Chapter XI. A Happy Truce.
 
    "Well, honor is the subject of my story;
     I cannot tell what you and other men
     Think of this life; but for my single self,
     I had as lief not be, as live to be
     In awe of such a thing as I myself."

    "Two truths are told
     As happy prologues to the swelling act,
     Of the imperial theme."

    "This is the eve of Christmas,
     No sleep from night to morn;
     The Virgin is in travail,
     At twelve will the Child be born."

Cities have not only a certain physiognomy; they have also a decided mental and moral character, and a definite political tendency. There are good and bad cities, artistic and commercial cities, scholarly and manufacturing cities, aristocratic and radical cities. San Antonio, in its political and social character, was a thoroughly radical city. Its population, composed in a large measure of adventurous units from various nationalities, had that fluid rather than fixed character, which is susceptible to new ideas. For they were generally men who had found the restraints of the centuries behind them to be intolerable--men to whom freedom was the grand ideal of life.

It maybe easily undertood{sic} that this element in the population of San Antonio was a powerful one, and that a little of such leaven would stir into activity a people who, beneath the crust of their formal piety, had still something left of that pride and adventurous spirit which distinguished the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabel.

In fact, no city on the American continent has such a bloody record as San Antonio. From its settlement by the warlike monks of 1692, to its final capture by the Americans in 1836, it was well named "the city of the sword." The Comanche and the white man fought around its walls their forty years' battle for supremacy. From 1810 to 1821 its streets were constantly bloody with the fight between the royalists and republicans, and the city and the citadel passed from, one party to the other continually. And when it came to the question of freedom and American domination, San Antonio was, as it had ever been, the great Texan battle-field.

Its citizens then were well used to the fortunes and changes of war. Men were living who had seen the horrors of the auto da fe and the splendors of viceregal authority. Insurgent nobles, fighting priests, revolutionizing Americans, all sorts and conditions of men, all chances and changes of religious and military power, had ruled it with a temporary absolutism during their generation.

In the main there was a favorable feeling regarding its occupation by the Americans. The most lawless of them were law-abiding in comparison with any kind of victorious Mexicans. Americans protected private property, they honored women, they observed the sanctity of every man's home; "and, as for being heretics, that was an affair for the saints and the priests; the comfortable benefits of the Holy Catholic Church, had not been vouchsafed to all nations."

Political changes are favorable to religious tolerance, and the priests themselves had been sensible of a great decrease in their influence during the pending struggle. Prominent Mexicans had given aid and comfort to the Americans in spite of their spiritual orders, and there were many men who, like Lopez Navarro, did not dare to go to confession, because they would have been compelled to acknowledge themselves rebels.

When the doctor and Dare and Luis reached the Plaza, the morning after the surrender, they found the city already astir. Thousands of women were in the churches saying masses for the dead; the men stood at their store doors or sat smoking on their balconies, chatting with the passers-by or watching the movements of the victorious army and the evacuation of the conquered one.

Nearly all of the brave two hundred occupied the Plaza. They were still greatly excited by the miraculous ecstacy of victory. But when soldiers in the death-pang rejoice under its influence, what wonder that the living feel its intoxicating rapture? They talked and walked as if they already walked the streets of Mexico. All things seemed possible to them. The royalty of their carriage, the authority in their faces, gave dignity even to their deerskin clothing. Its primitive character was its distinction, and the wearers looked like the demi-gods of the heroic stage of history.

Lopez Navarro touched the doctor and directed his attention to them. "Does the world, Senor, contain the stuff to make their counterparts?"

"They are Americans, Navarro. And though there are a variety of Americans, they have only one opinion about submitting to tyrants--they won't do it!"

This was the conversation interrupted by Ortiz and the message he brought, and the doctor was thoroughly sobered by the events following. He was not inclined to believe, as the majority of the troops did, that Mexico was conquered. He expected that the Senora's prediction would be verified. And the personal enmity which the priesthood felt to him induced a depressing sense of personal disaster.

Nothing in the house or the city seemed inclined to settle. It took a few days to draw up the articles of capitulation and clear the town of General Cos and the Mexican troops. And he had no faith in their agreement to "retire from Texas, and never again carry arms against the Americans." He knew that they did not consider it any sin to make "a mental reservation" against a heretic. He was quite sure that if Cos met reinforcements, he would have to be fought over again immediately.

And amid these public cares and considerations, he had serious private ones. The Senora was still under the control of Fray Ignatius. It required all the influence of his own personal presence and affection to break the spiritual captivity in which he held her. He knew that the priest had long been his enemy.

He saw that Antonia was hated by him. He was in the shadow of a terror worse than death--that of a long, hopeless captivity. A dungeon and a convent might become to them a living grave, in which cruelty and despair would slowly gnaw life away.

And yet, for a day or two he resolved not to speak of his terror. The Senora was so happy in his presence, and she had such kind confidences to give him about her plans for her children's future, that he could not bear to alarm her. And the children also were so full of youth's enthusiasms and love's sweet dreams. Till the last moment why should he awaken them? And as the strongest mental element in a home gives the tone to it, so Dare and Antonia, with the doctor behind them, gave to the Mexican household almost an American freedom of intercourse and community of pleasure.

The Senora came to the parlor far more frequently, and in her own apartments her children visited her with but slight ceremony. They discussed all together their future plans. They talked over a wonderful journey which they were to take in company to New Orleans, and Washington, and New York, and perhaps even to London and Paris--"who could tell, if the Senora would be so good as to enjoy herself?" They ate more together. They got into the habit of congregating about the same hearthstone. It was the Senora's first real experience of domestic life.

In about six days the Mexican forces left the city. The terms of surrender granted General Cos struck the Mexicans with a kind of wonder. They had fought with the express declaration that they would take no American prisoner. Yet the Americans not only permitted Cos and his troops to leave under parole of honor, but gave them their arms and sufficient ammunition to protect themselves from the Indians on their journey home. They allowed them also all their private property. They furnished them with the provisions necessary to reach the Rio Grande. They took charge of their sick and wounded. They set all the Mexican prisoners at liberty--in short, so great was their generosity and courtesy that the Mexicans were unable to comprehend their motives.

Even Lopez was troubled at it. "I assure you," he said to Dr. Worth, "they will despise such civility; they will not believe in its sincerity. At this very blessed hour of God, they are accusing the Americans of being afraid to press their advantage. Simply, you will have the fight to make over again. I say this, because I know Santa Anna."

"Santa Anna is but a man, Lopez."

"Me perdonas! He is however a man who knows a trick more than the devil. One must be careful of a bull in front, of a mule behind, and of a monk and Santa Anna on all sides. At the word monk, Lopez glanced significantly at a passing priest, and Doctor Worth saw that it was Fray Ignatius.

"He sprinkled the Mexican troops with holy water, and blessed them as they left the city this morning. He has the ear of General Cos. He is not a man to offend, I assure you, Doctor."

The doctor walked thoughtfully away. San Antonio was full of his friends, yet never had he felt himself and his family to be in so much danger. And the words of Lopez had struck a responding chord in his own consciousness. The careless bravery, the splendid generosity of his countrymen was at least premature. He went through the city with observing eyes, and saw much to trouble him.

The gates of Alamo were open. Crockett lounged upon his rifle in the Plaza. A little crowd was around him, and the big Tennesseean hunter was talking to them. Shouts of laughter, bravas of enthusiasm, answered the homely wit and stirring periods that had over and over "made room for Colonel Crockett," both in the Tennessee Legislature and the United States Congress. His rifle seemed a part of him--a kind of third arm. His confident manner, his manliness and bravery, turned his wit into wisdom. The young fellows around found in him their typical leader.

The elegant James Bowie was sitting on the verandah of the Veramendi House, calmly smoking. His fair, handsome face, clear blue eyes and mild manners, gave no indication of the gigantic physical strength and tremendous coolness and courage of the man who never tolerated an enemy in his presence. Burleson and Travis were talking under the shade of a China tree, and there were little groups of American soldiers on every street; this was what he saw, and yet a terrible sense of insecurity oppressed him.

The city, moreover, was not settling to its usual business, though there were many preparations for public and private entertainments. After passing Colonel Bowie, he met David Burnett. The shrewd statesman from New Jersey had a shadow upon his face. He stopped Doctor Worth and spoke frankly to him. "We are in greater danger now than when we were under fire," he said. "Santa Anna will come on us like a lion from the swellings of Jordan. I wish Houston knew our position as it really is. We must either have more men to defend this city or we must blow up the Alamo and be ready to leave it at a moment's notice."

"Why were such favorable terms given to General Cos and his troops? I cannot understand it."

"I will tell you an amazing fact. When Cos ran up that white flag on the Alamo, we had not a single round of ammunition left; complaisance was necessary until Cos made over to us the Mexican arms, ammunition, property and money."

Worth turned and looked at the fort. A great red flag on which was the word T-E-X-A-S floated from its battlements, and there were two men standing on its roof, with their faces westward.

"They are the lookouts," said Burnett, "and we have scouts through the surrounding country; but Santa Anna will come, when he comes, with tens of thousands."

"And there is a line where even the coolest courage and the most brilliant bravery succumbs to mere numbers--Eh!"

"That is what I mean, Doctor."

"Where is Houston?"

"On the Brazos, at the small town of Washington. The council have established headquarters there."

Their conversation was interrupted by the ringing of a little bell, and the doleful supplications of a priest followed by a crowd of idle men and women. He was begging, "for the sake of the Holy Virgin," alms to say masses for the soul of an unfortunate, who had not left a peso for his burial. He droned on, and no one noticed him until James Bowie stretched his tall figure, sauntered up to the monk and dropped a gold piece into his cap. He did not stay to hear the exclamations and the gracias, but with steps that rang like metal upon metal took his way to the Alamo.

However, dangers postponed make the most timorous indifferent to them; and when General Cos did not return, and nothing was heard of Santa Anna, every one began to take up their ordinary life again. The temper of the Americans also encouraged this disposition. They were discovered neither to be bloodthirsty nor cannibals. It was even seen that they enjoyed the fandango and the monte tables, and that a proposition for a bullfight at Christmas was not opposed by them.

And in spite of all anxieties, there were many sweet and unusual pleasures in the Worth home. The discipline of the troops was so lenient that Dare and Luis--one or both--were generally there in the evenings. Their turns as scouts or watchman at the Alamo only made more delightful the hours when they were exempted from these duties. As for the doctor, he had been released from all obligations but those pertaining to his profession, and Antonia, noticed that he spent every hour he could spare with the Senora. For some reason, he appeared determined to strengthen his influence over her.

On Christmas Eve the old city was very gay. The churches were decorated, and splendidly dressed men and women passed in and out with smiles and congratulations. The fandangoes and the gambling houses were all open. From the huertas around, great numbers of families had come to receive absolution and keep the Nativity. Their rich clothing and air of idleness gave a holiday feeling to the streets noisy with the buzzing of the guitar, the metallic throb of the cithara, the murmurs of voices, and the cries of the hawkers. Priests, Mexicans, Indians and Americans touched each other on the narrow thoroughfares, but that indescribable feeling of good will which comes with Christmas pervaded the atmosphere, and gave, even in the midst of war and danger, a sense of anticipated pleasure.

At the Worth residence there was a household feast. The Senora and her daughters were in full dress. They were waiting for the dear ones who had promised to join them at the Angelus. One by one the houses around were illuminated. Parties of simple musicians began to pass each other continually--they were going to serenade the blessed Mary all night long. As Antonia closed the balcony window, half a dozen of these young boys passed the garden hedge singing to the clacking of their castanets--

        "This is the eve of Christmas,
         No sleep from night to morn,
         The Virgin is in travail,
         At twelve will the Child be born."

Luis appeared at the same moment. He caught up the wild melody and came up the garden path singing it. Dare and the doctor followed him. It struck Antonia that they were talking of a change, or of something important. But there was no time for observation. Isabel, radiant in crimson satin, with her white mantilla over her head, darted forward to meet Luis, and turned his song to the Virgin into a little adulation for herself. Dare and the doctor took Antonia's hands, and there was something in the silent clasp of each which made her heart tremble.

But she was not one of those foolish women who enquire after misfortune. She could wait and let the evil news find her, and by so doing she won many a bright hour from the advancing shadows. The Senora was in unusual spirits. She had obtained a new confessor. "A man of the most seraphic mind, and, moreover, so fortunate as to be connected with the house of Flores." He had been gentle to her in the matter of penances, and not set her religious obligations above her capacities. Consequently, the Senora had laid aside her penitential garments. She was in full Castilian costume, and looked very handsome. But Antonia, who had been in New York during those years when she would otherwise have been learning how to wear a mantilla and use a fan, did not attempt such difficulties of the toilet. She knew that she would look unnatural in them, and she adhered to the American fashions of her day. But in a plain frock of dark satin trimmed with minever bands, she looked exceedingly noble and lovely.

The meal was a very merry one, and after it Lopez Navarro joined the party and they had music and dancing, and finally gathered around the fire to hear the singing of Luis. He knew a great many of the serenades, and as he sang of the Virgin and the Babe, a sweeter peace, a more solemn joy, came to each heart. It was like bringing something of the bliss of heaven into the bliss of earth. The Senora's eyes were full of tears; she slipped her hand into her husband's and looked at him with a face which asked, "Do you not also feel the eternity of a true love?"

"How sweet and wild are these serenades, Luis! said Antonia. "I wonder who wrote them?"

"But, then, they were never written, my sister. Out of the hearts of lonely shepherds they came; or of women spinning in their quiet houses; yes, even of soldiers in the strong places keeping their watch."

"That is the truth, Luis," answered Isabel. "And every Christmas, when I was in the convent the Sisters made a serenade to the Virgin, or a seguidilla to our blessed Lord. Very still are the Sisters, but when it comes to singing, I can assure you the angels might listen!"

"There is a seguidilla I hear everywhere," said the doctor; "and I never hear it without feeling the better for listening. It begins--`So noble a Lord.'"

"That, indeed!" cried Luis. "Who knows it not? It is the seguidilla to our blessed Lord, written by the daughter of Lope de Vega--the holy Marcela Carpio. You know it, Senora?"

"As I know my Credo, Luis."

"And you, Isabel?"

"Since I was a little one, as high as my father's knee. Rachela taught it to me."

"And you, Lopez."

"That is sure, Luis."

"And I, too!" said Antonia, smiling. "Here is your mandolin. Strike the chords, and we will all sing with you. My father will remember also." And the doctor smiled an assent, as the young man resigned Isabel's hand with a kiss, and swept the strings in that sweetness and power which flows invisibly, but none the less surely, from the heart to the instrument.

"It is to my blessed Lord and Redeemer, I sing," he said, bowing his head. Then he stood up and looked at his companions, and struck the key-note, when every one joined their voices with his in the wonderful little hymn:

        So noble a Lord
          None serves in vain;
        For the pay of my love
          Is my love's sweet pain.

        In the place of caresses
          Thou givest me woes;
        I kiss Thy hands,
          When I feel their blows.

        For in Thy chastening,
          Is joy and peace;
        O Master and Lord!
          Let thy blows not cease.

        I die with longing
          Thy face to see
        And sweet is the anguish
          Of death to me.

        For, because Thou lovest me,
          Lover of mine!
        Death can but make me
          Utterly Thine!

The doctor was the first to speak after the sweet triumph of the notes had died away. "Many a soul I have seen pass whispering those verses," he said; "men and women, and little children."

"The good Marcela in heaven has that for her joy," answered Luis.

Lopez rose while the holy influence still lingered. He kissed the hands of every one, and held the doctor's in his own until they reached the threshold. A more than usual farewell took place there, though there were only a few whispered words.

"Farewell, Lopez! I can trust you?"

"Unto death."

"If we never meet again?"

"Still it will be farewell. Thou art in God's care."

Very slowly the doctor sauntered back to the parlor, like a man who has a heavy duty to, do and hardly knows how to begin it. "But I will tell Maria first," he whispered; and then he opened the door, and saw the Senora bidding her children good-night.

"What a happy time we have had!" she was saying. "I shall never forget it. Indeed, my dears, you see how satisfactory it is to be religious. When we talk of the saints and angels, they come round us to listen to what we say; accordingly, we are full of peace and pleasure. I know that because I heard Fray--I heard a very good man say so."

She smiled happily at her husband, as she took his arm, and twice, as they went slowly upstairs together, she lifted her face for his kiss. Her gentleness and affection made it hard for him to speak; but there were words to be said that could be no longer delayed; and when he had closed the room door, he took her hands in his, and looked into her face with eyes that told her all.

"You are going away, Roberto," she whispered.

"My love! Yes! To-night--this very hour I must go! Luis and Dare also. Do not weep. I entreat you! My heart is heavy, and your tears I cannot bear."

Then she answered, with a noble Composure: "I will give you smiles and kisses. My good Roberto, so true and kind! I will try to be worthy of you. Nay, but you must not weep-- Roberto!"

It was true. Quite unconsciously the troubled husband and father was weeping. "I fear to leave you, dear Maria. All is so uncertain. I can only ask you two favors; if you will grant them, you will do all that can be done to send me away with hope. Will you promise me to have nothing to do whatever with Fray Ignatius; and to resist every attempt he may make to induce you to go into a religious house of any kind?"

"I promise you, Roberto. By my mother's cross, I promise you!"

"Again, dear Maria, if you should be in any danger, promise me that you will do as Antonia and Lopez Navarro think it wisest and best."

"Go with God, my, husband. Go with God, in a good hour. All you wish, I will do."

He held her to his heart and kissed her, and she whispered amid her tender farewells to himself, messages to her soils-- but especially to Juan. "Will you see Juan? If you do, tell him I repent. I send him a thousand blessings! Ah, the dear one! Kiss him for me, Roberto! Tell him how much I love him, Roberto! How I sorrow because I was cross to him! My precious one! My good son, who always loved me so dearly!"

At length Isabel came in to weep in her mother's arms. "Luis is going away," she cried. The father felt a momentary keen pang of jealousy. "I am going also, queridita," he said mournfully. Then she threw her arms around his neck and bewailed her bad fortune. "If I were the Almighty God, I would not give love and then take it away," she murmured. "I would give orders that the good people should always be happy. I would not let men like Santa Anna live. He is a measureless monster, and ought to go to the d--to purgatory, at the very least."

While the Senora soothed her complaining, the doctor left. One troubled glance of a great love he cast backward from the door ere he closed it behind him; and then his countenance suddenly changed. Stern and strong it grew, with a glow of anger in the steel-blue eyes that gave an entirely new character to it.

He called Antonia into his study, and talked with her of the crisis which was approaching, and of the conduct of their affairs in it. He showed her the places in which his gold coin was hidden. He told her on whom to rely in any emergency.

"We have sure information that General Urrea, with the vanguard of a large Mexican army, will be here next month. Santa Anna will follow him quickly. You see that the city must either be defended or our men must retreat. I am going to Houston with this dilemma. Luis and Dare will join Fannin at Goliad. Now, my dear child, you have my place to fill. If Santa Anna takes possession of San Antonio, what will you do?"

"If we are not disturbed in any way, I will keep very quiet within my own home."

"If Fray Ignatius attempts to interfere with you--what then?"

"I will fly from him, and take Isabel and mi madre with me."

"That is your only safety. I shall hear if the Americans desert the city; then I will send your brother Thomas, if by any possibility it can be done, to guard you to the eastern settlements. But I may not be able to do this--there may be no time--it cannot be depended upon--Lopez Navarro will help you all he can, and Ortiz. You may always rely on Ortiz."

"My father, I cannot trust Ortiz. Every man is a master to a peon. He would mean to do kindly, but his cowardice might make him false."

"Ortiz is no peon. He is a Mexican officer of high rank, whom Santa Anna ordered to be shot. I saved his life. He wears the clothes of a peon--that is necessary; but he has the honor and gratitude of a gentleman beneath them. If necessary, trust Ortiz fully. One thing above all others remember-- flight before a convent."

"Flight! Yes, death before it! I promise you, father. When we meet again, you shall say, well done, Antonia."

It was now about midnight. They went back to the parlor. Luis and Dare sat by the dying fire. They were bent forward, close together over it, talking in a low voice. They rose when the doctor spoke, and silently kissed Antonia.

"It will be a hard ride, now," said the doctor," and Dare answered, mechanically, "but we shall manage it." He held Antonia's hand, and she went with them to the rear of the house. Their horses were standing ready saddled. Silently the men mounted. In a moment they had passed the gate, and the beat of their horses' hoofs gradually died away.

But all through the clear spaces of the sky the Christmas bells were ringing, and the serenaders were musically telling each other,

    "At twelve will the Child be born!"