For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 22

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"This looks like a hopeless task, father."

"So it does, Dan, but while I am willing to give up looking for that Mexican captain, I am not willing to give up looking for Ralph."

"Nor I. But the question is, which way shall we turn next?"

Amos Radbury shook his head slowly. The party had been out in the timber two days, and, though they had followed several trails, it had availed them nothing.

"Perhaps Ralph went back to the ranch," suggested Poke Stover.

"We found no trail leading in that direction," said Lieutenant Radbury.

"That is true, but he might have gone back, even so, leftenant."

Amos Radbury shook his head slowly. "You only wish to give me a little encouragement, Poke," he said, with a sad smile. "I am afraid he has fallen into the hands of the Indians."

"Talk about Indians, here come several Indians now," put in Dan, who was riding beside his father. "They look like Comanches, too."

The red men, who were three in number, had appeared at the brow of a small hill. Now, on discovering the whites, they seemed on the point of turning to run away.

One, however, gave the Texans a searching look, and then his face lit up with satisfaction. He came running toward Dan, holding up both hands in token of peace.

"Big Foot!" exclaimed the youth, as he recognised the Indian.

"Good Dan," answered the Indian. "I glad I see you. How! How!" and he looked at Amos Radbury and the others.

"I reckon this is the critter ye nursed at the ranch," remarked Stover.

"It is," answered Dan. He turned to the Indian. "So you are glad to see me, eh?"

"Yes, much glad." The Indian looked at one and another of the party. "Where little brudder Raf?"

"Ralph is missing," put in Lieutenant Radbury; and then added, quickly, "Do you know anything of him, Big Foot?"

The Indian nodded slowly.

"You do!"

"Yes, see little Raf wid Mexican soldiers."

"With the Mexican soldiers!" cried father and son, simultaneously. "You are certain?"

The Indian nodded again.

"When was this?"

As well as he could, with his limited knowledge of English, Big Foot told of the meeting with Captain Arguez, the Mexican private, and Ralph. "They all go into Bexar," he concluded.

"Then Ralph is a prisoner of the enemy," said Amos Radbury.

"But will they hold a mere boy like that?" snorted Poke Stover. "It seems to me thet ain't human nater, nohow."

"The Mexicans will do anything to harass the Texans," answered the lieutenant, quietly. "I don't know but what I would rather have Ralph a prisoner in Bexar than lost in the timber or in the hands of some treacherous Indians."

"If only we could get into Bexar after him," sighed Dan.

"We'll get in pretty soon," returned another member of the party. "I heard old Ben Milam say that if our troops didn't start pretty soon he'd form an attack on his own account."

Big Foot was anxious to learn what all the trouble was about, and Dan explained to the Indian. At the conclusion of the talk Big Foot stared stolidly at Dan for fully ten seconds.

"You say so, Big Foot go into Bexar an hunt out little Raf," he said at last.

"Oh, will you?" cried Dan. "It will be very kind."

"Big Foot not so kind as Good Dan," returned the Indian. "Yes, will go right now. Where Big Foot find Good Dan if have news for him?"

"At the camp of the Texan army," answered Dan, before his father could speak. Then he turned to his parent. "Father, you must let me go with you. I am sure I am old enough to fight."

"Why, Dan, you are but a boy!"

"I think I can fight as well as some of the men," said the youth, boldly. "I am a pretty good shot, and I wouldn't be a coward and run," he added, earnestly. "I don't want to go back to the ranch alone."

"But life in the army is no easy thing, my son. We may have untold hardships before this struggle comes to an end."

"I am willing to take what comes. Please say I can go."

Amos Radbury could not resist his son's appeal, especially as he was glad to have the boy where he might have an eye on him. So it was settled that Dan should accompany his parent; and thus did the youth become a soldier to fight for the liberty of Texas.

A while later Big Foot left, stating that he would endeavour to get into San Antonio that night, and the party under the lieutenant rode off to the camp of the Texan army. Here Amos Radbury reported what he had done, and there, for the time being, matters rested.

In the meantime, the Texan army had moved slightly closer to San Antonio de Bexar, but, as yet, nothing had been done toward storming the town. Volunteers came and went, and the army lacked so much of complete organisation that the leaders hesitated upon opening an attack upon such a force as General Cos had under him.

"If we lose, the Texan cause is lost for ever," said one of the leaders. "We cannot afford to put up the stake at this time."

Bowie, Crockett, and other scouts were off doing duty of another kind, otherwise the attack might have opened without delay. But now the old veterans, especially those of the war of 1812, became impatient, and among these was old Ben Milam, previously mentioned. One day Milam could contain himself no longer, and, rushing out in front of the general headquarters, he swung his hat into the air, and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Who will follow old Ben Milam into Bexar?"

"I will!" "I will!" came from a score of throats, and soon over a hundred men were gathered around the old fighter. In the number were Amos Radbury, Poke Stover, and a party of scouts who had served under Crockett. Dan, of course, followed his father.

As soon as it was learned how enthusiastic the soldiers were, it was decided that Milam's party should meet on the following day at an old mill near the camp. At this mill the company of volunteers numbered exactly three hundred and one, and this force was divided into two divisions, the first under Milam and the second under Colonel Frank W. Johnson.

"We will move on the town about three o'clock in the morning," said Colonel Milam, and this was done, the first division going down Acequia Street and the second taking to Soledad Street. Both streets led directly to the main plaza of San Antonio, and each was heavily barricaded and swept by General Cos's artillery.

The two divisions moved with caution, but as they crept along between the low-lying stone houses a Mexican sentinel saw the body under Johnson, and gave the alarm.

"We are discovered!" came the cry, and the next instant the rifle of Deaf Smith spoke up, and the sentinel fell dead where he had stood.

Further attempts at concealment were now useless, and both divisions rushed into the town as far as possible. Johnson's command went as far as the house of the vice-governor, Veramendi, and here sought shelter from the Mexicans, who swarmed down upon them in great numbers.

"Dan, take care of yourself," cried Lieutenant Radbury, who with his son had joined Colonel Milam's division. "Don't run any risks if you can help it."

"I'll stick close to you, father," answered Dan.

They were going down Acequia Street on a dead run, every Texan firing as rapidly as he could reload.

"The plaza! The plaza!" was the cry; but that square was still a hundred yards off, when the Mexican garrison appeared, with their artillery, as if ready to sweep the Texans from the face of the earth. Then came the cry, "To shelter!" and Milam's men, about a hundred and forty strong, broke into the nearest mansion, which was that of De La Garcia.

"Drop!" The cry came from Poke Stover, and he called to Amos Radbury, as he saw a Mexican in the act of picking off the lieutenant from the garden of a residence opposite to that of De La Garcia. He raised his gun to fire on the man, but the weapon was empty.

Dan heard the cry and noted where Stover was looking. He, too, saw the Mexican about to fire on his father, and his heart leaped into his throat. Then, by instinct more than reason, he raised his own gun and blazed away. Both guns spoke up at once, and Dan saw the Mexican throw up his arms and fall backward. Then his father dropped like a lump of lead.

"Father!" cried the boy, hoarsely, and knelt beside his parent. "Are you hit?"

"I—I guess not," stammered Lieutenant Radbury. Then he passed his hand over his ear and withdrew it covered with blood. "But I reckon he nipped me."

"That's wot he did," put in Stover. "But Dan plugged him for it," he went on, with much satisfaction.

The Texans got into the house as soon as possible, much to the surprise and consternation of the family, who protested in vain at the intrusion. Once within, doors and windows were barricaded, and the residence turned into a veritable fort.

It was now growing daylight, and without delay the Mexicans began a furious onslaught. The crack of musketry and the roaring of cannon was incessant, but the Texans were wise enough to keep out of sight, and but little damage to human life was done. The Texans stationed themselves at convenient loopholes and calmly picked off every Mexican soldier who showed himself within range.

"I wonder how the second division is making out," said Lieutenant Radbury, as the day wore away and the cracking of firearms continued. "They seem to be doing about as much firing as we are."

"They are at the vice-governor's house," announced one of the other officers. "We could join them were it not that the greasers are sweeping Soledad Street with their twelve-pounder."

Rations were scarce and water was more so, yet the men under Milam did not complain. They had come to take the city, and they meant to do it.

"I hope Ralph won't suffer through this," remarked Dan, while on guard at one of the loopholes, with his father not far away.

"We must trust for the best," answered Amos Radbury, and breathed a silent prayer that all might go well with his younger offspring.

As night came on it was resolved to dig a trench across Soledad Street, so that the two divisions might communicate with each other. This was dangerous work, for the Mexicans kept a strict guard and fired every time a head was exposed to view. The trench was started at each end and was completed long before daybreak. While this was going on the Mexicans also dug a trench, hoping thereby to catch the Texans in a cross-fire, but the scheme failed.