Remember the Alamo by Amelia E. Barr
Chapter XVII. Home Again.
"Where'er we roam, Our first, best country ever is at home." "What constitutes a state? Men who their duties know; But know their rights, and knowing, dare maintain. "And sovereign law, that states collected will O'er thrones and globes elate, Sits empress; crowning good, repressing ill. "This hand to tyrants ever sworn a foe, For freedom only deals the deadly blow; Then sheathes in calm repose the vengeful blade, For gentle peace, in freedom's hallowed shade."
The vicinity of a great battle-field is a dreadful place after the lapse of a day or two. The bayou and the morass had provided sepulture for hundreds of slain Mexicans, but hundreds still lay upon the open prairie. Over it, birds of prey hung in dark clouds, heavy-winged, sad, sombre, and silent. Nothing disturbed them. They took no heed of the living. Armed with invincible talons and beaks tipped with iron, they carried on ceaselessly that automatic gluttony, which made them beneficent crucibles of living fire, for all which would otherwise have corrupted the higher life. And yet, though innocent as the elements, they were odious in the sight of all.
Before daylight in the morning the Senora and her daughters were ready to begin their homeward journey. The doctor could not accompany them, General Houston and the wounded Americans being dependent largely upon his care and skill. But Luis Alveda and Lopez Navarro received an unlimited furlough; and about a dozen Mexican prisoners of war belonging to San Antonio were released on Navarro's assurance, and permitted to travel with the party as camp servants. It was likely, also, that they would be joined by a great many of the families who had accompanied the great flight; for, on the preceding evening, Houston had addressed the army, and told the householders and farmers to go home and plant their corn.
Full of happiness, the ladies prepared for their journey. A good army wagon, drawn by eight mules, and another wagon, containing two tents and everything necessary for a comfortable journey, was waiting for them. The doctor bid them good-by with smiles and cheerful promises. They were going home. The war was over. Independence was won. They had the hope of permanent peace. The weather also was as the weather may be among the fields of Eden. The heavens were cloudless, the air sweet and fresh, and the wild honeysuckles, with their spread hands full of scent, perfumed the prairies mile after mile. The mules went knee-deep through warm grasses; the grasses were like waving rainbows, with the myriads of brightly tinted flowers.
Even Lopez was radiantly happy. Most unusual smiles lighted up his handsome face, and he jingled the silver ornaments on his bridle pleasantly to his thoughts as he cantered sometimes a little in advance of the wagon, sometimes in the rear, occasionally by its side; then, bending forward to lift his hat to the ladies and inquire after their comfort.
Luis kept close to Isabel; and her lovely face and merry chatter beguiled him from all other observations. A little before noon they halted in a beautiful wood; a tent was spread for the ladies, the animals were loosened from their harness, and a luxurious meal laid upon the grass. Then the siesta was taken, and at three o'clock travel was resumed until near sunset, when the camp was made for the night. The same order was followed every day, and the journey was in every sense an easy and delightful one. The rides, cheered by pleasant companionship, were not fatiguing; the impromptu meals were keenly relished. And there were many sweet opportunities for little strolls in the dim green woods, and for delightful conversations, as they sat under the stars, while the camp-fire blazed among the picturesque groups of Mexicans playing monte around it.
On the third afternoon, the Senora and Isabel were taking a siesta, but Antonia could not sleep. After one or two efforts she was thoroughly aroused by the sound of voices which had been very familiar to her in the black days of the flight-- those of a woman and her weary family of seven children. She had helped her in many ways, and she still felt an interest in her welfare. It appeared now to be assured. Antonia found her camping in a little grove of mulberry trees. She had recovered her health; her children were noisy and happy, and her husband, a tall, athletic man, with a determined eye and very courteous manners, was unharnessing the mules from a fine Mexican wagon; part of the lawful spoils of war. They, too, were going home: "back to the Brazos," said the woman affectionately; and we're in a considerable hurry," she added, because it's about time to get the corn in. Jake lays out to plant fifty acres this year. He says he can go to planting now with an easy conscience; he 'lows he has killed enough Mexicans to keep him quiet a spell."
They talked a short time together, and then Antonia walked slowly into the deeper shadows of the wood. She found a wide rock, under trees softly dimpling, pendulous, and tenderly green; and she sat down in the sweet gloom, to think of the beloved dead. She had often longed for some quiet spot, where, alone with God and nature, she could, just for once, give to her sorrow and her love a free expression.
Now the opportunity seemed to be hers. She began to recall her whole acquaintance with Dare--their hours of pleasant study--their sails upon the river--their intercourse by the fireside--the most happy Sundays, when they walked in the house of God together. In those days, what a blessed future was before them! She recalled also the time of hope and anxiety after the storming of the Alamo, and then the last heroic act of his stainless life. She had felt sure that in such a session with her own soul she would find the relief of unrestrained and unchecked weeping. But we cannot kindle when we will either the fire or the sensibility of the soul. She could not weep; tears were far from her. Nay, more, she began to feel as if tears were not needed for one who had found out so beautiful, so unselfish, so divine a road to the grave. Ought she not rather to rejoice that he had been so early called and blest? To be glad for herself, too, that all her life long she could keep the exquisite memory of a love so noble?
In the drift of such thoughts, her white, handsome face grew almost angelic. She sat motionless and let them come to her; as if she were listening to the comforting angels. For God has many ways of saying to the troubled soul: "Be at peace"; and, certainly, Antonia had not anticipated the calmness and resignation which forbid her the tears she had bespoken.
At length, in that sweet melancholy which such a mental condition induces, she rose to return to the camp. A few yards nearer to it she saw Lopez sitting in a reverie as profound as her own had been. He stood up to meet her. The patience, the pathos, the exaltation in her face touched his heart as no words could have done. He said, only: "Senorita, if I knew how to comfort you!"
"I went away to think of the dead, Senor."
"I comprehend--but then, I wonder if the dead remember the living!"
"In whatever dwelling-place of eternity the dear ones who died at Goliad are, I am sure that they remember. Will the emancipated soul be less faithful than the souls still earthbound? Good souls could not even wish to forget--and they were good."
"It will never be permitted me to know two souls more pure, more faithful, more brave, Juan was as a brother to me, and, by my Santiguada! I count it among God's blessings to have known a man like Senor Grant. A white soul he had indeed; full of great nobilities!"
 Sign of the Cross.
Antonia looked at him gratefully. Tears uncalled-for sprang into the eyes of both; they clasped hands and walked mutely back to the camp together. For the sentiment which attends the realization that all is over, is gathered silently into the heart; it is too deep for words.
They found the camp already in that flurry of excitement always attendant upon its rest and rising, and the Senora was impatiently inquiring for her eldest daughter.
"Gracious Maria! Is that you, Antonia? At this hour we are all your servants, I think. I, at least, have been waiting upon your pleasure"; then perceiving the traces of sorrow and emotion on her face, she added, with an unreasonable querulousness: "I bless God when I see how He has provided for women; giving them tears, when they have no other employment for their time."
"Dearest mother, I am sorry to have kept you waiting. I hope that you have forgotten nothing. Where is your mantilla? And have you replenished your cigarito case? Is there water in the wagon?"
"Nothing has been provided. Things most necessary are forgotten, no doubt. When you neglect such matters, what less could happen?"
But such little breezes of temper were soon over. The influences surrounding, the prospects in advance, were too exhilarating to permit of anything but passing shadows, and after an easy, delightful journey, they reached at length the charming vicinity of the romantic city of the sword. They had but another five miles ride, and it was the Senora's pleasure to take it at the hour of midnight. She did not wish her return to be observed and talked about; she was in reality very much mortified by the condition of her own and her daughters' wardrobe.
Consequently, though they made their noon camp so near to their journey's end, they rested there until San Antonio was asleep and dreaming. It was the happiest rest of all the delightful ones they had known. The knowledge that it was the last stage of a journey so remarkable, made every one attach a certain tender value to the hours never to come back to the experiences never to be repeated.
The Senora was gay as a child; Isabel shared and accentuated her enthusiasms; Luis was expressing his happiness in a variety of songs; now glorifying his love in some pretty romance or serenade, again musically assuring liberty, or Texas, that he would be delighted at any moment to lay down his life for their sakes. Antonia was quite as much excited in her own way, which was naturally a much quieter way; and Lopez sat under a great pecan-tree, smoking his cigarito with placid smiles and admiring glances at every one.
As the sun set, the full moon rose as it rises nowhere but over Texan or Asian plains; golden, glorious, seeming to fill the whole heaven and the whole earth with an unspeakable radiance; softly glowing, exquisitely, magically beautifying. The commonest thing under it was transfigured into something lovely, fantastic, fairylike. And the dullest souls swelled and rose like the tides under its influence.
Antonia took from their stores the best they had, and a luxurious supper was spread upon the grass. The meal might have been one of ten courses, it occupied so long; it provoked so much mirth, such a rippling stream of reminiscence; finally, such a sweetly solemn retrospect of the sorrows and mercies and triumphs of the campaign they had shared together. This latter feeling soon dominated all others.
The delicious light, the sensuous atmosphere, the white turrets and towers of the city, shining on the horizon like some mystical, heavenly city in dreams--the murmur of its far- off life, more audible to the spiritual than the natural ears--the dark figures of the camp servants, lying in groups or quietly shuffling their cards, were all elements conducive to a grave yet happy seriousness.
No one intended to sleep. They were to rest in the moonlight until the hour of eleven, and then make their last stage. This night they instinctively kept close together. The Senora had mentally reached that point where it was not unpleasant to talk over troubles, and to amplify especially her own share of them.
"But, Holy Maria!" she said; "how unnecessary are such sorrows! I am never, in the least, any better for them. When the Divine Majesty condescends to give me the sunshine of prosperity, I am always exceedingly religious. On the contrary when I am in sorrow, I do not feel inclined to pray. That is precisely natural. Can the blessed Mother expect thanks, when she gives her children only suffering and tears?"
"God gives us whatever is best for us, dear mother."
"Speak, when you have learned wisdom, Antonia. I shall always believe that trouble comes from the devil; indeed, Fray Ignatius once told me of a holy man that had one grief upon the heels of the other, and it was the devil who was sent with all of them. I have myself no doubt that he opened the gates of hell for Santa Anna to return to earth and do a little work for him."
"This thought makes me tremble," said Lopez; "souls that have become angelic, can become evil. The degraded seraphim, whom we call the devil, was once the companion of archangels, and stood with Michael, and Raphael, and Gabriel, in the presence of the Holy One. Is there sin in heaven? Can we be tempted even there?"
The inquiry went in different ways to each heart, but no one answered it. There were even a few moments of constrained, conscious silence, which Luis happily ended, by chanting softly a verse from the hymn of the Three Angels:
"'Who like the Lord?' thunders Michael the Chief. Raphael, `The cure of God,' bringeth relief, And, as at Nazareth, prophet of peace, Gabriel, `The light of God,' bringeth release."
The noble syllables floated outward and upward, and Antonia and Lopez softly intoned the last line together, letting them fall slowly and softly into the sensitive atmosphere.
"And as for trouble coming from the devil," said Lopez, "I think, Senora, that Fray Ignatius is wrong. Trouble is not the worst thing that can come to a man or woman. On the contrary, our Lady of Prosperity is said to do, them far greater harm. Let me repeat to you what the ever wise Don Francisco de Quevedo Villegas says about her:
"'Where is the virtue prosperity has not staggered? Where the folly she has not augmented? She takes no counsel, she fears no punishment. She furnishes matter for scandal, experience, and for story. How many souls, innocent while poor, have fallen into sin and impiety as soon as they drank of the enchanted cup of prosperity? Men that can bear prosperity, are for heaven; even wise devils leave them alone. As for the one who persecuted and beggared job, how foolish and impertinent he was! If he had understood humanity, he would have multiplied his riches, and possessed him of health, and honors, and pleasures: that is the trial it cannot bear.'"
"Oh, to be sure! Quevedo was a wise man. But even wise men don't know everything. However, we are going home! I thank the saints for this immeasurable favor. It is a prosperity that is good for women. I will stake my Santiguida on that! And will you observe that it is Sunday again? Just before sunset I heard the vesper bells clearly. Remember that we left San Antonio on Sunday also! I have always heard that Sunday was a good day to begin a journey on."
"If it had been on a Friday--"
"Friday! Indeed, Luis, I would not have gone one hundred yards upon a Friday. How can you suppose what is so inconceivably foolish?"
"I think much of the right hour to undertake anything," said Lopez. "The first movements are not in the hands of men; and we are subject to more influences than we comprehend. There is a ripe time for events, as well as for fruits: but the hour depends upon forces which we cannot control by giving to them the name of the day; and our sage Quevedo has made a pleasant mockery thereon. It is at my lips, if your ears care to hear it."
"Quevedo, again! No, it is not proper, Senor. Every day has its duties and its favors, Senor. That man actually said that fasting on Friday was not a special means of grace! Quevedo was almost a heretic. I have heard Fray Ignatius say so. He did not approve of him."
"Mi madre, let us hear what is to be said. Rachela told me, I must fast on a Friday, and cut my nails on a Wednesday, and never cut them on a Sunday, and take medicine on a Monday, and look after money on Tuesday, and pay calls and give gifts on Saturday; very well, I do not think much of Rachela; just suppose, for the passing of the time, that we listen to what Quevedo says."
"Here are four against me; well, then, proceed, Senor."
"`On Monday,' says the wise and witty one, buy all that you can meet with, and take all that is to be had for nothing. On Tuesday, receive all that is given you; for it is Mar's day, and he will look on you with an ill aspect if you refuse the first proffer and have not a second. On Wednesday, ask of all you meet; perhaps Mercury may give some one vanity enough to grant you something. Thursday is a good day to believe nothing that flatterers say. Friday it is well to shun creditors. On Saturday it is well to lie long abed, to walk at your ease, to eat a good dinner, and to wear comfortable shoes; because Saturn is old, and loves his ease.'"
"And Sunday, Senor?"
"Pardon, Senorita Isabel, Sunday comes not into a pasquinade. Senora, let me tell you that it draws near to eleven. If we leave now we shall reach San Antonio in time to say the prayer of gratitude before the blessed day of the seven is past."
"Holy Mary! that is what I should desire. Come, my children; I thank you, Senor, for such a blessed memory. My heart is indeed full of joy and thankfulness."
A slight disappointment, however, awaited the Senora. Without asking any questions, without taking anything into consideration, perhaps, indeed, because she feared to ask or consider, she had assumed that she would immediately re-enter her own home. With the unreason of a child, she had insisted upon expecting that somehow, or by some not explained efforts, she would find her house precisely as she left it. Little had been said of its occupancy by Fray Ignatius and his brothers; perhaps she did not quite believe in the statement; perhaps she expected Fray Ignatius to respect the arrangements which he knew had been so dear to her.
It was therefore a trial--indeed, something of a shock--when she found they were to be the guests of Navarro, and when it was made clear to her that her own home had been dismantled and rearranged and was still in the possession of the Church. But, with a child's unreason, she had also a sweet ductility of nature; she was easily persuaded, easily pleased, and quite ready to console herself with the assurance that it only needed Doctor Worth's presence and personal influence to drive away all intruders upon her rights.
In the mean time she was contented. The finest goods in San Antonio were sent early on the following morning to her room; and the selection of three entire wardrobes gave her abundance of delightful employment. She almost wept with joy as she passed the fine lawns and rich silks through her worn fingers. And when she could cast off forever her garment of heaviness and of weariful wanderings, and array herself in the splendid robes which she wore with such grace and pleasure, she was an honestly grateful woman.
Then she permitted Lopez to let her old acquaintances know of her presence in her native city; and she was comforted when she began to receive calls from the Senora Alveda, and judge and Senora Valdez, and many other of her friends and associates. They encouraged her to talk of her sufferings and her great loss. Even the judge thought it worth his while, now, to conciliate the simple little woman. He had wisdom enough to perceive that Mexican domination was over, and that the American influence of Doctor Worth was likely to be of service to him.
The Senora found herself a heroine; more than that, she became aware that for some reason those who had once patronized her were now disposed to pay her a kind of court. But this did not lessen her satisfaction; she suspected no motive but real kindness, for she had that innate rectitude which has always confidence in the honesty of others.
There was now full reconciliation between Luis and his mother and uncles; and his betrothal to Isabel was acknowledged with all the customary rejoicings and complimentary calls and receptions. Life quickly began to fall back into its well- defined grooves; if there was anything unusual, every one made an effort to pass it by without notice. The city was conspicuously in this mind. American rule was accepted in the quiescent temper with which men and women accept weather which may or may not be agreeable, but which is known to be unavoidable. Americans were coming by hundreds and by thousands: and those Mexicans who could not make up their minds to become Texans, and to assimilate with the new elements sure to predominate, were quietly breaking up their homes and transferring their interests across the Rio Grande.
They were not missed, even for a day. Some American was ready to step into their place, and the pushing, progressive spirit of the race was soon evident in the hearty way with which they set to work, not only to repair what war had destroyed, but to inaugurate those movements which are always among their first necessities. Ministers, physicians, teachers, mechanics of all kinds, were soon at work; churches were built, Bibles were publicly sold, or given away; schools were advertised; the city was changing its tone as easily as a woman changes the fashion of her dress. Santa Anna had said truly enough to Houston, that the Texans had no flag to fight under; but the young Republic very soon flung her ensign out among those of the gray nations of the world. It floated above the twice glorious Alamo: a bright blue standard, with one white star in the centre. It was run up at sunrise one morning. The city was watching for it; and when it suddenly flew out in their sight, it was greeted with the most triumphant enthusiasm. The lonely star in its field of blue touched every heart's chivalry. It said to them, I stand alone! I have no sister states to encourage and help me! I rely only on the brave hearts and strong arms that I set me here!" And they answered the silent appeal with a cheer that promised everything; with a love that even then began to wonder if there were not a place for such a glorious star in the grand constellation under which most of them had been born.
A short time after their return, the Senora had a letter from her husband, saying that he was going to New Orleans with General Houston, whose wound was in a dangerous condition. Thomas Worth had been appointed to an important post in the civil government; and his labors, like those of all the public men of Texas at that date, were continuous and Herculean. It was impossible for him to leave them; but the doctor assured his wife that he would return as soon as he had placed Houston in the hands of skilful surgeons; and he asked her, until then, to be as happy as her circumstances permitted.
She was quite willing to obey the request. Not naturally inclined to worry, she found many sources of content and pleasure, until the early days of June brought back to her the husband she so truly loved, and with him the promise of a return to her own home. Indeed the difficulties in the way of this return had vanished ere they were to meet. Fray Ignatius had convinced himself that his short lease had fully expired; and when Dr. Worth went armed with the legal process necessary to resume his rights, he found his enemy had already surrendered them. The house was empty. Nothing of its old splendor remained. Every one of its properties had been scattered. The poor Senora walked through the desolate rooms with a heartache.
"It was precisely in this spot that the sideboard stood, Roberto!--the sideboard that my cousin Johar presented to me. It came from the City of Mexico, and there was not another like it. I shall regret it all my life."
"Maria, my dearest, it might have been worse. The silver which adorned it is safe. Those r--monks did not find out its hiding-place, and I bought you a far more beautiful sideboard in New Orleans; the very newest style, Maria."
"Roberto! Roberto! How happy you make me! To be sure my cousin Johar's sideboard was already shabby--and to have a sideboard from New Orleans, that, indeed, is something to talk about!"
"Besides, which, dearest one, I bought new furniture for the parlors, and for your own apartments; also for Antonia's and Isabel's rooms. Indeed, Maria, I thought it best to provide afresh for the whole house."
"How wonderful! No wife in San Antonio has a husband so good. I will never condescend to speak of you when other women talk of their husbands. New furniture for my whole house! The thing is inconceivably charming. But when, Roberto, will these things arrive? Is there danger on the road they are coming? Might not some one take them away? I shall not be able to sleep until I am sure they are safe."
"I chartered a schooner in New Orleans, and came with them to the Bay of Espiritu Santo. There I saw them placed upon wagons, and only left them after the customs had been paid in the interior--sixty miles away. You may hire servants at once to prepare the rooms: the furniture will be here in about three days."
"I am the happiest woman in the world, Roberto! "And she really felt herself to be so. Thoughtful love could have devised nothing more likely to bridge pleasantly and surely over the transition between the past and the coming life. Every fresh piece of furniture unpacked was a new wonder and a new delight. With her satin skirts tucked daintily clear of soil, and her mantilla wrapped around her head and shoulders, she went from room to room, interesting herself in every strip of carpet, and every yard of drapery. Her delight was infectious. The doctor smiled to find himself comparing shades, and gravely considering the arrangement of chairs and tables.
But how was it possible for so loving a husband and father to avoid sharing the pleasure he had provided? And Isabel was even more excited than her mother. All this grandeur had a double meaning to her; it would reflect honor upon the betrothal receptions which would be given for Luis and herself--"amber satin and white lace is exactly what I should have desired, Antonia," she said delightedly. "How exceedingly suitable it will be to me! And those delicious chintzes and dimities for our bedrooms! Did you ever conceive of things so beautiful?"
Antonia was quite ready to echo her delight. Housekeeping and homemaking, in all its ways, was her lovable talent. It was really Antonia who saw all the plans and the desires of the Senora thoroughly carried out. It was her clever fingers and natural taste which gave to every room that air of comfort and refinement which all felt and admired, but which seemed to elude their power to imitate.
On the fourth of July the doctor and his family ate together their first dinner in their renovated home. The day was one that he never forgot, and he was glad to link it with a domestic occurence so happy and so fortunate.
Sometimes silently, sometimes with a few words to his boys, he had always, on this festival, drank his glass of fine Xeres to the honor and glory of the land he loved. This day he spoke her name proudly. He recalled the wonders of her past progress; he anticipated the blessings which she would bring to Texas; he said, as he lifted the glass in his hand, and let the happy tears flow down his browned and thinned face:
"My wife and daughters, I believe I shall live to see the lone star set in the glorious assemblage of her sister stars! I shall live to say, I dwell in San Antonio, which is the loveliest city in the loveliest State of the American Union. For, dear ones, I was born an American citizen, and I ask this favor of God, that I may also die an American citizen."
"Mi Roberto, when you die I shall not long survive you. And now that the house is made so beautiful! With so much new furniture! How can you speak of dying?"
"And, my dear father, remember how you have toiled and suffered for the independence of Texas."
"Because, Antonia, I would have Texas go free into a union of free States. This was the hope of Houston. `We can have help,' he often said to his little army; "a word will call help from Nacogdoches,--but we will emancipate ourselves. If we go into the American States, we will go as equals; we will go as men who have won the right to say: Let us dwell under the same flag, for we are brothers!"