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

Chapter 12. Before The Dictator

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Ned's feeling of exaltation lasted. The long siege, the incessant danger and excitement, and the wonderful way in which the little band of Texans had kept a whole army at bay had keyed him up to a pitch in which he was not himself, in which he was something a little more than human. Such extraordinary moments come to few people, and his vivid, imaginative mind was thrilled to the utmost.

He was on the early watch, and he mounted the wall of the church. The deep silence which marked the beginning of the night still prevailed. They had not heard any shots, and for that reason they all felt that the messenger had got through with Travis' last letter.

It was very dark that night and Ned could not see the red flag on the tower of the church of San Fernando. But he knew it was there, waving a little in the soft wind which blew out of the southwest, herald of spring. Nothing broke the silence. After so much noise, it was ominous, oppressive, surcharged with threats. Fewer lights than usual burned in the town and in the Mexican camp. All this stillness portended to Ned the coming storm, and he was right.

His was a short watch, and at 11 o'clock he went off duty. It was silent and dark in the convent yard, and he sought his usual place for sleep in the hospital, where many of the Texans had been compelled to go, not merely to sleep, but because they were really ill, worn out by so many alarms, so much fighting and so much watching. But they were all now asleep, overpowered by exhaustion. Ned crept into his own dark little corner, and he, too, was soon asleep.

But he was awakened about four hours later by some one pulling hard at his shoulder. He opened his eyes, and stared sleepily. It was Crockett bending over him, and, Bowie lying on his sick bed ten feet away, had raised himself on his elbow. The light was so faint that Ned could scarcely see Crockett's face, but it looked very tense and eager.

"Get up, Ned! Get up!" said Crockett, shaking him again. "There's great work for you to do!"

"Why, what is it?" exclaimed the boy, springing to his feet.

"It's your friends, Roylston, an' that man, the Panther, you've been tellin' me about," replied Crockett in quick tones. "While you were asleep a Mexican, friendly to us, sneaked a message over the wall, sayin' that Roylston, the Panther, an' others were layin' to the east with a big force not more'n twenty miles away--not Fannin's crowd, but another one that's come down from the north. They don't know whether we're holdin' out yet or not, an' o' course they don't want to risk destruction by tryin' to cut through the Mexican army to reach us when we ain't here. The Mexican dassent go out of San Antonio. He won't try it, 'cause, as he says, it's sure death for him, an' so somebody must go to Roylston with the news that we're still alive, fightin' an' kickin'. Colonel Travis has chose you, an' you've got to go. No, there's no letter. You're just to tell Roylston by word of mouth to come on with his men."

The words came forth popping like pistol shots. Ned was swept off his feet. He did not have time to argue or ask questions. Bowie also added a fresh impetus. "Go, Ned, go at once!" he said. "You are chosen for a great service. It's an honor to anybody!"

"A service of great danger, requirin' great skill," said Crockett, "but you can do it, Ned, you can do it."

Ned flushed. This was, in truth, a great trust. He might, indeed, bring the help they needed so sorely.

"Here's your rifle an' other weapons an' ammunition," said Crockett. "The night's at its darkest an' you ain't got any time to waste. Come on!"

So swift was Crockett that Ned was ready almost before he knew it. The Tennesseean never ceased hurrying him. But as he started, Bowie called to him:

"Good-by, Ned!"

The boy turned back and offered his hand. The Georgian shook it with unusual warmth, and then lay back calmly on his blankets.

"Good-by, Ned," he repeated, "and if we don't meet again I hope you'll forget the dark things in my life, and remember me as one who was doing his best for Texas."

"But we will meet again," said Ned. "The relieving force will be here in two or three days and I'll come with it."

"Out with you!" said Crockett. "That's talk enough. What you want to do now is to put on your invisible cap an' your seven league boots an' go like lightnin' through the Mexican camp. Remember that you can talk their lingo like a native, an' don't forget, neither, to keep always about you a great big piece of presence of mind that you can use on a moment's notice."

Ned wore his serape and he carried a pair of small, light but very warm blankets, strapped in a pack on his back. His haversack contained bread and dried beef, and, with his smaller weapons in his belt, and his rifle over his shoulder, he was equipped fully for a long and dangerous journey.

Crockett and the boy passed into the convent yard.

The soft wind from the southwest blew upon their faces, and from the high wall of the church a sentinel called: "All's well!" Ned felt an extraordinary shiver, a premonition, but it passed, unexplained. He and Crockett went into the main plaza and reached the lowest part of the wall.

"Ought I to see Colonel Travis?" asked Ned, as they were on the way.

"No, he asked me to see to it, 'cause there ain't no time to waste. It's about three o'clock in the mornin' now, an' you've got to slip through in two or three hours, 'cause the light will be showin' then. Now, Ned, up with you an' over."

Ned climbed to the summit of the wall. Beyond lay heavy darkness, and he neither saw nor heard any human being. He looked back, and extended his hand to Crockett as he had to Bowie.

"Good-by, Mr. Crockett," he said, "you've been very good to me."

The great brown hand of the frontiersman clasped his almost convulsively.

"Aye, Ned," he said, "we've cottoned to each other from the first. I haven't knowed you long, but you've been like a son to me. Now go, an' God speed you!"

Ned recalled afterward that he did not say anything about Roylston's relieving force. What he thought of then was the deep feeling in Crockett's words.

"I'm coming back," he said, "and I hope to hunt buffalo with you over the plains of a free Texas."

"Go! go! Hurry, Ned!" said Crockett.

"Good-by," said Ned, and he dropped lightly to the ground.

He was outside the Alamo after eleven days inside, that seemed in the retrospect almost as many months. He flattened himself against the wall, and stood there for a minute or two, looking and listening. He thought he might hear Crockett again inside, but evidently the Tennesseean had gone back at once. In front of him was only the darkness, pierced by a single light off toward the west.

Ned hesitated. It was hard for him to leave the Alamo and the friends who had been knitted to him by so many common dangers, yet his errand was one of high importance--it might save them all--and he must do it. Strengthening his resolution he started across an open space, walking lightly. As Crockett had truly said, with his perfect knowledge of the language he might pass for a Mexican. He had done so before, and he did not doubt his ability to do so again.

He resolved to assume the character of a Mexican scout, looking into the secrets of the Alamo, and going back to report to Santa Anna. As he advanced he heard voices and saw earthworks from which the muzzles of four cannon protruded. Behind the earthwork was a small fire, and he knew that men would be sitting about it. He turned aside, not wishing to come too much into the light, but a soldier near the earthwork hailed him, and Ned, according to his plan, replied briefly that he was on his way to General Santa Anna in San Antonio.

But the man was talkative.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Pedro Miguel Alvarado," replied Ned on the spur of the moment.

"Well, friend, it is a noble name, that of Alvarado."

"But it is not a noble who bears it. Though a descendant of the great Alvarado, who fought by the side of the glorious and mighty conquistador, Hernando Cortez, I am but a poor peasant offering my life daily for bread in the army of General Santa Anna."

The man laughed.

"You are as well off as I am," he said. "But what of the wicked Texans? Are they yet ready to surrender their throats to our knives? The dogs hold us over long. It is said that they number scarce two hundred within the mission. Truly they fight hard, and well they may, knowing that death only is at the end."

Ned shuddered. The man seemed to take it all so lightly. But he replied in a firm voice:

"I learned little of them save that they still fight. I took care not to put myself before the muzzle of any of their rifles."

The Mexican laughed again.

"A lad of wisdom, you," he said. "They are demons with their rifles. When the great assault is made, many a good man will speed to his long home before the Alamo is taken."

So, they had already decided upon the assault. The premonition within the Alamo was not wrong. It occurred to Ned that he might learn more, and he paused.

"Has it been finally settled?" he asked. "We attack about three days from now, do we not?"

"Earlier than that," replied the Mexican. "I know that the time has been chosen, and I think it is to-morrow morning."

Ned's heart beat heavily. To-morrow morning! Even if he got through, how could he ever bring Roylston and the relief force in time?

"I thank you," he said, "but I must hurry with my report."

"Adios, Senor," said the man politely, and Ned repeated his "Adios" in the same tone. Then he hurried forward, continually turning in toward the east, hoping to find a passage where the Mexican line was thinnest. But the circle of the invaders was complete, and he saw that he must rely upon his impersonation of a Mexican to take him through.

He was in a fever of haste, knowing now that the great assault was to come so soon, and he made for a point between two smoldering camp fires fifty or sixty yards apart. Boldness only would now avail, and with the brim of his sombrero pulled well down over his face he walked confidently forward, coming fully within the light of the fire on his left.

A number of Mexican soldiers were asleep around the fire, but at least a half dozen men were awake. They called to Ned as he passed and he responded readily, but Fortune, which had been so kind to him for a long time, all at once turned her back upon him. When he spoke, a man in officer's uniform who had been sitting by the fire rose quickly.

"Your name?" he cried.

"Pedro Miguel Alvarado," replied Ned instantly. At the same moment he recognized Urrea.

"It is not so!" cried Urrea. "You are one of the Texans, young Fulton. I know your voice. Upon him, men! Seize him!"

His action and the leap of the Mexicans were so sudden that Ned did not have time to aim his rifle. But he struck one a short-arm blow with the butt of it that sent him down with a broken head, and he snatched at his pistol as three or four others threw themselves upon him. Ned was uncommonly strong and agile, and he threw off two of the men, but the others pressed him to the ground, until, at Urrea's command, his arms were bound and he was allowed to rise.

Ned was in despair, not so much for himself but because there was no longer a chance that he could get through to Roylston. It was a deep mortification, moreover, to be taken by Urrea. But he faced the Mexican with an appearance of calmness.

"Well," he said, "I am your prisoner."

"You are," said Urrea, "and you might have passed, if I had not known your voice. But I remind you that you come from the Alamo. You see our flag, and you know its meaning."

The black eyes of the Mexican regarded Ned malignantly. The boy knew that the soul of Urrea was full of wicked triumph. The officer could shoot him down at that moment, and be entirely within orders. But Ned recalled the words of Roylston. The merchant had told him to use his name if he should ever fall again into the hands of Santa Anna.

"I am your prisoner," he repeated, "and I demand to be taken before General Santa Anna. Whatever your red flag may mean, there are reasons why he will spare me. Go with me and you will see."

He spoke with such boldness and directness that Urrea was impressed.

"I shall take you to the general," he said, "not because you demand it, but because I think it well to do so. It is likely that he will want to examine you, and I believe that in his presence you will tell all you know. But it is not yet 4 o'clock in the morning, and I cannot awaken him now. You will stay here until after daylight."

"Very well," said Ned, trying to be calm as possible. "As you have bound me I cannot walk, but if you'll put me on a blanket there by the fire I'll sleep until you want me."

"We won't deny you that comfort," replied Urrea grimly.

When Ned was stretched on his blanket he was fairly easy so far as the body was concerned. They had bound him securely, but not painfully. His agony of mind, though, was great. Nevertheless he fell asleep, and slept in a restless way for three or four hours, until Urrea awoke him, and told him they were going to Santa Anna.

It was a clear, crisp dawn and Ned saw the town, the river, and the Alamo. There, only a short distance away, stood the dark fortress, from which he had slipped but a few hours before with such high hopes. He even saw the figures of the sentinels, moving slowly on the church walls, and his heart grew heavy within him. He wished now that he was back with the defenders. Even if he should escape it would be too late. At Urrea's orders he was unbound.

"There is no danger of your escaping now," said the young Mexican. "Several of my men are excellent marksmen, and they will fire at the first step you take in flight. And even should they miss, what chance do you think you have here?"

He swept his right hand in a circle, and, in the clear morning air, Ned saw batteries and troops everywhere. He knew that the circle of steel about the Alamo was complete. Perhaps he would have failed in his errand even had he got by. It would require an unusually strong force to cut through an army as large as that of Santa Anna, and he did not know where Roylston could have found it. He started, as a sudden suspicion smote him. He remembered Crockett's hurried manner, and his lack of explanation. But he put it aside. It could not be true.

"I see that you look at the Alamo," said Urrea ironically. "Well, the rebel flag is still there, but it will not remain much longer. The trap is about ready to shut down."

Ned's color rose.

"It may be so," he said, "but for every Texan who falls the price will be five Mexicans."

"But they will fall, nevertheless," said Urrea. "Here is food for you. Eat, and I will take you to the general."

They offered him Mexican food, but he had no appetite, and he ate little. He stretched and tensed his limbs in order to restore the full flood of circulation, and announced that he was ready. Urrea led the way, and Ned followed with a guard of four men about him.

The boy had eyes and ears for everything around him, but he looked most toward the Alamo. He could not, at the distance, recognize the figures on the wall, but all those men were his friends, and his eyes filled with tears at their desperate case. Out here with the Mexicans, where he could see all their overwhelming force and their extensive preparations, the chances of the Texans looked worse than they did inside the Alamo.

They entered the town and passed through the same streets, along which Ned had advanced with the conquering army of the Texans a few months before. Many evidences of the siege remained. There were tunnels, wrecked houses and masses of stone and adobe. The appearance of the young prisoner aroused the greatest curiosity among both soldiers and people. He heard often the word "Texano." Women frequently looked down at him from the flat roofs, and some spoke in pity.

Ned was silent. He was resolved not to ask Urrea any questions or to give him a chance to show triumph. He noticed that they were advancing toward the plaza, and then they turned into the Veramendi house, which he had cause to remember so well.

"This was the home of the Vice-Governor," said Urrea, "and General Santa Anna is here."

"I know the place," said Ned. "I am proud to have been one of the Texans who took it on a former occasion."

"We lost it then, but we have it now and we'll keep it," said Urrea. "My men will wait with you here in the courtyard, and I'll see if our illustrious general is ready to receive you."

Ned waited patiently. Urrea was gone a full half hour, and, when he returned, he said:

"The general was at breakfast with his staff. He had not quite finished, but he is ready to receive you now."

Then Urrea led the way into the Veramendi house. Luxurious fittings had been put in, but many of the rents and scars from the old combat were yet visible. They entered the great dining room, and, once more, Ned stood face to face with the most glorious general, the most illustrious dictator, Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. But Ned alone stood. The dictator sat at the head of the table, about which were Castrillon, Sesma, Cos, Gaona, the Italian, Filisola and others. It seemed to Ned that he had come not only upon a breakfast but upon a conference as well.

The soldiers who had guarded Ned stepped back, Urrea stood by the wall, and the boy was left to meet the fixed gaze of Santa Anna. The dictator wore a splendid uniform, as usual. His face seemed to Ned fuller and more flushed than when they had last met in Mexico. The marks of dissipation were there. Ned saw him slip a little silver box from the pocket of his waistcoat and take from it a pinch of a dark drug, which he ate. It was opium, but the Mexican generals seemed to take no note of it.

Santa Anna's gaze was fixed and piercing, as if he would shoot terror into the soul of his enemy--a favorite device of his--but Ned withstood it. Then Santa Anna, removing his stare from his face, looked him slowly up and down. The generals said nothing, waiting upon their leader, who could give life or death as he chose. Ned was sure that Santa Anna remembered him, and, in a moment, he knew that he was right.

"It is young Fulton, who made the daring and ingenious escape from our hospitality in the capital," he said, "and who also departed in an unexpected manner from one of the submarine dungeons of our castle of San Juan de Ulua. Fate does not seem to reward your courage and enterprise as they deserve, since you are in our hands again."

The dictator laughed and his generals laughed obediently also. Ned said nothing.

"I am informed by that most meritorious young officer, Captain Urrea," continued Santa Anna, "that you were captured about three o'clock this morning trying to escape from the Alamo."

"That is correct," said Ned.

"Why were you running away in the dark?"

Ned flushed, but, knowing that it was an unworthy and untruthful taunt, he remained silent.

"You do not choose to answer," said Santa Anna, "but I tell you that you are the rat fleeing from the sinking ship. Our cannon have wrecked the interior of the Alamo. Half of your men are dead, and the rest would gladly surrender if I should give them the promise of life."

"It is not true!" exclaimed Ned with heat. "Despite all your fire the defenders of the Alamo have lost but a few men. You offer no quarter and they ask none. They are ready to fight to the last."

There was a murmur among the generals, but Santa Anna raised his hand and they were silent again.

"I cannot believe all that you say," he continued. "It is a boast. The Texans are braggarts. To-morrow they die, every one of them. But tell us the exact condition of everything inside the Alamo, and perhaps I may spare your life."

Ned shut his teeth so hard that they hurt. A deep flush surged into the dark face of Santa Anna.

"You are stubborn. All the Texans are stubborn. But I do not need any information from you. I shall crush the Alamo, as my fingers would smash an eggshell."

"But your fingers will be pierced deep," Ned could not keep from replying. "They will run blood."

"Be that as it may," said Santa Anna, who, great in some things, was little enough to taunt an enemy in his power, "you will not live to see it. I am about to give orders to have you shot within an hour."

His lips wrinkled away from his white teeth like those of a great cat about to spring, and his cruel eyes contracted. Holding all the power of Mexico in his hands he was indeed something to be dreaded. The generals about the table never spoke. But Ned remembered the words of Roylston.

"A great merchant named John Roylston has been a good friend to me," he said. "He told me that if I should ever fall into your hands I was to mention his name to you, and to say that he considered my life of value."

The expression of the dictator changed. He frowned, and then regarded Ned intently, as if he would read some secret that the boy was trying to hide.

"And so you know John Roylston," he said at length, "and he wishes you to say to me that your life is of value."

Ned saw the truth at once. He had a talisman and that talisman was the name of Roylston. He did not know why it was so, but it was a wonderful talisman nevertheless, because it was going to save his life for the time being, at least. He glanced at the generals, and he saw a look of curiosity on the face of every one of them.

"I know Roylston," said Santa Anna slowly, "and there are some matters between us. It may be to my advantage to spare you for a while."

Ned's heart sprang up. Life was sweet. Since he was to be spared for a while it must mean ultimately exchange or escape. Santa Anna, a reader of the human face, saw what was in his mind.

"Be not too sanguine," he said, "because I have changed my mind once it does not mean that you are to be free now or ever. I shall keep you here, and you shall see your comrades fall."

A sudden smile, offspring of a quick thought and satanic in its nature, passed over his face.

"I will make you a spectator of the defeat of the Texans," he said. "A great event needs a witness, and since you cannot be a combatant you can serve in that capacity. We attack at dawn to-morrow, and you shall miss nothing of it."

The wicked smile passed over his face again. It had occurred to Ned, a student of history, that the gladiatorial cruelty of the ancient Romans had descended to the Spaniards instead of the Italians. Now he was convinced that it was so.

"You shall be kept a prisoner in one of our strongest houses," said Santa Anna, "and Captain Urrea, whose vigilance prevented your escape, will keep guard over you. I fancy it is a task that he does not hate."

Santa Anna had also read the mind of the young Mexican. Urrea smiled. He liked this duty. He hated Ned and he, too, was not above taunting a prisoner. He advanced, and put a hand upon Ned's shoulder, but the boy shook it off.

"Don't touch me," said Ned. "I'll follow without resistance."

Santa Anna laughed.

"Let him have his way for the present, Captain Urrea," he said. "But remember that it is due to your gentleness and mercy. Adios, Senor Fulton, we meet again to-morrow morning, and if you survive I shall report to Mr. Roylston the manner in which you may bear yourself."

"Good-day," said Ned, resolved not to be outdone, even in ironical courtesy. "And now, Captain Urrea, if you will lead the way, I'll follow."

Urrea and his soldiers took Ned from the Veramendi house and across the street to a large and strong stone building.

"You are fortunate," said Urrea, "to have escaped immediate death. I do not know why the name of Roylston was so powerful with our general, but I saw that it was."

"It seemed to have its effect," said Ned.

Urrea led the way to the flat roof of the house, a space reached by a single narrow stairway.

"I shall leave you here with two guards," he said. "I shall give them instructions to fire upon you at the slightest attempt on your part to escape, but I fancy that you will have sense enough not to make any such attempt."

Urrea departed, but the two sentinels sat by the entrance to the stairway, musket in hand. He had not the faintest chance to get by them, and knowing it he sat down on the low stone coping of the roof. He wondered why Urrea had brought him there instead of locking him up in a room. Perhaps it was to mock him with the sight of freedom so near and yet unattainable.

His gaze turned instinctively to the Alamo like the magnet to the pole. There was the fortress, gray and grim in the sunshine, with the dim figures of the watchers on the walls. What were they doing inside now? How were Crockett and Bowie? His heart filled with grief that he had failed them. But had he failed them? Neither Urrea nor any other Mexican had spoken of the approach of a relieving force under Roylston. There was no sign that the Mexicans were sending any part of their army to meet it.

The heavy thud of a great gun drew his attention, and he saw the black smoke from the discharge rising over the plain. A second, a third and a fourth cannon shot were fired, but no answer came from the walls of the Alamo. At length he saw one of the men in the nearest battery to the Alamo expose himself above the earthwork. There was a flash from the wall of the church, a little puff of smoke, and Ned saw the man fall as only dead men fall. Perhaps it was Davy Crockett, the great marksman, who had fired that shot. He liked to think that it was so, and he rejoiced also at this certain evidence that the little garrison was as dauntless as ever. He watched the Alamo for nearly an hour, and he saw that the firing was desultory. Not more than a dozen cannon shots were fired during that time, and only three or four rifles replied from the Alamo. Toward noon the firing ceased entirely, and Ned knew that this was in very fact and truth the lull before the storm.

His attention wandered to his guards. They were mere peons, but, although watchful, they were taking their ease. Evidently they liked their task. They were resting with the complete relaxation of the body that only the Southern races know. Both had lighted cigarritos, and were puffing at them contentedly. It had been a long time since Ned had seen such a picture of lazy ease.

"You like it here?" he said to the nearest.

The man took the cigarrito from his mouth, emitted smoke from his nose and replied politely:

"It is better to be here lying in the sun than out there on the grass with a Texan bullet through one's body. Is it not so, Fernando?"

"Aye, it is so," replied his comrade. "I like not the Texan bullets. I am glad to be here where they cannot reach me. It is said that Satan sights their rifles for them, because they do not miss. They will die hard to-morrow. They will die like the bear in its den, fighting the hunters, when our army is poured upon them. That will be an end to all the Texans, and we will go back to the warm south."

"But are you sure," asked Ned, "that it will be an end of the Texans? Not all the Texans are shut up in the Alamo."

"What matters it?" replied Fernando, lightly. "It may be delayed, but the end will be the same. Nothing can resist the great, the powerful, the most illustrious Santa Anna. He is always able to dig graves for his enemies."

The men talked further. Ned gathered from them that the whole force of Santa Anna was now present. Some of his officers wanted him to wait for siege artillery of the heaviest caliber that would batter down the walls of the Alamo, but the dictator himself was impatient for the assault. It would certainly take place the next morning.

"And why is the young senor here?" asked Fernando. "The order has been issued that no Texan shall be spared, and do you not see the red flag waving there close by us?"

Ned looked up. The red flag now flaunted its folds very near to him. He could not repress a shiver.

"I am here," he replied, "because some one who has power has told General Santa Anna that I am not to be put to death."

"It is well for you, then," said Fernando, "that you have a friend of such weight. It is a pity to die when one is so young and so straight and strong as you. Ah, my young senor, the world is beautiful. Look how green is the grass there by the river, and how the sun lies like gold across it!"

Ned had noticed before the love of beauty that the humblest peon sometimes had, and there was a certain touch of brotherly feeling between him and this man, his jailer.

"The world is beautiful," said the boy, "and I am willing to tell you that I have no wish to leave it."

"Nor I," said Fernando. "Why are the Texans so foolish as to oppose the great Santa Anna, the most illustrious and powerful of all generals and rulers? Did they not know that he would come and crush them, every one?"

Ned did not reply. The peon, in repose at least, had a gentle heart, and the boy knew that Santa Anna was to him omnipotent and omniscient. He turned his attention anew to the Alamo, that magnet of his thoughts. It was standing quiet in the sun now. The defiant flag of the defenders, upon which they had embroidered the word "Texas," hung lazily from the staff.

The guards in the afternoon gave him some food and a jug of water, and they also ate and drank upon the roof. They were yet amply content with their task and their position there. No bullets could reach them. The sunshine was golden and pleasant. They had established friendly relations with the prisoner. He had not given them the slightest trouble, and, before and about them, was spread the theater upon which a mighty drama was passing, all for them to see. What more could be asked by two simple peasants of small wants?

Ned was glad that they let him remain upon the roof. The Alamo drew his gaze with a power that he could not break if he would. Since he was no longer among the defenders he was eager to see every detail in the vast drama that was now unfolding.

But the afternoon passed in inaction. The sun was brilliant and toward evening turned to a deep, glowing red. It lighted up for the last time the dim figures that stood on the walls of the Alamo. Ned choked as he saw them there. He felt the premonition.

Urrea came upon the roof shortly before twilight. He was not sneering or ironical, and Ned, who had no wish to quarrel at such a time, was glad of it.

"As General Santa Anna told you," said Urrea, "the assault is to be made in overwhelming force early in the morning. It will succeed, of course. Nothing can prevent it. Through the man Roylston, you have some claim upon the general, but it may not be strong enough to save you long. A service now might make his pardon permanent."

"What do you mean by a service now?"

"A few words as to the weaker points of the Alamo, the best places for our troops to attack. You cannot do anything for the defenders. You cannot alter their fate in any particular, but you might do something for yourself."

Ned did not wish to appear dramatic. He merely turned his back upon the young Mexican.

"Very well," said Urrea, "I made you the offer. It was for you to accept it or not as you wish."

He left him upon the roof, and Ned saw the last rim of the red sun sink in the plain. He saw the twilight come, and the Alamo fade into a dim black bulk in the darkness. He thought once that he heard a cry of a sentinel from its walls, "All's well," but he knew that it was only fancy. The distance was far too great. Besides, all was not well.

When the darkness had fully come, he descended with his two benevolent jailers to a lower part of the house, where he was assigned to a small room, with a single barred window and without the possibility of escape. His guards, after bringing him food and water, gave him a polite good night and went outside. He knew that they would remain on watch in the hall.

Ned could eat and drink but little. Nor could he yet sleep. The night was far too heavy upon him for slumber. Besides, it had brought many noises, significant noises that he knew. He heard the rumble of cannon wheels over the rough pavements, and the shouts of men to the horses or mules. He heard troops passing, now infantry, and then cavalry, the hoofs of their horses grinding upon the stones.

He pressed his face against the barred window. He was eager to hear and yet more eager to see. He caught glimpses only of horse and foot as they passed, but he knew what all those sights and sounds portended. In the night the steel coil of the Mexicans was being drawn closer and closer about the Alamo.

Brave and resolute, he was only a boy after all. He felt deserted of all men. He wanted to be back there with Crockett and Bowie and Travis and the others. The water came into his eyes, and unconsciously he pulled hard at the iron bars.

He remained there a long time, listening to the sounds. Once he heard a trumpet, and its note in the night was singularly piercing. He knew that it was a signal, probably for the moving of a regiment still closer to the Alamo. But there were no shots from either the Mexicans or the mission. The night was clear with many stars.

After two or three hours at the window Ned tried to sleep. There was a narrow bed against the wall, and he lay upon it, full length, but he did not even close his eyes. He became so restless that at last he rose and went to the window again. It must have been then past midnight. The noises had ceased. Evidently the Mexicans had everything ready. The wind blew cold upon his face, but it brought him no news of what was passing without.

He went back to the bed, and by and by he sank into a heavy slumber. _

Read next: Chapter 13. To The Last Man

Read previous: Chapter 11. The Desperate Defence

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


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