keep you here, and you shall see your comrades fall."
A sudden smile, offspring of a quick thought and satanic in its nature, passed over his face.
"I will make you a spectator of the defeat of the Texans," he said. "A great event needs a witness, and since you cannot be a combatant you can serve in that capacity. We attack at dawn to-morrow, and you shall miss nothing of it."
The wicked smile passed over his face again. It had occurred to Ned, a student of history, that the gladiatorial cruelty of the ancient Romans had descended to the Spaniards instead of the Italians. Now he was convinced that it was so.
"You shall be kept a prisoner in one of our strongest houses," said Santa Anna, "and Captain Urrea, whose vigilance prevented your escape, will keep guard over you. I fancy it is a task that he does not hate."
Santa Anna had also read the mind of the young Mexican. Urrea smiled. He liked this duty. He hated Ned and he, too, was not above taunting a prisoner. He advanced, and put a hand upon Ned's shoulder, but the boy shook it off.
"Don't touch me," said Ned. "I'll follow without resistance."
Santa Anna laughed.
"Let him have his way for the present, Captain Urrea," he said. "But remember that it is due to your gentleness and mercy. Adios, Senor Fulton, we meet again to-morrow morning, and if you survive I shall report to Mr. Roylston the manner in which you may bear yourself."
"Good-day," said Ned, resolved not to be outdone, even in ironical courtesy. "And now, Captain Urrea, if you will lead the way, I'll follow."
Urrea and his soldiers took Ned from the Veramendi house and across the street to a large and strong stone building.
"You are fortunate," said Urrea, "to have escaped immediate death. I do not know why the name of Roylston was so powerful with our general, but I saw that it was."
"It seemed to have its effect," said Ned.
Urrea led the way to the flat roof of the house, a space reached by a single narrow stairway.
"I shall leave you here with two guards," he said. "I shall give them instructions to fire upon you at the slightest attempt on your part to escape, but I fancy that you will have sense enough not to make any such attempt."
Urrea departed, but the two sentinels sat by the entrance to the stairway, musket in hand. He had not the faintest chance to get by them, and knowing it he sat down on the low stone coping of the roof. He wondered why Urrea had brought him there instead of locking him up in a room. Perhaps it was to mock him with the sight of freedom so near and yet unattainable.
His gaze turned instinctively to the Alamo like the magnet to the pole. There was the fortress, gray and grim in the sunshine, with the dim figures of the watchers on the walls. What were they doing inside now? How were Crockett and Bowie? His heart filled with grief that he had failed them. But had he failed them? Neither Urrea nor any other Mexican had spoken of the approach of a relieving force under Roylston. There was no sign that the Mexicans were sending any part of their army to meet it.
The heavy thud of a great gun drew his attention, and he saw the black smoke from the discharge rising over the plain. A second, a third and a fourth cannon shot were fired, but no answer came from the walls of the Alamo. At length he saw one of the men in the nearest battery to the Alamo expose himself above the earthwork. There was a flash from the wall of the church, a little puff of smoke, and Ned saw the man fall as only dead men fall. Perhaps it was Davy Crockett, the great marksman, who had fired that shot. He liked to think that it was so, and he rejoiced also at this certain evidence that the little garrison was as dauntless as ever. He watched the Alamo for nearly an hour, and he saw that the firing was desultory. Not more than a dozen cannon shots were fired during that time, and only three or four rifles replied from the Alamo. Toward noon the firing ceased entirely, and Ned knew that this was in very fact and truth the lull before the storm.
His attention wandered to his guards. They were mere peons, but, although watchful, they were taking their ease. Evidently they liked their task. They were resting with the complete relaxation of the body that only the Southern races know. Both had lighted cigarritos, and were puffing at them contentedly. It had been a long time since Ned had seen such a picture of lazy ease.
"You like it here?" he said to the nearest.
The man took the cigarrito from his mouth, emitted smoke from his nose and replied politely:
"It is better to be here lying in the sun than out there on the grass with a Texan bullet through one's body. Is it not so, Fernando?"
"Aye, it is so," replied his comrade. "I like not the Texan bullets. I am glad to be here where they cannot reach me. It is said that Satan sights their rifles for them, because they do not miss. They will die hard to-morrow. They will die like the bear in its den, fighting the hunters, when our army is poured upon them. That will be an end to all the Texans, and we will go back to the warm south."
"But are you sure," asked Ned, "that it will be an end of the Texans? Not all the Texans are shut up in the Alamo."
"What matters it?" replied Fernando, lightly. "It may be delayed, but the end will be the same. Nothing can resist the great, the powerful, the most illustrious Santa Anna. He is always able to dig graves for his enemies."
The men talked further. Ned gathered from them that the whole force of Santa Anna was now present. Some of his officers wanted him to wait for siege artillery of the heaviest caliber that would batter down the walls of the Alamo, but the dictator himself was impatient for the assault. It would certainly take place the next morning.
"And why is the young senor here?" asked Fernando. "The order has been issued that no Texan shall be spared, and do you not see the red flag waving there close by us?"
Ned looked up. The red flag now flaunted its folds very near to him. He could not repress a shiver.
"I am here," he replied, "because some one who has power has told General Santa Anna that I am not to be put to death."
"It is well for you, then," said Fernando, "that you have a friend of such weight. It is a pity to die when one is so young and so straight and strong as you. Ah, my young senor, the world is beautiful. Look how green is the grass there by the river, and how the sun lies like gold across it!"
Ned had noticed before the love of beauty that the humblest peon sometimes had, and there was a certain touch of brotherly feeling between him and this man, his jailer.
"The world is beautiful," said the boy, "and I am willing to tell you that I have no wish to leave it."
"Nor I," said Fernando. "Why are the Texans so foolish as to oppose the great Santa Anna, the most illustrious and powerful of all generals and rulers? Did they not know that he would come and crush them, every one?"
Ned did not reply. The peon, in repose at least, had a gentle heart, and the boy knew that Santa Anna was to him omnipotent and omniscient. He turned his attention anew to the Alamo, that magnet of his thoughts. It was standing quiet in the sun now. The defiant flag of the defenders, upon which they had embroidered the word "Texas," hung lazily from the staff.
The guards in the afternoon gave him some food and a jug of water, and they also ate and drank upon the roof. They were yet amply content with their task and their position there. No bullets could reach them. The sunshine was golden and pleasant. They had established friendly relations with the prisoner. He had not given them the slightest trouble, and, before and about them, was spread the theater upon which a mighty drama was passing, all for them to see. What more could be asked by two simple peasants of small wants?
Ned was glad that they let him remain upon the roof. The Alamo drew his gaze with a power that he could not break if he would. Since he was no longer among the defenders he was eager to see every detail in the vast drama that was now unfolding.
But the afternoon passed in inaction. The sun was brilliant and toward evening turned to a deep, glowing red. It lighted up for the last time the dim figures that stood on the walls of the Alamo. Ned choked as he saw them there. He felt the premonition.
Urrea came upon the roof shortly before twilight. He was not sneering or ironical, and Ned, who had no wish to quarrel at such a time, was glad of it.
"As General Santa Anna told you," said Urrea, "the assault is to be made in overwhelming force early in the morning. It will succeed, of course. Nothing can prevent it. Through the man Roylston, you have some claim upon the general, but it may not be strong enough to save you long. A service now might make his pardon permanent."
"What do you mean by a service now?"
"A few words as to the weaker points of the Alamo, the best places for our troops to attack. You cannot do anything for the defenders. You cannot alter their fate in any particular, but you might do something for yourself."
Ned did not wish to appear dramatic. He merely turned his back upon the young Mexican.
"Very well," said Urrea, "I made you the offer. It was for you to accept it or not as you wish."
He left him upon the roof, and Ned saw the last rim of the red sun sink in the plain. He saw the twilight come, and the Alamo fade into a dim black bulk in the darkness. He thought once that he heard a cry of a sentinel from its walls, "All's well," but he knew that it was only fancy. The distance was far too great. Besides, all was not well.
When the darkness had fully come, he descended with his two benevolent jailers to a lower part of the house, where he was assigned to a small room, with a single barred window and without the possibility of escape. His guards, after bringing him food and water, gave him a polite good night and went outside. He knew that they would remain on watch in the hall.
Ned could eat and drink but little. Nor could he yet sleep. The night was far too heavy upon him for slumber. Besides, it had brought many noises, significant noises that he knew. He heard the rumble of cannon wheels over the rough pavements, and the shouts of men to the horses or mules. He heard troops passing, now infantry, and then cavalry, the hoofs of their horses grinding upon the stones.
He pressed his face against the barred window. He was eager to hear and yet more eager to see. He caught glimpses only of horse and foot as they passed, but he knew what all those sights and sounds portended. In the night the steel coil of the Mexicans was being drawn closer and closer about the Alamo.
Brave and resolute, he was only a boy after all. He felt deserted of all men. He wanted to be back there with Crockett and Bowie and Travis and the others. The water came into his eyes, and unconsciously he pulled hard at the iron bars.
He remained there a long time, listening to the sounds. Once he heard a trumpet, and its note in the night was singularly piercing. He knew that it was a signal, probably for the moving of a regiment still closer to the Alamo. But there were no shots from either the Mexicans or the mission. The night was clear with many stars.
After two or three hours at the window Ned tried to sleep. There was a narrow bed against the wall, and he lay upon it, full length, but he did not even close his eyes. He became so restless that at last he rose and went to the window again. It must have been then past midnight. The noises had ceased. Evidently the Mexicans had everything ready. The wind blew cold upon his face, but it brought him no news of what was passing without.
He went back to the bed, and by and by he sank into a heavy slumber.
TO THE LAST MAN
Ned awoke after a feverish night, when there was yet but a strip of gray in the east. It was Sunday morning, but he had lost count of time, and did not know it. He had not undressed at all when he lay down, and now he stood by the window, seeking to see and hear. But the light was yet dim and the sounds were few. Nevertheless the great pulse in his throat began to leap. The attack was at hand.
The door of the room was unlocked and the two peons who had guarded him upon the roof came for him. Ned saw in the half gloom that they were very grave of countenance.
"We are to take you to the noble Captain Urrea, who is waiting for you," said Fernando.
"Very well," said Ned. "I am ready. You have been kind to me, and I hope that we shall meet again after to-day."
Both men shook their heads.
"We fear that is not to be," said Fernando.
They found Urrea and another young officer waiting at the door of the house. Urrea was in his best uniform and his eyes were very bright. He was no coward, and Ned knew that the gleam was in anticipation of the coming attack.
"The time is at hand," he said, "and it will be your wonderful fortune to see how Mexico strikes down her foe."
His voice, pitched high, showed excitement, and a sense of the dramatic. Ned said nothing, and his own pulses began to leap again. The strip of gray in the east was broadening, and he now saw that the whole town was awake, although it was not yet full daylight. Santa Anna had been at work in the night, while he lay in that feverish sleep. He heard everywhere now the sound of voices, the clank of arms and the beat of horses' hoofs. The flat roofs were crowded with the Mexican people. Ned saw Mexican women there in their dresses of bright colors, like Roman women in the Colosseum, awaiting the battle of the gladiators. The atmosphere was surcharged with excitement, and the sense of coming triumph.
Ned's breath seemed to choke in his throat and his heart beat painfully. Once more he wished with all his soul that he was with his friends, that he was in the Alamo. He belonged with them there, and he would rather face death with those familiar faces around him than be here, safe perhaps, but only a looker-on. It was with him now a matter of the emotions, and not of reasoned intellect. Once more he looked toward the old mission, and saw the dim outline of the buildings, with the dominating walls of the church. He could not see whether anyone watched on the walls, but he knew that the sentinels were there. Perhaps Crockett, himself, stood among them now, looking at the great Mexican coil of steel that was wrapping itself tighter and tighter around the Alamo. Despite himself, Ned uttered a sigh.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Urrea, sharply. "Are you already weeping for the conquered?"
"You know that I am not," replied Ned. "You need not believe me, but I regret that I am not in the Alamo with my friends."
"It's an idle wish," said Urrea, "but I am taking you now to General Santa Anna. Then I leave, and I go there! Look, the horsemen!"
He extended his hand, and Ned saw his eyes kindling. The Mexican cavalry were filing out in the dim dawn, troop after troop, the early light falling across the blades of the lances, spurs and bridles jingling. All rode well, and they made a thrilling picture, as they rode steadily on, curving about the old fortress.
"I shall soon be with them," said Urrea in a tone of pride. "We shall see that not a single one of your Texans escapes from the Alamo."
Ned felt that choking in his throat again, but he deemed it wiser to keep silent. They were going toward the main plaza now, and he saw masses of troops gathered in the streets. These men were generally silent, and he noticed that their faces expressed no elation. He divined at once that they were intended for the assault, and they had no cause for joy. They knew that they must face the deadly Texan rifles.
Urrea led the way to a fortified battery standing in front of the main plaza. A brilliant group stood behind an earthen wall, and Ned saw Santa Anna among them.
"I have brought the prisoner," said Urrea, saluting.
"Very good," replied the dictator, "and now, Captain Urrea, you can join your command. You have served me well, and you shall have your share in the glory of this day."
Urrea flushed with pride at the compliment, and bowed low. Then he hurried away to join the horse. Santa Anna turned his attention.
"I have brought you here at this moment," he said, "to give you a last chance. It is not due to any mercy for you, a rebel, but it is because you have been so long in the Alamo that you must know it well. Point out to us its weakest places, and you shall be free. You shall go north in safety. I promise it here, in the presence of my generals."
"I have nothing to tell," replied Ned.
"Are you sure?"
"Then it merely means a little more effusion of blood. You may stay with us and see the result."
All the ancient, inherited cruelty now shone in Santa Anna's eyes. It was the strange satanic streak in him that made him keep his captive there in order that he might see the fall of his own comrades. A half dozen guards stood near the person of the dictator, and he said to them:
"If the prisoner seeks to leave us, shoot him at once."
The manner of Santa Anna was arrogant to the last degree, but Ned was glad to stay. He was eager to see the great panorama which was about to be unrolled before him. He was completely absorbed in the Alamo, and he utterly forgot himself. Black specks were dancing before his eyes, and the blood was pounding in his ears, but he took no notice of such things.
The gray bar in the east broadened. A thin streak of shining silver cut through it, and touched for a moment the town, the river, the army and the Alamo. Ned leaned against an edge of the earthwork, and breathed heavily and painfully. He had not known that his heart could beat so hard.
The same portentous silence prevailed everywhere. The men and women on the roofs of the houses were absolutely still. The cavalry, their line now drawn completely about the mission, were motionless. Ned, straining his eyes toward the Alamo, could see nothing there. Suddenly he put up his hand and wiped his forehead. His fingers came away wet. His blood prickled in his veins like salt. He became impatient, angry. If the mine was ready, why did they not set the match? Such waiting was the pitch of cruelty.
"Cos, my brother," said Santa Anna to the swart general, "take your command. It was here that the Texan rebels humiliated you, and it is here that you shall have full vengeance."
Cos saluted, and strode away. He was to lead one of the attacking columns.
"Colonel Duque," said Santa Anna to another officer, "you are one of the bravest of the brave. You are to direct the attack on the northern wall, and may quick success go with you."
Duque glowed at the compliment, and he, too, strode away to the head of his column.
"Colonel Romero," said Santa Anna, "the third column is yours, and the fourth is yours, Colonel Morales. Take your places and, at the signal agreed, the four columns will charge with all their strength. Let us see which will be the first in the Alamo."
The two colonels saluted as the others had done, and joined their columns.
The bar of gray in the east was still broadening, but the sun itself did not yet show. The walls of the Alamo were still dim, and Ned could not see whether any figures were there. Santa Anna had put a pair of powerful glasses to his eyes, but when he took them down he said nothing of what he had seen.
"Are all the columns provided?" he said to General Sesma, who stood beside him.
"They have everything," replied Sesma, "crowbars, axes, scaling ladders. Sir, they cannot fail!"
"No, they cannot," said Santa Anna exultantly. "These Texan rebels fight like demons, but we have now a net through which they cannot break. General Gaona, see that the bands are ready and direct them to play the Deguelo when the signal for the charge is given."
Ned shivered again. The "Deguelo" meant the "cutting-of-throats," and it, too, was to be the signal of no quarter. He remembered the red flag, and he looked up. It hung, as ever, on the tower of the church of San Fernando, and its scarlet folds moved slowly in the light morning breeze. General Gaona returned.
"The bands are ready, general," he said, "and when the signal is given they will play the air that you have chosen."
A Mexican, trumpet in hand, was standing near. Santa Anna turned and said to him the single word:
The man lifted the trumpet to his lips, and blew a long note that swelled to its fullest pitch, then died away in a soft echo.
It was the signal. A tremendous cry burst from the vast ring of the thousands, and it was taken up by the shrill voices of the women on the flat roofs of the houses. The great circle of cavalrymen shook their lances and sabers until they glittered.
When the last echo of the trumpet's dying note was gone the bands began to play with their utmost vigor the murderous tune that Santa Anna had chosen. Then four columns of picked Mexican troops, three thousand strong, rushed toward the Alamo. Santa Anna and the generals around him were tremendously excited. Their manner made no impression upon Ned then, but he recalled the fact afterward.
The boy became quickly unconscious of everything except the charge of the Mexicans and the Alamo. He no longer remembered that he was a prisoner. He no longer remembered anything about himself. The cruel throb of that murderous tune, the Deguelo, beat upon the drums of his ears, and mingled with it came the sound of the charging Mexicans, the beat of their feet, the clank of their arms, and the shouts of their officers.
Whatever may be said of the herded masses of the Mexican troops, the Mexican officers were full of courage. They were always in advance, waving their swords and shouting to their men to come on. Another silver gleam flashed through the gray light of the early morning, ran along the edges of swords and lances, and lingered for a moment over the dark walls of the Alamo.
No sound came from the mission, not a shot, not a cry. Were they asleep? Was it possible that every man, overpowered by fatigue, had fallen into slumber at such a moment? Could such as Crockett and Bowie and Travis be blind to their danger? Such painful questions raced through Ned's mind. He felt a chill run down his spine. Yet his breath was like fire to his lips.
"Nothing will stop them!" cried Santa Anna. "The Texans cower before such a splendid force! They will lay down their arms!"
Ned felt his body growing colder and colder, and there was a strange tingling at the roots of the hair. Now the people upon the roofs were shouting their utmost, and the voices of many women united in one shrill, piercing cry. But he never turned to look at them. His eyes were always on the charging host which converged so fast upon the Alamo.
The trumpet blew another signal, and there was a crash so loud that it made Ned jump. All the Mexican batteries had fired at once over the heads of their own troops at the Alamo. While the gunners reloaded the smoke of the discharge drifted away and the Alamo still stood silent. But over it yet hung a banner on which was written in great letters the word, "Texas."
The Mexican troops were coming close now. The bands playing the Deguelo swelled to greater volume and the ground shook again as the Mexican artillery fired its second volley. When the smoke drifted away again the Alamo itself suddenly burst into flame. The Texan cannon at close range poured their shot and shell into the dense ranks of the Mexicans. But piercing through the heavy thud of the cannon came the shriller and more deadly crackle of the rifles. The Texans were there, every one of them, on the walls. He might have known it. Nothing on earth could catch them asleep, nor could anything on earth or under it frighten them into laying down their arms.
Ned began to shout, but only hoarse cries came from a dry throat through dry lips. The great pulses in his throat were leaping again, and he was saying: "The Texans! The Texans! Oh, the brave Texans!"
But nobody heard him. Santa Anna, Filisola, Castrillon, Tolsa, Gaona and the other generals were leaning against the earthwork, absorbed in the tremendous spectacle that was passing before them. The soldiers who were to guard the prisoner forgot him and they, too, were engrossed in the terrible and thrilling panorama of war. Ned might have walked away, no one noticing, but he, too, had but one thought, and that was the Alamo.
He saw the Mexican columns shiver when the first volley was poured upon them from the walls. In a single glance aside he beheld the exultant look on the faces of Santa Anna and his generals die away, and he suddenly became conscious that the shrill shouting on the flat roofs of the houses had ceased. But the Mexican cannon still poured a cloud of shot and shell over the heads of their men at the Alamo, and the troops went on.
Ned, keen of ear and so intent that he missed nothing, could now separate the two fires. The crackle of the rifles which came from the Alamo dominated. Rapid, steady, incessant, it beat heavily upon the hearing and nerves. Pyramids and spires of smoke arose, drifted and arose again. In the intervals he saw the walls of the church a sheet of flame, and he saw the Mexicans falling by dozens and scores upon the plain. He knew that at the short range the Texan rifles never missed, and that the hail of their bullets was cutting through the Mexican ranks like a fire through dry grass.
"God, how they fight!" he heard one of the generals—he never knew which—exclaim.
Then he saw the officers rushing about, shouting to the men, striking them with the flats of their swords and urging them on. The Mexican army responded to the appeal, lifted itself up and continued its rush. The fire from the Alamo seemed to Ned to increase. The fortress was a living flame. He had not thought that men could fire so fast, but they had three or four rifles apiece.
The silence which had replaced the shrill shouting in the town continued. All the crash was now in front of them, and where they stood the sound of the human voice would carry. In a dim far-away manner Ned heard the guards talking to one another. Their words showed uneasiness. It was not the swift triumphal rush into the Alamo that they had expected. Great swaths had been cut through the Mexican army. Santa Anna paled more than once when he saw his men falling so fast.
"They cannot recoil! They cannot!" he cried.
But they did. The column led by Colonel Duque, a brave man, was now at the northern wall, and the men were rushing forward with the crowbars, axes and scaling ladders. The Texan rifles, never more deadly, sent down a storm of bullets upon them. A score of men fell all at once. Among them was Duque, wounded terribly. The whole column broke and reeled away, carrying Duque with them.
Ned saw the face of Santa Anna turn purple with rage. He struck the earthwork furiously with the flat of his sword.
"Go! Go!" he cried to Gaona and Tolsa. "Rally them! See that they do not run!"
The two generals sprang from the battery and rushed to their task. The Mexican cannon had ceased firing, for fear of shooting down their own men, and the smoke was drifting away from the field. The morning was also growing much lighter. The gray dawn had turned to silver, and the sun's red rim was just showing above the eastern horizon.