For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 26

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One day, early in February, Amos Radbury came riding back from a trip to Gonzales with news that he had heard from Carlos Martine.

"The man has been at San Felipe," he declared, "and I have it on good authority that he intends to claim my land."

"Well, what are ye going to do?" queried Poke Stover, who was still at the ranch.

"I hardly know. But I wish I could have a talk with Martine. It might be the means of saving a good deal of trouble."

"Is Martine still at San Felipe?"

"No, Gusher told me that he had gone to San Antonio."

"Then why not take a trip to San Antonio and find him?" suggested the old frontiersman. "I reckon that is what I would do."

"I think you are right, Poke, and I'll start to morrow," answered the planter.

He went in to talk the matter over with his sons, and the land claim was the chief topic of conversation for the balance of the evening.

"I now wish I had kept Hank Stiger here," said Mr. Radbury. The half-breed had left the ranch but three days before, apparently very grateful for the manner in which he had been treated.

"Well, one thing is certain," declared Dan, "I don't stand for giving up the claim. I'll fight first. Those Mexican officials can do as they please, but they can't budge me."

"Good fer Dan!" shouted Stover. "He's the kind the State o' Texas will want in days to come."

On the next day Mr. Radbury was too busy to think of leaving the ranch. There was much work at the cattle shed, part of which had been blown down by a norther which had proved little less than a hurricane.

In working upon the shed the planter had a mishap. The rung of a short ladder broke beneath his weight, and he came down flat on his back. No bones were broken, but he was hurt otherwise, and decided that it would be best for him to keep off his horse for a week or ten days.

He was apparently much worried to think he could not see Carlos Martine, and, noticing this, Dan went to him, and asked if he could not do the errand.

"You, Dan!"

"Yes, father. I know you think I am but a boy, yet—"

"No, my son," interposed Mr. Radbury. "I used to think you were but a boy, but, since you showed your fighting qualities at Bexar, I have changed my mind. You are but a boy in years."

"Then let me go and see if I can hunt up this Carlos Martine. I can at least have a talk with him, and learn how matters stand."

Amos Radbury shook his head, but in the end he consented to let Dan go, providing Poke Stover would accompany him on the trip. The old frontiersman was willing, and early on the following morning the pair set off on their mustangs, each carrying his gun, which was now a custom with all of the settlers.

In those days there were two main trails, or wagon roads, crossing the Guadalupe River. The lower trail was the one running through San Felipe, Gonzales, and San Antonio, and this could very properly be termed the main highway of Texas. From fifty to a hundred miles north of this was the trail running through Nacogdoches, and across a hilly and uncultivated territory to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. At San Antonio the two trails came together in the form of the letter V, and in the notch thus formed stood the Franciscan Mission, commonly called the Alamo, which means the cottonwood-tree. Of this mission, which was to be so bravely defended, we will soon learn many interesting details.

The Radburys usually rode to San Antonio by way of Gonzales, but Dan and Poke Stover decided to ride through the timber lands to the northwest until the upper trail was gained. This way might be a trifle rougher, but it was no longer, and the trees along the upper trail would serve to break the force of the northers which were continually sweeping the face of the country.

The two set off in high spirits, each with his saddle-bags well stocked with provisions, and each well armed.

"Who knows but what we may meet some Indians on the way?" said Dan.

"I doubt if the Indians are active now," replied the old frontiersman. "They have had some pretty good lessons lately, and, besides, they know that all of the settlers are arming against the Mexicans, and are, consequently, ready for them."

"Do you know why I came this way?" went on Dan, after a pause.

"I didn't calkerlate you had any perticklar reason, Dan."

"I have an idea we can run across that white mustang father lost."

"Humph! That nag may be miles an' miles away from this deestrict."

"That is true. But yesterday, when I rode up to the edge of this timber, I caught sight of some thing that looked very much like the white mustang."

"You did! Then why didn't you say so afore?"

"I didn't want to worry father. I thought I would tell you,—when we got out,—and I've done it," added Dan.

"Where did ye spot the critter?"

"Right over to the left, near that fallen pine. But I'm not sure it was the white mustang. But it was some creature in white."

"If it wasn't the mustang, it couldn't be any thing else. There are no other white critters here,-'ceptin' it might be a silver deer, and they are as scarce as snowstorms in July."

They were now in the timber, and moving along at a steady gait. On all sides the ground was as hard as a rock, and the keen air was bracing to the last degree. A stiff breeze was blowing, swaying the branches overhead, and occasionally bringing down a belated nut on their heads.

By noon they calculated that they had covered eighteen miles, which was not bad, considering the nature of the ground they had traversed. With the rising of the sun it grew warmer, and, seeking a sheltered spot, they dismounted and partook of their midday meal. They had still twenty-six miles to go, but hoped to cover that distance before nightfall.

"I wonder how the garrison at San Antonio is making out," said Dan, as they sat eating.

"Like as not a good many of the soldiers went home for Christmas," returned Stover. "To my mind, it's a great pity that Sam Houston ain't succeeded in organising the army as he intended. He seems to be the only leader who thinks that Santa Anna will come over here with a big force to knock the spots out of us. All the others are quarrelling over politics and places."

"I don't think it's quite as bad as that," laughed Dan. "But it seems to me they ought to get an army together."

"The leaders ought to act in concert, Dan. If they don't, their soldiers are licked afore they go into battle," remarked the old frontiersman, sagely. "What Texas needs most of all is one first-class leader, whom all obey." And in this speech Stover came very near to telling the exact truth.

The meal finished, they were soon in the saddle again, and less than an hour later they came upon the trail leading directly into San Antonio. There was a hill of rocks on one side and a belt of timber on the other, with here and there a water-course to be crossed.

So far, nothing had been seen of any game but
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a deer that was too far away to be brought down, and a few hares, which neither took the trouble to shoot. But now Poke Stover called attention to a flock of wild turkeys resting along the rocks not a hundred yards distant.

"A fine shot, Dan!" he whispered. "We can make a good trade with 'em, down in Bexar."

"That's so," answered the boy. "I'm ready to shoot when you are."

"Let us go into the timber, and come up in front of em," suggested the old frontiersman. "The rocks kind o' hide em from this p'int."

They dismounted and tied their mustangs to a tree. Then, with guns ready for use, they crept off in a semicircle, coming up to within sixty yards of the turkeys before they were discovered.

"Fire!" cried Stover, and bang! bang! went the two guns, one directly after the other. They had loaded with large shot, and five turkeys fell, two killed outright and the others badly wounded. Rushing in, Stover quickly caught the wounded ones and wrung their necks.

"That's what I call a pretty good haul," cried Dan, enthusiastically.

"It's not bad, lad, although I've seen better. I wish I could have gotten a second shot at 'em We might have—" The old frontiersman broke off short. "What's that?"

"It's a horse's hoofs on the trail," answered Dan. "Somebody is coming this way."

He ran out of the bushes into which the wild turkeys had fallen, and gazed along the road. Just above was a curve, and around this came sweeping something which caused his heart to bound with delight.

It was the white mustang.

"By hookey!" came from Poke Stover. "It's him, eh, Dan?"

"Yes. Oh, if only I had my lasso!" For that article was attached to the saddle of the mustang in the timber. Dan was on the point of crossing the trail when Stover caught him by the arm.

"Don't scare the pony—" began the frontiersman, but he was too late. The white mustang had caught sight of Dan and he came to a halt instantly. Then he reared and plunged and swept by, and the last they saw of him, he was running toward San Antonio at the top of his speed.

"We've seen him, and that's all the good it will do us," remarked Poke Stover, as Dan gazed blankly up the road, and then at his companion.

"Can't we catch him, Poke? Oh, we must!"

"Might as well try to catch a streak o' greased lightning, lad."

"I don't know about that. He looked tired, as if he had been running a long while."

"You are sure on that? I didn't git no fair view of the critter."

"Yes, he was covered with sweat. Perhaps somebody else has been following him."

"Well, it won't do no harm to go after him,—seein' as how he is steerin in our direction," said the old frontiersman, and, picking up the dead turkeys, they ran for their mustangs and leaped into the saddles.

Several miles were covered, and they were on the point of giving up the chase when they encountered a settler with his prairie schooner, or big covered wagon, on his way to Guadalupe.

"Ye-as, I seen thet air white critter jest below yere," the settler drawled. "He war goin bout fifteen miles an hour, I reckoned. Looked tired. I wanted to go arfter him, but Susy, she wouldn't allow it."

"No, Sam Dickson, ye sha'n't go arfter no game or sech," came from the interior of the schooner. "Ye'll settle down an' go ter farmin', an' the sooner the better 'twill be fer yer hide, mind me!" And the dark, forbidding face of a woman, some years older than the man, appeared from behind the dirty flaps of the wagon-covering. At once the settler cracked his whip and drove on.

Poke Stover chuckled to himself. "Thar's married life fer ye, Dan," he remarked. "Do ye wonder I'm a single man?"

"My mother wasn't of that kind," answered the youth, and then Stover abruptly changed the subject, and away they galloped again after the white mustang, little dreaming of the trouble into which that chase was to lead them.