For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 23
THE SURRENDER OF THE CITY.
"If only I was at liberty once again!"
Ralph had said this to himself over and over, as he sat on the hard wooden bench which served him both for a seat and a couch in the little stone cell which he occupied in the San Antonio lockup.
Several days had gone by, and no one had come to see the youth but his jailer, who delivered food twice a day, morning and afternoon. The jailer spoke nothing but Spanish, so communications between the two were limited.
Ralph often wondered what had become of Dan and the white mustang. Was his brother lost in the timber, or had he fallen in with the Indians?
There was a tiny window in the cell, high up over the couch. From this Ralph could get a slight view of the river and of a patch of sky, and that was all.
But one afternoon, when all was quiet, Ralph noticed a shadow at the window, and, gazing up, made out part of an Indian face stationed there. Quickly he stood on the bench.
"Big Foot,—" he began, when the Indian let out a low hiss of warning.
"Soldier hear Raf," said the Indian, in a whisper. "Me come to find you,—tell fadder and Good Dan would do dat."
"Father and Dan!" returned the boy. "Then they are together?"
"Yes, both in big army outside of dis place. Big Foot say he find Raf. Must go now. Maybe save Raf soon. You watch!"
And then the Indian disappeared as quickly as he had come. By some means known only to himself, he had found out where Ralph was located, and had watched for thirty hours on a stretch for a chance to communicate with the lad. He had caught a sentinel off guard, and had mounted to the window by means of a lariat thrown around one of the bars of the opening. As he leaped down, the sentinel turned in time to catch him winding up his lariat.
"What are you doing there?" demanded the Mexican.
"Indian squaw in dare?" asked Big Foot, meekly.
"No, we do not keep squaws here," answered the Mexican. "Begone, or I'll shoot you;" and then, as the Comanche loped off, he resumed his cigarette smoking.
The coming of Big Foot comforted Ralph greatly, for he now knew that Dan was with their father, and that both were in the army, outside of San Antonio. That night he slept soundly.
He awoke to hear loud firing, showing that a battle of some kind had started. The firing continued, and, before long, the lockup was struck by a cannon-ball, although little damage was done. The attack created a great confusion, and Ralph was left largely to himself.
At night, while the sounds of firing still kept up, Big Foot appeared, with both his lariat and a short iron bar. Mounting to the window, in the gloom, he called Ralph, and passed him the bar.
"Break window and drop out," he whispered. "Big Foot wait for you close to river."
He fell back, and with the bar Ralph set to work to liberate himself. The masonry of the window was old and loosened, and he soon had two of the bars out, leaving a space just large enough to admit of the passage of his body.
As he leaped into the window-opening, he heard voices in the corridor, outside of the cell. Then his jailer and a Mexican officer appeared at the cell door.
"Ha! he is escaping!" roared the jailer, in Spanish. "Stop!" And he ran to Ralph, to detain him, but the boy dropped to the court outside, and scampered off as fast as his feet would carry him.
An alarm at once sounded, and the cry arose that the prisoners throughout the jail were rising. This, of course, was not so, yet the excitement was great within the walls, and, for the minute, Ralph was allowed to depart unmolested.
In the darkness Big Foot joined him, and thrust into his hands a stout club. "Club much good, sometime," said the Comanche. "Knock down Mexican, maybe, if in way."
He led the way down one street and another, until the vicinity of the plaza was gained.
Suddenly, as they turned an alleyway, a volley from the Mexican garrison was fired.
"Run! run! or get shot!" shouted the Comanche, and then, as Ralph turned in one direction, the Indian turned in another, and, in a trice, they became separated in the darkness.
Ralph kept on running, he knew not where, only that he might escape the bullets, which appeared to be flying in all directions.
He could not go around by the plaza nor by the church, and so cut into a gloomy courtyard. Still running, he reached the stone wall of a house. A window was close at hand, and he leaped through this, to pitch headlong on the floor beyond, too exhausted to go another step.
As related before, the firing kept up all this night, and was renewed with vigour in the morn ing. In the meantime, the trench across the street had been completed, so that the two divisions were in communication with one another. It was fighting at close quarters, and San Antonio looked as if in the throes of a big riot.
The Texans had been trying to bring a twelve-pounder into position, but, so far, they had failed. Now, however, it was mounted at a commanding point, and fired several times, with fair effect. In the meantime, Deaf Smith and a party began to do some sharpshooting from the top of the vice-governor's residence, but the Mexicans drove them off, and Smith was severely wounded.
When Ralph came to himself, he found that he was in a room that was pitch-dark. From a distance came a hum of voices, and the steady blows of some blunt instruments, probably axes or picks. The firing continued steadily.
He felt his way along from the room in which he found himself to the one adjoining. From this a stairs led upward, and he went to the upper floor. Here, from a window, he saw part of the fighting, and as the morning came, he saw still more.
The noise below kept on steadily, and as day light advanced, the firing on all sides became almost incessant. In the midst of this, there came a loud hurrah, and a detachment of Texans, under Lieutenant W. McDonald, ran out into the street, and battered down the door of the very house where Ralph was in hiding.
"Hullo, a boy!" shouted one of the Texans, as he caught sight of Ralph. And then he continued, quickly, "By George! ain't you Amos Radbury's youngster?"
"I am," answered Ralph. "And you are Mr. Martin, from the Pecan Grove Ranch."
"Right, my lad. How in the world did you come here?"
"I just escaped from the lockup, and was trying to reach the Texan lines. Do you know anything of my father?"
"Do I? Why, he's in the house just below here, along with your brother. We came— Back, or you'll be shot!"
Ralph retreated, and none too soon, for a second later several bullets entered the window and buried themselves in the wall opposite. The Mexicans were firing from several roofs in the neighbourhood. This fire was returned with such good interest that soon the Mexicans were as glad to get out of sight as those who opposed them.
Ralph wished to join his father and Dan without delay, but Mr. Martin held him back.
"Wait until dark," said the settler. "You are fairly safe here, and it would be foolhardy to expose yourself."
"Do you think we will win out?" asked the lad, anxiously.
"I do,—but it is going to be a tougher struggle than any of us expected."
On the morning of the third day of the attack matters were at first quiet, but then came a fierce fire by the Mexicans on the Texans' trench. The sharpshooters were called again to the front, and in an hour the enemy had stopped almost entirely.
"Here goes for another dash!" came the cry at noon, and sure enough another dash was led to a house still closer to the plaza, and the building was soon in the possession of the Texans. They were gaining their victory slowly but surely.
At evening Colonel Milam attempted to leave his own position to consult with Colonel Johnson, still at the Veramendi house. "You must be careful, colonel," came the warning, as the gallant fighter stood in the courtyard. The words had scarcely been spoken when a bullet took Milam in the head, killing him instantly.
The loss at this critical moment was a severe one, and the officers were called into hasty con sultation, the result of which was that Colonel Johnson was placed at the head of the expedition.
The battle was now growing fiercer and fiercer, and, angered over the loss of Colonel Milam, the Texans forced their way to another house, which fronted the Military Plaza and was but a block from the Main Plaza.
"Down with the Mexicans! Hurrah for the liberty of Texas!" were the cries, and the Texans grew more enthusiastic than ever. In the midst of this uproar Ralph discovered his father and Dan at the doorway to one of the houses, and ran to join them.
"Ralph, my son!" cried Amos Radbury, and caught the lad to his breast, and Dan hugged his brother with a bear-like grip. "You are quite well?"
"Yes, father. But what a fight this is!"
"Yes, and it will be worse before it is over."
"Did you see Big Foot?" questioned Dan.
"Yes, he helped me to get out of prison."
There was no time just then to say more, for the Texans were fighting hotly, holding several houses and endeavouring to keep the Mexicans out of such buildings where they might have an advantage.
On the fourth day of the attack the Texans fought their way to what was called the Zambrano Row, which line of stone buildings reached to one end of the Main Plaza. "Let us get to the Main Plaza, and Cos will be done for!" was the cry.
From one house the Texans cut their way through the thick stone walls to the next, until at last the whole row was theirs, and the Mexicans were driven in every direction.
The Main Plaza could now be covered in part, but during the coming night the Texans captured still another building, called the Priest's House, which fronted directly on the great square. As soon as this was captured, the Texans barricaded doors and windows, and made of the house a regular fort.
"We've got 'em on the run," said more than one Texan, after the Priest's House had been barricaded, and this proved to be true. With both the Military Plaza and the Main Plaza swept by the fire of the enemy, the Mexicans knew not what to do. The citizens of the town were in a panic, and men, women, and children ran the streets as if insane. Then the cry went up in Spanish: "To the Alamo! To the Alamo!" and away went the civilians, some with their household effects on their backs. Seeing this, the Mexicans also withdrew, meaning at first to protect the inhabitants (which was unnecessary, for the Texans did not wish to molest them), and then to reorganise at the Alamo for an attack on General Burleson's camp. But at the Alamo things were in the utmost confusion, and before General Cos could call his troops together, some of them fled, making straight for the Rio Grande River.
This wound up the fighting, and it was not long before the Mexican general sent out a flag of truce, asking upon what terms the Texans would receive his surrender. The Texans were very lenient, and the matter was quickly settled. The loss to the Texans had been about thirty killed and wounded; the loss to the Mexicans was six or eight times greater.