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The Texan Star: The Story of a Great Fight for Liberty

The Texan Star: The Story of a Great Fight for Liberty

Author:Joseph A. Altsheler


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 ...
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  A boy and a man sat in a room of a stone house in the ancient City ofMexico, capital in turn of Aztec, Spaniard and Mexican. They could seethrough the narrow windows masses of low buildings and tile roofs, andbeyond, the swelling shape of great mountains, standing clear againstthe blue sky. But they had looked upon them so often that the mind tookno note of the luminous spectacle. The cry of a water-seller or theoccasional 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 middleyears, and his face showed a singular blend of kindness and firmness.The pallor of imprisonment had replaced his usual color. The boy wastall and strong and his cheeks were yet ruddy. His features bore someresemblance to those of his older comrade.

  "Ned," said the man at last, "it has been good of you to stay with mehere, but a prison is no place for a boy. You must secure a release andgo 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'snot likely that I could. This house is strong, and it's a long way fromhere to Texas."

  "Perhaps I can induce them to let you go," said the man. "Why shouldthey wish to hold one so young?"

  Edward Fulton did not reply because he saw that Stephen Austin wasspeaking to himself rather than his companion. Instead, he looked oncemore through the window and over the city at the vast white peaks ofPopocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl silent and immutable, forever guarding thesky-line. Yet they seemed to call to him at this moment and tell him offreedom. The words of the man had touched a spring within him and hewanted to go. He could not conceal from himself the fact that he longedfor 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 inMexico more than a year. Coming to Saltillo to secure for the Texansbetter treatment from the Mexicans, their rulers, he had been seized andheld 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 tothe capital to help him he was sharing his imprisonment.

  "They say that Santa Anna now has the power," said Ned, breaking thesomber silence.

  "It is true," said Stephen Austin, "and it is a new and strong reasonwhy I fear for our people. Of all the cunning and ambitious men inMexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna is the most cunning and ambitious. Iknow, too, that he is the most able, and I believe that he is the mostdangerous to those of us who have settled in Texas. What a country isthis Mexico! Revolution after revolution! You make a treaty with onepresident to-day and to-morrow another disclaims it! More than one ofthem has a touch of genius, and yet it is obscured by childishness andcruelty!"

  He sighed heavily. Ned, full of sympathy, glanced at him but saidnothing. Then his gaze turned back to the mighty peaks which stood sosharp and clear against the blue. Truth and honesty were the most markedqualities of Stephen Austin and he could not understand the vast web ofintrigue in which the Mexican capital was continually involved. And tothe young mind of the boy, cast in the same mold, it was yet morebaffling and repellent.

  Ned still stared at the guardian peaks, but his thoughts floated awayfrom them. His head had been full of old romance when he entered thevale of Tenochtitlan. He had almost seen Cortez and the conquistadoresin their visible forms with their armor clanking about them as theystalked before him. He had gazed eagerly upon the lakes, the mightymountains, the low houses and the strange people. Here, deeds of whichthe world still talked had been done centuries ago and his thrill wasstrong and long. But the feeling was gone now. He had liked many of theMexicans and many of the Mexican traits, but he had felt with increasingforce 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 shrillsound of fifes was mingled with the steady beat. Ned stood up andpressed 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! Whatbrilliant uniforms their officers wear!"

  Austin also looked out.

  "Yes," he said. "They know how to dress for effect. And their music isgood, too. Listen how they play."

  It was a martial air, given with a splendid lilt and swing. The tunecrept into Ned's blood and his hand beat time on the stone sill. But themusic increased his longing for liberty. His thoughts passed away fromthe narrow street and the marching regiment to the North, to the wildfree plains beyond the Rio Grande. It was there that his heart was, andit 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 ofus."

  "Perhaps the regiment that we see now is going north against ourpeople."

  Austin's brows contracted.

  "It may be so," he said. "They give soft words all the time, and yetthey hold me a prisoner here. It would be like them to strike whilepretending to clear away all the troubles between us."

  He sighed again. Ned watched the soldiers until the last of them hadpassed the window, and then he listened to the music, the sound of drumand fife, until it died away, and they heard only the usual murmur ofthe city. Then the homesickness, the longing for the great free countryto 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 movedfrom its place.

  "Our dinner, doubtless," said Austin, "but it is early."

  The door swung wide and a young Mexican officer entered. He was tallerand fairer than most of his race, evidently of pure Northern Spanishblood, and his countenance was frank and fine.

  "Welcome, Lieutenant," said Stephen Austin, speaking in Spanish, whichhe, as well as Ned, understood perfectly. "You know that we are alwaysglad to see you here."

  Lieutenant Alfonso de Zavala smiled in a quick, responsive way, but in amoment his face became grave.

  "I announce a visitor, a most distinguished visitor, Mr. Austin," hesaid. "General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, President of the MexicanRepublic and Commander-in-chief of its armies and navies."

  Both Mr. Austin and the boy arose and bowed as a small man of middleyears, slender and nervous, strode into the room, standing for a fewmoments near its center, and looking about him like a questing hawk. Hiswas, in truth, an extraordinary presence. He seemed to radiate aninfluence that at once attracted and repelled. His dark features werecut sharply and clearly. His eyes, set closely together, were of themost intense black that Ned had ever seen in a human head. Nor werethose eyes ever at rest. They roamed over everything, and they seemed toburn every object for the single instant they fell there. They never metthe gaze of either American squarely, although they continually cameback to both.

  This man was clothed in a white uniform, heavy with gold stripes andgold epaulets. A small sword at his side had a gold hilt set with adiamond. He wore a three-cornered hat shaped like that of Napoleon, butinstead of the Corsican's simple gray his was bright in color andsplendid with plumage.

  He was at once a powerful and sinister figure. Ned felt that he was inthe presence of genius, but it belonged to one of those sinuouscreatures, shining and terrible, that are bred under the vivid sun ofthe tropics. There was a singular sensation at the roots of his hair,but, resolved to show neither fear nor apprehension, he stood and gazeddirectly at Santa Anna.

  "Be seated, Mr. Austin," said the General, "and close the door, deZavala, but remain with us. Your young relative can remain, also. I havethings of importance to say, but it is not forbidden to him, also, tohear them."

  Ned sat down and so did Mr. Austin and young de Zavala, but Santa Annaremained standing. It seemed to Ned that he did so because he wished tolook down upon them from a height. And all the time the black eyes, liketwo burning coals, played restlessly about the room.

  Ned was unable to take his own eyes away. The figure in its gorgeousuniform 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 feltas 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 hishat upon his head, a right, it seemed, due to his superiority to otherpeople. He looked like a man who had a great thought which he wasshaping into quick words. Presently he stopped before Austin, and shothim 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 orin 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 insistthat you accept our continued hospitality, but it is because we know howdevoted you are to our common Mexico, and we would have you here at ourright hand for advice and help."

  Ned saw Mr. Austin smile a little sadly. It all seemed very strange tothe boy. How could one talk of friendship and hospitality to those whomhe 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 thatrasped the boy's nerves. "You know, Stephen Austin, that I and Mexicohave endured much from the people whom you have brought within ourborders. They shed good Mexican blood at the fort, Velasco, and theyhave attacked us elsewhere. They do not pay their taxes or obey ourdecrees, and when I send my officers to make them obey they take downtheir long rifles."

  Austin smiled again, and now the watching boy thought the smile was notsad at all. If Santa Anna took notice he gave no sign.

  "But you are reasonable," continued the Mexican, and now his manner waswinning to an extraordinary degree. "It was my predecessor, Farias, whobrought you here, but I would not see you go, because I love you like abrother, and now I have come to you, that between us we may calm yourturbulent Texans."

  "But you must bear in mind," said Austin, "that our rights have beentaken from us. All the clauses of our charter have been broken, and nowyour Congress has decreed that we shall have only one soldier to everyfive 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 verybright. Ned looked intently at Santa Anna to see how he would take thedaring and truthful indictment. But the Mexican showed no confusion,only astonishment. He threw up his hands in a vivid southern gesture andlooked at Austin in surprised reproof.

  "My friend," he said in injured but not angry tones, "how can you ask mesuch a question? Am I not here to protect the Texans? Am I not Presidentof Mexico? Am I not head of the Mexican army? My gallant soldiers, myhorsemen with their lances and sabers, will draw a ring around theTexans through which no Comanche or Lipan, however daring, will be ableto break."

  He spoke with such fire, such appearance of earnestness, that Ned,despite a mind uncommonly keen and analytical in one so young, wasforced to believe for a moment. Texas, however, was far and immense, andthere were not enough soldiers in all America to put a ring around thewild Comanches. But the impression remained longer with Austin, who wasever hoping for the best, and ever seeing the best in others.

  Ned was a silent boy who had suffered many hardships, and he hadacquired the habit of thought which in its turn brought observation andjudgment. Yet if Santa Anna was acting he was doing it with consummateskill, 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 Texansunder the banner of Mexico. He poured forth the words with so much Latinfervor that it was almost like listening to a song. Ned felt theinfluence of the musical roll coming over him again, but, with an effortof the will that was almost physical, he shook it off.

  Santa Anna painted the picture of a dream, a gorgeous dream of manycolors. Mexico was to become a mighty country and the Texans with theircool courage and martial energy would be no mean factor in it. Austinwould be one of his lieutenants, a sharer in his greatness and reward.His eloquence was wonderful, and Ned felt once more the fascination ofthe serpent. This was a man to whom only the grand and magnificentappealed, and already he had achieved a part of his dream.

  Ned moved a little closer to the window. He wished the fresh air to blowupon his face. He saw that Mr. Austin was fully under the spell. SantaAnna was making the most beautiful and convincing promises. He himselfwas going to Texas. He was the father of his people. He would rightevery wrong. He loved the Texans, these children of the north who hadcome to his country for a home. No one could ever say that he appealedin vain to Santa Anna for protection. Texans would be proud that theywere a part of Mexico, they would be glad to belong to a nation whichalready had a glorious history, and to come to a capital which had moresplendor and romance than any other in America.

  Ned literally withdrew his soul within itself. He sought to shut out theinfluence 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 familiarmanner that one old friend has with another and drawing him to thewindow. "Is not this a prospect to enchant? Is not this a capital ofwhich you and I can well be proud?"

  He lifted a forefinger and swept the half curve that could be seen fromthe window. It was truly a panorama that would kindle the heart of thedullest. Forty miles away the white crests of Popocatepetl andIxtaccihuatl still showed against the background of burning blue, likepillars supporting the dome of heaven. Along the whole line of the halfcurve were mountains in fold on fold. Below the green of the valleyshowed the waters of the lake both fresh and salt gleaming with goldwhere the sunlight shot down upon them. Nearer rose the spires of thecathedral, 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 thisvalley of Tenochtitlan, but Santa Anna deepened the spell. Could theworld hold another place its equal? Might not the Texans indeed have aglorious future in the land of which this city was the capital? Poetryand romance appealed powerfully to the boy's thoughtful mind, and hefelt that here in Mexico he was at their very heart. Nothing else hadever moved him so much.

  "You are pleased! It impresses you!" said Santa Anna to Austin. "I cansee 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 youall. You shall carry words that will satisfy every one of them."

  He threw his arms about Austin's shoulders, gave Ned a quick salute, andthen left the room, taking young de Zavala with him, Ned heard the heavybar fall in place on the outside of the door, and he knew that they wereshut in as tightly as ever. But Mr. Austin was in a glow.

  "What a wonderful, flexible mind!" he said, more to himself than to theboy. "I could have preferred a sort of independence for Texas, but sincewe're to be ruled from the City of Mexico, Santa Anna will do the besthe can for us. As soon as he sweeps away the revolutionary troubles hewill repair all our injuries."

  Ned was silent. He knew that the generous Austin was still under SantaAnna's magnetic spell, but after his departure the whole room waschanged to the boy. He saw clearly again. There were no mists and cloudsabout his mind. Moreover, the wonderful half curve before the window waschanging. Vapors were rolling up from the south and the two great peaksfaded from view. Trees and water in the valley changed to gray. Theskies 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 yetunder the influence of Santa Anna, and talked cheerfully of their speedyreturn to Texas. Ned listened in silence and unbelief, while the gloomoutside deepened, and night presently came over Anahuac. But he hadformed his resolution. He owed much to Mr. Austin. He had come a vastdistance to be at his side, and to serve him in prison, but he felt nowthat he could be of more use elsewhere. Moreover, he must carry amessage, a warning to those who needed it sorely. One of the windowsopened upon the north, and he looked intently through it trying topierce, with the mind's eye at least, the thousand miles that laybetween him and those whom he would reach with the word.

  Mr. Austin had lighted a candle. Noticing the boy's gloomy face, hepatted 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 toTexas."

  "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 hisopinion, and he had his. The door was opened again in a half hour and asoldier brought them their supper. Young de Zavala, who was theirimmediate guardian, also entered and stood by while they ate. They hadnever received poor food, and to-night Mexican hospitality exerteditself--at the insistence of Santa Anna, Ned surmised. In addition to theregular supper there was an ice and a bottle of Spanish wine.

  "The President has just given an order that the greatest courtesy beshown 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 towardhim, but he decided to say nothing. He feared that he might betray bysome chance word the plan that he had in mind. But Mr. Austin, believingin 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, Señor," said the young man earnestly.

  By and by, when de Zavala and the soldier were gone, Ned went again tothe window, stood there a few moments to harden his resolution, and thencame 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 consentto anything, after the way in which you have already sacrificed yourselffor me."

  "But I am not going to stay with you any longer, Mr. Austin--that is, ifI 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 helpme to bear a message of peace and safety to the Texans."

  Ned paused a moment, irresolute. There was no change in hisdetermination. He was merely uncertain about the words to use.

  "There may be delays," he said at last, "and--Mr. Austin, I have decidedto 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 realitybe a breach of faith to our great friend, Santa Anna--that is, if youcould go. I don't believe you can."

  Ned was troubled. He was tempted to tell what was in his mind, but heknew that he would not be believed, so he fell back again upon hisinfinite capacity for silence. Mr. Austin read resolution in the closedlips 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 ownmaster, and I see I cannot dissuade you from the attempt. But, boy, youwill 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 tothe left of the main apartment. It was a bare place with only a bed anda chair, but it was lighted by a fairly large window. Ned examined thiswindow critically. It had a horizontal iron bar across the middle, andit was about thirty feet from the ground. He pulled at the iron bar withboth hands but, although rusty with time, it would not move in itssocket. 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. Heremoved nearly all his clothing and tried to press his head andshoulders between the bar and the wall. His head, which was of the longnarrow type, so common in the scholar, would have gone through theaperture, had it not been for his hair which was long, and which grewuncommonly 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, sittingdown, he concentrated his mind upon the plan that he had formed. By andby a possible way out came to him. Then he lay down upon the bed, drew ablanket over him because the night was chill in the City of Mexico, andcalmly sought sleep.