28. July 2010 · Comments Off on Chapter 13 – Following the Army · Categories: General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Old West

(Working title, “Gone to Texas” – final title – “Daughter of Texas”. Will be formally launched, April 21, 2011. Enjoy!)

Margaret slept long in the wagon. When she woke, the wagon was not moving, and speckles of sunlight danced over the outside of the wagon cover, for it was broad daylight: mid-morning, by the look of it slanting through the trees overhead, and the openings at the back and front of the wagon, where the cover had been loosened. Johnny and little Charlie Kimball slept curled next to her, as kittens sleep with their bodies pressed close to the mother cat, seeking comfort and reassurance. It was the noise which had awoken her; the noise of a man’s raised voice, and the irregular tramp of many footsteps attempting a regular rhythm and failing utterly – to the loud and profane exasperation of that voice shouting the cadence at them. The tail of the wagon was taken down, as she could see clearly, when she sat up – carefully, so as not to waken the children. She slid carefully across the tick where they had all lain, groaning faintly to herself at the aches in her legs, arms and shoulders, stepping carefully across the jumbled cargo in the wagon, towards where she could clamber down from the wagon-tail and look around.

They were at the edge of a wide meadow, dotted with majestic oak trees. Beyond the largest of them was the McClure house, one of those large and well-built log houses, surrounded by the outbuildings of a prosperous and well-established plantation – or at least, as well-established as one could have been, out on the far edge of the frontier. But the meadow was full of rough camp-sites, of pieces of canvas or blankets mounted on sticks, or wagons and horse-pickets and hasty campfires. Everywhere were men, men in hunting clothes, in rags of uniforms, patched coats or blankets around their shoulders. Twenty or thirty of them were at conscientious drill, marching back and forth across an open space, and going through the motions of loading and firing their muskets under the tutelage of a drillmaster who sounded ever more exasperated by the moment. Many more men slept in apparent utter exhaustion, sprawled out on the ground, with their heads resting on packs and haversacks. The sky was close-spotted with fair-sized clouds, heavy with rain, by the appearance of gray at their centers, but fair and sparkling white as cleaned cotton drifts around their edges. There were other wagons and carts scattered in rough campsites around the periphery of the main camp; other exhausted women moving listlessly around campfires preparing food, or fetching buckets of water from Peach Creek.

Close to the tail of Papa’s wagon, a small fire sent a sullen thread of smoke into the air; Mama and Pru huddled over it, on the bench taken from the wagon, and a seat made from a small half-empty cask of molasses. Little Horace was curled up in Mama’s comfortable lap, but Maggie Darst and her son were arguing in tense, low voices.

“. . . the Gen’ral is calling for volunteers!” Davy insisted. His face was pale, his voice resolute. His mother looked no less resolute.

“I forbid it!” she answered, her voice on the thin edge between reason and hysteria, “Davy, you are only fourteen! What did your father tell you, before he rode away with the company? You were to obey me, see to our property and lands . . . what are you thinking of, Davy?”

“What is Davy thinking of?” Margaret asked, in her calmest and most reasonable tone of voice, as she climbed down from the wagon-tail and settled her skirts around her.

“He wants to volunteer himself for General Houston’s army!” Cried Maggie – after her resolute calm of the night before, the agony plain in the tone of her voice and expression in her face took Margaret aback. “The General has called for all to join with him, to train and prepare to fight – and Davy will go, whether I permit or not, and I cannot bear it, M’grete – to loose a husband and a child is more than anyone should be called to endure! How dare you ask me to bear this, any of you – not least the General! Aren’t there enough fools in Texas already, must my only child be taken . . . “

“Ma, I’m not a child,” Davy answered, so stung with embarrassment that his face was primrose pink. “Gal and Will King – they weren’t all that older than me, and they went with the company…”

“Gal and Will are dead!” Maggie’s voice rose, “Foolish boy, they are dead, and their bodies burnt with all the others by Santa Anna’s order – think you that you would be somehow exempt from such a fate by the excuse of being merely young! Men die in battle, Davy – they die, no matter how old or how young, how well-favored or no, loved or no! They die, by shot or grape or bayonet – they die by chance and mischance, they die suddenly or after hours of agony, alone or among friends – they die!” Maggie’s near-hysterical voice carried – not a few heads of the volunteers at drill turned towards her in sudden distraction. Davy turned a deeper shade of crimson and Pru began weeping silently.

“Ma! Everyone can hear you!”

“I do not care if they can hear me or not, as long as you are listening to me, David Darst!”

“Ma, I will go to the General this minute and enlist,” Davy answered. His soft young boy-face had suddenly gone hard with completely adult determination, and at that, Maggie began sobbing anew. Davy picked up his coat, and put his hat on his head.

“Where are you going?” Margaret demanded through her tears, and Davy answered,

“To tell General Sam that I will do as my father would have allowed me!” and he set off, threading his way across the crowded meadow towards the McClure house, where a small group of men held purposeful counsel, standing or squatting on the ground under the shelter of that towering oak tree. Margaret recognized General Sam and Erastus Smith among them; so the General was holding conversation with his staff. The expressions on the faces they could yet see were grim and exhausted. The very manner in which they held themselves spoke of weariness and despair, but also something of resolution. Margaret cast a frantic eye around – Mama was simultaneously comforting the weeping Pru and the bewildered little Horace, for who raised voices among adults was an unusual and distressing thing.

“You will do no such thing!” Maggie shrieked, following after her son, and Margaret caught her arm.

“Maggie,” she counseled, even as she felt her heart sink, “Let me come with you – perhaps he will listen to me, or at any roads, we can talk to the General, explain the matter to him . . . he is a reasonable and kindly man…” Maggie made no answer, save for picking up her skirts so that she could walk a little faster. Davy had nearly reached the General and his consort of officers. Oh, dear – he was going to interrupt them, Margaret thought, and inwardly cringed, just as Maggie called her son’s name. General Sam turned, taking off his hat – a dark felt hat which Margaret noticed, had a brim quaintly turned up in three places, styled after the old-fashioned tricorn – as soon as he saw Margaret and Maggie hastening towards them. His face brightened in recognition of her, which Margaret found most gratifying. Davy had already blurted out his reason for approaching the General, and from the expressions on the faces of those around General Sam, they seemed either exasperated or amused. Oh, poor Davy, Margaret thought; he would be so humiliated – again, to be treated like a child. General Sam, though – and bless him for that, seemed inclined to treat it all as a serious matter and Davy worthy of being treated with as an adult.

“I am sorry for troubling you, sir!” Maggie gasped, entirely out of breath.

“It is no trouble,” General Sam answered, most courteously. “This young man has come in answer to an appeal to serve in my army . . . which is most appreciated – even though we usually prefer our soldiers to have a little more . . . er, seasoning to them. In our current straits, however – we aren’t inclined to be that particular. Mrs. Vining…” he nodded towards Margaret. “And Mrs. Darst, is it? Of Gonzales – I thought as much. Your grief is shared, Mrs. Darst, of that you have my assurance. Mrs. Vining was kind enough to tell me a little of the temper of those men who gave their lives in this noble cause. So now, this young man wishes to take up where his father set down his burden…”

“He is only fourteen!” Maggie cried, “I forbid it on that account!” and the General nodded, sympathetically.

“So I can see, ma’am. I can also see that he would not be the only one in my army . . . unseasoned to that degree.”

“He is an only child of a widowed mother,” Margaret pointed out, in a quiet voice, “His mother and I and another of our friends – Mrs. Kimball, also widowed at the Alamo – have only him of an age to be a help with our wagon and the oxen who pull it.”

“I see.” General Sam’s eyes narrowed, thoughtfully. “A moment, gentleman,” he added, in slight reproof of those of his officers who were shifting impatiently at this interruption. “This is a matter worthy of a moment of my attention, at the least. Every recruit gathering to our cause is a gain to me, of sorts…” He seemed lost in thought for a moment, regarding Davy and the two women, before he snapped his fingers. “See here, young Darst – you wish to join our army, serve under my command and the orders of those officers of your company, and to do so freely, upon careful consideration? You may swear openly and honestly to me that no one has made you do this?’

“I do,” Davy answered firmly. “No one has influenced me unduly, only the example of my father, and those men of valor who were his friends!”

“But you are indeed only fourteen years of age?” General Sam asked, and when Davy nodded and Maggie said,

“He will be fifteen in five months, on August the third – and who would know better than his mother?”

“Well then,” General Sam answered, “I shall accept your enlistment, Private David Darst, but on one condition – you shall serve on a special detached service, under the command of Captain Smith, until such time as we cross the Colorado River, or to some other point when I or Captain Smith shall convey other orders to you…”

“Thank you, General Houston, sir!” Davy’s face was alive with worship and gratitude, but Maggie cried out, a sharp keening wail of unbearable distress, and Margaret held her as she seemed about to crumple to the ground.

“Not so fast, Private Darst,” General Sam continued, “Until you hear my orders and conditions. You are yet so very young – and my army is not yet in such deep need as to recruit children from their mothers’ arms and throw them before the enemies’ cannon – indeed, not even well-grown and eager lads of fourteen and fifteen or so. I make an exception for you, in honor of your father, so hear me out,” and General Sam’s voice turned gentle and grave. “The safety and security of all the citizens of Texas is a matter of deep concern to me – why do you think that we burned our tents, dumped our cannons and such of our supplies which we could not carry into the river, so that we might safely evacuate the women and children of Gonzales? We will take as many of them in those wagons as we had to us . . . aye, and there will be more, many more, as the word of our retreat to the Colorado is passed. Darst – you will serve me well in this respect – stay with Mrs. Vining’s wagon as we retreat to the east bank of the Colorado, and make yourself of use to other civilian refugees. I know there will be other civilians fleeing their homes. We must aid to them as we may. You must reassure them, bring to bear your best efforts and rendering aid. Your efforts would bring honor upon the Army of Texas, and my name as commander. Can you do that for me, for the good of Texas?”

“That I can, sir,” Davy replied, somewhat crestfallen, as he realized the full import of Houston’s words.

“Good,” General Sam answered, and as Davy hesitated, he added, “Now, as your duties with the refugee train permit, and assuming that our camp and yours are co-located, you are tasked with attending regular drill with Captain Smith’s company – or whoever else may be practicing the Manual of Arms in my camp. We will be departing from here within the hour, and our next camp will be on the Lavaca River, tonight. You will make your way there, with Mrs. Vining and your mother and any such others as require your assistance. You will take any further orders from Captain Smith. If you do not have a musket or a rifle and the proper gear, you will be issued such, as soon as we refresh our armory. You are dismissed, Private Darst.”

“Sir . . .” Davy sketched a hesitant and wavering salute, at which General Sam nodded, with something of an amused expression on his face. “Thank you, sir.”

“Be fair to him,” Margaret whispered to Maggie, whose face was wet with tears, as they walked away from the tiny huddle of the general and his officers, below the veranda of the McClure house. “For General Sam has done a very wise and proper judgment of Solomon – he has accepted Davy into his army and salved his feelings, and yet has kept him with you, as safe as any of us might be!”

“He is a child!” Maggie whispered, “The veriest child!”

“No,” Margaret shook her head, suddenly feeling terribly wise, “In these times – not a child. My own little brother is only a year or so older, and he is with Colonel Fannin’s company at La Bahia. Our boy-children are not torn from our arms, Maggie – they go willingly, wishing to be counted as men. And to be a man, a gentle perfect knight – oh, Maggie, that is a commendable thing to be, and that is what our sons long to become! How can they not, when there are so many splendid examples around them, to emulate and follow! Allow Davy to drill with the company, let him think that he has had his way in this . . . and think on a way to thank the General.” She put her arm around Maggie then, for comfort. “We must be as good friends as we can, to each other, Maggie – for in this present emergency, the comfort of loyalty of friends is all that we have . . . oh, see – look at that, my dear Maggie, they have managed to find Mary and the children!”

For there was an ancient one-horse Mexican cart, with solid wheels, creaking slowly into the camp, under the escort of a handful of horsemen lead by David Kent, whose face was beaming with triumph and exhaustion. Mary and her children sat in the cart, on the top of a pile of straw and bedding. Margaret and Maggie ran towards them, Margaret exclaiming,

“Oh, my dear! Where were you all this time – Mr. Kent came looking among the wagons for you last night, but we truly did not believe you had been forgotten!”

“Margaret?” Mary’s face lit with her lovely smile. “I am afraid that we were – but it was no one’s fault but our own, for we thought that we should leave the house and hide in the thickets, and everyone thought we were with someone else. Where are we, now?”

“At the McClures, on Peach Creek,” Maggie reached up and embraced Mary, as her older children helped her down to the ground “Thank the Lord that Mr. Kent began to wonder, upon seeing that you were nowhere to be found.”

“Alas, we hid in the woods, taking nothing but a few blankets for the children,” Mary answered, “These men, they were kind enough to find this cart, and round up a horse to pull it . . . I think the horse is one of Kent’s. We are so many and the cart so heavy that we must walk as much as possible to spare the poor thing. Is it true that Santa Anna’s army is just behind us?”

“Perhaps not just behind,” Margaret answered, “We may have a little respite, before we move on. Come – share a little of our breakfast with us. My father had left us his wagon, and so we were able to bring away a little more. But the Army is supposed to march within the hour, so we may not linger over it.”

“Thank you,” Mary said, with gratitude, and her sightless eyes seemed to look out across the camp, with tears welling up in them. “Oh, dear – I wonder where we shall sleep tonight, or next week. How rapidly our lives have changed, between one hour and the next. My husband gone from us, and never even being allowed a proper grave by that hateful man! All of our towns and farms emptied out, falling back to the Colorado, or so said Mr. Kent. Whatever will happen next, I wonder?”

“I shall think no farther on than the next day,” Margaret answered, resolutely lifting her chin and taking Mary’s hand to guide her. “And follow the Army as closely as we can.”

Even as she and Mama hastily cooked more mush, for the Millsap children, the soldiers were forming into companies, kicking their friends awake, and lining up in ragged ranks. Seeing this, a worried and uneasy murmur arose from the women and their children, as they watched this. Unbidden, Davy and the eldest of the Millsap boys began hitching up the oxen to Margaret’s wagon.

“We dare not fall behind,” Maggie began sorting out those few things they had brought from the wagon. There were deep worry-lines scored around her eyes. “We have no protection, otherwise – from Indians or Santa Anna. Is there such a thing as a pistol or a musket among us? Or did all of these things go with our men, leaving us truly defenseless?”

“I believe so,” Margaret answered, with grim honesty. Maggie was strong, brave and practical. Mama still seemed stunned by the suddenness of it all, adrift in a frightening world, without the strong anchor of Papa and the boys. “Although there is a hatchet in Papa’s box of tools. And several sharp knives among the kitchen things.”

“Jacob left his old hunting knife, when he went with the Company,” Maggie said, with an air of something just remembered, “I thought Davy should have it, but maybe I shall ask for it back again for a time – a knife such as Colonel Bowie was famous for. It never kept a sharpened edge for long, though – which is why my husband did not favor it so much.”

“Better than nothing at all,” Margaret said, as Davy brought up the second ox team. She nodded at him, adding to Maggie, “You should compliment him, on being so brisk and prompt with the oxen. General Sam has done very well, reposing such trust in him.”

“Aye, so I should,” Maggie answered, but she still looked terribly worried. So far to go today, after the journey of the night before – and they only had been able to rest three hours or so! Every foot set one before the other took them farther away from Santa Anna’s vengeful army – and closer to safety, over the Colorado. Margaret looked at the clouds beginning to lower overhead, as if it was considering a good heavy rain. Where, she wondered, was Race? He had been sent to Mina two days before – surely he must be on his way back by now, and he must know that the army was falling back, that General Sam had decided to abandon Gonzales and all west of the Colorado. How worried he must be, at this juncture. Margaret considered this, as she and Mama finished re-packing the wagon. Race would have known that the army was going to retreat to the Colorado, so he must also know that the civilians would be going with them. So, he would be looking for her and the boys wherever the army was. Another good reason to follow the army close, Margaret told herself. Oh, she was tired and aching still from last night’s journey – but Race would come looking for them within a day or so, and she would tell him triumphantly that she had saved his precious library, burying it in a tin trunk under Maggie Darst’s red-bud tree. Of course – they would have to return to Gonzales, somehow. Again, Margaret put that thought aside. She could do nothing now, save follow the army doggedly, taking Mama, Maggie, Pru, and Mary and all their children with her. A return to home – or to the place where home had been, was as far away now, as the far side of the moon.

It was a ragged and desperate little train of wagons and carts following the army’s baggage wagons and ammunition limbers out of their stopping place at the McClures.’ A straggle of women and children walked bravely among them, for everyone wished to spare the team animals as much as possible. Hers was nearly the first wagon ready, among the civilians, Davy Darst striding out manfully next to the lead ox-team. The cart which had carried Mary and the Millsap children followed after, although the horse drawing it was in such poor condition that Mary also walked, led by her oldest daughter. Margaret took the younger children into her wagon, with Mama and Pru. At the last minute, place in the cart was given to Sarah Eggleston, who was the much younger sister of Andrew Ponton. She was hugely pregnant with her first child, although barely older than Davy Darst, and grimaced painfully every time the solid wheels went over another bump in the road. Margaret set her face towards the east, inwardly pleading with God not to allow Pru and Sarah to have their children by the side of the road. They must win this war somehow, Margaret told herself – they must find a way to win it, rather than be homeless vagabonds, without homes or a safe place to lay their heads. Maggie found a piece of a canvas tent, abandoned in the trash left by the army; she and Margaret walked on either side of the cart, holding it over Sarah so that she might have a little shade. Even as they walked down the road east, the McClures were packing their own wagon to leave.

And so they marched, falling behind the marching column of Sam Houston’s army, yet stubbornly following as fast as they could force their own faltering feet, and those of their tired and poor-conditioned team animals. Margaret and Maggie walked together, all that long and wearying day. They dared not take time to rest, for then they might fall behind. Now and again, they saw columns of grey and black smoke rising on the horizon – the clear signs of other homes and farmsteads put to the torch – and another straggle of women and children come to join them, with carts and wagons hap-hazardly packed and hitched to winter-thin and scraggly animals. Panic was in the air, the smell of it stronger than that of the trampled grass, or the scent of rain borne on the light wind, a rain that soon pelted down upon them, in ice-cold drops. Their feet sank to the ankles in the churned mud – and yet they had to plod onward, ducking their faces against the driving rain. Think no farther than the next camp, Margaret told herself, think of no other effort than to put one foot in front of the other, for ahead lay safety and behind only peril.

With some difficulty, the civilians’ carts and wagons were brought across Rocky Creek, and then through the ford on the Navadad River, although because of the recent rain, the water ran high in both of them. Margaret and Maggie were soaked to the waist, walking after the wagon, and holding onto the tail to steady themselves against the ice-cold river current as they followed after. The sole of one of Maggie’s shoes began to tear loose, through constant soaking and abrasion against the rocks. With Isaac’s second-best hunting knife, Maggie cut a length of fabric from the top of a half-empty grain-sack and bound it tightly around her foot. As the march continued, it did not seem to help Maggie all that much.

“If it weren’t for the cold, and the roughness of the road, I think I would be better served by going barefoot!” Maggie lamented to Margaret, who added up that one small thing to her store of matters to worry herself about. The Millsap children were without shoes, having tied pieces of blanket around their feet to spare them from the cold. Mama had no proper shoes, only a pair of Indian rawhide moccasins, and Margaret feared that her own shoes might not last very much longer than Maggie’s, under the hard wearing of this trek.

The first elements of that straggling train of refugees reached the camp on the Navadad around sunset. Margaret and her party were among them. Margaret felt as tired as she ever had after giving birth – yet, in this present emergency, she could not just rest, exhausted in the bed and triumphantly admire the new child, before going to sleep. Now she must see to finding a campsite for her wagon, and for the clumsy cart which carried Sarah Eggleston, sort out forage for Papa’s oxen and the spavined horse with drew the cart, see to comforting Maggie, and Sarah and Mama, mop up Pru’s exhausted tears, assure Davy of his manly competence, sooth the Millsap children and reassure their mother. It was all too much – and when would it ever end? And why had it all fallen to her? Margaret raged briefly and inwardly at that unfairness, and then took up her work. For who else would take up the burden what had fallen to her? The progress of a pilgrim, for sure – to do what seemed to be needful, take up the responsibility. In the end, she would be judged, and by more than just her friends. Rebellion against fate would not water the horse, pasture the oxen, feed the children and comfort those of her friends, who labored under their own burden of grief and fear.

They could not rest here for more than one night – in the morning they would be gone again, in the trail of the army, wading through the mud. But for now, as soon as she came from the river-edge with the older children, bearing a few buckets of water, there was a good fire burning, a fire which had burned down to incandescent coals, which could be cooked over – and a pair of ragged young soldiers, bashfully adding to a pile of wood stacked nearby. Margaret set down the buckets – there was the wagon-bench, taken from the wagon, with Mama holding Johnnie in her lap.

“We thought we should perform this kindness for you, ma’am,” said the tallest of them, who spoke with the clipped accent of New England. “Seeing that you ladies are in such need . . . “

“Our sergeant said,” added the other, in a soft Carolina burr, “That some of you were widowed by the action at the Alamo . . . an’ this is the mos’ kindness that we can do, ma’am . . . an’ ma’am . . . an’ ma’am,” he nodded politely at Maggie, at Pru and Mary, “It is no’ so much as we would wish to do . . . but it is as much as we can do.”

“And we are grateful,” Maggie Darst replied gruffly, as if she feared that her voice would break with emotion. “For any consideration, no matter how small – it is substantial to us, in our present reduced circumstances.”

“Aw, no ma’am,” replied the southern soldier, in some distress, “It weren’t no trouble at all – as soon as we reach the Coloradda – we shall turn and fight! You’ll see, ma’am . . . an’ ma’am . . . an’ ma’am! We’ll throw Santy Anna, an’ all of his lot clean out, you jist wait an’ see – we’ll have a right good revenge on ‘em, for what they have done, just you trust Cap’n Pitcher’s boys for that!”

“So we all hope, very much,” Margaret answered, as the two soldiers dropped the last armload of wood and bid the women goodnight. Darkness was falling – she was vividly reminded of that first night in Texas, the evening of her twelfth birthday, watching the sparks fly up into the sky, while she held her little brother in her lap and Mama busied herself, cooking supper over a fire.

“They brought us some fresh beef,” Maggie Darst said, “For they have slaughtered some beeves to feed the army, and say that we shall not go hungry, ourselves. Oh, what I would have given, that we thought to bring along some of our own hogs . . . wandering in the woods they were, and not enough time to round them up.”

“They’ll be there for you when we return,” Margaret answered, “and all the fatter for eating acorns and things in the woods. Tonight, leave a pot of beans to soak in the coals, as the fire burns down . . . “

“Ah, I remember well that old trick,” Maggie laughed a little, lamenting. “Molasses on pone for the children . . . oh, all the things that we would have brought, had we the time!”

“We will be home, in a while,” Margaret insisted, firmly. The other women had been reassured; their hopes revived a little, by the consideration of those two soldiers, the gift of a warm fire and some meat for their supper. She must put on the brave face for them now, Margaret realized. She must never show doubt or fear, even if she felt such, she must not share them. How very lonely that would be, to be always seeming brave and able . . . how had it come about that she seemed to be their leader, to feel the responsibility for them all – for Mama, and Maggie, for Pru and Sarah and their children? How very lonely that was, but this was a burden once taken up, could not be put down! She wondered briefly if General Sam felt that kind of loneliness. She raised her eyes and looking beyond their campfire, saw a party of men on horseback, with three men a little in the lead, riding towards them and towards the army’s main camp, which was a little beyond theirs. It was almost to dark to see them clear, but one of the leaders’ horses looked like Bucephalus . . . and if so . . . Margaret’s heart lifted, almost painfully. She ran towards him, crying out his name – for it was indeed he, and the other two with him were also friends and acquaintances – Erastus Smith, and Juan Seguin. All three men looked tired to death and very weary, but somehow exultant, in spite of it all. Race slid down from Bucephalus’ saddle, and caught her in his arms, a fierce and hard embrace, saying,

“Thank the gods, you are safe . . . I carried the orders to Mina, and the message that General Sam was evacuating Gonzales . . . but I did not know what the message was until I had arrived. I prayed every moment that you and Mother Becker and the boys were safely away, Daisy-mine, I was in torment until this very moment!”

“We are safe enough, my dear love,” Margaret whispered, in answer, seeing that Erastus Smith was looking away from them with somewhat of an embarrassed expression, while Juan observed with frank approval. “With Papa’s wagon, and Mama and Maggie and Davy to help – we had enough time to bring the barest of what we needed, and to offer assistance to Maggie and Pru. I could not bring your books, dearest . . . but they are safely buried,” she added, seeing a fleeting look of anguish in his face, as she said those words, an emotion as quenched as quickly as it had arisen, “I put them in the tin trunk, and Davy helped me bury it under the red-bud tree before Maggie’s house . . . you know, where the boys had hollowed out a den to hide, and play soldiers in?”

“Providential, indeed,” and Race, with a catch in his voice, and embraced her again. “Daisy-mine, you are a woman whose price is above rubies . . . my books are dear to me, but you and the boys are a treasure above any price . . . but still – I am scholar enough to appreciate that you have taken care with them all.”

“You know about the Alamo then . . . and the fate of our friends.” Margaret ventured, with a catch in her throat, and Race nodded. Grief darkened his voice.

“Aye . . . Erastus told me. I wish I could say that it came as a surprise to me, Daisy-mine, but it did not. Esteban and Jim Bowie . . . Isaac and Almaron . . . the boys . . . ‘tis a pagan thing to say, but the smoke of their burning upon a pyre . . . it has lit a fire for all to see, a signal rising up to heaven, of a worthy sacrifice …” Juan Seguin snorted in disgust, hearing this. He dismounted, as easily as a bird swooping from branch to ground, and still holding the reins of his horse in one hand took Margaret’s hand with the other and gallantly kissed it.

“Lopez de Santa Anna – he is a hypocrite and a fraud, as I have said may times to you and to my poor deluded cousin Diego, more times than there are leaves on that tree! For Esteban, for Senor Jaime and the others . . . oh, they will have honor and a proper resting place. I have taken a vow, Senora Vining, a vow on my own blood and honor as a gentleman to see that this is so – but first, we shall cram the mouth of Lopez de Santa Anna with those ashes of those he has cruelly slain and denied proper burial. And then,” he concluded jauntily, but his smile was edged with sharp bitterness, “we shall make a tall mound – a mound built of his head and the heads of those centralistas he has brought with him. My dear friend, you have no idea of how to begin being a pagan! Me, and my men, we shall show you, eh?”

“And this is the man who insists that he is a proper Catholic,” Race laughed, an attempt to seem light, as Erastus Smith also dismounted, somewhat less gracefully than Juan. Erastus also took her hand, briefly and saying,

“Miz Vining – you are also prepared and fitten’ to move on tomorrow? I fear that speed is of the essence, in our current circumstance. The Army, such as it is, must find safety behind one river or another. Colonel Fannin’s garrison would double the amount of soldiers at General Sam’s disposal, as soon as he and they present themselves. Until then, we are not . . .” he looked earnestly, deep into her eyes, “entirely safe and secure from Santy-Anna’s army. Sorry I am to say this to you, Miz Vining – but we are not, and I will not tell you comforting lies to imply that such is not the case.”

“I see,” Margaret straightened her shoulders. She was thought worthy of confidence by these men – so she must now bear herself as a woman of courage and consequence. “I had no other plan in mind, than to follow the Army to east of the Colorado. If there is any other to be considered, then tell me of it now – and I shall tell the other women accordingly.”

“That will do, excellently, ma’am,” Erastus Smith answered – and Margaret thought that he did so with a certain amount of relief.

“So,” she answered, “May you now tell me of what matters you have been about? I cannot tell lies, or make up some cheerful story for the other women . . . how stands our current situation, husband . . . Mr. Smith, Senor Seguin? I must know, so that I might have something honest, to answer to the other women. You cannot know how desperate they are, how devoid of hope we are in our present circumstance – we are turned out of our homes, how many of us are near to starving, widowed, and without any place in the world, shoeless and dependent upon the charity of our fellow refugees and the Army! We must have some kind of hope to cling to, in our present poor condition – how close is the menace of Santa Anna’s army – for that is almost our worst fear!”

“As best we can, ma’am,” Erastus turned the brim of his hat over, and over in his hands, “We are doing the bestest that we can,” while Juan Seguin replied gallantly,

“You should have little fear, Senora Vining – my company of vaqueros and Bejarenos has been set in place as a rear guard – to follow behind and see that none straggles. There is no sign yet of close pursuit from that devil Lopez de Santa Anna, but he has sworn openly to drive all the Americanos from Tejas . . . so,” Juan Seguin shrugged, lifting his hands in a typical Mexican gesture. “We expect that he will bestir himself from contemplating his great victory. You are safe tonight, senora, and perhaps safe for a little tomorrow and the day after, but until we reach the Colorado . . .” he finished with one of those eloquent shrugs, and Erastus Smith finished,

“ . . . and meet up with Fannin’s company, and gather to us more volunteers . . . stay with the army, Miz Vining.”

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Margaret recovered something of her composure. Under cover of their farewells, Race whispered into her ear,

“I am detailed away with the scouts, Daisy-mine, but I am certain that I will be permitted to spend a few hours with my family! I will return in a little while…”

“ ‘ . . . And with a stronger faith embrace a sword, a horse, a shield.” Margaret quoted, and he smiled, the quick wry smile that she so loved to see.

“Devious Daisy, quoting poetry at me . . . I shall treasure every hour of your company, and especially relish it at such times.” Margaret, thinking of Maggie and Isaac and what Maggie had said, of loving words, answered,

“Never forget that I love you always.”
“Nor I,” he said, and wheeling Bucephalus, was gone into the twilight after the others.

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