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0105_001E The Texan Scouts Joseph A. Altsheler

The Black Tragedy

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The scattered houses of Goliad came into view, by and by, and the messenger, giving the magic name of Santa Anna, rode through the lines. He inquired for General Urrea, the commander, but the general having gone to Victoria he was directed to Colonel Portilla, who commanded in his absence. He found Portilla sitting in a patio with Colonel Garay, the younger Urrea and several other Mexican officers. The messenger saluted, drew the letter from his pocket and presented it to Colonel Portilla.

"From the most illustrious president and commander-in-chief, General Santa Anna," he said.

Portilla broke the seal and read. As his eyes went down the lines, a deep flush crept through the tan of his face, and the paper trembled in his hands.

"I cannot do it! I cannot do it! Read, gentlemen, read!" he cried.

Urrea took the extended letter from his hand and read it aloud. Neither his voice nor his hand quivered as he read, and when he finished he said in a firm voice:

"The orders of the president must be obeyed, and you, Colonel Portilla, must carry them out at once. All of us know that General Santa Anna does not wish to repeat his commands, and that his wrath is terrible."

"It is so! It is so!" said Portilla hopelessly, and Garay also spoke words of grief. But Urrea, although younger and lower in rank, was firm, even exultant. His aggressive will dominated the others, and his assertion that the wrath of Santa Anna was terrible was no vain warning. The others began to look upon him as Santa Anna's messenger, the guardian of his thunderbolts, and they did not dare to meet his eye.

"We will go outside and talk about it," said Portilla, still much agitated.

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When they left the patio their steps inevitably took them toward the church. The high note of a flute playing a wailing air came to them through the narrow windows. It was "Home, Sweet Home," played by a boy in prison. The Mexicans did not know the song, but its solemn note was not without an appeal to Portilla and Garay. Portilla wiped the perspiration from his face.

"Come away," he said. "We can talk better elsewhere."

They turned in the opposite direction, but Urrea did not remain with them long. Making some excuse for leaving them he went rapidly to the church. He knew that his rank and authority would secure him prompt admission from the guards, but he stopped, a moment, at the door. The prisoners were now singing. Three or four hundred voices were joined in some hymn of the north that he did not know, some song of the English-speaking people. The great volume of sound floated out, and was heard everywhere in the little town.

Urrea was not moved at all. "Rebels and filibusters!" he said in Spanish, under his breath, but fiercely. Then he ordered the door unbarred, and went in. Two soldiers went with him and held torches aloft.

The singing ceased when Urrea entered. Ned was standing against the wall, and the young Mexican instinctively turned toward him, because he knew Ned best. There was much of the tiger cat in Urrea. He had the same feline grace and power, the same smoothness and quiet before going into action.

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The Texan Scouts
Joseph A. Altsheler

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