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Remember the Alamo THE LOADSTONE IN THE BREAST
THE LOADSTONE IN THE BREAST
"But to the hero, when his sword
"Who battled for the true and just,
"And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
"And lives to clutch the golden keys,
The memorial of wrongs, which resulted in the Declaration of Texan Independence, was drawn up with statesmanlike ability by David G. Burnett, a native of New Jersey, a man of great learning, dignity, and experience; who, as early as 1806, sailed from New York to join Miranda in his effort to give Spanish America liberty. The paper need not be quoted here. It gave the greatest prominence to the refusal of trial by jury, the failure too establish a system of public education, the tyranny of military law, the demand that the colonists should give up arms necessary for their protection or their sustenance, the inciting of the Indians to massacre the American settlers, and the refusal of the right to worship the Almighty according to the dictates of their own consciences. Burnett was elected Governor, and Houston felt that he could now give his whole attention to military affairs.
The seat of Government was removed to Harrisburg, a small place on the Buffalo Bayou; and Houston was sure that this change would cause Santa Anna to diverge from his route to Nacogdoches. He dispatched orders to the men scattered up and down the Brazos from Washington to Fort Bend--a distance of eighty miles--to join him on the march to Harrisburg, and he struck his own camp at the time he had specified.
In less than twenty-four hours they reached San Felipe, a distance of twenty-eight miles. The suffering of the women and children on that march can never be told. Acts of heroism on the part of the men and of fortitude on the part of the women that are almost incredible, marked every step of the way. The Senora sat in her wagon, speechless, and lost in a maze of melancholy anguish. She did not seem to heed want, or cold, or wet, or the utter misery of her surroundings. Her soul had concentrated all its consciousness upon the strand of hair she continually smoothed through her fingers. Dr. Worth, in his capacity of physician, accompanied the flying families, and he was thus able to pay some attention to his distraught wife; but she answered nothing he said to her. If she looked at him, her eyes either flamed with anger, or expressed something of the terror to be seen in the eyes of a hunted animal. It was evident that her childish intelligence had seized upon him as the most obvious cause of all her loss and misery.
The condition of a wife so beloved almost broke his heart. The tragic death of his dear son was not so hard to endure as this living woe at his side. And when they reached San Felipe and found it in ashes, a bitter cry of hopeless suffering came from every woman's lips. They had thought to find there a little food, and a day's sheltered resting-place. Even Antonia's brave soul fainted, at the want and suffering around her. She had gold, but it could not buy bread for the little ones, weeping with hunger and terrified by the fretfulness of mothers suffering the pangs of want and in the last stage of human weariness.
It was on this night Houston wrote: "I will do the best I can; but be assured the fame of Jackson could never compensate me for my anxiety and mental pain." And yet, when he was told that a blind woman and her seven children had been passed by, and did not know the enemy were approaching, he delayed the march until men had been sent back to bring them into safety.
During these days of grief and privation Isabel's nature grew to its finest proportions. Her patient efforts to arouse her mother, and her cheerfulness under the loss of all comforts, were delightful. Besides which, she had an inexhaustible fund of sympathy for the babies. She was never without one in her arms. Three mothers, who had died on the road, left their children to her care. And it was wonderful and pitiful to see the delicately nurtured girl, making all kinds of efforts to secure little necessaries for the children she had elected to care for.
"The Holy Mother helps me," she said to, Antonia. "She makes the poor little ones good, and I am not very tired."
At San Felipe they were joined by nearly one hundred men, who also brought word that a fine company were advancing to their aid from Mississippi, under General Quitman; and that two large cannon, sent by the people of Cincinnati, were within a few miles. And thus hoping and fearing, hungry and weary to the death, they reached, on the 16th of April, after a march of eighteen miles, a place called McArley's. They had come over a boggy prairie under a cold rain, and were depressed beyond expression. But there was a little shelter here for the women and children to sleep under. The men camped in the open. They had not a tent in their possession.
About ten o'clock that night, Doctor Worth was sitting with his wife and children and Antonia in one corner of a room in a deserted cabin. He had the Senora's wasted hand in his own, and was talking to her. She sat in apathetic silence. It was impossible to tell whether she heard or understood him.
"I wonder where Isabel is," said Antonia; and with the words the girl entered the room. She had in her arms a little lad of four years old, suffering the tortures of croup.
"Mi madre," she cried, "you know how to save him! He is dying! Save him! Listen to me! The Holy Mother says so"; and she laid the child on her knee.
A change like a flash of light passed over the Senora's face. "The poor little one!" Her motherly instincts crushed down everything else. In the child's agony she forgot her own grief. With glad hearts the doctor and Antonia encouraged her in her good work, and when at length the sufferer had been relieved and was sleeping against her breast, the Senora had wept. The stone from her heart had been rolled away by a little child. Her own selfish sorrow had been buried in a wave of holy, unselfish maternal affection. The key to her nature had been found, and henceforward Isabel brought to her every suffering baby.
On the next day they marched ten miles through a heavy rain, and arrived at Burnett's settlement. The women had shelter, the men slept on the wet ground--took the prairie without cover--with their arms in their hands. They knew they were in the vicinity of Santa Anna, and all were ready to answer in an instant the three taps of the drum, which was the only instrument of martial music in the camp, and which was never touched but by Houston.
Another day of eighteen miles brought them to within a short distance of Harrisburg. Santa Anna had just been there, and the place was in ashes. It was evident to all, now, that the day and the hour was at hand. Houston first thought of the two hundred families he had in charge, and they were quickly taken over the bayou. When he had seen the last one in this comparative safety, he uttered so fervent a "Thank God!" that the men around unconsciously repeated it. The bayou though narrow was twenty feet deep, and the very home of alligators. There was only one small bridge in the vicinity. He intended its destruction, and thus to make his little band and the deep, dangerous stream a double barrier between the Mexicans and the women and children beyond them. It was after this duty he wrote:
"This morning we are in preparation to meet Santa Anna. We will only be about seven hundred to march, besides the camp guard. But we go to conquest. The troops are in fine spirits, and now is the time for action. I leave the result in the hands of an all-wise God, and I rely confidently in his Providence.
The women and children, under a competent guide, continued their march eastward. But they were worn out. Many were unable to put their feet to the ground. The wagons were crowded with these helpless ones. The Senora had so far recovered as to understand that within a few hours Santa Anna and the Americans must meet. And, mentally led by Isabel's passionate hatred, she now showed a vindictiveness beyond that of any other woman.
She spent hours upon her knees, imploring the saints, and the stars, and the angel Michael, to fight against Santa Anna. To Isabel she whispered, "I have even informed the evil one where he may be found. The wretch who ordered such infamies! He poisons the air of the whole world as he goes through it. I shall never be happy till I know that he is in purgatory. He will be hated even there--and in a worse place, too. Yes, it is pleasant to think of that! There will be many accusers of him there. I shall comfort myself with imagining his punishment. Isabel, do you believe with your heart that Senor Houston and the Americans will be strong enough to kill him?"
"Mi madre, I know it."
"Then do be a little delighted. How can you bear things with such a provoking indifference? But as Luis is safe--"
"Chito! Chito! Do not be cruel, mi madre. I would stab Santa Anna with my own hands--very slowly, I would stab him. It would be so sweet. The Sisters told me of a woman in the Holy Book, who smiled upon the one she hated, and gave him milk and butter, and when he slept, drove a great nail through his temples. I know how she felt. What a feast it would be, to strike, and strike, and strike! I could drive ten, twenty, fifty nails, into Santa Anna, when I think of Juan."
No one had before dared to breathe her boy's name in her hearing. She herself had never spoken it. It fell upon the ears of both women like a strain of forgotten music. They looked at each other with eyes that stirred memory and love to their sweetest depths. Almost in whispers they began to talk of the dead boy, to recall how lovable, how charming, how affectionate, how obedient he had been. Then the Senora broke open the seals of her sorrow, and, with bitter reproaches on herself, confessed that the kiss she had denied her Juan was a load of anguish upon her heart that she could not bear.
"If I had only blessed him," she moaned; "I had saved him from his misfortune. A mother's blessing is such a holy thing! And he knelt at my knees, and begged it. I can see his eyes in the darkness, when my eyes are shut. I can hear his voice when I am asleep. Isabel, I shall never be happy till I see Juan again, and say to him, `Forgive me, dear one, forgive me, for I have suffered.'"
Both were weeping, but Isabel said, bravely: "I am sure that Juan does not blame you now, mi madre. In the other world one understands better. And remember, also, the letter which he wrote you. His last thought was yours. He fell with your name on his lips. These things are certain. And was it not good of Dare to die with him? A friend like that! Out of the tale-books who ever hears of such a thing? Antonia has wept much. In the nights, when she thinks I am asleep, I hear her. Have you seen that she has grown white and thin? I think that my father is very unhappy about her."
"In an hour of mercy may the merciful One remember Dare Grant! I will pray for his peace as long as I live. If he had left Juan--if he had come back alone--I think indeed I should have hated him."
"That was also the opinion of Antonia--she would never have loved him the same. I am sure she would not have married him."
"My good Antonia! Go bring her to me, Isabel. I want to comfort her. She has been so patient with me. I have felt it--felt it every minute; and I have been stupid and selfish, and have forgotten that she too was suffering."
The next day it was found impossible to move. The majority of the women had husbands with the army. They had left their wives, to secure everlasting freedom for their children; but, even if Houston was victorious, they might be wounded and need their help. To be near them in any case was the one thing about which they were positive.
"We will not move another inch," said a brave little Massachusetts woman, who had been the natural leader of this domestic Exodus; "we will rest ourselves a little here, and if the Mexicans want some extraordinary fighting they can have it; especially, if they come meddling with us or our children. My husband told me just to get out of reach of shot and shell and wait there till we heard of the victory, and I am for doing that, and no other thing."
Nearly two hundred women, bent upon their own way, are not to be taken any other way; and the few old men who had been sent to guide the party, and shoot what game was necessary for their support, surrendered at once to this feminine mutiny. Besides, the condition of the boys and girls between seven and fourteen was really a deplorable one. They were too old to be cared for as infants, and they had been obliged, with the strength of children, to accomplish the labor of men and women. Many were crippled in their feet, others were continually on the point of swooning.
It was now the 20th of April. The Senora and her daughters had been six weeks with the American army, exposed to all the privations which such a life entailed. But the most obvious of these privations were, perhaps, those which were most easily borne. Women endure great calamities better than the little annoyances affecting those wants which are part and parcel of their sex or their caste. It was not the necessaries so much as the luxuries of life which the Senora missed--the changes of raiment--the privacy--the quiet--the regularity of events.
During the whole of the 20th, there was almost a Sabbath stillness. It was a warm, balmy day. The wearied children were under the wagons and under the trees, sleeping the dead sleep of extreme exhaustion. The mothers, wherever it was possible, slept also. The guides were a little apart, listening and smoking. If they spoke, it was only in monosyllables. Rest was so much more needed than food that little or no attempt was made to cook until near sundown.
At dawn next morning--nay, a little before dawn--when all was chill, and gray, and misty, and there was not a sound but the wailing of a sick child, the Senora touched her daughters. Her voice was strange to them; her face solemnly happy.
"Antonio! Isabel! I have seen Juan! I have seen Juan! My eyes were shut, but I have seen him. He was a beautiful shadow, with a great, shadowy host around him. He bent on me such eyes! Holy Mother! their love was unfathomable, and I heard his voice. It was far off, yet near. `Madre!' he said, `Tomorrow you shall hear from us.' Now I am happy. There are words in my heart, but I cannot explain them to you. I know what they mean. I will weep no more. They put my Juan's body in the grave, but they have not buried him."
All day she was silent and full of thought, but her face was smiling and hopeful, and she had the air of one waiting for some assured happiness. About three o'clock in the afternoon she stood up quickly and cried, "Hark! the battle has begun!" Every one listened intently, and after a short pause the oldest of the guides nodded. "I'd give the rest of my life to be young again," he said, "just for three hours to be young, and behind Houston!"
"To-morrow we shall hear."
The words fell from the Senora's lips with a singular significance. Her face and voice were the face and voice of some glad diviner, triumphantly carrying her own augury. Under a little grove of trees she walked until sunset, passing the beads of her rosary through her fingers, and mechanically whispering the prayers appointed. The act undoubtedly quieted her, but Antonia knew that she lay awake all night, praying for the living or the dead.
About ten o'clock of the morning of the 22d, a horseman was seen coming toward the camp at full speed. Women and children stood breathlessly waiting his approach. No one could speak. If a child moved, the movement was angrily reproved. The tension was too great to admit of a touch through any sense. Some, unable to bear the extended strain, sank upon the ground and covered their faces with their hands. But the half-grown children, wan with privations and fever, ragged and barefoot, watched steadily the horse and its rider, their round, gleaming eyes full of wonder and fear.
"It is Thomas," said the Senora.
As he came near, and the beat of the horse's hoofs could be heard, a cry almost inarticulate, not to be described, shrill and agonizing in its intensity, broke simultaneously from the anxious women. It was one cry from many hearts, all at the last point of endurance. Thomas Worth understood it. He flung his hat up, and answered with a joyful "Hurrah!"
When he reached the camp, every face was wet with tears, and a crowd of faces was instantly round him. All the agonies of war were on them. He raised himself in his stirrups and shouted out:
"You may all go back to your homes! Santa Anna is completely overthrown! The Mexican army is destroyed! There will be no more fighting, no more fears. The independence of Texas is won! No matter where you come from, you are all Texans now! Victory! Freedom! Peace! My dear friends, go back to your homes. Your husbands will join you at the San Jacinto."
Then he dismounted and sought his mother and sisters. With joyful amazement he recognized the change in the Senora. "You look like yourself, dear mother," he said. "Father sends you this kiss. He would have brought it, but there are a few wounded men to look after; and also I can ride quicker. Antonia, cheer up my dear!--and Isabel, little darling, you will not need to cry any more for your ribbons, and mantillas, and pretty dresses."
"Thomas! You have not much feeling, I think. What I want to know about, is Luis. You think of no one; and, as for my dresses, and mantillas, I dare say Fray Ignatius has sold, or burned them."
"Queridita! Was I cruel? Luis is well. He has not a scratch. He was in the front of the battle, too."
"That, of course. Would you imagine that Luis would be at the rear? He is General Houston's friend, and one lion knows another lion."
"Pretty one, do not be angry with me. I will tell you some good news. Luis is coming here, unless you go back at once with me."
"We will go back with you, Thomas. I am full of impatience. I remember my dear home. I will go to it, like a bird to its nest."
In half an hour they had turned the heads of their horses westward again. They went so rapidly, and were under so much excitement, that sustained conversation was impossible. And the Senora also fell into a sound sleep as soon as the first homeward steps had been taken. Whatever had been made known to her by Juan had received its fulfilment. She was assured and happy. She slept till they reached the victorious camp, and her husband awakened her with a kiss. She answered him with her old childish impulsiveness. And among the first words she said, were" "Roberto, my beloved, I have seen Juan."
He believed her. To his reverent soul there was nothing incredible in the statement. The tie between a mother and her child is not broken by death. Was it unlikely, then, that Juan should have been conscious of, and touched by, the mental agony which his untimely death had caused a mother so beloved?
And oh! how different was the return to the ground west of the Buffalo Bayou. The very atmosphere was changed. A day or two of spring had brought out the flowers and unfolded every green thing. Doctor Worth took his family to a fine Mexican marquee, and among other comforts the Senora found there the chocolate she had so long craved, and some cigaritos of most delicate flavor.
In a short time a luxurious meal was prepared by Antonia, and just as they were sitting down to it, Luis and Lopez entered the tent together. Isabel had expected the visit and prepared for it as far as her limited wardrobe permitted. And her fine hair, and bright eyes, her perfect face and form, and the charming innocence of her manners, adorned her as the color and perfume of the rose make the beauty of the flower. She was so lovely that she could dare to banter Luis on the splendor of his attire.
"It is evident, mi madre, that Luis has found at least the baggage of a major-general. Such velvet and silver embroidery! Such a silk sash! They are fit at the very least for a sultan of the Turks."
He came to her crowned with victory. Like a hero he came, and like a lover. They had a thousand pretty things to say to each other; and a thousand blissful plans in prospect. Life to them had never before been so well worth living.
Indeed, a wonderful exaltation possessed both Luis and Lopez. The sombre, handsome face of the latter was transfigured by it. He kissed the hand of the Senora, and then turned to Antonia. Her pallor and emaciation shocked him. He could only murmur, "Senorita!" But she saw the surprise, the sorrow, the sympathy, yes, the adoring love in his heart, and she was thankful to him for the reticence that relieved her from special attention.
Doctor Worth made room for Lopez beside him. Luis sat by Isabel, upon a pile of splendid military saddle-cloths. As she sipped her chocolate, he smoked his cigarito in a lazy fashion, and gave himself up with delight to that foolishness of love-making which is often far wiser than the very words of wisdom.
As yet the ladies had not spoken of the battle. It was won. That great fact had been as much as they could bear at first. The Senora wanted to sleep. Isabel wanted to see Luis. Only Antonia was anxious for the details, and she had been busy in preparing the respectable meal which her mother had so long craved. The apparent indifference was natural enough. The assurance of good fortune is always sufficient for the first stage of reaction from anxiety. When the most urgent personal feelings have been satisfied, then comes the demand for detail and discussion. So now, as they sat together, the Senora said:
"No one has told me anything about the battle. Were you present, Roberto?"
"I had that great honor, Maria. Lopez and Luis were with the cavalry, and Ortiz also has had some satisfaction for all his wrongs."
"Very good! But I am impatient for the story; so is Antonia; and as for Isabel--bah! the little one is listening to another story. One must excuse her. We expected the battle on the twentieth, but no!"
"The enemy were expecting it also, and were in high spirits and perfect preparation. Houston thought it prudent to dash their enthusiasm by uncertainty and waiting. But at dawn, on the twenty-first, we heard the three taps of the drum, and seven hundred soldiers sprang to their feet as one man. Houston had been watching all night. He spoke to us with a tongue of fire and then, while we cooked and ate our breakfast, he lay down and slept. The sun came up without a cloud, and shone brightly on his face. He sprang to his feet and said to Burleson, as he saluted him: `The sun of Austerlitz has risen again.'
"Some one brought him a piece of cornbread and broiled beef. He sat upon the grass and ate it--or rather upon the blue hyacinths that covered the grass; they are red now. For many weeks I had not seen his countenance so bright; all traces of trouble and anxiety were gone. He called Deaf Smith--the scout of scouts--and quickly ordered him to cut down the only bridge across the bayou.
"At nine o'clock, General Cos joined Santa Anna with five hundred and forty men, and for a moment I thought we had made a mistake in not attacking the enemy before his reinforcements came up. But the knowledge that Cos was present, raised enthusiasm to the highest pitch. Our troops remembered his parole at the Alamo, and the shameful manner in which he had broken it; and there was not a man who did not long to kill him for it.
"About three o'clock in the afternoon, Houston ordered the attack. The seven hundred Americans were divided into three bodies. I saw Houston in the very centre of the line, and I have a confused memory of Milard and Lamar, Burleson and Sherman and Wharton, in front of their divisions."
"Were the Mexicans expecting the attack, father?"
"They were in perfect order, Antonia; and when Sherman shouted the battle-cry: `Remember the Alamo! Goliad and the Alamo!' it was taken up by the whole seven hundred, and such a shout of vengeance mortal ears never heard before. The air was full of it, and it appeared to be echoed and repeated by innumerable voices.
"With this shout on our lips, we advanced to within sixty paces of the Mexican lines, and then a storm of bullets went flying over our heads. One ball, however, shattered Houston's ankle, and another struck his horse in the breast. But both man and horse were of the finest metal, and they pressed on regardless of their wounds. We did not answer the volley until we poured our lead into their very bosoms. No time for reloading then. We clubbed our rifles till they broke, flung them away and fired our pistols in the eyes of the enemy; then, nothing else remaining, took our bowie-knives from our belts and cut our way through the walls of living flesh."
Lopez rose at the words. It was impossible for him to express himself sufficiently in an attitude of repose. His eyes glowed like fire, his dark face was like a flame, he threw up his hands as he cried:
"Nothing comparable to that charge with knives was ever made on earth! If I had seen through the smoke and vapor the mighty shade of Bowie leading it, I should not have been surprised."
"Perhaps indeed, he did lead it," said the Senora, in a solemn voice. "I saw yes, by all the saints of God! I saw a great host with my Juan. They stretched out vast, shadowy arms--they made me feel what I can never tell. But I shall honor Senor Houston. I shall say to him some day. `Senor, the unseen battalions--the mighty dead as well as the mighty living--won the battle.' Roberto, believe me, there are things women understand better than wise men."
A little awe, a solemn silence, answered the earnest woman. Luis and Isabel came close to her, and Isabel took her hand. Lopez resumed the conversation. "I know Colonel Bowie," he said. "In the last days at San Antonio I was often with him. Brave as a lion, true to his friends, relentless to his foes, was he. The knife he made was the expression of his character in steel. It is a knife of extreme unction--the oil and wafer are all that remains for the men who feels its edge. For my part, I honor the Senora's thought. It is a great satisfaction to me to hope that Bowie, and Crockett, and Travis, and Fannin, and all their company were present at San Jacinto. If the just God permitted it, 'twas a favor of supreme justice."
"But then you are not alone in the thought, Lopez. I heard General Sherman say, `Poor Fannin! He has been blamed for not obeying Houston's orders. I think he obeyed them to-day.' At the moment I did not comprehend; but now it is plain to me. He thought Fannin had been present, and perhaps it was this belief made him so impetuous and invincible. He fought like a spirit; one forgot that he was flesh and blood."
"Sherman is of a grand stock," said the doctor; descended from the wise Roger Sherman; bred in Massachusetts and trained in all the hardy virtues of her sons. It was from his lips the battle-cry of `Remember the Alamo!' sprang."
"But then, Roberto, nothing shall persuade me that my countrymen are cowards."
"On the contrary, Maria, they kept their ground with great courage. They were slain by hundreds just where they stood when the battle began. Twenty-six officers and nearly seven hundred men were left dead upon the field. But the flight was still more terrible. Into the bayou horses and men rolled down together. The deep black stream became red; it was choked up with their dead bodies, while the mire and water of the morass was literally bridged with the smothered mules and horses and soldiers."
"The battle began at three o'clock; but we heard the firing only for a very short time," said Antonia.
"After we reached their breastworks it lasted just eighteen minutes. At four, the whole Mexican army was dead, or flying in every direction, and the pursuit and slaughter continued until twilight. Truly an unseen power made all our moves for us. It was a military miracle, for our loss was only eight killed and seventeen wounded."
"I am sorry Houston is among the wounded."
"His ankle-bone is shattered. He is suffering much. I was with him when he left the field and I was delighted with his patience and dignity. The men crowded around him. They seized his bridle; they clasped his hands. `Have we done well to-day, General? Are you satisfied with us?' they cried.
"`You have covered yourselves with glory,' he answered. `You have written a grand page in American history this day, boys. For it was not for fame nor for empire you fought; but for your rights as freemen, for your homes and your faith.'
"The next moment he fell from his horse and we laid him down at the foot of an oak tree. He had fainted from loss of blood and the agony of his wound, combined with the superhuman exertions and anxieties of the past week."
"But he is better now?"
"Yes; I dressed the wound as well as my appliances permitted; but he will not be able to use his foot for some time. No one slept that night. Weary as the men were, their excitement and happiness were too great for the bonds of sleep. In the morning the rich spoils of the enemy's camp were divided among them. Houston refused any part in them. `My share of the honor is sufficient,' he said. Yet the spoils were very valuable ones to men who but a few hours before had nothing but the clothing they wore and the arms they carried. Among them were nearly one thousand stand of English muskets, three hundred valuable mules, one hundred fine horses, provisions, clothing, tents, and at least twelve thousand dollars in silver."
"Were you on the field all the time, father?"
"I was near Houston from first to last. When he saw the battle was won, he did his best to prevent needless slaughter. But men on a battle-field like San Jacinto cannot be reasoned with; after a certain point, they could not even be commanded. The majority had some private revenge to satisfy after the public welfare had been served. We met one old man in a frenzy, covered with blood from his white beard to his boots, his arms bare to his shoulders, his knife dripping from haft to point."
"Houston looked at him, and said something about mercy and valor. `General,' he said, `they killed two of my boys at Goliad, and my brother at the Alamo. I'll not spare a Mexican while I've the strength to kill one. I'm on the scent for Santa Anna, and, by G--, if I find him, I will spare Texas and you any more trouble with the brute.'"
At this moment Thomas Worth entered the marquee, and, in an excited manner, said:
"Santa Anna is taken! Santa Anna is taken! "
"Taken!" cried the Senora in a passion.
"Taken! Is it possible the wretch is yet in this world? I was assuring myself that he was in one not so comfortable. Why is he not killed? It is an inconceivable insult to humanity to let him live. Have you thought of your brother Juan? Give me the knife in your belt, Thomas, if you cannot use it."
"My dear mother--"
"Maria, my life! Thomas could not wisely kill so important a prisoner. Texas wants him to secure her peace and independence. The lives of all the Americans in Mexico may depend upon his. Mere personal vengeance on him would be too dear a satisfaction. On the battle-field he might have been lawfully slain--and he was well looked for; but now, No."
"Holy Mary! might have been slain! He ought to have been slain, a thousand times over."
"Luis, I wish that you had been a hero, and killed him. Then all our life long, if you had said, `Isabel, I slew Santa Anna,' I should have given you honor for it. I should be obedient to your wishes for that deed."
"But my charming one, I prefer to be obedient to your wish. Let us not think of the creature; he is but a dead dog."
The doctor turned to his son. "Thomas, tell us about the capture."
"I was riding with a young lieutenant, called Sylvester, from Cincinnati, and he saw a man hiding in the grass. He was in coarsest clothing, but Sylvester noticed under it linen of fine cambric. He said: `You are an officer, I perceive, sir.' The man denied it, but when he could not escape, he asked to be taken to General Houston. Sylvester tied him to his bridle-rein, and we soon learned the truth; for as we passed the Mexican prisoners they lifted their hats and said, with a murmur of amazement, `El Presidente!'
"The news spread like wildfire. As we took him through the camp he trembled at the looks and words that assailed him, and prayed us continually, `for the love of God and the saints,' not to let him be slain. We took him to Houston in safety. Houston was resting on the ground, having had, as my father knows, a night of great suffering. Santa Anna approached him, and, laying his hand on his heart, said: `I am General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, President of the Mexican Republic, and I claim to be your prisoner of war.' Houston pointed to a seat, and then sent for Santa Anna's secretary, Almonte, who is also a prisoner, and who speaks English perfectly.'
"When Almonte came, he embraced Santa Anna, and addressing Houston, said: `General, you are born to a great destiny. You have conquered the Napoleon of the West. Generosity becomes the brave and the fortunate.'
"Houston answered, sternly: `You should have remembered that sentiment at the Alamo and at Goliad.'
"Then the following conversation occurred. Santa Anna said:
"`The Alamo was taken by storm. The usages of war permitted the slaughter.'
"`We live in the nineteenth century, President. We profess to be Christians.'
"`I have to remind you, General Houston, of the storming of San Sebastian, Ciudad, Riego and Badajos, by the Duke of Wellington.'
"`That was in Spain. There may have been circumstances demanding such cruelty.'
"`Permit me also to bring to your intelligence the battles at Fort Meigs and at the river Raisin. American prisoners were there given by English officers to their Indian allies for torture and death. The English war cry at Sandusky was, "Give the d-- Yankees no quarter."'
"`Sir, permit me to say, that you read history to a devilish purpose, if you read it to search after brutal precedents. At Goliad our men surrendered. They were promised safe-conduct out of Texas. The massacre at Goliad was a ferocious crime.'
"`It was precisely the same thing as the wholesale murder of Turkish prisoners at Jaffa by the great Napoleon. Also I had the positive orders of my government to slay all Americans found with arms.'
"`These men had given up their arms.'
"`All Americans--my government said so.'
"`Sir! You are the government of Mexico. You obeyed your own orders.'
"`You will at least allow that, in the eyes of recognized nations, your army was but a band of desperadoes, without government, and fighting under no flag.'
"`Sir, you show a convenient ignorance. We have a government; and as soon as we can lay down our rifles, we shall probably be able to make a flag. I say to you, President Santa Anna, that the butchery at Goliad was without an excuse and without a parallel in civilized warfare. The men had capitulated to General Urrea.'
"`Urrea had no right to receive their capitulation.' Then his mild, handsome face became in a moment malicious and tigerish, and he said with a cruel emphasis: `If I ever get Urrea into my hands, I will execute him! I perceive, however, that I have never understood the American character. For the few thousands in the country, I thought my army an overwhelming one. I underestimated their ability.'
"`I tell you, sir, an army of millions would be too small to enslave ten thousand free-born anglo-Americans. Liberty is our birthright. We have marched four days on an ear or two of dry corn, and then fought a battle after it'; and Houston drew from his pocket an ear, partially consumed, which had been his ration. `We have had no tents, no music, no uniforms, no flag, nothing to stimulate us but the determination to submit to no wrong, and to have every one of our rights.'
"Then he turned to Rusk and Sherman, and called a military counsel about the prisoner, who was placed in an adjoining tent under a sufficient guard. But the excitement is intense; and the wretch is suffering, undoubtedly, all the mortal terrors of being torn to pieces by an infuriated soldiery. Houston will have to speak to them. They will be influenced by no other man."
The discussion upon this event lasted until midnight. But the ladies retired to their own tent much earlier. They knelt together in grateful prayer, and then kissed each other upon their knees. It was so sweet to lie down once more in safety; to have the luxury of a tent, and a mattress, and pillow.
"Blessed be the hand of God! my children," said the Senora; "and may the angels give us in our dreams grateful thoughts."
And then, in the dark, Isabel nestled her head in her sister's breast, and whispered: "Forgive me for being happy, sweet Antonia. Indeed, when I smiled on Luis, I was often thinking of you. In my joy and triumph and love, I do not forget that one great awful grave at Goliad. But a woman must hide so many things; do you comprehend me, Antonia?"
"Querdita," she whispered, "I comprehend all. God has done right. If His angel had said to me, `One must be taken and the other left,' I should have prayed, `Spare then my little sister all sorrow.' Good-night, my darling"; but as their lips met, Isabel felt upon her cheeks the bitter rain which is the price of accepted sacrifice; the rain, which afterwards makes the heart soft, and fresh, and responsive to all the airs of God.
At the same moment, the white curtains of the marquee, in which the doctor sat talking with his son and Luis and Lopez, were opened; and the face of Ortiz showed brown and glowing between them.
"Senors," he said, as he advanced to them, "I am satisfied. I have been appointed on the guard over Santa Anna. He has recognized me. He has to obey my orders. Will you think of that?" Then taking the doctor's hand he raised it to his lips. "Senor, I owe this satisfaction to you. You have made me my triumph. How shall I repay you?"
"By being merciful in the day of your power, Ortiz."
"I assure you that I am not so presumptuous, Senor. Mercy is the right of the Divinity. It is beyond my capacity. Besides which, it is not likely the Divinity will trouble himself about Santa Anna. I have, therefore, to obey the orders of the great, the illustrious Houston; which are, to prevent his escape at all risks. May St. James give me the opportunity, Senors! In this happy hour, a Dios!"
Then Lopez bent forward, and with a smile touched the doctor's hand. "Will you now remember the words I said of Houston? Did I not tell you, that success was with him? that on his brow was the line of fortune? that he was the loadstone in the breast of freedom?
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