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The Texan Scouts: A Story of the Alamo and Goliad, a novel by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 6. For Freedom's Sake

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Evidently the horses had found considerable grass through the night, as they were fresh and strong, and the miles fell fast behind them. At the gait at which they were going they would reach the cabin that night. Meanwhile they made plans. The little force would divide and messengers would go to San Antonio, Harrisburg and other points, with the news that Santa Anna was advancing with an immense force.

And every one of the three knew that the need was great. They knew how divided counsels had scattered the little Texan army. At San Antonio, the most important point of all, the town that they had triumphantly taken from a much greater force of Mexicans, there were practically no men, and that undoubtedly was Santa Anna's destination. Unconsciously they began to urge their horses to great and yet greater speed, until the Panther recalled them to prudence.

"Slower, boys! slower!" he said. "We mustn't run our horses out at the start."

"And there's a second reason for pulling down," said Ned, "since there's somebody else on the plain."

His uncommon eyesight had already detected before the others the strange presence. He pointed toward the East.

"Do you see that black speck there, where the sky touches the ground?" he said. "If you'll watch it you'll see that it's moving. And look! There's another! and another! and another!"

The Panther and Obed now saw the black specks also. The three stopped on the crest of a swell and watched them attentively.

"One! two! three! four! five! six! seven! eight! nine! ten! eleven! twelve! thirteen!" counted the far-sighted boy.

"An' them thirteen specks are thirteen men on horseback," continued the Panther, "an' now I wonder who in the name of the great horn spoon they are!"

"Suppose we see," said Obed. "All things are revealed to him who looks--at least most of the time. It is true that they are more than four to our one, but our horses are swift, and we can get away."

"That's right," said the Panther. "Still, we oughtn't to take the risk unless everybody is willin'. What do you say, Ned?"

"I reply 'yes,' of course," said the boy, "especially as I've an idea that those are not Mexicans. They look too big and tall, and they sit too straight up in their saddles for Mexicans."

"Them ideas of yours are ketchin'," said the Panther. "Them fellers may be Mexicans, but they don't look like Mexicans, they don't act like Mexicans, an' they ain't Mexicans."

"Take out what isn't, and you have left what is," said Obed.

"We'll soon see," said Ned.

A few minutes more and there could be no further doubt that the thirteen were Texans or Americans. One rode a little ahead of the others, who came on in an even line. They were mounted on large horses, but the man in front held Ned's attention.

The leader was tall and thin, but evidently muscular and powerful. His hair was straight and black like an Indian's. His features were angular and tanned by the winds of many years. His body was clothed completely in buckskin, and a raccoon skin cap was on his head. Across his shoulder lay a rifle with a barrel of unusual length.

"Never saw any of them before," said the Panther. "By the great horn spoon, who can that feller in front be? He looks like somebody."

The little band rode closer, and its leader held up his hand as a sign of amity.

"Good friends," he said, in a deep clear voice, "we don't have very close neighbors out here, and that makes a meeting all the pleasanter. You are Texans, I guess."

"You guess right," said the Panther, in the same friendly tone. "An' are you Texans, too?"

"That point might be debated," replied the man, in a whimsical tone, "and after a long dispute neither I nor my partners here could say which was right and which was wrong. But while we may not be Texans, yet we will be right away."

His eyes twinkled as he spoke, and Ned suddenly felt a strong liking for him. He was not young and, despite his buckskin dress and careless grammar, there was something of the man of the world about him. But he seemed to have a certain boyishness of spirit that appealed strongly to Ned.

"I s'pose," he continued, "that a baptism will make us genuine Texans, an' it 'pears likely to me that we'll get that most lastin' of all baptisms, a baptism of fire. But me an' Betsy here stand ready for it."

He patted lovingly the stock of his long rifle as he spoke the word "Betsy." It was the same word "Betsy" that gave Ned his sudden knowledge.

"I'm thinking that you are Davy Crockett," he said.

The man's face was illumined with an inimitable smile.

"Correct," he said. "No more and no less. Andy Jackson kept me from going back to Washington, an' so me an' these twelve good friends of mine, Tennesseans like myself, have come here to help free Texas."

He reached out his hand and Ned grasped it. The boy felt a thrill. The name of Davy Crockett was a great one in the southwest, and here he was, face to face, hands gripped with the great borderer.

"This is Mr. Palmer, known all over Texas as the Panther, and Mr. Obed White, once of Maine, but now a Texan," said Ned, introducing his friends.

Crockett and the Panther shook hands, and looked each other squarely in the eye.

"Seems to me," said Crockett, "that you're a man."

"I was jest thinkin' the same of you," said the Panther.

"An' you," said Crockett to Obed White, "are a man, too. But they certainly do grow tall where you come from."

"I'm not as wide as a barn door, but I may be long enough to reach the bottom of a well," said Obed modestly. "Anyway, I thank you for the compliment. Praise from Sir Davy is sweet music in my ear, indeed. And since we Texans have to stand together, and since to stand together we must know about one another, may I ask you, Mr. Crockett, which way you are going?"

"We had an idea that we would go to San Antonio," said Crockett, "but I'm never above changin' my opinion. If you think it better to go somewhere else, an' can prove it, why me an' Betsy an' the whole crowd are ready to go there instead."

"What would you say?" asked the Panther, "if we told you that Santa Anna an' 7,000 men were on the Rio Grande ready to march on San Antonio?"

"If you said it, I'd say it was true. I'd also say that it was a thing the Texans had better consider. If I was usin' adjectives I'd call it alarmin'."

"An' what would you say if I told you there wasn't a hundred Texan soldiers in San Antonio to meet them seven thousand Mexicans comin' under Santa Anna?"

"If you told me that I'd say it was true. I'd say also, if I was usin' adjectives, that it was powerful alarmin'. For Heaven's sake, Mr. Panther, the state of affairs ain't so bad as that, is it?"

"It certainly is," replied the Panther. "Ned Fulton here was all through their camp last night. He can talk Mexican an' Spanish like lightnin' an' he makes up wonderful--an' he saw their whole army. He saw old Santa Anna, too, an' fifty or a hundred generals, all covered with gold lace. If we don't get a lot of fightin' men together an' get 'em quick, Texas will be swept clean by that Mexican army same as if a field had been crossed by millions of locusts."

It was obvious that Crockett was impressed deeply by these blunt statements.

"What do you wish us to do?" he asked the Panther.

"You an' your friends come with us. We've got some good men at a cabin in the woods that we can reach to-night. We'll join with them, raise as many more as we can, spread the alarm everywhere, an' do everything possible for the defence of San Antonio."

"A good plan, Mr. Panther," said Crocket. "You lead the way to this cabin of yours, an' remember that we're servin' under you for the time bein'."

The Panther rode on without another word and the party, now raised from three to sixteen, followed. Crockett fell in by the side of Ned, and soon showed that he was not averse to talking.

"A good country," he said, nodding at the landscape, "but it ain't like Tennessee. It would take me a long time to git used to the lack of hills an' runnin' water an' trees which just cover the state of Tennessee."

"We have them here, too," replied Ned, "though I'll admit they're scattered. But it's a grand country to fight for."

"An' as I see it we'll have a grand lot of fightin' to do," said Davy Crockett.

They continued at good speed until twilight, when they rested their horses and ate of the food that they carried. The night promised to be cold but clear, and the crisp air quickened their blood.

"How much further is it?" asked Crockett of Ned.

"Fifteen or eighteen miles, but at the rate we're going we should be there in three hours. We've got a roof. It isn't a big one, and we don't know who built it, but it will shelter us all."

"I ain't complainin' of that," rejoined Davy Crockett. "I'm a lover of fresh air an' outdoors, but I don't object to a roof in cold weather. Always take your comfort, boy, when it's offered to you. It saves wear an' tear."

A friendship like that between him and Bowie was established already between Ned and Crockett. Ned's grave and serious manner, the result of the sufferings through which he had gone, invariably attracted the attention and liking of those far older than himself.

"I'll remember your advice, Mr. Crockett," he said.

A rest of a half hour for the horses and they started riding rapidly. After a while they struck the belt of forest and soon the cabin was not more than a mile away. But the Panther, who was still in the lead, pulled up his horse suddenly.

"Boys," he exclaimed, "did you hear that?"

Every man stopped his horse also and with involuntary motion bent forward a little to listen. Then the sound that the Panther had heard came again. It was the faint ping of a rifle shot, muffled by the distance. In a moment they heard another and then two more. The sounds came from the direction of their cabin.

"The boys are attacked," said the Panther calmly, "an' it's just as well that we've come fast. But I can't think who is after 'em. There was certainly no Mexicans in these parts yesterday, an' Urrea could not possibly have got ahead of us with a raidin' band. But at any rate we'll ride on an' soon see."

They proceeded with the utmost caution, and they heard the faint ping of the rifles a half dozen times as they advanced. The nostrils of the Panther began to distend, and streaks of red appeared on his eyeballs. He was smelling the battle afar, and his soul rejoiced. He had spent his whole life amid scenes of danger, and this was nature to him. Crockett rode up by his side, and he, too, listened eagerly. He no longer carried Betsy over his shoulder but held the long rifle across the pommel of his saddle, his hand upon hammer and trigger.

"What do you think it is, Panther?" he asked. Already he had fallen into the easy familiarity of the frontier.

"I can't make it out yet," replied the Panther, "but them shots shorely came from the cabin an' places about it. Our fellows are besieged, but I've got to guess at the besiegers, an' then I'm likely to guess wrong."

They were riding very slowly, and presently they heard a dozen shots, coming very clearly now.

"I think we'd better stop here," said the Panther, "an' do a little scoutin'. If you like it, Mr. Crockett, you an' me an' Ned, here, will dismount, slip forward an' see what's the trouble. Obed will take Command of the others, an' wait in the bushes till we come back with the news, whatever it is."

"I'll go with you gladly," said Davy Crockett. "I'm not lookin' for trouble with a microscope, but if trouble gets right in my path I'm not dodgin' it. So I say once more, lead on, noble Mr. Panther, an' if Betsy here must talk she'll talk."

The Panther grinned in the dusk. He and Davy Crockett had instantly recognized congenial souls, each in the other.

"I can't promise you that thar'll be rippin' an' t'arin' an' roarin' an' chawin' all the time," he said, "but between you an' me, Davy Crockett, I've an' idee that we're not goin' to any sort of prayer meetin' this time of night."

"No, I'm thinkin' not," said Crockett, "but if there is a scene of turbulence before us lead on. I'm prepared for my share in it. The debate may be lively, but I've no doubt that I'll get my chance to speak. There are many ways to attract the attention of the Speaker. Pardon me, Mr. Panther, but I fall naturally into the phrases of legislative halls."

"I remember that you served two terms in Congress at Washington," said the Panther.

"An' I'd be there yet if it wasn't for Andy Jackson. I wanted my way in Tennessee politics an' he wanted his. He was so stubborn an' headstrong that here I am ready to become a statesman in this new Texas which is fightin' for its independence. An' what a change! From marble halls in Washington to a night in the brush on the frontier, an' with an unknown enemy before you."

They stopped talking now and, kneeling down in a thicket, began to creep forward. The cabin was not more than four or five hundred yards away, but a long silence had succeeded the latest shots, and after an advance of thirty or forty yards they lay still for a while. Then they heard two shots ahead of them, and saw little pink dots of flame from the exploding gunpowder.

"It cannot be Mexicans who are besieging the cabin," said Ned. "They would shout or make some kind of a noise. We have not heard a thing but the rifle shots."

"Your argyment is good," whispered the Panther. "Look! Did you see that figure passin' between us an' the cabin?"

"I saw it," said Davy Crockett, "an' although it was but a glimpse an' this is night it did not seem to me to be clad in full Christian raiment. I am quite sure it is not the kind of costume that would be admitted to the galleries of Congress."

"You're right, doubly right," said the Panther. "That was an Injun you saw, but whether a Comanche or a Lipan I couldn't tell. The boys are besieged not by Mexicans, but by Injuns. Hark to that!"

There was a flash from the cabin, a dusky figure in the woods leaped into the air, uttered a death cry, fell and lay still.

"An', as you see," continued the Panther, in his whisper, "the boys in the house are not asleep, dreamin' beautiful dreams. Looks to me as if they was watchin' mighty sharp for them fellers who have broke up their rest."

Crack! went a second shot from the house, but there was no answering cry, and they could not tell whether it hit anything. But they soon saw more dark figures flitting through the bushes, and their own position grew very precarious. If a band of the Indians stumbled upon them they might be annihilated before they gave their besieged comrades any help.

"I make the motion, Mr. Panther," said Crockett, "that you form a speedy plan of action for us, an' I trust that our young friend Ned here will second it."

"I second the motion," said Ned.

"It is carried unanimously. Now, Mr. Panther, we await your will."

"It's my will that we git back to the rest of the men as soon as we can. I reckon, Mr. Crockett, that them Tennesseans of yours wouldn't head in the other direction if a fight grew hot."

"I reckon that wild horses couldn't drag 'em away," said Crockett dryly.

"Then we'll go back an' j'in 'em."

"To hold a caucus, so to speak."

"I don't know what a cow-cuss is."

"It's Congressional for a conference. Don't mind these parliamentary expressions of mine, Mr. Panther. They give me pleasure an' they hurt nobody."

They reached the Tennesseans without interruption, and the Panther quickly laid his plan before them. They would advance within a quarter of a mile of the cabin, tie their horses in the thickest of the brush, leave four men to guard them, then the rest would go forward to help the besieged.

Crockett's eyes twinkled when the Panther announced the campaign in a few words.

"Very good; very good," he said. "A steering committee could not have done better. That also is parliamentary, but I think you understand it."

They heard detached shots again and then a long yell.

"They're Comanches," said the Panther. "I know their cry, an' I guess there's a lot of them."

Ned hoped that the shout did not mean the achieving of some triumph. They reached presently a dense growth of brush, and there the horses were tied. Four reluctant Tennesseans remained with them and the rest crept forward. They did not hear any shot after they left the horses until they were within three hundred yards of the house. Then an apparition caused all to stop simultaneously.

A streak of flame shot above the trees, curved and fell. It was followed by another and another. Ned was puzzled, but the Panther laughed low.

"This can't be fireworks on election night," said Davy Crockett. "It seems hardly the place for such a display."

"They're fireworks, all right," said the Panther, "but it's not election night. You're correct about that part of it. Look, there goes the fourth an' the fifth."

Two more streaks of flame curved and fell, and Ned and Crockett were still puzzled.

"Them's burnin' arrers," said the Panther. "It's an old trick of the Injuns. If they had time enough they'd be sure to set the cabin on fire, and then from ambush they'd shoot the people as they ran out. But what we're here for is to stop that little game of theirs. The flight of the arrers enables us to locate the spot from which they come an' there we'll find the Comanches."

They crept toward the point from which the lighted arrows were flying, and peering; from the thicket saw a score or more of Comanches gathered in the bushes and under the trees. One of the Tennesseans, seeking a better position, caused a loud rustling, and the alert Comanches, instantly taking alarm, turned their attention to the point from which the sound had come.

"Fire, boys! Fire at once!" cried the Panther.

A deadly volley was poured into the Comanche band. The Indians replied, but were soon compelled to give way. The Panther, raising his voice, shouted in tremendous tones:

"Rescue! Rescue! We're here, boys!"

The defenders of the cabin, hearing the volleys and the shouts of their friends, opened the door and rushed out of the cabin, rifle in hand. Caught between two forces, the Comanches gave up and rushed to the plain, where they had left their ponies. Jumping upon the backs of these, they fled like the wind.

The two victorious parties met and shook hands.

"We're mighty glad to see you, Panther," said Fields, grinning. "You don't look like an angel, but you act like one, an' I see you've brought a lot of new angels with you."

"Yes," replied the Panther, with some pride in his voice, "an' the first of the angels is Davy Crockett. Mr. Crockett, Mr. Fields."

The men crowded around to shake hands with the renowned Davy. Meanwhile a small party brought the four Tennesseans and the horses. Fortunately the Comanches had fled in the other direction. But it was not all joy in the Texan camp. Two silent figures covered with serapes were stretched on the floor in the cabin, and several others had wounds, although they had borne their part in the fighting.

"Tell us how it happened," said the Panther, after they had set sentinels in the forest.

"They attacked us about an hour after dark," replied Fields. "We knew that no Mexicans were near, but we never thought of Indians raiding this far to the eastward. Some of the men were outside looking after jerked meat when they suddenly opened fire from the brush. Two of the boys, Campbell and Hudson, were hurt so badly that they died after they were helped into the house by the others. The Comanches tried to rush in with our own men, but we drove them off and we could have held the cabin against 'em forever, if they hadn't begun to shoot the burning arrows. Then you came."

Campbell and Hudson were buried. Ned had been welcomed warmly by Allen, and the two boys compared notes. Will's face glowed when he heard of Ned's adventures within the Mexican lines.

"I could never have done it," he said. "I couldn't have kept steady enough when one crisis after another came along. I suppose this means, of course, that we must try to meet Santa Anna in some way. What do you think we can do, Ned?"

"I don't know, but just at present I'm going to sleep. The Panther, Davy Crockett and Obed will debate the plans."

Ned, who was becoming inured to war and danger, was soon asleep, but Will could not close his eyes. He had borne a gallant part in the defense, and the sounds of rifle shots and Indian yells still resounded in his excited ear. He remained awake long after he heard the heavy breathing of the men about him, but exhausted nerves gave way at last and he, too, slept.

The next morning their news was debated gravely by all. There was not one among them who did not understand its significance, but it was hard to agree upon a policy. Davy Crockett, who had just come, and who was practically a stranger to Texas, gave his opinions with hesitation.

"It's better for you, Mr. Panther, an' you, Mr. White, to make the motions," he said, "an' I an' my Tennesseans will endorse them. But it seems, boys, that if we came for a fight it is offered to us the moment we get here."

"Yes," said the twelve Tennesseans all together.

"I shall be compelled to leave you," said Roylston. "Pray, don't think it's because I'm afraid to fight the Mexicans. But, as I told you before, I can do far greater good for the Texan cause elsewhere. As I am now as well as ever, and I am able to take care of myself, I think I shall leave at once."

"I've known you only a few hours, Mr. Roylston," said Crockett, "but I've knocked around a hard world long enough to know a man when I see him. If you say you ought, you ought to go."

"That's so," said the Panther. "We've seen Mr. Roylston tried more than once, and nobody doubts his courage."

A good horse, saddled and bridled, and arms and ammunition, were given to Roylston. Then he bade them farewell. When he was about twenty yards away he beckoned to Ned. When the boy stood at his saddle bow he said very earnestly:

"If you fall again into the hands of Santa Anna, and are in danger of your life, use my name with him. It is perhaps a more potent weapon than you think. Do not forget."

"I will not," said Ned, "and I thank you very much, Mr. Roylston. But I hope that no such occasion will arise."

"So do I," said Roylston with emphasis. Then he rode away, a square, strong figure, and never looked back.

"What was he saying, Ned?" asked Will, when the boy returned.

"Merely promising help if we should need it, hereafter."

"He looks like a man who would give it."

After some further talk it was decided that Ned, Will, Obed and the Panther should ride south to watch the advance of Santa Anna, while Crockett, Fields and the remainder should go to San Antonio and raise such troops as they could.

"An' if you don't mind my sayin' it to you, Mr. Crockett," said the Panther, "keep tellin' 'em over an' over again that they have need to beware. Tell 'em that Santa Anna, with all the power of Mexico at his back, is comin'."

"Fear not, my good friend," said Davy Crockett. "I shall tell them every hour of the day. I shall never cease to bring the information before the full quorum of the House. Again I am parliamentary, but I think you understand, Mr. Panther."

"We all understan'," said the Panther, and then Crockett rode away at the head of the little troop which tacitly made him commander. Ned's eyes followed his figure as long as he was in sight. Little did he dream of what was to pass when they should meet again, scenes that one could never forget, though he lived a thousand years.

"A staunch man and true," said Obed. "He will be a great help to Texas."

Then they turned back to the cabin, the four of them, because they did not intend to go forth until night. They missed their comrades, but the cabin was a pleasant place, well stored now with meat of buffalo, deer and wild turkey. Floor and walls alike were covered with dressed skins.

"Why not fasten it up just as tightly as we can before we go away," said Allen. "The Comanches are not likely to come back, the war is swinging another way, and maybe we'll find it here handy for us again some day."

"You're talkin' sense, Will Allen," said the Panther. "It's been a shelter to us once, and it might be a shelter to us twice. The smell of the meat will, of course, draw wolves an' panthers, but we can fix it so they can't get in."

Taking sufficient provisions for themselves, they put the rest high up on the rafters. Then they secured the windows, and heaped logs before the door in such a manner that the smartest wolves and panthers in the world could not force an entrance. As they sat on their horses in the twilight preparatory to riding away, they regarded their work with great content.

"There it is, waiting for us when we come again," said Obed White. "It's a pleasant thing to have a castle for refuge when your enemies are making it too hot for you out in the open."

"So it is," said the Panther, "and a man finds that out more than once in his life."

Then they turned their horses and rode southward in the dusk. But before long they made an angle and turned almost due west. It was their intention to intersect the settlements that lay between the Rio Grande and San Antonio and give warning of the approach of Santa Anna.

They went on steadily over a rolling country, mostly bare, but with occasional clumps of trees. _

Read next: Chapter 7. The Herald Of Attack

Read previous: Chapter 5. Santa Anna's Advance

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