For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 24
A MIDNIGHT DISCOVERY.
In view of what was to follow at Goliad, it will be well for us to look for a moment at the terms which the Texans made with General Cos at the time of the latter's surrender.
The Texans, having things all their own way, might have been very dictatorial in their demands, yet they agreed to allow General Cos and his officers to retain their arms and all of their private property. The Mexican soldiers were to return home or remain in Texas as they preferred, the convicts which had been pressed into the service were to be conducted across the Rio Grande River under guard, and the sick and wounded were to be left to the care of the Texans. On his retreat General Cos took with him over eleven hundred men, many of whom were armed against a possible attack by the Indians.
"I think he is getting off easy," observed Dan, when it became known under what conditions the Mexican commander was leaving. "I don't believe he would be so considerate with us."
"Not by a long shot," put in Poke Stover. "He'd be for treating us wuss nor prairie-dogs."
"Well, it is always best to be considerate," said Amos Radbury. "It may be the means of bringing this contest to a happier conclusion."
"Well, we're going to keep the regular muskets and army stores, aren't we?" asked Ralph.
"Yes, all public property comes to Texas," said his father.
General Cos left San Antonio on the 14th of December, and on the following day General Burleson resigned from the Texan army, and a good many of the volunteers went home, to learn how matters were progressing for the winter. On all sides it was felt that no other movement of importance would occur for some time to come, for, in those days in Texas, there were no railroads to carry an army wherever wanted, and the distance from San Antonio to the lower Rio Grande River was a distance of several hundred miles.
"We may as well go home, too, boys," said Lieutenant Radbury, two days after his commander had resigned. "I am anxious to know how Pompey is getting along."
"What of the white mustang?" questioned Dan.
"I reckon we will have to let the white mustang take care of himself,—at least for the present," smiled Amos Radbury.
It was decided that Poke Stover, who had become very much attached to the Radburys, should accompany them, and, a few days later, they set out for the ranch on the Guadalupe by way of Gonzales.
The stop at Gonzales was made to see what had been done with Hank Stiger.
"He must not be given his liberty until he confesses what he has done with my claim papers," said Amos Radbury.
The ride to Gonzales was made without special incident, but along the whole of the road it was seen that the people were aroused to the highest pitch. Everybody wondered what Mexico would do next.
It was a bitter cold day when Gonzales was reached, and it looked as if the first norther of the season was at hand.
"You're too late," said one of the citizens, to Amos Radbury, as they rode up to the lockup.
"What do you mean?" asked Dan.
"You're after that Hank Stiger, I take it?"
"He skipped out, day before yesterday."
"Well, not exactly that, Radbury. Louis Reemer was a-watching of him, and Louis got drunk and left the jail door unlocked, and—"
"And Stiger walked out, I suppose," finished Lieutenant Radbury, bitterly.
"We allow as how he run out—an putty quick-like, too."
"Did anybody make a hunt for him?"
"To be sure. But he had two or three hours the start of us, and so we couldn't find his trail."
"Reemer ought to be locked up himself."
"We ducked him in the horse-trough. But he wasn't so much to blame, after all. We had a jollification because of the capture of Bexar, and a good many of the men weren't jest as straight as they might be."
With a heavy heart, Amos Radbury rode down to the jail. But Reemer was away, and a new man had taken his place,—a man who knew absolutely nothing concerning the half-breed who had gotten away thus easily.
"We may as well go home," said the lieutenant.
"I would like to see Henry Parker first," said Dan, and received permission to take a run to Henrys house, while his father did some necessary trading.
Dan found Henry Parker as well as ever, and hard at work preparing for the winter, for his father could do but little. Henry was deeply interested in the particulars of the attack on San Antonio.
"I wish I had been there," he cried. "But I am going when the army reorganises; mother and father have promised it."
"There wasn't much fun in it," said Dan, soberly. "It was real hard fighting from start to finish. The fellows who went in for a mere dust-up got left."
"Oh, I know war is no play, Dan. But I mean to do my duty by Texas, and that is all there is to it," concluded Henry Parker.
Early the next morning the party of four began the journey up the river to the ranch home. It was still cloudy, and Ralph declared that he saw a number of snowflakes come down, but the others were not so sure of this. Yet the weather was dismal enough.
"We are going to have a pretty heavy winter for this section," said Amos Radbury,—and the prediction proved a true one.
As they journeyed along, the wind swept mournfully through the pines and pecans, but not once did they catch sight of any wild animal, outside of a few squirrels and hares. Some of these Poke Stover brought down, "jest to keep his hand in," as he declared.
While yet they were a long distance off, Pompey saw them coming and ran forward to meet them.
"Bless de Lawd yo is all safe!" he cried. "I dun fink one or de udder of yo been shot suah!"
And he shook hands with his master and fairly embraced the boys.
"And how have you been, Pompey?" asked Amos Radbury.
"I'se been all right, Mars Radbury. Had quite a job 'tendin' to fings alone, but I'se dun gwine an' done it, neberdeless, sah. But las' night I'se dun got scared, mars'," and Pompey rolled his eyes mysteriously.
"Got scared? At what?"
"A man, sah, wot was a-creepin around de ranch, sah, peepin' in de doah an' de winders, sah."
"Hank Stiger, I'll wager a dollar!" cried Dan.
"It must have been that fellow," added Ralph.
"What became of the man, Pompey?" went on Mr. Radbury.
"I can't say as to dat, sah. As soon as I dun spot him, sah, I got de gun, an' he run away like de Old Boy was after him, sah."
Asked to describe the stranger, Pompey gave a fairly good description of him, and this fitted Hank Stiger exactly.
"He is around for no good purpose," said Amos Radbury. "Are all of the mustangs safe?"
"Yes, sah. I'se dun watch dem de whole night, sah."
"We must keep a watch to-night, too, and to-morrow we can go on a hunt and see if he is hiding anywhere near."
In honour of the home-coming, Pompey, as tired as he was, spread a generous table, and all sat around this for several hours, eating, drinking, and discussing the situation. The Radburys were glad Poke Stover had accompanied them, for now the frontiersman could help keep guard against the half-breed, should the latter mean mischief.
The next day proved so stormy and cold that the boys were glad to remain indoors. It did not snow, but the rain was a half hail and the wind was of the kind that reaches one's marrow. Only Amos Radbury and Poke Stover went out, to the cattle shed and the nearest range, and they were glad enough to come in long before evening.
"Hank Stiger won't stir around much in this weather," observed Mr. Radbury, as he shook the water from his greatcoat. "He's too much afraid of himself."
"Yes, but he'll want shelter somewhere," said Ralph.
"Perhaps he has gone after the Comanches," said Dan. "He may have been just on a journey when Pompey saw him."
So the talk ran on, but nothing came of it. That night, completely tired out, all retired early. Just before he went to bed Dan looked out of the window and saw that it was clearing off, and that the stars were trying to break through the clouds.
Down in a corner of the cattle shed rested a small keg of powder which Amos Radbury had brought home from Gonzales, for his stock of this article had run low. As Dan lay in bed he could not get this keg of powder out of his head.
"I hope it didn't get wet," he thought. "But surely father must have covered it up with great care."
For thinking of the keg, Dan could not get to sleep, and at last he arose and walked out into the living-apartment of the cabin. Here, in the middle of the floor, he came to a sudden standstill, as a noise outside reached his ears.
What the noise came from he could not determine. First there was a slight bump, and then a rolling sound, and then he heard a scratching, as of steel upon flint.
"I'm going to investigate this," he said to himself, and, catching up his gun, he ran to the door and threw it open.
What he saw surprised him beyond measure. There, in the darkness, stood Hank Stiger. The half-breed had a bit of lighted tinder in his hand, and at his feet lay the keg of powder with a long fuse attached to the open bung-hole!