Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Joseph A. Altsheler > Texan Scouts: A Story of the Alamo and Goliad > This page

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

Chapter 9. The Flag Of No Quarter

< Previous
Table of content
Next >

Ned gazed long at the great red flag as its folds waved in the wind. A chill ran down his spine, a strange, throbbing sensation, but not of fear. They were a tiny islet there amid a Mexican sea which threatened to roll over them. But the signal of the flag, he realized, merely told him that which he had expected all the time. He knew Santa Anna. He would show no quarter to those who had humbled Cos and his forces at San Antonio.

The boy was not assigned to the watch that night, but he could not sleep for a long time. Among these borderers there was discipline, but it was discipline of their own kind, not that of the military martinet. Ned was free to go about as he chose, and he went to the great plaza into which they had driven the cattle. Some supplies of hay had been gathered for them, and having eaten they were now all at rest in a herd, packed close against the western side of the wall.

Ned passed near them, but they paid no attention to him, and going on he climbed upon the portion of the wall which ran close to the river. Some distance to his right and an equal distance to his left were sentinels. But there was nothing to keep him from leaping down from the wall or the outside and disappearing. The Mexican investment was not yet complete. Yet no such thought ever entered Ned's head. His best friends, Will Allen, the Panther and Obed White, were out there somewhere, if they were still alive, but his heart was now here in the Alamo with the Texans.

He listened intently, but he heard no sound of any Mexican advance. It occurred to him that a formidable attack might be made here, particularly under the cover of darkness. A dashing leader like the younger Urrea might attempt a surprise.

He dropped back inside and went to one of the sentinels who was standing on an abutment with his head just showing above the wall. He was a young man, not more than two or three years older than Ned, and he was glad to have company.

"Have you heard or seen anything?" asked Ned.

"No," replied the sentinel, "but I've been looking for 'em down this way."

They waited a little longer and then Ned was quite sure that he saw a dim form in the darkness. He pointed toward it, but the sentinel could not see it at all, as Ned's eyes were much the keener: But the shape grew clearer and Ned's heart throbbed.

The figure was that of a great horse, and Ned recognized Old Jack. Nothing could have persuaded him that the faithful beast was not seeking his master, and he emitted a low soft whistle. The horse raised his head, listened and then trotted forward.

"He is mine," said Ned, "and he knows me."

"He won't be yours much longer," said the sentinel. "Look, there's a Mexican creeping along the ground after him."

Ned followed the pointing finger, and he now noticed the Mexican, a vaquero, who had been crouching so low that his figure blurred with the earth. Ned saw the coiled lariat hanging over his arm, and he knew that the man intended to capture Old Jack, a prize worth any effort.

"Do you think I ought to shoot him?" asked the sentinel.

"Not yet, at least," replied Ned. "I brought my horse into this danger, but I think that he'll take himself out of it."

Old Jack had paused, as if uncertain which way to go. But Ned felt sure that he was watching the Mexican out of the tail of his eye. The vaquero, emboldened by the prospect of such a splendid prize, crept closer and closer, and then suddenly threw the lasso. The horse's head ducked down swiftly, the coil of rope slipped back over his head, and he dashed at the Mexican.

The vaquero was barely in time to escape those terrible hoofs. But howling with terror he sprang clear and raced away in the darkness. The horse whinnied once or twice gently, waited, and, when no answer came to his calls, trotted off in the dusk.

"No Mexican will take your horse," said the sentinel.

"You're right when you say that," said Ned. "I don't think another will ever get so near him, but if he should you see that my horse knows how to take care of himself."

Ned wandered back toward the convent yard. It was now late, but a clear moon was shining. He saw the figures of the sentinels clearly on the walls, but he was confident that no attack would be made by the Mexicans that night. His great tension and excitement began to relax and he felt that he could sleep.

He decided that the old hospital would be a good place, and, taking his blankets, he entered the long room of that building. Only the moonlight shone there, but a friendly voice hailed him at once.

"It's time you were hunting rest, Ned," said Davy Crockett. "I saw you wanderin' 'roun' as if you was carryin' the world on your shoulders, but I didn't say anything. I knew that you would come to if left to yourself. There's a place over there by the wall where the floor seems to be a little softer than it is most everywhere else. Take it an' enjoy it."

Ned laughed and took the place to which Crockett was pointing. The hardness of a floor was nothing to him, and with one blanket under him and another over him he went to sleep quickly, sleeping the night through without a dream. He awoke early, took a breakfast of fresh beef with the men in the convent yard, and then, rifle in hand, he mounted the church wall.

All his intensity of feeling returned with the morning. He was eager to see what was passing beyond the Alamo, and the first object that caught his eye was the blood-red flag of no quarter hanging from the tower of the Church of San Fernando. No wind was blowing and it drooped in heavy scarlet folds like a pall.

Looking from the flag to the earth, he saw great activity in the Mexican lines. Three or four batteries were being placed in position, and Mexican officers, evidently messengers, were galloping about. The flat roofs of the houses in San Antonio were covered with people. Ned knew that they were there to see Santa Anna win a quick victory and take immediate vengeance upon the Texans. He recognized Santa Anna himself riding in his crouched attitude upon a great white horse, passing from battery to battery and hurrying the work. There was proof that his presence was effective, as the men always worked faster when he came.

Ned saw all the Texan leaders, Travis, Bowie, Crockett and Bonham, watching the batteries. The whole Texan force was now manning the walls and the heavy cedar palisade at many points, but Ned saw that for the present all their dealings would be with the cannon.

Earthworks had been thrown up to protect the Mexican batteries, and the Texan cannon were posted for reply, but Ned noticed that his comrades seemed to think little of the artillery. In this desperate crisis they fondled their rifles lovingly.

He was still watching the batteries, when a gush of smoke and flame came from one of the cannon. There was a great shout in the Mexican lines, but the round shot spent itself against the massive stone walls of the mission.

"They'll have to send out a stronger call than that," said Davy Crockett contemptuously, "before this 'coon comes down."

Travis went along the walls, saw that the Texans were sheltering themselves, and waited. There was another heavy report and a second round shot struck harmlessly upon the stone. Then the full bombardment began. A half dozen batteries rained shot and shell upon the Alamo. The roar was continuous like the steady roll of thunder, and it beat upon the drums of Ned's ears until he thought he would become deaf.

He was crouched behind the stone parapet, but he looked up often enough to see what was going on. He saw a vast cloud of smoke gathering over river and town, rent continually by flashes of fire from the muzzles of the cannon. The air was full of hissing metal, shot and shell poured in a storm upon the Alamo. Now and then the Texan cannon replied, but not often.

The cannon fire was so great that for a time it shook Ned's nerves. It seemed as if nothing could live under such a rain of missiles, but when he looked along the parapet and saw all the Texans unharmed his courage came back.

Many of the balls were falling inside the church, in the convent yard and in the plazas, but the Texans there were protected also, and as far as Ned could see not a single man had been wounded.

The cannonade continued for a full hour and then ceased abruptly. The great cloud of smoke began to lift, and the Alamo, river and town came again into the brilliant sunlight. The word passed swiftly among the defenders that their fortress was uninjured and not a man hurt.

As the smoke rose higher Ned saw Mexican officers with glasses examining the Alamo to see what damage their cannon had done. He hoped they would feel mortification when they found it was so little. Davy Crockett knelt near him on the parapet, and ran his hand lovingly along the barrel of Betsy, as one strokes the head of a child.

"Do you want some more rifles, Davy?" asked Bowie.

"Jest about a half dozen," replied Crockett. "I think I can use that many before they clear out."

Six of the long-barreled Texan rifles were laid at Crockett's feet. Ned watched with absorbed interest. Crockett's eye was on the nearest battery and he was slowly raising Betsy.

"Which is to be first, Davy?" asked Bowie.

"The one with the rammer in his hand."

Crockett took a single brief look down the sights and pulled the trigger. The man with the rammer dropped to the earth and the rammer fell beside him. He lay quite still. Crockett seized a second rifle and fired. A loader fell and he also lay still. A third rifle shot, almost as quick as a flash, and a gunner went down, a fourth and a man at a wheel fell, a fifth and the unerring bullet claimed a sponger, a sixth and a Mexican just springing to cover was wounded in the shoulder. Then Crockett remained with the seventh rifle still loaded in his hands, as there was nothing to shoot at, all the Mexicans now being hidden.

But Crockett, kneeling on the parapet, the rifle cocked and his finger on the trigger, watched in case any of the Mexicans should expose himself again. He presented to Ned the simile of some powerful animal about to spring. The lean, muscular figure was poised for instant action, and all the whimsicality and humor were gone from the eyes of the sharpshooter.

A mighty shout of triumph burst from the Texans. Many a good marksman was there, but never before had they seen such shooting. The great reputation of Davy Crockett, universal in the southwest, was justified fully. The crew of the gun had been annihilated in less than a minute.

For a while there was silence. Then the Mexicans, protected by the earthwork that they had thrown up, drew the battery back a hundred yards. Even in the farther batteries the men were very careful about exposing themselves. The Texans, seeing no sure target, held their fire. The Mexicans opened a new cannonade and for another half hour the roar of the great guns drowned all other sounds. But when it ceased and the smoke drifted away the Texans were still unharmed.

Ned was now by the side of Bowie, who showed great satisfaction.

"What will they do next?" asked Ned.

"I don't know, but you see now that it's not the biggest noise that hurts the most. They'll never get us with cannon fire. The only way they can do it is to attack the lowest part of our wall and make a bridge of their own bodies."

"They are doing something now," said Ned, whose far-sighted vision always served him well. "They are pulling down houses in the town next to the river."

"That's so," said Bowie, "but we won't have to wait long to see what they're about."

Hundreds of Mexicans with wrecking hooks had assailed three or four of the houses, which they quickly pulled to pieces. Others ran forward with the materials and began to build a bridge across the narrow San Antonio.

"They want to cross over on that bridge and get into a position at once closer and more sheltered," said Bowie, "but unless I make a big mistake those men at work there are already within range of our rifles. Shall we open fire, Colonel?"

He asked the question of Travis, who nodded. A picked band of Mexicans under General Castrillon were gathered in a mass and were rapidly fitting together the timbers of the houses to make the narrow bridge. But the reach of the Texan rifles was great, and Davy Crockett was merely the king among so many sharpshooters.

The rifles began to flash and crack. No man fired until he was sure of his aim, and no two picked the same target. The Mexicans fell fast. In five minutes thirty or forty were killed, some of them falling into the river, and the rest, dropping the timbers, fled with shouts of horror from the fatal spot. General Castrillon, a brave man, sought to drive them back, but neither blows nor oaths availed. Santa Anna himself came and made many threats, but the men would not stir. They preferred punishment to the sure death that awaited them from the muzzles of the Texan rifles.

The light puffs of rifle smoke were quickly gone, and once more the town with the people watching on the flat roofs came into full view. A wind burst out the folds of the red flag of no quarter on the tower of the church of San Fernando, but Ned paid no attention to it now. He was watching for Santa Anna's next move.

"That's a bridge that will never be built," said Davy Crockett. "'Live an' learn' is a good sayin', I suppose, but a lot of them Mexicans neither lived nor learned. It's been a great day for 'Betsy' here."

Travis, the commander, showed elation.

"I think Santa Anna will realize now," he said, "that he has neither a promenade nor a picnic before him. Oh, if we only had six or seven hundred men, instead of less than a hundred and fifty!"

"We must send for help," said Bowie. "The numbers of Santa Anna continually increase, but we are not yet entirely surrounded. If the Texans know that we are beleaguered here they will come to our help."

"I will send messengers to-morrow night," said Travis. "The Texans are much scattered, but it is likely that some will come."

It was strange, but it was characteristic of them, nevertheless, that no one made any mention of escape. Many could have stolen away in the night over the lower walls. Perhaps all could have done so, but not a single Texan ever spoke of such a thing, and not one ever attempted it.

Santa Anna moved some of his batteries and also erected two new ones. When the work on the latter was finished all opened in another tremendous cannonade, lasting for fully an hour. The bank of smoke was heavier than ever, and the roaring in Ned's ears was incessant, but he felt no awe now. He was growing used to the cannon fire, and as it did so little harm he felt no apprehension.

While the fire was at its height he went down in the church and cleaned his rifle, although he took the precaution to remain in one of the covered rooms by the doorway. Davy Crockett was also there busy with the same task. Before they finished a cannon ball dropped on the floor, bounded against the wall and rebounded several times until it finally lay at rest.

"Somethin' laid a big egg then," said Crockett. "It's jest as well to keep a stone roof over your head when you're under fire of a few dozen cannon. Never take foolish risks, Ned, for the sake of showin' off. That's the advice of an old man."

Crockett spoke very earnestly, and Ned remembered his words. Bonham called to them a few minutes later that the Mexicans seemed to be meditating some movement on the lower wall around the grand plaza.

"Like as not you're right," said Crockett. "It would be the time to try it while our attention was attracted by the big cannonade."

Crockett himself was detailed to meet the new movement, and he led fifty sharpshooters. Ned was with him, his brain throbbing with the certainty that he was going into action once more. Great quantities of smoke hung over the Alamo and had penetrated every part of it. It crept into Ned's throat, and it also stung his eyes. It inflamed his brain and increased his desire for combat. They reached the low wall on a run, and found that Bonham was right. A large force of Mexicans was approaching from that side, evidently expecting to make an opening under cover of the smoke.

The assailants were already within range, and the deadly Texan rifles began to crack at once from the wall. The whole front line of the Mexican column was quickly burned away. The return fire of the Mexicans was hasty and irregular and they soon broke and ran.

"An' that's over," said Crockett, as he sent a parting shot. "It was easy, an' bein' sheltered not a man of ours was hurt. But, Ned, don't let the idea that we have a picnic here run away with you. We've got to watch an' watch an' fight an' fight all the time, an' every day more Mexicans will come."

"I understand, Mr. Crockett," said Ned. "You know that we may never get out of here alive, and I know it, too."

"You speak truth, lad," said Crockett, very soberly. "But remember that it's a chance we take every day here in the southwest. An' it's pleasant to know that they're all brave men here together. You haven't seen any flinchin' on the part of anybody an' I don't think you ever will."

"What are you going to do now?" asked Ned.

"I'm goin' to eat dinner, an' after that I'll take a nap. My advice to you is to do the same, 'cause you'll be on watch to-night."

"I know I can eat," said Ned, "and I'll try to sleep."

He found that his appetite was all right, and after dinner he lay down in the long room of the hospital. Here he heard the cannon of Santa Anna still thundering, but the walls softened the sound somewhat and made it seem much more distant. In a way it was soothing and Ned, although sure that he could not sleep, slept. All that afternoon he was rocked into deeper slumber by the continuous roar of the Mexican guns. Smoke floated over the convent yard and through all the buildings, but it did not disturb him. Now and then a flash of rifle fire came from the Texans on the walls, but that did not disturb him, either.

Nature was paying its debt. The boy lying on his blankets breathed deeply and regularly as he slept. The hours of the afternoon passed one by one, and it was dark when he awoke. The fire of the cannon had now ceased and two or three lights were burning in the hospital. Crockett was already up, and with some of the other men was eating beefsteak at a table.

"You said you'd try to sleep, Ned," he exclaimed, "an' you must have made a big try, 'cause you snored so loud we couldn't hear Santa Anna's cannon."

"Why, I'm sure I don't snore, Mr. Crockett," said Ned, red in the face.

"No, you don't snore, I'll take that back," said Davy Crockett, when the laugh subsided, "but I never saw a young man sleep more beautifully an' skillfully. Why, the risin' an' fallin' of your chest was as reg'lar as the tickin' of a clock."

Ned joined them at the table. He did not mind the jests of those men, as they did not mind the jests of one another. They were now like close blood-kin. They were a band of brethren, bound together by the unbreakable tie of mortal danger.

Ned spent two-thirds of the night on the church wall. The Mexicans let the cannon rest in the darkness, and only a few rifle shots were fired. But there were many lights in San Antonio, and on the outskirts two great bonfires burned. Santa Anna and his generals, feeling that their prey could not escape from the trap, and caring little for the peons who had been slain, were making a festival. It is even said that Santa Anna on this campaign, although he left a wife in the city of Mexico, exercised the privileges of an Oriental ruler and married another amid great rejoicings.

Ned slept soundly when his watch was finished, and he awoke again the next day to the thunder of the cannonade, which continued almost without cessation throughout the day, but in the afternoon Travis wrote a letter, a noble appeal to the people of Texas for help. He stated that they had been under a continual bombardment for more than twenty-four hours, but not a man had yet been hurt. "I shall never surrender or retreat," he said. "Then I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism, and of everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch." He closed with the three words, "Victory or death," not written in any vainglory or with any melodramatic appeal, but with the full consciousness of the desperate crisis, and a quiet resolution to do as he said.

The heroic letter is now in the possession of the State of Texas. Most of the men in the Alamo knew its contents, and they approved of it. When it was fully dark Travis gave it to Albert Martin. Then he looked around for another messenger.

"Two should go together in case of mishap," he said.

His eye fell upon Ned.

"If you wish to go I will send you," he said, "but I leave it to your choice. If you prefer to stay, you stay."

Ned's first impulse was to go. He might find Obed White, Will Allen and the Panther out there and bring them back with him, but his second impulse told him that it was only a chance, and he would abide with Crockett and Bowie.

"I thank you for the offer, but I think, sir, that I'll stay," he said.

He saw Crockett give him a swift approving glance. Another was quickly chosen in his stead, and Ned was in the grand plaza when they dropped over the low wall and disappeared in the darkness. His comrades and he listened attentively a long time, but as they heard no sound of shots they were sure that they were now safe beyond the Mexican lines.

"I don't want to discourage anybody," said Bowie, "but I'm not hoping much from the messengers. The Texans are scattered too widely."

"No, they can't bring many," said Crockett, "but every man counts. Sometimes it takes mighty little to turn the tale, and they may turn it."

"I hope so," said Bowie.

The Mexican cannon were silent that night and Ned slept deeply, awaking only when the dawn of a clear day came. He was astonished at the quickness with which he grew used to a state of siege and imminent danger. All the habits of life now went on as usual. He ate breakfast with as good an appetite as if he had been out on the prairie with his friends, and he talked with his new comrades as if Santa Anna and his army were a thousand miles away.

But when he did go upon the church wall he saw that Santa Anna had begun work again and at a new place. The Mexican general, having seen that his artillery was doing no damage, was making a great effort to get within much closer range where the balls would count. Men protected by heavy planking or advancing along trenches were seeking to erect a battery within less than three hundred yards of the entrance to the main plaza. They had already thrown up a part of a breastwork. Meanwhile the Texan sharpshooters were waiting for a chance.

Ned took no part in it except that of a spectator. But Crockett, Bowie and a dozen others were crouched on the wall with their rifles. Presently an incautious Mexican showed above the earthwork. It was Crockett who slew him, but Bowie took the next. Then the other rifles flashed fast, eight or ten Mexicans were slain, and the rest fled. Once more the deadly Texan rifles had triumphed.

Ned wondered why Santa Anna had endeavored to place the battery there in the daytime. It could be done at night, when it was impossible for the Texans to aim their rifles so well. He did not know that the pride of Santa Anna, unable to brook delay in the face of so small a force, had pushed him forward.

Knowing now what might be done at night, Ned passed the day in anxiety, and with the coming of the twilight his anxiety increased. _

Read next: Chapter 10. Crockett And Bowie

Read previous: Chapter 8. In The Alamo

Table of content of Texan Scouts: A Story of the Alamo and Goliad


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book