THE TEXAN STAR
The Story of a Great Fight for Liberty
JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
Author of The Quest of the Four, The Border Watch, The Scouts of the Valley, etc.
Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. New York
"The Texan Star," while a complete story in itself, is the first of three, projected by the author, and based upon the Texan struggle for liberty against the power of Mexico. This revolution, epic in its nature, and crowded with heroism and great events, divides itself naturally into three parts.
The first phase begins in Mexico with the treacherous imprisonment of Austin, the Texan leader, the rise of Santa Anna and his attempt, through bad faith, to disarm the Texans and leave them powerless before the Indians. It culminates in the rebellion of the Texans, and their capture, in the face of great odds, of San Antonio, the seat of the Mexican power in the north.
The second phase is the coming of Santa Anna with an overwhelming force, the fall of the Alamo, the massacre of Goliad and the dark days of Texas. Yet the period of gloom is relieved by the last stand of Crockett, Bowie, and their famous comrades.
The third phase is the coming of light in the darkness, Houston's crowning victory at San Jacinto, and the complete victory of the Texans.
The story of the Texan fight for freedom has always appealed to the author, as one of the most remarkable of modern times.
CHAPTER I THE PRISONERS II A HAIR-CUT III SANCTUARY IV THE PALM V IN THE PYRAMID VI THE MARCH WITH COS VII THE DUNGEON UNDER THE SEA VIII THE BLACK JAGUAR IX THE RUINED TEMPLES X CACTUS AND MEXICANS XI THE LONG CHASE XII THE TRIAL OF PATIENCE XIII THE TEXANS XIV THE RING TAILED PANTHER XV THE FIRST GUN XVI THE COMING OF URREA XVII THE OLD CONVENT XVIII IN SAN ANTONIO XIX THE BATTLE BY THE RIVER XX THE WHEEL OF FIRE XXI THE TEXAN STAR XXII THE TAKING OF THE TOWN
THE TEXAN STAR
A boy and a man sat in a room of a stone house in the ancient City of Mexico, capital in turn of Aztec, Spaniard and Mexican. They could see through the narrow windows masses of low buildings and tile roofs, and beyond, the swelling shape of great mountains, standing clear against the blue sky. But they had looked upon them so often that the mind took no note of the luminous spectacle. The cry of a water-seller or the occasional jingle of a spur came from the street below, but these, too, were familiar sounds, and they were no longer regarded.
The room contained but little furniture and the door was of heavy oak. Its whole aspect indicated that it was a prison. The man was of middle years, and his face showed a singular blend of kindness and firmness. The pallor of imprisonment had replaced his usual color. The boy was tall and strong and his cheeks were yet ruddy. His features bore some resemblance to those of his older comrade.
"Ned," said the man at last, "it has been good of you to stay with me here, but a prison is no place for a boy. You must secure a release and go back to our people."
The boy smiled, and his face, in repose rather stern for one so young, was illumined in a wonderful manner.
"I don't want to leave you, Uncle Steve," he said, "and if I did it's not likely that I could. This house is strong, and it's a long way from here to Texas."
"Perhaps I can induce them to let you go," said the man. "Why should they wish to hold one so young?"
Edward Fulton did not reply because he saw that Stephen Austin was speaking to himself rather than his companion. Instead, he looked once more through the window and over the city at the vast white peaks of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl silent and immutable, forever guarding the sky-line. Yet they seemed to call to him at this moment and tell him of freedom. The words of the man had touched a spring within him and he wanted to go. He could not conceal from himself the fact that he longed for liberty with every pulse and fiber. But he resolved, nevertheless, to stay. He would not desert the one whom he had come to serve.
Stephen Austin, the real founder of Texas, had now been in prison in Mexico more than a year. Coming to Saltillo to secure for the Texans better treatment from the Mexicans, their rulers, he had been seized and held as a criminal. The boy, Edward Fulton, was not really his nephew, but an orphan, the son of a cousin. He owed much to Austin and coming to the capital to help him he was sharing his imprisonment.
"They say that Santa Anna now has the power," said Ned, breaking the somber silence.
"It is true," said Stephen Austin, "and it is a new and strong reason why I fear for our people. Of all the cunning and ambitious men in Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna is the most cunning and ambitious. I know, too, that he is the most able, and I believe that he is the most dangerous to those of us who have settled in Texas. What a country is this Mexico! Revolution after revolution! You make a treaty with one president to-day and to-morrow another disclaims it! More than one of them has a touch of genius, and yet it is obscured by childishness and cruelty!"
He sighed heavily. Ned, full of sympathy, glanced at him but said nothing. Then his gaze turned back to the mighty peaks which stood so sharp and clear against the blue. Truth and honesty were the most marked qualities of Stephen Austin and he could not understand the vast web of intrigue in which the Mexican capital was continually involved. And to the young mind of the boy, cast in the same mold, it was yet more baffling and repellent.
Ned still stared at the guardian peaks, but his thoughts floated away from them. His head had been full of old romance when he entered the vale of Tenochtitlan. He had almost seen Cortez and the conquistadores in their visible forms with their armor clanking about them as they stalked before him. He had gazed eagerly upon the lakes, the mighty mountains, the low houses and the strange people. Here, deeds of which the world still talked had been done centuries ago and his thrill was strong and long. But the feeling was gone now. He had liked many of the Mexicans and many of the Mexican traits, but he had felt with increasing force that he could never reach out his hand and touch anything solid. He thought of volcanic beings on a volcanic soil.
The throb of a drum came from the street below, and presently the shrill sound of fifes was mingled with the steady beat. Ned stood up and pressed his head as far forward as the bars of the window would let him.
"Soldiers, a regiment, I think," he said. "Ah, I can see them now! What brilliant uniforms their officers wear!"
Austin also looked out.
"Yes," he said. "They know how to dress for effect. And their music is good, too. Listen how they play."
It was a martial air, given with a splendid lilt and swing. The tune crept into Ned's blood and his hand beat time on the stone sill. But the music increased his longing for liberty. His thoughts passed away from the narrow street and the marching regiment to the North, to the wild free plains beyond the Rio Grande. It was there that his heart was, and it was there that his body would be.
"It is General Cos who leads them," said Austin. "I can see him now, riding upon a white horse. It's the man in the white and silver uniform, Ned."
"He's the brother-in-law of Santa Anna, is he not?"
"Yes, and I fear him. I know well, Ned, that he hates the Texans—all of us."
"Perhaps the regiment that we see now is going north against our people."
Austin's brows contracted.
"It may be so," he said. "They give soft words all the time, and yet they hold me a prisoner here. It would be like them to strike while pretending to clear away all the troubles between us."
He sighed again. Ned watched the soldiers until the last of them had passed the window, and then he listened to the music, the sound of drum and fife, until it died away, and they heard only the usual murmur of the city. Then the homesickness, the longing for the great free country to the north grew upon him and became almost overpowering.
"Someone comes," said Austin.
They heard the sound of the heavy bar that closed the door being moved from its place.
"Our dinner, doubtless," said Austin, "but it is early."
The door swung wide and a young Mexican officer entered. He was taller and fairer than most of his race, evidently of pure Northern Spanish blood, and his countenance was frank and fine.
"Welcome, Lieutenant," said Stephen Austin, speaking in Spanish, which he, as well as Ned, understood perfectly. "You know that we are always glad to see you here."
Lieutenant Alfonso de Zavala smiled in a quick, responsive way, but in a moment his face became grave.
"I announce a visitor, a most distinguished visitor, Mr. Austin," he said. "General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, President of the Mexican Republic and Commander-in-chief of its armies and navies."
Both Mr. Austin and the boy arose and bowed as a small man of middle years, slender and nervous, strode into the room, standing for a few moments near its center, and looking about him like a questing hawk. His was, in truth, an extraordinary presence. He seemed to radiate an influence that at once attracted and repelled. His dark features were cut sharply and clearly. His eyes, set closely together, were of the most intense black that Ned had ever seen in a human head. Nor were those eyes ever at rest. They roamed over everything, and they seemed to burn every object for the single instant they fell there. They never met the gaze of either American squarely, although they continually came back to both.
This man was clothed in a white uniform, heavy with gold stripes and gold epaulets. A small sword at his side had a gold hilt set with a diamond. He wore a three-cornered hat shaped like that of Napoleon, but instead of the Corsican's simple gray his was bright in color and splendid with plumage.
He was at once a powerful and sinister figure. Ned felt that he was in the presence of genius, but it belonged to one of those sinuous creatures, shining and terrible, that are bred under the vivid sun of the tropics. There was a singular sensation at the roots of his hair, but, resolved to show neither fear nor apprehension, he stood and gazed directly at Santa Anna.
"Be seated, Mr. Austin," said the General, "and close the door, de Zavala, but remain with us. Your young relative can remain, also. I have things of importance to say, but it is not forbidden to him, also, to hear them."
Ned sat down and so did Mr. Austin and young de Zavala, but Santa Anna remained standing. It seemed to Ned that he did so because he wished to look down upon them from a height. And all the time the black eyes, like two burning coals, played restlessly about the room.
Ned was unable to take his own eyes away. The figure in its gorgeous uniform was so full of nervous energy that it attracted like a magnet, while at the same time it bade all who opposed to beware. The boy felt as if he were before a splendid leopard with no bars of a cage between.
Santa Anna took three or four rapid steps back and forth. He kept his hat upon his head, a right, it seemed, due to his superiority to other people. He looked like a man who had a great thought which he was shaping into quick words. Presently he stopped before Austin, and shot him one of those piercing glances.
"My friend and guest," he said in the sonorous Spanish.
Austin bowed. Whether the subtle Mexican meant the words in satire or in earnest he did not know, nor did he care greatly.
"When I call you my friend and guest I speak truth," said Santa Anna. "It is true that we had you brought here from Saltillo, and we insist that you accept our continued hospitality, but it is because we know how devoted you are to our common Mexico, and we would have you here at our right hand for advice and help."
Ned saw Mr. Austin smile a little sadly. It all seemed very strange to the boy. How could one talk of friendship and hospitality to those whom he held as prisoners? Why could not these people say what they meant? Again he longed for the free winds of the plains.
"You and I together should be able to quiet these troublesome Texans," continued Santa Anna—and his voice had a hard metallic quality that rasped the boy's nerves. "You know, Stephen Austin, that I and Mexico have endured much from the people whom you have brought within our borders. They shed good Mexican blood at the fort, Velasco, and they have attacked us elsewhere. They do not pay their taxes or obey our decrees, and when I send my officers to make them obey they take down their long rifles."
Austin smiled again, and now the watching boy thought the smile was not sad at all. If Santa Anna took notice he gave no sign.
"But you are reasonable," continued the Mexican, and now his manner was winning to an extraordinary degree. "It was my predecessor, Farias, who brought you here, but I would not see you go, because I love you like a brother, and now I have come to you, that between us we may calm your turbulent Texans."
"But you must bear in mind," said Austin, "that our rights have been taken from us. All the clauses of our charter have been broken, and now your Congress has decreed that we shall have only one soldier to every five hundred inhabitants and that all the rest of us shall be disarmed. How are we, in a wild country, to protect ourselves from the Comanches, Lipans and other Indians who roam everywhere, robbing and murdering?"
Austin's face, usually so benevolent, flushed and his eyes were very bright. Ned looked intently at Santa Anna to see how he would take the daring and truthful indictment. But the Mexican showed no confusion, only astonishment. He threw up his hands in a vivid southern gesture and looked at Austin in surprised reproof.
"My friend," he said in injured but not angry tones, "how can you ask me such a question? Am I not here to protect the Texans? Am I not President of Mexico? Am I not head of the Mexican army? My gallant soldiers, my horsemen with their lances and sabers, will draw a ring around the Texans through which no Comanche or Lipan, however daring, will be able to break."
He spoke with such fire, such appearance of earnestness, that Ned, despite a mind uncommonly keen and analytical in one so young, was forced to believe for a moment. Texas, however, was far and immense, and there were not enough soldiers in all America to put a ring around the wild Comanches. But the impression remained longer with Austin, who was ever hoping for the best, and ever seeing the best in others.
Ned was a silent boy who had suffered many hardships, and he had acquired the habit of thought which in its turn brought observation and judgment. Yet if Santa Anna was acting he was doing it with consummate skill, and the boy who never said a word watched him all the time.
Santa Anna began to talk now of the great future that awaited the Texans under the banner of Mexico. He poured forth the words with so much Latin fervor that it was almost like listening to a song. Ned felt the influence of the musical roll coming over him again, but, with an effort of the will that was almost physical, he shook it off.
Santa Anna painted the picture of a dream, a gorgeous dream of many colors. Mexico was to become a mighty country and the Texans with their cool courage and martial energy would be no mean factor in it. Austin would be one of his lieutenants, a sharer in his greatness and reward. His eloquence was wonderful, and Ned felt once more the fascination of the serpent. This was a man to whom only the grand and magnificent appealed, and already he had achieved a part of his dream.
Ned moved a little closer to the window. He wished the fresh air to blow upon his face. He saw that Mr. Austin was fully under the spell. Santa Anna was making the most beautiful and convincing promises. He himself was going to Texas. He was the father of his people. He would right every wrong. He loved the Texans, these children of the north who had come to his country for a home. No one could ever say that he appealed in vain to Santa Anna for protection. Texans would be proud that they were a part of Mexico, they would be glad to belong to a nation which already had a glorious history, and to come to a capital which had more splendor and romance than any other in America.
Ned literally withdrew his soul within itself. He sought to shut out the influence that was radiating from this singular and brilliant figure, but he saw that Mr. Austin was falling more deeply under it.
"Look!" said Santa Anna, taking the man by the arm in the familiar manner that one old friend has with another and drawing him to the window. "Is not this a prospect to enchant? Is not this a capital of which you and I can well be proud?"
He lifted a forefinger and swept the half curve that could be seen from the window. It was truly a panorama that would kindle the heart of the dullest. Forty miles away the white crests of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl still showed against the background of burning blue, like pillars supporting the dome of heaven. Along the whole line of the half curve were mountains in fold on fold. Below the green of the valley showed the waters of the lake both fresh and salt gleaming with gold where the sunlight shot down upon them. Nearer rose the spires of the cathedral, and then the sea of tile roofs burnished by the vivid beams.
Santa Anna stood in a dramatic position, his finger still pointing. There was scarcely a day that Ned did not feel the majesty of this valley of Tenochtitlan, but Santa Anna deepened the spell. Could the world hold another place its equal? Might not the Texans indeed have a glorious future in the land of which this city was the capital? Poetry and romance appealed powerfully to the boy's thoughtful mind, and he felt that here in Mexico he was at their very heart. Nothing else had ever moved him so much.
"You are pleased! It impresses you!" said Santa Anna to Austin. "I can see it on your face. You are with us. You are one of us. Ah, my friend, how noble it is to have a great heart."
"Do I go with your message to the Texans?" asked Austin.
"I must leave now, but I shall come again soon, and I will tell you all. You shall carry words that will satisfy every one of them."
He threw his arms about Austin's shoulders, gave Ned a quick salute, and then left the room, taking young de Zavala with him, Ned heard the heavy bar fall in place on the outside of the door, and he knew that they were shut in as tightly as ever. But Mr. Austin was in a glow.
"What a wonderful, flexible mind!" he said, more to himself than to the boy. "I could have preferred a sort of independence for Texas, but since we're to be ruled from the City of Mexico, Santa Anna will do the best he can for us. As soon as he sweeps away the revolutionary troubles he will repair all our injuries."
Ned was silent. He knew that the generous Austin was still under Santa Anna's magnetic spell, but after his departure the whole room was changed to the boy. He saw clearly again. There were no mists and clouds about his mind. Moreover, the wonderful half curve before the window was changing. Vapors were rolling up from the south and the two great peaks faded from view. Trees and water in the valley changed to gray. The skies which had been so bright now became somber and menacing.
The boy felt a deep fear at his heart, but Mr. Austin seemed to be yet under the influence of Santa Anna, and talked cheerfully of their speedy return to Texas. Ned listened in silence and unbelief, while the gloom outside deepened, and night presently came over Anahuac. But he had formed his resolution. He owed much to Mr. Austin. He had come a vast distance to be at his side, and to serve him in prison, but he felt now that he could be of more use elsewhere. Moreover, he must carry a message, a warning to those who needed it sorely. One of the windows opened upon the north, and he looked intently through it trying to pierce, with the mind's eye at least, the thousand miles that lay between him and those whom he would reach with the word.
Mr. Austin had lighted a candle. Noticing the boy's gloomy face, he patted him on the head with a benignant hand and said:
"Don't be down of heart, Edward, my lad. We'll soon be on our way to Texas."
"But this is Mexico, and it is Santa Anna who holds us."
"That is true, and it is Santa Anna who is our best friend."
Ned did not dispute the sanguine saying. He saw that Mr. Austin had his opinion, and he had his. The door was opened again in a half hour and a soldier brought them their supper. Young de Zavala, who was their immediate guardian, also entered and stood by while they ate. They had never received poor food, and to-night Mexican hospitality exerted itself—at the insistence of Santa Anna, Ned surmised. In addition to the regular supper there was an ice and a bottle of Spanish wine.
"The President has just given an order that the greatest courtesy be shown to you at all times," said de Zavala, "and I am very glad. I, too, have people in that territory of ours from which you come—Texas."
He spoke with undeniable sympathy, and Ned felt his heart warm toward him, but he decided to say nothing. He feared that he might betray by some chance word the plan that he had in mind. But Mr. Austin, believing in others because he was so truthful and honest himself, talked freely.
"All our troubles will soon be over," he said to de Zavala.
"I hope so, Senor," said the young man earnestly.
By and by, when de Zavala and the soldier were gone, Ned went again to the window, stood there a few moments to harden his resolution, and then came back to the man.
"Mr. Austin," he said, "I am going to ask your consent to something."
The Texan looked up in surprise.
"Why, Edward, my lad," he said kindly, "you don't have to ask my consent to anything, after the way in which you have already sacrificed yourself for me."
"But I am not going to stay with you any longer, Mr. Austin—that is, if I can help it. I am going back to Texas."
Mr. Austin laughed. It was a mellow and satisfied laugh.
"So you are, Edward," he said, "and I am going with you. You will help me to bear a message of peace and safety to the Texans."
Ned paused a moment, irresolute. There was no change in his determination. He was merely uncertain about the words to use.
"There may be delays," he said at last, "and—Mr. Austin, I have decided to go alone—and within the next day or two if I can."
The Texan's face clouded.
"I cannot understand you," he said. "Why this hurry? It would in reality be a breach of faith to our great friend, Santa Anna—that is, if you could go. I don't believe you can."
Ned was troubled. He was tempted to tell what was in his mind, but he knew that he would not be believed, so he fell back again upon his infinite capacity for silence. Mr. Austin read resolution in the closed lips and rigid figure.
"Do you really mean that you will attempt to steal away?" he asked.
"As soon as I can."
The man shook his head.
"It would be better not to do so," he said, "but you are your own master, and I see I cannot dissuade you from the attempt. But, boy, you will promise me not to take any unnecessary or foolish risks?"
"I promise gladly, and, Mr. Austin, I hate to leave you here."
Their quarters were commodious and Ned slept alone in a small room to the left of the main apartment. It was a bare place with only a bed and a chair, but it was lighted by a fairly large window. Ned examined this window critically. It had a horizontal iron bar across the middle, and it was about thirty feet from the ground. He pulled at the iron bar with both hands but, although rusty with time, it would not move in its socket. Then he measured the two spaces between the bar and the wall.
Hope sprang up in the boy's heart. Then he did a strange thing. He removed nearly all his clothing and tried to press his head and shoulders between the bar and the wall. His head, which was of the long narrow type, so common in the scholar, would have gone through the aperture, had it not been for his hair which was long, and which grew uncommonly thick. His shoulders were very thick and broad and they, too, halted him. He drew back and felt a keen thrill of disappointment.
But he was a boy who usually clung tenaciously to an idea, and, sitting down, he concentrated his mind upon the plan that he had formed. By and by a possible way out came to him. Then he lay down upon the bed, drew a blanket over him because the night was chill in the City of Mexico, and calmly sought sleep.
The optimism of Mr. Austin endured the next morning, but Ned was gloomy. Since it was his habit to be silent, the man did not notice it at first. The breakfast was good, with tortillas, frijoles, other Mexican dishes and coffee, but the boy had no appetite. He merely picked at his food, made a faint effort or two to drink his coffee and finally put the cup back almost full in the saucer. Then Mr. Austin began to observe.
"Are you ill, Ned?" he asked. "Is this imprisonment beginning to tell upon you? I had thought that you were standing it well. Can't you eat?"
"I don't believe I'm hungry," replied the boy, "but there is nothing else the matter with me. I'll be all right, Uncle Steve. Don't you bother about me."
He ate a little breakfast, about one half of the usual amount, and then, asking to be excused, went to the window, where he again stared out at the tiled roofs, the green foliage in the valley of Mexico and the ranges and peaks beyond. He was taking his resolution, and he was carrying it out, but it was hard, very hard. He foresaw that he would have to strengthen his will many, many times. Mr. Austin took no further worry on Ned's account, thinking that he would be all right again in a day or two.
But at the dinner which was brought to them in the middle of the day Ned showed a marked failure of appetite, and Mr. Austin felt real concern. The boy, however, was sure that he would be all right before the day was over.
"It must be the lack of fresh air and exercise," said Mr. Austin. "You can really take exercise in here, Ned. Besides, you said that you were going to escape. If you fall ill you will have no chance at all."
He spoke half in jest, but Ned took him seriously.
"I am not ill, Uncle Steve," he said. "I really feel very well, but I have lost my appetite. Maybe I am getting tired of these Mexican dishes."
"Take exercise! take exercise!" said Mr. Austin with emphasis.
"I think I will," said Ned.
Physical exercise, after all, fitted in with his ideas, and that afternoon he worked hard at all the gymnastic feats possible within the three rooms to which they were confined. De Zavala came in and expressed his astonishment at the athletic feats, which Ned continued with unabated zeal despite his presence.
"Why do you do these things?" he asked in wonder.
"To keep myself strong and healthy. I ought to have begun them sooner. The Mexican air is depressing, and I find that I am losing my appetite."
De Zavala's eyes opened wide while Ned deftly turned a handspring. Then the young American sat down panting, his face flushed with as healthy a color as one could find anywhere.
"You'll have an appetite to-night," said Mr. Austin. But to his great amazement Ned again played with his food, eating only half the usual amount.
"You're surely ill," said Mr. Austin. "I've no doubt de Zavala would allow us to have a physician, and I shall ask him for one."
"Don't do it, Uncle Steve," begged Ned. "There's nothing at all the matter with me, and anyhow I wouldn't want a Mexican doctor fussing over me. I've probably been eating too much."
Mr. Austin was forced to accede. The boy certainly did not look ill, and his appetite was bound to become normal again in a few days. But it did not. As far as Mr. Austin could measure it, Ned was eating less and less. It was obvious that he was thinner. He was also growing much paler, except for a red flush on the cheek bones. Mr. Austin became alarmed, but Ned obstinately refused any help, always asserting with emphasis that he had no ailment of any kind. But the man could see that he had become much lighter, and he wondered at the boy's physical failure. De Zavala, also, expressed his sorrow in sonorous Spanish, but Ned, while thanking them, steadily disclaimed any need of sympathy.
The boy found the days hard, but the nights were harder. For the first time in his life he could not sleep well. He would lie for hours so wide awake that his eyes grew used to the dark, and he could see everything in his room. He was troubled, too, by bad dreams and in many of these dreams he was a living skeleton, wandering about and condemned to live forever without food. More than once he bitterly regretted the resolution he had taken, but having taken it, he would never alter it. His silent, concentrated nature would not let him. Yet he endured undoubted torture day by day. Torture was the only name for it.
"I shall send an application to President Santa Anna to have you allowed a measure of liberty," said Mr. Austin finally. "You are simply pining away here, Edward, my lad. You cannot eat, that is, you eat only a little. I have passed the most tempting and delicate things to you and you always refuse. No boy of your age would do so unless something were very much wrong with his physical system. You have lost many pounds, and if this keeps on I do not know what will happen to you. I shall not ask for more liberty for you, but you must have a doctor at once."
"I do not want any doctor, Uncle Steve," said the boy. "He cannot do me any good, but there is somebody else whom I want."
"Who is he?"
"A barber! Now what good can a barber do you?"
"A great deal. What I crave most in the world is a hair-cut, and only a barber can do that for me. My hair has been growing for more than three months, Uncle Steve, and you've seen how extremely thick it is. Now it is so long, too, that it's falling all about my eyes. Its weight is oppressing my brain. I feel a little touch of fever now and then, and I believe it's this awful hair."
He ran his fingers through the heavy locks until his head seemed to be surrounded with a defense like the quills of a porcupine. Beneath the great bush of hair his gray eyes glowed in a pale, thin face.
"There is a lot of it," said Mr. Austin, surveying him critically, "but it is not usual for anybody in our situation to be worrying about the length and abundance of his hair."
"I'm sure I'd be a lot better if I could get it cut close."
"Well, well, if you are taking it so much to heart we'll see what can be done. You are ill and wasted, Edward, and when one is in that condition a little thing can affect his spirits. De Zavala is a friendly sort of young fellow and through him we will send a request to Colonel Sandoval, the commander of the prisons, that you be allowed to have your hair cut."
"If you please, Uncle Steve," said Ned gratefully.
Mr. Austin was not wrong in his forecast about Lieutenant de Zavala. He showed a full measure of sympathy. Hence a petition to Colonel Martin Sandoval y Dominguez, commander of prisons in the City of Mexico, was drawn up in due form. It stated that one Edward Fulton, a Texan of tender years, now in detention at the capital, was suffering from the excessive growth of hair upon his head. The weight and thickness of said hair had heated his brain and destroyed his appetite. In ordinary cases of physical decline a physician was needed most, but so far as young Edward Fulton was concerned, a barber could render the greatest service.
The petition, duly endorsed and stamped, was forwarded to Colonel Martin Sandoval y Dominguez, and, after being gravely considered by him in the manner befitting a Mexican officer of high rank and pure Spanish descent, received approval. Then he chose among the barbers one Joaquin Menendez, a dark fellow who was not of pure Spanish descent, and sent him to the prison with de Zavala to accomplish the needed task.
"I hope you will be happy now, Edward," said Mr. Austin, when the two Mexicans came. "You are a good boy, but it seems to me that you have been making an undue fuss about your hair."
"I'm quite sure I shall recover fast," said Ned.
It was hard for him to hide his happiness from the others. He felt a thrill of joy every time the steel of the scissors clicked together and a lock of hair fell to the floor. But Joaquin Menendez, the barber, had a Southern temperament and the soul of an artist. It pained him to shear away—"shear away" alone described it—such magnificent hair. It was so thick, so long and so glossy.
"Ah," he said, laying some of the clipped locks across his hand and surveying them sorrowfully, "so great is the pity! What senorita could resist the young senor if these were still growing upon his head!"
"You cut that hair," said Ned with a vicious snap of his teeth, "and cut it close, so close that it will look like the shaven face of a man. I think you will find it so stated in the conditions if you will look at the permit approved in his own handwriting by Colonel Sandoval y Dominguez."
Joaquin Menendez, still the artist, but obedient to the law, heaved a deep sigh, and proceeded with his sad task. Lock by lock the abundant hair fell, until Ned's head stood forth in the shaven likeness of a man's face that he had wished.
"I must tell you," said Mr. Austin, "that it does not become you, but I hope you are satisfied."
"I am satisfied," replied Ned. "I have every cause to be. I know I shall have a stronger appetite to-morrow."
"You are certainly a sensitive boy," said Mr. Austin, looking at him in some wonder. "I did not know that such a thing could influence your feelings and your physical condition so much."
Ned made no reply, but that night he ate supper with a much better appetite than he had shown in many days, bringing words of warm approval and encouragement from Mr. Austin.
An hour or two later, when cheerful good-nights had been exchanged, Ned withdrew to his own little room. He lay down upon his bed, but he was fully clothed and he had no intention of sleep. Instead the boy was transformed. For days he had been walking with a weak and lagging gait. Fever was in his veins. Sometimes he became dizzy, and the walls and floors of the prison swam before him. But now the spirit had taken command of the thin body. Weakness and dizziness were gone. Every vein was infused with strength. Hope was in command, and he no longer doubted that he would succeed.
He rose from the bed and went to the window. The city was silent and the night was dark. Floating clouds hid the moon and stars. The ranges and the city roofs themselves had sunk into the dusk. It seemed to him that all things favored the bold and persevering. And he had been persevering. No one would ever know how he had suffered, what terrific pangs had assailed him. He could not see now how he had done it, and he was quite sure that he could never go through such an ordeal again. The rack would be almost as welcome.
Ned did not know it, but a deep red flush had come into each pale cheek. He removed most of his clothes, and put his head forward between the iron bar and the window sill. The head went through and the shoulders followed. He drew back, breathing a deep and mighty breath of triumph. Yet he had known that it would be so. When he first tried the space he had been only a shade too large for it. Now his head and shoulders would go between, but with nothing to spare. A sheet of paper could not have been slipped in on either side. Yet it was enough. The triumph of self-denial was complete.
He had thought several times of telling Mr. Austin, but he finally decided not to do so. He might seek to interfere. He would put a thousand difficulties in the way, some real and some imaginary. It would save the feelings of both for him to go quietly, and, when Mr. Austin missed him, he would know why and how he had gone.
Ned stood at the window a little while longer, listening. He heard far away the faint rattle of a saber, probably some officer of Santa Anna who was going to a place outside a lattice, the sharp cry of a Mexican upbraiding his lazy mule, and the distant note of a woman singing an old Spanish song. It was as dark as ever, with the clouds rolling over the great valley of Tenochtitlan, which had seen so much of human passion and woe. Ned, brave and resolute as he was, shivered. He was oppressed by the night and the place. It seemed to him, for the moment, that the ghosts of stern Cortez, and of the Aztecs themselves were walking out there.
Then he did a characteristic thing. Folding his arms in front of him he grasped his own elbows and shook himself fiercely. The effort of will and body banished the shapes and illusions, and he went to work with firm hands.
He tore the coverings from his bed into strips, and knotted them together stoutly, trying each knot by tying the strip to the bar, and pulling on it with all his strength. He made his rope at least thirty feet long and then gave it a final test, knot by knot. He judged that it was now near midnight and the skies were still very dark. Inside of a half hour he would be gone—to what? He was seized with an intense yearning to wake up Mr. Austin and tell him good-by. The Texan leader had been so good to him, he would worry so much about him that it was almost heartless to slip away in this manner. But he checked the impulse again, and went swiftly ahead with his work.
He kept on nothing but his underclothing and trousers. The rest he made up into a small package which he tied upon his back. He was sorry that he did not have any weapon. He had been deprived of even his pocket-knife, but he did have a few dollars of Spanish coinage, which he stowed carefully in his trousers pocket. All the while his energy endured despite his wasted form. Hope made a bridge for his weakness.
He let the line out of the window, and his delicate sense told him when it struck against the ground. Six or eight feet were left in his hand, and he tied the end firmly to the bar, knotting it again and again. Then he slipped through the opening and the passage was so close that his ears scraped as they went by. He hung for a few moments on the outside, his feet on the stone sill and his hands clasping the iron bar. He felt sheer and absolute terror. The spires of the cathedral were invisible and only a few far lights showed dimly. It seemed to him that he was suspended over a bottomless pit, and he shivered from head to foot.
But he recalled his courage. Such a black night was best suited to his task. The shivering ceased. Hope ruled once more. He knelt on the stone sill, and, grasping his crude rope with both hands, let himself down from the window. It required almost superhuman exertion to keep himself from dropping sheer away, and the rope burned his palms. But he held on, knowing that he must hold, and the stone wall felt cold to him, as he lay against it, and slid slowly down.
Perhaps his strength, which was more of the mind than of the body, partly gave way under such a severe strain, but he felt pains shooting through his arms, shoulders and chest. His most vivid recollections of the descent were the coldness of the wall against which he lay and the far tinkle of a mandolin which came to him with annoying distinctness. The frequent knots where he had tied the strips together were a help, and whenever he came to one he let his hands rest upon it a moment or two lest he slide down too rapidly.
He had been descending, it seemed to him, fully an hour, and he must have come down a mile, when he heard the rattle of a saber. It was so distinct and so near that it could not be imagination. He looked in the direction of the sound and saw two dark figures in the street. As he stared the two figures shaped themselves into two Mexican officers. Truth, not fancy, told him also that they were not moving. They had seen him escaping and they would come for him! He pressed his body hard against the stone wall, and with his hands resting upon one of the knots clung desperately to the rope. He was hanging in an alley, and the men were on the street at the mouth of it six or seven yards away. They were talking and it must be about him!
He saw them create a light in some manner, and his hands almost slipped from the rope. Then joy flooded back. They were merely lighting cigarettes, and, with a few more words to each other, they walked on. Ned slid slowly down, but when he came to the last knot his strength gave way and he fell. It seemed to him that he was plunging an immeasurable distance through depths of space. Then he struck and with the force of the blow consciousness left him.
When he revived he found himself lying upon a rough stone pavement and it was still dark. He saw above a narrow cleft of somber sky, and something cold and trailing lay across his face. He shivered with repulsion, snatched at it to throw it off, and found that it was his rope. Then he felt of himself cautiously and fearfully, but found that no bones were broken. Nor was he bruised to any degree and now he knew that he could not have fallen more than two or three feet. Perhaps he had struck first upon the little pack which he had fastened upon his back. It reminded him that he was shoeless and coatless and undoing the pack he reclothed himself fully.
He was quite sure that he had not lain there more than a quarter of an hour. Nothing had happened while he was unconscious. It was a dark little alley in the rear of the prison, and the buildings on the other side that abutted upon it were windowless. He walked cautiously to the mouth of the alley, and looked up and down the street. He saw no one, and, pulling his cap down over his eyes, he started instinctively toward the north, because it was to the far north that he wished to go. He was fully aware that he faced great dangers, almost impossibilities. Practically nothing was in his favor, save that he spoke excellent Spanish and also Mexican versions of it.
He went for several hundred yards along the rough and narrow street, and he began to shiver again. Now it was from cold, which often grows intense at night in the great valley of Mexico. Nor was his wasted frame fitted to withstand it. He was assailed also by a fierce hunger. He had carried self-denial to the utmost limit, and nature was crying out against him in a voice that must be heard.
He resolved to risk all and obtain food. Another hundred yards and he saw crouched in an angle of the street an old woman who offered tortillas and frijoles for sale. He went a little nearer, but apprehension almost overcame him. It might be difficult for him to pass for a Mexican and she would give the alarm. But he went yet nearer and stood where he could see her face. It was broad, fat and dark, more Aztec than Spaniard, and then he approached boldly, his speed increased by the appetizing aroma arising from some flat cakes that lay over burning charcoal.
"I will take these, my mother," he said in Mexican, and leaning over he snatched up half a dozen gloriously hot tortillas and frijoles. A cry of indignation and anger was checked at the old woman's lips as two small silver coins slipped from the boy's hands, and tinkled pleasantly together in her own.
Holding his spoils in his hands Ned walked swiftly up the street. He glanced back once, and saw that the old Aztec woman had sunk back into her original position. He had nothing to fear from any alarm by her, and he looked ahead for some especially dark nook in which he could devour the precious food. He saw none, but he caught a glimpse beyond of foliage, and he recalled enough of the city of Mexico to know what it was. It was the Zocalo or garden of the cathedral, the Holy Metropolitan Church of Mexico. Above the foliage he could see the dark walls, and above them he saw the dome, as he had seen it from the window of his prison. Over the dome itself rose a beautiful lantern, in which a light was now burning.
Ned entered the garden which contained many trees, and sat down in the thickest group of them. Then he began to eat. He was as ravenous as any wolf, but he had been cultivating the power of will, and he ate like a gentleman, knowing that to do otherwise would not be good for him. But, tempered by discretion, it was a glorious pursuit. It was almost worth the long period of fasting and suffering, for common Mexican food, bought on the street from an old Aztec woman, to taste so well. Strength flowed back into every vein and muscle. He would not now give way to fears and tremblings which were of the body rather than the mind. He stopped when half of the food was gone, put the remainder in his pocket, and stood up. Fine drops of water struck him in the face. It had begun to rain. And a raw wind was moaning in the valley.
Despite the warm food and his returning strength Ned felt the desperate need of shelter. It was growing colder, too. Even as he stood there the fine rain turned to fine snow. It melted as it fell, but when it struck him about the neck and face it had an uncommonly penetrating power and the chill seemed to go into the bone. He must have shelter. He looked at the dark walls of the cathedral and then at the light in the slender lantern far up above the dome. What more truly a shelter than a church! It had been a sanctuary in the dark ages, and he might use it now as such.
He left the trees and stood for a little while by a stone, one of the 124 which formerly enclosed an atrium. Still seeing nothing and hearing nothing but the whistle of the wind which drove the cold drops of snow under his collar he advanced boldly again, sprang over the iron railing, and came to the walls of the old church, where he stood a moment.
Ned knew that in great Catholic cathedrals, like the one of Mexico, there were always side doors or little wickets used by priests or other high officials of the church, and he was hoping to find one that he could open. He passed half way around the building, feeling cautiously along the cold stone. Once he saw a watchman with sombrero, heavy cloak and lantern. He pressed into a niche, and the watchman went on his automatic way, little thinking that anyone was near.
The boy continued his circuit and presently he found a wooden door, which he could not force. A little further and he came to a second which opened to his pressure. It was so small an entrance that he stooped as he passed in. He shut it carefully behind him, and stood in what was almost total darkness, until his eyes grew used to the gloom.
Then he saw that he was in a vast interior, Doric in architecture, severe and simple. It was in the form of a Latin cross, with fluted columns dividing the aisles from the nave. Above him rose a noble dome.
He could make out nothing more for the present. It was very still, very imposing, and at another time he would have been awed, but now he had found sanctuary. The cold and the snow were shut out and a grateful warmth took their place. He walked down one of the aisles, careful that his footsteps should make no sound. He saw that there were rows of chapels, seven on either side of the church. It occurred to him that he would be safer in one of these rooms and he chose that which seemed to be used the least.
While on this search he passed the main altar in the center of the building. He noticed above the stalls a picture of the Virgin. He was a Protestant, but when he saw it he crossed himself devoutly. Was not her church giving him shelter and refuge from his enemies? He also passed the Altar of the Kings, beneath which now lie the heads of great Mexicans who secured the independence of their country from Spain. He looked a little at these before he entered the chapel of his choice.
It was a small room, lighted scarcely at all by a narrow window, and it contained a few straight wooden pews one of which had been turned about facing the wall. He lay down in his pew, and, even in daylight, he would have been hidden from anyone a yard away. The hard wood was soft to him. He put his cap under his head and stretched himself out. Then, without will, he relaxed completely. Nature could stand no more. His eyes closed and he floated off into the far and happy region of sleep.
Ned Fulton's sleep was that of exhaustion, and it lasted long. Although fine snow yet fell outside, and the raw wind blew it about, a pleasant warmth pervaded the snug alcove, made by the back of the pew in which he lay. He had been fortunate indeed to find such a place, because the body of the church was gloomy and cold. But he did not hear the winds, and no thought of the snow troubled him, as he slept on hour after hour.
The night passed, the light snow had ceased, no trace of it was left on the earth, and the brilliant sunshine flooded the ancient capital with warmth. People went about their usual pursuits. Old men and old women sold sweets, hot coffee, and tortillas and frijoles, also hot, in the streets. Little plaster images of the saints and the Virgin were exposed on trays. Donkeys loaded with vegetables, that had been brought across the lakes, bumped one another in the narrow ways. Many officers in fine uniforms and many soldiers in uniforms not so fine could be seen.
Whatever else Mexico might be it was martial. The great Santa Anna whom men called another Napoleon now ruled, and there was talk of war and glory. Much of it was vague, but of one thing they were certain. Santa Anna would soon crush the mutinous Texans in the wild north. Gringos they were, always pushing where they were not wanted, and, however hard their fate, they would deserve it. The vein of cruelty which, despite great virtues, has made Spain a by-word among nations, showed in her descendants.
But the boy, Edward Fulton, sleeping in the chapel of the great cathedral, knew nothing of it all. Nature, too long defrauded, was claiming payment of her debt, and he slept peacefully on, although the hours passed and noon came.
The church had long been open. Priests came and went in the aisles, and entered some of the chapels. Worshipers, most of them women, knelt before the shrines. Service was held at the high altar, and the odor of incense filled the great nave. Yet the boy was still in sanctuary, and a kindly angel was watching over him. No one entered the chapel in which he slept.
It was almost the middle of the afternoon when he awoke. He heard a faint murmur of voices and a pleasant odor came to his nostrils. He quickly remembered everything, and, stirring a little on his wooden couch he found a certain stiffness in the joints. He realized however that all his strength had come back.
But Ned Fulton understood, although he had escaped from prison and had found shelter and sanctuary in the cathedral, that he was yet in an extremely precarious position. The murmur of voices told him that people were in the church, and he had no doubt that the odor came from burning incense.
A little light from the narrow window fell upon him. It came through colored glass, and made red and blue splotches on his hands, at which he looked curiously. He knew that it was a brilliant day outside, and he longed for air and exercise, but he dared not move except to stretch his arms and legs, until the stiffness and soreness disappeared from his joints. Contact with Spaniard and Mexican had taught him the full need of caution.
He was very hungry again, and now he was thankful for his restraint of the night before. He ate the rest of the food in his pockets and waited patiently.
Ned knew that he had slept a long time, and that it must be late in the day. He was confirmed in his opinion by the angle at which the light entered the window, and he decided that he would lie in the pew until night came again. It was a trying test. School his will as he would he felt at times that he must come from his covert and walk about the chapel. The narrow wooden pew became a casket in which he was held, and now and then he was short of breath. Yet he persisted. He was learning very young the value of will, and he forced himself every day to use it and increase its strength.
In such a position and with so much threatening him his faculties became uncommonly keen. He heard the voices more distinctly, and also the footsteps of the priests in their felt slippers. They passed the door of the chapel in which he lay, and once or twice he thought they were going to enter, but they seemed merely to pause at the door. Then he would hold his breath until they were gone.
At last and with infinite joy he saw the colored lights fade. The window itself grew dark, and the murmur in the church ceased. But he did not come forth from his secure refuge until it was quite dark. He staggered from stiffness at first, but the circulation was soon restored. Then he looked from the door of the chapel into the great nave. An old priest in a brown robe was extinguishing the candles. Ned watched him until he had put out the last one, and disappeared in the rear of the church.
Then he came forth and standing in the great, gloomy nave tried to decide what to do next. He had found a night's shelter and no more. He had escaped from prison, but not from the City of Mexico, and his Texas was yet a thousand miles away.
Ned found the little door by which he had entered, and passed outside, hiding again among the trees of the Zocalo. The night was very cold and he shivered once more, as he stood there waiting. The night was so dark that the cathedral was almost a formless bulk. But above it, the light in the slender lantern shone like a friendly star. While he looked the great bell of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in the western tower began to chime, and presently the smaller bell of Dona Maria in the eastern tower joined. It was a mellow song they sung and they sang fresh courage into the young fugitive's veins. He knew that he could never again see this cathedral built upon the site of the great Aztec teocalli, destroyed by the Spaniards more than three hundred years before, without a throb of gratitude.
Ned's first resolve was to take measures for protection from the cold, and he placed his silver dollars in his most convenient pocket. Then he left the trees and moved toward the east, passing in front of the handsome church Sagrario Metropolitano, and entering a very narrow street that led among a maze of small buildings. The district was lighted faintly by a few hanging lanterns, but as Ned had hoped, some of the shops were yet open. The people who sat here and there in the low doorways were mostly short of stature and dark and broad of face. The Indian in them predominated over the Spaniard, and some were pure Aztec. Ned judged that they would not take any deep interest in the fortunes of their rulers, Spanish or Mexican, royalist or republican.
He pulled his cap over his eyes and a little to one side, and strolled on, humming an old Mexican air. His walk was the swagger of a young Mexican gallant, and in the dimness they would not notice his Northern fairness. Several pairs of eyes observed him, but not with disapproval. They considered him a trim Mexican lad. Some of the men in the doorways took up the air that he was whistling and continued it.
He saw soon the place for which he was looking, a tiny shop in which an old Indian sold serapes. He stopped in the doorway, which he filled, took down one of the best and heaviest and held out the number of dollars which he considered an adequate price. The Indian shook his head and asked for nearly twice as much. Ned knew how long they bargained and chaffered in Mexico and what a delight they took in it. After an hour's talk he could secure the serape, at the price he offered, but he dared not linger in one place. Already the old Indian was looking at him inquiringly. Doubtless he had seen that this was no Mexican, but Ned judged shrewdly that he would not let the fact interfere with a promising bargain.
The boy acted promptly. He added two more silver dollars to the amount that he had proffered, put the whole in the old Indian's palm, took down the serape, folded it over his arm, and with a "gracias, senor," backed swiftly out of the shop. The old Indian was too much astonished to move for at least a half minute. Then tightly clutching the silver in his hand he ran into the street. But the tall young senor, with the serape already wrapped around his shoulders, was disappearing in the darkness. The Indian opened his palm and looked at the silver. A smile passed over his face. After all, it was two good Spanish dollars more than he had expected, and he returned contentedly to his shop. If such generous young gentlemen came along every night his fortune would soon be made.
Ned soon left the shop far behind. It was a fine serape, very large, thick and warm, and he draped himself in it in true Mexican fashion. It kept him warm, and, wrapped in its folds, he looked much more like a genuine Mexican. He had but little money left, but among the more primitive people beyond the capital one might work his way. If suspected he could claim to be English, and Mexico was not at war with England.
He bought a sombrero at another shop with almost the last of his money, and then started toward La Viga, the canal that leads from the lower part of the city toward the fresh water lakes, Chalco and Xochimilco. He hoped to find at the canal one of the bergantins, or flat-bottomed boats, in which vegetables, fruit and flowers were brought to the city for sale. They were good-natured people, those of the bergantins, and they would not scorn the offer of a stout lad to help with sail and oar.
Hidden in his serape and sombrero, and, secure in his knowledge of Spanish and Mexican, he now advanced boldly through the more populous and better lighted parts of the city. He even lingered a little while in front of a cafe, where men were playing guitar and mandolin, and girls were dancing with castanets. The sight of light and life pleased the boy who had been so long in prison. These people were diverting themselves and they smiled and laughed. They seemed to have kindly feelings for everybody, but he remembered that cruel Spanish strain, often dormant, but always there, and he hastened on.
Three officers, their swords swinging at their thighs, came down the narrow street abreast. At another time Ned would not have given way, and even now it hurt him to do so, but prudence made him step from the sidewalk. One of them laughed and applied an insulting epithet to the "peon," but Ned bore it and continued, his sombrero pulled well down over his eyes.
His course now led him by the great palace of Yturbide, where he saw many windows blazing with light. Several officers were entering and chief among them he recognized General Martin Perfecto de Cos, the brother-in-law of Santa Anna, whom Ned believed to be a treacherous and cruel man. He hastened away from such an unhealthy proximity, and came to La Viga.
He saw a rude wharf along the canal and several boats, all with the sails furled, except two. These two might be returning to the fresh water lakes, and it was possible that he could secure passage. The people of the bergantins were always humble peons and they cared little for the intrigues of the capital.
It was now about eleven o'clock and the night had lightened somewhat, a fair moon showing. Ned could see distinctly the boats or bergantins as the Mexicans called them. They were large, flat of bottom, shallow of draft, and were propelled with both sail and oar. He was repulsed at the first, where a surly Mexican of middle age told him with a curse that he wanted no help, but at the next which had as a crew a man, a woman, evidently his wife, and two half-grown boys, he was more fortunate. Could he use an oar? He could. Then he might come, because there was little promise of wind, and the sails would be of no use. A strong arm would help, as it was sixteen miles down La Viga to the Lake of Xochimilco, on the shores of which they lived. The boys were tired and sleepy, and he would serve very well in their stead.
Ned took his place in the boat, truly thankful that in this crisis of his life he knew how to row. He saw that his hosts, or rather those for whom he worked, were an ordinary peon family, at least half Indian, sluggish of mind and kind of heart. They had brought vegetables and flowers to the city, and now they were thriftily returning in the night to their home on the lake that Benito Igarritos and his sons might not miss the next day from their work.
Igarritos and Ned took the oars. The two boys stretched themselves on the bottom of the boat and were asleep in an instant. Juana, the wife, spread a serape over them, and then sat down in Turkish fashion in the center of the bergantin, a great red and yellow reboso about her head and shoulders. Sometimes she looked at her husband, and sometimes at the strange boy. He had spoken to them in good Mexican, he dressed like a Mexican and he walked like a Mexican, but she had not been deceived. She knew that the Mexican part of him ended with the serape and sombrero. She wondered why he had come, and why he was anxious to go to the Lake of Xochimilco. But she reflected with the patience and resignation of an oppressed race that it was no business of hers. He was a good youth. He had spoken to her with compliments as one speaks to a lady of high degree, and he bent manfully on the oar. He was welcome. But he must have a name and she would know it.
"What do you call yourself?" she asked.
"William," he replied. "I come from a far country, England, and it is my pleasure to travel in new lands and see new peoples."
"Weel-le-am," she said gravely, "you are far from your friends."
Ned bent his head in assent. Her simple words made him feel that he was indeed far from his own land and surrounded by a thousand perils. The woman did not speak again and they moved on with an even stroke down the canal which had an uniform width of about thirty feet. They were still passing houses of stone and others of adobe, but before they had gone a mile they were halted by a sharp command from the shore. An officer and three soldiers, one of whom held a lantern, stood on the bank.
Ned had expected that they would be stopped. These were revolutionary times and people could not go in or out of the city unnoticed. Particularly was La Viga guarded. He knew that his fate now rested with Benito Igarritos and his wife Juana, but he trusted them. The officer was peremptory, but the bergantin was most innocent in appearance. Merely a humble vegetable boat returning down La Viga after a successful day in the city. "Your family?" Ned heard the officer say to Benito, as he flashed the lantern in turn upon every one.
Taciturn, like most men of the oppressed races, Benito nodded, while his wife sat silent in her great red and yellow reboso. Ned leaned carelessly upon the oar, but his face was well hid by the sombrero, and his heart was throbbing. When the light of the lantern passed over him he felt as if he were seared by a flame, but the officer had no suspicion, and with a gruff "Pass on" he withdrew from the bank with his men. Benito nodded to Ned and they pulled again into the center of La Viga. Neither spoke. Nor did the woman.
Ned bent on the oar with renewed strength. He felt that the greatest of his dangers was now passed, and the relief of the spirit brought fresh strength. The night lightened yet more. He saw on the low banks of the canal green shrubs and many plants with spikes and thorns. It seemed to him characteristic of Mexico that nearly everything should have its spikes and thorns. Through the gray night showed the background of the distant mountains.
They overtook and passed two other bergantins returning from the city and they met a third on its way thither with vegetables for the morning market. Benito knew the owners and exchanged a brief word with everyone as he passed. Ned pulled silently at his oar.
When it was far past midnight Ned felt a cool breeze rising. Benito began to unfurl the sail.
"You have pulled well, young senor," he said to Ned, "but the oar is needed no more. Now the wind will work for us. You will sleep and Carlos will help me."
He awoke the elder of the two boys. Ned was so tired that his arms ached, and he was glad to rest. He wrapped his heavy serape about himself, lay down on the bottom of the boat, pillowed his head on his arm, and went to sleep.
When he awoke, it was day and they were floating on a broad sheet of shallow water, which he knew instinctively was Xochimilco. The wind was still blowing, and one of the boys steered the bergantin. Benito, Juana and the other boy sat up, with their faces turned toward the rosy morning light, as if they were sun-worshipers. Ned also felt the inspiration. The world was purer and clearer here than in the city. In the early morning the grayish, lonely tint which is the prevailing note of Mexico, did not show. The vegetation was green, or it was tinted with the glow of the sun. Near the lower shores he saw the Chiampas or floating gardens.
Benito turned the bergantin into a cove, and they went ashore. His house, flat roofed and built of adobe, was near, standing in a field, filled with spiky and thorny plants. They gave Ned a breakfast, the ordinary peasant fare of the country, but in abundance, and then the woman, who seemed to be in a sense the spokesman of the family, said very gravely:
"You are a good boy, Weel-le-am, and you rowed well. What more do you wish of us?"
Benito also bent his dark eyes upon him in serious inquiry. Ned was not prepared for any reply. He did not know just what to do and on impulse he answered:
"I would stay with you a while and work. You will not find me lazy."
He waved his hand toward the spiky and thorny field. Benito consulted briefly with his wife and they agreed. For three or four days Ned toiled in the hot field with Benito and the boys and at night he slept on the floor of earth. The work was hard and it made his body sore. The food was of the roughest, but these things were trifles compared with the gift of freedom which he had received. How glorious it was to breathe the fresh air and to have only the sky for a roof and the horizon for walls!
Benito and the older boy again took the bergantin loaded with vegetables up La Viga to the city. They did not suggest that Ned go with them. He remained working in the field, and trying to think of some way in which he could obtain money for a journey. The wind was good, the bergantin traveled fast, and Benito and his boy returned speedily. Benito greeted Ned with a grave salute, but said nothing until an hour later, when they sat by a fire outside the hut, eating the tortillas and frijoles which Juana had cooked for them.
"What is the news in the capital?" asked Ned.
Benito pondered his reply.
"The President, the protector of us all, the great General Santa Anna, grows more angry at the Texans, the wild Americans who have come into the wilderness of the far North," he replied. "They talk of an army going soon against them, and they talk, too, of a daring escape."
He paused and contemplatively lit a cigarrito.
"What was the escape?" asked Ned, the pulse in his wrist beginning to beat hard.
"One of the Texans, whom the great Santa Anna holds, but a boy they say he was, though fierce, slipped between the bars of his window and is gone. They wish to get him back; they are anxious to take him again for reasons that are too much for Benito."
"Do you think they will find him?"
"How do I know? But they say he is yet in the capital, and there is a reward of one hundred good Spanish dollars for the one who will bring him in, or who will tell where he is to be found."
Benito quietly puffed at his cigarrito and Juana, the cooking being over, threw ashes on the coals.
"If he is still hiding within reach of Santa Anna's arm," said Ned, "somebody is sure to betray him for the reward."
"I do not know," said Benito, tossing away the stub of his cigarrito. Then he rose and began work in the field.
Ned went out with the elder boy, Carlos, and caught fish. They did not return until twilight, and the others were already waiting placidly while Juana prepared their food. None of them could read; they had little; their life was of the most primitive, but Ned noticed that they never spoke cross words to one another. They seemed to him to be entirely content.
After supper they sat on the ground in front of the adobe hut. The evening was clear and already many stars were coming into a blue sky. The surface of the lake was silver, rippling lightly. Benito smoked luxuriously.
"I saw this afternoon a friend of mine, Miguel Lampridi," he said after a while. "He had just come down La Viga from the city."
"What news did he bring?" asked Edward.
"They are still searching everywhere for the young Texan who went through the window—Eduardo Fulton is his name. Truly General Santa Anna must have his reasons. The reward has been doubled."
"Poor lad," spoke Juana, who spoke seldom. "It may be that the young Texan is not as bad as they say. But it is much money that they offer. Someone will find him."
"It may be," said Benito. Then they sat a long time in silence. Juana was the first to go into the house and to bed. After a while the two boys followed. Another half hour passed, and Ned rose.
"I go, Benito," he said. "You and your wife have been good to me, and I cannot bring misfortune upon you. Why is it that you did not betray me? The reward is large. You would have been a rich man here."
Benito laughed low.
"Yes, it would have been much money," he replied, "but what use have I for it? I have the wife I wish, and my sons are good sons. We do not go hungry and we sleep well. So it will be all the days of our life. Two hundred silver dollars would bring two hundred evil spirits among us. Thy face, young Texan, is a good face. I think so and my wife, Juana, who knows, says so. Yet it is best that you go. Others will soon learn, and it is hard to live between close stone walls, when the free world is so beautiful. I will call Juana, and she, too, will tell you farewell. We would not drive you away, but since you choose to go, you shall not leave without a kind word, which may go with you as a blessing on your way."
He called at the door of the adobe hut. Juana came forth. She was stout, and she had never been beautiful, but her face seemed very pleasant to Ned, as she asked the Holy Virgin to watch over him in his wanderings.
"I have five silver dollars," said Benito. "They are yours. They will make the way shorter."
But Ned refused absolutely to accept them. He would not take the store of people who had been so kind to him. Instead he offered the single dollar that he had left for a heavy knife like a machete. Benito brought it to him and reluctantly took the dollar.
"Do not try the northern way, Texan," he said, "it is too far. Go over the mountains to Vera Cruz, where you will find passage on a ship."
It seemed good advice to Ned, and, although the change of plan was abrupt, he promised to take it. Juana gave him a bag of food which he fastened to his belt under his serape, and at midnight, with the blessing of the Holy Virgin invoked for him again, he started. Fifty yards away he turned and saw the man and woman standing before their door and gazing at him. He waved his hand and they returned the salute. He walked on again a little mist before his eyes. They had been very kind to him, these poor people of another race.
He walked along the shore of the lake for a long time, and then bore in toward the east, intending to go parallel with the great road to Vera Cruz. His step was brisk and his heart high. He felt more courage and hope than at any other time since he had dropped from the prison. He had food for several days, and the possession of the heavy knife was a great comfort. He could slash with it, as with a hatchet.
He walked steadily for hours. The road was rough, but he was young and strong. Once he crossed the pedregal, a region where an old lava flow had cooled, and which presented to his feet numerous sharp edges like those of a knife. He had good shoes with heavy soles and he knew their value. On the long march before him they were worth as much as bread and weapons, and he picked his way as carefully as a walker on a tight rope. He was glad when he had crossed the dangerous pedregal and entered a cypress forest, clustering on a low hill. Grass grew here also, and he rested a while, wrapped in his serape against the coldness of the night.
He saw behind and now below him the city, the towers of the churches outlined against the sky. It was from some such place as this that Cortez and his men, embarked upon the world's most marvelous adventure, had looked down for the first time upon the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. But it did not beckon to Ned. It seemed to him that a mighty menace to his beloved Texas emanated from it. And he must warn the Texans.
He sprang to his feet and resumed his journey. At the eastern edge of the hill he came upon a beautiful little spring, leaping from the rock. He drank from it and went on. Lower down he saw some adobe huts among the cypresses and cactus. No doubt their occupants were sound asleep, but for safety's sake he curved away from them. Dogs barked, and when they barked again the sound showed they were coming nearer. He ran, rather from caution than fear, because if the dogs attacked he wished to be so far away from the huts that their owners would not be awakened.
Now he gave thanks that he had the machete. He thrust his hands under the serape and clasped its strong handle. It was a truly formidable weapon. He came to another little hill, also clothed in cypress, and began to ascend it with decreased speed. The baying of the dogs was growing much louder. They were coming fast. Near the summit he saw a heap of rock, probably an Aztec tumulus, six or seven feet high. Ned smiled with satisfaction. Pressed by danger his mind was quick. He was where he would make his defense, and he did not think it would need to be a long one.
He settled himself well upon the top of the tumulus and drew his machete. The dogs, six in number, coursed among the cypresses, and the leader, foam upon his mouth, leaped straight at Ned. The boy involuntarily drew up his feet a little, but he was not shaken from the crouching position that was best suited to a blow. As the hound was in mid-air he swung the machete with all his might and struck straight at the ugly head. The heavy blade crashed through the skull and the dog fell dead without a sound. Another which leaped also, but not so far, received a deep cut across the shoulder. It fell back and retreated with the others among the cypresses, where the unwounded dogs watched with red eyes the formidable figure on the rocks.
But Ned did not remain on the tumulus more than a few minutes longer. When he sprang down the dogs growled, but he shook the machete until it glittered in the moonlight. With howls of terror they fled, while he resumed his journey in the other direction.
Near morning he came into country which seemed to him very wild. The soil was hard and dry, but there was a dense growth of giant cactus, with patches here and there of thorny bushes. Guarding well against the spikes and thorns he crept into one of the thickets and lay down. He must rest and sleep and already the touch of rose in the east was heralding the dawn. Sleep by day and flight by night. He was satisfied with himself. He had really succeeded better so far than he had hoped, and, guarded by the spikes and thorns, slumber took him before dawn had spread from east to west.
Ned awoke about noon. The morning had been cold, but having been wrapped very thoroughly in the great serape, he had remained snug and warm all through his long sleep. He rose very cautiously, lest the spikes and thorns should get him, and then went to a comparatively open place among the giant cactus stems whence he could see over the hills and valleys. He saw in the valley nearest him the flat roofs of a small village. Columns of smoke rose from two or three of the adobe houses, and he heard the faint, mellow voices of men singing in a field. Women by the side of a small but swift stream were pounding and washing clothes after the primitive fashion.
Looking eastward he saw hills and a small mountain, but all the country in that direction seemed to be extremely arid and repellent. The bare basalt of volcanic origin showed everywhere, and, even at the distance, he could see many deep quarries in the stone, where races older, doubtless, than Aztecs and Toltecs, had obtained material for building. It was always Ned's feeling when in Mexico that he was in an old, old land, not ancient like England or France, but ancient as Egypt and Babylon are ancient.
He had calculated his course very carefully, and he knew that it would lead through this desert, volcanic region, but on the whole he was not sorry. Mexicans would be scarce in such a place. He remained a lad of stout heart, confident that he would succeed.
He ate sparingly and reckoned that with self-denial he had food enough to last three days. He might obtain more on the road by some happy chance or other. Then becoming impatient he started again, keeping well among cypress and cactus, and laying his course toward the small mountain that he saw ahead. He pressed forward the remainder of the afternoon, coming once or twice near to the great road that led to Vera Cruz. On one occasion he saw a small body of soldiers, deep in dust, marching toward the port. All except the officers were peons and they did not seem to Ned to show much martial ardor. But the officers on horseback sternly bade them hasten. Ned, as usual, had much sympathy for the poor peasants, but none for the officers who drove them on.
About sunset he came to a little river, the Teotihuacan he learned afterward, and he still saw before him the low mountain, the name of which was Cerro Gordo. But his attention was drawn from the mountain by two elevations rising almost at the bank of the river. They were pyramidal in shape and truncated, and the larger, which Ned surmised to be anywhere from 500 to 1000 feet square, seemed to rise to a height of two or three hundred feet. The other was about two-thirds the size of the larger, both in area and height.
Although there was much vegetation clinging about them Ned knew that these were pyramids erected by the hand of man. The feeling that this was a land old like Egypt came back to him most powerfully in the presence of these ancient monuments, which were in fact the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. There they stood, desolate and of untold age. The setting sun poured an intense red light upon them, until they stood out vivid and enlarged.
So far as Ned knew, no other human being was anywhere near. The loneliness in the presence of those tremendous ruins was overpowering. He longed for human companionship. A peon, despite the danger otherwise, would have been welcome. The whole land took on fantastic aspects. It was not normal and healthy like the regions from which he came north of the Rio Grande. Every nerve quivered.
Then he did the bravest thing that one could do in such a position, forcing his will to win a victory over weirdness and superstition. He crossed the shallow river and advanced boldly toward the Pyramid of the Sun. His reason told him that there were no such things as ghosts, but it told him also that Mexican peons were likely to believe in them. Hence it was probable that he would be safer about the Pyramid than far from it. The country bade fair to become too rough for night traveling and he would stop there a while, refreshing his strength.
Although the sun was setting, the color of the skies promised a bright night, and Ned approached boldly. As usual his superstitious fears became weaker as he approached the objects that had called them into existence. But before he reached the pyramids he found that he was among many ruins. They stood all about him, stone fragments of ancient walls, black basalt or lava, and, unless the twilight deceived him, there were also traces of ancient streets. He saw, too, south of the larger pyramids a great earthwork or citadel thirty or forty feet high enclosing a square in which stood a small pyramid. The walls of the earthwork were enormously thick, three hundred feet Ned reckoned, and upon it at regular intervals stood other small pyramids fourteen in number.
Scattered all about, alone or in groups, were tumuli, and leading away from the largest group of tumuli Ned saw a street or causeway, which, passing by the Pyramid of the Sun, ended in front of the Pyramid of the Moon, where it widened out into a great circle, with a tumulus standing in the center.
Despite all the courage that he had shown Ned felt a superstitious thrill as he looked at these ancient and solemn ruins. He and they were absolutely alone. Antiquity looked down upon him. The sun was gone now and the moon was coming out, touching pyramids and tumuli, earthworks and causeway with ghostly silver, deepening the effect of loneliness and far-off time.
While Ned was looking at these majestic remains he heard the sound of voices, and then the rattle of weapons. He saw through the twilight the glitter of uniforms and of swords and sabers. A company of Mexican soldiers, at least a hundred in number, had come into the ancient city and, no doubt, intended to camp there. Being so absorbed in the strange ruins he had not noticed them sooner.
As the men were already scattering in search of firewood or other needs of the camp Ned saw that he was in great danger. He hid behind a tumulus, half covered by the vegetation that had grown from its crevices. He was glad that his serape was of a modest brown, instead of the bright colors that most of the Mexicans loved. A soldier passed within ten feet of him, but in the twilight did not notice him. It was enough to make one quiver. Another passed a little later, and he, too, failed to see the fugitive. But a third, if he came, would probably see, and leaving the tumulus Ned ran to another where he hid again for a few minutes.
It was the boy's object to make off through the neighboring forest after passing from tumulus to tumulus, but he found soon that another body of soldiers was camping upon the far side of the ruined city. He might or might not run the gauntlet in the darkness. The probabilities were that he would not, and hiding behind a tumulus almost midway between the two forces he took thought of his next step.
The Pyramid of the Moon rose almost directly before him, its truncated mass spotted with foliage. Ned could see that its top was flat and instantly he took a bold resolution. He made his way to the base of the pyramid and began to climb slowly and with great care, always keeping hidden in the vegetation. He was certain that no Mexican would follow where he was going. They were on other business, and their incurious minds bothered little about a city that was dead and gone for them.
Up he went steadily over uneven terraces, and from below he heard the chatter of the soldiers. A third fire had been lighted much nearer the pyramid, and pausing a moment he looked down. Twenty or thirty soldiers were scattered about this fire. Their muskets were stacked and they were taking their ease. Discipline was relaxed. One man was strumming a mandolin already, and two or three began to sing. But Ned saw sentinels walking among the tumuli and along the Calle de los Muertos which led from the Citadel to the southern front of the Pyramid of the Moon. He was very glad now that he had sought this lofty refuge, and he renewed his climb.