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

Chapter 19. The Race For The Boat

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Five men, or rather four men and a boy, rode down the banks of the San Antonio, always taking care to keep well in the shelter of the timber. All the men were remarkable in figure, and at least three of them were of a fame that had spread to every corner of Texas.

The one who rode slightly in advance was of gigantic build, enormously thick through the shoulders and chest. He was dressed in brightly dyed deerskin, and there were many fanciful touches about his border costume. The others also wore deerskin, but theirs was of soberer hue. The man was Martin Palmer, far better known as the Panther, or, as he loved to call himself, the Ring Tailed Panther. His comrades were "Deaf" Smith, Henry Karnes, Obed White and Will Allen.

They were not a very cheerful five. Riding as free lances, because there was now practically no organized authority among the Texans, they had been scouting the day before toward Goliad. They had learned that Fannin and his men had been taken, and they had sought also to discover what the Mexican generals meant to do with the troops. But the Mexican patrols had been so numerous and strong that they could not get close enough to Goliad. Early in the morning while in the timber by the river they had heard the sound of heavy firing near Goliad, which continued for some time, but they had not been able to fathom its meaning. They concluded finally that a portion of Fannin's men must have been still holding out in some old building of Goliad, and that this was the last stand.

They made another effort to get closer to the town, but they were soon compelled to turn back, and, again they sought the thickest timber along the river. Now they were riding back, in the hope of finding some Texan detachment with which they could cooeperate.

"If we keep huntin' we ought to find somebody who can tell us somethin'," said the Panther.

"It's a long lane that has no news at the end," said Obed White, with an attempt at buoyancy.

"That's so," said "Deaf" Smith. "We're bound to hit a trail somehow an' somewhere. We heard that Fannin's men had surrendered an' then we heard that firin'. But I guess that they wouldn't give up, without makin' good terms for themselves, else they would have held out as the boys did in the Alamo."

"Ah, the Alamo!" said Obed White. His face clouded at the words. He was thinking then of the gallant youth who had escaped with him from the dungeon under the sea in the castle of San Juan de Ulua, and who had been his comrade in the long and perilous flight through Mexico into Texas. The heart of the Maine man, alone in the world, had turned strongly to Ned Fulton, and mourning him as one dead he also mourned him as a son. But as he rarely talked of the things that affected him most, he seldom mentioned Ned. The Panther was less restrained.

"We've got a big score to settle for the Alamo," he said. "Some good friends of mine went down forever in that old mission an' there was that boy, Ned Fulton. I s'pose it ain't so bad to be cut off when you're old, an' you've had most of your life, but it does look bad for a strong, fine boy just turnin' into a man to come straight up ag'inst the dead wall."

Will Allen said nothing, but unbidden water forced itself to his eyes. He and Ned had become the strongest of friends and comrades.

"After all that's been done to our people," said the Panther, "I feel like rippin' an' r'arin' an' chawin' the rest of my life."

"We'll have the chance to do all of it we want, judgin' from the way things are goin'," said "Deaf" Smith.

Then they relapsed into silence, and rode on through the timber, going slowly as they were compelled to pick their way in the underbrush. It was now nearly noon, and a brilliant sun shone overhead, but the foliage of young spring was heavy on trees and bushes, and it gave them at the same time shade and shelter.

As they rode they watched everywhere for a trail. If either Texans or Mexicans had passed they wanted to know why, and when. They came at last to hoofprints in the soft bank of the river, indicating that horses--undoubtedly with men on their backs--had crossed here. The skilled trailers calculated the number at more than fifteen, perhaps more than twenty, and they followed their path across the timber and out upon the prairie.

When the hoofprints were more clearly discernible in the grass they saw that they had been made by unshod feet, and they were mystified, but they followed cautiously or, for two or three miles, when "Deaf" Smith saw something gleaming by the track. He alighted and picked up a painted feather.

"It's simple now," he said. "We've been followin' the trail of Indians. They wouldn't be in this part of the country, 'less they were helpin' the Mexicans, an' I guess they were at Goliad, leavin' after the business there was finished."

"You're right, Deaf," said Karnes. "That 'counts for the unshod hoofs. It ain't worth while for us to follow them any longer, so I guess we'd better turn back to the timber."

Safety obviously demanded this course, and soon they were again in the forest, riding near the San Antonio and down its stream. They struck the trail of a bear, then they roused up a deer in the thickets, but big game had no attraction for them now, and they went on, leaving bear and deer in peace. Then the sharp eyes of the Panther saw the print of a human foot on the river bank. He soon saw three or four more such traces leading into the forest, where the trail was lost.

The five gathered around the imprints in the earth, and debated their meaning. It was evident even to Will Allen that some one without a horse had swum the river at that point and had climbed up the bank. They could see the traces lower down, where he had emerged from the water.

"I figger it this way," said the Panther. "People don't go travelin' through this country except on horses, an' this fellow, whoever he is, didn't have any horse, as we all can see as plain as day."

"An' in such times as these," said "Deaf" Smith, "fellers don't go swimmin' rivers just for fun. The one that made these tracks was in a hurry. Ain't that so, Hank?"

"'Course he was," replied Karnes. "He was gettin' away from somewhere an' from somebody. That's why he swam the river; he wanted the San Antonio to separate him from them somebodies."

"And putting two and two and then two more together," said Obed White, "we draw the conclusion that it is a fugitive, probably one of our own Texans, who has escaped in some manner from his prison at Goliad."

"It's what we all think," said the Panther, "an' now we'll beat up these thickets till we find him. He's sure to keep movin' away from Goliad, an' he's got sense to stay in the cover of the timber."

The forest here ran back from the river three or four hundred yards, and the five, separating and moving up the stream, searched thoroughly. The hunt presently brought the Panther and Obed White together again, and they expressed their disappointment at finding nothing. Then they heard a cry from Will Allen, who came galloping through the thickets, his face white and his eyes starting.

"I've found Ned Fulton!" he cried. "He's lying here dead in the bushes!"

The Panther and Obed stared in amazement.

"Will," exclaimed the Panther, "have you gone plum' crazy? Ned was killed at the Alamo!"

"I tell you he is here!" cried the boy, who was shaking with excitement. "I have just seen him! He was lying on his back in the bushes, and he did not move!"

"Lead on! Let's see what you have seen!" said Obed, who began to share in the boy's excitement.

The Panther whistled, and Smith and Karnes joined them. Then, led by Will Allen, they rode swiftly through the bushes, coming, forty or fifty yards away, into a tiny grassy glade. It was either Ned Fulton or his ghost, and the Panther, remembering the Alamo, took it for the latter. He uttered a cry of astonishment and reined in his horse. But Obed White leaped to the ground, and ran to the prostrate figure.

"A miracle!" he exclaimed. "It's Ned Fulton! And he's alive!"

The others also sprang from their horses, and crowded around their youthful comrade, whom they had considered among the fallen of the Alamo. Ned was unconscious, his face was hot with fever, and his breathing was hard and irregular.

"How he escaped from the Alamo and how he came here we don't know," said Obed White solemnly, "but there are lots of strange things in heaven and earth, as old Shakespeare said, and this is one of the strangest of them all."

"However, it's happened we're glad to get him back," said the Panther. "And now we must go to work. You can tell by lookin' at him that he's been through all kinds of trouble, an' a powerful lot of it."

These skilled borderers knew that Ned was suffering from exhaustion. They forced open his mouth, poured a drink down his throat from a flask that Karnes carried, and rubbed his hands vigorously. Ned, after a while, opened his eyes and looked at them dimly. He knew in a vague way that these were familiar faces, but he remembered nothing, and he felt no surprise.

"Ned! Ned! Don't; you know us?" said Will Allen. "We're your friends, and we found you lying here in the bush!"

The clouds slowly cleared away from Ned's mind and it all came back, the terrible and treacherous slaughter of his unarmed comrades, his own flight through the timber his swimming of the river, and then the blank. But these were his best friends. It was no fantasy. How and when they had come he did not know, but here they were in the flesh, the Panther, Obed White, Will Allen, "Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes.

"Boys," he asked weakly, "how did you find me?"

"Now don't you try to talk yet a while, Ned," said Obed White, veiling his feeling under a whimsical tone. "When people come back from the dead they don't always stay, and we want to keep you, as you're an enrolled member of this party. The news of your trip into the beyond and back again will keep, until we fix up something for you that will make you feel a lot stronger."

These frontiersmen never rode without an outfit, and Smith produced a small skillet from his kit. The Panther lighted a fire, Karnes chipped off some dried beef, and in a few minutes they had a fine soup, which Ned ate with relish. He sat with his back against a tree and his strength returned rapidly.

"I guess you can talk now, Ned," said Obed White. "You can tell us how you got away from the Alamo, and where you've been all the time."

Young Fulton's face clouded and Obed White saw his hands tremble.

"It isn't the Alamo," he said. "They died fighting there. It was Goliad."

"Goliad?" exclaimed "Deaf" Smith. "What do you mean?"

"I mean the slaughter, the massacre. All our men were led out. They were told that they were to go on parole. Then the whole Mexican army opened fire upon us at a range of only a few yards and the cavalry trod us down. We had no arms. We could not fight back. It was awful. I did not dream that such things could be. None of you will ever see what I've seen, and none of you will ever go through what I've gone through."

"Ned, you've had fever. It's a dream," said Obed White, incredulous.

"It is no dream. I broke through somehow, and got to the timber. Maybe a few others escaped in the same way, but all the rest were murdered in cold blood. I know that Santa Anna ordered it."

They knew perfectly well that Ned was telling the full truth, and the faces of all of them darkened. The same thought was in the heart of every one, vengeance for the deed, but however intense was the thought it did not approach the feeling of Ned, who had seen it all, and who had been through it all.

"I guess that was the firing we heard," said Smith, "when we thought it was the boys making a last stand at Goliad. I tell you, comrades, this means the freedom of Texas. No matter how the quarrel came about no people can stand such things."

"It's so," said the others together.

They did not declaim. They were of a tribe that was not given much to words, but they felt sure that their own resolve to fight until no Mexicans were left in Texas would now be shared by every Texan.

After Ned rested a while longer and ate more of the good soup, he told the full story of the great and tragic scenes through which he had passed since he became separated from them. Seasoned as they were, these men hung with breathless interest on every detail. He told them everything that had passed in the Alamo during the long days of the siege. He told of Crockett and Bowie and Travis and of the final assault.

The Panther drew a deep breath, when he finished that part of the story.

"They were certainly great men in the Alamo, them fellers," he said, "and when my time comes to die I believe I'd rather die that way than any other."

Ned did not linger long over the tale of Goliad. He could not yet bear the detailed repetition.

"I think we'd better make for the coast," said "Deaf" Smith, when he had finished. "Our forces in the field are about wiped out, an' we've got to raise a new army of some kind. We can look for our government, too. It's wanderin' aroun', tryin' to keep out of the hands of Santa Anna. We haven't any horse for you now, Ned, but you can ride behind Will Allen. Maybe we can get you a mount before long."

They remained in the timber the rest of the day, in order that Ned might recover sufficiently for the journey. About the middle of the afternoon they saw a dozen Mexican cavalrymen on the plain, and they hoped that they would invade the timber. They were keyed to such a pitch of anger and hate that they would have welcomed a fight, and they were more than confident of victory, but the Mexicans disappeared beyond the swells, and every one of the men was disappointed.

At night they began their march toward the north, and continued almost until morning. Ned, riding behind Will Allen, scarcely spoke. Obed White, then and afterward, observed a great change in him. He seemed to have matured suddenly far beyond his years, and Obed always felt that he had some unchanging purpose that had little to do with gentleness or mercy.

They slept in the timber until about 10 o'clock, and then resumed their ride northward, still holding to the opinion that the peripatetic Texan government would be found at Harrisburg, or somewhere in its vicinity. In the afternoon they encountered a Mexican force of eight mounted men, and attacked with such vigor that Ned and Will, riding double, were never able to get into the fight. Two of the Mexicans fell, and the rest got away. The Texans were unharmed.

The Panther, after a chase, captured one of the horses, and brought him back for Ned. They also secured the arms of the fallen Mexicans, one of these weapons being an American rifle, which Ned was quite sure had belonged to a slaughtered recruit at Goliad. They also found a letter in one of the Mexican haversacks. It was from General Urrea to General Santa Anna, and the Panther and his comrades inferred from the direction in which its bearer had been riding that the dictator himself had left San Antonio, and was marching eastward with the main Mexican army.

"I have to inform you," ran a part of the letter, "that your orders in regard to the rebels at Goliad were carried out, in my absence, by the brave and most excellent Colonel Portilla. They were all executed, except a few who escaped under cover of the smoke to the timber, but our cavalrymen are sure to find in time every one of these, and inflict upon them the justice that you have ordered.

"I shall march north, expecting to meet your excellency, and I trust that I shall have further good news to report to you. There are now no rebel forces worthy of the name. We shall sweep the country clean. I shall send detachments to take any Americans who may land at the ports, and, cooeperating with you, I feel assured, also, that we shall capture every member of the rebel government. In another month there will not be a single Texan in arms against us."

Ned read the letter aloud, translating into English as he went, and when he finished the Panther burst into a scornful laugh.

"So, the rebels are all killed, or about to be killed!" he said. "An' there won't be one Texan in arms a month from now! I'm willin' to give my word that here are six of us who will be in arms then, roarin' an' rippin' an' t'arin'! They'll sweep the country clean, will they? They'll need a bigger broom for that job than any that was ever made in Mexico!"

The others made comment in like fashion, but young Fulton was silent. His resolution was immutable, and it required no words to assert it.

"I guess we'd better take this letter with us an' give it to Sam Houston," said "Deaf" Smith. "Houston has been criticized a lot for not gatherin' his forces together an' attackin' the Mexicans, but he ain't had any forces to gather, an' talk has never been much good against cannon balls an' bullets. Still, he's the only man we've got to fall back on."

"You keep the letter, 'Deaf'," said the Panther, "an' now that we've got a horse for Ned I guess we can go a little faster. How you feelin' now, Ned?"

"Fine," replied Ned. "Don't you bother about me any more. I started on the upgrade the moment you fellows found me."

"A good horse and a good rifle ought to be enough to bring back the strength to any Texan," said Obed White.

They resumed their journey at a faster pace, but before nightfall they met another Texan who informed them that large forces of Mexicans were now between them and Harrisburg. Hence they concluded that it was wiser to turn toward the coast, and make a great circuit around the forces of Santa Anna.

But they told the Texan scout of what had been done at Goliad, and bade him wave the torch of fire wherever he went. He rode away with a face aghast at the news, and they knew that he would soon spread it through the north. As for themselves they rode rapidly toward the east.

They spent the night in a cluster of timber, and the Panther was fortunate enough to shoot a wild turkey. They made Ned eat the tenderest parts, and then seek sleep between blankets. His fever was now gone, but he was relaxed and weak. It was a pleasant weakness, however, and, secure in the comradeship of his friends, he soon fell into a deep slumber which lasted all the night. The others had planned an early start, but, as Ned was sleeping with such calm and peace, they decided not to disturb him, knowing how much he needed the rest. It was three hours after sunrise when he awoke, and he made many apologies, but the rest only laughed.

"What's the use of our hurryin'?" said "Deaf" Smith. "It'll take some time for Sam Houston to get any army together, an' we might keep in good shape until he gets it. Here's more beef soup for you, Ned. You'll find it mighty fine for buildin' up."

Two or three hours after they started that day they came to a large trail, and, when they followed it a little while, they found that it was made by Mexicans marching south, but whether they belonged to the main force under Santa Anna or that under Urrea they could not tell.

It was evident that the northern road was full of dangers and they rode for the coast. Several small Texan vessels were flitting around the gulf, now and then entering obscure bays and landing arms, ammunition and recruits for he cause. Both Smith and Karnes were of the opinion that they might find a schooner or sloop, and they resolved to try for it.

They reached, the next day, country that had not been ravaged by the troops of Santa Anna, and passed one or two tiny settlements, where they told the news of Goliad. The Panther, Smith and Karnes were well known to all the Texans, and they learned in the last of these villages that a schooner was expected in a cove about forty miles up the coast. It would undoubtedly put in at night, and it would certainly arrive in two or three days. They thought it was coming from New Orleans.

The little party decided to ride for the cove, and meet the schooner if possible. They could reach it in another day and night, and they would await the landing.

"We've got good friends in New Orleans," said Smith, as they rode over the prairie. "You'll remember the merchant, John Roylston. He's for us heart and soul, an' I've no doubt that he's sendin' us help."

"All the Texans owe him a debt," said Ned, "and I owe him most of all. His name saved my life, when I was taken at San Antonio. It had weight with Santa Anna, and it might have had weight with him, too, at Goliad, had he been there."

They rode steadily all the next day. Their horses were tough mustangs of the best quality, and showed no signs of weariness. They passed through a beautiful country of light rolling prairie, interspersed with fine forest. The soil was deep and rich, and the foliage was already in its tenderest spring green. Soft, warm airs swept up from the gulf. Five of the riders felt elation, and talked cheerfully. But Ned maintained a somber silence. The scenes of Goliad were still too vivid for him to rejoice over anything. The others understood, and respected his silence.

They camped that night as usual in the thickest forest they could find, and, feeling that they were now too far east to be in any serious danger from the Mexicans, they lighted a fire, warmed their food, and made coffee, having replenished their supplies at the last settlement. Obed White was the coffee maker, heating it in a tin pot with a metal bottom. They had only one cup, which they used in turn, but the warm food and drink were very grateful to them after their hard riding.

"Keeping in good condition is about three-fourths of war," said Obed in an oracular tone. "He who eats and runs away will live to eat another day. Besides, Napoleon said that an army marched better on a full stomach, or something like it."

"That applied to infantry," said Will Allen. "We march on our horses."

"Some day," said Ned, "when we've beaten Santa Anna and driven all the Mexicans out of Texas, I'm going back and hunt for Old Jack. He and I are too good friends to part forever. I found him, after abandoning him the first time, and I believe I can do it again, after leaving him the second time."

"Of course you can," said the Panther cheerily. "Old Jack is a horse that will never stay lost. Now, I think we'd better put out our fire and go to sleep. The horses will let us know if any enemy comes."

All were soon slumbering peacefully in their blankets, but Ned, who had slept so much the night before, awakened in two or three hours. He believed, at first, that a distant sound had broken his sleep, but when he sat up he heard nothing. Five dusky figures lay in a row near him. They were those of his comrades, and he heard their steady breathing. Certainly they slept well. He lay down again, but he remained wide awake, and, when his ear touched the ground, he seemed to hear the faint and distant sound again.

He rose and looked at the horses. They had not moved, and it was quite evident that they had detected no hostile presence. But Ned was not satisfied. Putting his rifle on his shoulder he slipped through the forest to the edge of the prairie. Long before he was there he knew that he had not been deceived by fancy.

He saw, two or three hundred yards in front of him, a long file of cavalry marching over the prairie, going swiftly and straight ahead, as if bent upon some purpose well defined. A good moon and abundant stars furnished plenty of light, and Ned saw that the force was Mexican. There were no lancers, all the men carrying rifles or muskets, and Ned believed that he recognized the younger Urrea in the figure at their head. He had seen the young Mexican so often and in such vivid moments that there was no phase of pose or gesture that he could forget.

Ned watched the column until it was hidden by the swells. It had never veered to either right or left, and its course was the same as that of his comrades and himself. He wondered a little while, and then he felt a suspicion which quickly grew into a certainty. Urrea, a daring partisan leader, who rode over great distances, had heard of the schooner and its arms, and was on his way to the cove to seize them. It was for Ned and his friends to prevent it.

He returned, and, awakening the others, stated what he had seen. Then he added his surmise.

"It's likely that you're guessin' right," said "Deaf" Smith. "The Mexicans have spies, of course, an' they get word, too, from Europeans in these parts, who are not friendly to us. What do you say, boys, all of you?"

"That Urrea is bound for the same place we are," said Obed White.

"That we've got to ride hard, an' fast," said the Panther.

"It's our business to get there first," said Karnes.

"Let's take to the saddle now," said Will Allen.

Ned said nothing. He had given his opinion already. They saddled their horses, and were on the plain in five minutes, riding directly in the trail of the Mexican cavalry. They meant to follow until nearly dawn, and then, passing around, hurry to the cove, where the schooner, without their warning, might be unloading supplies before nightfall into the very arms of the Mexicans.

Before dawn they faintly saw the troop ahead, and then, turning to the left, they put their mustangs into the long easy lope of the frontier, not slowing down, until they were sure that they were at least three or four miles beyond the Mexicans. But they continued at a fast walk, and ate their breakfasts in the saddle. They rode through the same beautiful country, but without people, and they knew that if nothing unusual occurred they would see the sea by noon.

Ned went over their directions once more. The cove ran back from the sea about a mile, and its entrance was a strait not more than thirty yards wide, but deep. In fact, the entire cove was deep, being surrounded by high forested banks except at the west, into which a narrow but deep creek emptied. The only convenient landing was the creek's mouth, and they believed that they would find the schooner there.

Ned, in common with the others, felt the great importance of the mission on which they rode. Most of the Texan cannon and a great part of their rifles had been taken at the Alamo and Goliad. But greater even than the need of arms was that of ammunition. If Urrea were able to seize the schooner, or to take the supplies, the moment after they landed, he would strike the Texans a heavy blow. Hence the six now pushed their horses.

At ten o'clock, they caught a glimpse of the sea upon their right. Five minutes later they saw a cloud of dust on their left, less than a mile away. It was moving rapidly, and it was evident at once that it was made by a large body of horse. When the dust lifted a little, they saw that it was Urrea and his men.

"It's likely that they have more information than we have," said the Panther, "an' they are ridin' hard to make a surprise. Boys, we've got to beat 'em, an', to do it, we've got to keep ahead of our dust all the time!"

"The greater the haste, the greater the speed just now," said Obed White.

They urged their horses into a gallop. They kept close to the sea, while Urrea was more than half a mile inland. Luckily, a thin skirt of timber soon intervened between Mexicans and Texans, and the six believed that Urrea and his men were unaware of their presence. Their own cloud of dust was much smaller than that of the Mexicans, and also it might readily be mistaken for sea sand whipped up by the wind.

Ned and the Panther rode in front, side by side, Smith and Karnes followed, side by side, too, and behind came Obed White and Will Allen, riding knee to knee. They ascended a rise and Ned, whose eyes were the keenest of them all, uttered a little cry.

"The schooner is there!" he exclaimed. "See, isn't that the top of a mast sticking up above those scrub trees?"

"It's nothing else," said Obed White, who was familiar with the sea and ships. "And it's bound, too, to be the schooner for which we are looking. Forward, boys! The swift will win the race, and the battle will go to the strong!"

They pressed their horses now to their greatest speed. The cove and the ship were not more than a half mile away. A quarter of a mile, and the skirt of timber failed. The Mexicans on their left saw them, and increased their speed.

"The schooner's anchored!" exclaimed Obed, "and they are unloading! Look, part of the cargo is on the bank already!"

With foot and rein they took the last ounce of speed from their horses, and galloped up to a group of astonished men, who were transferring arms and ammunition by small boats from a schooner to the land Already more than a hundred rifles, and a dozen barrels of powder lay upon the shore.

"Back to the ship! Back to the ship!" cried Ned, who involuntarily took the lead. "We are Texans, and a powerful force of Mexicans will be here inside of fifteen minutes!"

The men looked at him astonished and unbelieving. Ned saw among them a figure, clad in sober brown, a man with a large head and a broad, intellectual face, with deep lines of thought. He knew him at once, and cried:

"Mr. Roylston, it is I! Edward Fulton! You know me! And here are Captain Palmer, 'Deaf' Smith, Henry Karnes, Obed White and Will Allen! I tell you that you have no time to lose! Put the supplies back on the schooner, and be as quick as you can! Captain Urrea and two hundred men are galloping fast to capture them!"

Roylston started in astonishment at the appearance of Ned, whom he, too, had believed to be dead, but he wasted no time in questions. He gave quick orders to have the arms and ammunition reloaded, and directed the task himself. The Panther sprang from his horse and walked back to the edge of the wood.

"Here they come at a gallop," he said, "and we need time. Boys, hand me your rifles, as I call for them, an' I'll show you how to shoot."

The Panther did not mean to boast, nor did the others take it as such. He merely knew his own skill, and he meant to use it.

"Do as he says," said "Deaf" Smith to the others. "I reckon that, as Davy Crockett is dead, the Panther is the best shot in all Texas."

The Mexican cavalry were coming at a gallop, several hundred yards away. The Panther raised his long, slender-barreled rifle, pulled the trigger, and the first horseman fell from the saddle. Without turning, he held out his hands and Smith thrust the second rifle into them. Up went the weapon, and a second Mexican saddle was empty. A third rifle and a third Mexican went down, a fourth, and the result was the same. The whole Mexican troop, appalled at such deadly shooting, stopped suddenly.

"Keep it up, Panther! Keep it up!" cried Smith. "We need every minute of time that we can get."

While the Mexicans hesitated the Panther sent another fatal bullet among them. Then they spread out swiftly in a thin half circle, and advanced again. All the six Texans now opened fire, and they were also helped by some of the men from the boat. But a part of the attacking force had gained cover and the fire was not now so effective.

Nevertheless the rush of the Mexicans was checked, and under the directions of Roylston the reloading of the schooner was proceeding rapidly. They hoisted the last of the powder and rifles over the side, and two of the boats were putting back for the defenders. The schooner, meanwhile, had taken in her anchor and was unfurling her sails. Roylston was in one of the boats and, springing upon the bank, he shouted to the defenders:

"Come, lads! The supplies are all back on board! It's for your lives now!"

All the men instantly abandoned the defence and rushed for the bank, the Panther uttering a groan of anger.

"I hate to leave six good horses to Urrea, an' that gang," he said, "but I s'pose it has to be done."

"Don't grieve, Panther," cried Smith. "We'll take three for one later on!"

"Hurry up! Hurry up!" said Roylston. "There is no time to waste. Into the boats, all of you!"

They scrambled into the boats, reached the schooner, and pulled the boats to the deck after them. There was not a minute to lose. The schooner, her sails full of wind, was beginning to move, and the Mexicans were already firing at her, although their bullets missed.

Ned and Will Allen threw themselves flat on the deck, and heard the Mexican bullets humming over their heads. Ned knew that they were still in great danger, as it was a mile to the open sea, and the Mexicans galloping along by the side of the cove had begun a heavy fire upon the schooner. But the Panther uttered a tremendous and joyous shout of defiance.

"They can't hurt the ship as long as they ain't got cannon," he said, "an' since it's rifles, only, we'll give it back to 'em!"

He and the other sharpshooters, sheltering themselves, began to rake the woods with rifle fire. The Mexicans replied, and the bullets peppered the wooden sides of the schooner or cut holes through her sails. But the Texans now had the superiority. They could shelter themselves on the ship, and they were also so much better marksmen that they did much damage, while suffering but little themselves.

The schooner presently passed between the headlands, and then into the open sea. She did not change her course until she was eight or ten miles from land, when she turned northward. _

Read next: Chapter 20. The Cry For Vengeance

Read previous: Chapter 18. The Black Tragedy

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