For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 30
ESCAPING TO THE RIVER.
When the soldiers entered the little room, Dan felt inclined to give himself and his companion up as lost. He felt that the enemy would surely look into the niche, for the officer meant that not a hole or corner should be missed.
When first coming in he had loaded a pistol he carried,—his gun had been lost in the fight in the courtyard,—and he had done the same for the old frontiersman. Boy and man held the pistols ready for use. They did not mean to give up without a final struggle at close quarters.
But just as one of the soldiers took hold of a big packing-case that hid the pair from view, there was a commotion in the church proper, followed by the discharge of several rifles. Three Texans had made a last stand, and were fighting back to back.
"Come, let us see what that means," cried the Mexican officer, and ran from the little room, followed by his companions.
Dan felt relieved for the moment, yet he knew only too well that those Mexicans, or others, would soon be coming to give the place a thorough overhauling.
"They will kill us—" he began, when, on turning, his foot struck an iron ring in the flooring of the niche. He felt of the ring and soon became convinced that it was attached to a trap-door of some kind.
"If it's a trap-door it must lead to a cellar!" said Stover, hurriedly. "I hope to heaven it does. Try it, lad, an' be quick!"
Both crawled from the narrow opening, and Dan pulled upon the ring with all of his strength. Up came a trap-door about two feet square. Beneath this was a space of inky darkness.
"Don't mind the dark," went on the old frontiersman. "Let me go fust, and be sure an' shet the trap after ye!"
He began to lower himself into the hole, and his feet struck a flight of stone steps. Down this he sped and soon reached a narrow passageway lined with rough stone, from which the moisture oozed into pools at his feet.
"I'll try to put them off the scent," said Dan, and drew up one of the boxes in such a fashion that, when the trap fell into place, the box came down on top of it. Then he hastened to join Stover.
"I don't believe any of our soldiers knew of this secret passage," said Stover. "I wonder where it runs to?"
"HE BEGAN TO LOWER HIMSELF INTO THE HOLE."
They moved along cautiously. The passageway was not over six feet in height and from three to four feet wide. It was uneven, but soon they found themselves going downward and away from the church and convent, as they learned by the muffled noises overhead.
"This is some secret passage put in by the friars, years ago," was Stover's comment, after several hundred feet had been passed. "Like as not they built it to escape in case the Injuns attacked em."
"Well, if they did, it must lead to some place of safety," answered Dan. "I sincerely hope it does."
Stover was still suffering great pain, and he had lost so much blood that he could scarcely walk.
"I must rest and try to bind up that wound," he panted, and sank in a dead faint at Dan's feet.
Dan could do nothing in the darkness, and now he resolved to risk a light, and lit the stump of a candle which he usually carried with him when on a hunting expedition. By these feeble rays he bound up the wound as well as he was able and also attended to his own hurt. Then, as Stover gave a long sigh and opened his eyes, he blew out the light.
"Don't make a light ag'in," were the frontiersman's first words. "It may cost us our lives. We will keep still and lay low," and then he became partly unconscious again.
The hours which followed were like some horrible nightmare to Dan, whose nerves had been wrought up to the top notch of excitement by the scenes in the courtyard and the church. From a distance he heard calls and groans and an occasional shot. The Alamo had fallen and now Santa Anna was himself upon the scene, to make certain that not one of the Texans should escape. "I told them what to expect," he is reported to have said, and then, when five men were brought before him, and his own officer, General Castrillon, interceded for the Texans, he gave Castrillon a lecture for his soft-heartedness, and the prisoners were speedily put to the bayonet. Such was Santa Anna, now high in power, but who was destined in time to be shorn of all rank and to die in bitter obscurity. His last act of atrocity at the Alamo was to have the bodies of his victims piled up with layers of brushwood and burned.
The hours passed, how slowly or swiftly neither Dan nor Poke Stover knew. No one came to disturb them, and at length the boy sank into a doze due to his exhausted condition.
When he awoke he found the frontiersman also aroused. "I hope the sleep did ye good, Dan," he said.
"Was I asleep? I did not know it. How long have we been here?"
"I can't say."
"Have you heard anything more of the Mexicans?"
"Only a faint sound or two, comin' from behind. I reckon we had best push on and see whar this passage leads to."
They arose, to find their legs stiff from the dampness of the passageway. At least three hundred yards were passed, and still there seemed to be no end.
"One satisfaction, we are gittin' farther away from the church," observed Stover. "I can't hear nuthin' now."
"Nor I, Poke. But did you notice how wet the passageway is getting?"
"I did, lad. We must be nigh to a spring or else the river."
They went on again, but not for long. A hundred feet further and they walked into water up to their ankles.
"We are blocked," groaned Dan. "What if we can't get out this way?"
"I reckon ye had best strike another light."
This was no easy matter with their clothing and everything else so damp. But finally the light was struck, and they pushed on into the passageway until the water was up to their waists.
"We can't go much farther, said Dan soberly. "Do you think this leads to the river?"
"I do; but I can't say how far off the stream is. Let us go a little farther."
A couple of rods were covered, and they sank down until the water was up to Dan's neck.
"If I go any further I'll have to swim," he observed, and just then the candle slipped from his hand and fell into the water, leaving them in total darkness.
As there seemed nothing else to do, they moved back to the nearest dry spot and sank down to rest and to consider the matter.
"We can stay here for several days, if we wish," said Stover. "We have got enough to drink."
"Yes, but I've had nothing to eat since last night."
"Neither have I. But I'd rather go hungry nor fall into them greasers hands."
"If the river is ahead we ought to see some light, Poke."
"That's true,—if it's daylight outside. But it may be night."
"Well, we can watch."
And they did, first one going down into the water, and then the other. It was indeed night, and it yet lacked several hours to daylight.
At last Dan came back with a smile on his face.
"I swam a short distance down the passage way," he exclaimed, "and I saw a faint light. I am sure it leads to the river."
"Then let us try our luck."
"Can you swim with that wounded shoulder?"
"I can swim with one hand, lad, although I allow it will be slower work than with two hands."
"Then come on. If we can get away, the sooner the better," returned the boy, and led the way into the water once more. They walked as far as they could and then began to swim. Stover insisted on taking the lead.
"I'm used to scoutin'," he said. "We don't want to run in no hornet's nest."
The water now reached almost to the top of the passageway, and they had to move with caution for fear of striking their heads. The light grew clearer and clearer as they advanced, until Stover announced that he could see the river bank ahead, with some roots of trees and bushes hanging down in the passageway.
"Keep back, and I'll take a look out," he whispered, and drew slowly to the end of the opening. He was gone several minutes, during which time Dan supported himself by clinging to a jagged rock sticking out from overhead.
"Come on back; we can't escape jest yet," whispered Poke Stover, on his return. "Come," and he led the way up the passageway again.
"But why can't we escape?" asked Dan, impatiently.
"Because there is a whole company of Mexican soldiers encamped at the very spot where this passageway leads into the stream," was the answer that filled the youth with dismay.