The Texan cannon were silent, too. The rifles were now doing all the work. The volume of their fire never diminished. Ned saw the field covered with slain, and many wounded were drifting back to the shelter of the earthworks and the town.
Duque's column was rallied, but the column on the east and the column on the west were also driven back, and Santa Anna rushed messenger after messenger, hurrying up fresh men, still driving the whole Mexican army against the Alamo. He shouted orders incessantly, although he remained safe within the shelter of the battery.
Ned felt an immense joy. He had seen the attack beaten off at three points. A force of twenty to one had been compelled to recoil. His heart swelled with pride in those friends of his. But they were so few in number! Even now the Mexican masses were reforming. The officers were among them, driving them forward with threats and blows. The great ring of Mexican cavalry, intended to keep any of the Texans from escaping, also closed in, driving their own infantry forward to the assault.
Ned's heart sank as the whole Mexican army, gathering now at the northern or lower wall, rushed straight at the barrier. But the deadly fire of the rifles flashed from it, and their front line went down. Again they recoiled, and again the cavalry closed in, holding them to the task.
There was a pause of a few moments. The town had been silent for a long time, and the Mexican soldiers themselves ceased to shout. Clouds of smoke eddied and drifted about the buildings. The light of the morning, first gray, then silver, turned to gold. The sun, now high above the earth's rim, poured down a flood of rays.
Everything stood out sharp and clear. Ned saw the buildings of the Alamo dark against the sun, and he saw men on the walls. He saw the Mexican columns pressed together in one great force, and he even saw the still faces of many who lay silent on the plain.
He knew that the Mexicans were about to charge again, and his feeling of exultation passed. He no longer had hope that the defenders of the Alamo could beat back so many. He thought again how few, how very few, were the Texans.
The silence endured but a moment or two. Then the Mexicans rushed forward in a mighty mass at the low northern wall, the front lines firing as they went. Flame burst from the wall, and Ned heard once more the deadly crackle of the Texan rifles. The ground was littered by the trail of the Mexican fallen, but, driven by their officers, they went on.
Ned saw them reach the wall and plant the scaling ladders, many of them. Scores of men swarmed up the ladders and over the wall. A heavy division forced its way into the redoubt through the sallyport, and as Ned saw he uttered a deep gasp. He knew that the Alamo was doomed. And the Mexicans knew it, too. The shrill screaming of the women began again from the flat roofs of the houses, and shouts burst from the army also.
"We have them! We have them!" cried Santa Anna, exultant and excited.
Sheets of flame still burst from the Alamo, and the rifles still poured bullets on the swarming Mexican forces, but the breach had been made. The Mexicans went over the low wall in an unbroken stream, and they crowded through the sallyport by hundreds. They were inside now, rushing with the overwhelming weight of twenty to one upon the little garrison. They seized the Texan guns, cutting down the gunners with lances and sabers, and they turned the captured cannon upon the defenders.
Some of the buildings inside the walls were of adobe, and they were soon shattered by the cannon balls. The Texans, covered with smoke and dust and the sweat of battle, were forced back by the press of numbers into the convent yard, and then into the church and hospital. Here the cannon and rifles in hundreds were turned upon them, but they still fought. Often, with no time to reload their rifles, they clubbed them, and drove back the Mexican rush.
The Alamo was a huge volcano of fire and smoke, of shouting and death. Those who looked on became silent again, appalled at the sights and sounds. The smoke rose far above the mission, and caught by a light wind drifted away to the east. The Mexican generals brought up fresh forces and drove them at the fortress. A heavy column, attacking on the south side, where no defenders were now left, poured over a stockade and crowded into the mission. The circle of cavalry about the Alamo again drew closer, lest any Texan should escape. But it was a useless precaution. None sought flight.
In very truth, the last hope of the Alamo was gone, and perhaps there was none among the defenders who did not know it. There were a few wild and desperate characters of the border, whom nothing in life became so much as their manner of leaving it. In the culminating moment of the great tragedy they bore themselves as well as the best.
Travis, the commander, and Bonham stood in the long room of the hospital with a little group around them, most of them wounded, the faces of all black with powder smoke. But they fought on. Whenever a Mexican appeared at the door an unerring rifle bullet struck him down. Fifty fell at that single spot before the rifles, yet they succeeded in dragging up a cannon, thrust its muzzle in at the door and fired it twice loaded with grape shot into the room.
The Texans were cut down by the shower of missiles, and the whole place was filled with smoke. Then the Mexicans rushed in and the few Texans who had survived the grape shot fell fighting to the last with their clubbed rifles. Here lay Travis of the white soul and beside him fell the brave Bonham, who had gone out for help, and who had returned to die with his comrades. The Texans who had defended the room against so many were only fifteen in number, and they were all silent now. Now the whole attack converged on the church, the strongest part of the Alamo, where the Texans were making their last stand. The place was seething with fire and smoke, but above it still floated the banner upon which was written in great letters the word, "Texas."
The Mexicans, pressing forward in dense masses, poured in cannon balls and musket balls at every opening. Half the Texans were gone, but the others never ceased to fire with their rifles. Within that raging inferno they could hardly see one another for the smoke, but they were all animated by the same purpose, to fight to the death and to carry as many of their foes with them as they could.
Evans, who had commanded the cannon, rushed for the magazine to blow up the building. They had agreed that if all hope were lost he should do so, but he was killed on his way by a bullet, and the others went on with the combat.
Near the entrance to the church stood a great figure swinging a clubbed rifle. His raccoon skin cap was lost, and his eyes burned like coals of fire in his swarthy face. It was Crockett, gone mad with battle, and the Mexicans who pressed in recoiled before the deadly sweep of the clubbed rifle. Some were awed by the terrific figure, dripping blood, and wholly unconscious of danger.
"Forward!" cried a Mexican officer, and one of his men went down with a shattered skull. The others shrank back again, but a new figure pressed into the ring. It was that of the younger Urrea. At the last moment he had left the cavalry and joined in the assault.
"Don't come within reach of his blows!" he cried. "Shoot him! Shoot him!"
He snatched a double-barreled pistol from his own belt and fired twice straight at Crockett's breast. The great Tennesseean staggered, dropped his rifle and the flame died from his eyes. With a howl of triumph his foes rushed upon him, plunged their swords and bayonets into his body, and he fell dead with a heap of the Mexican slain about him.
A bullet whistled past Urrea's face and killed a man beyond him. He sprang back. Bowie, still suffering severe injuries from a fall from a platform, was lying on a cot in the arched room to the left of the entrance. Unable to walk, he had received at his request two pistols, and now he was firing them as fast as he could pull the triggers and reload.
"Shoot him! Shoot him at once!" cried Urrea.
His own pistol was empty now, but a dozen musket balls were fired into the room. Bowie, hit twice, nevertheless raised himself upon his elbow, aimed a pistol with a clear eye and a steady hand, and pulled the trigger. A Mexican fell, shot through the heart, but another volley of musket balls was discharged at the Georgian. Struck in both head and heart he suddenly straightened out and lay still upon the cot. Thus died the famous Bowie.
Mrs. Dickinson and her baby had been hidden in the arched room on the other side for protection. The Mexicans killed a Texan named Walters at the entrance, and, wild with ferocity, raised his body upon a half dozen bayonets while the blood ran down in a dreadful stream upon those who held it aloft.
Urrea rushed into the room and found the cowering woman and her baby. The Mexicans followed, and were about to slay them, too, when a gallant figure rushed between. It was the brave and humane Almonte. Sword in hand, he faced the savage horde. He uttered words that made Urrea turn dark with shame and leave the room. The soldiers were glad to follow.
At the far end of the church a few Texans were left, still fighting with clubbed rifles. The Mexicans drew back a little, raised their muskets and fired an immense shattering volley. When the smoke cleared away not a single Texan was standing, and then the troops rushed in with sword and bayonet.
It was nine o'clock in the morning, and the Alamo had fallen. The defenders were less than nine score, and they had died to the last man. A messenger rushed away at once to Santa Anna with the news of the triumph, and he came from the shelter, glorying, exulting and crying that he had destroyed the Texans.
Ned followed the dictator. He never knew exactly why, because many of those moments were dim, like the scenes of a dream, and there was so much noise, excitement and confusion that no one paid any attention to him. But an overwhelming power drew him on to the Alamo, and he rushed in with the Mexican spectators.
Ned passed through the sallyport and he reeled back aghast for a moment. The Mexican dead, not yet picked up, were strewn everywhere. They had fallen in scores. The lighter buildings were smashed by cannon balls and shells. The earth was gulleyed and torn. The smoke from so much firing drifted about in banks and clouds, and it gave forth the pungent odor of burned gunpowder.
The boy knew not only that the Alamo had fallen, but that all of its defenders had fallen with it. The knowledge was instinctive. He had been with those men almost to the last day of the siege, and he had understood their spirit.
He was not noticed in the crush. Santa Anna and the generals were running into the church, and he followed them. Here he saw the Texan dead, and he saw also a curious crowd standing around a fallen form. He pressed into the ring and his heart gave a great throb of grief.
It was Crockett, lying upon his back, his body pierced by many wounds. Ned had known that he would find him thus, but the shock, nevertheless, was terrible. Yet Crockett's countenance was calm. He bore no wounds in the face, and he lay almost as if he had died in his bed. It seemed to Ned even in his grief that no more fitting death could have come to the old hero.
Then, following another crowd, he saw Bowie, also lying peacefully in death upon his cot. He felt the same grief for him that he had felt for Crockett, but it soon passed in both cases. A strange mood of exaltation took its place. They had died as one might wish to die, since death must come to all. It was glorious that these defenders of the Alamo, comrades of his, should have fallen to the last man. The full splendor of their achievement suddenly burst in a dazzling vision before him. Texans who furnished such valor could not be conquered. Santa Anna might have twenty to one or fifty to one or a hundred to one, in the end it would not matter.
The mood endured. He looked upon the dead faces of Travis and Bonham also, and he was not shaken. He saw others, dozens and dozens whom he knew, and the faces of all of them seemed peaceful to him. The shouting and cheering and vast chatter of the Mexicans did not disturb him. His mood was so high that all these things passed as nothing.
Ned made no attempt to escape. He knew that while he might go about almost as he chose in this crowd of soldiers, now disorganized, the ring of cavalry beyond would hold him. The thought of escape, however, was but little in his mind just then. He was absorbed in the great tomb of the Alamo. Here, despite the recent work of the cannon, all things looked familiar. He could mark the very spots where he had stood and talked with Crockett or Bowie. He knew how the story of the immortal defence would spread like fire throughout Texas and beyond. When he should tell how he had seen the faces of the heroes, every heart must leap.
He wandered back to the church, where the curious still crowded. Many people from the town, influential Mexicans, wished to see the terrible Texans, who yet lay as they had fallen. Some spoke scornful words, but most regarded them with awe. Ned looked at Crockett for the second time, and a hand touched him on the shoulder. It was Urrea.
"Where are your Texans now?" he asked.
"They are gone," replied Ned, "but they will never be forgotten." And then he added in a flash of anger. "Five or six times as many Mexicans have gone with them."
"It is true," said the young Mexican thoughtfully. "They fought like cornered mountain wolves. We admit it. And this one, Crockett you call him, was perhaps the most terrible of them all. He swung his clubbed rifle so fiercely that none dared come within its reach. I slew him."
"You?" exclaimed Ned.
"Yes, I! Why should I not? I fired two pistol bullets into him and he fell."
He spoke with a certain pride. Ned said nothing, but he pressed his teeth together savagely and his heart swelled with hate of the sleek and triumphant Urrea.
"General Santa Anna, engrossed in much more important matters, has doubtless forgotten you," continued the Mexican, "but I will see that you do not escape. Why he spares you I know not, but it is his wish."
He called to two soldiers, whom he detailed to follow Ned and see that he made no attempt to escape. The boy was yet so deeply absorbed in the Alamo that no room was left in his mind for anything else. Nor did he care to talk further with Urrea, who he knew was not above aiming a shaft or two at an enemy in his power. He remained in the crowd until Santa Anna ordered that all but the troops be cleared from the Alamo.
Then, at the order of the dictator, the bodies of the Texans were taken without. A number of them were spread upon the ground, and were covered with a thick layer of dry wood and brush. Then more bodies of men and heaps of dry wood were spread in alternate layers until the funeral pile was complete.
Young Urrea set the torch, while the Mexican army and population looked on. The dry wood flamed up rapidly and the whole was soon a pyramid of fire and smoke. Ned was not shocked at this end, even of the bodies of brave men. He recalled the stories of ancient heroes, the bodies of whom had been consumed on just such pyres as this, and he was willing that his comrades should go to join Hercules, Hector, Achilles and the rest.
The flames roared and devoured the great pyramid, which sank lower, and at last Ned turned away. His mood of exaltation was passing. No one could remain keyed to that pitch many hours. Overwhelming grief and despair came in its place. His mind raged against everything, against the cruelty of Santa Anna, who had hoisted the red flag of no quarter, against fate, that had allowed so many brave men to perish, and against the overwhelming numbers that the Mexicans could always bring against the Texans.
He walked gloomily toward the town, the two soldiers who had been detailed as guards following close behind him. He looked back, saw the sinking blaze of the funeral pyre, shuddered and walked on.
San Antonio de Bexar was rejoicing. Most of its people, Mexican to the core, shared in the triumph of Santa Anna. The terrible Texans were gone, annihilated, and Santa Anna was irresistible. The conquest of Texas was easy now. No, it was achieved already. They had the dictator's own word for it that the rest was a mere matter of gathering up the fragments.
Some of the graver and more kindly Mexican officers thought of their own losses. The brave and humane Almonte walked through the courts and buildings of the Alamo, and his face blanched when he reckoned their losses. A thousand men killed or wounded was a great price to pay for the nine score Texans who were sped. But no such thoughts troubled Santa Anna. All the vainglory of his nature was aflame. They were decorating the town with all the flags and banners and streamers they could find, and he knew that it was for him. At night they would illuminate in his honor. He stretched out his arm toward the north and west, and murmured that it was all his. He would be the ruler of an empire half the size of Europe. The scattered and miserable Texans could set no bounds to his ambition. He had proved it.
He would waste no more time in that empty land of prairies and plains. He sent glowing dispatches about his victory to the City of Mexico and announced that he would soon come. His subordinates would destroy the wandering bands of Texans. Then he did another thing that appealed to his vanity. He wrote a proclamation to the Texans announcing the fall of the Alamo, and directing them to submit at once, on pain of death, to his authority. He called for Mrs. Dickinson, the young wife, now widow, whom the gallantry of Almonte had saved from massacre in the Alamo. He directed her to take his threat to the Texans at Gonzales, and she willingly accepted. Mounting a horse and alone save for the baby in her arms, she rode away from San Antonio, shuddering at the sight of the Mexicans, and passed out upon the desolate and dangerous prairies.
The dictator was so absorbed in his triumph and his plans for his greater glory that for the time he forgot all about Ned Fulton, his youthful prisoner, who had crossed the stream and who was now in the town, attended by the two peons whom Urrea had detailed as his guards. But Ned had come out of his daze, and his mind was as keen and alert as ever. The effects of the great shock of horror remained. His was not a bitter nature, but he could not help feeling an intense hatred of the Mexicans. He was on the battle line, and he saw what they were doing. He resolved that now was his time to escape, and in the great turmoil caused by the excitement and rejoicing in San Antonio he did not believe that it would be difficult.
He carefully cultivated the good graces of the two soldiers who were guarding him. He bought for them mescal and other fiery drinks which were now being sold in view of the coming festival. Their good nature increased and also their desire to get rid of a task that had been imposed upon them. Why should they guard a boy when everybody else was getting ready to be merry?
They went toward the Main Plaza, and came to the Zambrano Row, where the Texans had fought their way when they took San Antonio months before. Ned looked up at the buildings. They were still dismantled. Great holes were in the walls and the empty windows were like blind eyes. He saw at once that their former inhabitants had not yet returned to them, and here he believed was his chance.
When they stood beside the first house he called the attention of his guards to some Mexican women who were decorating a doorway across the street. When they looked he darted into the first of the houses in the Zambrano Row. He entered a large room and at the corner saw a stairway. He knew this place. He had been here in the siege of San Antonio by the Texans, and now he had the advantage over his guards, who were probably strangers.
He rushed for the staircase and, just as he reached the top, one of the guards, who had followed as soon as they noticed the flight of the prisoner, fired his musket. The discharge roared in the room, but the bullet struck the wall fully a foot away from the target. Ned was on the second floor, and out of range the next moment. He knew that the soldiers would follow him, and he passed through the great hole, broken by the Texans, into the next house.
Here he paused to listen, and he heard the two soldiers muttering and breathing heavily. The distaste which they already felt for their task had become a deep disgust. Why should they be deprived of their part in the festival to follow up a prisoner? What did a single captive amount to, anyhow? Even if he escaped now the great, the illustrious Santa Anna, whose eyes saw all things, would capture him later on when he swept all the scattered Texans into his basket.
Ned went from house to house through the holes broken in the party walls, and occasionally he heard his pursuers slouching along and grumbling. At the fourth house he slipped out upon the roof, and lay flat near the stone coping.
He knew that if the soldiers came upon the roof they would find him, but he relied upon the mescal and their lack of zeal. He heard them once tramping about in the room below him, and then he heard them no more.
Ned remained all the rest of the afternoon upon the roof, not daring to leave his cramped position against the coping. He felt absolutely safe there from observation, Mexicans would not be prowling through dismantled and abandoned houses at such a time. Now and then gay shouts came from the streets below. The Mexicans of Bexar were disturbed little by the great numbers of their people who had fallen at the Alamo. The dead were from the far valleys of Mexico, and were strangers.
Ned afterward thought that he must have slept a little toward twilight, but he was never sure of it. He saw the sun set, and the gray and silent Alamo sink away into the darkness. Then he slipped from the roof, anxious to be away before the town was illuminated. He had no difficulty at all in passing unnoticed through the streets, and he made his way straight for the Alamo.
He was reckoning very shrewdly now. He knew that the superstitious Mexicans would avoid the mission at night as a place thronged with ghosts, and that Santa Anna would not need to post any guard within those walls. He would pass through the inclosures, then over the lower barriers by which the Mexicans had entered, and thence into the darkness beyond.
It seemed to him the best road to escape, and he had another object also in entering the Alamo. The defenders had had three or four rifles apiece, and he was convinced that somewhere in the rooms he would find a good one, with sufficient ammunition.
It was with shudders that he entered the Alamo, and the shudders came again when he looked about the bloodstained courts and rooms, lately the scene of such terrible strife, but now so silent. In a recess of the church which had been used as a little storage place by himself and Crockett he found an excellent rifle of the long-barreled Western pattern, a large horn of powder and a pouch full of bullets. There was also a supply of dried beef, which he took, too.
Now he felt himself a man again. He would find the Texans and then they would seek vengeance for the Alamo. He crossed the Main Plaza, dropped over the low wall and quickly disappeared in the dusk.
THE NEWS OF THE FALL
Five days before the fall of the Alamo a little group of men began to gather at the village of Washington, on the Brazos river in Texas. The name of the little town indicated well whence its people had come. All the houses were new, mostly of unpainted wood, and they contained some of the furniture of necessity, none of luxury. The first and most important article was the rifle which the Texans never needed more than they did now.
But this new and little Washington was seething with excitement and suspense, and its population was now more than triple the normal. News had come that the Alamo was beleaguered by a force many times as numerous as its defenders, and that Crockett, Bowie, Travis and other famous men were inside. They had heard also that Santa Anna had hoisted the red flag of no quarter, and that Texans everywhere, if taken, would be slaughtered as traitors. The people of Washington had full cause for their excitement and suspense.
The little town also had the unique distinction of being a capital for a day or two. The Texans felt, with the news that Santa Anna had enveloped the Alamo, that they must take decisive action. They believed that the Mexicans had broken every promise to the Texans. They knew that not only their liberty and property, but their lives, also, were in peril. Despite the great disparity of numbers it must be a fight to the death between Texas and Mexico. The Texans were now gathering at Washington.
One man who inspired courage wherever he went had come already. Sam Houston had ridden into town, calm, confident and talking only of victory. He was dressed with a neatness and care unusual on the border, wearing a fine black suit, while his face was shaded by the wide brim of a white sombrero. The famous scouts, "Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes, and young Zavala, whom Ned had known in Mexico, were there also.
Fifty-eight delegates representing Texas gathered in the largest room of a frame building. "Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes came in and sat with their rifles across their knees. While some of the delegates were talking Houston signaled to the two, and they went outside.
"What do you hear from the Alamo, Smith?" asked Houston.
"Travis has fought off all the attacks of the Mexicans," replied the great borderer, "but when Santa Anna brings up his whole force an' makes a resolute assault it's bound to go under. The mission is too big an' scattered to be held by Travis an' his men against forty or fifty times their number."
"I fear so. I fear so," said Houston sadly, "and we can't get together enough men for its relief. All this quarreling and temporizing are our ruin. Heavens, what a time for disagreements!"
"There couldn't be a worse time, general," said Henry Karnes. "Me an' 'Deaf' would like mighty well to march to the Alamo. A lot of our friends are in there an' I reckon we've seen them for the last time."
The fine face of Houston grew dark with melancholy.
"Have you been anywhere near San Antonio?" he asked Smith.
"Not nearer than thirty miles," replied Smith, "but over at Goliad I saw a force under Colonel Fannin that was gettin' ready to start to the relief of Travis. With it were some friends of mine. There was Palmer, him they call the Panther, the biggest and strongest man in Texas; Obed White, a New Englander, an' a boy, Will Allen. I've knowed 'em well for some time, and there was another that belonged to their little band. But he's in the Alamo now, an' they was wild to rescue him."
"Do you think Fannin will get through?" asked Houston.
"I don't," replied Smith decidedly, "an' if he did it would just mean the loss of more good men for us. What do you think about it, Hank?"
"The same that you do," replied Karnes.
Houston pondered over their words a long time. He knew that they were thoroughly acquainted with Texas and the temper of its people, and he relied greatly on their judgment. When he went back in the room which was used as a convention hall Smith and Karnes remained outside.
Smith sat down on the grass, lighted a pipe and began to smoke deliberately. Karnes also sat down on the grass, lighted his own pipe and smoked with equal deliberation. Each man rested his rifle across his knees.
"Looks bad," said Smith.
"Talkin's no good when the enemy's shootin'."
"Reckon there's nothin' left for us but this," tapping the barrel of his rifle significantly.
"Only tool that's left for us to use."
"Reckon we'll soon have as many chances as we want to use it, an' more."
"Reckon you're Almighty right."
"An' we'll be there every time."
The two men reached over and shook hands deliberately. Houston by and by came out again, and saw them sitting there smoking, two images of patience and quiet.
"Boys," he said, "you're not taking much part in the proceedings."
"Not much, just yet, Colonel Sam," replied Smith, "but we're waitin'. I reckon that to-morrow you'll declare Texas free an' independent, a great an' good republic. An' as there ain't sixty of you to declare it, mebbe you'll need the help of some fellows like Hank an' me to make them resolutions come true."
"We will," said Houston, "and we know that we can rely upon you."
He was about to pass on, but he changed his mind and sat down with the men. Houston was a singular character. He had been governor of an important state, and he had lived as a savage among savages. He could adapt himself to any company.
"Boys," he said, "you know a merchant, John Roylston, who has headquarters in New Orleans, and also offices in St. Louis and Cincinnati?"
"We do," said Smith, "an' we've seen him, too, more than once. He's been in these parts not so long ago."
"He's in New Orleans now," said Houston. "He's the biggest trader along the coast. Has dealings with Santa Anna himself, but he's a friend of Texas, a powerful one. Boys, I've in my pocket now an order from him good for a hundred thousand dollars. It's to be spent buying arms and ammunition for us. And when the time comes there's more coming from the same place. We've got friends, but keep this to yourselves."
He walked on and the two took a long and meditative pull at their pipes.
"I reckon Roylston may not shoot as straight as we can," said Smith, "but mebbe at as long range as New Orleans he can do more harm to the Mexicans than we can."
"Looks like it. I ain't much of a hand at money, but I like the looks of that man Roylston, an' I reckon the more rifles and the more ammunition we have the fewer Mexicans will be left."
The two scouts, having smoked as long as they wished, went to their quarters and slept soundly through the night. But Houston and the leading Texans with him hardly slept at all. There was but one course to choose, and they were fully aware of its gravity, Houston perhaps more so than the rest, as he had seen more of the world. They worked nearly all night in the bare room, and when Houston sought his room he was exhausted.
Houston's room was a bare little place, lighted by a tallow candle, and although it was not long until day he sat there a while before lying down. A man of wide experience, he alone, with the exception of Roylston, knew how desperate was the situation of the Texans. In truth, it was the money of Roylston sent from New Orleans that had caused him to hazard the chance. He knew, too, that, in time, more help would arrive from the same source, and he believed there would be a chance against the Mexicans, a fighting chance, it is true, but men who were willing to die for a cause seldom failed to win. He blew out the candle, got in bed and slept soundly.
"Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes were up early—they seldom slept late—and saw the sun rise out of the prairie. They were in a house which had a small porch, looking toward the Brazos. After breakfast they lighted their cob pipes again, smoked and meditated.
"Reckon somethin' was done by our leadin' statesmen last night," said Smith.
"Reckon there was," said Karnes.
"Reckon I can guess what it was."
"Reckon I can, too."
"Reckon I'll wait to hear it offish-ul-ly before I speak."
"Reckon I will, too. Lots of time wasted talkin'."
"Reckon you're right."
They sat in silence for a full two hours. They smoked the first hour, and they passed the second in their chairs without moving. They had mastered the borderer's art of doing nothing thoroughly, when nothing was to be done. Then a man came upon the porch and spoke to them. His name was Burnet, David G. Burnet.
"Good mornin'. How is the new republic?" said "Deaf" Smith.
"So you know," said Burnet.
"We don't know, but we've guessed, Hank an' me. We saw things as they was comin'."
"I reckon, too," said Karnes, "that we ain't a part of Mexico any more."
"No, we're a free an' independent republic. It was so decided last night, and we've got nothing more to do now but to whip a nation of eight millions, the fifty thousand of us."
"Well," said Smith philosophically, "it's a tough job, but it might be did. I've heard tell that them old Greeks whipped the Persians when the odds were powerful high against them."
"That is true," said Burnet, "and we can at least try. We give the reason for declaring our independence. We assert to the world that the Mexican republic has become a military despotism, that our agents carrying petitions have been thrown in dungeons in the City of Mexico, that we have been ordered to give up the arms necessary for our defence against the savages, and that we have been deprived of every right guaranteed to us when we settled here."
"We're glad it's done, although we knew it would be done," said Smith. "We ain't much on talkin', Mr. President, Hank an' me, but we can shoot pretty straight, an' we're at your call."
"I know that, God bless you both," said Burnet. "The talking is over. It's rifles that we need and plenty of them. Now I've to see Houston. We're to talk over ways and means."
He hurried away, and the two, settling back into their chairs on the porch, relighted their pipes and smoked calmly.
"Reckon there'll be nothin' doin' for a day or two, Hank," said Smith.
"Reckon not, but we'll have to be doin' a powerful lot later, or be hoofin' it for the tall timber a thousand miles north."
"You always was full of sense, Hank. Now there goes Sam Houston. Queer stories about his leavin' Tennessee and his life in the Indian Territory."
"That's so, but he's an honest man, looks far ahead, an' 'tween you an' me, 'Deaf,' it's a thousand to one that he's to lead us in the war."
"Reckon you're guessin' good."
Houston, who had just awakened and dressed, was walking across the grass and weeds to meet Burnet. Not even he, when he looked at the tiny village and the wilderness spreading about it, foresaw how mighty a state was to rise from beginnings so humble and so small. He and Burnet went back into the convention hall, and he wrote a fiery appeal to the people. He said that the Alamo was beleaguered and "the citizens of Texas must rally to the aid of our army or it will perish."
Smith and Karnes remained while the convention continued its work. They did little ostensibly but smoke their cob pipes, but they observed everything and thought deeply. On Sunday morning, five days after the men had gathered at Washington, as they stood at the edge of the little town they saw a man galloping over the prairie. Neither spoke, but watched him for a while, as the unknown came on, lashing a tired horse.
"'Pears to be in a hurry," said Smith.
"An' to be in a hurry generally means somethin' in these parts," said Karnes.
"I'm makin' 'a guess."
"So am I, an' yours is the same as mine. He comes from the Alamo."
Others now saw the man, and there was a rush toward him. His horse fell at the edge of the town, but the rider sprang to his feet and came toward the group, which included both Houston and Burnet. He was a wild figure, face and clothing covered with dust. But he recognized Houston and turned to him at once.
"You're General Houston, and I'm from the Alamo," he said. "I bring a message from Colonel Travis."
There was a sudden and heavy intake of breath in the whole group.
"Then the Alamo has not fallen?" said Houston.
"Not when I left, but that was three days ago. Here is the letter."
It was the last letter of Travis, concluding with the words: "God and Texas; victory or death." But when the messenger put the letter into the hands of Houston the Alamo had fallen two hours before.
The letter was laid before the convention, and the excitement was great and irrepressible. The feelings of these stern men were moved deeply. Many wished to adjourn at once and march to the relief of the Alamo, but the eloquence of Houston, who had been reelected Commander-in-chief, prevailed against the suggestion. Then, with two or three men, he departed for Gonzales to raise a force, while the others elected Burnet President of the new Texas, and departed for Harrisburg on Buffalo Bayou.
"Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes did not go just then with Houston. They were scouts, hunters and rough riders, and they could do as they pleased. They notified General Sam Houston, commander-in-chief of the Texan armies, that they would come on later, and he was content.
When the Texan government and the Texan army, numbering combined about a hundred men, followed by most of the population, numbering fifty or sixty more, filed off for Gonzales, the two sat once more on the same porch, smoking their cob pipes. They were not ordinary men. They were not ordinary scouts and borderers. One from the north and one from the south, they were much alike in their mental processes, their faculties of keen observation and deep reasoning. Both were now stirred to the core, but neither showed a trace of it on his face. They watched the little file pass away over the prairie until it was lost to sight behind the swells, and then Smith spoke:
"I reckon you an' me, Hank, will ride toward the Alamo."
"I reckon we will, Deaf, and that right away."
Inside of five minutes they were on the road, armed and provisioned, the best two borderers, with the single exception of the Panther, in all the southwest. They were mounted on powerful mustangs, which, with proper handling and judicious rests, could go on forever. But they pushed them a little that afternoon, stopped for two hours after sundown, and then went on again. They crossed the Colorado River in the night, swimming their horses, and about a mile further on stopped in dense chaparral. They tethered the mustangs near them, and spread out their blankets.
"If anything comes the horses will wake us," said Smith.
"I reckon they will," said Karnes.
Both were fast asleep in a few minutes, but they awoke shortly after sunrise. They made a frugal breakfast, while the mustangs had cropped short grass in the night. Both horses and men, as tough and wiry as they ever become, were again as fresh as the dawn, and, with not more than a dozen words spoken, the two mounted and rode anew on their quest. Always chary of speech, they became almost silence itself as they drew nearer to San Antonio de Bexar. In the heart of each was a knowledge of the great tragedy, not surmise, but the certainty that acute intelligence deduces from facts.
They rode on until, by a simultaneous impulse, the two reined their horses back into a cypress thicket and waited. They had seen three horsemen on the sky line, coming, in the main, in their direction. Their trained eyes noticed at once that the strangers were of varying figure. The foremost, even at the distance, seemed to be gigantic, the second was very long and thin, and the third was normal. Smith and Karnes watched them a little while, and then Karnes spoke in words of true conviction.
"It would be hard, Deaf, for even a bad eye to mistake the foremost."
"Right you are, Hank. You might comb Texas with a fine-tooth comb an' you'd never rake out such another."
"If that ain't Mart Palmer, the Ring Tailed Panther, I'll go straight to Santa Anna an' ask him to shoot me as a fool."
"You won't have to go to Santa Anna."
Smith rode from the covert, put his curved hand to his mouth, and uttered a long piercing cry. The three horsemen stopped at once, and the giant in the lead gave back the signal in the same fashion. Then the two little parties rode rapidly toward each other. While they were yet fifty yards apart they uttered words of hail and good fellowship, and when they met they shook hands with the friendship that has been sealed by common hardships and dangers.
"You're goin' toward the Alamo?" said Smith.
"Yes," replied the Panther. "We started that way several days ago, but we've been delayed. We had a brush with one little party of Mexicans, and we had to dodge another that was too big for us. I take it that you ride for the same place."
"We do. Were you with Fannin?"
The dark face of the Panther grew darker.
"We were," he replied. "He started to the relief of the Alamo, but the ammunition wagon broke down, an' they couldn't get the cannon across the San Antonio River. So me an' Obed White an' Will Allen here have come on alone."
"News for news," said Smith dryly. "Texas has just been made a free an' independent republic, an' Sam Houston has been made commander-in-chief of all its mighty armies, horse, foot an' cannon. We saw all them things done back there at Washington settlement, an' we, bein' a part of the army, are ridin' to the relief of the Alamo."
"We j'in you, then," said the Panther, "an' Texas raises two armies of the strength of three an' two to one of five. Oh, if only all the Texans had come what a roarin' an' rippin' an' t'arin' and chawin' there would have been when we struck Santa Anna's army, no matter how big it might be."
"But they didn't come," said Smith grimly, "an' as far as I know we five are all the Texans that are ridin' toward San Antonio de Bexar an' the Alamo."
"But bein' only five won't keep us from ridin' on," said the Panther.
"And things are not always as bad as they look," said Obed White, after he had heard of the messenger who had come to Houston and Unmet. "It's never too late to hope."
The five rode fast the remainder of the day. They passed through a silent and desolate land. They saw a few cabins, but every one was abandoned. The deep sense of tragedy was over them all, even over young Will Allen. They rarely spoke, and they rode along in silence, save for the beat of their horses' hoofs. Shortly before night they met a lone buffalo hunter whom the Panther knew.
"Have you been close to San Antonio, Simpson?" asked the Panther, after the greeting.
"I've been three or four days hangin' 'roun' the neighborhood," replied the hunter. "I came down from the northwest when I heard that Santa Anna was advancing an' once I thought I'd make a break an' try to get into the Alamo, but the Mexican lines was drawed too thick an' close."
"Have you heard anything about the men inside?" asked the Panther eagerly.
"Not a thing. But I've noticed this. A mornin' an' evenin' gun was fired from the fortress every day until yesterday, Sunday, an' since then—nothin'."
The silence in the little band was as ominous as the silence of the morning and evening gun. Simpson shook his head sadly.
"Boys," he said, "I'm goin' to ride for Gonzales an' join Houston. I don't think it's any use for me to be hangin' aroun' San Antonio de Bexar any longer. I wish you luck in whatever you're tryin' to do."
He rode away, but the five friends continued their course toward the Alamo, without hope now, but resolved to see for themselves. Deep in the night, which fortunately for their purpose was dark, heavy clouds shutting out the moon and stars, they approached San Antonio from the east. They saw lights, which they knew were those of the town, but there was darkness only where they knew the Alamo stood.
They tethered their horses in some bushes and crept closer, until they could see the dim bulk of the Alamo. No light shone there. They listened long and intently, but not a single sound came from the great hecatomb. Again they crept nearer. There were no Mexican guards anywhere. A little further and they stood by the low northern wall.
"Boys," said the Panther, "I can't stand it any longer. Queer feelin's are runnin' all over me. No, I'm goin' to take the risk, if there is any, all alone. You wait for me here, an' if I don't come back in an hour then you can hunt for me."
The Panther climbed over the wall and disappeared. The others remained in the deepest shadow waiting and silent. They were oppressed by the heavy gloom that hung over the Alamo. It was terrifying to young Will Allen, not the terror that is caused by the fear of men, but the terror that comes from some tragic mystery that is more than half guessed.
Nearly an hour passed, when a great figure leaped lightly from the wall and joined them. The swarthy face of the Panther was as white as chalk, and he was shivering.
"Boys," he whispered, "I've seen what I never want to see ag'in. I've seen red, red everywhere. I've been through the rooms of the Alamo, an' they're red, splashed with the red blood of men. The water in the ditch was stained with red, an' the earth all about was soaked with it. Somethin' awful must have happened in the Alamo. There must have been a terrible fight, an' I'm thinkin' that most of our fellows must have died before it was took. But it's give me the creeps, boys, an' I think we'd better get away."
"We can't leave any too quick to please me," said Will Alien. "I'm seeing ghosts all the time."
"Now that we know for sure the Alamo has fallen," said Smith, "nothin' is to be gained by stayin' here. It's for Sam Houston to lead us to revenge, and the more men he has the better. I vote we ride for Gonzales."
"Seein' what we can see as we go," said Karnes. "The more information we can pick up on the way about the march of the Mexicans the better it will be for Houston."
"No doubt of that," said the Panther. "When we go to roarin' an' rippin' an' t'arin' we must know what we're about. But come on, boys, all that red in the Alamo gives me conniption fits."
They rode toward the east for a long time until they thought they were beyond the reach of Mexican skirmishing parties, and then they slept in a cypress thicket, Smith and Karnes standing guard by turns. As everybody needed rest they did not resume their journey the next day until nearly noon, and they spent most of the afternoon watching for Mexican scouts, although they saw none. They had a full rest that night and the next day they rode slowly toward Gonzales.
About the middle of the afternoon, as they reached the crest of a swell, Will Allen uttered an exclamation, and pointed toward the eastern horizon. There they saw a single figure on horseback, and another walking beside it. The afternoon sun was very bright, casting a glow over the distant figures, and, shading their eyes with their hands, they gazed at them a long time.
"It's a woman that's ridin'," said Smith at last, "an' she's carryin' some sort of a bundle before her."
"You're shorely right, Deaf," said Karnes, "an' I think the one walkin' is a black fellow. Looks like it from here."
"I'm your way of thinkin'," said the Panther, "an' the woman on the horse is American, or I'm mightily fooled in my guess. S'pose we ride ahead faster an' see for shore."
They increased the speed of their mustangs to a gallop and rapidly overhauled the little party. They saw the woman trying to urge her horse to greater speed. But the poor beast, evidently exhausted, made no response. The woman, turning in the saddle, looked back at her pursuers.
"By all that's wonderful!" exclaimed Obed White, "the bundle that she's carrying is a baby!"
"It's so," said Smith, "an' you can see well enough now that she's one of our own people. We must show her that she's got nothin' to fear from us."
He shouted through his arched hands in tremendous tones that they were Texans and friends. The woman stopped, and as they galloped up she would have fallen from her horse had not Obed White promptly seized her and, dismounting, lifted her and the baby tenderly to the ground. The colored boy who had been walking stood by and did not say anything aloud, but muttered rapidly: "Thank the Lord! Thank the Lord!"
Three of the five were veteran hunters, but they had never before found such a singular party on the prairie. The woman sat down on the ground, still holding the baby tightly in her arms, and shivered all over. The Texans regarded her in pitying silence for a few minutes, and then Obed White said in gentle tones:
"We are friends, ready to take you to safety. Tell us who you are."
"I am Mrs. Dickinson," she replied.
"Deaf" Smith looked startled.
"There was a Lieutenant Dickinson in the Alamo," he said.
"I am his wife," she replied, "and this is our child."
"And where is——" Smith stopped suddenly, knowing what the answer must be.
"He is dead," she replied. "He fell in the defence of the Alamo."
"Might he not be among the prisoners?" suggested Obed White gently.
"Prisoners!" she replied. "There were no prisoners. They fought to the last. Every man who was in the Alamo died in its defence."
The five stared at her in amazement, and for a little while none spoke.
"Do you mean to say," asked Obed White, "that none of the Texans survived the fall of the Alamo?"
"None," she replied.
"How do you know?"
Her pale face filled with color. It seemed that she, too, at that moment felt some of the glow that the fall of the Alamo was to suffuse through Texas.
"Because I saw," she replied. "I was in one of the arched rooms of the church, where they made the last stand. I saw Crockett fall and I saw the death of Bowie, too. I saw Santa Anna exult, but many, many Mexicans fell also. It was a terrible struggle. I shall see it again every day of my life, even if I live to be a hundred."
She covered her face with her hands, as if she would cut out the sight of that last inferno in the church. The others were silent, stunned for the time.
"All gone," said Obed White, at last. "When the news is spread that every man stood firm to the last I think it will light such a fire in Texas that Santa Anna and all his armies cannot put it out."
"Did you see a boy called Ned Fulton in the Alamo, a tall, handsome fellow with brown hair and gray eyes?" asked Obed White.
"Often," replied Mrs. Dickinson. "He was with Crockett and Bowie a great deal."
"And none escaped?" said Will Allen.
"Not one," she repeated, "I did not see him in the church in the final assault. He doubtless fell in the hospital or in the convent yard. Ah, he was a friend of yours! I am sorry."
"Yes, he was a friend of ours," said the Panther. "He was more than that to me. I loved that boy like a son, an' me an' my comrades here mean to see that the Mexicans pay a high price for his death. An' may I ask, ma'am, how you come to be here?"
She told him how Santa Anna had provided her with the horse, and had sent her alone with the proclamation to the Texans. At the Salado Creek she had come upon the negro servant of Travis, who had escaped from San Antonio, and he was helping her on the way.
"An' now, ma'am," said "Deaf" Smith, "we'll guard you the rest of the way to Gonzales."
The two little groups, now fused into one, resumed their journey over the prairie.
IN ANOTHER TRAP
When Ned Fulton scaled the lowest wall of the Alamo and dropped into the darkness he ran for a long time. He scarcely knew in what direction he was going, but he was anxious to get away from that terrible town of San Antonio de Bexar. He was filled with grief for his friends and anger against Santa Anna and his people. He had passed through an event so tremendous in its nature, so intense and fiery in its results, that his whole character underwent a sudden change. But a boy in years, the man nevertheless replaced the boy in his mind. He had looked upon the face of awful things, so awful that few men could bear to behold them.
There was a certain hardening of his nature now. As he ran, and while the feeling of horror was still upon him, the thought of vengeance swelled into a passion. The Texans must strike back for what had been done in the Alamo. Surely all would come when they heard the news that he was bringing.
He believed that the Texans, and they must be assembled in force somewhere, would be toward the east or the southeast, at Harrisburg or Goliad or some other place. He would join them as soon as he could, and he slackened his pace to a walk. He was too good a borderer now to exhaust himself in the beginning.
He was overpowered after a while by an immense lethargy. A great collapse, both physical and mental, came after so much exhaustion. He felt that he must rest or die. The night was mild, as the spring was now well advanced in Texas, and he sought a dense thicket in which he might lie for a while. But there was no scrub or chaparral within easy reach, and his feeling of lassitude became so great that he stopped when he came to a huge oak and lay down under the branches, which spread far and low.
He judged that he was about six miles from San Antonio, a reasonably safe distance for the night, and, relaxing completely, he fell asleep. Then nature began her great work. The pulses which were beating so fast and hard in the hoy's body grew slower and more regular, and at last became normal. The blood flowed in a fresh and strong current through his veins. The great physician, minute by minute, was building up his system again.
Ned's collapse had been so complete that he did not stir for hours. The day came and the sun rose brilliant in red and gold. The boy did not stir, but not far away a large animal moved. Ned's tree was at the edge of a little grassy plain, and upon this the animal stood, with a head held high and upturned nose sniffing the breeze that came from the direction of the sleeper.
It was in truth a great animal, one with tremendous teeth, and after hesitating a while it walked toward the tree under which the boy lay. Here it paused and again sniffed the air, which was now strong with the human odor. It remained there a while, staring with great eyes at the sleeping form, and then went back to the grassy little meadow. It revisited the boy at intervals, but never disturbed him, and Ned slept peacefully on.
It was nearly noon when Ned awoke, and he might not have awakened then had not the sun from its new position sent a shaft of light directly into his eyes. He saw that his precious rifle was still lying by his side, and then he sprang to his feet, startled to find by the sun that it was so late. He heard a loud joyous neigh, and a great bay horse trotted toward him.
It was Old Jack, the faithful dumb brute, of which he had thought so rarely during all those tense days in the Alamo. The Mexicans had not taken him. He was here, and happy chance had brought him and his master together again. It was so keen a joy to see a friend again, even an animal, that Ned put his arm around Old Jack's neck, and for the first time tears came to his eyes.
"Good Old Jack!" he said, patting his horse's nose. "You must have been waiting here all the time for me. And you must have fared well, too. I never before saw you looking so fat and saucy."
The finding of the horse simplified Ned's problem somewhat. He had neither saddle nor bridle, but Old Jack always obeyed him beautifully. He believed that if it came to the pinch, and it became necessary for him to ride for his life, he could guide him in the Indian fashion with the pressure of the knees.
He made a sort of halter of withes which he fastened on Old Jack's head, and then he sprang upon his bare back, feeling equal to almost anything. He rode west by south now, his course taking him toward Goliad, and he went on at a good gait until twilight. A little later he made out the shapes of wild turkeys, then very numerous in Texas among the boughs of the trees, and he brought a fine fat one down at the first shot. After some difficulty he lighted a fire with the flint and steel, which the Mexicans fortunately had not taken from him, toasted great strips over the coals, and ate hungrily of juicy and tender wild turkey.
He was all the time aware that his fire might bring danger down upon him, but he was willing to chance it. After he had eaten enough he took the remainder of his turkey and rode on. It was a clear, starry night and, as he had been awake only since noon, he continued until about ten o'clock, when he again took the turf under a tree for a couch. He slipped the rude halter from Old Jack, patted him on the head and said:
"Old Jack, after the lofty way in which you have behaved I wouldn't disgrace you by tying you up for the night. Moreover, I know that you're the best guard I could possibly have, and so, trusting you implicitly, I shall go to sleep."
His confidence was justified, and the next morning they were away again over the prairie. Ned was sure that he would meet roving Texans or Mexicans before noon, but he saw neither. He surmised that the news of Santa Anna's great force had sent all the Texans eastward, but the loneliness and desolation nevertheless weighed upon him.
He crossed several streams, all of them swollen and deep from spring rains, and every time he came to one he returned thanks again because he had found Old Jack. The great horse always took the flood without hesitation, and would come promptly to the other bank.
He saw many deer, and started up several flights of wild turkeys, but he did not disturb them. He was a soldier now, not a hunter, and he sought men, not animals. Another night came and found him still alone on the prairie. As before, he slept undisturbed under the boughs of a tree, and he awoke the next morning thoroughly sound in body and much refreshed in mind. But the feeling of hardness, the desire for revenge, remained. He was continually seeing the merciless face of Santa Anna and the sanguinary interior of the Alamo. The imaginative quality of his mind and his sensitiveness to cruelty had heightened the effect produced upon him.
He continued to ride through desolate country for several days, living on the game that his rifle brought. He slept one night in an abandoned cabin, with Old Jack resting in the grass that was now growing rankly at the door. He came the next day to a great trail, so great in truth that he believed it to have been made by Mexicans. He did not believe that there was anywhere a Texan force sufficient to tread out so broad a road.
He noticed, too, that the hoofs of the horses were turned in the general direction of Goliad or Victoria, nearer the sea, and he concluded that this was another strong Mexican army intended to complete the ruin of infant Texas. He decided to follow, and near nightfall he saw the camp fires of a numerous force. He rode as near as he dared and reckoned that there were twelve or fifteen hundred men in the camp. He was sure that it was no part of the army with which Santa Anna had taken the Alamo.
Ned rode a wide circuit around the camp and continued his ride in the night. He was forced to rest and sleep a while toward morning, but shortly after daylight he went forward again to warn he knew not whom. Two or three hours later he saw two horsemen on the horizon, and he rode toward them. He knew that if they should prove to be Mexicans Old Jack was swift enough to carry him out of reach. But he soon saw that they were Texans, and he hailed them.
The two men stopped and watched him as he approached. The fact that he rode a horse without saddle or bridle was sufficient to attract their attention, and they saw, too, that he was wild in appearance, with long, uncombed hair and torn clothing. They were hunters who had come out from the little town of Refugio.
Ned hailed them again when he came closer.
"You are Texans and friends?" he said.
"Yes, we are Texans and friends," replied the older of the two men. "Who are you?"
"My name is Fulton, Edward Fulton, and I come from the Alamo."
"The Alamo? How could that be? How could you get out?"
"I was sent out on an errand by Colonel Crockett, a fictitious errand for the purpose of saving me, I now believe. But I fell at once into the hands of Santa Anna. The next morning the Alamo was taken by storm, but every Texan in it died in its defence. I saw it done."
Then he told to them the same tale that Mrs. Dickinson had told to the Panther and his little party, adding also that a large Mexican force was undoubtedly very near.
"Then you've come just in time," said the older man. "We've heard that a big force under General Urrea was heading for the settlements near the coast, and Captain King and twenty-five or thirty men are now at Refugio to take the people away. We'll hurry there with your news and we'll try to get you a saddle and bridle, too."
"For which I'll be thankful," said Ned.
But he was really more thankful for human companionship than anything else. He tingled with joy to be with the Texans again, and during the hours that they were riding to Refugio he willingly answered the ceaseless questions of the two men, Oldham and Jackson, who wanted to know everything that had happened at the Alamo. When they reached Refugio they found there Captain King with less than thirty men who had been sent by Fannin, as Jackson had said, to bring away the people.
Ned was taken at once to King, who had gathered his men in the little plaza. He saw that the soldiers were not Texans, that is, men who had long lived in Texas, but fresh recruits from the United States, wholly unfamiliar with border ways and border methods of fighting. The town itself was an old Mexican settlement with an ancient stone church or mission, after the fashion of the Alamo, only smaller.
"You say that you were in the Alamo, and that all the defenders have fallen except you?" said the Captain, looking curiously at Ned.
"Yes," replied the boy.
"And that the Mexican force dispatched against the Eastern settlements is much nearer than was supposed?"
"Yes," replied Ned, "and as proof of my words there it is now."
He had suddenly caught the gleam of lances in a wood a little distance to the west of the town, and he knew that the Mexican cavalry, riding ahead of the main army, was at hand. It was a large force, too, one with which the little band of recruits could not possibly cope in the open. Captain King seemed dazed, but Ned, glancing at the church, remembered the Alamo. Every Spanish church or mission was more or less of a fortress, and he exclaimed:
"The church, Captain, the church! We can hold it against the cavalry!"
"Good!" cried the Captain. "An excellent idea!"
They rushed for the church and Ned followed. Old Jack did not get the saddle and bridle that had been promised to him. When the boy leaped from his back he snatched off the halter of withes and shouted loudly to him: "Go!"
It pained him to abandon his horse a second time under compulsion, but there was no choice. Old Jack galloped away as if he knew what he ought to do, and then Ned, running into the church with the others, helped them to bar the doors.
The church was a solid building of stone with a flat roof, and with many loopholes made long ago as a defence against the Indians. Ned heard the cavalry thundering into the village as they barred the doors, and then he and half a dozen men ran to the roof. Lying down there, they took aim at the charging horsemen.
These were raw recruits, but they knew how to shoot. Their rifles flashed and four or five saddles were emptied. The men below were also firing from the loopholes, and the front rank of the Mexican cavalry was cut down by the bullets. The whole force turned at a shout from an officer, and galloped to the shelter of some buildings. Ned estimated that they were two hundred in number, and he surmised that young Urrea led them.
He descended from the roof and talked with King. The men understood their situation, but they were exultant. They had beaten off the enemy's cavalry, and they felt that the final victory must be theirs. But Ned had been in the Alamo, and he knew that the horsemen had merely hoped to surprise and overtake them with a dash. Stone fortresses are not taken by cavalry. He was sure that the present force would remain under cover until the main army came up with cannon. He suggested to Captain King that he send a messenger to Fannin for help.
King thought wisely of the suggestion and chose Jackson, who slipped out of the church, escaped through an oak forest and disappeared. Ned then made a careful examination of the church, which was quite a strong building with a supply of water inside and some dried corn. The men had brought rations also with them, and they were amply supplied for a siege of several days. But Ned, already become an expert in this kind of war, judged that it would not last so long. He believed that the Mexicans, flushed by the taking of the Alamo, would push matters.
King, lacking experience, leaned greatly on young Fulton. The men, who believed implicitly every word that he had said, regarded him almost with superstition. He alone of the defenders had come alive out of that terrible charnel house, the Alamo.
"I suspect," said King, "that the division you saw is under General Urrea."
"Very probably," said Ned. "Of course, Santa Anna, no longer having any use for his army in San Antonio, can send large numbers of troops eastward."
"Which means that we'll have a hard time defending this place," said King gloomily.
"Unless Fannin sends a big force to our help."
"I'm not so sure that he'll send enough," said King. "His men are nearly all fresh from the States, and they know nothing of the country. It's hard for him to tell what to do. We started once to the relief of the Alamo, but our ammunition wagon broke down and we could not get our cannon across the San Antonio River. Things don't seem to be going right with us."
Ned was silent. His thoughts turned back to the Alamo. And so Fannin and his men had started but had never come! Truly "things were going wrong!" But perhaps it was just as well. The victims would have only been more numerous, and Fannin's men were saved to fight elsewhere for Texas.
He heard a rattle of musketry, and through one of the loopholes he saw that the Mexican cavalry in the wood had opened a distant fire. Only a few of the bullets reached the church, and they fell spent against the stones. Ned saw that very little harm was likely to come from such a fire, but he believed it would be wise to show the Mexicans that the defenders were fully awake.
"Have you any specially good riflemen?" he asked King.
"Suppose you put them at the loopholes and see if they can't pick off some of those Mexican horsemen. It would have a most healthy effect."
Six young men came forward, took aim with their long barreled rifles, and at King's command fired. Three of the saddles were emptied, and there was a rapid movement of the Mexicans, who withdrew further into the wood. The defenders reloaded and waited.
Ned knew better than Captain King or any of his men the extremely dangerous nature of their position. Since the vanguard was already here the Mexican army must be coming on rapidly, and this was no Alamo. Nor were these raw recruits defenders of an Alamo.
He saw presently a man, holding a white handkerchief on the end of a lance, ride out from the wood. Ned recognized him at once. It was young Urrea. As Ned had suspected, he was the leader of the cavalry for his uncle, the general.
"What do you think he wants?" asked King.
"He will demand our surrender, but even if we were to yield it is likely that we should be put to death afterward."
"I have no idea of surrendering under any circumstances. Do you speak Spanish?"
"Oh, yes," said Ned, seizing the opportunity.
"Then, as I can't, you do the talking for us, and tell it to him straight and hard that we're going to fight."
Ned climbed upon the roof, and sat with only his head showing above the parapet, while Urrea rode slowly forward, carrying the lance and the white flag jauntily. Ned could not keep from admiring his courage, as the white flag, even, in such a war as this might prove no protection. He stopped at a distance of about thirty yards and called loudly in Spanish:
"Within the church there! I wish to speak to you!"
Ned stood up, his entire figure now being revealed, and replied:
"I have been appointed spokesman for our company. What do you want?"
Urrea started slightly in his saddle, and then regarded Ned with a look of mingled irony and hatred.
"And so," he said, "our paths cross again. You escaped us at the Alamo. Why General Santa Anna spared you then I do not know, but he is not here to give new orders concerning you!"
"What do you want?" repeated Ned.
"We want the church, yourself and all the other bandits who are within it."
Ned's face flushed at Urrea's contemptuous words and manner, and his heart hardened into a yet deeper hatred of the Mexicans. But he controlled his voice and replied evenly.
"And if we should surrender, what then?"
"The mercy of the illustrious General Santa Anna, whatever it may be."
"I saw his mercy at the Alamo," replied Ned, "and we want none of it. Nor would we surrender, even if we could trust your most illustrious General Santa Anna."
"Then take your fate," said Urrea. "Since you were at the Alamo you know what befell the defenders there, and this place, mostly in ruins, is not nearly so strong. Adios!"
"Adios!" said Ned, speaking in a firm tone. But he felt that there was truth in Urrea's words. Little was left of the mission but its strong walls. Nevertheless, they might hold them.
"What did he say?" asked King.
"He demanded our surrender."
"On what terms?"
"Whatever Santa Anna might decree, and if you had seen the red flag of no quarter waving in sight of the Alamo you would know his decree."
"And your reply?"
"I told him that we meant to hold the place."
"Good enough," said King. "Now we will go back to business. I wish that we had more ammunition."
"Fannin's men may bring plenty," said Ned. "And now, if you don't mind, Captain King, I'm going to sleep down there at the foot of the wall, and to-night I'll join the guard."
"Do as you wish," said King, "you know more about Texas and these Mexicans than any of us."
"I'd suggest a very thorough watch when night comes. Wake me up about midnight, won't you?"
Ned lay down in the place that he had chosen. It was only the middle of the afternoon, but he had become so inured to hardship that he slept quickly. Several shots were fired before twilight came, but they did not awaken him. At midnight King, according to his request, took him by the shoulder and he stood up.
"Nothing of importance has happened," said King.
"You can see the camp fires of the Mexicans in the wood, but as far as we can tell they are not making any movement."
"Probably they are content to wait for the main force," said Ned.
"Looks like it," said King.
"If you have no objection, Captain," said Ned, "I think I'll go outside and scout about a little."
"Good idea, I think," said King.
They opened the door a moment and Ned slipped forth. The night was quite dark and, with the experience of border work that he was rapidly acquiring, he had little fear of being caught by the Mexicans. He kept his eye on the light burning in the wood and curved in a half circle to the right. The few houses that made up the village were all dark, but his business was with none of them. He intended to see, if he could, whether the main Mexican force was approaching. If it should prove to be at hand with the heavy cannon there would be no possible chance of holding the mission, and they must get away.
He continued in his wide curve, knowing that in this case the longest way around was the best and safest, and he gradually passed into a stretch of chaparral beyond the town. Crossing it, he came into a meadow, and then he suddenly heard the soft pad of feet. He sought to spring back into the chaparral, but a huge dim figure bore down upon him, and then his heart recovered its normal beat when he saw that it was only Old Jack.
Ned stroked the great muzzle affectionately, but he was compelled to put away his friend.
"No, faithful comrade," he said. "I can't take you with me. I'd like to do it, but there's no room in a church for a horse as big as you are. Go now! Go at once, or the Mexicans will get you!"
He struck the horse smartly on the jaw. Old Jack looked at him reproachfully, but turned and trotted away from the town. Ned continued his scout. This proof of affection from a dumb brute cheered him.
An hour's cautious work brought him to the far side of the wood. As well as he could judge, nearly all the Mexican troopers were asleep around two fires, but they had posted sentinels who walked back and forth, calling at intervals "Sentinela alerte" to one another. Obviously there had been no increase in their force. They were sufficient to maintain a blockade of the church, but too few to surround it completely.
He went two or three miles to the west and, seeing no evidence that the main force was approaching, he decided to return to the church. His original curve had taken him by the south side of the wood, and he would return by the north side in order that his examination might be complete.
He walked rapidly, as the night was far advanced, and the sky was very clear, with bright stars twinkling in myriads. He did not wish day to catch him outside the mission. It was a prairie country, with patches of forest here and there, and as he crossed from one wood to another he was wholly without cover.
He was within a mile of the mission when he heard the faint tread of horses' hoofs, and he concluded that Old Jack, contrary to orders, was coming forward to meet him again. He paused, but the faint tread suddenly became rapid and heavy. A half dozen horsemen who had ridden into the prairie had caught sight of him and now they were galloping toward him. The brightness of the night showed Ned at once that they were Mexican cavalrymen, and as he was on foot he was at a great disadvantage.
He ran at full speed for the nearest grove. The Mexicans fired several musket shots at him, but the bullets all went wild. He did not undertake a reply, as he was straining every effort to reach the trees. Several pistols also were emptied at him, but he yet remained unhurt.
Nevertheless, the horsemen were coming alarmingly near.
He heard the thunder of hoofs in his ears, and he heard also a quick hiss like that of a snake.
Ned knew that the hissing sound was made by a lasso, and as he dodged he felt the coil, thrown in vain, slipping from his shoulders. He whirled about and fired at the man who had thrown the lasso. The rider uttered a cry, fell backward on his horse, and then to the ground.
As Ned turned for the shot he saw that Urrea was the leader of the horsemen. Whether Urrea had recognized him or not he did not know, but the fact that he was there increased his apprehension. He made a mighty effort and leaped the next instant into the protection of the trees and thickets. Fortune favored him now. A wood alone would not have protected him, but here were vines and bushes also.
He turned off at a sharp angle and ran as swiftly and with as little noise as he could. He heard the horses floundering in the forest, and the curses of their riders. He ran a hundred yards further and, coming to a little gully, lay down in it and reloaded his rifle. Then he stayed there until he could regain his breath and strength. While he lay he heard the Mexicans beating up the thickets, and Urrea giving sharp orders.
Ned knew that his hiding place must soon be discovered, and he began to consider what would be the best movement to make next. His heart had now returned to its normal beat, and he felt that he was good for another fine burst of speed.
He heard the trampling of the horses approaching, and then the voice of Urrea telling the others that he was going straight ahead and to follow him. Evidently they had beaten up the rest of the forest, and now they were bound to come upon him. Ned sprang from the gully, ran from the wood and darted across the prairie toward the next little grove.
He was halfway toward the coveted shelter when Urrea caught sight of him, gave a shout, and fired his pistol. Ned, filled with hatred of Urrea, fired in return. But the bullet, instead of striking the horseman, struck the horse squarely in the head. The horse fell instantly, and Urrea, hurled violently over his head, lay still.
Ned caught it all in a fleeting glance, and in a few more steps he gained the second wood. He did not know how much Urrea was hurt, nor did he care. He had paid back a little, too. He was sure, also, that the pursuit would be less vigorous, now that its leader was disabled.
The second grove did not contain so many vines and bushes, but, hiding behind a tree there, Ned saw the horsemen hold off. Without Urrea to urge them on they were afraid of the rifle that the fugitive used so well. Two, also, had stopped to tend Urrea, and Ned decided that the others would not now enter the grove.
He was right in his surmise. The horsemen rode about at a safe distance from the trees. Ned, taking his time, reloaded his rifle again and departed for the mission. There was now fairly good cover all the way, but he heard other troops of Mexicans riding about, and blowing trumpets as signals. No doubt the shots had been heard at the main camp, and many men were seeking their cause.
But Ned, fortunately for himself, was now like the needle in the haystack. While the trumpets signaled and the groups of Mexican horsemen rode into one another he stole back to the old mission and knocked upon the door with the butt of his rifle. Answering King's questions through the loophole, he was admitted quickly.
"The main army hasn't come up yet," he said, in reply to the eager inquiries of the defenders. "Fannin's men may get here in time, and if they are in sufficient force to beat off the cavalry detachment I suggest that we abandon the mission before we are caught in a trap, and retreat toward Fannin. If we linger the whole Mexican army will be around us."
"Sounds right," said King, "but we've got to hear from Fannin first. Now you look pretty tired, Fulton. Suppose you roll up in some blankets there by the wall and take a nap."
"I don't want to sleep now," said Ned. "You remember that I slept until nearly midnight. But I would like to stretch out a while. It's not very restful to be hunted through woods by Mexicans, even if you do get away."
Ned lay by the wall upon the blankets and watched the sun go slowly up the arch of the heavens. It seemed a hard fate to him that he should again be trapped thus in an old mission. Nor did he have here the strength and support of the great borderers like Bowie and Crockett. He missed them most of all now.
The day passed slowly and with an occasional exchange of shots that did little harm. Toward the twilight one of the sentinels on the wall uttered a great and joyous shout.
"The reinforcements!" he cried. "See, our friends are coming!"
Ned climbed upon the wall and saw a force of more than a hundred men, obviously Texans, approaching. They answered the hail of the sentinel and came on more swiftly. His eyes turned to the wood, in which the Mexican camp yet lay. Their cavalry would still outnumber the Texan force two or three to one, but the Mexicans invariably demanded greater odds than that before they would attack the Texans. Ned saw no stir in the wood. Not a shot was fired as the new men came forward and were joyously admitted to the church.
The men were one hundred and twenty in number, led by Colonel Ward, who by virtue of his rank now commanded all the defenders. As soon as they had eaten and rested a council, at which Ned was present, was held. King had already told the story of young Fulton to Ward, and that officer looked very curiously at Ned as he came forward. He asked him briefly about the Alamo, and Ned gave him the usual replies. Then he told of what he had seen before he joined King.
"How large do you think this force was?" asked Ward.
"About fifteen hundred men."
"And we've a hundred and fifty here. You were not much more than a hundred and fifty in the Alamo, and you held it two weeks against thousands. Why should we retreat?"
"But the Alamo fell at last," said Ned, "and this Refugio mission is not so defensible as the Alamo was."
"You think, then, we should retreat?"
"I do. I'm sure the place cannot be held against a large army."
There was much discussion. Ned saw that all the men of the new force were raw recruits from the States like King's. Many of them were mere boys, drawn to Texas by the love of adventure. They showed more curiosity than alarm, and it was evident to Ned that they felt able to defeat any number of Mexicans.
Ned, called upon again for his opinion, urged that they withdraw from the church and the town at once, but neither Ward nor King was willing to make a retreat in the night. They did not seem especially anxious to withdraw at all, but finally agreed to do so in the morning.
Ned left the council, depressed and uneasy. He felt that his countrymen held the Mexicans too lightly. Were other tragedies to be added to that of the Alamo? He was no egotist, but he was conscious of his superiority to all those present in the grave affairs with which they were now dealing.
He took his rifle and went upon the wall, where he resolved to watch all through the night. He saw the lights in the wood where the Mexicans were camped, but darkness and silence prevailed everywhere else. He had no doubt that young Urrea had sent messengers back to hurry up the main force. He smiled to himself at the thought of Urrea. He was sure that the young Mexican had sustained no fatal injury, but he must have painful wounds. And Ned, with the Alamo as vivid as ever in his mind, was glad that he had inflicted them.
Midnight came, and Ward told Ned that he need not watch any longer when the second relay of sentinels appeared. But the boy desired to remain and Ward had no objection.
"But you'll be sleepy," he said, in a good-humored tone, "when we start at the break of day, and you won't have much chance to rest on a long march."
"I'll have to take the risk," said Ned. "I feel that I ought to be watching."
Toward morning the men in the mission were awakened and began to prepare for the march. They made considerable noise as they talked and adjusted their packs, but Ned paid no attention to them. He was listening instead to a faint sound approaching the town from the south. No one in the church or on the walls heard it but himself, but he knew that it was steadily growing louder.
Ned, moreover, could tell the nature of that sound, and as it swelled his heart sank within him. The first spear of light, herald of dawn, appeared in the east and Ward called out cheerfully:
"Well, we are all ready to go now."
"It is too late," said Ned. "The whole Mexican army is here."
When Ned made his startling announcement he leaped down lightly from the wall.
"If you will look through the loophole there," he said to Colonel Ward, "you will see a great force only a few hundred yards away. The man on the large horse in front is General Urrea, who commands them. He is one of Santa Anna's most trusted generals. His nephew, Captain Urrea, led the cavalry who besieged us yesterday and last night."
Captain Ward looked, but the Mexicans turned into the wood and were hidden from sight. Then the belief became strong among the recruits that Ned was mistaken. This was only a little force that had come, and Ward and King shared their faith. Ward, against Ned's protest, sent King and thirteen men out to scout.
Ned sadly watched them go. He was one of the youngest present, but he was first in experience, and he knew that he had seen aright. General Urrea and the main army were certainly at hand. But he deemed it wiser to say nothing more. Instead, he resumed his place on the wall, and kept sharp watch on the point where he thought the Mexican force lay. King and his scouts were already out of sight.