For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 7

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"The roof is on fire!"

"The wall is on fire under one of the sleeping-room windows!"

The first cry came from Ralph, who was in the loft, the second from his brother, who saw the flames and smoke coming through the cracks where the wall and the flooring of the cabin joined. The breeze was increasing, and soon both fires were burning merrily, as if such flames were not tending toward a tragedy.

"Some water—we must put it out!" came from Poke Stover, and, catching up one of the buckets the boys had thoughtfully provided, he ran to the window beneath which the conflagration was spreading. "Unbar it, Dan, and I'll souse it out. Look out that you don't expose yourself."

The shutter was unbarred and opened for the space of several inches. At once the smoke began to pour into the cabin, setting them all to coughing. Then the breeze carried the smoke in the opposite direction.

Suddenly Poke Stover set down the bucket of water and grabbed Dan's gun. A quick aim and a flash, and one of the Comanches let go of the shield and danced around with a broken elbow. Then both of the enemy retreated far more rapidly than they had come.

"Got him that trip," was the frontiersman's satisfactory comment. "But be careful, Dan, there are others watching us from the timber."

The shutter was pushed open a little more, and with much skill Poke Stover dashed the water on the blaze and put the most of it out. Then he wet an old coat and beat out what remained.

"It's a pity we didn't have no dirt handy to shovel on," he said, pausing to catch his breath, while Dan locked the shutter again. "We may need this water afore we git through. How is it up thar, Ralph?" he called.

"It's burning pretty lively," was the reply. "But perhaps we can beat it out with the coat."

"The Indians can spot you on the roof," said Dan.

"Go down and unbar the door and swing it partly open," said Poke Stover. "That will attract the attention of the Injuns, and they won't be a-lookin at the roof. But wait a minit, till I'm ready fer ye!" he added, as he laboured up the ladder with a second bucket of the precious water. The old coat was soused thoroughly, and Stover opened the shutter nearest to the fire.

"Now go ahead!" he called out, and Dan opened the door, and swung it back and forth several times. He also showed his hat on a stick, and in a trice came several shots, one going through the head-covering and entering the closet in the corner. Then he swung the hat out again, and another shot followed.

During this time the old frontiersman had reached out of the upper window and beat out part of the fire and hurled the remainder to the ground, far enough away from the cabin to keep it from doing further harm. One shot was aimed at him, as the breeze exposed him through the smoke to the Comanches, but this luckily flew wide of its mark.

"By gosh, but that was a close shave!" ejaculated Stover, as he dropped back into the loft, while Ralph closed the shutter. His beard was singed in two places and his face was red and hot. "It's a good thing that fire wasn't allow to gain no more headway."

He bathed his face and took a drink of water, and then all three began to speculate upon the next probable movement of the Comanches. By the clock on the living-room mantel it was now half-past four.

"Father ought to be coming now," said Ralph. "But perhaps he has been unable to get anybody to come back with him."

"Don't worry about that," returned Poke Stover. "They'll all come if only they git the word. The buck ague don't go around here." By buck ague the frontiersman meant the fright which occasionally takes possession of a pioneer or soldier when facing Indians who are on the war-path.

It was not long after this that the Indians began to show their activity once more. Others of the tribe had arrived, until they numbered eighteen or twenty, the majority of whom were armed with guns, only one or two of the older warriors sticking to their bows and arrows.

"I reckon they suspect we are waiting for help, and they mean to do something before it gits too late," observed Poke Stover. "Perhaps they'll give us another rush before they withdraw fer good. We had better inspect all of our shootin'-irons, fer we may want 'em badly."

The frontiersman was right, the Comanches were organising an attack, to be divided into three parts,—one party to come from the timber skirting the burn, the second to come up behind the cabin, and the third to make a dash from behind the cattle shed. The first division carried a heavy log, with which they hoped to batter down the door in short order.

"They are coming!" The cry came from Dan, who was watching the timber in front of the burn. "There are six of them!"

"Here comes another crowd from the shed!" ejaculated Ralph.

"They have divided up," said the frontiersman. "Boys, I'm afraid we now have a stiff piece of work cut out for ourselves. A third party is coming from the rear, and there is no telling but what there may be still more. We must do our best and fight to a finish, for they are on the war-path for fair, and they'll show us no mercy if once they git at us. Load up and fire jest as quick as ye can! Give it to 'em hot!"

As Poke Stover finished, he leaped to the window nearest to him, shoved the muzzle of his weapon through the port-hole, and pulled the trigger. A yell went up as one of the redskins threw up his arms and fell. But then the others came on faster than ever, yelling and shouting in a manner to cause the stoutest heart to falter. Surely, as Stover had said, it would be a fight to the finish, and they were but three to seventeen.

Dan was at one port-hole and Ralph at another, and now both fired simultaneously. Whether the shots were effective they could not tell. Certainly none of the Indians dropped.

In two minutes more the Comanches were running around the house in every direction, trying to batter down the door with the log, and likewise trying to pry open several of the shutters with their hatchets.

At such close quarters it was next to impossible to fire on them, although several gun and pistol shots were exchanged. Once an Indian fired through a port-hole into the bedchamber, and the burning gun-wad landed on one of the straw bedticks.

"Put it out!" roared Poke Stover, and while Dan trampled on the fire to extinguish it, the frontiersman let the Indian have a shot in return.

Crash! crash! The heavy bombardment on the door was beginning to tell, and already there was a long crack in the oaken slab, and the splinters were flying in all directions.

"We'll take our stand here!" cried Poke Stover, motioning to a spot facing the door. "Give it to 'em the minit daylight shines through!" And they did, with such serious results that the party with the ram dropped that instrument and ran to the opposite side of the house. But their places were quickly taken by others, and now it looked as if the door must give way at any instant.

Suddenly, just when it looked as if the next shock to the door must smash it into a hundred pieces, there came a scattering volley of rifle-shots from the timber near the river, answered almost instantly by a second volley from the forest opposite. Then came a yell from the Comanches, and a cheer in English.

"Hold the cabin! We are coming!" came in Mr. Radbury's well-known voice, and never had it sounded more comforting to the two boys than at that moment. Then followed more shots, some striking the cabin and others hitting the Indians, who were so demoralised that for the moment they knew not what to do.

"Down with the redskins!" came in the tones of a settler named Whippier, who had lost his wife in a raid about a year previous. "Kill every one of em! Don't let them escape!"

In his eagerness to annihilate those he so hated, he rode to the front of the others, discharging his gun and his pistol as he came, and then leaping upon the nearest redskin with his long hunting-knife. He brought the red man down with a stroke in the breast, and was then laid low himself by Red Pony, an under chief, who was in charge during the absence of Wolf Ear and Bison Head. Red Pony then ran off for his very life, followed by fourteen others, the remainder being either killed or wounded.

"Boys! Are either of you wounded?" asked Mr. Radbury, as he leaped from the mustang he was riding, and rushed into the cabin.

"We are all right, father," answered both lads.

"Thank God for that!" murmured the parent, reverently. "But, see, your neck is bleeding," he added, to Dan.

"It's only a scratch."

"Good. Poke, I see you managed to get to them. You are a brave fellow, if ever there was one."

"We've had a hot time of it, father," put in Ralph. "If it hadn't been for Mr. Stover, I don't know what we would have done."

"Ralph is right," assented Dan. "If he hadn't put out the fire we would have been burnt out, and the cabin would have gone up in smoke in the bargain."

"I shall not forget your kindness, Poke," said Mr. Radbury, taking the frontiersman's horny hand. "But, as you are all right, I fancy I had better join the others, and follow the miscreants."

"And I'll go with ye," said Poke Stover, who disliked too much praise, although not averse to some laudatory speech. "We ought to round up every mother's son of 'em while we are about it."

"Shall we go too?" asked Dan. "I'd rather do that than remain behind," he continued.

"You may come, if you'll promise to keep to the rear," answered the father. "Remember, the Indians are wily, and may set a trap for us."

All went outside, crawling through the battered doorway, and were soon mounted on several extra mustangs Mr. Radbury had brought along. The planter informed them that he had brought with him twenty-four men, including Jim Bowie, who had happened to be in Gonzales at the time. Soon the party of four were riding hard to catch up with the other whites, who were following the trail of the Comanches along the bank of the upper Guadalupe River.