Remember the Alamo by Amelia E. Barr
Chapter IX. The Storming of the Alamo.
"Now, hearts, Be ribbed with iron for this one attempt: Set ope' your sluices, send the vigorous blood Through every active limb for our relief." "Now they begin the tragic play, And with their smoky cannon banish day." "Endure and conquer. God will soon dispose To future good our past and present woes: Resume your courage, and dismiss your care; An hour will come with pleasure to relate Your sorrows past, as benefits of Fate."
The Senora was already dressed. She turned with a face full of fear and anger to her daughters as they entered her room--
"These American diablos! They are attacking the city. They will take it--that is to be expected--who can fight diablos? And what is to become of us? Oh, Antonia! Why did you prevent Fray Ignatius? We might now have been safe in the convent", and Rachela nodded her head in assent, with an insufferable air of reproof and toleration.
Antonia saw that the time had not yet come for pleading her own cause. She left Isabel with her mother. The Senora's breakfast was waiting, and she offered to share it with her youngest daughter. Antonia went downstairs to prepare for herself some coffee. She was surprised and pleased to find it made. For a certain thought had come to Molly in the night and she had acted upon it--
"The praist is a strange praist, and almost as black as a nagur; and I'd be a poor body, I think, to let him be meddling wid my work. Shure, I never heard of the like of such interfering in Ireland, nor in the States at all!" Then turning to the Mexican cook, Manuel--"You may lave the fire alone till I bees done wid it."
"Fray Ignatius will not give you absolution if you disobey him."
"He can be kaping the same then. There is an Irish praist at San Patricio, and I'll be going there for my absolution; and I'll be getting none any nearer that an Irish soul will be a pin the better for. I'll say that, standing in the church, to the saints themselves; and so be aff wid you and let the fire alone till I bees done wid it."
But it was not Molly's place to serve the food she cooked, and she did not trouble herself about the serving. When she had asserted her right to control her own work, and do it or neglect it as it seemed good to herself alone, she was satisfied. Over Antonia--who was at least half a Mexican--she acknowledged a Mexican priest to have authority; and she had no intention of interfering between Fray Ignatius and his lawful flock. She was smoking her pipe by the fire when Antonia entered the kitchen, and she neither lifted her eyes nor spoke to her.
Against such unreasonable isolation Antonia could not help a feeling of anger; and she heard with satisfaction the regular crack of the rifles. Her thought was--"They will make these people find their tongues also, very soon." She was exceedingly anxious for information; and, as she ate her roll and drank her coffees she was considering how they could gain it. For even if Fray Ignatius were able to visit them, his report would be colored by his prejudices and his desires, and could not be relied on.
Her heart fluttered and sank; she was hot and cold, sanguine and fearful. She could not endure the idea of a suspense unrelieved by any reliable word. For the siege might be a long one. San Antonio was strongly walled and defended. The Alamo fortress stood in its centre. It had forty-eight cannon, and a garrison of a thousand men. Before it could be reached, the city had to be taken; and the inhabitants would in the main fight desperately for their homes.
As soon as she was alone with her mother, she pointed out these facts to her. "Let me write to Lopez Navarro, mi madre. He is a friend."
"Of the Americans! Si."
"Of freedom. He will send us word."
"Are you forgetful of what is moral and respectable, Antonia? That a young lady should write to Lopez Navarro--a man that is unmarried--is such a thing as never before happened! He would think the world had come to an end, or worse."
"Dear mother! In a time of trouble like this, who would think wrong of us? Surely you might write."
"As you say, Antonia. Tell me, then, who will take the letter."
"The peon Ortiz will take it. This morning he brought in wood and kindled the fire, and I saw in his face the kindness of his heart."
After some further persuasion, the Senora agreed to write; and Ortiz undertook the commission, with a nod of understanding. Then there remained nothing to be done but to listen and to watch. Fortunately, however, Rachela found the centre of interest among the servants in the kitchen; and the Senora and her daughter could converse without espionage.
Just after sunset a letter arrived from Navarro. Rachela lingered in the room to learn its contents. But the Senora, having read them, passed the letter to Antonia and Isabel; and Rachela saw with anger that Antonia, having carefully considered it, threw it into the fire. And yet the news it brought was not unfavorable:
"SENORA MARIA FLORES WORTH:
"I send this on December the fifth, in the year of our Blessed Lord and Lady 1835. It is my honor and pleasure to tell you that the Americans, having performed miracles of valor, reached the Plaza this afternoon. Here the main body of the Mexican troops received them, and there has been severe fighting. At sunset, the Mexicans retreated within the Alamo. The Texans have taken possession of the Veramendi House, and the portion of the city surrounding it. There has been a great slaughter of our poor countrymen. I charge myself whenever I pass the Plaza, to say a paternoster for the souls who fell there. Senora Maria Flores Worth, I kiss your hands. I kiss also the hands of the Senorita Antonia, and the hands of the Senorita Isabel, and I make haste to sign myself,
This little confidence between mother and daughters restored the tone of feeling between them. They had something to talk of, personal and exclusive. In the fear and uncertainty, they forgot priestly interdiction and clung to each other with that affection which is the strength of danger and the comforter of sorrow.
On the following day the depression deepened. The sounds of battle were closer at hand. The Mexican servants had an air of insolence and triumph. Antonia feared for the evening's report--if indeed Navarro should be able to send one. She feared more when she saw the messenger early in the afternoon. "Too early is often worse than too late." The proverb shivered upon her trembling lips as she took the letter from him. The three women read it together, with sinking hearts:
"SENORA MARIA FLORES WORTH:
"This on the sixth of December, in the year of our Blessed Lord and Lady 1835. The brave, the illustrious Colonel Milam is dead. I watched him three hours in to-day's fight. A man so calm was inconceivable. He was smiling when the ball struck him--when he fell. The Texans, after his loss, retired to their quarters. This was at the hour of eleven. At the hour of one, the Mexicans made another sortie from the Alamo. The Texans rushed to meet them with an incredible vengeance. Their leader was General Burleson. He showed himself to General Cos in a sheet of flame. Such men are not to be fought. General Cos was compelled to retire to the Alamo. The battle is over for to-day. On this earth the soul has but a mortal sword. The water in the river is red with blood. The Plaza is covered with the dead and the dying. I have the honor to tell you that these `miserables' are being attended to by the noble, the charitable Senor Doctor Worth. As I write, he is kneeling among them. My soul adores his humanity. I humbly kiss your hands, Senora, and the hands of your exalted daughters.
Until midnight this letter furnished the anxious, loving women with an unceasing topic of interest. The allusion to her husband made the Senora weep. She retired to her oratory and poured out her love and her fears in holy salutations, in thanksgivings and entreaties.
The next morning there was an ominous lull in the atmosphere. As men run backward to take a longer leap forward, so both armies were taking breath for a fiercer struggle. In the Worth residencia the suspense was becoming hourly harder to endure. The Senora and her daughters were hardly conscious of the home life around them. In that wonderful folk-speech which so often touches foundation truths, they were not all there. Their nobler part had projected itself beyond its limitations. It was really in the struggle. It mattered little to them now whether food was cooked or not. They were neither hungry nor sleepy. Existence was prayer and expectation.
Just before sunset Antonia saw Don Lopez coming through the garden. The Senora, accompanied by her daughters, went to meet him. His face was perplexed and troubled:
"General Cos has been joined by Ugartechea with three hundred men," he said. "You will see now that the fight will be still more determined."
And before daylight broke on the morning of the 5th, the Americans attacked the Alamo. The black flag waved above them; the city itself had the stillness of death; but for hours the dull roar and the clamorous tumult went on without cessation. The Senora lay upon her bed motionless, with hands tightly locked. She had exhausted feeling, and was passive. Antonia and Isabel wandered from window to window, hoping to see some token which would indicate the course of events.
Nothing was visible but the ferocious flag flying out above the desperate men fighting below it. So black! So cruel and defiant it looked! It seemed to darken and fill the whole atmosphere around it. And though the poor women had not dared to whisper to each other what it said to them, they knew in their own hearts that it meant, if the Americans failed, the instant and brutal massacre of every prisoner.
The husband and father were under its inhuman shadow. So most probably were Darius Grant and Luis Alveda. It was even likely that Jack might have returned ere the fight, and was with the besiegers. Every time they went to the window, it filled their hearts with horror.
In the middle of the afternoon it suddenly disappeared. Antonia watched it breathlessly. Several times before, it had been dropped by some American rifle; but this time it was not as speedily replaced. In a few minutes she uttered a shrill cry. It was in a voice so strained, so piercing, so unlike her own, that the Senora leaped from her bed. Antonia turned to meet her mother with white, parted lips. She was speechless with excess of feeling, but she pointed to the Alamo. The black flag was no longer there! A white one was flying in its place.
"It is a surrender!" gasped Antonia. "It is a surrender!" and, as if in response to her words, a mighty shout and a simultaneous salute of rifles hailed the emblem of victory.
An hour afterwards a little Mexican boy came running with all his speed. He brought a few lines from Don Lopez. They had evidently been written in a great hurry, and on a piece of paper torn from his pocket-book, but oh! how welcome they were. The very lack of formality gave to them a certain hurry of good fortune:
"May you and yours be God's care for many years to come, Senora! The Mexicans have surrendered the Alamo, and asked for quarter. These noble-minded Americans have given it. The Senor Doctor will bring you good news. I rejoice with you.
Death and captivity had been turned away from their home, and the first impulse of these pious, simple-hearted women was a prayer of thanksgiving. Then Antonia remembered the uncomfortable state of the household, and the probable necessities of the men coming back from mortal strife and the shadow of death.
She found that the news had already changed the domestic atmosphere. Every servant was attending to his duty. Every one professed a great joy in the expected arrival of the Senor. And what a happy impetus the hope gave to her own hands! How delightful it was to be once more arranging the evening meal, and brightening the rooms with fire and light!
Soon after dark they heard the swing of the garden gate, the tramp of rapid footsteps, and the high-pitched voices of excited men. The door was flung wide. The Senora forgot that it was cold. She went with outstretched arms to meet her husband. Dare and Luis were with him. They were black with the smoke of battle. Their clothing was torn and bloodstained; the awful light of the fierce struggle was still upon their faces. But they walked like heroes, and the glory of the deeds they had done crowned with its humanity, made them appear to the women that loved them but a little lower than the angels.
Doctor Worth held his wife close to his heart and kissed her tears of joy away, and murmured upon her lips the tenderest words a woman ever hears--the words a man never perfectly learns till he has loved his wife through a quarter of a century of change, and sorrow, and anxiety. And what could Antonia give Dare but the embrace, the kiss, the sweet whispers of love and pride, which were the spontaneous outcome of both hearts?
There was a moment's hesitation on the part of Luis and Isabel. The traditions of caste and country, the social bonds of centuries, held them. But Isabel snapped them asunder. She looked at Luis. His eyes were alight with love for her, his handsome face was transfigured with the nobility of the emotions that possessed him. In spite of his disordered dress, he was incomparably handsome. When he said, "Angel mio!" and bent to kiss her hand, she lifted her lovely face to his, she put her arms around his neck, she cried softly on his breast, whispering sweet little diminutives of affection and pride. Such hours as followed are very rare in this life; and they are nearly always bought with a great price--paid for in advance with sorrow and anxiety, or earned by such faithful watching and patient waiting as touches the very citadel of life.
The men were hungry; they had eaten nothing all day. How delicious was their meal! How happy and merry it made the Senora, and Antonia, and Isabel, to see them empty dish after dish; to see their unaffected enjoyment of the warm room, and bright fire, of their after-dinner coffee and tobacco. There was only one drawback to the joy of the reunion--the absence of Jack.
"His disappointment will be greater than ours," said Jack's father. "To be present at the freeing of his native city, and to bring his first laurels to his mother, was the brightest dream Jack had. But Jack is a fine rider, and is not a very fine marksman; so it was decided to send him with Houston to the Convention. We expected him back before the attack on the city began. Indeed, we were waiting for orders from the Convention to undertake it."
"Then you fought without orders, father?"
"Well, yes, Antonia--in a way. Delays in war are as dangerous as in love. We were surrounded by dragoons, who scoured the country in every direction to prevent our foraging. San Antonio had to be taken. Soon done was well done. On the third of December Colonel Milam stepped in front of the ranks, and asked if two hundred of the men would go with him and storm the city. The whole eleven hundred stepped forward, and gave him their hands and their word. From them two hundred of the finest marksmen were selected."
"I have to say that was a great scene, mi Roberto."
"The greater for its calmness, I think. There was no shouting, no hurrahing, no obvious enthusiasm. It was the simple assertion of serious men determined to carry out their object."
"And you stormed San Antonio with two hundred men, father?"
"But every man was a picked man. A Mexican could not show his head above the ramparts and live. We had no powder and ball to waste; and I doubt if a single ball missed its aim."
"A Mexican is like a Highland Scot in one respect," said Dare;" he fights best with steel. They are good cavalry soldiers."
"There are no finer cavalry in the world than the horsemen from Santa Fe, Dare. But with powder and ball Mexicans trust entirely to luck; and luck is nowhere against Kentucky sharpshooters. Their balls very seldom reached us, though we were close to the ramparts; and we gathered them up by thousands, and sent them back with our double-Dupont powder. Then they did damage enough. In fact, we have taken the Alamo with Mexican balls."
"Under what flag did you fight, Roberto?"
"Under the Mexican republican flag of eighteen twenty-four; but indeed, Maria, I do not think we had one in the camp. We were destitute of all the trappings of war--we had no uniforms, no music, no flags, no positive military discipline. But we had one heart and mind, and one object in view; and this four days' fight has shown what men can do, who are moved by a single, grand idea."
The Senora lay upon a sofa; the doctor sat by her side. Gradually their conversation became more low and confidential. They talked of their sons, and their probable whereabouts; of all that the Senora and her daughters had suffered from the disaffection of the servants; and the attitude taken by Fray Ignatius. And the doctor noticed, without much surprise, that his wife's political sympathies were still in a state of transition and uncertainty. She could not avoid prophesying the speedy and frightful vengeance of Mexico. She treated the success at San Antonio as one of the accidents of war. She looked forward to an early renewal of hostilities.
"My countrymen are known to me, Roberto," she said, with a touch that was almost a hope of vengeance. "They have an insurmountable honor; they will revenge this insult to it in some terrible way. If the gracious Maria holds not the hands of Santa Anna, he will utterly destroy the Americans! He will be like a tiger that has become mad."
"I am not so much afraid of Santa Anna as of Fray Ignatius. Promise me, my dear Maria, that you will not suffer yourself or your children to be decoyed by him into a convent. I should never see you again."
The discussion on this subject was long and eager. Antonia, talking with Dare a little apart, could not help hearing it and feeling great interest in her father's entreaties, even though she was discussing with Dare the plans for their future. For Dare had much to tell his betrothed. During the siege, the doctor had discovered that his intended son-in-law was a fine surgeon. Dare had, with great delicacy, been quite reticent on this subject, until circumstances made his assistance a matter of life and death; and the doctor understood and appreciated the young man's silence.
"He thinks I might have a touch of professional jealousy--he thinks I might suspect him of wanting a partnership as well as a wife; he wishes to take his full share of the dangers of war, without getting behind the shield of his profession"; these feelings the doctor understood, and he passed from Fray Ignatius to this pleasanter topic, gladly.
He told the Senora what a noble son they were going to have; he said, "when the war is over, Maria, my dear, he shall marry Antonia."
"And what do you say, Roberto, if I should give them the fine house on the Plaza that my brother Perfecto left me?"
"If you do that you will be the best mother in the world, Maria. I then will take Dare into partnership. He is good and clever; and I am a little weary of work. I shall enjoy coming home earlier to you. We will go riding and walking, and our courting days will begin again."
"Maria Santissima! How delightful that will be, Roberto! And as for our Isabel, shall we not make her happy also? Luis should have done as his own family have done; a young man to go against his mother and his uncles, that is very wicked! but, if we forgive that fault, well, then, Luis is as good as good bread."
"I think so. He began the study of the law. He must finish it. He must learn the American laws also. I am not a poor man, Maria. I will give Isabel the fortune worthy of a Yturbide or a Flores--a fortune that will make her very welcome to the Alvedas."
The Senora clasped her husband's hand with a smile. They were sweetening their own happiness with making the happiness of their children. They looked first at Antonia. She sat with Dare, earnestly talking to him in a low voice. Dare clasped in his own the dear little hand that had been promised to him. Antonia bent toward her lover; her fair head rested against his shoulder. Isabel sat in a large chair, and Luis leaned on the back of it, stooping his bright face to the lovely one which was sometimes dropped to hide her blushes, and sometimes lifted with flashing eyes to answer his tender words.
"My happiness is so great, Roberto, I am even tired of being happy. Call Rachela. I must go to sleep. To-night I cannot even say an ave."
"God hears the unspoken prayer in your heart, Maria; and to- night let me help you upstairs. My arm is stronger than Rachela's."
She rose with a little affectation of greater weakness and lassitude than she really felt. But she wished to be weak, so that her Roberto might be strong--to be quite dependent on his care and tenderness. And she let her daughters embrace her so prettily, and then offered her hand to Dare and Luis with so much grace and true kindness that both young men were enchanted.
"It is to be seen that they are gentlemen," she said, as she went slowly upstairs on her husband's arm--"and hark! that is the singing of Luis. What is it he says?" They stood still to listen. Clear and sweet were the chords of the mandolin, and melodiously to them Luis was protesting--
"Freedom shall have our shining blades! Our hearts are yours, fair Texan maids!"