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The Texan Scouts: A Story of the Alamo and Goliad

The Texan Scouts: A Story of the Alamo and Goliad

Author:Joseph A. Altsheler


The horseman rode slowly toward the west, stopping once or twice to examine the wide circle of the horizon with eyes that were trained to note every aspect of the wilderness. On his right the plains melted away in gentle swell after swell, until th...
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  The horseman rode slowly toward the west, stopping once or twice toexamine the wide circle of the horizon with eyes that were trained tonote every aspect of the wilderness. On his right the plains melted awayin gentle swell after swell, until they met the horizon. Their brownsurface was broken only by the spiked and thorny cactus and stray bitsof chaparral.

  On his left was the wide bed of a river which flowed through the sand,breaking here and there into several streams, and then reuniting, onlyto scatter its volume a hundred yards further into three or fourchannels. A bird of prey flew on strong wing over the water, dipped andthen rose again, but there was no other sign of life. Beyond, thecountry southward rolled away, gray and bare, sterile and desolate.

  The horseman looked most often into the south. His glances into thenorth were few and brief, but his eyes dwelled long on the lonely landthat lay beyond the yellow current. His was an attractive face. He wasyoung, only a boy, but the brow was broad and high, and the eyes, graveand steady, were those of one who thought much. He was clad completelyin buckskin, and his hat was wide of brim. A rifle held in one hand layacross the pommel of his saddle and there were weapons in his belt. Twolight, but warm, blankets, folded closely, were tied behind him. Thetanned face and the lithe, strong figure showed a wonderful degree ofhealth and strength.

  Several hours passed and the horseman rode on steadily though slowly.His main direction was toward the west, and always he kept the river twoor three hundred yards on his left. He never failed to search the plainson either side, but chiefly in the south, with the eager, intent gazethat missed nothing. But the lonesome gray land, cut by the coilingyellow river, still rolled before him, and its desolation and chillstruck to his heart. It was the depth of the Texan winter, and, attimes, icy gusts, born in far mountains, swept across the plains.

  The rider presently turned his horse toward the river and stopped on alow bluff overlooking it. His face showed a tinge of disappointment, asif his eyes failed to find objects for which they sought. Again he gazedlong and patiently into the south, but without reward.

  He resumed his ride parallel with the river, but soon stopped a secondtime, and held up an open hand, like one who tests the wind. The air wasgrowing perceptibly colder. The strong gusts were now fusing into asteady wind. The day, which had not been bright at any time, was turningdarker. The sun was gone and in the far north banks of mists and vaporwere gathering. A dreary moaning came over the plain.

  Ned Fulton, tried and brave though he was, beheld the omens with alarm.He knew what they portended, and in all that vast wilderness he wasalone. Not a human being to share the danger with him! Not a hand tohelp!

  He looked for chaparral, something that might serve as a sort ofshelter, but he had left the last clump of it behind, and now he turnedand rode directly north, hoping that he might find some deep depressionbetween the swells where he and his horse, in a fashion, could hide.

  Meanwhile the Norther came down with astonishing speed. The temperaturefell like a plummet. The moan of the wind rose to a shriek, and coldclouds of dust were swept against Ned and his horse. Then snow mingledwith the dust and both beat upon them. Ned felt his horse shiveringunder him, and he shivered, too, despite his will. It had turned so darkthat he could no longer tell where he was going, and he used the widebrim of his hat to protect himself from the sand.

  Soon it was black as night, and the snow was driving in a hurricane. Thewind, unchecked by forest or hill, screamed with a sound almost human.Ned dismounted and walked in the lee of his horse. The animal turned hishead and nuzzled his master, as if he could give him warmth.

  Ned hoped that the storm would blow itself out in an hour or two, buthis hope was vain. The darkness did not abate. The wind rose instead offalling, and the snow thickened. It lay on the plain several inchesdeep, and the walking grew harder. At last the two, the boy and thehorse, stopped. Ned knew that they had come into some kind of adepression, and the full force of the hurricane passed partly over theirheads.

  It was yet very dark, and the driving snow scarcely permitted him toopen his eyes, but by feeling about a little he found that one side ofthe dip was covered with a growth of dwarf bushes. He led the horse intothe lower edge of these, where some protection was secured, and,crouching once more in the lee of the animal, he unfolded the twoblankets, which he wrapped closely about himself to the eyes.

  Ned, for the first time since the Norther rushed down upon him, feltsecure. He would not freeze to death, he would escape the fate thatsometimes overtook lone hunters or travelers upon those vast plains.Warmth from the blankets began gradually to replace the chill in hisbones, and the horse and the bushes together protected his face from thedriven snow which had been cutting like hail. He even had, in somedegree, the sense of comfort which one feels when safe inside four wallswith a storm raging past the windows. The horse whinnied once and rubbedhis nose against Ned's hand. He, too, had ceased to shiver.

  All that afternoon the Norther blew with undiminished violence. After awhile the fall of snow thinned somewhat, but the wind did not decrease.Ned was devoutly thankful for the dip and the bushes that grew withinit. Nor was he less thankful for the companionship of his horse. It wasa good horse, a brave horse, a great bay mustang, built powerfully andwith sinews and muscles of steel. He had secured him just after takingpart in the capture of San Antonio with his comrades, Obed White and theRing Tailed Panther, and already the tie between horse and rider hadbecome strong and enduring. Ned stroked him again, and the horse,twisting his neck around, thrust his nose under his arm.

  "Good old boy! Good fellow!" said Ned, pinching his ear. "We were lucky,you and I, to find this place."

  The horse neighed ever so gently, and rubbed his nose up and down. Aftera while the darkness began to increase. Ned knew that it was not a newdevelopment of the storm, but the coming of night, and he grew anxiousagain. He and his horse, however secure at the present moment, could notstay always in that dip among the bushes. Yet he did not dare to leaveit. Above on the plain they would receive the full sweep of the wind,which was still bitterly cold.

  He was worn by the continued buffetings of blast and snow, but he didnot dare to lie down, even in the blankets, lest he never wake again,and while he considered he saw darker shadows in the darkness above him.He gazed, all attention, and counted ten shadows, following one another,a dusky file. He knew by the set of their figures, short and stocky,that they were Mexicans, and his heart beat heavily. These were thefirst Mexicans that any one had seen on Texan soil since the departureof Cos and his army on parole from captured San Antonio. So the Mexicanshad come back, and no doubt they would return in great force!

  Ned crouched lower, and he was very glad that the nose of the horse wasstill under his arm. He would not have a chance to whinny to his kindthat bore the Mexicans. But the horse made no attempt to move, and Nedwatched them pass on and out of sight. He had not heard the sound offootsteps or voices above the wind, and after they were gone it seemedto him that he had seen a line of phantoms.

  But he was sure that his own mortal eyes had beheld that for which hewas looking. He and his comrades had been watching the Rio Grande to seewhether the Mexicans had crossed, and now he at least knew it.

  He waited patiently three or four hours longer, until the wind died andthe fall of snow ceased, when he mounted his horse and rode out of thedip. The wind suddenly sprang up again in about fifteen minutes, butnow it blew from the south and was warm. The darkness thinned away asthe moon and stars came out in a perfect sky of southern blue. Thetemperature rose many degrees in an hour and Ned knew that the snowwould melt fast. All danger of freezing was past, but he was as hungryas a bear and tired to death.

  He unwrapped the blankets from his body, folded them again in a smallpackage which he made fast to his saddle, and once more stroked the noseof his horse.

  "Good Old Jack," he murmured--he had called him Old Jack after AndrewJackson, then a mighty hero of the south and west, "you passed throughthe ordeal and never moved, like the silent gentleman that you are."

  Old Jack whinnied ever so softly, and rubbed his nose against the boy'scoat sleeve. Ned mounted him and rode out of the dip, pausing at the topof the swell for a long look in every direction. The night was nowpeaceful and there was no noise, save for the warm wind that blew out ofthe south with a gentle sighing sound almost like the note of music.Trickles of water from the snow, already melting, ran down the crests.Lighter and lighter grew the sky. The moon seemed to Ned to be poiseddirectly overhead, and close by. New stars were springing out as thelast clouds floated away.

  Ned sought shelter, warmth and a place in which to sleep, and to securethese three he felt that he must seek timber. The scouts whom he hadseen were probably the only Mexicans north of the Rio Grande, and, as hebelieved, there was not one chance in a thousand of meeting such enemiesagain. If he should be so lucky as to find shelter he would sleep therewithout fear.

  He rode almost due north for more than two hours, seeing patches ofchaparral on both right and left. But, grown fastidious now and notthinking them sufficient for his purpose, he continued his northerncourse. Old Jack's feet made a deep sighing sound as they sank in thesnow, and now there was water everywhere as that soft but conqueringsouth wind blew steadily over the plain.

  When he saw a growth of timber rising high and dark upon a swell hebelieved that he had found his place, and he urged his horse to renewedspeed. The trees proved to be pecans, aspens and oaks growing so denselythat he was compelled to dismount and lead Old Jack before they couldforce an entrance. Inside he found a clear space, somewhat like theopenings of the north, in shape an irregular circle, but not more thanfifteen feet across. Great spreading boughs of oaks had protected it sowell that but little snow had fallen there, and that little had melted.Already the ground in the circle was drying.

  Ned uttered an exclamation of relief and gratitude. This would be hiscamp, and to one used to living in the wilderness it furnished goodshelter. At one edge of the opening was an outcropping of flat rock nowquite dry, and there he would spread his bed. He unsaddled and unbridledhis horse, merely tethering him with a lariat, and spread the horseblanket upon the flat rock. He would lie upon this and cover himselfwith his own blankets, using the saddle as a pillow.

  But the security of the covert tempted the boy, who was now as hungry asa bear just come from winter quarters. He felt weak and relaxed afterhis long hours in the snow and storm, and he resolved to have warm foodand drink.

  There was much fallen wood among the trees, and with his strong huntingknife he whittled off the bark and thin dry shavings until he had a fineheap. Working long with flint and steel, he managed to set fire to theshavings, and then he fed the flames with larger pieces of wood untilhe had a great bed of glowing coals. A cautious wilderness rover,learning always from his tried friends, Ned never rode the plainswithout his traveling equipment, and now he drew from his pack a smalltin coffee pot and tiny cup of the same material. Then with quick andskillful hands he made coffee over the coals and warmed strips of deerand buffalo meat.

  He ate and drank hungrily, while the horse nibbled the grass that grewwithin the covert. Glorious warmth came again and the worn feelingdeparted. Life, youthful, fresh and abounding, swelled in every vein.

  He now put out all the coals carefully, throwing wet leaves upon them,in order that not a single spark might shine through the trees to beseen by an enemy upon the plain. He relied upon the horse to givewarning of a possible approach by man, and to keep away wolves.

  Then he made his bed upon the rock, doing everything as he had arrangedit in his mind an hour before, and, wrapped in his blankets, fell intothe soundest of sleeps. The south wind still blew steadily, playing alow musical song among the trees. The beads of water on the twigs andthe few leaves that remained dried fast. The grass dried, too, andbeyond the covert the snow, so quick to come, was equally quick to go.

  The horse ceased to nibble the grass, looked at the sleeping boy,touched his blankets lightly with his nose, and walked to the other sideof the opening, where he lay down and went to his own horse heaven ofsleep.

  It was not many hours until day and Old Jack was a light sleeper. Whenhe opened his eyes again he saw a clear and beautiful winter day of thefar south. The only clouds in the sky were little drifting bits of finewhite wool, and the warm wind still blew. Old Jack, who was in realityYoung Jack, as his years were not yet four, did not think so much of thecovert now, as he had already eaten away all the grass within the littleopening but his sense of duty was strong. He saw that his human masterand comrade still slept, apparently with no intention of awakening atany very early date, and he set himself to gleaning stray blades ofgrass that might have escaped his notice the night before.

  Ned awoke a little after the noon hour, and sprang to his feet indismay. The sun was almost directly over his head, showing him how lateit was. He looked at his horse as if to reproach his good comrade fornot waking him sooner, but Old Jack's large mild eyes gave him such agaze of benignant unconcern that the boy was ashamed of himself.

  "It certainly was not your fault," he said to his horse, "and, afterall, it probably doesn't matter. We've had a long sound sleep and rest,and I've no doubt that both of us will profit by it. Nothing seems to beleft in here for you to eat, but I'll take a little breakfast myself."

  He did not relight the fire, but contented himself with cold food. Thenresaddling, he left the grove and rode northward again until he came toa hill, or, rather, a swell, that was higher than the rest. Here hestopped his horse and took a glance at the sun, which was shining withuncommon brilliancy. Then he produced a small mirror from the pocket ofhis hunting shirt and held it in such a position that it made a focus ofthe sun's rays, throwing them in a perfect blazing lance of light.

  He turned the flaming lance around the horizon, until it completed thecircle and then he started around with it again. Meantime he was keepinga close watch upon every high point. A hill rose in the north, and helooked at it longest, but nothing came from it. There was another, butlower, hill in the west, and before he had completed the second roundwith his glass a light flashed from it. It was a brilliant light, almostlike a sheaf of white incandescent rays. He lowered his own mirror andthe light played directly upon his hill. When it ceased he sent backanswering rays, to which, when he stopped, a rejoinder came in likefashion. Then he put the little mirror back in the safe pocket of hishunting shirt and rode with perfect confidence toward that western hill.

  The crest that Ned sought was several miles away, although it lookedmuch nearer in the thin clear air of the plains, but he rode now atincreased speed, because there was much to draw him on. Old Jack seemedto share in his lightness of spirit, raising his head once and neighing,as if he were sending forth a welcome.

  The boy soon saw two figures upon the hill, the shapes of horse and man,outlined in black against the sun, which was now declining in the west.They were motionless and they were exaggerated into gigantic statureagainst the red background. Ned knew them, although the distance was fartoo great to disclose any feature. But signal had spoken truly tosignal, and that was enough. Old Jack made a fresh burst of speed andpresently neighed once more. An answering neigh came back from the hill.

  Ned rode up the slope and greeted Obed White and the Ring Tailed Pantherwith outstretched hands.

  "And it's you, my boy," said Obed, his eyes glistening. "Until we sawyour signal we were afraid that you might have frozen to death in theNorther, but it's a long lane that has no happy ending, and here we are,all three of us, alive, and as well as ever."

  "That's so," said the Panther, "but even when the storm was at its worstI didn't give up, Ned. Somehow, when things are at the blackest I'malways hopin'. I don't take any credit fur it. I was just born with thatkind of a streak in me."

  Ned regarded him with admiration. The Ring Tailed Panther was certainlya gorgeous object. He rode a great black horse with a flowing mane. Hewas clad completely in a suit of buckskin which was probably without amatch on the border. It and his moccasins were adorned with thick rowsof beads of many colors, that glittered and flashed as the sunlightplayed upon them. Heavy silver spurs were fastened to his heels, and hishat of broad brim and high cone in the Mexican fashion was heavy withsilver braid. His saddle also was of the high, peaked style, studdedwith silver. The Panther noticed Ned's smile of appraisement and smiledback.

  "Ain't it fine?" he said. "I guess this is about the beautifullestoutfit to be found in either Texas or Mexico. I bought it all in honorof our victory just after we took San Antonio, and it soothes my eyesand makes my heart strong every time I look at it."

  "And it helps out the prairies," said Obed White, his eyes twinkling."Now that winter has made 'em brown, they need a dash of color and thePanther gives it to 'em. Fine feathers don't keep a man from being a manfor a' that. What did you do in the storm, Ned?"

  "I found shelter in a thick grove, managed to light a fire, and sleptthere in my blankets."

  "We did about the same."

  "But I saw something before I reached my shelter."

  "What was that?" exclaimed the two, noting the significance in Ned'stone.

  "While I was waiting in a dip I saw ten Mexican horsemen ride by. Theywere heavily armed, and I've no doubt they were scouts belonging to somestrong force."

  "And so they are back on this side of the Rio Grande," said Obed Whitethoughtfully. "I'm not surprised. Our Texans have rejoiced too early.The full storm has not burst yet."

  The Panther began to bristle. A giant in size, he seemed to grow larger,and his gorgeous hunting suit strained at the seams.

  "Let 'em come on," he said menacingly. "Let Santa Anna himself lead 'em.We Texans can take care of 'em all."

  But Obed White shook his head sadly.

  "We could if we were united," he said, "but our leaders have taken tosquabbling. You're a Cheerful Talker, Panther, and you deserve both yournames, but to tell you the honest truth I'm afraid of the Mexicanadvance."

  "I think the Mexicans probably belonged to Urrea's band," said Ned.

  "Very likely," said Obed. "He's about the most energetic of theirpartisan leaders, and it may be that we'll run against him pretty soon."

  They had heard in their scouting along the Rio Grande that youngFrancisco Urrea, after the discovery that he was a spy and hiswithdrawal from San Antonio with the captured army of Cos, had organizeda strong force of horsemen and was foremost among those who were urginga new Mexican advance into Texas.

  "It's pretty far west for the Mexicans," said the Panther. "We're on theedge of the Indian country here."

  But Obed considered it all the more likely that Urrea, if he meditated araid, would come from the west, since his approach at that point wouldbe suspected the least. The three held a brief discussion and soon cameto an agreement. They would continue their own ride west and look forUrrea. Having decided so, they went into the task heart and soul,despite its dangers.

  The three rode side by side and three pairs of skilled eyes examined theplain. The snow was left only in sheltered places or among the trees.But the further they went the scarcer became the trees, and before nightthey disappeared entirely.

  "We are comin' upon the buffalo range," said the Panther. "A hundredmiles further west we'd be likely to strike big herds. When we'rethrough fightin' the Mexicans I'm goin' out there again. It's the lifefur me."

  The night came, dark and cold, but fortunately without wind. They campedin a dip and did not light any fire, lying as Ned had done the nightbefore on their horse blankets and wrapping themselves in their own. Thethree horses seemed to be contented with one another and made no noise.

  They deemed it wise now to keep a watch, as they might be near Urrea'sband or Lipans might pass, and the Panther, who said he was not sleepyat all, became sentinel. Ned, although he had not risen until noon, wassleepy again from the long ride, and his eyes closed soon. The lastobject that he saw was the Panther standing on the crest of the swelljust beyond them, rifle on shoulder, watching the moonlit plains. ObedWhite was asleep already.

  The Panther walked back and forth a few times and then looked down athis comrades in the dip. His trained eyes saw their chests rising andfalling, and he knew that they were far away in the land of Nowhere.Then he extended his walk back and forth a little further, scanningcarefully the dusky plain.

  A light wind sprang up after a while, and it brought a low but heavy andmeasured tread to his ears. The Panther's first impulse was to awakenhis friends, because this might be the band of Urrea, but he hesitated amoment, and then lay down with his ear to the earth. When he rose hisuneasiness had departed and he resumed his walk back and forth. He hadheard that tread before many times and, now that it was coming nearer,he could not mistake it, but, as the measured beat indicated that itwould pass to one side, it bore no threat for his comrades or himself.

  The Panther did not stop his walk as from a distance of a few hundredyards he watched the great buffalo herd go by. The sound was so steadyand regular that Ned and Obed were not awakened nor were the horsesdisturbed. The buffaloes showed a great black mass across the plain,extending for fully a mile, and they were moving north at an even gait.The Panther watched until the last had passed, and he judged that therewere fully a hundred thousand animals in the herd. He saw also the bigtimber wolves hanging on the rear and flanks, ready to cut out straycalves or those weak from old age. So busy were the wolves seeking achance that they did not notice the gigantic figure of the man, rifle onshoulder, who stood on the crest of the swell looking at them as theypassed.

  The Panther's eyes followed the black line of the herd until itdisappeared under the northern rim of darkness. He was wondering why thebuffaloes were traveling so steadily after daylight and he came to theconclusion that the impelling motive was not a search for new pastures.He listened a long time until the last rumble of the hundred thousanddied away in a faint echo, and then he awakened his comrades.

  "I'm thinkin'," he said, "that the presence of Urrea's band made thebuffaloes move. Now I'm not a Ring Tailed Panther an' a Cheerful Talkerfor nothin', an' we want to hunt that band. Like as not they've beendoin' some mischief, which we may be able partly to undo. I'm in favorof ridin' south, back on the herd track an' lookin' for 'em."

  "So am I," said Obed White. "My watch says it's one o'clock in themorning, and my watch is always right, because I made it myself. We'vehad a pretty good rest, enough to go on, and what we find may be worthfinding. A needle in a haystack may be well hid, but you'll find it ifyou look long enough."

  They rode almost due south in the great path made by the buffalo herd,not stopping for a full two hours when a halt was made at a signal fromthe Panther. They were in a wide plain, where buffalo grass yet grewdespite the winter, and the Panther said with authority that the herdhad been grazing here before it was started on its night journey intothe north.

  "An' if we ride about this place long enough," he said, "we'll find thereason why the buffaloes left it."

  He turned his horse in a circuit of the plain and Ned and Obed followedthe matchless tracker, who was able, even in the moonlight, to note anydisturbance of the soil. Presently he uttered a little cry and pointedahead. Both saw the skeleton of a buffalo which evidently had beenkilled not long and stripped of its meat. A little further on they sawanother and then two more.

  "That tells it," said the Panther succinctly. "These buffaloes werekilled for food an' most likely by Mexicans. It was the shots that setthe herd to runnin'. The men who killed 'em are not far away, an' I'mnot a Ring Tailed Panther an' a Cheerful Talker if they don't belong toUrrea's band."

  "Isn't that a light?" said Ned, pointing to the west, "or is it afirefly or something of the kind?"

  A glowing spark was just visible over the plain, but as it neither movednor went out the three concluded that it was made by a distant fire.

  "I think it's in chaparral or among trees," said Obed, "or we would seeit more plainly. It's a poor camp fire that hides its light under abushel."

  "I think you're right an' it must be chaparral," said the Panther. "Butwe'll ride toward it an' soon answer our own questions."

  The light was more than a mile away and, as they advanced slowly, theysaw it grow in size and intensity. It was surely a campfire, but nosound that they could yet hear came from it. They did not expect to hearany. If it was indeed Urrea and his men they would probably be sleepingsoundly, not expecting any foe to be near. The Panther now dismounted,and the other two did likewise.

  "No need to show too high above the plain," he said, "an' if we have torun it won't take a second to jump back on our horses."

  Ned did not take the bridle of his horse as the others did. He knew thatOld Jack would follow as faithful as any dog to his master, and he wasright. As they advanced slowly the velvet nose more than once pressedtrustfully against his elbow.

  They saw now that an extensive growth of chaparral rose before them,from the center of which the light seemed to be shining. The Panther laydown on the prairie, put his ear to the ground, and listened a longtime.

  "I think I hear the feet of horses movin' now an' then," he said, "an'if so, one of us had better stay behin' with ours. A horse of theirsmight neigh an' a horse of ours might answer. Yon can't tell. Obed, Iguess it'll be for you to stay. You've got a most soothin' dispositionwith animals."

  "All right," said Obed philosophically, "I'd rather go on, but, if it'sbetter for me to stay, I'll stay. They also serve who stand and hold thereins. If you find you've got to leave in a hurry I'll be here waiting."

  He gathered up the reins of the three horses and remained quietly on theplain, while Ned and the Panther went forward, making straight for thelight.

  When they came to the edge of the chaparral they knelt among the bushesand listened. Now both distinctly heard the occasional movement ofhorses, and they saw the dusky outlines of several figures before thefire, which was about three hundred yards away.

  "They are bound to be Mexicans," whispered the Panther, "'cause thereare no Texans in this part of the country, an' you an' me, Ned, mustfind out just who they are."

  "You lead the way, Panther," said Ned. "I'll follow wherever you go."

  "Then be mighty careful. Look out for the thorns an' don't knock yourrifle against any bush."

  The Panther lay almost flat. His huge figure seemed to blend with theearth, and he crept forward among the thorny bushes with amazing skill.He was like some large animal, trained for countless generations to slipthrough thickets. Ned, just behind him, could hear only the faintestnoise, and the bushes moved so little that one, not knowing, might havecredited it to the wind.

  The boy had the advantage of following in the path made by the man'slarger figure, and he, too, was successful in making no sound. But hecould hear the stamp of horses' feet clearly now, and both to left andright he caught glimpses of them tethered in the thickets. His comradestopped at last. They were not more than a hundred yards from the firenow, and the space in front of them was mostly open. The Panther,crouching among the bushes, raised his finger slowly and pointed towardthe fire.

  Ned, who had moved to one side, followed the pointing finger and sawUrrea. He was the dominant figure in a group of six or seven gatheredabout the flames. He was no longer in any disguise, but wore anofficer's gorgeous uniform of white and silver. A splendid cocked hatwas on his head, and a small gold hilted rapier swung by his side.

  It may have been partly the effect of the night and the red flame, butthe face of Urrea had upon Ned an effect much like that of Santa Anna.It was dark and handsome, but full of evil. And evil Ned knew Urrea tobe. No man with righteous blood in his veins would play the spy andtraitor as he had done.

  "I could shoot him from here," whispered the Panther, who evidently wasinfluenced in a similar way, "then reach our horses an' get away. Itmight be a good deed, an' it might save our lives, Ned, but I'm not ableto force myself to do it."

  "Nor I," said Ned. "I can't shoot an enemy from ambush."

  Urrea and the other men at the fire, all of whom were in the dress ofofficers, were in a deep talk. Ned inferred that the subject must be ofmuch importance, since they sat awake, discussing it between midnightand morning.

  "Look beyond the fire at the figures leanin' against the trees,"whispered the Panther.

  Ned looked and hot anger rose in his veins.