From the author, autographed with a personal message
|Daughter of Texas – Deep in the Heart|
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Before the Alamo … Before the legends were made…
She was there. She knew everyone of note in early Texas. She saw history made before her eyes. And at the end of her life, she remembered it all!
When she was twelve years old, the witch-woman looked at Margaret Becker’s hands and foretold her future: two husbands, a large house, many friends, joy, sorrow and love. The witch-woman would not say what she saw for Margaret’s younger brothers, Rudi and Carl, for Texas was a Mexican colony.
By the time the Becker children were grown, war would come upon them … and in the aftermath of that war, Margaret would be a widow, left to raise her four sons in a tiny frontier town – and that was also not mentioned in the old witch-woman’s prophecy.
Austin, the makeshift capitol city of the Republic of Texas, was threatened and besieged from all sides. Peace did not come with Sam Houston’s victory over the Mexican Army at San Jacinto. Between old and bitter enemies and the inconstancy of unreliable friends, Margaret Becker Vining, her surviving family, her sons and her friends fought to maintain their independence and security . . . while Margaret herself despaired of ever finding happiness again.
(This can be read as the prelude to the Adelsverein Trilogy; however, each book does stand on its’ own as a self-contained novel.)
From Daughter of Texas: Chapter 12 – The Runaway Scrape
In silence Harry Karnes walked with Margaret until they reached the front of their house, which Margaret now looked upon with silent heartbreak; how she had loved their little house, low to the ground, homey and weathered to a comfortable gray. And this very moment was the last time that she would look upon it as home, this place where she had been a good housewife, lain with her husband, borne him children, celebrated their daily happiness and contentment. Lamplight glowed comfortingly behind the two tiny, oiled-paper windows: Mama doubtless had kept supper warm for her.
At her side, Harry Karnes ventured awkwardly, “Ma’am, you should not waste any time in packing your traps . . . for the Army will move tonight with all speed.”
“I understand,” Margaret answered. “Good night then, Mr. Karnes.”
“Ma’am,” Mr. Karnes took off his hat, “Be away before midnight.” Then, jamming it on his head again, he hurried away.
There was already an unaccustomed clamor of voices, men shouting and the occasional whinny of a horse, the scrape of wood against wood filling the night from the direction of the gathering of soldiers camped on the military plaza. From a distance, she could hear the sound of a woman wailing in demented grief. What was it General Sam had mentioned, almost in passing – that Race was sent to carry orders to Mina? So, she and Mama would have to manage alone, although she supposed that if it came down to it, she might appeal to any of their neighbors or one of Mr. Karnes’ men. On the porch, Margaret paused, taking one last look at the dearly familiar aspect; the trees standing in the town-lot opposite, their leaves faintly silvered with starlight, the shapes of the roofs of other houses along St. Francis Street, the young oak tree in front, where her children were accustomed to play and where her husband taught school. Along the southern aspect of her house, Jacob Darst had come and ploughed up the ground for them when Race was so ill. That was his last act of friendship done for them before he rode away with the Gonzales Ranging Company. Margaret had meant to begin raking over the tumbled earth, breaking up the hard, heavy clods for her spring garden. It was too early to plant seeds – and now, she feared that she might never have the chance to coax another season’s growing out of the rich dark earth of her garden. On the other side of the house, Papa had left his wagon, with the ox yokes propped against the porch, and the harness chains neatly coiled in the storage box under the wagon seat. The bleached canvas wagon cover shone pale against the dark sky and the trees beyond. Out to the west, beyond the line of trees along the river, she saw pale lightning flicker on the horizon. A fateful harbinger, she thought – for there was more than one kind of storm coming.
Margaret squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. It was time. She put her hand on the latch, and the door swung open. Mama looked up from the fireside, a bit of mending in her hands. The boys lay in their truckle bed, next to the big bed which was hers and Races’. Johnny was asleep and Horace lay as if he was nearly so, but she saw the gleam of a reflection from the fire in his eyes.
“Mama,” she said, “the General has told us that Lopez de Santa Anna’s army is coming. Our army is abandoning Gonzales and retreating east. We must pack the wagon and prepare to go tonight, within the hour if we can, for he intends to fire the town and all in it, to deny supplies and shelter to the enemy.”
“Tonight?” Mama dropped her mending. “Surely, my heart – not tonight!”
“Tonight, Mama,” Margaret answered with grim implacability. “Pack the boys, our clothing and bedding, all the foodstuffs that we can carry in Papa’s wagon. We must follow the Army close, or be left without any protection at all. Let us hasten, Mama – we have only a short time.”
“But to where?” Mama pressed her hands to her heart, still unbelieving. “Where are we going, M’grete? And by what road?”
“To the Colorado.” Margaret replied, “I don’t know the road, Mama – I think we are just meant to follow the Army eastwards.” She tied her shawl around her waist – she had need to work with her arms free, and there was so much to be done that she did not think she would begin to feel the cold. “Roll up the bedding, Mama, and tie the blankets and our clothes into bundles with the sheets – once we have loaded up the wagon, put the biggest straw tick on top of all so that we may have a place to sleep.” She began taking dishes down from the dish cupboard, the prized china dishes which she had used for their best and most honored guests, toile on blue china, all the way from England.
“Mama!” she explained in exasperation, when she saw that Mama was just standing there, uncertainly looking from the dish cupboard to the tin-covered trunk which sat in the far corner.
“But your supper,” Mama ventured. “You have not eaten supper, and I kept it warm for you, M’grete.”
“There is no time for that, Mama.” Margaret held on to her patience by a mere thread. “Put it aside for me, perhaps I can eat it later. Now I must bury the dishes in a corner of the garden plot, and no, I will not use that trunk for our clothing. Empty out what is within and set it aside. I shall need that for my husband’s library. Our clothes, Mama – and then what foodstuffs that we have!” She took the jug of molasses which sat on a lower shelf, nearly full, and thrust it into Mama’s hands. “Put that in the wagon, Mama. Start with that, and then the box of wheat flour. And the cornmeal, the coffee, and the coffee grinder. Mama – we have only an hour or so! Please, I beg you – we must pack the wagon and be gone, for they will burn this house; indeed, the whole town, and I cannot bear to watch them do this. Let us be gone and away before then!”
Mama obeyed, although she seemed still to be struggling to comprehend what was happening. Silently, she opened Margaret’s bride’s chest, and taking out a clean pillow cover, began to fill it with clothing. Horace sat up in his bed, looking at her with eyes so huge in apprehension that he looked like a baby owl.
“Mama?” he asked, “Are the Meskin sojers coming?”
“Yes, they are,” Margaret snapped; there was no time to equivocate, to soften the facts of the matter. “Get dressed, Horace – and wake and dress Johnny.”
“Is Papa and them going to fight the sojers, when they come?” Horace’s eyes rounded, even more.
“Dear god, no, Horace – we’re going to run. General Houston and your papa are going to go to a better place to stand and fight, and we must go with them. Get dressed, child – we have no time.” Margaret bundled the last of the china dishes into her apron, careless of the risk of chipping or cracking them – By the Almighty One, she thought fiercely, when we return, we won’t have a house, but we shall have good plates to eat off of when we do! There was barely enough light to see at the corner of the garden nearest the house, and closest to St. Francis Street, where the soil had been turned up and softened by Jacob Darst’s plow. She knelt, heedless of the mud and set the dishes on the ground. Taking up the shovel leaning against the side of the house, she parted the soil to make a shallow hole, feeling for a moment as if she were digging a hasty grave for her dishes. No time, no time – already she could hear more voices as the town roused. She tumbled the earth back with her hands, gently so as to spare the fragile cups, and measured with her eye the distance to the oak tree. Yes, she could find this place again.
Mama had begun piling their foodstuffs on the porch; she came out of the door gasping breathlessly with the weight of a full sack of cornmeal in her arms. Inside, Horace was dressed, but Johnny was not. He whimpered miserably, his thumb in his mouth.
“Leave him alone for now,” Margaret commanded. “I have a task for you, Horace.” She held a paper spill to the hottest of the coals in the fireplace and lit the two pierced tin lanterns; they relieved the darkness outside just a little, but she groaned to herself, thinking of how difficult it would be to harness the four oxen in the dark. At least, they were good and gentle beasts, Papa would not have tolerated any else. And thanks to Papa she had the use of a wagon, and teams to pull it. Other women would not; she thought of how General Houston had spoken of using the Army wagons to carry them. Maggie and her son, Pru and her baby – they would be in such need!
“Horace,” she called her son to her, as she knelt at the hearth, so that her eyes would be on a level with his. Oh, to find the words to impress upon the boy without frightening him, words that would inspire him to be older than he was, to be a help, rather than a hindrance. “Horace, your Papa has gone to take a message for the Army, so we must manage ourselves. Now, can you take this lantern and run to the Darst’s house . . . you know, where Davy lives, just down St. John Street by the Market Square? You are a big boy now, you aren’t afraid of the dark, are you?” When he shook his head, in a resolute no, she continued, “I want you to run to her house, and if she is still there, I want you to tell her that Oma and I will come presently with a wagon. She is to pack up what she can, just as Oma and I are doing – and tell her there will be space enough in our wagon for her and Davy. And if Mrs. Kimball is there with her, she ought to do the same. Then, as soon as you have given her this message, then I want you to come straight back to me and tell me what Mrs. Darst said. Can you do that for me?” She held her sons’ eyes with hers, trying to fill him with a calm and a reassurance – a calm and surety which she barely felt equal to herself. But she could not let her sons be frightened; most of all she could not let them see her own fear. She must be an example for them, and not be wilting from fear in adversity. She thought of General Sam, a rock of assurance and determination, and young Horace answered, very firmly, “Yes, Mama. Only silly babies are afraid of the dark.”
“Then,” she kissed him lightly on the forehead, “take the lantern, and run as fast as you may.”
She heard his light footsteps thumping on the porch as he ran; the quick patter diminished almost at once – yes, he was running as fast as he could, obedient and fearless, in spite of all the terrors and uncertainty of this awful day and dreadful night. Mama had left the tin-covered trunk empty of the clothes and blankets which it had contained: Margaret could drag it very easily herself, with the lantern in her hand, across the breezeway and into the other half of the house. She kicked the door wider open and lifted the lantern, regarding the shelves of Race’s precious collection of books. Her heart contracted – too many, too many, even if most of them were duodecimo volumes, which fit comfortably in her own two hands. There were some heavy and thick quartos and folio-sized volumes, most especially treasured . . . no, they could not carry the books with them. There was not room in the wagon for the trunk, if they were to carry Maggie and Pru, their children, and their hasty-gathered belongings. Food, bedding, clothing, the shelter of the wagon . . . these were the necessary priorities in this dire emergency; not frivolous things such as books and china dishes. She considered how she might bury the trunk of books in the new-turned soil of the vegetable garden, and rejected that notion almost at once. No, she could not dig a hole sufficiently deep and wide enough for concealment, not by herself and not in a few minutes. Then she recollected the deep den which Horace and his friends had dug at the roots of the redbud tree at the Darsts . . . yes, that was deep and wide, enough for the trunk of books and whatever Maggie wanted to place in it . . . When she and Mama took the wagon to the Darsts’ – then she would know. She piled certain of the heaviest books across the bottom of the trunk. When those had made it nearly too heavy for her to lift, she carried the trunk to the wagon tail, and took down the gate. She lifted the part-filled trunk to the level of the wagon bed and hurried back for another armful of books.
Mama had carried out nearly all of the stores of food that Margaret had in the house. Margaret cast a glance over the random pile, reassured by the size of it but mourning in her heart what they would have had from the garden, and what would have to be left behind in Zumwalt’s and Eggleston’s stores and warehouse. From an armful of books, the little duodecimo volumes slipping sideways out of the stack in her arms; one, two of them fell at her feet. She took the time to stack them loosely in the trunk by feel, and returned to the house for another stack. Finally, she jumbled them in her apron, as she had with the dishes.
“Mama, just begin packing the wagon,” she gasped. “Don’t bother with being tidy, we don’t have time.” At last, the two bookshelves were empty, the last books fitting neatly in the top of the trunk. There was nothing more which could be taken from the parlor save the quilts and bedding from the bed where Mama had slept. Margaret snapped the catches of the tin trunk closed, and hung the still-lit lantern from the first wagon-bow.
Mama called from the house, “M’grete, if you can help me with the chest!”
“Yes, Mama – is the baby dressed?”
“No,” Mama gasped, for Johnny still sat in the middle of the truckle bed, with his thumb in his mouth and an uncharted depth of bewilderment in his eyes. There was no time to comfort him. She and Mama carried the wooden bride’s chest to the wagon and pushed it past the tin trunk. The bride’s chest contained her most precious belongings; her hand-pieced quilts, lengths of lace that Race had bought for her, the tiny memento portrait of him, painted on a slip of ivory and framed in gold, her children’s baby clothes.
“Just throw everything else in over the sides,” Margaret ordered. The pillow covers filled with clothing, the blankets and quilts rolled into bundles – all went into the bottom of the wagon bed. She caught up Johnny in her arms, wrapping him in the bedclothes as he began to whimper. “Johnny-love,” she gasped, “don’t cry . . . we’re just following after the Army so that we will be safe, and soon we shall see your Papa again!” As she hurried out of the house towards the wagon, with the sniffling child in her arms, she saw a faint light bobbing along St. John Street, flickering as it appeared between the houses. The shadows of two figures moved along with the lantern, one small, one taller: Horace, with Davy Darst following after.
“Mama,” said Horace in tones of the utmost gravity, “Miz Darst, she said she would come with us, and Miz Kimball, too. Miz Kimball, she was crying so, she couldn’t rightly say nothin’.”
“Anything,” Margaret automatically corrected her son, “Anything – not ‘nothin’.”
“Yes, Mama.” Oddly, Horace seemed rather relieved at this little touch of absolute normality. “What should I do now, Mama?”
“Sit with your brother in the wagon and comfort him,” Margaret said, as Davy Darst said, in a boy’s gruff voice which cracked painfully between a child’s and an adult’s, “Ma said I should come and help with the oxen.”
“Oh, Davy – that would be of such assistance,” Margaret exclaimed, turning to him as she put Johnny over the side of the wagon box, into a nest of piled-up bedding. Horace scrambled up the wheel and over the wagon seat to curl up next to his brother. “Do not worry, they are gentle enough . . .” under the speckled lantern light, which swayed from the wagon bow, she could see that Davy’s face was pale and set, as if he did not wish to disgrace himself with a display of grief; there was nothing to say at this moment, there was no time for it, but she gently cupped his cheek in her hand, and said softly, “He was a fine man, was Jacob Darst, and a brave one . . . and a dreadful loss to us all.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Davy gulped, but remained dry-eyed. Perhaps there would be a time for grief later, Margaret thought, but not now.
“You should be as proud of him, as he was of you,” she said, and went to bring out another armful of precious bedding from the house. Mama had found a box for the pots and ordinary tin plates, the cooking utensils they used every day. Margaret picked up the box which rattled in her arms as she looked around at the inside of her house. No room, no time for those pieces of furniture, not if they were to have space for Maggie and Pru and prevent the wagon from bogging down in every creek-crossing. She was as dry-eyed as Davy Darst. She did not even bother closing the door or putting out the oil-lamp. What was the use of that – it would all burn in a very short time. The last thing she took for use was the shovel, into the wooden toolbox strapped to the side of the wagon-box.
Now for harnessing the oxen; Margaret thanked hers and Mama’s good fortune that with all the frightening talk they had brought them in every night from where they had been pastured at the edge of town, and stalled them safely in the stable at the back of their town lot. She and Mama led the gentle oxen clumping slowly after them in pairs, and Davy Darst held up the wooden ox yoke and snapped the bows closed, settling the heavy yoke on their shoulders. It was difficult to work at this in the dark; finally Margaret resorted to holding the lantern as high as she could, above the oxen’s backs, so that Mama and Davy Darst could hitch the harness chains from yoke to the wagon tongue and whiffletrees. As they finished this, Margaret could hear men’s voices, as if they were shouting, but at some distance, and the faint rumble of thunder from the storm. Lightning flickered again, closer.
“We are ready,” she said, evenly, calmly. “Mama, get into the wagon with the children. Davy, you can drive an ox team, can’t you?”
“Not so much,” he answered. “I’ve helped my father with the plowing, though.”
“And I have watched my father drive his,” Margaret answered, consolingly. She handed him her father’s bull whip, neatly coiled. “My father hardly ever used this, save for making a noise. I shall walk along with you beside the team, and we shall all help each other. Gee-up,” she added, tremulously to the lead team, and to her gratification, they stepped forward obediently. Out into St. Francis Street, the wagon rolled easily after the oxen. “Gee!” Margaret said with more confidence and the team pulled left, and then left again at her command. Down the two dusty blocks of St. John Street, to the house on the rise with the redbud tree standing sentinel in front of it. “Whoa!” Margaret commanded the oxen; again, she was pleased and mildly gratified at their instant obedience. Two shadowy figures sat on the steps of the Darst house, a pair of women wrapped in shawls. Margaret petted the near ox’s shoulder; Papa had indeed trained them very well. By leaving them with Mama in Gonzales he had provided a providential gift beyond riches for more than just Mama and Margaret’s family.
“Help me with the tin trunk,” she told Davy. “It’s full of books and too heavy to take with us. I had thought to bury it in the hole the children dug by the redbud tree – if your mother has not filled it with her things, already.”
“She has not, I think,” Davy shook his head. “Ma does not put much of a value on worldly things. We lived without much when first we came here, we can do so again.” In the darkness, one of the figures on the steps stood and moved towards the wagon, a ghostly shadow in the deeper shadows.
“Margaret?” Maggie Darst asked, softly, “We have gathered that which we are taking. You must help me with Pru – I cannot reason with her as she is nearly insensible with grief and wishes to remain here.”
“They have told you of Sue’s message, then? General Houston wished to tell you himself.”
“No need of that,” Maggie answered, in a steady voice. “We have known for hours. Davy was listening at Turner’s this afternoon. We should make haste, Margaret. There is a storm coming in.”
It took very little time to half drag, half carry the tin trunk to the deep hollow beneath the redbud tree with three of them helping and Mama holding up the lantern. It sat well deep in the hole, and Margaret said, “Maggie, there is room for anything of yours to add before I fill it in.”
“No, my dear Margaret – all that I value in the world comes with us.” Maggie answered, gasping with exertion, and Margaret began scraping the shovel across the ground, pushing enough soil into the hole to hide the trunk and make the ground seem more or less level. It seemed to take an age, her nerves afire with impatience. They must be away soon, for now the oncoming storm had blotted out the stars, and the candle in her lantern was close to flickering out. She was aware of Mama’s voice and Maggie’s in soft remonstrance with Pru. The night seemed eerily alive, with noise, of distant voices, the bawling of oxen, and the rattle of harness. The tree above her seemed alive, too, the bare branches, new-trimmed with pink ruffles of flowers, twisting and swaying over her head. A gust of wind swept St. John Street, sending all the trees along the way writhing like ghosts. Done. She picked up the shovel and the lantern, and followed the other three women towards the wagon. Pru and Maggie’s few bundles had already gone into it, followed by the weeping Pru; Davy had fastened up the wagon tail.
“Where are we going, then? East?” he asked.
“Towards the McClure’s on Peach Creek,” Margaret answered. “That is the way that Harry Karnes said the army was going.”
They continued all the way down towards St. Louis Street, passing the open Market Square which overlooked the river bank. St. Louis Street began the road to the east, across Kerr Creek, close to where Papa’s house had been when he and Mama and the boys lived in Gonzales. They skirted the camp on Military Square – a sea of half-struck canvas tents and flaring torches, of fractious animals and half-packed wagons. Margaret’s wagon joined a ragged trail of wagons, carts, and single lonely figures pushing barrows ahead of them.
“Not a moment too soon,” Margaret said: across the square, down at the far end of town, it seemed that more than torches lit up the far sky. The ox teams leaned into their harness. Now that she was walking with Davy and keeping pace with the patient, plodding oxen and not laboring with packing the wagon, she felt the cold most keenly. She wrapped her shawl over her shoulders, thinking that the afternoon when Harry Karnes came to get her and she had first snatched it up to draw around her against the spring chill felt as if it were an age ago; that morning, embracing Race in farewell felt like something that had happened in another lifetime altogether. That morning, she had thought to have supper with Mama and the children and sleep in a warm bed under the shelter of a roof – and now, at nearly midnight of this chaotic day, she and Mama had become poor and homeless vagabonds! Margaret sensed that all somehow looked to her for guidance, for a plan, for knowing what to do next, but she had no plan, only to walk east next to the oxen, and follow the army, for Lopez de Santa Anna’s army was coming, bearing a vengeful blood-red banner of no quarter. He had given his soldiers free rein after the defeat of the militia of Zacatecas – what battlefield liberties would he allow them after the citizens of Texas had defied him on so many contested fields? And where was Race, on this stormy, fire-streaked night?
They walked in darkness now, she and Davy and the oxen, for Gonzales and the army camp were left behind – they were out in the country; there were wagons ahead, their covers shaking as their wheels rolled over another set of small rain-washed gullies in the road. Thunder grumbled at their backs, and a streak of lightning momentarily lit all with a queer, white-green glow. There was a quiet swish of long skirts in the tall grass at the track side, and Maggie Darst appeared at Margaret’s elbow.
“Davy-lad,” she commanded quietly, “go and ride in the wagon for a while. I wish to walk for a while, and you must be tired and ready to drop. Rest a while, laddie-buck – Mrs. Vining and I will see to the ox-team.”
“Yes, Ma,” he answered; with something of reluctance, Margaret thought, but he obediently handed her the coiled driver’s whip. He stopped and let the wagon catch up to him, climbing deftly over the turning wheel. Maggie walked on with Margaret, who was trying to think of some suitable phrases of condolence which wouldn’t distress Maggie.
Maggie saved her the trouble. “I wanted to walk awhile,” she said, abruptly, “and think of him, and weep a little if I felt like it – but mostly I wanted to remember him in company with someone who would not be covertly watching me and waiting for me to turn to glass and shatter into a thousand pieces. I even wanted to laugh a little, if a tender memory came to us – but there are too many who would think it unseemly and silently accuse me of having a hard and unwomanly heart.”
“He was your husband, and it is expected that you should have a time to grieve,” Margaret answered. “No one ought to think ill of you if you should be weeping and wailing – or not, as your temperament urges.”
Maggie actually laughed then, laughed with a catch in her throat. “So you say, but I have reason to believe that others would not be so generous or understanding! I have been grieving all this week long; I knew in my heart that he was gone, without any doubt at all. I woke in the early morning before the sun rose, five days ago it was. It was still dark outside, but I dreamed – or I thought I dreamed that he opened the door and walked into the room where I lay sleeping. I was that joyful, M’grete, I thought it was himself come home, and I said, ‘Where are the other lads’ – but he said nothing in reply, but he smiled . . . and then I thought it strange that he seemed to glow with an odd, shining light to him. In that moment he turned to one side a little and then vanished entirely. And by that I knew, although I could not say how I knew it so certainly, that Jacob was dead, and most like at that very hour. I have heard of such visitations, at the instant of passing from one world into the next – but I did not want to be thought mad, or to distress poor Pru, in my own certainty – or to give cause for others to think I had special reason for believing that Santa Anna had taken our fortress . . . so I kept silent.”
She fell silent, and Margaret said, “You have borne up bravely, Maggie. I would say in answer to any criticism of you for lack of grief that your bearing is like to that of the noblest of Spartan woman.”
“With a hard and uncaring heart, not to have dissolved into floods of tears?” Maggie answered. “Oh, my dear girl – yes, we all grieve differently, but most would have us bear ourselves all alike in our sorrow. For myself, I would prefer not to make a show of myself. He was a good man, we loved each other very well, and how he is gone . . . and what comforts me now is the thought that he was with excellent and brave companions, defending us all from the rule of a vile, backstabbing toad like Santa Anna and his cronies. It was the cause that he chose, and he stood up for his friends. I’d have rather that we both lived until we were old and grey and walked each on two canes, but that was not his way. We differed about many things, M’grete – but not on what mattered between a man and wife. I had him as a husband for sixteen years; those are the years that I shall think on as a gift generously given to me, and remember every day of them with affection for all of my life. He is gone, but I have been richly blessed.”
“Then you should have no need of my defense of you,” Margaret said, putting her arm around Maggie, who laughed a little.
“Dear M’grete, shall I tell you a secret? I can be sentimental . . . on every parting from my husband, no matter for how short a space of time, the last words that we would say to each other would be, ‘I love you.’ It was a habit begun when we were courting, I believe. Should something dire happen whilst we were parted, than the other would be able to take comfort in knowing that the last words exchanged were loving and affectionate. I can think of nothing more ill than the memory of having said harsh or unkind words to one’s beloved . . . and those words fated to be the last words ever exchanged. So – no matter how vexed that I was, that Jacob was going off to fight the Indians or to take an afternoon to plow a neighbor’s garden patch “– at that, she returned Margaret’s embrace, with an affectionate brief squeeze, “or even just to go to a militia meeting on the plaza, we were in the unvarying habit of saying those words. I am glad of this – and it is a habit which I recommend to any and all.”
“I think it very loving thing to do,” Margaret answered, “I marvel that I did not think of it before this . . . although, I am quite sure my last words to my husband this morning were similarly affectionate. How horribly fast this has happened, Maggie!”
“Aye, dear M’grete – so it did.” Maggie sighed, and they walked onward, through the dark, following the dimly seen wagon ahead of them. Two or three times over the following hours they were passed along the side of the road by riders, men who appeared to be either guarding the ragged train of wagons, or chivvying them along, like dogs guiding a herd of sheep, urging them by their presence to keep moving. Once the horseman proved to be the son of an old neighbor of Papa’s, David Kent, who reined in and asked breathlessly, “Mrs. Vining, Mrs. Darst – have you seen Mary Millsaps and the children? Are they with you?”
“No,” Margaret answered, casting her mind back, while Maggie shook her head. “We have not seen Mary in . . . a day or so. What is the matter? Do you fear that something has happened to them?”
David had already dug his heels into his horses’ flanks, and answered over his shoulder. “I thought it odd they were not among the others – I begin to fear they have been forgotten in the mad rush this evening. She is alone and blind, with only the children – no do not fear, for if I cannot find them, I will demand of General Sam that he send a party to seek them out if they have been left behind.”
Margaret thought that she had gone beyond exhaustion, when Mama called to her from the wagon seat. She had been walking mechanically for what seemed years, moving one foot regularly in front of the other, she and Maggie and the ox teams.
“M’grete! Have we somehow turned around on the road?”
“Why, Mama . . . whoa!” she added to the oxen, who immediately halted, and stood, heads drooping. The wagon in front of them had halted also, a little distance ahead. The driver of it was pointing at something in the direction from which they had come – a dull orange glow, illuminating half the horizon and painting the edge of the storm cloud which hung just above it with threads of sullen gold.
“Oh, my dear lord,” Maggie Darst breathed as Mama came down from the wagon-seat, and hurried towards them, gasping, “It looks as if the sun is rising,” she said, uncertainly, “Below the edge of the storm clouds – but it is too early.”
“It is the wrong direction,” Margaret answered her. “It is the west, Mama – and we are going east.”
“Gonzales burns,” Maggie Darst commented softly. “It makes a fine welcoming bonfire for Santa Anna and his soldiers, don’t you think? Let them loot the stones, the ashes, the coals, and the thorns – if that is the riches they expected to take from us!”
“I did not think it would make such a show.” Margaret blinked away the tears that suddenly welled up in her eyes. She could almost see the line of high-leaping flames, hear the greedy crackle and roar of a fire well alight, a fire that burned up and up, leaping from roof to roof, from house to stable and store, from tree-top to chimney-top. All would be gone by morning; ten years of work and happiness, of building houses such as they had done for the Darsts, on the day that Race Vining came to the roof-raising – all would be reduced to so much burnt kindling. All they had not been able to take with them – gone forever. With a niggle of worry in her heart, Margaret wondered how she would find her china plates again, find Race’s precious books, in a town where every familiar landmark would have been burnt. Perhaps the trees would escape . . . and then she recollected that Maggie Darst’s house had been set on stone pilings, above the ground – and those, at least, would mark where it had been. Of her own house, the stone step would endure, certainly. Now and again as they watched, a dull booming sound came to their ears, as if a single artillery-piece were firing. Margaret wondered if that were the sound of cannon – but whose?
“We should move on,” she said, at last, hearing that the wagon ahead of them had begun moving again.
“I shall drive the wagon, a while,” Mama offered, and in the darkness she touched Margaret’s cheek. “You should go and lie down in the wagon with the children, M’grete. Go now – the oxen will obey me.” Margaret at first thought to insist that no, she was not tired – and soon it would be dawn – the real dawn, breaking clear in the sky ahead of them. But then she felt unutterably weary, and her feet hurt. She obeyed her mother, climbing up into the wagon on limbs which trembled from exhaustion. Pru and her son, Horace and Johnny slept soundly on the largest mattress tick, Davy sitting slumped on the wagon seat, his head resting on a pillow on his lap. Margaret lay herself down next to her children, wrapping her shawl over her head, and at once fell into deepest slumber, even as the wagon wheels continued jolting and creaking along, east towards safety on the far bank of the Colorado.
* * *
From Deep in the Heart -Chapter 4 – The Ranger from Bexar
Around mid-morning on a day in the second week of September, Hetty was just finishing the breakfast dishes, while Margaret was rolling out piecrust; the early apples were ripe for the harvest. Papa and the boys had brought in the first of several baskets, overflowing with them, and the two women were discussing what to do with them once Margaret had made three or four pies.
“Apple-butter, I think,” Margaret had just said, and Hetty agreed. “We’ll start today, for there will be more by tomorrow.” There came a pounding upon the door, and Margaret took her hands from the rolling pin, and dusted flour from her hands on her apron. “Oh, why doesn’t whoever just open it and come in – it’s unlatched. Jamie! Peter!” she called, “Can you see who it is at the door?” She cast a glance out of the long window at the end of the kitchen, which looked out upon the farmyard and the apple trees beyond. Her father and the two oldest boys were at work there. There was no sign of her younger sons. Just as the person outside pounded again on the door, Margaret heard Jamie’s voice in the hallway, and the door opening. Within a moment, Jamie appeared in the kitchen, wide-eyed with awe,
“It’s Uncle Carl,” he said and Margaret gasped. It was indeed – her younger brother, filling up the doorway behind her son; a tall young man with the wheat-pale fair hair that was the mark of the Becker kin; Saxon-square to the bone. His rough work trousers and leather hunting coat were covered in trail-dust, and the lines of weariness in his face made him appear older than his twenty-two years.
“H’lo, M’grete,” he said only. His eyes were the same calm and placid blue that they had been when he was a child; the only feature of him which had remained entirely unchanged.
“Carlchen!” Margaret cried and flew to him, flinging her arms about him in a joyous embrace. “Oh, my – you have gotten so thin! Where have you come from this time – from Bexar? Will you stay at home with us for a bit? At least remain for supper. Hetty and I are making pies from the first of the apples – fortunate that is your favorite!”
“I can’t, M’grete,” he answered, and the gravity of his expression drew her attention. “Jack sent me. I rode through the night to raise the alarm. I must go, as soon as Ward and Coleman have raised enough volunteers – I am tasked to guide them to our camp. The Mexes have invaded again, and their army holds all of Bexar. ”
“Holy Mary, Mother of God!” Hetty gasped; her face was ashen, the freckles on it standing out as stark as paint-splatters. A tin plate dropped from nerveless fingers and fell with a clatter to the floor. Jamie stared, his eyes as round as a baby owlets’ – part hero-worship of his uncle, part distress at the reaction of the adults to this dreadful news. Margaret stepped back, gasping. “How has this happened?” She demanded. “When – and how did you come to escape? You and your Ranger company, you were garrisoned in Bexar, weren’t you?”
“So we were,” he yawned hugely, and pulled a chair aside from the table, slumping into it as if he were tired to his very bones – which he would be, if he had ridden the eighty or so miles from Bexar. “Might I have something to eat, M’grete? I haven’t eaten for two days.” Hetty was turning the dish-towel into knots, between her hands, the plate still on the floor at her feet where she had dropped it.
“An’ what of them as were there for the court?” she asked, and Margaret’s own memory seemed to leap like a started hare. “Yes, what of the district court in session,” Margaret asked, urgently. “One of our boarders, Dr. Williamson – he was in Bexar to have a civil suit heard. He left last week.”
“Then he’s still there.” Her brother answered in short sentences, as if he were too exhausted to do any more. “They surrounded the town. Took every white man as a prisoner. Judge, district attorney . . . lawyers, witnesses and the lot. Lawyer Maverick – he was caught as well. John-Will Smith, the mayor – he escaped, the only one. His wife’s family helped him. He saw everything from the roof of his father-in-law’s house. It’s an army, right enough. Not bandits and Comancheros. They even brought a band with them. Came straight into town at dawn under cover of thick fog, set up cannon in Military Square, and fired a shot. Woke up the whole town all at once, so John-Will said.” Looking at his eyes, Margaret saw that it was true. Carlchen had never lied to her. Her own anger began to smolder into open flames; anger that Lopez de Santa Anna – that vile, treacherous butcher – would send his armies into Texas once again. He would dare send his gold-braided officers and his convict armies into Texas, to pillage and murder, then accept parole and sue for peace . . . and six years later presume to do it again.
“What do they intend? Are they coming here?” Carl shook his head.
“I don’t know, M’grete – but not if Cap’n Jack has anything to say, and General Sam, too.” He yawned again, and Margaret abruptly returned to that matter which she could do something about. She set a plate before him, with a fork and spoon to one side of it, fetched half a loaf of bread from the pie-safe, and began cutting slices from it. There was a quarter-wheel of cheese, some fresh butter from the churning of yesterday’s cream, and of course, plenty of apples. Jamie brought two from the nearest basket, with the air of a page doing service to his sworn liege lord. He lingered at Carl’s elbow, a worshipful expression on his face.
“Hetty – bacon and eggs; the fire is hot enough, surely? Ham . . . Papa has just begun smoking the hams, but I am sure we have some cured sausage, if you would like.”
“Whatever you have in a hurry. I’m too hungry to be particular.” Her brother was already wolfing bread and cheese. Margaret spared a covert look at him, as she busied herself about the kitchen. No – he was no longer the soft-spoken boy that he had been once; a boy reserved to the point of silence in the presence of strangers. He had risen to the rank of sergeant more than a year ago; he seemed surer of himself, confident and capable, but still quiet about it. Now he took a small knife from the top of his boot to slice another piece of cheese with – not the wicked-sharp brass-backed hunting knife, which hung from a belt around his waist, along with a brace of long-barreled pistols. With his mouth full, he added, “I turned m’horse out in the paddock with old Bucephalus. The boys promised they’d rub him down, and bring him some corn. He needs a rest more’n I do.” Hetty was busying herself about the stove, where bacon was already sizzling briskly in the pan. Margaret finished crimping the top of the first piecrust, and her brother added, “Can I have some of that, when it’s baked, M’grete?”
“You may have all of it, if you like,” she answered, “If you are staying long enough.” Unbidden, Hetty opened the oven door, so that Margaret could slide in the first pie. Rolling out another round of dough, Margaret continued, “Then tell us – how did you escape the Mexicans, Carlchen?” She waited for the answer: her brother would not willingly submit to being a prisoner of the Mexicans ever again. By a merest chance and the action of their brother Rudi in stepping before the Mexican’s guns, Carl had survived the massacre at the Goliad. If Margaret knew anything in the world with more certainty, it was that her brother would not endure captivity or confinement for a second time.
“We didn’t escape from town, if that’s what you mean.” He swallowed a mouthful of cheese and bread. “We had never been caught there to start with. There were rumors. Seemed that there were fewer of them than usual – but everyone who had heard and passed them on . . . they weren’t the usual rumor-passing sort. Jack thought that was strange. He was asked to go on a scout – took me and four of the fellows. Some of us went along the Old Spanish road – half a day’s ride, both directions, the same with the Sabine Road and the Gonzales Road. No sign of anything out of the ordinary, no one we spoke to had seen anything strange, either. But when we returned – there were Mex soldiers at every way into town. They had not come by a known road, M’grete. They made their own, so as to come around from the west without being seen. We have a camp of our own, on Salado Creek, just north of town. Sometimes we don’t want prying eyes to see where we are headed, what we are doing. So we went there and John-Will met us at mid-morning, told us what had happened. The general in charge is a Frenchie soldier of fortune. A hard case, but decent enough. He has two thousand men, John-Will said. Pioneers. Cavalry. And artillery – I don’t know how many pieces. We didn’t stick around long enough to take a count. There weren’t but about fifty of our men in town; they came for court, not for a fight. Some of them put up one at first, but it wasn’t any good. They were outnumbered, and the Mexes could have leveled the place with their cannon anyway. General Woll agreed to treat them as prisoners.”
“Treat them to a Santa Anna quarter, no doubt!” Margaret felt sick at the thought of Dr. Williamson as a prisoner, sick with helpless fury, He was so kind, so gentle and absent-minded; surely they would spare a doctor from execution! “Why are they doing this to us, Carlchen? Why?”
“Because they can,” her brother answered, calmly biting off another mouthful of bread and cheese. His eyes were as blue and unclouded as the skies outside the kitchen window. “And what they can do, they will, sooner or later. It’s like the Comanche. They talk peace when it suits and when it gets them something. I reckon they mean it sincere at the time. And when it suits them and gets what they want by going on the warpath, why, they’ll do that without thinking twice. Don’t mean nothing what they said last week, or last year.” Carl appeared quite unruffled by this fresh Mexican treachery, of naked war and invasion brought down upon them once again by the vile dictator Santa Anna. That very serenity was bracing to Margaret.
“’Of the gods we believe, and of men we know – that what they can do, they will,’” Margaret quoted from her husband’s copy of Thucydides. “So, little brother – they have done it now. What happens next?”
Carl smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, M’grete; Jack and General Sam will sort them out, once they get to hear of it. Jack sent us flying in all directions with messages. It’ll be like the Plum Creek fight all over again.”
“Yes, but in the meantime the Comanches sacked Victoria and burned Linnville to the ground even before the ranging companies gathered!” Margaret answered, “And what will happen this time? This is a proper army, not a war party of Comanche!”
“Well, the Penateka haven’t come back, have they?” Carl answered, reasonably. “They learned a hard lesson – and mebbe it’s time to teach Santy Anna another. Or remind him again. Really, M’grete, he’s awful forgetful.”
“No, I think he remembers well enough,” Margaret answered her voice bitter with anger and memory. Lopez de Santa Anna’s last incursion into Texas had cost her a home, the lives of a brother, her mother and dear friends, as well as a certain peace of mind. “This time he sent a flunky rather than risk his own precious skin!”
“True enough,” Carl’s good-natured expression dimmed slightly. “I don’t reckon he would be let live, if we captured him in his drawers again. He and the nearest tree and a coil of good rope would meet up – no matter what General Sam might say.” He yawned again, just as Hetty brought a clean plate and the pan of eggs and bacon, still sizzling and popping with fat. Hetty tipped them onto the plate and set it before her brother; Carl caught up a piece of bacon in his fingers, and then dropped it. “That’s hot!”
“Straight from the stove,” Margaret answered, “At my table, most use a fork to eat.” Just at that moment, Papa came in the door, a carrying-yoke over his shoulders and a bushel-basket of apples hanging from each end. Horace and Johnny followed, lugging another basket between them. Margaret’s breath caught in her throat, anticipating a dreadful scene, something like the last time Carl had come home and encountered Papa; but Papa merely dropped the baskets with a groan and a grunt. He glanced at his youngest son and then looked away without a change of expression. It was as if Carl were not there at all. For his own part, Carl took up the fork that lay next to the plate and took a bite of scrambled eggs.
“Papa, the Mexicans have invaded and taken Bexar,” Margaret said, her heart in her very throat. “Carlchen has brought a message from his captain.”
“What’s it to me?” Alois Becker grumbled, in German “They’re all Mexicans in Bexar anyway – let them have the joy of entertaining those fatherless sons of whores. Tell me when they cross Shoal Creek – then maybe I’ll give a damn. Come along, lads. There’s work to be done, not stand around gawking at this wastrel son of mine.” He gestured to the boys to follow him and stumped out of the room; Margaret heard the door fall closed behind them. It cost her some effort to look towards her little brother. Papa’s words still had the ability to hurt, like the slash of a knife. Margaret had long willed herself to move past feeling them, to think of them as nothing more than a human sort of lightening and thunder, a cold blue Norther, or a spring-time flood. His words had no more effect on her, but she was certain that it was Papa’s words and the careless cruelty in them which had first driven Carlchen away – and what had kept him away ever since. She need not have worried. From the untroubled manner in which her brother was still forking up mouthfuls of eggs and bacon, it was clear that he had also moved to that point, sometime in the last six years that he had spent as a Ranger. He only smiled, very slightly and answered softly in the same language,
“The old man hasn’t changed a bit, has he, M’grete. Nice that some things remain always the same.”
“He is not ‘the old man,’” Margaret insisted. “You should speak of him with respect, Carlchen. He is our father and he is not a bad man.” Her brother chewed thoughtfully, as he shook his head, and swallowed another mouthful before answering.
“No? And a pool of water poisoned with alkali is not good to drink from, although it still looks like water. He got us all – you, me, Rudi – on the body of Mama, but he was no more a real father to you and me than a wild mustang is a real father to the foals he sires on any handy mare.”
“But he is still our father,” Margaret was shocked out of countenance, and glad that this very improper conversation was being carried on in German, that Hetty was uncomprehending, as she gathered up the clean dishes and began putting them away. “We owe him all respect for that.”
Carl shrugged indifferently. “You respect him then, M’grete. To my way of thinking, your husband was more a father to me than the old man. So was Jacob Harrell, who taught Rudi and me how to hunt. Trap Tallmadge – the Ranger sergeant in my first company – he took more pains over me than the old man ever did. He’s poison, M’grete, like an alkali spring. If your boys were mine, I’d keep him far from them.”
“You would have no need to worry about Papa’s influence on my sons, if you came home a little oftener, gave up rangering. Perhaps if you took up a trade and settled down . . .” Margaret suggested, stung by his words. She had long believed that the company of her sons might soften Papa a little, bring him to take an interest in a younger generation, and now to have Carlchen suggest that such an influence would do them harm! In all the travails of the past few years, Carl had not been there; he did not have any idea of what she had to face, every day and every hour.
He was already shaking his head. “No, M’grete. I could not. Rangering is what I am best fit for and I like it out there. It’s not complicated. Other people make things complicated.”
“Ah. I see – get on your horse and ride away into the wilderness, where everything is simple. Leave someone else to raise the children, nurse the sick and dying, bake bread, build houses and look after the wellbeing of families, which makes things all so very, very complicated. Well, you have that luxury, little brother, but I do not. I must cope with the complications.” Carl shrugged, apparently little affected by her words.
“And someone must fight the Indians. And now the Mexes, while you bake bread and darn Papa’s shirts. May as well be me, M’grete. I’m good at it.” He calmly scraped up the last of the scrambled eggs, but then his voice turned grave with sympathy. “Lawyer Maverick – he told me last year that Race died. Consumption, he said it was. Someone told him. A friend, I guess. He had friends all over, didn’t he? Race, I mean. I’m sorry about that, M’grete. I heard so late, didn’t make any sense to come home, then. Anyway, I’m sorry that you lost him. He was a good man.”
“Yes, he was,” Margaret answered. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her brother about the other matter, of Race’s Boston marriage, and the settlement from his family. Someone ought to know, she thought – someone of her blood, but immediately she also recalled General Sam’s advice about scandal and of the matter being no ones’ business but hers and Races.’ Instead she said, “Do you want anything more, Carlchen. The pie will not be done for another hour, I’m afraid.”
“I’ll wait,” He still had that sweet half-smile from his childhood, converted into another yawn. “I’m sorry, M’grete. I rode through the night. Is there a place where I might sleep for a few hours, until Coleman’s volunteers are ready to ride?”
“In the front parlor,” Margaret answered, “On the day-bed.” He rose from the table, still yawning. By the time Margaret brought a blanket from her bedroom, he was already fast asleep, sprawled on the daybed without even having taken off his boots, although he had removed the belt that held his holstered weapons, and hung it close at hand over the back of the day-bed.
“What are we to do then?” Hetty asked, when she returned to the kitchen, and began rolling out pie dough. Margaret deftly turned the rolled-out crust around the rolling pin, and draped it over the next pie-pan. She began cutting the edges with a pastry-knife, before she answered,
“Begin making apple butter, I think. Oh, you mean – what do we do if the Mexicans come? I won’t leave here, Hetty. I expect that we shall have to bury the valuables, and hide the horses. Papa may also take his musket and find a place in the woods to hide, if he does not want to go with the fighting militia. Surely, you are not frightened of them, Hetty?”
“No Marm – I am not,” Hetty answered, sturdily.
“Good,” Margaret piled the piecrust full of peeled apple quarters, and emptied a measure of coarse sugar over it all, with a pinch of cinnamon and a twist of nutmeg. She rolled out another round of crust, before continuing. “They are eighty miles away. Before very much longer, our men will be taking up a place between us and them, among the woods and the hills and behind a river. Two thousand soldiers is not very many.” She draped the top crust over the rolling pin, using that as a wand to carry and lay the tender crust over the mounded-up apples. “Besides,” she added, “I am resolved never to leave my home again. I would rather face them down, than take to the roads and live like a beggar in all weather. I do not think they would scruple to harm us – for any insult given will be repaid in blood. I believe Lopez de Santa Anna knows this well, or if he does not, his soldiers will learn.”
The making of apple butter that afternoon was often disrupted, for there was a constant stream of men and women coming to the house. Margaret finally tasked Jamie and Peter with sitting on the front steps and to fetch her from the kitchen whenever they saw someone coming up the hill, rather than have the noise of their knocking on the door waken her sleeping brother. She need not have bothered; he slept as deeply as one nearly dead for hours, in spite of the footsteps of people coming and going, of hushed voices and Papa tramping back and forth with baskets of apples, who couldn’t be bothered to pay any mind to her admonitions.
Of course, Mrs. Eberly was one of the first – the storm-crow, as Margaret had privately named her; wherever there was trouble brewing, there was Angelina Eberly, flapping her black wings. She came with a basket of fresh-baked hard-tack biscuits over her elbow, puffing as she climbed the hill. Margaret, already rattled because of the news her brother had brought, had showed her into the kitchen and settled her into Hetty’s rocking chair. Kettles of apple slices and molasses slowly bubbled away on the stove. Fortunately, Mrs. Eberly was amiable about this omission of conventional courtesy. “I’ve heard already,” she announced, “And brought bread for them as are going. I must say, it sounds bad. I had two more boarders leave today, and Mr. Bullock’s place will be near empty in the next week. And it’s not that they are going south to fight the Meskins, either – they are just plumb running scairt, and running back east with their tails between their legs.” She cast an expert eye around the kitchen, warm and redolent of cooking apples and spices, every one of the copper pots polished until it gleamed like gold. “I can tell, Miz Vining, you ain’t one of them. I know you’ve said so, often enough – but the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. Or in the packing of the wagon.”
“I have confidence in the men of our army,” Margaret said, firmly. “Whereas before we were a state in rebellion, and many of our people were in disarray and disagreement – now we are a sovereign nation. And not one to be violated lightly, and in defiance of the laws which rule the conduct of nations – even such a villain as Lopez de Santa Anna must take notice of those laws now and again, lest Mexico become a pariah among nations. For we are united, this time, under brave and determined commanders!” Mrs. Eberly clapped her hands, “Oh, my dear – bravely said! And I am heartened, Miz Vining, truly I am! My family and I, we will remain, as well. There are a few of us, happy and proud to stand fast in this dark time!”
“ ‘That he which hath no stomach to this fight,’” Margaret quoted from that play of Shakespeare’s which her husband had come to love the best of all, “‘Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse; We would not die in that man’s company, That fears his fellowship to die with us . . .’ ”
“Oh, dear, I hope that it won’t come to that!” Mrs. Eberly’s cheer suddenly turned to apprehension.
“It won’t,” Margaret’s brother said, confidently; he appeared in the kitchen door, walking as silently as a ghost. It seemed that he had been refreshed by the brief hours of sleep. “Captain Jack leads us, and he is the boldest and canniest of all. Better than that, he will never surrender. And best of all, many of us have these.” He unshipped one of the long pistols from the holster on his belt, a matte-metal thing with a long and slender barrel, but which had an oddly large cylindrical attachment where the trigger and flintlock should have been. Margaret, Hetty and Mrs. Eberly looked at it with puzzled, yet curious expressions, and Carl continued with the slightly exasperated air of a man explaining something to women which he would have assumed did not need explanation. “It’s a Colt repeating pistol – five shots without reloading. We fight from horseback. The State bought them for the Navy, but they work very much better for us, you see.” He stowed the long pistol away, and continued his explanation. “Jack – that is, Captain Hays – he trained us to fight as the Comanche do. Like the Mex lancers did, only better. To scout and harry and ambush the enemy, to go a long way without being seen. The Mexes, and the Comanche still think this land is theirs. They’re wrong – we own it now, day and night, plain, river and forest. They just need reminding, now and again.”
“Well, I am very glad to hear of that!” Mrs. Eberly exclaimed, and Hetty looked gratified. Margaret’s spirits rose, fractionally. Perhaps there was hope after all, that the prisoners would be freed, and the Mexican troops sent fleeing back over the Nueces.
Carl and the assembled militiamen, under the command of Captain Coleman departed without ceremony late that afternoon; grim and purposeful men, their saddlebags bulging with food and ammunition, their saddle-holsters bristling with arms. Margaret watched, as her brother moved among them, unhurried and quietly authoritative. They were moving light and fast, with two pack-mules laden with even more supplies; her brother planned that they should be at the Salado camp within three days. Margaret’s heart was wrung – she had seen this so many times before! The only solace she might take in this prospect was that there were no young boys among the riders this time, only men and many of them battle-hardened and wily, veterans of the first fight for Bexar, back in the beginning, of the mad scramble to withdraw from the west, after the fall of the Alamo, veterans of San Jacinto, of Plum Creek and a thousand small skirmishes with Mexicans soldiers and Indians alike. And General Sam – he would not let this insult pass, indeed he would not. With that, Margaret must be content.
It was little more than a week before Margaret and those still remaining in Austin received certain news of what had happened at Bexar. The Mexicans had withdrawn – that was the best of it. The Texian companies from the lower Colorado settlements, to include Captain Hays’ Rangers, had lured a large portion of the Mexican force out of Bexar, lured them into a trap among the sandy creek-beds and thickets of mesquite and scrub oaks north of the town. There they fought a sharp skirmish, and sent the Mexicans reeling back . . . but a company of fifty or so volunteers from La Grange, led by Captain Mosby Dawson, had just arrived, and hearing the distant sounds of the fight had advanced to the aid of their comrades. They were overrun by the Mexican cavalry, before they could join the main Texian companies, safely entrenched along Salado Creek. All but fifteen or so were captured alive, the rest being killed in the fight, or upon surrendering. Within days, the Mexican general Woll and his columns of marching men, of cavalry and the heavy cannons had withdrawn from Bexar, retreating slowly back towards the Rio Grande. But he took hostages with him, those men captured in Bexar, and in the skirmishing along Salado Creek. Nonetheless, this invasion had been stopped, and Margaret and her household rejoiced, until a tear-stained letter from Morag arrived; Daniel Fritchie was one of Dawson’s men captured at Salado and his brother Nicholas killed.
Worse yet emerged in the next weeks; those prisoners taken in Bexar, those men who had been at the meeting of the district court were not released on the banks of the Rio Grande, as they had been promised by General Woll. Dr. Williamson’s captivity would be of longer duration than a few weeks; Margaret fumed when she read of this new treachery in the newspapers, and Hetty wept when she re-read Morag’s piteous letter.
“Oh, Marm – what will she do, then?” she cried, and Margaret answered, practically. “She writes that she is become ill very often, and she cannot rest . . .”
“She must come home to us, of course. It’s the heat,” Margaret had her own suspicious about what was making Morag ill.
“And I will go to fetch her, o’ course,” Seamus O’Doyle looked immediately more cheerful. He had made some adjustment to Morag’s marriage in the past months; Margaret thought that perhaps Hetty had spoken to him bluntly on the subject.
The final blow, when it fell was not completely unexpected: citing the constant danger of hostile incursions from Mexico and from the Indians, General Sam called the Legislature to meet at Washington-on-the-Brazos . . . not at Austin. Margaret was philosophical, at least more so than Mrs. Eberly, who predictably enough was furious. She stumped up the hill to consult with Margaret – or at least, to complain angrily while Margaret listened.
“Who does General Sam think he is?” the Widow Eberly shouted, “And who to those lily-livered men think they are – afraid to come to this place, to do the business required of the nation?”
“They may rightfully fear such, seeing how the men who attended district court were dragged from Bexar as prisoners,” Margaret began; a temporizing statement which was entirely wasted on Mrs. Eberly.
“Fear of a Meskin sojer jumping out of a bush has gelded every one of them!” Mrs. Eberly stormed on, “That drunken old lecher may as well have taken a knife and done it wholesale – I’ll lay any roads that he has gone around, talking up how dangerous it is to all! This will be the ruination of our business, Miz Vining, the ruination of it all!”
“This was a passing emergency, Mrs. Eberly, a passing emergency,” Margaret said, “They were defeated, and have withdrawn over the Rio Grande…”
“Aye, and thanks to our men, men like your brother – and no thanks to General Sam this time! Leave it to our best to take up a musket and defend our homes – what has it come to, that our own leader will not take up his duty here, where we had established our city!”
“I am sure that the legislature will meet here, next time,” Margaret was about to give up being soothing, as it seemed to have little effect upon Mrs. Eberly.
“They had better so,” Mrs. Eberly replied, “For all the offices are here, and the archives safe-guarded in the land office. How can you conduct the business of the country, without the records of matters? Tell me that, Miz Vining!”
“I am sure they cannot,” Margaret sighed. “Truth to tell, Mrs. Eberly – I take it a small matter, next to the holding of our men. Poor Dr. Williamson! We shall miss him so dreadfully. Morag is with child, you see – and Daniel Fritchie is a prisoner. Mr. O’Doyle has gone to Mina with a wagon, to bring her back to stay with us. We hope every day that Daniel will be freed, but she is so young and alone, and they had not been married all that long.”
“Hard times,” Mrs. Eberly said, with a grim expression, “And even harder, for it is our own leader making it harder for us. Aye well – it’s lads like that brother of yours that stand guard for us; I can sleep at night, trusting in him and Captain Jack Hays and Captain Coleman and all. What have we done to deserve that devotion, Mrs. Vining?”
“I do not know,” Margaret confessed, “But I think they feel it to be their duty, whether we be open in our gratitude or not.”
“Well, if and when your brother and any of his comrades come to Austin again,” Mrs. Eberly patted her knee fondly, “And you have not the space for them all, I’ll gladly make room – and not charge a bit. It’s the least we can do for our lads, isn’t it?”
“The very least,” Margaret answered, and left unspoken the question – would Carlchen ever return to the family home, when business or war did not take him?
Morag did return, and with tears of mingled joy and distress, as Seamus O’Doyle came around and handed her carefully down from the wagon seat. It was October; the days were drawing shorter, with grey-clouded skies and a chill wind from the north. She ran lightly to Hetty’s embrace; there was no sign outwardly that she was with child, save for the sudden sharpness of the cheekbones in her face. There is a difference in the face of a woman who is bearing, or has born a child, Margaret thought; something elemental, no matter how young she may be herself. She had observed it in the faces of those friends of her girlhood in Gonzales, seen it in her own features – and now it was in Morag’s face, when she turned from her sister to Margaret.
“Dear little girl,” Margaret whispered – what it might have been to have had a younger sister of her own, or a daughter! “I think you have some news to tell us.”
“You knew!” Morag’s face fell, and then her expression danced into laughter, as she hugged Margaret. “But of course, Marm – you know everything!”
“Know of what?” Hetty looked from one to another, slightly baffled, and Margaret marveled at how she and Morag were now united in a sisterhood, despite the years between the two of them, and her long friendship with Hetty – the bond of sisterhood between the mothers of children.
“That I will have a child to console me!” Morag embraced her sister again, “That Danny will return, an’ I will have his son to show him! He knew, o’ course. That was why he went w’ Captain Dawson! ‘Meggie, he said to me – I must do what I must to keep us safe, now more than ever – for th’ matter is most urgent!’ An’ I kissed him an’ said that he must do what he must . . . an’ oh, Marm – what was I thinkin’? For now I want him worse than I have iver wanted him, t’ be at my side . . . “and she dissolved into tears on Margaret’s shoulder. “Moods,” she said over Morag’s shoulder to the much-puzzled Hetty. “It comes with the country of children. That you will have moods and your children alike, and hope that your kin and friends may forgive you for being considerably out of sorts with the world, whilst you are in the process of bearing them.”
“Oh, me ain darlin’!” Hetty cried, with sudden comprehension grown doubly fond. “Come and lay down within! This is happy news, so ‘tis!” She embraced her sister, and walked to the house with her arm around her waist. Meanwhile, Seamus O’Doyle had lifted down the little trunk, which was all that Morag had brought with her.
“It was a good thought, to have her come home to stay with us,” Margaret said to him, “And thank you for bringing her.”
“Aye well, she’s as dear as kin,” Seamus O’Doyle replied. “And Danny is a foine lad – we’ll just see about getting him back, won’t we, Marm? They say in Mina that there’s news that General Sam is raising a large army, to strike at Mexico in hopes of freeing our boys. Is it true, now?”
“It has been in several newspapers,” Margaret answered, “So I think it must be. But I would have known so, even if I had not read of it. I don’t believe we would tamely submit to such a provocation as the taking of Bexar, and the kidnapping of our own citizens.”
“No, we would not,” Seamus O’Doyle agreed, and he had such a thoughtful expression on his face, that Margaret knew he must have already begun thinking about this. “No, we would not, indade.”