Ned suddenly heard the sound of shots, and he saw puffs of smoke from the wood. Then a great shout arose and Mexican cavalry dashed from the edge of the forest. Some of the other watchers thought the mission was about to be attacked, but the horsemen bore down upon another point to the northward. Ned divined instantly that they had discovered King and his men and were surrounding them.
He leaped once more from the wall and shouted the alarm to Ward.
"The men out there are surrounded," he cried. "They will have no chance without help!"
Ward was brave enough, and his men, though lacking skill, were brave enough, too. At his command they threw open the gate of the mission and rushed out to the relief of their comrades. Ned was by the side of Ward, near the front. As they appeared in the opening they heard a great shouting, and a powerful detachment of cavalry galloped toward their right, while an equally strong force of infantry moved on their left. The recruits were outnumbered at least five to one, but in such a desperate situation they did not blench.
"Take good aim with your rifles," shouted Ward. And they did. A shower of bullets cut gaps in the Mexican line, both horse and foot. Many riderless horses galloped through the ranks of the foe, adding to the confusion. But the Mexican numbers were so great that they continued to press the Texans. Young Urrea, his head in thick bandages, was again with the cavalry, and animated by more than one furious impulse he drove them on.
It became evident now even to the rawest that the whole Mexican army was present. It spread out to a great distance, and enfolded the Texans on three sides, firing hundreds of muskets and keeping up a great shouting, Ned's keen ear also detected other firing off to the right, and he knew that it was King and his men making a hopeless defence against overpowering numbers.
"We cannot reach King," groaned Ward.
"We have no earthly chance of doing so," said Ned, "and I think, Colonel, that your own force will have a hard fight to get back inside the mission."
The truth of Ned's words was soon evident to everyone. It was only the deadly Texan rifles that kept the Mexican cavalry from galloping over them and crushing them at once. The Mexican fire itself, coming from muskets of shorter range, did little damage. Yet the Texans were compelled to load and pull trigger very fast, as they retreated slowly upon the mission.
At last they reached the great door and began to pass rapidly inside. Now the Mexicans pressed closer, firing heavy volleys.
A score of the best Texan marksmen whirled and sent their bullets at the pursuing Mexicans with such good aim that a dozen saddles were emptied, and the whole force reeled back. Then all the Texans darted inside, and the great door was closed and barricaded. Many of the men sank down, breathless from their exertions, regardless of the Mexican bullets that were pattering upon the church. Ward leaned against the wall, and wiped the perspiration from his face.
"My God!" he exclaimed. "What has become of King?"
There was no answer. The Mexicans ceased to fire and shout, and retreated toward the wood. Ward was destined never to know what had become of King and his men, but Ned soon learned the terrible facts, and they only hardened him still further. The thirteen had been compelled to surrender to overwhelming numbers. Then they were immediately tied to trees and killed, where their skeletons remained upright until the Texans found them.
"You were right, Fulton," said Ward, after a long silence. "The Mexican army was there, as we have plenty of evidence to show."
He smiled sadly, as he wiped the smoke and perspiration from his face. Ned did not reply, but watched through a loophole. He had seen a glint of bronze in the wood, and presently he saw the Mexicans pushing a cannon from cover.
"They have artillery," he said to Ward. "See the gun. But I don't think it can damage our walls greatly. They never did much with the cannon at the Alamo. When they came too close there, we shot down all their cannoneers, and we can do the same here."
Ward chose the best sharpshooters, posting them at the loopholes and on the walls. They quickly slew the Mexicans who tried to man the gun, and General Urrea was forced to withdraw it to such a distance that its balls and shells had no effect whatever upon the strong walls of the church.
There was another period of silence, but the watchers in the old mission saw that much movement was going on in the wood and presently they beheld the result. The Mexican army charged directly upon the church, carrying in its center men with heavy bars of wood to be used in smashing in the door. But they yielded once more to the rapid fire of the Texan rifles, and did not succeed in reaching the building. Those who bore the logs and bars dropped them, and fled out of range.
A great cheer burst from the young recruits. They thought victory complete already, but Ned knew that the Mexicans would not abandon the enterprise. General Urrea, after another futile charge, repulsed in the same deadly manner, withdrew some distance, but posted a strong line of sentinels about the church.
Having much food and water the recruits rejoiced again and thought themselves secure, but Ned noticed a look of consternation on the face of Ward, and he divined the cause.
"It must be the ammunition, Colonel," he said in a whisper.
"It is," replied Ward. "We have only three or four rounds left. We could not possibly repel another attack."
"Then," said young Fulton, "there is nothing to do but for us to slip out at night, and try to cut our way through."
"That is so," said Ward. "The Mexican general doubtless will not expect any such move on our part, and we may get away."
He said nothing of his plan to the recruits until the darkness came, and then the state of the powder horns and the bullet pouches was announced. Most of the men had supposed that they alone were suffering from the shortage, and something like despair came over them when they found that they were practically without weapons. They were more than willing to leave the church, as soon as the night deepened, and seek refuge over the prairie.
"You think that we can break through?" said Ward to Ned.
"I have no doubt of it," replied Ned, "but in any event it seems to me, Colonel, that we ought to try it. All the valor and devotion of the men in the Alamo did not suffice to save them. We cannot hold the place against a determined assault."
"That is undoubtedly true," said Ward, "and flushed by the success that they have had elsewhere it seems likely to me that the Mexicans will make such an attack very soon."
"In any event," said Ned, "we are isolated here, cut off from Fannin, and exposed to imminent destruction."
"We start at midnight," said Ward.
Ned climbed upon the walls, and examined all the surrounding country. He saw lights in the wood, and now and then he discerned the figures of Mexican horsemen, riding in a circle about the church, members of the patrol that had been left by General Urrea. He did not think it a difficult thing to cut through this patrol, but the Texans, in their flight, must become disorganized to a certain extent. Nevertheless it was the only alternative.
The men were drawn up at the appointed time, and Ward told them briefly what they were to do. They must keep as well together as possible, and the plan was to make their way to Victoria, where they expected to rejoin Fannin. They gave calabashes of water and provisions to several men too badly wounded to move, and left them to the mercy of the Mexicans, a mercy that did not exist, as Urrea's troops massacred them the moment they entered the church.
Luckily it was a dark night, and Ned believed that they had more than half a chance of getting away. The great door was thrown silently open, and, with a moving farewell to their wounded and disabled comrades, they filed silently out, leaving the door open behind them.
Then the column of nearly one hundred and fifty men slipped away, every man treading softly. They had chosen a course that lay directly away from the Mexican army, but they did not expect to escape without an alarm, and it came in five minutes. A Mexican horseman, one of the patrol, saw the dark file, fired a shot and gave an alarm. In an instant all the sentinels were firing and shouting, and Urrea's army in the wood was awakening.
But the Texans now pressed forward rapidly. Their rifles cracked, quickly cutting a path through the patrol, and before Urrea could get up his main force they were gone through the forest and over the prairie.
Knowing that the whole country was swarming with the Mexican forces, they chose a circuitous course through forests and swamps and pressed on until daylight. Some of the Mexicans on horseback followed them for a while, but a dozen of the best Texan shots were told off to halt them. When three or four saddles were emptied the remainder of the Mexicans disappeared and they pursued their flight in peace.
Morning found them in woods and thickets by the banks of a little creek of clear water. They drank from the stream, ate of their cold food, and rested. Ned and some others left the wood and scouted upon the prairie. They saw no human being and returned to their own people, feeling sure that they were safe from pursuit for the present.
Yet the Texans felt no exultation. They had been compelled to retreat before the Mexicans, and they could not forget King and his men, and those whom they had left behind in the church. Ned, in his heart, knowing the Mexicans so well, did not believe that a single one of them had been saved.
They walked the whole day, making for the town of Victoria, where they expected to meet Fannin, and shortly before night they stopped in a wood, footsore and exhausted. Again their camp was pitched on the banks of a little creek and some of the hunters shot two fine fat deer further up the stream.
Seeking as much cheer as they could they built fires, and roasted the deer. The spirits of the young recruits rose. They would meet Fannin to-morrow or the next day and they would avenge the insult that the Mexicans had put upon them. They were eager for a new action in which the odds should not be so great against them, and they felt sure of victory. Then, posting their sentinels, they slept soundly.
But Ned did not feel so confident. Toward morning he rose from his blankets. Yet he saw nothing. The prairie was bare. There was not a single sign of pursuit. He was surprised. He believed that at least the younger Urrea with the cavalry would follow.
Ned now surmised the plan that the enemy had carried out. Instead of following the Texans through the forests and swamps they had gone straight to Victoria, knowing that the fugitives would make for that point. Where Fannin was he could not even guess, but it was certain that Ward and his men were left practically without ammunition to defend themselves as best they could against a horde of foes.
The hunted Texans sought the swamps of the Guadalupe, where Mexican cavalry could not follow them, but where they were soon overtaken by skirmishers. Hope was now oozing from the raw recruits. There seemed to be no place in the world for them. Hunted here and there they never found rest. But the most terrible fact of all was the lack of ammunition. Only a single round for every man was left, and they replied sparingly to the Mexican skirmishers.
They lay now in miry woods, and on the other side of them flowed the wide and yellow river. The men sought, often in vain, for firm spots on which they might rest. The food, like the ammunition, was all gone, and they were famished and weak. The scouts reported that the Mexicans were increasing every hour.
It was obvious to Ned that Ward must surrender. What could men without ammunition do against many times their number, well armed? He resolved that he would not be taken with them, and shortly before day he pulled through the mud to the edge of the Guadalupe. He undressed and made his clothes and rifle into a bundle. He had been very careful of his own ammunition, and he had a half dozen rounds left, which he also tied into the bundle.
Then shoving a fallen log into the water he bestrode it, holding his precious pack high and dry. Paddling with one hand he was able to direct the log in a diagonal course across the stream. He toiled through another swamp on that shore, and, coming out upon a little prairie, dressed again.
He looked back toward the swamp in which the Texans lay, but he saw no lights and he heard no sounds there. He knew that within a short time they would be prisoners of the Mexicans. Everything seemed to be working for the benefit of Santa Anna. The indecision of the Texans and the scattering of their forces enabled the Mexicans to present overwhelming forces at all points. It seemed to Ned that fortune, which had worked in their favor until the capture of San Antonio, was now working against them steadily and with overwhelming power.
He gathered himself together as best he could, and began his journey southward. He believed that Fannin would be at Goliad or near it. Once more that feeling of vengeance hardened within him. The tremendous impression of the Alamo had not faded a particle, and now the incident of Ward, Refugio and the swamps of the Guadalupe was cumulative. Remembering what he had seen he did not believe that a single one of Ward's men would be spared when they were taken as they surely would be. There were humane men among the Mexicans, like Almonte, but the ruthless policy of Santa Anna was to spare no one, and Santa Anna held all the power.
He held on toward Goliad, passing through alternate regions of forest and prairie, and he maintained a fair pace until night. He had not eaten since morning, and all his venison was gone, but strangely enough he was not hungry. When the darkness was coming he sat down in one of the little groves so frequent in that region, and he was conscious of a great weariness. His bones ached. But it was not the ache that comes from exertion. It seemed to go to the very marrow. It became a pain rather than exhaustion.
He noticed that everything about him appeared unreal. The trees and the earth itself wavered. His head began to ache and his stomach was weak. Had the finest of food been presented to him he could not have eaten it. He had an extraordinary feeling of depression and despair.
Ned knew what was the matter with him. He was suffering either from overwhelming nervous and physical exhaustion, or he had contracted malaria in the swamps of the Guadalupe. Despite every effort of the will, he began to shake with cold, and he knew that a chill was coming. He had retained his blankets, his frontiersman's foresight not deserting him, and now, knowing that he could not continue his flight for the present, he sought the deepest part of the thicket. He crept into a place so dense that it would have been suited for an animal's den, and lying down there he wrapped the blankets tightly about himself, his rifle and his ammunition.
In spite of his clothing and the warm blankets he grew colder and colder. His teeth chattered and he shivered all over. He would not have minded that so much, but his head ached with great violence, and the least light hurt his eyes. It seemed to him the culmination. Never had he been more miserable, more lost of both body and soul. The pain in his head was so violent that life was scarcely worth the price.
He sank by and by into a stupor. He was remotely conscious that he was lying in a thicket, somewhere in boundless Texas, but it did not really matter. Cougars or bears might come there to find him, but he was too sick to raise a hand against them. Besides, he did not care. A million Mexicans might be beating up those thickets for him, and they would be sure to find him. Well, what of it? They would shoot him, and he would merely go at once to some other planet, where he would be better off than he was now.
It seems that fate reserves her severest ordeals for the strong and the daring, as if she would respond to the challenges they give. It seems also that often she brings them through the test, as if she likes the courage and enterprise that dare her, the all-powerful, to combat. Ned's intense chill abated. He ceased to shake so violently, and after a while he did not shake at all. Then fever came. Intolerable heat flowed through every vein, and his head was ready to burst. After a while violent perspiration broke out all over him, and then he became unconscious.
Ned lay all night in the thicket, wrapped in the blankets, and breathing heavily. Once or twice he half awoke, and remembered things dimly, but these periods were very brief and he sank back into stupor. When he awoke to stay awake the day was far advanced, and he felt an overwhelming lassitude. He slowly unwound himself from his blankets and looked at his hand. It was uncommonly white, and it seemed to him to be as weak as that of a child.
He crept out of the thicket and rose to his feet. He was attacked by dizziness and clutched a bush for support. His head still ached, though not with the violence of the night before, but he was conscious that he had become a very weak and poor specimen of the human being. Everything seemed very far away, impossible to be reached.
He gathered strength enough to roll up his blankets and shoulder his rifle. Then he looked about a little. There was the same alternation of woods and prairie, devoid of any human being. He did not expect to see any Texans, unless, by chance, Fannin came marching that way, but a detachment of Mexican lancers might stumble upon him at any moment. The thought, however, caused him no alarm. He felt so much weakness and depression that the possibility of capture or death could not add to it.
Young Fulton was not hungry,—the chill and following fever had taken his appetite away so thoroughly,—but he felt that he must eat. He found some early berries in the thickets and they restored his strength a little, but the fare was so thin and unsubstantial that he decided to look for game. He could never reach Fannin or anybody else in his present reduced condition.
He saw a line of oaks, which he knew indicated the presence of a water-course, probably one of the shallow creeks, so numerous in Eastern Texas, and he walked toward it, still dizzy and his footsteps dragging. His head was yet aching, and the sun, which was now out in full brightness, made it worse, but he persisted, and, after an interminable time, he reached the shade of the oaks, which, as he surmised, lined both sides of a creek.
He drank of the water, rested a while, and then began a search of the oaks. He was looking for squirrels, which he knew abounded in these trees, and, after much slow and painful walking, he shot a fine fat one among the boughs. Then followed the yet more mighty task of kindling a fire with sticks and tinder, but just when he was completely exhausted, and felt that he must fail, the spark leaped up, set fire to the white ash that he had scraped with his knife, and in a minute later a good fire was blazing.
He cooked the tenderest parts of the squirrel and ate, still forcing his appetite. Then he carefully put out the fire and went a mile further up the creek. He felt stronger, but he knew that he was not yet in any condition for a long journey. He was most intent now upon guarding against a return of the chill. It was not the right time for one to be ill. Again he sought a place in a thicket, like an animal going to its den, and, wrapping himself tightly in the blankets, lay down.
He watched with anxiety for the first shiver of the dreaded chill. Once or twice imagination made him feel sure that it had come, but it always passed quickly. His body remained warm, and, while he was still watching for the chill, he fell asleep, and slept soundly all through the night.
The break of day aroused him. He felt strong and well, and he was in a pleasant glow, because he knew now that the chill would not come. It had been due to overtaxed nerves, and there was no malaria in his system.
He hunted again among the big trees until he found a squirrel on one of the high boughs. He fired at it and missed. He found another soon and killed it at the first shot. But the miss had been a grave matter. He had only four bullets left. He took them out and looked at them, little shining pellets of lead. His life depended upon these four, and he must not miss again.
It took him an hour to start his fire, and he ate only half of the squirrel, putting the remainder into his bullet pouch for future needs. Then, much invigorated, he resumed his vague journey. But he was compelled very soon to go slowly and with the utmost caution. There were even times when he had to stop and hide. Mexican cavalry appeared upon the prairies, first in small groups and then in a detachment of about three hundred. Their course and Ned's was the same, and he knew then that he was going in the right direction. Fannin was surely somewhere ahead.
But it was most troublesome traveling for Ned. If they saw him they could easily ride him down, and what chance would he have with only four bullets in his pouch? Or rather, what chance would he have if the pouch contained a hundred?
The only thing that favored him was the creek which ran in the way that he wanted to go. He kept in the timber that lined its banks, and, so long as he had this refuge, he felt comparatively safe, since the Mexicans, obviously, were not looking for him. Yet they often came perilously near. Once, a large band rode down to the creek to water their horses, when Ned was not fifty feet distant. He instantly lay flat among some bushes, and did not move. He could hear the horses blowing the water back with their noses, as they drank.
When the horses were satisfied, the cavalrymen turned and rode away, passing so near that it seemed to him they had only to look down and see him lying among the bushes. But they went on, and, when they were out of sight, he rose and continued his flight through the timber.
But this alternate fleeing and dodging was most exhausting work, and before the day was very old he decided that he would lie down in a thicket, and postpone further flight until night. Just when he had found such a place he heard the faint sound of distant firing. He put his ear to the earth, and then the crackle of rifles came more distinctly. His ear, experienced now, told him that many men must be engaged, and he was sure that Fannin and the Mexican army had come into contact.
Young Fulton's heart began to throb. The dark vision of the Alamo came before him again. All the hate that he felt for the Mexicans flamed up. He must be there with Fannin, fighting against the hordes of Santa Anna. He rose and ran toward the firing. He saw from the crest of a hillock a wide plain with timber on one side and a creek on the other. The center of the plain was a shallow valley, and there the firing was heavy.
Ned saw many flashes and puffs of smoke, and presently he heard the thud of cannon. Then he saw near him Mexican cavalry galloping through the timber. He could not doubt any longer that a battle was in progress. His excitement increased, and he ran at full speed through the bushes and grass into the plain, which he now saw took the shape of a shallow saucer. The firing indicated that the defensive force stood in the center of the saucer, that is, in the lowest and worst place.
A terrible fear assailed young Fulton, as he ran. Could it be possible that Fannin also was caught in a trap, here on the open prairie, with the Mexicans in vastly superior numbers on the high ground around him? He remembered, too, that Fannin's men were raw recruits like those with Ward, and his fear, which was not for himself, increased as he ran.
He noticed that there was no firing from one segment of the ring in the saucer, and he directed his course toward it. As soon as he saw horses and men moving he threw up his hands and cried loudly over and over again: "I'm a friend! Do not shoot!" He saw a rifle raised and aimed at him, but a hand struck it down. A few minutes later he sprang breathless into the camp, and friendly hands held him up as he was about to pitch forward with exhaustion.
His breath and poise came back in a few moments, and he looked about him. He had made no mistake. He was with Fannin's force, and it was already pressed hard by Urrea's army. Even as he drew fresh, deep breaths he saw a heavy mass of Mexican cavalry gallop from the wood, wheel and form a line between Fannin and the creek, the only place where the besieged force could obtain water.
"Who are you?" asked an officer, advancing toward Ned.
Young Fulton instantly recognized Fannin.
"My name is Edward Fulton, you will recall me, Colonel," he replied. "I was in the Alamo, but went out the day before it fell. I was taken by the Mexicans, but escaped, fled across the prairie, and was in the mission at Refugio when some of your men under Colonel Ward came to the help of King."
"I have heard that the church was abandoned, but where is Ward, and where are his men?"
Ned hesitated and Fannin read the answer in his eyes.
"You cannot tell me so!" he exclaimed.
"I'm afraid that they will all be taken," said Ned. "They had no ammunition when I slipped away, and the Mexicans were following them. There was no possibility of escape."
Fannin paled. But he pressed his lips firmly together for a moment and then said to Ned:
"Keep this to yourself, will you? Our troops are young and without experience. It would discourage them too much."
"Of course," said Ned. "But meanwhile I wish to fight with you."
"There will be plenty of chance," said Fannin. "Hark to it!"
The sound of firing swelled on all sides of them, and above it rose the triumphant shouts of the Mexicans.
THE SAD SURRENDER
Ned took another look at the beleaguered force, and what he saw did not encourage him. The men, crowded together, were standing in a depression seven or eight feet below the surface of the surrounding prairie. Near by was an ammunition wagon with a broken axle. The men themselves, three ranks deep, were in a hollow square, with the cannon at the angles and the supply wagons in the center. Every face looked worn and anxious, but they did not seem to have lost heart.
Yet, as Ned had foreseen, this was quite a different force from that which had held the Alamo so long, and against so many. Most of the young faces were not yet browned by the burning sun of Texas. Drawn by the reports of great adventure they had come from far places, and each little company had its own name. There were the "Grays" from New Orleans, the "Mustangs" from Kentucky, the "Red Rovers" from Alabama and others with fancy names, but altogether they numbered, with the small reinforcements that had been received, only three hundred and fifty men.
Ned could have shed tears, when he looked upon the force. He felt himself a veteran beside them. Yet there was no lack of courage among them. They did not flinch, as the fire grew heavier, and the cannon balls whistled over their heads. Ned was sure now that General Urrea was around them with his whole army. The presence of the cannon indicated it, and he saw enough to know that the Mexican force outnumbered the Texan four or five to one.
He heard the Mexican trumpets pealing presently, and then he saw their infantry advancing in dark masses with heavy squadrons of cavalry on either flank. But as soon as they came within range, they were swept by the deadly fire of the Texan rifles and were driven back in confusion. Ned noticed that this always happened. The Mexicans could never carry a Texan position by a frontal attack. The Texans, or those who were called the Texans, shot straight and together so fast that no Mexican column could withstand their hail of bullets.
A second time the Mexicans charged, and a second time they were driven back in the same manner. Exultation spread among the recruits standing in the hollow, but they were still surrounded. The Mexicans merely drew out of range and waited. Then they attacked a third time, and, from all sides, charging very close, infantry and cavalry. The men in the hollow were well supplied with rifles, and their square fairly blazed. Yet the Mexicans pressed home the charge with a courage and tenacity that Ned had never seen among them before. These were Mexico's best troops, and, even when the men faltered, the officers drove them on again with the point of the sword. General Urrea himself led the cavalry, and the Mexicans pressed so close that the recruits saw both lance and bayonet points shining in their faces.
The hollow in which the Texans stood was a huge cloud of flame and smoke. Ned was loading and firing so fast that the barrel of his rifle grew hot to the touch. He stood with two youths but little older than himself, and the comradeship of battle had already made them friends. But they scarcely saw the faces of one another. The little valley was filled with the smoke of their firing. They breathed it and tasted it, and it inflamed their brains.
Ned's experience had made him a veteran, and when he heard the thunder of the horse's hoofs and saw the lance points so near he knew that the crisis had come.
"One more volley. One for your lives!" he cried to those around him.
The volley was forthcoming. The rifles were discharged at the range of only a few yards into the mass of Mexican cavalry. Horses and men fell headlong, some pitching to the very feet of the Texans and then one of the cannon poured a shower of grape shot into the midst of the wavering square. It broke and ran, bearing its general away with it, and leaving the ground cumbered with fallen men and horses.
The Mexican infantry was also driven back at every point, and retreated rapidly until they were out of range. Under the cloud of smoke wounded men crept away. But when the cloud was wholly gone, it disclosed those who would move no more, lying on every side. The defenders had suffered also. Fannin lay upon the ground, while two of his men bound up a severe wound in the thigh that he had sustained from a Mexican bullet. Many others had been wounded and some had been killed. Most alarming of all was the announcement that the cannon could be fired only a few times more, as there was no water for the sponges when they became heated and clogged. But this discouraged only the leaders, not the recruits themselves, who had ultimate faith in their rifles.
Ned felt an extreme dizziness. All his old strength had not yet returned, and after such furious action and so much excitement there was a temporary collapse. He lay back on the grass, closed his eyes, and waited for the weakness to pass. He heard around him the talk and murmur of the men, and the sounds of new preparations. He heard the recruits telling one another that they had repulsed four Mexican attacks, and that they could repulse four more. Yet the amount of talking was not great. The fighting had been too severe and continuous to encourage volubility. Most of them reloaded in silence and waited.
Ned felt that his weakness had passed, opened his eyes, and sat up again. He saw that the Mexicans had drawn a circle of horsemen about them, but well beyond range. Behind the horsemen their army waited. Fannin's men were rimmed in by steel, and Ned believed that Urrea, after his great losses in the charges, would now wait.
Ned stretched himself and felt his muscles. He was strong once more and his head was clear. He did not believe that the weakness and dizziness would come again. But his tongue and throat were dry, and one of the youths who had stood with him gave him a drink from his canteen. Ned would gladly have made the drink a deep one, but he denied himself, and, when he returned the canteen, its supply was diminished but little. He knew better than the giver how precious the water would become.
Ned was standing at the edge of the hollow, and his head was just about on a level with the surrounding prairie. After his look at the Mexican circle, something whistled by his ear. It was an unpleasant sound that he knew well, one marking the passage of a bullet, and he dropped down instantly. Then he cautiously raised himself up again, and, a half dozen others who had heard the shot did the same. One rose a little higher than the rest and he fell back with a cry, a bullet in his shoulder.
Ned was surprised and puzzled. Whence had come these shots? There was the line of Mexican cavalry, well out of range, and, beyond the horsemen, were the infantry. He could see nothing, but the wounded shoulder was positive proof that some enemy was near.
There was a third crack, and a man fell to the bottom of the hollow, where he lay still. The bullet had gone through his head. Ned saw a wreath of smoke rising from a tiny hillock, a hundred yards away, and then he saw lifted for only a moment a coppery face with high cheek bones and coarse black hair. An Indian! No one could ever mistake that face for a white man's. Many more shots were fired and he caught glimpses of other faces, Indian in type like the first.
Every hillock or other inequality of the earth seemed to spout bullets, which were now striking among the Texans, cooped up in the hollow, killing and wounding. But the circle of Mexican horsemen did not stir.
"What are they?" called Fannin, who was lying upon a pallet, suffering greatly from his wound.
"Indians," replied Ned.
"Indians!" exclaimed Fannin in surprise. "I did not know that there were any in this part of the country."
"Nor did I," replied Ned, "but they are surely here, Colonel, and if I may make a suggestion, suppose we pick sharp-shooters to meet them."
"It is the only thing to do," said Fannin, and immediately the best men with the rifle were placed along the edge of the hollow. It was full time, as the fire of the red sharpshooters was creeping closer, and was doing much harm. They were Campeachy Indians, whom the Mexicans had brought with them from their far country and, splendid stalkers and skirmishers, they were now proving their worth. Better marksmen than the Mexicans, naked to the waist, their dark faces inflamed with the rage to kill, they wormed themselves forward like snakes, flattened against the ground, taking advantage of every hillock or ridge, and finding many a victim in the hollow. Far back, the Mexican officers sitting on their horses watched their work with delighted approval.
Ned was not a sharpshooter like the Panther or Davy Crockett, but he was a sharpshooter nevertheless, and, driven by the sternest of all needs, he was growing better all the time. He saw another black head raised for a moment above a hillock, and a muzzle thrust forward, but he fired first. The head dropped back, but the rifle fell from the arms and lay across the hillock. Ned knew that his bullet had sped true, and he felt a savage joy.
The other sharpshooters around him were also finding targets. The Indian bullets still crashed into the crowded ranks in the hollow, but the white marksmen picked off one after another in the grass. The moment a red face showed itself a bullet that rarely missed was sent toward it. Here was no indiscriminate shooting. No man pulled the trigger until he saw his target. Ned had now fired four times, and he knew that he had not missed once. The consuming rage still possessed him, but it was for the Mexicans rather than the Indians against whom he was sending his bullets. Surely they were numerous enough to fight the Texans. They ought to be satisfied with ten to one in their favor, without bringing Indians also against the tiny settlements! The fire mounted to his brain, and he looked eagerly for a fifth head.
It was a singular duel between invisible antagonists. Never was an entire body seen, but the crackling fire and the spurts of flame and smoke were incessant. After a while the line of fire and smoke on the prairie began to retreat slowly. The fire of the white sharpshooters had grown too hot and the Indians were creeping away, leaving their dead in the grass. Presently their fire ceased entirely and then that of the white marksmen ceased also.
No sounds came from the Mexicans, who were all out of range. In the hollow the wounded, who now numbered one-fifth of the whole, suppressed their groans, and their comrades, who bound up their hurts or gave them water, said but little. Ned's own throat had become parched again, but he would not ask for another drop of water.
The Texans had used oxen to drag their cannon and wagons, and most of them now lay dead about the rim of the shallow crater, slain by the Mexican and Indian bullets. The others had been tied to the wagons to keep them, when maddened by the firing, from trampling down the Texans themselves. Now they still shivered with fear, and pulled at their ropes. Ned felt sorry for the poor brutes. Full cause had they for fright.
The afternoon was waning, and he ate a little supper, followed by a single drink of water. Every man received a similar drink and no more from the canteens. The coming twilight brought a coolness that was refreshing, but the Indians, taking advantage of the dusk, crept forward, and began to fire again at the Texans cooped up in the crater. These red sharpshooters had the advantage of always knowing the position of their enemy, while they could shift their own as they saw fit.
The Texan marksmen, worn and weary though they were, returned to their task. They could not see the Indians, but they used an old device, often successful in border warfare. Whenever an Indian fired a spurt of smoke shot up from his rifle's muzzle. A Texan instantly pulled trigger at the base of the smoke, and oftener than not the bullet hit his dusky foe.
This new duel in the dark went on for two hours. The Indians could fire at the mass in the hollow, while the Texans steadily picked out their more difficult targets. The frightened oxen uttered terrified lowings and the Indians, now and then aiming at the sounds, killed or wounded more of the animals. The Texans themselves slew those that were wounded, unwilling to see them suffer so much.
The skill of the Texans with the rifle was so great that gradually they prevailed over the Indians a second time in the trial of sharpshooting. The warriors were driven back on the Mexican cavalry, and abandoned the combat. The night was much darker than usual, and a heavy fog, rising from the plain, added to its density and dampness. The skies were invisible, hidden by heavy masses of floating clouds and fog.
Ned saw a circle of lights spring up around them. They were the camp fires of the Mexican army, and he knew that the troops were comfortable there before the blaze. His heart filled with bitterness. He had expected so much of Fannin's men, and Crockett and Bowie before him had expected so much! Yet here they were, beleaguered as the Texans had been beleaguered in the Alamo, and there were no walls behind which they could fight. It seemed to Ned that the hand of fate itself had resolved to strike down the Texans. He knew that Urrea, one of Santa Anna's ablest and most tenacious generals, would never relax the watch for an instant. In the darkness he could hear the Mexican sentinels calling to one another: "Sentinela Alerte!"
The cold damp allayed the thirst of the young recruits, but the crater was the scene of gloom. They did not dare to light a fire, knowing it would draw the Indian bullets at once, or perhaps cannon shots. The wounded in their blankets lay on the ground. A few of the unhurt slept, but most of them sat in silence looking somberly at one another.
Fannin lay against the breech of one of the cannon, blankets having been folded between to make his position easy. His wound was severe and he was suffering greatly, but he uttered no complaint. He had not shown great skill or judgment as a leader, but he was cool and undaunted in action. Now he was calling a council to see what they could do to release themselves from their desperate case. Officers and men alike attended it freely.
"Boys," said Fannin, speaking in a firm voice despite his weakness and pain, "we are trapped here in this hole in the prairie, but if you are trapped it does not follow that you have to stay trapped. I don't seek to conceal anything from you. Our position could not well be worse. We have cannon, but we cannot use them any longer because they are choked and clogged from former firing, and we have no water to wash them out. Shortly we will not have a drop to drink. But you are brave, and you can still shoot. I know that we can break through the Mexican lines to-night and reach the Coleto, the water and the timber. Shall we do it?"
Many replied yes, but then a voice spoke out of the darkness:
"What of the wounded, Colonel? We have sixty men who can't move."
There was an instant's silence, and then a hundred voices said in the darkness:
"We'll never leave them. We'll stay here and fight again!"
Ned was standing with those nearest Fannin, and although the darkness was great his eyes had become so used to it that he could see the pale face of the leader. Fannin's eyes lighted up at the words of his men, and a little color came into his cheeks.
"You speak like brave men rather than wise men," he said, "but I cannot blame you. It is a hard thing to leave wounded comrades to a foe such as the one who faces us. If you wish to stay here, then I say stay. Do you wish it?"
"We do!" thundered scores of voices, and Fannin, moving a little to make himself easier, said simply:
"Then fortify as best you can."
They brought spades and shovels from the wagons, and began to throw up an earthwork, toiling in the almost pitchy darkness. They reinforced it with the bodies of the slain oxen, and, while they toiled, they saw the fires where the Mexican officers rested, sure that their prey could not break from the trap. The Texans worked on. At midnight they were still working, and when they rested a while there was neither food nor drink for them. Every drop of water was gone long since, and they had eaten their last food at supper. They could have neither food nor drink nor sleep.
Ned had escaped from many dangers, but it is truth that this time he felt despair. His feeling about the hand of fate striking them down became an obsession. What chance had men without an ounce of food or a drop of water to withstand a siege?
But he communicated his fears to no one. Two or three hours before day, he became so sore and weary from work with the spade that he crawled into one of the half-wrecked wagons, and tried to go to sleep. But his nerves were drawn to too high a pitch. After a quarter of an hour's vain effort he got out of the wagon and stood by the wheel. The sky was still black, and the heavy clouds of fog and vapor rolled steadily past him. It seemed to him that everything was closing on them, even the skies, and the air was so heavy that he found it hard to breathe.
He would have returned to work, but he knew that he would overtask his worn frame, and he wanted to be in condition for the battle that he believed was coming with the morrow. They had not tried to cut out at night, then they must do it by day, or die where they stood of thirst.
He sat down at last on the ground, and leaned against a wagon wheel, drawing a blanket over his shoulders for warmth. He found that he could rest better here than inside the wagon, and, in an hour or two, he dozed a little, but when he awoke the night was still very dark.
The men finished their toil at the breastwork just before day and then, laying aside their shovels and picks and taking up their rifles, they watched for the first shoot of dawn in the east. It came presently, disclosing the long lines of Mexican sentinels and behind them the army. The enemy was on watch and soon a terrible rumor, that was true, spread among the Texans. They were caught like the men of Refugio. Only three or four rounds of ammunition were left. It was bad enough to be without food and water, but without powder and bullets either they were no army. Now Ned knew that his presages were true. They were doomed.
The sun rose higher, pouring a golden light upon the plain. The distance to the Mexican lines was in appearance reduced half by the vivid light. Then Ned of the keen eye saw a dark line far off to their right on the prairie. He watched them a little, and saw that they were Mexican cavalry, coming to swell still further Urrea's swollen force. He also saw two cannon drawn by mules.
Ned pointed out the column to Wallace, a Major among the Texans, and then Wallace used a pair of glasses.
"You are right," he said. "They are Mexicans and they have two pieces of artillery. Oh, if we could only use our own guns!"
But the Texan cannon stood as worthless as if they had been spiked, and the Texans were compelled to remain silent and helpless, while the Mexicans put their new guns in position, and took aim with deliberation, as if all the time in the world was theirs. Ned tried to console himself with the reflection that Mexican gunners were not often accurate, but the first thud and puff of smoke showed that these were better than usual.
A shower of grape shot coming from a superior height swept their camp, killing two or three of the remaining oxen, smashing the wagons to pieces, and wounding more men. Another shower from the second gun struck among them with like result, and the case of the Texans grew more desperate.
They tried to reach the gunners with their rifles, but the range was too great, and, after having thrown away nearly all the ammunition that was left, they were forced to stand idly and receive the Mexican fire. The Mexicans must have divined the Texan situation, as a great cheer rose from their lines. It became evident to Ned that the shallow crater would soon be raked through and through by the Mexican artillery.
Fannin, lying upon his pallet, was already calling a council of his officers, to which anyone who chose might listen. The wounded leader was still resolute for battle, saying that they might yet cut their way through the Mexicans. But the others had no hope. They pointed to the increased numbers of the foe, and the exhausted condition of their own men, who had not now tasted food or water for many hours. If Urrea offered them good terms they must surrender.
Ned stood on one side, saying nothing, although his experience was perhaps greater than that of anybody else present. But he had seen the inevitable. Either they must yield to the Mexicans or rush boldly on the foe and die to the last man, as the defenders of the Alamo had done. Yet Fannin still opposed.
"We whipped them off yesterday, and we can do it again to-day," he said.
But he was willing to leave it to the others, and, as they agreed that there was no chance to hold out any longer, they decided to parley with the Mexicans. A white cloth was hoisted on the muzzle of a rifle. The Mexican fire ceased, and they saw officers coming forward. The sight was almost more than Ned could stand. Here was a new defeat, a new tragedy.
"I shall meet them myself," said Fannin, as he rose painfully. "You come with me. Major Wallace, but we do not speak Spanish, either of us."
His eye roved over the recruits, and caught Ned's glance.
"I have been much in Mexico," said Ned. "I speak Spanish and also several Mexican variations of it."
"Good," said Fannin, "then you come with us, and you, too, Durangue. We may need you both."
The two officers and the two interpreters walked out of the hollow, passing the barricade of earth and dead oxen that had been of no avail, and saw four Mexican officers coming toward them. A silk handkerchief about the head of one was hidden partly by a cocked hat, and Ned at once saw that it was Urrea, the younger. His heart swelled with rage and mortification. It was another grievous pang that Urrea should be there to exult.
They met about midway between the camps, and Urrea stepped forward. He gave Ned only a single glance, but it made the boy writhe inwardly. The young Mexican was now all smoothness and courtesy, although Ned was sure that the cruel Spanish strain was there, hidden under his smiling air, but ready to flame up at provocation.
"I salute you as gallant foes," said Urrea in good English, taking off his hat. "My comrades and associates here are Colonel Salas, Lieutenant Colonel Holzinger and Lieutenant Gonzales, who are sent with myself by my uncle, General Urrea, to inquire into the meaning of the white flag that you have hoisted."
Each of the Mexican officers, as his name was called, took off his hat and bowed.
"I am Colonel Fannin," began the Texan leader.
All four Mexicans instantly bowed again.
"And you are wounded," said Urrea. "It shows the valor of the Texans, when their commander himself shares their utmost dangers."
Fannin smiled rather grimly.
"There was no way to escape the dangers," he said. "Your fire was heavy."
Urrea smiled in a gratified way, and then waited politely for Fannin to continue. The leader at once began to treat with the Mexican officers. Ned, Durangue and Urrea translated, and the boy did not miss a word that was said. It was agreed that the Texans should surrender, and that they should be treated as prisoners of war in the manner of civilized nations. Prompt and special attention would be given to the wounded.
Then the Mexican officers saluted courteously and went back toward their own ranks. It had all seemed very easy, very simple, but Ned did not like this velvet smoothness, this willingness of the Mexicans to agree to the most generous terms. Fannin, however, was elated. He had won no victories, but he had saved the lives of his men.
Their own return was slow, as Fannin's wound oppressed him, but when they reached their camp, and told what had been done, the recruits began silently to stack their arms, half in gladness and half in sorrow. More Mexican officers came presently and still treated them with that same smooth and silky courtesy. Colonel Holzinger received the surrendered arms, and, as he did so, he said to Ned, who stood by:
"Well, it's liberty and home in ten days for all you gentlemen."
"I hope so," said Ned gravely, although he had no home.
The Mexican courtesy went so far that the arms of the officers were nailed up in a box, with the statement that they would be given back to them as soon as they were released.
"I am sorry that we cannot consider you an officer, Senor Fulton," said young Urrea to Ned, "then you would get back your rifle and pistols."
"You need not bother about it," said Ned. "I am willing to let them go. I dare say that when I need them I can get others."
"Then you still mean to fight against us?" said Urrea.
"If I can get an exchange, and I suppose I can."
"You are not content even yet! You saw what happened at the Alamo. You survived that by a miracle, but where are all your companions in that siege? Dead. You escaped and joined the Texans at Refugio. Where are the defenders of Refugio? In the swamps of the Guadalupe, and we have only to put forth our hands and take them. You escaped from Refugio to find Fannin and his men. Where are Fannin and his men now? Prisoners in our hands. How many of the Texans are left? There is no place in all Texas so far that the arm of the great Santa Anna cannot reach it."
Ned was stung by his taunts and replied:
"You forget Houston."
"Houston! Houston!" he said. "He does nothing. And your so-called government does nothing, but talk. They, too, will soon feel the might and wrath of Santa Anna. Nothing can save them but a swift flight to the States."
"We shall see," said Ned, although at that moment he was far from confident. "Remember how our men died at the Alamo. The Texans cannot be conquered."
Urrea said nothing further, as if he would not exult over a fallen enemy, although Ned knew that he was swelling with triumph, and went back to his uncle's camp. The Texan arms were taken ahead on some wagons, and then the dreary procession of the Texans themselves marched out of the hollow. They were all on foot and without arms. Those hurt worst were sustained by their comrades, and, thus, they marched into the Mexican camp, where they expected food and water, but General Urrea directed them to walk on to Goliad.
Fainting from hunger and thirst, they took up their march again. The Mexican cavalry rode on either side of them, and many of the horsemen were not above uttering taunts which, fortunately, few of the prisoners could understand. Young Urrea was in command of this guard and he rode near the head of the column where Ned could see him. Now and then a Mexican vaquero cracked his long whip, and every report made Ned start and redden with anger.
Some of the recruits were cheerful, talked of being exchanged and of fighting again in the war, but the great majority marched in silence and gloom. They felt that they had wasted themselves. They had marched into a trap, which the Mexicans were able to close upon them before they could strike a single blow for Texas. Now they were herded like cattle being driven to a stable.
They reached the town of Goliad, and the Mexican women and children, rejoicing in the triumph of their men, came out to meet them, uttering many shrill cries as they chattered to one another. Ned understood them, but he was glad that the others did not. Young Urrea rode up by the side of him and said:
"Well, you and your comrades have now arrived at our good town of Goliad. You should be glad that your lives have been spared, because you are rebels and you deserve death. But great is the magnanimity of our most illustrious president and general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna."
Ned looked up quickly. He thought he had caught a note of cruelty in that soft, measured voice. He never trusted Urrea, nor did he ever trust Santa Anna.
"I believe it is customary in civilized warfare to spare the lives of prisoners," he said.
"But rebels are rebels, and freebooters are freebooters," said Urrea.
It seemed to Ned that the young Mexican wanted to draw him into some sort of controversy, and he refused to continue. He felt that there was something sinister about Urrea, or that he represented something sinister, and he resolved to watch rather than talk. So, gazing straight ahead, he walked on in silence. Urrea, waiting for an answer, and seeing that he would get none, smiled ironically, and, turning his horse, galloped away.
The prisoners were marched through the town, and to the church. All the old Spanish or Mexican towns of Texas contained great stone churches, which were also fortresses, and Goliad was no exception. This was of limestone, vaulted and somber, and it was choked to overflowing with the prisoners, who could not get half enough air through the narrow windows. The surgeons, for lack of bandages and medicines, could not attend the wounded, who lay upon the floor.
Where were the fair Mexican promises, in accordance with which they had yielded? Many of the unwounded became so weak from hunger and thirst that they, too, were forced to lie upon the floor. Ned had reserves of strength that came to his aid. He leaned against the wall and breathed the foul air of the old church, which was breathed over and over again by nearly four hundred men.
The heavy doors were unbarred an hour later, and food and water were brought to them, but how little! There was a single drink and a quarter of a pound of meat for each man. It was but a taste after their long fast, and soon they were as hungry and thirsty as ever. It was a hideous night. There was not room for them all to sleep on the floor, and Ned dozed for a while leaning against the wall.
Food and water were brought to them in the same small quantities in the morning, but there was no word from the Mexicans concerning the promises of good treatment and parole that had been made when they surrendered.
Ned was surprised at nothing. He knew that Santa Anna dominated all Mexico, and he knew Santa Anna. Promises were nothing to him, if it served him better to break them. Fannin demanded writing materials and wrote a note to General Urrea protesting strongly against the violation of faith. But General Urrea was gone after Ward's men, who were surrounded in the marshes of the Guadalupe, leaving Colonel Portilla in command. Portilla, meanwhile, was dominated by the younger Urrea, a man of force and audacity, whom he knew to be high in the favor of Santa Anna.
Captain Urrea did not believe in showing any kindness to the men imprisoned in the church. They were rebels or filibusters. They had killed many good Mexicans, and they should be made to suffer for it. No answer was returned to Fannin's letter, and the men in the somber old limestone building became depressed and gloomy.
Ned, who was surprised at nothing, also hoped for nothing, but he sought to preserve his strength, believing that he would soon have full need of it. He stretched and tensed his muscles in order to keep the stiffness from coming into them, and he slept whenever he could.
Two or three days passed and the Mexican officer, Holzinger, came for Fannin, who was now recovered largely from his wound. The two went away to Copano on the coast to look for a vessel that would carry the prisoners to New Orleans. They returned soon, and Fannin and all his men were in high hopes.
Meanwhile a new group of prisoners were thrust into the church. They were the survivors of Ward's men, whom General Urrea had taken in the swamps of the Guadalupe. Then came another squad, eighty-two young Tennesseeans, who, reaching Texas by water, had been surrounded and captured by an overwhelming force the moment they landed. A piece of white cloth had been tied around the arms of every one of these men to distinguish them from the others.
But they were very cheerful over the news that Fannin had brought. There was much bustle among the Mexicans, and it seemed to be the bustle of preparation. The prisoners expected confidently that within another day they would be on the march to the coast and to freedom.
There was a singular scene in the old church. A boy from Kentucky had brought a flute with him which the Mexicans had permitted him to retain. Now sitting in Turkish fashion in the center of the floor he was playing: "Home, Sweet Home." Either he played well or their situation deepened to an extraordinary pitch the haunting quality of the air.
Despite every effort tears rose to Ned's eyes. Others made no attempt to hide theirs. Why should they? They were but inexperienced boys in prison, many hundreds of miles from the places where they were born.
They sang to the air of the flute, and all through the evening they sang that and other songs. They were happier than they had been in many days. Ned alone was gloomy and silent. Knowing that Santa Anna was now the fountain head of all things Mexican he could not yet trust.
THE BLACK TRAGEDY
While the raw recruits crowded one another for breath in the dark vaulted church of Goliad, a little swarthy man in a gorgeous uniform sat dining luxuriously in the best house in San Antonio, far to the northwest. Some of his favorite generals were around him, Castrillon, Gaona, Almonte, and the Italian Filisola.
The "Napoleon of the West" was happy. His stay in San Antonio, after the fall of the Alamo, had been a continuous triumph, with much feasting and drinking and music. He had received messages from the City of Mexico, his capital, and all things there went well. Everybody obeyed his orders, although they were sent from the distant and barbarous land of Texas.
While they dined, a herald, a Mexican cavalrymen who had ridden far, stopped at the door and handed a letter to the officer on guard:
"For the most illustrious president, General Santa Anna," he said.
The officer went within and, waiting an opportune moment, handed the letter to Santa Anna.
"The messenger came from General Urrea," he said.
Santa Anna, with a word of apology, because he loved the surface forms of politeness, opened and read the letter. Then he uttered a cry of joy.
"We have all the Texans now!" he exclaimed. "General Urrea has taken Fannin and his men. There is nothing left in Texas to oppose us."
The generals uttered joyful shouts and drank again to their illustrious leader. The banquet lasted long, but after it was over Santa Anna withdrew to his own room and dictated a letter to his secretary. It was sealed carefully and given to a chosen messenger, a heavy-browed and powerful Mexican.
"Ride fast to Goliad with that letter," said Santa Anna.
The messenger departed at once. He rode a strong horse, and he would find fresh mounts on the way. He obeyed the orders of the general literally. He soon left San Antonio far behind, and went on hour after hour, straight toward Goliad. Now and then he felt the inside of his tunic where the letter lay, but it was always safe. Three or four times he met parties of Mexicans, and he replied briefly to their questions that he rode on the business of the most illustrious president, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Once, on the second day, he saw two horsemen, whom his trained eyes told him to be Texan hunters.
The messenger sheered off into a patch of timber, and waited until the hunters passed out of sight. Had they seen him much might have changed, a terrible story might have been different, but, at that period, the stars in their courses were working against the Texans. Every accident, every chance, turned to the advantage of their enemies.
The messenger emerged from the timber, and went on at the same steady gait toward Goliad. He was riding his fourth horse now, having changed every time he met a Mexican detachment, and the animal was fresh and strong. The rider himself, powerful by nature and trained to a life in the saddle, felt no weariness.
The scattered houses of Goliad came into view, by and by, and the messenger, giving the magic name of Santa Anna, rode through the lines. He inquired for General Urrea, the commander, but the general having gone to Victoria he was directed to Colonel Portilla, who commanded in his absence. He found Portilla sitting in a patio with Colonel Garay, the younger Urrea and several other Mexican officers. The messenger saluted, drew the letter from his pocket and presented it to Colonel Portilla.
"From the most illustrious president and commander-in-chief, General Santa Anna," he said.
Portilla broke the seal and read. As his eyes went down the lines, a deep flush crept through the tan of his face, and the paper trembled in his hands.
"I cannot do it! I cannot do it! Read, gentlemen, read!" he cried.
Urrea took the extended letter from his hand and read it aloud. Neither his voice nor his hand quivered as he read, and when he finished he said in a firm voice:
"The orders of the president must be obeyed, and you, Colonel Portilla, must carry them out at once. All of us know that General Santa Anna does not wish to repeat his commands, and that his wrath is terrible."
"It is so! It is so!" said Portilla hopelessly, and Garay also spoke words of grief. But Urrea, although younger and lower in rank, was firm, even exultant. His aggressive will dominated the others, and his assertion that the wrath of Santa Anna was terrible was no vain warning. The others began to look upon him as Santa Anna's messenger, the guardian of his thunderbolts, and they did not dare to meet his eye.
"We will go outside and talk about it," said Portilla, still much agitated.
When they left the patio their steps inevitably took them toward the church. The high note of a flute playing a wailing air came to them through the narrow windows. It was "Home, Sweet Home," played by a boy in prison. The Mexicans did not know the song, but its solemn note was not without an appeal to Portilla and Garay. Portilla wiped the perspiration from his face.
"Come away," he said. "We can talk better elsewhere."
They turned in the opposite direction, but Urrea did not remain with them long. Making some excuse for leaving them he went rapidly to the church. He knew that his rank and authority would secure him prompt admission from the guards, but he stopped, a moment, at the door. The prisoners were now singing. Three or four hundred voices were joined in some hymn of the north that he did not know, some song of the English-speaking people. The great volume of sound floated out, and was heard everywhere in the little town.
Urrea was not moved at all. "Rebels and filibusters!" he said in Spanish, under his breath, but fiercely. Then he ordered the door unbarred, and went in. Two soldiers went with him and held torches aloft.
The singing ceased when Urrea entered. Ned was standing against the wall, and the young Mexican instinctively turned toward him, because he knew Ned best. There was much of the tiger cat in Urrea. He had the same feline grace and power, the same smoothness and quiet before going into action.
"You sing, you are happy," he said to Ned, although he meant them all. "It is well. You of the north bear misfortune well."
"We do the best we can wherever we are," replied young Fulton, dryly.
"The saints themselves could do no more," said the Mexican.
Urrea was speaking in English, and his manner was so friendly and gentle that the recruits crowded around him.
"When are we to be released? When do we get our parole?" they asked.
Urrea smiled and held up his hands. He was all sympathy and generosity.
"All your troubles will be over to-morrow," he said, "and it is fitting that they should end on such a day, because it is Palm Sunday."
The recruits gave a cheer.
"Do we go down to the coast?" one of them asked.
Urrea smiled with his whole face, and with the gesture of his hands, too. But he shook his head.
"I can say no more," he replied. "I am not the general, and perhaps I have said too much already, but be assured, brave foes, that to-morrow will end your troubles. You fought us gallantly. You fought against great odds, and you have my sympathy."
Ned had said no more. He was looking at Urrea intently. He was trying, with all the power of his own mind and soul, to read this man's mind and soul. He was trying to pierce through that Spanish armor of smiles and gestures and silky tones and see what lay beneath. He sought to read the real meaning of all these polite phrases. His long and powerful gaze finally drew Urrea's own.
A little look of fear crept into Urrea's eyes, as the two antagonists stared at each other. But it was only for a few minutes. Then he looked away with a shrug and a laugh.
"Now I leave you," he said to the men, "and may the saints bring you much happiness. Do not forget that to-morrow is Palm Sunday, and that it is a good omen."
He went out, taking the torchbearers with him, and although it was dark again in the vaulted church, the recruits sang a long time. Ned sat down with his back against the wall, and he did not share in the general joy. He remembered the look that had come into Urrea's eyes, when they met the accusing gaze of his own.
After a while the singing ceased, and one by one the recruits fell asleep in the close, stifling air of the place. Ned dozed an hour or two, but awoke before dawn. He was oppressed by a deep and unaccountable gloom, and it was not lifted when, in the dusk, he looked at the rows of sleeping figures, crowded so close together that no part of the floor was visible.
He saw the first light appear in the east, and then spread like the slow opening of a fan. The recruits began to awaken by and by, and their good spirits had carried over from the night before. Soon the old church was filled with talk and laughter.
The day came fully, and then the guards brought food and water, not enough to satisfy hunger and thirst, but enough to keep them alive. They did not complain, as they would soon be free men, able to obtain all that they wanted. Presently the doors of the church were thrown open, and the officers and many soldiers appeared. Young Urrea was foremost among the officers, and, in a loud voice, he ordered all the prisoners to come out, an order that they obeyed with alacrity and pleasure.
Ned marched forth with the rest, although he did not speak to any of those about him. He looked first at Urrea, whose manner was polite and smiling, as it had been the night before, and then his glance shifted to the other officers, older men, and evidently higher in rank. He saw that two, Colonels by their uniforms, were quite pale, and that one of them was biting savagely at his mustache. It all seemed sinister to Ned. Why was Urrea doing everything, and why were his superiors standing by, evidently a prey to some great nervous strain?
The recruits, under Urrea's orders, were formed into three columns. One was to take the road toward San Antonio, the second would march toward San Patricio, and the third to Copano. The three columns shouted good-by, but the recruits assured one another that they would soon meet again. Urrea told one column that it was going to be sent home immediately, another that it was going outside the town, where it was to help in killing cattle for beef which they would eat, and the third that it was leaving the church in a hurry to make room for Santa Anna's own troops, who would reach the town in an hour.
Ned was in the largest column, near the head of it, and he watched everything with a wary eye. He noticed that the Mexican colonels still left all the arrangements to Urrea, and that they remained extremely nervous. Their hands were never quiet for a moment.
The column filed down through the town, and Ned saw the Mexican women looking at them. He heard two or three of them say "pobrecitos" (poor fellows), and their use of the word struck upon his ear with an ominous sound. He glanced back. Close behind the mass of prisoners rode a strong squadron of cavalry with young Urrea at their head. Ned could not see Urrea's face, which was hidden partly by a cocked and plumed hat, but he noticed that the young Mexican sat very upright, as if he felt the pride of authority. One hand held the reins, and the other rested on the silver hilt of a small sword at his side.
A column of Mexican infantry marched on either side of the prisoners, and only a few yards away. It seemed to Ned that they were holding the Texans very close for men whom they were to release in a few hours. Trusting the Mexicans in nothing, he was suspicious of everything, and he watched with a gaze that missed no detail. But he seemed to be alone in such thoughts. The recruits, enjoying the fresh air and the prospect of speedy freedom, were talking much, and exchanging many jests.
They passed out of the little town, and the last Ned saw of it was the Mexican women standing in the doorways and watching. They continued along the road in double file, with the Mexican infantry still on either side, and the Mexican cavalry in the rear. A half mile from the town, and Urrea gave an order. The whole procession stopped, and the column of Mexican infantry on the left passed around, joining their comrades on the right. The recruits paid no attention to the movement, but Ned looked instantly at Urrea. He saw the man rise now in his saddle, his whole face aflame. In a flash he divined everything. His heart leaped and he shouted:
"Boys, they are going to kill us!"
The startled recruits did not have time to think, because the next instant Urrea, rising to his full height in his stirrups, cried:
The double line of Mexicans, at a range of a few yards, fired in an instant into the column of unarmed prisoners. There was a great blaze, a spurt of smoke and a tremendous crash. It seemed to Ned that he could fairly hear the thudding of bullets upon bodies, and the breaking of bones beneath the sudden fierce impact of the leaden hail. An awful strangled cry broke from the poor recruits, half of whom were already down. The Mexicans, reloading swiftly, poured in another volley, and the prisoners fell in heaps. Then Urrea and the cavalry, with swords and lances, charged directly upon them, the hoofs of their horses treading upon wounded and unwounded alike.
Ned could never remember clearly the next few moments in that red and awful scene. It seemed to him afterward that he went mad for the time. He was conscious of groans and cries, of the fierce shouting of the Mexicans, wild with the taste of blood, of the incessant crackling of the rifles and muskets, and of falling bodies. He saw gathering over himself and his slaughtered comrades a great column of smoke, pierced by innumerable jets of fire, and he caught glimpses of the swart faces of the Mexicans as they pulled triggers. From right and left came the crash of heavy but distant volleys, showing that the other two columns were being massacred in the same way.
He felt the thunder of hoofs and a horse was almost upon him, while the rider, leaning from the saddle, cut at him with a saber. Ned, driven by instinct rather than reason, sprang to one side the next instant, and then the horseman was lost in the smoke. He dashed against a figure, and was about to strike with his fist, the only weapon that he now had, when he saw that he had collided with a Texan, unwounded like himself. Then he, too, was lost in the smoke.
A consuming rage and horror seized Ned. Why he was not killed he never knew. The cloud over the place where the slaughtered recruits lay thickened, but the Mexicans never ceased to fire into it with their rifles and muskets. The crackling of the weapons beat incessantly upon the drums of his ears. Mingled with it were the cries and groans of the victims, now fast growing fewer. But it was all a blurred and red vision to Ned. While he was in that deadly volcano he moved by instinct and impulse and not by reason.
A few of the unwounded had already dashed from the smoke and had undertaken flight across the plain, away from the Mexican infantry, where they were slain by the lances or muskets of the cavalry under Urrea. Ned followed them. A lancer thrust so savagely at him that when the boy sprang aside the lance was hurled from his hand. Ned's foot struck against the weapon, and instantly he picked it up. A horseman on his right was aiming a musket at him, and, using the lance as a long club, he struck furiously at the Mexican. The heavy butt landed squarely upon the man's head, and shattered it like an eggshell. Youthful and humane, Ned nevertheless felt a savage joy when the man's skull crashed beneath his blow.
It is true that he was quite mad for the moment. His rage and horror caused every nerve and muscle within him to swell. His brain was a mass of fire. His strength was superhuman. Whirling the great lance in club fashion about his head he struck another Mexican across the shoulders, and sent him with a howl of pain from the saddle. He next struck a horse across the forehead, and so great was the impact that the animal went down. A cavalryman at a range of ten yards fired at him and missed. He never fired again, as the heavy butt of the lance caught him the next instant on the side of the head, and he went to join his comrade.
All the while Ned was running for the timber. A certain reason was appearing in his actions, and he was beginning to think clearly. He curved about as he ran, knowing that it would disturb the aim of the Mexicans, who were not good shots, and instinctively he held on to the lance, whirling it about his head, and from time to time uttering fierce shouts like an Indian warrior wild with battle. More than one Mexican horseman sheered away from the formidable figure with the formidable weapon.
Ned saw other figures, unarmed, running for the wood. A few reached it, but most were cut down before they had gone half way. Behind him the firing and shouting of the Mexicans did not seem to decrease, but no more groans or cries reached him from the bank of smoke that hung over the place where the murdered recruits lay. But the crash of the fire, directed on the other columns to right and left, still came to him.
Ned saw the wood not far away now. Twenty or thirty shots had been fired at him, but all missed except two, which merely grazed him. He was not hurt and the superhuman strength, born of events so extraordinary, still bore him up. The trees looked very green. They seemed to hold out sheltering arms, and there was dense underbrush through which the cavalry could not dash.
He came yet nearer, and then a horseman, rifle raised to his shoulder, dashed in between. Sparks danced before Ned's eyes. Throat and mouth, lips and his whole face burned with smoke and fever, but all the heat seemed to drive him into fiercer action. He struck at horse and horseman so savagely that the two went down together, and the lance broke in his hands. Then with a cry of triumph that his parched throat could scarcely utter, he leaped into the timber.
Having reached the shelter of the trees, Ned ran on for a long time, and finally came into the belt of forest along the San Antonio River. Twenty-six others escaped in the same way on that day, which witnessed the most dreadful deed ever done on the soil of North America, but nearly four hundred were murdered in obedience to the letter sent by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Fannin and Ward, themselves, were shot through the head, and their bodies were thrown into the common heap of the slain.
Ned did not see any of the other fugitives among the trees. He may have passed them, but his brain was still on fire, and he beheld nothing but that terrible scene behind him, the falling recruits, the fire and the smoke and the charging horsemen. He could scarcely believe that it was real. The supreme power would not permit such things. Already the Alamo had lighted a fire in his soul, and Goliad now turned it into a roaring flame. He hated Urrea, who had rejoiced in it, and he hated Santa Anna who, he dimly felt, had been responsible for this massacre. Every element in his being was turned for the time into passion and hatred. As he wandered on, he murmured unintelligible but angry words through his burning lips.
He knew nothing about the passage of time, but after many hours he realized that it was night, and that he had come to the banks of a river. It was the San Antonio, and he swam it, wishing to put the stream between himself and the Mexicans. Then he sat down in the thick timber, and the collapse from such intense emotions and such great exertions came quickly. He seemed to go to pieces all in a breath. His head fell forward and he became unconscious.
THE RACE FOR THE BOAT
Five men, or rather four men and a boy, rode down the banks of the San Antonio, always taking care to keep well in the shelter of the timber. All the men were remarkable in figure, and at least three of them were of a fame that had spread to every corner of Texas.
The one who rode slightly in advance was of gigantic build, enormously thick through the shoulders and chest. He was dressed in brightly dyed deerskin, and there were many fanciful touches about his border costume. The others also wore deerskin, but theirs was of soberer hue. The man was Martin Palmer, far better known as the Panther, or, as he loved to call himself, the Ring Tailed Panther. His comrades were "Deaf" Smith, Henry Karnes, Obed White and Will Allen.
They were not a very cheerful five. Riding as free lances, because there was now practically no organized authority among the Texans, they had been scouting the day before toward Goliad. They had learned that Fannin and his men had been taken, and they had sought also to discover what the Mexican generals meant to do with the troops. But the Mexican patrols had been so numerous and strong that they could not get close enough to Goliad. Early in the morning while in the timber by the river they had heard the sound of heavy firing near Goliad, which continued for some time, but they had not been able to fathom its meaning. They concluded finally that a portion of Fannin's men must have been still holding out in some old building of Goliad, and that this was the last stand.
They made another effort to get closer to the town, but they were soon compelled to turn back, and, again they sought the thickest timber along the river. Now they were riding back, in the hope of finding some Texan detachment with which they could cooeperate.
"If we keep huntin' we ought to find somebody who can tell us somethin'," said the Panther.
"It's a long lane that has no news at the end," said Obed White, with an attempt at buoyancy.
"That's so," said "Deaf" Smith. "We're bound to hit a trail somehow an' somewhere. We heard that Fannin's men had surrendered an' then we heard that firin'. But I guess that they wouldn't give up, without makin' good terms for themselves, else they would have held out as the boys did in the Alamo."
"Ah, the Alamo!" said Obed White. His face clouded at the words. He was thinking then of the gallant youth who had escaped with him from the dungeon under the sea in the castle of San Juan de Ulua, and who had been his comrade in the long and perilous flight through Mexico into Texas. The heart of the Maine man, alone in the world, had turned strongly to Ned Fulton, and mourning him as one dead he also mourned him as a son. But as he rarely talked of the things that affected him most, he seldom mentioned Ned. The Panther was less restrained.
"We've got a big score to settle for the Alamo," he said. "Some good friends of mine went down forever in that old mission an' there was that boy, Ned Fulton. I s'pose it ain't so bad to be cut off when you're old, an' you've had most of your life, but it does look bad for a strong, fine boy just turnin' into a man to come straight up ag'inst the dead wall."
Will Allen said nothing, but unbidden water forced itself to his eyes. He and Ned had become the strongest of friends and comrades.
"After all that's been done to our people," said the Panther, "I feel like rippin' an' r'arin' an' chawin' the rest of my life."
"We'll have the chance to do all of it we want, judgin' from the way things are goin'," said "Deaf" Smith.
Then they relapsed into silence, and rode on through the timber, going slowly as they were compelled to pick their way in the underbrush. It was now nearly noon, and a brilliant sun shone overhead, but the foliage of young spring was heavy on trees and bushes, and it gave them at the same time shade and shelter.
As they rode they watched everywhere for a trail. If either Texans or Mexicans had passed they wanted to know why, and when. They came at last to hoofprints in the soft bank of the river, indicating that horses—undoubtedly with men on their backs—had crossed here. The skilled trailers calculated the number at more than fifteen, perhaps more than twenty, and they followed their path across the timber and out upon the prairie.
When the hoofprints were more clearly discernible in the grass they saw that they had been made by unshod feet, and they were mystified, but they followed cautiously or, for two or three miles, when "Deaf" Smith saw something gleaming by the track. He alighted and picked up a painted feather.
"It's simple now," he said. "We've been followin' the trail of Indians. They wouldn't be in this part of the country, 'less they were helpin' the Mexicans, an' I guess they were at Goliad, leavin' after the business there was finished."
"You're right, Deaf," said Karnes. "That 'counts for the unshod hoofs. It ain't worth while for us to follow them any longer, so I guess we'd better turn back to the timber."
Safety obviously demanded this course, and soon they were again in the forest, riding near the San Antonio and down its stream. They struck the trail of a bear, then they roused up a deer in the thickets, but big game had no attraction for them now, and they went on, leaving bear and deer in peace. Then the sharp eyes of the Panther saw the print of a human foot on the river bank. He soon saw three or four more such traces leading into the forest, where the trail was lost.
The five gathered around the imprints in the earth, and debated their meaning. It was evident even to Will Allen that some one without a horse had swum the river at that point and had climbed up the bank. They could see the traces lower down, where he had emerged from the water.
"I figger it this way," said the Panther. "People don't go travelin' through this country except on horses, an' this fellow, whoever he is, didn't have any horse, as we all can see as plain as day."
"An' in such times as these," said "Deaf" Smith, "fellers don't go swimmin' rivers just for fun. The one that made these tracks was in a hurry. Ain't that so, Hank?"
"'Course he was," replied Karnes. "He was gettin' away from somewhere an' from somebody. That's why he swam the river; he wanted the San Antonio to separate him from them somebodies."
"And putting two and two and then two more together," said Obed White, "we draw the conclusion that it is a fugitive, probably one of our own Texans, who has escaped in some manner from his prison at Goliad."
"It's what we all think," said the Panther, "an' now we'll beat up these thickets till we find him. He's sure to keep movin' away from Goliad, an' he's got sense to stay in the cover of the timber."
The forest here ran back from the river three or four hundred yards, and the five, separating and moving up the stream, searched thoroughly. The hunt presently brought the Panther and Obed White together again, and they expressed their disappointment at finding nothing. Then they heard a cry from Will Allen, who came galloping through the thickets, his face white and his eyes starting.
"I've found Ned Fulton!" he cried. "He's lying here dead in the bushes!"
The Panther and Obed stared in amazement.
"Will," exclaimed the Panther, "have you gone plum' crazy? Ned was killed at the Alamo!"
"I tell you he is here!" cried the boy, who was shaking with excitement. "I have just seen him! He was lying on his back in the bushes, and he did not move!"
"Lead on! Let's see what you have seen!" said Obed, who began to share in the boy's excitement.
The Panther whistled, and Smith and Karnes joined them. Then, led by Will Allen, they rode swiftly through the bushes, coming, forty or fifty yards away, into a tiny grassy glade. It was either Ned Fulton or his ghost, and the Panther, remembering the Alamo, took it for the latter. He uttered a cry of astonishment and reined in his horse. But Obed White leaped to the ground, and ran to the prostrate figure.
"A miracle!" he exclaimed. "It's Ned Fulton! And he's alive!"
The others also sprang from their horses, and crowded around their youthful comrade, whom they had considered among the fallen of the Alamo. Ned was unconscious, his face was hot with fever, and his breathing was hard and irregular.
"How he escaped from the Alamo and how he came here we don't know," said Obed White solemnly, "but there are lots of strange things in heaven and earth, as old Shakespeare said, and this is one of the strangest of them all."
"However, it's happened we're glad to get him back," said the Panther. "And now we must go to work. You can tell by lookin' at him that he's been through all kinds of trouble, an' a powerful lot of it."
These skilled borderers knew that Ned was suffering from exhaustion. They forced open his mouth, poured a drink down his throat from a flask that Karnes carried, and rubbed his hands vigorously. Ned, after a while, opened his eyes and looked at them dimly. He knew in a vague way that these were familiar faces, but he remembered nothing, and he felt no surprise.
"Ned! Ned! Don't; you know us?" said Will Allen. "We're your friends, and we found you lying here in the bush!"
The clouds slowly cleared away from Ned's mind and it all came back, the terrible and treacherous slaughter of his unarmed comrades, his own flight through the timber his swimming of the river, and then the blank. But these were his best friends. It was no fantasy. How and when they had come he did not know, but here they were in the flesh, the Panther, Obed White, Will Allen, "Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes.
"Boys," he asked weakly, "how did you find me?"
"Now don't you try to talk yet a while, Ned," said Obed White, veiling his feeling under a whimsical tone. "When people come back from the dead they don't always stay, and we want to keep you, as you're an enrolled member of this party. The news of your trip into the beyond and back again will keep, until we fix up something for you that will make you feel a lot stronger."
These frontiersmen never rode without an outfit, and Smith produced a small skillet from his kit. The Panther lighted a fire, Karnes chipped off some dried beef, and in a few minutes they had a fine soup, which Ned ate with relish. He sat with his back against a tree and his strength returned rapidly.
"I guess you can talk now, Ned," said Obed White. "You can tell us how you got away from the Alamo, and where you've been all the time."
Young Fulton's face clouded and Obed White saw his hands tremble.
"It isn't the Alamo," he said. "They died fighting there. It was Goliad."
"Goliad?" exclaimed "Deaf" Smith. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the slaughter, the massacre. All our men were led out. They were told that they were to go on parole. Then the whole Mexican army opened fire upon us at a range of only a few yards and the cavalry trod us down. We had no arms. We could not fight back. It was awful. I did not dream that such things could be. None of you will ever see what I've seen, and none of you will ever go through what I've gone through."
"Ned, you've had fever. It's a dream," said Obed White, incredulous.
"It is no dream. I broke through somehow, and got to the timber. Maybe a few others escaped in the same way, but all the rest were murdered in cold blood. I know that Santa Anna ordered it."
They knew perfectly well that Ned was telling the full truth, and the faces of all of them darkened. The same thought was in the heart of every one, vengeance for the deed, but however intense was the thought it did not approach the feeling of Ned, who had seen it all, and who had been through it all.
"I guess that was the firing we heard," said Smith, "when we thought it was the boys making a last stand at Goliad. I tell you, comrades, this means the freedom of Texas. No matter how the quarrel came about no people can stand such things."
"It's so," said the others together.
They did not declaim. They were of a tribe that was not given much to words, but they felt sure that their own resolve to fight until no Mexicans were left in Texas would now be shared by every Texan.
After Ned rested a while longer and ate more of the good soup, he told the full story of the great and tragic scenes through which he had passed since he became separated from them. Seasoned as they were, these men hung with breathless interest on every detail. He told them everything that had passed in the Alamo during the long days of the siege. He told of Crockett and Bowie and Travis and of the final assault.
The Panther drew a deep breath, when he finished that part of the story.
"They were certainly great men in the Alamo, them fellers," he said, "and when my time comes to die I believe I'd rather die that way than any other."
Ned did not linger long over the tale of Goliad. He could not yet bear the detailed repetition.
"I think we'd better make for the coast," said "Deaf" Smith, when he had finished. "Our forces in the field are about wiped out, an' we've got to raise a new army of some kind. We can look for our government, too. It's wanderin' aroun', tryin' to keep out of the hands of Santa Anna. We haven't any horse for you now, Ned, but you can ride behind Will Allen. Maybe we can get you a mount before long."
They remained in the timber the rest of the day, in order that Ned might recover sufficiently for the journey. About the middle of the afternoon they saw a dozen Mexican cavalrymen on the plain, and they hoped that they would invade the timber. They were keyed to such a pitch of anger and hate that they would have welcomed a fight, and they were more than confident of victory, but the Mexicans disappeared beyond the swells, and every one of the men was disappointed.