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

Chapter 10. Crockett And Bowie

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Unluckily for the Texans, the night was the darkest of the month. No bonfires burned in San Antonio, and there were no sounds of music. It seemed to Ned that the silence and darkness were sure indications of action on the part of the foe.

He felt more lonely and depressed than at any other time hitherto in the siege, and he was glad when Crockett and a young Tennesseean whom he called the Bee-Hunter joined him. Crockett had not lost any of his whimsical good humor, and when Ned suggested that Santa Anna was likely to profit by the dark he replied:

"If he is the general I take him to be he will, or at least try, but meanwhile we'll just wait, an' look, an' listen. That's the way to find out if things are goin' to happen. Don't turn little troubles into big ones. You don't need a cowskin for a calf. We'll jest rest easy. I'm mighty nigh old enough to be your grandfather, Ned, an' I've learned to take things as they come. I guess men of my age were talkin' this same way five thousand years ago."

"You've seen a lot in your life, Mr. Crockett," said Ned, to whom the Tennesseean was a great hero.

Crockett laughed low, but deep in his throat, and with much pleasure.

"So I have! So I have!" he replied, "an', by the blue blazes, I can say it without braggin'. I've seen a lot of water go by since I was runnin' 'roun' a bare-footed boy in Tennessee. I've ranged pretty far from east to west, an' all the way from Boston in the north to this old mission, an' that must be some thousands of miles. An' I've had some big times in New York, too."

"You've been in New York," said Ned, with quick interest. "It must be a great town."

"It is. It's certainly a bulger of a place. There are thousands an' thousands of houses, an' you can't count the sails in the bay. I saw the City Hall an' it's a mighty fine buildin', too. It's all marble on the side looking south, an' plain stone on the side lookin' north. I asked why, an' they said all the poor people lived to the north of it. That's the way things often happen, Ned. An' I saw the great, big hotel John Jacob Astor was beginnin' to build on Broadway just below the City Hall. They said it would cost seven hundred thousand dollars, which is an all-fired lot of money, that it would cover mighty nigh a whole block, an' that there would be nothin' else in America comin' up to it."

"I'd like to see that town," said Ned.

"Maybe you will some day," said Crockett, "'cause you're young. You don't know how young you look to me. I heard a lot there, Ned, about that rich man, Mr. Astor. He got his start as a fur trader. I guess he was about the biggest fur trader that ever was. He was so active that all them animals that wore furs on their backs concluded they might as well give up. I heard one story there about an otter an' a beaver talkin'. Says the otter to the beaver, when he was tellin' the beaver good-by after a visit: 'Farewell, I never expect to see you again, my dear old friend.' 'Don't be too much distressed,' replies the beaver, 'you an' I, old comrade, will soon meet at the hat store.'"

Ned and the Bee-Hunter laughed, and Crockett delved again into his past life and his experiences in the great city, relatively as great then to the whole country as it is now.

"I saw a heap of New York," he continued, "an' one of the things I liked best in it was the theaters. Lad, I saw the great Fanny Kemble play there, an' she shorely was one of the finest women that ever walked this troubled earth. I saw her first as Portia in that play of Shakespeare's called, called, called----"

"'The Merchant of Venice,'" suggested Ned.

"Yes, that's it, 'The Merchant of Venice,' where she was the woman lawyer. She was fine to see, an' the way she could change her voice an' looks was clean mirac'lous. If ever I need a lawyer I want her to act for me. She had me mad, an' then she had me laughin', an' then she had the water startin' in my eyes. Whatever she wanted me to see I saw, an' whatever she wanted me to think I thought. An' then, too, she was many kinds of a woman, different in turn. In fact, Ned, she was just like a handsome piece of changeable silk--first one color an' then another, but always clean."

He paused and the others did not interrupt him.

"I don't like cities," he resumed presently. "They crowd me up too much, but I do like the theater. It makes you see so many things an' so many kinds of people that you wouldn't have time to see if you had to travel for 'em. We don't have much chance to travel right now, do we, Bee-Hunter?"

"A few hundred yards only for our bodies," replied the young Tennesseean, "but our spirits soar far;

"'Up with your banner, Freedom,
Thy champions cling to thee,
They'll follow where'er you lead them
To death or victory.
Up with your banner, Freedom.'"

He merely hummed the words, but Ned caught his spirit and he repeated to himself: "Up with your banner, Freedom."

"I guess you've heard enough tales from an old fellow like me," said Crockett. "At least you won't have time to hear any more 'cause the Mexicans must be moving out there. Do you hear anything, Ned?"

"Nothing but a little wind."

"Then my ears must be deceivin' me. I've used 'em such a long time that I guess they feel they've got a right to trick me once in a while."

But Ned was thinking just then of the great city which he wanted to see some day as Crockett had seen it. But it seemed to him at that moment as far away as the moon. Would his comrades and he ever escape from those walls?

His mind came back with a jerk. He did hear something on the plain. Crockett was right. He heard the tread of horses and the sound of wheels moving. He called the attention of Crockett to the noises.

"I think I know what causes them," said Crockett. "Santa Anna is planting his battery under the cover of the night an' I don't see, boys, how we're goin' to keep him from doin' it."

The best of the Texan sharpshooters lined the walls, and they fired occasionally at indistinct and flitting figures, but they were quite certain that they did no execution. The darkness was too great. Travis, Bowie and Crockett considered the possibility of a sortie, but they decided that it had no chance of success. The few score Texans would be overwhelmed in the open plain by the thousands of Mexicans.

But all the leaders were uneasy. If the Mexican batteries were brought much closer, and were protected by earthworks and other fortifications, the Alamo would be much less defensible. It was decided to send another messenger for help, and Ned saw Bonham drop over the rear wall and slip away in the darkness. He was to go to Goliad, where Fannin had 300 men and four guns, and bring them in haste.

When Bonham was gone Ned returned to his place on the wall. For hours he heard the noises without, the distant sound of voices, the heavy clank of metal against metal, and he knew full well that Santa Anna was planting his batteries. At last he went to his place in the long room of the hospital and slept.

When dawn came he sprang up and rushed to the wall. There was the battery of Santa Anna only three hundred yards from the entrance to the main plaza and to the southeast, but little further away, was another. The Mexicans had worked well during the night.

"They're creepin' closer, Ned. They're creepin' closer," said Crockett, who had come to the wall before him, "but even at that range I don't think their cannon will do us much harm. Duck, boy, duck! They're goin' to fire!"

The two batteries opened at the same time, and the Mexican masses in the rear, out of range, began a tremendous cheering. Many of the balls and shells now fell inside the mission, but the Texans stayed well under cover and they still escaped without harm. The Mexican gunners, in their turn, kept so well protected that the Texan riflemen had little chance.

The great bombardment lasted an hour, but when it ceased, and the smoke lifted, Ned saw a heavy mass of Mexican cavalry on the eastern road.

Both Ned and Crockett took a long look at the cavalry, a fine body of men, some carrying lances and others muskets. Ned believed that he recognized Urrea in the figure of their leader, but the distance was too great for certainty. But when he spoke of it to Crockett the Tenesseean borrowed Travis' field glasses.

"Take these," he said, "an' if it's that beloved enemy of yours you can soon tell."

The boy, with the aid of the glasses, recognized Urrea at once. The young leader in the uniform of a Mexican captain and with a cocked and plumed hat upon his head sat his horse haughtily. Ned knew that he was swelling with pride and that he, like Santa Anna, expected the trap to shut down on the little band of Texans in a day or two. He felt some bitterness that fate should have done so much for Urrea.

"I judge by your face," said Crockett whimsically, "that it is Urrea. But remember, Ned, that you can still be hated and live long."

"It is indeed Urrea," said Ned. "Now what are they gathering cavalry out there for? They can't expect to gallop over our walls."

"Guess they've an idea that we're goin' to try to slip out an' they're shuttin' up that road of escape. Seems to me, Ned, they're comin' so close that it's an insult to us."

"They're almost within rifle shot."

"Then these bad little Mexican boys must have their faces scorched as a lesson. Just you wait here, Ned, till I have a talk with Travis an' Bowie."

It was obvious to Ned that Crockett's talk with the commander and his second was satisfactory, because when he returned his face was in a broad grin. Bowie, moreover, came with him, and his blue eyes were lighted up with the fire of battle.

"We're goin' to teach 'em the lesson, Ned, beginnin' with a b c," said Crockett, "an' Jim here, who has had a lot of experience in Texas, will lead us. Come along, I'll watch over you."

A force of seventy or eighty was formed quickly, and hidden from the view of the Mexicans, they rushed down the plaza, climbed the low walls and dropped down upon the plain. The Mexican cavalry outnumbered them four or five to one, but the Texans cared little for such odds.

"Now, boys, up with your rifles!" cried Bowie. "Pump it into 'em!"

Bowie was a product of the border, hard and desperate, a man of many fierce encounters, but throughout the siege he had been singularly gentle and considerate in his dealings with his brother Texans. Now he was all warrior again, his eyes blazing with blue fire while he shouted vehement words of command to his men.

The sudden appearance of the Texan riflemen outside the Alamo look Urrea by surprise, but he was quick of perception and action, and his cavalrymen were the best in the Mexican army. He wheeled them into line with a few words of command and shouted to them to charge. Bowie's men instantly stopped, forming a rough line, and up went their rifles. Urrea's soldiers who carried rifles or muskets opened a hasty and excited fire at some distance.

Ned heard the bullets singing over his head or saw them kicking up dust in front of the Texans, but only one of the Texans fell and but few were wounded. The Mexican rifles or muskets were now empty, but the Mexican lancers came on in good order and in an almost solid group, the yellow sunlight flashing across the long blades of their lances.

It takes a great will to face sharp steel in the hands of horsemen thundering down upon you, and Ned was quite willing to own afterward that every nerve in him was jumping, but he stood. All stood, and at the command of Bowie their rifles flashed together in one tremendous explosion.

The rifles discharged, the Texans instantly snatched out their pistols, ready for anything that might come galloping through the smoke. But nothing came. When the smoke lifted they saw that the entire front of the Mexican column was gone. Fallen men and horses were thick on the plain and long lances lay across them. Other horses, riderless, were galloping away to right and left, and unhorsed men were running to the rear. But Urrea had escaped unharmed. Ned saw him trying to reform his shattered force.

"Reload your rifles, men!" shouted Bowie. "You can be ready for them before they come again!"

These were skilled sharpshooters, and they rammed the loads home with startling rapidity. Every rifle was loaded and a finger was on every trigger when the second charge of Urrea swept down upon them. No need of a command from Bowie now. The Texans picked their targets and fired straight into the dense group. Once more the front of the Mexican column was shot away, and the lances fell clattering on the plain.

"At 'em, boys, with your pistols!" shouted Bowie. "Don't give 'em a second chance!"

The Texans rushed forward, firing their pistols. Ned in the smoke became separated from his comrades, and when he could see more clearly he beheld but a single horseman. The man was Urrea.

The two recognized each other instantly. The Mexican had the advantage. He was on horseback and the smoke was in Ned's eyes, not his own. With a shout of triumph, he rode straight at the boy and made a fierce sweep with his cavalry saber. It was fortunate for Ned that he was agile of both body and mind. He ducked and leaped to one side. He felt the swish of the heavy steel over his head, but as he came up again he fired.

Urrea was protected largely by his horse's neck, and Ned fired at the horse instead, although he would have greatly preferred Urrea as a target. The bullet struck true and the horse fell, but the rider leaped clear and, still holding the saber, sprang at his adversary. Ned snatched up his rifle, which lay on the ground at his feet, and received the slash of the sword upon its barrel. The blade broke in two, and then, clubbing his rifle, Ned struck.

It was fortunate for Urrea, too, that he was agile of mind and body. He sprang back quickly, but the butt of the rifle grazed his head and drew blood. The next moment other combatants came between, and Urrea dashed away in search of a fresh horse. Ned, his blood on fire, was rushing after him, when Bowie seized his arm and pulled him back.

"No further, Ned!" he cried. "We've scattered their cavalry and we must get back into the Alamo or the whole Mexican army will be upon us!"

Ned heard far away the beat of flying hoofs. It was made by the horses of the Mexican cavalry fleeing for their lives. Bowie quickly gathered together his men, and carrying with them two who had been slain in the fight they retreated rapidly to the Alamo, the Texan cannon firing over their heads at the advancing Mexican infantry. In three or four minutes they were inside the walls again and with their comrades.

The Mexican cavalry did not reappear upon the eastern road, and the Texans were exultant, yet they had lost two good men and their joy soon gave way to more solemn feelings. It was decided to bury the slain at once in the plaza, and a common grave was made for them. They were the first of the Texans to fall in the defence, and their fate made a deep impression upon everybody.

It took only a few minutes to dig the grave, and the men, laid side by side, were covered with their cloaks. While the spades were yet at work the Mexican cannon opened anew upon the Alamo. A ball and a bomb fell in the plaza. The shell burst, but fortunately too far away to hurt anybody. Neither the bursting of the shell nor any other part of the cannonade interrupted the burial.

Crockett, a public man and an orator, said a few words. They were sympathetic and well chosen. He spoke of the two men as dying for Texas. Others, too, would fall in the defence of the Alamo, but their blood would water the tree of freedom. Then they threw in the dirt. While Crockett was speaking the cannon still thundered without, but every word could be heard distinctly.

When Ned walked away he felt to the full the deep solemnity of the moment. Hitherto they had fought without loss to themselves. The death of the two men now cast an ominous light over the situation. The Mexican lines were being drawn closer and closer about the Alamo, and he was compelled to realize the slenderness of their chances.

The boy resumed his place on the wall, remaining throughout the afternoon, and watched the coming of the night. Crockett joined him, and together they saw troops of Mexicans marching away from the main body, some to right and some to left.

"Stretchin' their lines," said Crockett. "Santa Anna means to close us in entirely after a while. Now, by the blue blazes, that was a close shave!"

A bullet sang by his head and flattened against the wall. He and Ned dropped down just in time. Other bullets thudded against the stone. Nevertheless, Ned lifted his head above the edge of the parapet and took a look. His eyes swept a circle and he saw little puffs of smoke coming from the roofs and windows of the jacals or Mexican huts on their side of the river. He knew at once that the best of the Mexican sharpshooters had hidden themselves there, and had opened fire not with muskets, but with improved rifles. He called Crockett's attention to this point of danger and the frontiersman grew very serious.

"We've got to get 'em out some way or other," he said. "As I said before, the cannon balls make a big fuss, but they don't come so often an' they come at random. It's the little bullets that have the sting of the wasp, an' when a man looks down the sights, draws a bead on you, an' sends one of them lead pellets at you, he gen'rally gets you. Ned, we've got to drive them fellers out of there some way or other."

The bullets from the jacals now swept the walls and the truth of Crockett's words became painfully evident. The Texan cannon fired upon the huts, but the balls went through the soft adobe and seemed to do no harm. It was like firing into a great sponge. Triumphant shouts came from the Mexicans. Their own batteries resumed the cannonade, while their sheltered riflemen sent in the bullets faster and faster.

Crockett tapped the barrel of Betsy significantly.

"The work has got to be done with this old lady an' others like her," he said. "We must get rid of them jacals."

"How?" asked Ned.

"You come along with me an' I'll show you," said Crockett. "I'm goin' to have a talk with Travis, an' if he agrees with me we'll soon wipe out that wasps' nest."

Crockett briefly announced his plan, which was bold in the extreme. Sixty picked riflemen, twenty of whom bore torches also, would rush out at one of the side gates, storm the jacals, set fire to them, and then rush back to the Alamo.

Travis hesitated. The plan seemed impossible of execution in face of the great Mexican force. But Bowie warmly seconded Crockett, and at last the commander gave his consent. Ned at once asked to go with the daring troop, and secured permission. The band gathered in a close body by one of the gates. The torches were long sticks lighted at the end and burning strongly. The men had already cocked their rifles, but knowing the immense risk they were about to take they were very quiet. Ned was pale, and his heart beat painfully, but his hand did not shake.

The Texan cannon, to cover the movement, opened fire from the walls, and the riflemen, posted at various points, helped also. The Mexican cannonade increased. When the thunder and crash were at their height the gate was suddenly thrown open and the sixty dashed out. Fortunately the drifting smoke hid them partially, and they were almost upon the jacals before they were discovered.

A great shout came from the Mexicans when they saw the daring Texans outside, and bullets from the jacals began to knock up grass and dust about them. But Crockett himself, waving a torch, led them on, shouting:

"It's only a step, boys! It's only a step! Now, let 'em have it!"

The Texans fired as they rushed, but they took care to secure good aim. The Mexicans were driven from the roofs and the windows and then the Texans carrying the torches dashed inside. Every house contained something inflammable, which was quickly set on fire, and two or three huts made of wood were lighted in a dozen places.

The dry materials blazed up fast. A light wind fanned the flames, which joined together and leaped up, a roaring pyramid. The Mexicans, who had lately occupied them, were scuttling like rabbits toward their main force, and the Texan bullets made them jump higher and faster.

Crockett, with a shout of triumph, flung down his torch.

"Now, boys," he cried. "Here's the end of them jacals. Nothin' on earth can put out that fire, but if we don't make a foot race back to the Alamo the end of us will be here, too, in a minute."

The little band wheeled for its homeward rush. Ned heard a great shout of rage from the Mexicans, and then the hissing and singing of shells and cannon balls over his head. He saw Mexicans running across the plain to cut them off, but his comrades and he had reloaded their rifles, and as they ran they sent a shower of bullets that drove back their foe.

Ned's heart was pumping frightfully, and myriads of black specks danced before his eyes, but he remembered afterward that he calculated how far they were from the Alamo, and how far the Mexicans were from them. A number of his comrades had been wounded, but nobody had fallen and they still raced in a close group for the gate, which seemed to recede as they rushed on.

"A few more steps, Ned," cried Crockett, "an' we're in! Ah, there go our friends!"

The Texan cannon over their heads now fired into the pursuing Mexican masses, and the sharpshooters on the walls also poured in a deadly hail. The Mexicans recoiled once more and then Crockett's party made good the gate.

"All here!" cried Crockett, as those inside held up torches. He ran over the list rapidly himself and counted them all, but his face fell when he saw his young friend the Bee-Hunter stagger. Crockett caught him in his arms and bore him into the hospital. He and Ned watched by his side until he died, which was very soon. Before he became unconscious he murmured some lines from an old Scotch poem:

"But hame came the saddle, all bluidy to see.
And hame came the steed, but never hame came he."

They buried him that night beside the other two, and Ned was more solemn than ever when he sought his usual place in the hospital by the wall. It had been a day of victory for the Texans, but the omens, nevertheless, seemed to him to be bad.

The next day he saw the Mexicans spreading further and further about the Alamo, and they were in such strong force that the Texans could not now afford to go out and attack any of these bands. A light cold rain fell, and as he was not on duty he went back to the hospital, where he sat in silence.

He was deeply depressed and the thunder of the Mexican cannon beat upon his ears like the voice of doom. He felt a strange annoyance at the reports of the guns. His nerves jumped, and he became angry with himself at what he considered a childish weakness.

Now, and for the first time, he felt despair. He borrowed a pencil and a sheet of paper torn from an old memorandum book and made his will. His possessions were singularly few, and the most valuable at hand was his fine long-barreled rifle, which he left to his faithful friend, Obed White. He bequeathed his pistol and knife to the Panther, and his clothes to Will Allen. He was compelled to smile at himself when he had finished his page of writing. Was it likely that his friends would ever find this paper, or, if finding it, was it likely that any one of them could ever obtain his inheritance? But it was a relief to his feelings and, folding the paper, he put it in the inside pocket of his hunting shirt.

The bombardment was renewed in the afternoon, but Ned stayed in his place in the hospital. After a while Davy Crockett and several others joined him there. Crockett as usual was jocular, and told more stories of his trips to the large eastern cities. He had just finished an anecdote of Philadelphia, when he turned suddenly to Ned.

"Boy," he said, "you and I have fought together more than once now, an' I like you. You are brave an' you've a head full of sense. When you grow older you'll be worth a lot to Texas. They'll need you in the council. No, don't protest. This is the time when we can say what is in us. The Mexican circle around the Alamo is almost complete. Isn't that so, boys?"

"It is."

"Then I'll say what we all know. Three or four days from now the chances will be a hundred to one against any of us ever gettin' out of here. An' you're the youngest of the defence, Ned, so I want you to slip out to-night while there's yet time. Mebbe you can get up a big lot of men to come to our help."

Ned looked straight at Crockett, and the veteran's eyes wavered.

"It's a little scheme you have," said Ned, "to get me out of the way. You think because I'm the youngest I ought to go off alone at night and save my own life. Well, I'm not going. I intend to stay here and fight it out with the rest of you."

"I meant for the best, boy, I meant for the best," said Crockett. "I'm an old fellow an' I've had a terrible lot of fun in my time. About as much, I guess, as one man is entitled to, but you've got all your life before you."

"Couldn't think of it," said Ned lightly; "besides, I've got a password in case I'm taken by Santa Anna."

"What's that?" asked Crockett curiously.

"It's the single word 'Roylston.' Mr. Roylston told me if I were taken by Santa Anna to mention his name to him."

"That's queer, an' then maybe it ain't," said Crockett musingly. "I've heard a lot of John Roylston. He's about the biggest trader in the southwest. I guess he must have some sort of a financial hold on Santa Anna, who is always wantin' money. Ned, if the time should ever come, don't you forget to use that password."

The next night was dark and chilly with gusts of rain. In the afternoon the Mexican cannonade waned, and at night it ceased entirely. The Alamo itself, except for a few small lights within the buildings, was kept entirely dark in order that skulking sharpshooters without might not find a target.

Ned was on watch near one of the lower walls about the plaza. He wrapped his useful serape closely about his body and the lower part of his face in order to protect himself from the cold and wet, and the broad brim of his sombrero was drawn down to meet it. The other Texans on guard were protected in similar fashion, and in the flitting glimpses that Ned caught of them they looked to him like men in disguise.

The time went on very slowly. In the look backward every hour in the Alamo seemed to him as ten. He walked back and forth a long time, occasionally meeting other sentinels, and exchanging a few words with them. Once he glanced at their cattle, which were packed closely under a rough shed, where they lay, groaning with content. Then he went back to the wall and noticed the dim figure of one of the sentinels going toward the convent yard and the church.

Ned took only a single glance at the man, but he rather envied him. The man was going off duty early, and he would soon be asleep in a warm place under a roof. He did not think of him again until a full hour later, when he, too, going off duty, saw a figure hidden in serape and sombrero passing along the inner edge of the plaza. The walk and figure reminded him of the man whom he had seen an hour before, and he wondered why any one who could have been asleep under shelter should have returned to the cold and rain.

He decided to follow, but the figure flitted away before him down the plaza and toward the lowest part of the wall. This was doubly curious. Moreover, it was ground for great suspicion. Ned followed swiftly. He saw the figure mounting the wall, as if to take position there as a sentinel, and then the truth came to him in a flash. It was Urrea playing the congenial role of spy.

Ned rushed forward, shouting. Urrea turned, snatched a pistol and fired. The bullet whistled past Ned's head. The next moment Urrea dropped over the wall and fled away in the darkness. The other sentinels were not able to obtain a shot at him. _

Read next: Chapter 11. The Desperate Defence

Read previous: Chapter 9. The Flag Of No Quarter

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