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Remember the Alamo

CHAPTER VIII

MOTHER AND PRIEST



. . . . "witness,
When the dark-stoled priestly crew,
Came swift trooping where the trumpet
Of foul Santa Anna blew."

* * * * * *

"Rouse thee, Wrath, and be a giant;
People's Will, that hath been pliant,
Long, too long;

Up, and snap the rusty chaining,
Brittle bond for thy restraining,
Know the hour, the weak are reigning
Thou art strong.

* * * * * *

"Rise and right the wrongs of ages;
Balance Time's unequal pages
With the sword."


It was nearly two o'clock when Don Luis mounted his horse and left the Worth residencia. The storm still raged, the night was dark, the cold intense, but the home of Lopez Navarro was scarce a quarter of a mile away; and he found him waiting his return.

"You have still an hour, Luis. Come in and sit with me."

"As you say; and I wish to show you that I am capable of a great thing. You do not believe me? Well, then give me again my own clothes. I will resign these."

"You are most welcome to them, Luis."

"But no; I am in earnest. The fight is at hand--they are too fine."

"Yes, but I will tell you--I can say anything to you--there is to be a grand day for freedom; well, then, for a festa one puts on the best that is to be got. I will even lend you my Cross of Saint James, if you wish. A young hero should be dressed like a hero. Honor my poor clothes so far as to wear them in the fight."

"Thank you, Lopez. I will not disgrace them"; and he bent forward and looked into his friend's eyes. His glance prolonged his words--went further than speech--went where speech could not reach.

"Listen to me, Luis. As a matter of precision, where now are the Americans?"

"At the mission of Espada."

"La Espada?--the sword--the name is ominous."

"Of success, Lopez."

"Is Houston, then, with you?"

"Until a few days ago. He and General Austin have gone to San Felipe."

"For what? Is not San Antonio the most important point?"

"It was decided by the vote of the army to send them there to frame a provisional government. There are plenty of fighters with us, but not one statesman but Houston. And now it is necessary that we should have legal authority to obtain loans, maintain the army in the field, and many other such things vital to our cause. Austin is to go to the United States. He will bring back men and money. Houston must draw up our declaration and manifestoes; direct the civil government; forward troops; and, in fact, set a new government in motion."

"He is the loadstone in the bosom! [note: the loadstone in the bosom is a charm against evil; the bringer of good fortune.] I wonder that the Americans permitted that he should leave them."

"He, and he only, was the man to go. Ere he left, he said some strange words. I shall not, as a Mexican, forget them. In the midst of the men he stood like a god, with his great stature, and his bright, strong face. One cannot think of him as of a common mortal. Indeed, I will confess that I could only compare him with the Efreet in the Arabian tale, `whose nostrils were like trumpets, his eyes like lamps, and who had dishevelled, dust colored hair'"

"But, to proceed; what were the strange words?"

"Thus he spoke, and his voice rang out like a clarion:

"`You will fight as men fight for their homes, and their wives, and their children, but also--remember this--the idea of Texas is in the American heart! Two generations they have carried it there! It is your destiny to make the idea a fact! As far back as eighteen nineteen, Adams wanted Texas. When Adams became president, he told Poinsett to offer Mexico a million of dollars for Texas. Clay would have voted three millions. Van Buren, in eighteen twenty-nine, told Poinsett to offer five millions for Texas. I went to Washington that year, and proposed to revolutionize Texas. I declare to you that the highest men in the land were of my mind. Only last July President Jackson offered an additional half million dollars for the Rio Grande boundary; and Mr. Secretary Forsyth said, justly or unjustly, by hook, or by crook, Texas must become part of our country. We have been longing for it for fifty years! Now, then, brothers-in-arms!' he cried, `You are here for your homes and your freedom; but, more than that, you are here for your country!' Remember the thousands of Americans who have slipped out of history and out of memory, who have bought this land with their blood! We have held a grip on Texas for fifty years. By the soul of every American who has perished here, I charge you, No Surrender!'

"You should have heard the shout that answered the charge. Jesu, Maria! It made my heart leap to my bosom. And ever since, the two words have filled the air. You could see men catching them on their lips. They are in their eyes, and their walk. Their hands say them. The up-toss of their heads says them. When they go into battle they will see Houston in front of them, and hear him call back `No surrender!' Mexico cannot hold Texas against such a determined purpose, carried out by such determined men."

Lopez did not answer. He was a melancholy, well-read man, who had travelled, and to whom the idea of liberty was a passion. But the feeling of race was also strong in him, and he could not help regretting that liberty must come to Texas through an alien people--"heretics, too"--he muttered, carrying the thought out aloud. It brought others equally living to him, and he asked, "Where, then, is Doctor Worth?"

"At Espada. The army wished him to go to San Felipe with Houston, but he declined. And we want him most of all, both as a fighter and a physician. His son Thomas went in his place."

"I know not Thomas."

"Indeed, very few know him. He is one that seldom speaks. But his rifle has its word always ready."

"And Jack?"

"Jack also went to San Felipe. He is to bring back the first despatches. Jack is the darling of the camp. Ah, what a happy soul he has! One would think that it had just come from heaven, or was just going there."

"Did you see Senorita Antonia to-night?"

"Si! She is a blessing to the eyesight. So brave a young girl, so sweet, so wise; she is a miracle! If I loved not Isabel with my whole soul, I would kneel at Antonia's feet."

"That is where I also would kneel."

"Hark! how the wind roars, and how the rain thrashes the house! But our men have the shelter of one of the Panchos. You should have heard the padre threaten them with the anger of heaven and hell and General Cos. Good-bye, Lopez. I have stayed my last moment now."

"Your horse has been well fed. Listen, he is neighing for you; to Doctor Worth give my honorable regards. Is Senor Parades with you? and Perez Mexia? Say to them I keep the vow I made in their behalf. Farewell, Luis!" and Luis, who had been mounting as his friend talked, stooped from his saddle and kissed him.

It was just dawn when he reached camp, and he found Doctor Worth waiting his arrival. Fortunately there was nothing but good news for the doctor. Luis had seen everything through the medium of his own happiness, and he described the midnight meal and the Senora's amiability with the utmost freedom from anything unpleasant. Rachela's interference he treated with scornful indifference; and yet it affected Worth's mind unpleasantly. For it went straight to the source of offence. "She must have had Fray Ignatius behind her. And my poor Maria, she will be as dough for them to knead as they desire to!"

And, in fact, as he was thus thinking, the Senora was lying awake in her bed, anticipating her confessor's next visit. She was almost glad the norther was still blowing. It would give her another day's respite; and "so many things happen as the clock goes round," she reflected. Perhaps even her Roberto might arrive; it would not be more wonderful than the visit of Luis Alveda.

But very early in the day she saw the father hurrying up the oleander avenue. The wind tossed his gown, and blew his hat backward and sideways, and compelled him to make undignified haste. And such little things affect the mental poise and mood! The Senora smiled at the funny figure he made; and with the smile came a feeling of resistance to his tyranny, and a stubborn determination to defend her own conduct.

He came into her room with a doleful countenance, saying, as he crossed himself, "God be here!"

"And with you, father," answered the Senora, cheerfully--a mood she had assumed at the last moment, by a kind of instinct.

"There is evil news on every hand my daughter. The heretics are swarming like wolves around the Missions. Several of our holy brothers have endured the last extremity. These wolves will even enter the city, and you will be in danger. I have come to take you to the convent. There, Holy Mary will be your safety."

"But these wolves might attack the convent, father!"

"Our Blessed Lady is stronger than they. She has always kept her own."

"Blessed be the hand of God and Mary! will trust in them. Ah, Antonia! Listen to Fray Ignatius! He says we must go to the convent--the heretics are coming. They have even slain some priests at the Mission."

"Fray Ignatius has been misinformed, dear mother. When a man wears a gown and has no arms Americans do not molest him. That is certain. As for the convent it is impossible. My father forbade it. If the Americans enter the city, he is with them. He will protect us, if we should need it, which is not likely."

"Disobedient one!"

"Pardon. I wish only to obey the commands of my father."

"I absolve you from them."

"They are between God and my soul. There is no absolution from duty."

"Grace of God! Hear you, Senora! Hear you the rebellious and disobedient one! She has defied me to my face! She is near to being anathema! She is not your daughter! She is bewitched. Some evil spirit has possession of her. Let no one touch her or speak to her; it shall be a mortal sin."

Antonia fell at her mother's knee. "Mi madre! I am your daughter, your Antonia, that you carried in your breast, and that loves you better than life. Permit me not to be accused of sin--to be called a devil. Mother, speak for me."

At this moment Isabel entered. Seeing the distress of her mother and sister she hastened to them; but Fray Ignatius stepped between, and extending his arms forbade her nearer approach.

"I forbid you to speak to your sister. I forbid you to touch her, to give her food, or water, or sympathy, until she has humbled herself, and obtained the forgiveness of her sin."

Then mother love stood up triumphant over superstition. "I and my daughter are the same," said the Senora, and she gave her hand to Antonia. "If she has sinned, we will bear the penance together; she and I together."

"I command you to stand apart. For the good of Antonia's sinful soul, I command you to withdraw yourself from her."

"She is my daughter, father. I will bear the sin and the punishment with her. The Holy Mother will understand me. To her I will go."

The door of her room was at hand; she stepped swiftly to it, and putting her daughters before her, passed in and turned the key.

The movement took the priest by surprise, and yet he was secretly satisfied with it. He had permitted himself to act with an imprudence most unusual. He had allowed the Senora to find out her own moral strength, and made a situation for her in which she had acted not only without his support, but against his authority.

"And yet," he muttered, "so much depends upon my persuading her into the convent; however, nothing now is to be done to- day, except to see Rachela. Saint Joseph! if these American heretics were only in my power! What a long joy I would make of them! I would cut a throat--just one throat--every day of my life."

The hatred which could contemplate a vengeance so long drawn out was on his dark face; yet, it is but justice to say, that he sincerely believed it to be a holy hatred. The foes of the church, he regarded as the foes of God; and his anger as a just zeal for the honor of the Lord of Hosts. Beside which, it included a far more tangible cause.

The accumulated treasures of the Missions; their gold and gems, their costly vestments and holy vessels, had been removed to the convent for safety. "These infidels of Americans give to women the honor they should give to God and Holy Church," he said to his brethren. "They will not suffer the Sisters to be molested; and our wealth will be safe wherever they are."

But this wealth was really so immense, that he believed it might be well to secure it still further, and knowing the position Dr. Worth held among his countrymen, he resolved to induce his wife and daughters to seek refuge within the convent. They were, in fact, to be held as hostages, for the protection of the property of the Church.

That he should fail in his plan was intolerable to him. He had been so confident of success. He imagined the smile on the face of Fray Sarapiam, and the warning against self- confidence he would receive from his superior; and he vowed by Saint Joseph that he would not suffer himself to be so mortified by three women.

Had he seen the Senora after the first excitement of her rebellion was over, he would have been satisfied of the validity of his authority, at least as regarded her. She flung herself at the foot of her altar, weeping and beating her breast in a passion of self-accusation and contrition. Certainly, she had stood by her daughter in the presence of the priest; but in her room she withdrew herself from the poor girl as if she were a spiritual leper.

Antonia at a distance watched the self-abasement of her mother. She could not weep, but she was white as clay, and her heart was swollen with a sense of wrong and injustice, until breathing was almost suffocation. She looked with a piteous entreaty at Isabel. Her little sister had taken a seat at the extremity of the room away from her. She watched Antonia with eyes full of terror. But there was no sympathy in her face, only an uncertainty which seemed to speak to her--to touch her-- and her mother was broken-hearted with shame and grief.

The anxiety was also a dumb one. Until the Senora rose from her knees, there was not a movement made, not a word uttered. The girls waited shivering with cold, sick with fear, until she spoke. Even then her words were cold as the wind outside:

"Go to your room, Antonia. You have not only sinned; you have made me sin also. Alas! Alas! Miserable mother! Holy Maria! pray for me."

"Mi madre, I am innocent of wrong. I have committed no sin. Is it a sin to obey my father? Isabel, darling, speak for me."

"But, then, what have you done, Antonia?"

"Fray Ignatius wants us to go to the convent. I refused. My father made me promise to do so. Is not our first duty to our father? Mother, is it not?

"No, no; to God--and to Fray Ignatius, as the priest of God. He says we ought to go to the convent. He knows best. We have been disobedient and wicked."

"Isabel, speak, my dear one. Tell mi madre if you think we should go."

There was a moment's wavering, and then Isabel went to her mother and caressed her as only Isabel could caress her, and with the kisses, she said boldly: "Mi madre, we will not go to the convent. Not any of us. It is a dreadful place, even for a happy child. Oh, how cold and still are the Sisters! They are like stone figures that move about."

"Hush, child! I cannot listen to you! Go away! I must be alone. I must think. I must pray. Only the Mother of Sorrows can help me."

It was a miserable sequence to the happy night, and Antonia was really terrified at the position in which she found herself. If the Americans should fall, nothing but flight, or uncompromising submission to Fray Ignatius, remained for her. She knew only too well how miserable her life could be made; what moral torture could be inflicted; what spiritual servitude exacted. In a moment of time she had comprehended her danger, and her heart sank and sickened with a genuine physical terror.

The cold was still severe, and no one answered her call for wood. Isabel crouched, white and shivering, over the dying embers, and it was she who first uttered the fear Antonia had refused to admit to herself--"Suppose the servants are forbidden to wait upon us!"

"I will bring wood myself, dearest." She was greatly comforted by the word "us." She could almost have wept for joy of the sympathy it included. For thought is rapid in such crucial moments, and she had decided that even flight with her would be a kinder fate for Isabel, than the cruel tender mercies of the Sisters and the convent.

They could not talk much. The thought of their mother's anguish, and of the separation put between them and their household, shocked and terrified them. Vainly they called for fuel. At dinner time no table was laid, and no preparations made for the meal. Then Antonia went into the kitchen. She took with her food, and cooked it. She brought wood into the parlor, and made up the fire. Fortunately, her northern education had given her plenty of resources for such emergencies. Two or three savory dishes were soon ready, and the small table set upon a warm, bright hearth.

The Senora had evidently not been included in the ban, for Rachela attended with ostentatious care to her comfort; but Isabel had rolled herself up in a wadded silk coverlet and gone to sleep. Antonia awakened her with a kiss. "Come, queridita, and get your dinner."

"But is it possible? I thought Fray Ignatius had forbidden it."

"He cannot forbid me to wait upon you, my darling one. And he cannot turn the flour into dust, and the meat into stone. There is a good dinner ready; and you are hungry, no doubt."

"For three hours I have been faint. Ah! you have made me a custard also! You are a very comforter."

But the girl was still and sad, and Antonia was hard pressed to find any real comfort for her. For she knew that their only hope lay in the immediate attack of the American force, and its success; and she did not think it wise to hide from her sister the alternatives that lay before them if the Americans failed.

"I am afraid," said Isabel; "and so unhappy. A very sad business is life. I cannot think how any one can care to live."

"Remember Luis, and our father, and Jack, and Thomas, and our dear mother, who this morning stood between us and Fray Ignatius. Will you let this priest turn the sky black above you?"

"And also, men will fight. What for? Who can tell? The Americans want so much of everything. Naturally they do not get all they want. What do they do? Fight, and get killed. Then they go into the next world, and complain of people. As for Luis, I do not expect to see him again."

Fortunately, the norther moderated at sunset. Life then seemed so much more possible. Adverse elements intensify adverse fortune, and the physical suffering from the cold had also benumbed Antonia's spirits, and made her less hopeful and less clear-visioned. But when she awoke at the gray dawn of the next day, she awoke with a different spirit. She had regained herself. She rose quietly, and looked out towards the city. The black flag from the Alamo and the Missions hung above it. She looked at the ominous standards, and then the tears sprang to her eyes; she lifted her face and her hands to heaven, and a few words, swifter than light, sprang from her soul into the ear of the Eternal Father of Spirits.

The answer came with the petition--came with the crack of rifle shots; precise, regular, unceasing.

"Oh God! I thank Thee! Lord of Hosts, Thou art a great multitude! Isabel! Isabel! The Americans are attacking the city! Our father will fight his way back to his home! Fray Ignatius can not come to-day. Oh, I am so happy! So happy! Listen! How the Mexicans are shouting! They are cheering on the men! What a turmoil!"

"Jesu, Maria, have mercy!" cried Isabel, clasping her crucifix and falling upon her knees.

"Oh, Isabel, pray for our father, that his angel may overshadow him with strong wings."

"And Luis?"

"And Luis, and Thomas, and Jack, and Dare. There are prayers for them all, and love enough to make them. Hark! there are the drums, and the trumpets, and the gallop of the cavalry. Come, dearest, let us go to our mother. To day, no one will remember Fray Ignatius."



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