Chapter VI. Robert Worth is Disarmed.
 
"Strange sons of Mexico, and strange her fate;
 They fight for freedom who were never free;
 A kingless people for a nerveless state."

*   *   *   *   *   *

"Not all the threats or favors of a crown,
 A Prince's whisper, or a tyrant's frown,
 Can awe the spirit or allure the mind
 Of him, who to strict Honor is inclined.
 Though all the pomp and pleasure that does wait
 On public places, and affairs of state;
 Though all the storms and tempests should arise,
 That Church magicians in their cells devise,
 And from their settled basis nations tear:
 He would, unmoved, the mighty ruin bear.
 Secure in innocence, contemn them all,
 And, decently arrayed, in honor fall."

*   *   *   *   *   *

"Say, what is honor? 'Tis the finest sense Of justice which the human mind can frame."

The keenest sufferings entailed by war are not on the battle- field, nor in the hospital. They are in the household. There are the maimed affections, the slain hopes, the broken ties of love. And before a shot had been fired in the war of Texan independence, the battle had begun in Robert Worth's household.

The young men lay down to rest, but he sat watching the night away. There was a melancholy sleepiness in it; the mockingbirds had ceased singing; the chirping insects had become weary. Only the clock, with its regular "tick, tick," kept the watch with him.

When it was near dawn, he lifted a candle and went into the room where Jack and Dare were sleeping. Dare did not move; Jack opened his eyes wide, and smiled brightly at the intruder.

"Well, father?"

"It is time to get up, Jack. Tell Dare."

In a few minutes both came to him. A bottle of wine, some preserved bears' paws, and biscuits were on the table. They ate standing, speaking very little and almost in whispers; and then the doctor went with them to the stable. He helped Jack to saddle his horse. He found a sad pleasure in coming so close to him. Once their cheeks touched, and the touch brought the tears to his eyes and sent he blood to his heart.

With his hand on the saddle, Jack paused and said, softly, "Father, dear, tell mi madre my last look at the house, my last thought in leaving it, was for her. She would not kiss me or bless me last night. Ask her to kiss you for me," and then the lad broke fairly down. The moment had come in which love could find no utterance, and must act. He flung his arm around his father's neck and kissed him. And the father wept also, and yet spoke brave words to both as he walked with them to the gate and watched them ride into the thick mist lying upon the prairie like a cloud. They were only darker spots in it. It swallowed them up. They were lost to sight.

He thought no one had seen the boys leave but himself. But through the lattices two sorrowful women also watched their departure. The Senora, as wakeful as her husband, had heard the slight movements, the unusual noises of that early hour, and had divined the cause of them. She looked at Rachela. The woman had fallen into the dead sleep of exhaustion, and she would not have to parry her objections and warnings. Unshod, and in her night-dress, she slipped through the corridor to the back of the house, and tightly clasping her rosary in her hands, she stood behind the lattice and watched her boy away.

He turned in his saddle just before he passed the gate, and she saw his young face lifted with an unconscious, anxious love, to the very lattice at which she stood: In the dim light it had a strange pallor. The misty air blurred and made all indistinct. It was like seeing her Jack in some woful dream. If he had been dead, such a vision of him might have come to her from the shadow land.

Usually her grief was noisy and imperative of sympathy. But this morning she could not cry nor lament. She went softly back to her room and sat down, with her crucifix before her aching eyes. Yet she could not say her usual prayers. She could not remember anything but Jack's entreaty--"Kiss me, mi madre! Bless me, mi madre!" She could not see anything but that last rapid turn in the saddle, and that piteous young face, showing so weird and dreamlike through the gray mist of the early dawn.

Antonia had watched with her. Dare, also, had turned, but there had been something about Dare's attitude far more cheery and hopeful. On the previous night Antonia had put some sprays of rosemary in his hat band "to bring good, and keep away evil on a journey"; and as he turned and lifted his hat he put his lips to them. He had the belief that from some point his Antonia was watching him. He conveyed to her, by the strength of his love and his will, the assurance of all their hopes.

That day Doctor Worth did not go out. The little bravado of carrying arms was impossible to him. It was not that his courage had failed, or that he had lost a tittle of his convictions, but he was depressed by the uncertainty of his position and duty, and he was, besides, the thrall of that intangible anxiety which we call presentiment.

Yet, however dreary life is, it must go on. The brave-hearted cannot drop daily duty. On the second day the doctor went to his office again, and Antonia arranged the meals and received company, and did her best to bring the household into peaceful accord with the new elements encroaching on it from all sides.

But the Senora was more "difficult" than even Rachela had ever seen her before. She did not go to church, but Fray Ignatius spent a great deal of time with her; and his influence was not any more conciliating than that of early masses and much fasting.

He said to her, indeed: "My daughter, you have behaved with the fortitude of a saint. It would have been more than a venial sin, if you had kissed and blessed a rebel in the very act of his rebellion. The Holy Mary will reward and comfort you."

But the Senora was not sensible of the reward and comfort; and she did feel most acutely the cruel wound she had given her mother love. Neither prayers nor penance availed her. She wanted to see Jack. She wanted to kiss him a hundred times, and bless him with every kiss. And it did not help her to be told that these longings were the suggestions of the Evil One, and not to be listened to.

The black-robed monk, gliding about his house with downcast eyes and folded hands, had never seemed to Robert Worth so objectionable. He knew that he kept the breach open between himself and his wife--that he thought it a point of religious duty to do so. He knew that he was gradually isolating the wretched woman from her husband and children, and that the continual repetition of prayers and penances did not give her any adequate comfort for the wrong she was doing her affections.

The city was also in a condition of the greatest excitement. The soldiers in the Alamo were under arms. Their officers had evidently received important advices from Mexico. General Cos, the brother-in-law of Santa Anna, was now in command, and it was said immense reinforcements were hourly looked for. The drifting American population had entirely vanished, but its palpable absence inspired the most thoughtful of the people with fear instead of security.

Nor were the military by any means sure of the loyalty of the city. It was well known that a large proportion of the best citizens hated the despotism of Santa Anna; and that if the Americans attacked San Antonio, they would receive active sympathy. Party feeling was no longer controllable. Men suspected each other. Duels were of constant occurrence, and families were torn to pieces; for the monks supported Santa Anna with all their influence, and there were few women who dared to disobey them.

Into the midst of this turbulent, touchy community, there fell one morning a word or two which set it on fire. Doctor Worth was talking on the Plaza with Senor Lopez Navarro. A Mexican soldier, with his yellow cloak streaming out behind him, galloped madly towards the Alamo and left the news there. It spread like wildfire. "There had been a fight at Gonzales, and the Americans had kept their arms. They had also put the Mexicans to flight."

"And more," added a young Mexican coming up to the group of which Robert Worth was one, "Stephen Austin has escaped, and he arrived at Gonzales at the very moment of victory. And more yet: Americans are pouring into Gonzales from every quarter."

An officer tapped Doctor Worth on the shoulder. "Senor Doctor, your arms. General Cos hopes, in the present extremity, you will set an example of obedience."

"I will not give up my arms. In the present extremity my arms are the greatest need I have."

"Then Senor,--it is a great affliction to me--I must arrest you."

He was led away, amid the audible murmurs of the men who filled the streets. There needed but some one to have said the word, and they would have taken him forcibly from the military. A great crowd followed him to the gates of the Alamo. For there was scarcely a family in San Antonio of which this good doctor was not an adopted member. The arrest of their favorite confessor would hardly have enraged them more.

Fray Ignatius brought the news to the Senora. Even he was affected by it. Never before had Antonia seen him walk except with thoughtful and deliberate steps. She wondered at his appearance; at its suppressed hurry; at a something in it which struck her as suppressed satisfaction.

And the priest was in his heart satisfied; though he was consciously telling himself that "he was sorry for the Senora, and that he would have been glad if the sins of her husband could have been set against the works of supererogation which the saints of his own convent had amassed."

"But he is an infidel; he believes not in the saints," he muttered; "then how could they avail him!"

Antonia met him at the door. He said an Ave Maria as he crossed the threshold, and gave her his hand to kiss. She looked wonderingly in his face, for unless it was a special visit, he never called so near the Angelus. Still, it is difficult to throw off a habit of obedience formed in early youth; and she did not feel as if she could break through the chill atmosphere of the man and ask: "For what reason have you come, father?"

A long, shrill shriek from the Senora was the first answer to the fearful question in her heart. In a few moments she was at her mother's door. Rachela knelt outside it, telling her rosary. She stolidly kept her place, and a certain instinct for a moment prevented Antonia interrupting her. But the passionate words of her mother, blending with the low, measured tones of the priest, were something far more positive.

"Let me pass you, Rachela. What is the matter with my mother?"

The woman was absorbed in her supplications, and Antonia opened the door. Isabel followed her. They found themselves in the the{sic} presence of an angry sorrow that appalled them. The Senora had torn her lace mantilla into shreds, and they were scattered over the room as she had flung them from her hands in her frantic walk about it. The large shell comb that confined her hair was trodden to pieces, and its long coils had fallen about her face and shoulders. Her bracelets, her chain of gold, her brooch and rings were scattered on the floor, and she was standing in the centre of it, like an enraged creature; tearing her handkerchief into strips, as an emphasis to her passionate denunciations.

"It serves him right! Jesus! Maria! Joseph! It serves him right! He must carry arms! He, too! when it was forbidden! I am glad he is arrested! Oh, Roberto! Roberto!"

"Patience, my daughter! This is the hand of God. What can you do but submit?"

"What is it, mi madre?" and Isabel put her arms around her mother with the words mi madre. "Tell Isabel your sorrow."

"Your father is arrested--taken to the Alamo--he will be sent to the mines. I told him so! I told him so! He would not listen to me! How wicked he has been!"

"What has my father done, Fray Ignatius? Why have they arrested him?"

The priest turned to Antonia with a cold face. He did not like her. He felt that she did not believe in him.

"Senorita, he has committed a treason. A good citizen obeys the law; Senor Worth has defied it."

"Pardon, father, I cannot believe it."

"A great forbearance has been shown him, but the end of mercy comes. As he persisted in wearing arms, he has been taken to the Alamo and disarmed."

"It is a great shame! An infamous shame and wrong!" cried Antonia. "What right has any one to take my father's arms? No more than they have to take his purse or his coat."

"General Santa Anna--"

"General Santa Anna is a tyrant and a thief. I care not who says different."

"Antonia! Shameless one!"

"Mother, do not strike me." Then she took her mother's hands in her own, and led her to a couch, caressing her as she spoke--

"Don't believe any one--any one, mother, who says wrong of my father. You know that he is the best of men. Rachela! Come here instantly. The rosary is not the thing, now. You ought to be attending to the Senora. Get her some valerian and some coffee, and come and remove her clothing. Fray Ignatius, we will beg you to leave us to-night to ourselves."

"Your mother's sin, in marrying a heretic, has now found her out. It is my duty to make her see her fault."

"My mother had a dispensation from one greater than you."

"Oh, father, pray for me! I accuse myself! I accuse myself! Oh, wretched woman! Oh, cruel husband!"

"Mother, you have been a very happy woman. You have had the best husband in the world. Do not reproach my father for the sins of others. Do not desert him when he is in the power of a human tiger. My God, mother! let us think of something to be done for his help! I will see the Navarros, the Garcias, Judge Valdez; I will go to the Plaza and call on the thousands he has cured and helped to set him free."

"You will make of yourself something not to be spoken of. This is the judgment of God, my daughter."

"It is the judgment of a wicked man, Fray Ignatius. My mother is not now able to listen to you. Isabel, come here and comfort her." Isabel put her cheek to her mother's; she murmured caressing words; she kissed her face, and coiled up her straggling hair, and with childlike trust amid all, solicited Holy Mary to console them.

Fray Ignatius watched her with a cold scrutiny. He was saying to himself, "It is the fruit of sin. I warned the Senora, when she married this heretic, that trouble would come of it. Very well, it has come." Then like a flash a new thought invaded his mind--If the Senor Doctor disappeared forever, why not induce the Senora and her daughters to go into a religious house? There was a great deal of money. The church could use it well.

Antonia did not understand the thought, but she understood its animus, and again she requested his withdrawal. This time she went close to him, and bravely looked straight into his eyes. Their scornful gleam sent a chill to her heart like that of cold steel. At that moment she understood that she had turned a passive enemy into an active one.

He went, however, without further parley, stopping only to warn the Senora against the sin "of standing with the enemies of God and the Holy Church," and to order Isabel to recite for her mother's pardon and comfort a certain number of aves and paternosters. Antonia went with him to the door, and ere he left he blessed her, and said: "The Senorita will examine her soul and see her sin. Then the ever merciful Church will hear her confession, and give her the satisfying penance."

Antonia bowed in response. When people are in great domestic sorrow, self-examination is a superfluous advice. She listened a moment to his departing footsteps, shivering as she stood in the darkness, for a norther had sprung up, and the cold was severe. She only glanced into the pleasant parlor where the table was laid for dinner, and a great fire of cedar logs was throwing red, dancing lights over the white linen and the shining silver and glass. The chairs were placed around the table; her father's at the head. It had a forsaken air that was unendurable.

The dinner hour was now long past. It would be folly to attempt the meal. How could she and Isabel sit down alone and eat, and her father in prison, and her mother frantic with a loss which she was warned it was sinful to mourn over. Antonia had a soul made for extremities and not afraid to face them, but invisible hands controlled her. What could a woman do, whom society had forbidden to do anything, but endure the pangs of patience?

The Senora could offer no suggestions. She was not indeed in a mood to think of her resources. A spiritual dread was upon her. And with this mingled an intense sense of personal wrong from her husband. "Had she not begged him to be passive? And he had put an old rifle before her and her daughters! It was all that Senor Houston's doing. She had an assurance of that." She invoked a thousand maledictions on him. She recalled, with passionate reproaches, Jack's infidelity to her and his God and his country. Her anger passed from one subject to another constantly, finding in all, even in the lukewarmness of Antonia and Isabel, and in their affection for lovers, who were also rebels, an accumulating reason for a stupendous reproach against herself, her husband, her children, and her unhappy fate. Her whole nature was in revolt--in that complete mental and moral anarchy from which springs tragedy and murder.

Isabel wept so violently that she angered still further the tearless suffering of her mother. "God and the saints!" she cried. "What are you weeping for? Will tears do any good? Do I weep? God has forbidden me to weep for the wicked. Yet how I suffer! Mary, mother of sorrows, pity me!"

She sent Isabel away. Her sobs were not to be borne. And very soon she felt Antonia's white face and silent companionship to be just as unendurable. She would be alone. Not even Rachela would she have near her. She put out all the lights but the taper above a large crucifix, and at its foot she sat down in tearless abandon, alone with her reproaches and her remorse.

Antonia watched with her mother, though shut out from her presence. She feared for a state of mind so barren of affection, so unsoftened by tears. Besides, it was the climax of a condition which had continued ever since she had sent her boy away without a word of love. In the dim corridor outside she sat still, listening for any noise or movement which might demand help or sympathy. It was not nine o'clock; but the time lengthened itself out beyond endurance. Even yet she had hope of some word from her father. Surely, they would let him send some word to them!

She heard the murmur of voices downstairs, and she thought angrily of Rachela, and Molly, and Manuel, "making a little confidence together" over their trouble, and spicing their evening gossip with the strange thing that had happened to the Senor Doctor. She knew that Rachela and Manuel would call him heretic and Americano, and, by authority of these two words, accuse him of every crime.

Thinking with a swelling heart of these things, she heard the door open, and a step slowly and heavily ascend the stairs. Ere she had time to wonder at it, her father came in sight. There was a shocking change in his air and appearance, but as he was evidently going to her mother's room, she shrank back and sat motionless so as not to attract his attention.

Then she went to the parlor, and had the fire renewed and food put upon the table. She was sure that he would need it, and she believed he would be glad to talk over with her the events of the afternoon.

The Senora was still sitting at the foot of the crucifix when her husband opened the door. She had not been able to pray; ave and paternoster alike had failed her. Her rebellious grief filled every corner of her heart. She understood that some one had entered the room, and she thought of Rachela; but she found a kind of comfort in the dull stupor of grief she was indulging, and she would not break its spell by lifting her head.

"Maria."

She rose up quickly and stood gazing at him.

She did not shriek or exclaim; her surprise controlled her. And also her terror; for his face was white as death, and had an expression of angry despair that terrified her.

"Roberto! Roberto! Mi Roberto! How you have tortured me! I have nearly died! Fray Ignatius said you had been sent to prison."

She spoke as calmly as a frightened child; sad and hesitating. If he had taken her in his arms she would have sobbed her grief away there.

But Robert Worth was at that hour possessed by two master passions, tyrannical and insatiable--they would take notice of nothing that did not minister to them.

"Maria, they have taken my arms from me. Cowards! Cowards! Miserable cowards! I refused to give them up! They held my hands and robbed me--robbed me of my manhood and honor! I begged them to shoot me ere they did it, and they spoke courteously and regretted this, and hoped that, till I felt that it would be a joy to strangle them."

"Roberto! Mi Roberto! You have me!"

"I want my rifle and all it represents. I want myself back again. Maria, Maria, until then, I am not worthy to be any good woman's husband!"

"Roberto, dearest! It is not your fault."

"It is my fault. I have waited too long. My sons showed me my duty--my soul urged me to do it. I deserve the shame, but I will wipe it out with crimson blood."

The Senora stood speechless, wringing her hands. Her own passion was puny beside the sternness, the reality, and the intensity of the quiet rage before her. She was completely mastered by it. She forgot all but the evident agony she could neither mistake nor console.

"I have come to say `farewell,' Maria. We have been very happy together--Maria--our children--dearest--"

"Oh, Roberto! My husband! My soul! My life! Leave me not."

"I am going for my arms. I will take them a hundredfold from those who have robbed me. I swear I will!"

"You do not love me. What are these Americans to you? I am your wife. Your Maria--"

"These Americans are my brothers--my sons. My mother is an American woman."

"And I?"

"You are my wife--my dear wife! I love you--God Almighty knows how well I love you; but we must part now, at least for a short time. Maria, my dear one, I must go."

"Go? Where to?"

"I am going to join General Houston."

"I thought so. I knew it. The accursed one! Oh that I had him here again! I would bury my stiletto in his heart! Over the white hilt I would bury it! I would wash my hands in his blood, and think them blessed ever afterwards! Stay till daylight, Roberto. I have so much to say, dearest."

"I cannot. I have stayed too long. And now I must ride without a gun or knife to protect me. Any Indian that I meet can scalp me. Do you understand now what disarming means, Maria? If I had gone with my boy, with my brave Jack, I could at least have sold my life to its last drop."

"In the morning, Roberto, Lopez Navarro will get you a gun. Oh, if you must go, do not go unarmed! There are ten thousand Comanche between here and the Brazos."

"How could I look Lopez Navarro in the face? Or any other man? No, no! I must win back my arms, before I can walk the streets of San Antonio again."

He took her in his arms, he kissed her eyes, her cheeks, her lips, murmuring tender little Spanish words that meant, oh, so much, to the wretched woman!--words she had taught him with kisses--words he never used but to her ears only.

She clung to his neck, to his hands, to his feet; she made his farewell an unspeakable agony. At last he laid her upon her couch, sobbing and shrieking like a child in an extremity of physical anguish. But he did not blame her. Her impetuosities, her unreasonable extravagances, were a part of her nature, her race, and her character. He did not expect a weak, excitable woman to become suddenly a creature of flame and steel.

But it was a wonderful rest to his exhausted body and soul to turn from her to Antonia. She led him quietly to his chair by the parlor fire. She gave him food and wine. She listened patiently, but with a living sympathy, to his wrong. She endorsed, with a clasp of his hand and a smile, his purpose. And she said, almost cheerfully:

"You have not given up all your arms, father. When I first heard of the edict, I hid in my own room the rifle, the powder and the shot, which were in your study. Paola has knives in the stable; plenty of them. Get one from him."

Good news is a very relative thing. This information made the doctor feel as if all were now easy and possible. The words he said to her, Antonia never forgot. They sang in her heart like music, and led her on through many a difficult path. The conversation then turned upon money matters, and Antonia received the key of his study, and full directions as to the gold and papers secreted there.

Then Isabel was awakened, and the rifle brought down; and Paola saddled the fleetest horse in the stable, and after one solemn five minutes with his daughter, Robert Worth rode away into the midnight darkness, and into a chaos of public events of which no man living could forecast the outcome.

Rode away from wife and children and home; leaving behind him the love and labor of his lifetime--

        "The thousand sweet, still joys of such
         As hand in hand face earthly life."

For what? For justice, for freedom of thought and action, for the rights of his manhood, for the brotherhood of race and religion and country. Antonia and Isabel stood hand in hand at the same lattice from which the Senora had watched her son away, and in a dim, uncertain manner these thoughts connected themselves in each mind with the same mournful inquiry--Is it worth while?

As the beat of the horse's hoofs died away, they turned. The night was cold but clear, and the sky appeared so high that their eyes throbbed as they gazed upward at the grand arch, sprinkled with suns and worlds. Suddenly into the tranquil spaces there was flung a sound of joy and revelry; and the girls stepped to a lattice at the end of the corridor and looked out.

The residencia of Don Salvo Valasco was clearly visible from this site. They saw that it was illuminated throughout. Lovely women, shining with jewels, and soldiers in scarlet and gold, were chatting through the graceful movements of the danza, or executing the more brilliant Jota Aragonesa. The misty beauty of white lace mantillas, the glitter and color of fans and festival dresses, made a moving picture of great beauty.

And as they watched it there was a cessation of the dance, followed by the rapid sweep of a powerful hand over the strings of a guitar. Then a group of officers stepped together, and a great wave of melodious song, solemn and triumphant, thrilled the night. It was the national hymn. Antonia and Isabel knew it. Every word beat upon their hearts. The power of association, the charm of a stately, fervent melody was upon them.

"It is Senor Higadillos who leads," whispered Isabel, as a resonant voice, powerful and sweet, cried--

"O list to the summons!  The blood of our sires,
 Boils high in our veins, and to vengeance inspires!
 Who bows to the yoke? who bends to the blow?"

and, without a moment's hesitation, the answer came in a chorus of enthusiastic cadences--

"No hero will bend, no Mexican bow;
 Our country in tears sends her sons to the fight,
 To conquer, or die, for our land and our right."

"You see, the Mexicans think they are in the right--they are patriots also, Antonia."

The sorrowful girl spoke like a puzzled child, fretfully and uncertainly, and Antonia led her silently away. What could she answer? And when she remembered the dear fugitive, riding alone through the midnight--riding now for life and liberty--she could not help the uprising again of that cold benumbing question--"Is it worth while?"