Remember the Alamo by Amelia E. Barr
Chapter XIII. The Arrival of Santa Anna.
"What thing thou doest, bravely do; When Heaven's clear call hath found thee, Follow--with fervid wheels pursue, Though thousands bray around thee." "Mounted upon a hot and fiery steed, Which his aspiring rider seemed to know; With slow but stately pace kept on his course; You would have thought the very windows spoke, So many greedy looks of young and old, Through casements darted their desiring eyes Upon his visage."
Left to themselves, the two men threw off like a mask the aspect of cheerfulness they had worn in the presence of the Senora. Thomas Worth ate heartily, for he had been without food since morning; but Navarro did not attempt to join his meal. He sat patiently waiting his sombre eyes fixed upon the mental visions which circled in the enchanted incense of his cigarette.
Presently Thomas Worth turned toward the hearth, pushed the cedar logs on it to a focus, and at their leaping blaze lighted the pipe which he took from his pocket. "Lopez," he said, "it strikes me that I am just in time to prevent some infamous plan of Fray Ignatius and my uncle Gonzaga."
"I should not have lost sight of the Senora and your sisters. I have watched them faithfully, though for many good reasons it has been best to appear indifferent. Will you now remain in San Antonio?"
"I have come with orders to Travis to blow up the Alamo, and fall back upon Houston, who is at Gonzales. But I do not think the men will permit him to do so."
"You have too many leaders. Also, they undervalue the Mexican soldiers. I assure you they do. They fought Spain for ten years; they do not want, then, the persistence of true valor. The Americans may die in the Alamo, but they cannot hold it against the thousands Santa Anna will bring with him."
"They will die, then. They have no thought of retreat, nor of any deed that argues fear. Every man relies on himself, as if in his hand the moment of victory lay."
"Every man will perish."
"They will not perish in vain. Defeat is only a spur to the American soldier. Every, one makes him a better fighter. If Santa Anna massacres the men in the Alamo, he seals the freedom of Texas."
"Houston should have come himself."
"Houston is biding his time. He is doing at present the hardest duty a great man can do: setting an example of obedience to a divided and incompetent government. Lopez, you said rightly that we had too many leaders. When those appointed for sacrifice have been offered up--when we are in the extremity of danger and ruin, then Houston will hear the word he is waiting for."
"And he will lead you on to victory. Indeed, I know it. I have seen him. He has the line--the fortunate line on the forehead. He is the loadstone in the breast of your cause; the magnet who can draw good fortune to it. If fate be against you, he will force fate to change her mind. If fate weave you a common thread, he will change it into purple. Victory, which she gives to others reluctantly, he will take like a master from her hand Houston! What essence! What existence! What honor! What hope there is in those seven letters. Consider this: He will find a way or make a way for freedom."
Subsequent events proved the opinion of Thomas Worth correct with regard to the garrison in the Alamo. David Crockett! James Bowie! Barret Travis! The names were a host in themselves; one and all refused to couple them with retreat.
"Military defeats may be moral victories, young man," said Crockett to Thomas Worth; "and moral victories make national greatness. The Roman that filled the gulf with his own body-- the men who died at Thermopylae--they live to-day, and they have been talking with us."
"But if you join Houston you will save many lives."
"That isn't always the point, sir. Jim Bowie was saying there was once a lover who used to swim two miles every night to see a young woman called Hero. Now, he might have waited for a boat and gone dry-shod to his sweetheart; but if he had, who would have cared whether he lived or died? The Alamo is our Hero. If we can't keep her, we can die for her."
The same spirit moved every soul at Goliad. Fanning was there with nearly nine hundred men, and he had named the place Fort Defiance, and asserted his determination to hold it. In the mean time, Houston was using his great personal influence to collect troops, to make treaties with the Indians, and to keep together some semblance of a provisional government.
But it had become evident to all the leading spirits of the revolution that no half-way measures would now do. They only produced half-way enthusiasm. For this end, Houston spoke out with his accustomed boldness:
"Gentlemen, we must declare the independence of Texas, and like our fore-elders, sink or swim by that declaration. Nothing else, nothing less, can save us. The planters of Texas must feel that they are fighting for their own constitution, and not for Mexican promises made to them twelve years ago and never yet kept."
The simple proposition roused a new enthusiasm; for while Urrea was hastening towards Goliad, and Santa Anna towards San Antonio, and Filisola to Washington, the divided people were becoming more and more embittered. The American soldiers, who had hitherto gone in and out among the citizens of San Antonio during the day, and only slept in the Alamo, were conscious of an ominous change in the temper of the city. They gathered their recruits together and shut themselves in the fortress.
Again Thomas Worth urged them to fall back either upon the line of Houston at Gonzales, or Fanning at Goliad; but in the indecision and uncertainty of all official orders, Crockett thought it best to make the first stand at the Mexican city.
"We can, at least," he said, "keep Santa Anna busy long enough to give the women and children of our own settlements time to escape, and the men time to draw together with a certain purpose."
"The cry of Santa Anna has been like the cry of wolf! wolf!" said Bowie. "I hear that great numbers that were under arms have gone home to plant their corn and cotton. Do you want Santa Anna to murder them piecemeal--house by house, family by family? Great George! Which of us would accommodate him with a prolonged pleasure like that? No! he shall have a square fight for every life lie gets"; and the calm, gentlemanly Bowie was suddenly transformed into a flashing, vehement, furious avenger. He laid his knife and pistols on the table, his steel-blue eyes scintillated as if they were lightning; his handsome mouth, his long, white hands, his whole person radiated wrath and expressed the utmost lengths of invincible courage and insatiable hatred.
"Gentlemen," answered Travis, "I go with Crockett and Bowie. If we hold the Alamo, it is a deed well done. If we fall with it, it is still a deed well done. We shall have given to Houston and Fanning time to interpose themselves between Santa Anna and the settlements."
"We have none of us lived very well," said Bowie, "but we can die well. I say as an American, that Texas is ours by right of natural locality, and by right of treaty; and, as I live, I will do my best to make it American by right of conquest! Comrades, I do not want a prettier quarrel to die in"--and looking with a brave, unflinching gaze around the grim fortress--"I do not want a better monument than the Alamo!"
The speech was not answered with any noisy hurrahing; but the men around the bare, long table clasped hands across it, and from that last interview with the doomed men Thomas Worth came away with the knowledge that he had seen the battle begun. He felt now that there was no time to delay longer his plans for the safety of his mother and sisters. These were, indeed, of the simplest and most uncertain character; for the condition of the country and its few resources were such as to make flight the only way that promised safety. And yet flight was environed with dangers of every kind--hunger, thirst, exhaustion, savage beasts, Indians, and the triple armies of Mexico.
The day after his arrival he had begun to prepare, as far as possible, for this last emergency, but the Senora's unconquerable aversion to leave her native city had constantly hampered him. Until Santa Anna really appeared she would not believe in the necessity of such a movement. The proposal of Fray Ignatius, even if it did end in a convent, did not seem so terrible as to be a wanderer without a roof to cover her. She felt aggrieved and injured by Antonia's and Isabel's positive refusal to accept sanctuary from the priest, and with the underhand cunning of a weak woman she had contrived to let Fray Ignatius know that she was not to blame for the refusal.
All the same the priest hated her in conjunction with her children. On the morning after her interview with her uncle, he went to receive her submission; for the marquis had informed him of all that had passed, and he felt the three women and the valuable Worth property already under his hard hand. He opened the gate with the air of a proprietor. He looked down the lovely alleys of the garden, and up at the latticed stories of the handsome house, with that solid satisfaction which is the reward of what is acquired by personal effort or wisdom.
When he entered the door and was confronted by Thomas Worth, he was for the moment nonplussed. But he did not permit his confusion and disappointment to appear. He had not seen Thomas for a long time. He addressed him with suavity and regrets, and yet, "was sure he would be glad to hear that, in the present dangerous crisis, the Marquis de Gonzaga had remembered the blood-tie and offered his protection to a family so desolate."
Thomas Worth leaned upon the balusters, as if guarding the approach to the Senora's apartments. He answered: "The protection of the marquis is unnecessary. Three ladies are too great a charge for one so aged. We will not impose it." The face of the young man was calm and stern, but he spoke without visible temper, until the priest prepared to pass him. Then he stretched out his arm as a barrier.
"Fray Ignatius, you have already passed beyond the threshold; permit me to remind you of Dr. Worth's words on that subject."
"I put my duty before any man's words."
"Sir, for my mother's sake, I would not be disrespectful; but I assure you, also, that I will not permit any man, while I live, to disregard my father's orders regarding his own household."
"I must see the Senora."
"That, I reply, is impossible."
"Presume not--dare not to interfere with a priest in the duty of his office. It is a mortal sin. The curse of the Church will rest upon you.
"The curse of the Church will not trouble me. But to treat my father's known wishes with contempt--that is an act of dishonor and disobedience which I will not be guilty of."
"Santa Maria! Suffer not my spirit to be moved by this wicked one. Out of my path, Satanas!"
The last word was not one which Thomas Worth had expected. He flushed crimson at its application, and with a few muttered sentences, intelligible only to the priest, he took him firmly by the shoulder, led him outside the door, and closed and barred it.
The expulsion was not accomplished without noisy opposition on the part of Fray Ignatius, and it pained Thomas deeply to hear, in the midst of the priest's anathemas, the shrill cries of his mother's distress and disapproval.
The next domestic movement of Thomas Worth was to rid the house of Molly and Manuel, and the inferior servants. It was not as easy a task as may be supposed. They had been ordered by Fray Ignatius to remain, and the order had not been countermanded. Even if the Senora and her daughters were going east, and their services were not needed, they had no objections to remain in the Worth house. They understood that the Church would take possession, and the housekeeping of the Church was notoriously easy and luxurious.
However, after exorbitant compensation had been made, and Molly had given in return "a bit of her mind," she left for the Irish colony of San Patricio, and Manuel immediately sought his favorite monte table. When he had doubled his money, he intended to obey Molly's emphatic orders, and go and tell the priest all about it.
"I would rather, face a battery of cannon than Fray Ignatius and the servants again, Antonia." Antonia looked at her brother; he was worried and weary, and his first action, when he had finally cleared the house, was to walk around it, and bolt every door and window. Antonia followed him silently. She perceived that the crisis had come, and she was doing as good women in extremity do--trying to find in the darkness the hand always stretched out to guide and strengthen. As yet she had not been able to grasp it. She followed her brother like one in a troubled dream, whispering faintly, with white lips, "O God, where art Thou? Help and pity us!"
Thomas led her finally to his father's office. He went to a closet filled with drugs, removed them, and then a certain pressure of his hand caused the back of the closet to disappear in a groove, and a receptacle full of coin and papers was disclosed.
"We must take with us all the coin we can carry. What you are not likely to require, is to go to the men in the field. Then, hide in its place the old silver, and the laces, and the jewels, which came with the Flores from Castile; and any other papers and valuables, which you received from our father. I think even Fray Ignatius will not discover them here."
"Is there any special need to hurry to-day?
"Santa Anna is within forty-eight hours of San Antonio. He may force a march, and be here earlier. Travis told me last night that their advance scouts had come in with this intelligence. To-day they will gather every man they can, and prepare to defend themselves in the Alamo. As soon as Santa Anna arrives, we are in danger. I must leave here to- night. I must either take you with me or remove you to a place of more safety."
"Let us go with you."
"If my mother is willing."
"If she is not, what then?"
"Lopez has prepared for that emergency. He has an empty house three miles west of San Antonio. He has had it completely victualled. I will take you there after dark in the large green chariot. Ortiz will drive the light Jersey wagon on the Gonzales road. When inquiry is made, the Jersey wagon will have attracted the attention of every Mexican, and Fray Ignatius will receive positive assurances that you were in it and are beyond his power. And certainly, without definite intelligence, he would never suspect you of being anywhere on the highway to Mexico."
"Shall we be quite alone?"
"For two or three days you will be quite alone. Ortiz will, however, return with the wagon by a circuitous route; for, sooner or later, you are sure to need it. Fear not to trust him. Only in one respect will you need to supplement his advice by your own intelligence: he is so eager to fight Santa Anna, he may persuade himself and you that it is necessary to fly eastward when it is not. In all other points you may be guided by him, and his disguise as a peon is so perfect that it will be easy for him to gather in the pulquerias all the information requisite for your direction. I have been out to the house, and I can assure you that Lopez has considered everything for your comfort."
"However, I would rather go with you, Thomas."
"It must be as mother desires."
When the circumstances were explained to the Senora, she was at first very determined to accept neither alternative. "She would remain where she was. She was a Flores and a Gonzaga. Santa Anna knew better than to molest her. She would rather trust to him than to those dreadful Americans." Reminded of Fray Ignatius, she shed a few tears over the poor padrecito, and assured her children they had made a mistake regarding him, which neither oil nor ointment, nor wit nor wisdom, could get over.
It was almost impossible to induce her to come to a decision of any kind; and only when she saw Antonia and Isabel were dressed for a journey, and that Thomas had locked up all the rooms and was extinguishing the fires, could she bring herself to believe that the trial so long anticipated had really come.
"My dearest mother! My own life and the lives of many others may now hang upon a few moments. I can remain here no longer. Where shall I take you to?"
"I will not leave my home."
"Santa Anna is almost here. As soon as he arrives, Fray Ignatius and twelve of the Bernardine monks are coming here. I was told that yesterday."
"Then I will go to the convent. I and my daughters."
"No, mother; if you go to the convent, Antonia and Isabel must go with me."
She prayed, and exclaimed, and appealed to saints and angels, and to the holy Virgin, until Isabel was hysterically weeping, Antonia at a mental tension almost unendurable, and Thomas on the verge of one of those terrifying passions that mark the extremity of habitually gentle, patient men.
"My God, mother!" he exclaimed with a stamp of his spurred boot on the stone floor; "if you will go to the devil--to the priests, I mean--you must go alone. Kiss your mother farewell, girls. I have not another moment to wait."
Then, in a passion of angry sobs and reproaches, she decided to go with her daughters, and no saint ever suffered with a more firm conviction of their martyrdom to duty than did this poor foolish, affectionate slave to her emotions and her superstitions. But when Thomas had gone, and nothing was to be gained by a display of her sufferings, she permitted herself to be interested in their hiding-place, and after Antonia had given her a cup of chocolate, and Isabel had petted and soothed her, she began gradually to allow them to explain their situation, and even to feel some interest in its discussion.
They sat in the charmful, dusky glimmer of starlight, for candles and fire were forbidden luxuries. Fortunately, the weather was warm and sunny, and for making chocolate and such simple cookery, Lopez had provided a spirit lamp. The Senora was as pleased as a child with this arrangement. She had never seen anything like it before. She even imagined the food cooked upon it had some rare and unusual flavor. She was quite proud when she had learned its mysteries, and quite sure that chocolate she made upon it was chocolate of a most superior kind.
The house had been empty for two years, and the great point was to preserve its air of desolation. No outside arrangement was touched; the torn remnants of some balcony hangings were left fluttering in the wind; the closed windows and the closed doors, the absence of smoke from the chimneys and of lights from the windows, preserved the air of emptiness and loneliness that the passers-by had been accustomed to see. And, as it was on the highway into the city, there were great numbers of passers: mule-trains going to Mexico and Sonora; cavaliers and pedestrians; splendidly-dressed nobles and officials, dusty peons bringing in wood; ranchmen, peddlers, and the whole long list of a great city's purveyors and servants.
But though some of the blinds were half-closed, much could be seen; and Isabel also often took cushions upon the flat roof, and lying down, watched, from between the pilasters of the balustrade surrounding it, the moving panorama.
On the morning of the third day of what the Senora, called their imprisonment, they went to the roof to sit in the clear sunshine and the fresh wind. They were weary and depressed with the loneliness and uncertainty of their position, and were almost longing for something to happen that would push forward the lagging wheels of destiny.
A long fanfare of trumpets, a roll of drums, a stirring march of warlike melody, startled them out of the lethargic tedium of exhausted hopes and fears. "It is Santa Anna!" said Antonia; and though they durst not stand up, they drew closer to the balustrade and watched for the approaching army. Is there any woman who can resist that nameless emotion which both fires and rends the heart in the presence of great military movements? Antonia was still and speechless, and white as death. Isabel watched with gleaming eyes and set lips. The Senora's excitement was unmistakably that of exultant national pride.
Santa Anna and his staff-officers were in front. They passed too rapidly for individual notice, but it was a grand moving picture of handsome men in scarlet and gold--of graceful mangas and waving plumes, and bright-colored velvet capes; of high-mettled horses, and richly-adorned Mexican saddles, aqueras of black fur, and silver stirrups; of thousands of common soldiers, in a fine uniform of red and blue; with antique brazen helmets gleaming in the sun, and long lances, adorned with tri-colored streamers. They went past like a vivid, wonderful dream--like the vision of an army of mediaeval knights.
In a few minutes the tumult of the advancing army was increased tenfold by the clamor of the city pouring out to meet it. The clashing bells from the steeples, the shouting of the populace, the blare of trumpets and roll of drums, the lines of churchmen and officials in their grandest dresses, of citizens of every age,--the indescribable human murmur-- altogether it was a scene whose sensuous splendor obliterated for a time the capacity of impressionable natures to judge rightly.
But Antonia saw beyond all this brave show the ridges of red war, and a noble perversity of soul made her turn her senses inward. Then her eyes grew dim, and her heart rose in pitying prayer for that small band of heroes standing together for life and liberty in the grim Alamo. No pomp of war was theirs. They were isolated from all their fellows. They were surrounded by their enemies. No word of sympathy could reach them. Yet she knew they would stand like lions at bay; that they would give life to its last drop for liberty; and rather than be less than freemen, they would prefer not to be at all.