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The Texan Scouts Joseph A. Altsheler

Before The Dictator

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The soldiers who had guarded Ned stepped back, Urrea stood by the wall, and the boy was left to meet the fixed gaze of Santa Anna. The dictator wore a splendid uniform, as usual. His face seemed to Ned fuller and more flushed than when they had last met in Mexico. The marks of dissipation were there. Ned saw him slip a little silver box from the pocket of his waistcoat and take from it a pinch of a dark drug, which he ate. It was opium, but the Mexican generals seemed to take no note of it.

Santa Anna's gaze was fixed and piercing, as if he would shoot terror into the soul of his enemy--a favorite device of his--but Ned withstood it. Then Santa Anna, removing his stare from his face, looked him slowly up and down. The generals said nothing, waiting upon their leader, who could give life or death as he chose. Ned was sure that Santa Anna remembered him, and, in a moment, he knew that he was right.

"It is young Fulton, who made the daring and ingenious escape from our hospitality in the capital," he said, "and who also departed in an unexpected manner from one of the submarine dungeons of our castle of San Juan de Ulua. Fate does not seem to reward your courage and enterprise as they deserve, since you are in our hands again."

The dictator laughed and his generals laughed obediently also. Ned said nothing.

"I am informed by that most meritorious young officer, Captain Urrea," continued Santa Anna, "that you were captured about three o'clock this morning trying to escape from the Alamo."

"That is correct," said Ned.

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"Why were you running away in the dark?"

Ned flushed, but, knowing that it was an unworthy and untruthful taunt, he remained silent.

"You do not choose to answer," said Santa Anna, "but I tell you that you are the rat fleeing from the sinking ship. Our cannon have wrecked the interior of the Alamo. Half of your men are dead, and the rest would gladly surrender if I should give them the promise of life."

"It is not true!" exclaimed Ned with heat. "Despite all your fire the defenders of the Alamo have lost but a few men. You offer no quarter and they ask none. They are ready to fight to the last."

There was a murmur among the generals, but Santa Anna raised his hand and they were silent again.

"I cannot believe all that you say," he continued. "It is a boast. The Texans are braggarts. To-morrow they die, every one of them. But tell us the exact condition of everything inside the Alamo, and perhaps I may spare your life."

Ned shut his teeth so hard that they hurt. A deep flush surged into the dark face of Santa Anna.

"You are stubborn. All the Texans are stubborn. But I do not need any information from you. I shall crush the Alamo, as my fingers would smash an eggshell."

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The Texan Scouts
Joseph A. Altsheler

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