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The Texan Scouts Joseph A. Altsheler

The Black Tragedy

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"You sing, you are happy," he said to Ned, although he meant them all. "It is well. You of the north bear misfortune well."

"We do the best we can wherever we are," replied young Fulton, dryly.

"The saints themselves could do no more," said the Mexican.

Urrea was speaking in English, and his manner was so friendly and gentle that the recruits crowded around him.

"When are we to be released? When do we get our parole?" they asked.

Urrea smiled and held up his hands. He was all sympathy and generosity.

"All your troubles will be over to-morrow," he said, "and it is fitting that they should end on such a day, because it is Palm Sunday."

The recruits gave a cheer.

"Do we go down to the coast?" one of them asked.

Urrea smiled with his whole face, and with the gesture of his hands, too. But he shook his head.

"I can say no more," he replied. "I am not the general, and perhaps I have said too much already, but be assured, brave foes, that to-morrow will end your troubles. You fought us gallantly. You fought against great odds, and you have my sympathy."

Ned had said no more. He was looking at Urrea intently. He was trying, with all the power of his own mind and soul, to read this man's mind and soul. He was trying to pierce through that Spanish armor of smiles and gestures and silky tones and see what lay beneath. He sought to read the real meaning of all these polite phrases. His long and powerful gaze finally drew Urrea's own.

A little look of fear crept into Urrea's eyes, as the two antagonists stared at each other. But it was only for a few minutes. Then he looked away with a shrug and a laugh.

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"Now I leave you," he said to the men, "and may the saints bring you much happiness. Do not forget that to-morrow is Palm Sunday, and that it is a good omen."

He went out, taking the torchbearers with him, and although it was dark again in the vaulted church, the recruits sang a long time. Ned sat down with his back against the wall, and he did not share in the general joy. He remembered the look that had come into Urrea's eyes, when they met the accusing gaze of his own.

After a while the singing ceased, and one by one the recruits fell asleep in the close, stifling air of the place. Ned dozed an hour or two, but awoke before dawn. He was oppressed by a deep and unaccountable gloom, and it was not lifted when, in the dusk, he looked at the rows of sleeping figures, crowded so close together that no part of the floor was visible.

He saw the first light appear in the east, and then spread like the slow opening of a fan. The recruits began to awaken by and by, and their good spirits had carried over from the night before. Soon the old church was filled with talk and laughter.

The day came fully, and then the guards brought food and water, not enough to satisfy hunger and thirst, but enough to keep them alive. They did not complain, as they would soon be free men, able to obtain all that they wanted. Presently the doors of the church were thrown open, and the officers and many soldiers appeared. Young Urrea was foremost among the officers, and, in a loud voice, he ordered all the prisoners to come out, an order that they obeyed with alacrity and pleasure.

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The Texan Scouts
Joseph A. Altsheler

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