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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 26
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    MARCH OF SANTA ANNA INTO TEXAS.

    "You rascal! Get back, or I'll shoot!"

    Such were the words which burst from Dan's lips as soon as he recovered sufficiently from his surprise to speak.

    But Hank Stiger was already retreating, carrying the lighted tinder in his hand. He could not make out who was there, but saw it was somebody with a gun, and the sight of the weapon was enough for him.

    "What's up?" came from Poke Stover, who had been snoring in the corner, and the old frontiersman scrambled to his feet and joined Dan at the doorway.

    "There goes Hank Stiger! He was going to blow up the cabin with our keg of gunpowder."

    "Can it be possible! I'll stop him." Stover ran outside. "Stop, Hank Stiger, or you're a dead man!" he called out, loudly.

    But the half-breed was now running like a deer and paid no attention to the words. Taking hasty but careful aim at Stiger's legs, Poke Stover pulled the trigger of his gun.

    The report, which awakened all of the others, was followed by a scream of pain from the half-breed, who went a step or two more and then sank in a heap.

    "What does this mean?" demanded Amos Radbury, as he, too, seized his gun. "Are we attacked by Indians?"

    "No, we were attacked by Hank Stiger," answered Dan, and pointed to the keg of powder.

    "My powder! What was he going to do with that?"

    "Blow us all sky-high."

    "And you saw him?"

    "Yes, I caught him in the act of lighting the fuse lying there."

    "But how came you to be up?"

    "I was restless,--thinking about the keg and other things."

    "It must have been an act of Providence," murmured Amos Radbury. "Who fired the shot?"

    "Poke Stover. He has gone after Stiger," concluded Dan.

    All ran out of the cabin, and found the frontiersman and the half-breed at the edge of the clearing. Hank Stiger had been struck in the knee and was evidently suffering great pain, for after screaming for awhile he fell back in a dead faint.

    Stover and Pompey were for leaving him where he had fallen, but neither Amos Radbury nor his sons had the heart to do this, and in the end the half-breed was carried to the cattle shed and put in the corner from whence he had removed the powder. All were anxious to question him about his actions, but the wounded man was in no condition to talk.

    "After this I'll put this powder in a safer place," said Mr. Radbury, and stored it in a corner of the dugout, under the living-room.

    Hank Stiger's wound was dressed, and then Pompey was set to watch him for the remainder of the night. The negro was given a pistol and was instructed to discharge it at the first intimation of danger of any kind.

    But the balance of the night passed quietly, and toward morning Dan got into a sound sleep, from which he did not awaken until long after the others were up.

    After breakfast Amos Radbury started to question Hank Stiger. He found the half-breed resting easily, but in a sullen mood. At first he utterly refused to talk.

    "Very well," said Mr. Radbury. "If you won't talk, neither shall you eat nor drink."

    "Then take me back to the Gonzales lockup," muttered Stiger.

    "We will,--when we have the time. At present we have other matters to attend to."

    Left once more in charge of Pompey, the half-breed flew into a rage and muttered all sorts of imprecations against those who had outwitted him. Then, as the day wore on, he calmed down, and tried to bribe the coloured man into giving him something to eat and to drink.

    Pompey was obdurate. "Can't do it, nohow," he said. "It's ag'in Mars' Radbury's ordahs, sah."

    A wounded man always craves water, and by one o'clock in the afternoon the half-breed's tongue was fairly lolling out of his mouth. He stood it awhile longer, then summoned Pompey.

    "Give me a drink,--I am dyin'."

    "I dun tole you dat it was ag'in the massah's ordahs, sah."

    "He said I could have water if I would talk," growled Stiger.

    "Is yo' ready to talk?"

    "Yes."

    At once the negro called his master, who was busy, with the boys and Poke Stover, in putting down some hog-meat for the winter. Knowing how greatly Stiger must suffer, Amos Radbury went to him without delay.

    "So you are willing to talk now, Stiger?"

    "How can I help myself?"

    "Then tell me why you tried to blow up my cabin?"

    "I wanted to git squar' fer havin' me locked up."

    "But you deserved to be locked up, after that attack on Dan and Henry Parker."

    At this the half-breed shrugged his shoulders.

    "And you must remember perfectly well what you did before that," continued Amos Radbury.

    "I didn't get Bison Head to attack you,--he did that on his own account."

    "But you came in afterward and robbed the place. It is useless for you to deny any longer that you took those papers relating to this grant of land."

    For several minutes Stiger was silent. At last he lifted his eyes.

    "Are you goin' to give me dat drink?" he asked, falling back into his Indian accent.

    "Yes,--if you'll promise to tell me about the papers."

    "I--I will."

    Pompey was at once sent for a pitcher of fresh water, and when it arrived Hank Stiger grabbed it with both hands and drained it dry. Nectar could not have tasted sweeter to him.

    "Now what did you do with the papers?" Amos Radbury asked, after Stiger had given a long sigh of satisfaction.

    "I--I lost 'em."

    Instantly Amos Radbury's face flushed, and he sprang to his feet.

    "Stiger, you are falsifying! I do not believe you!" he exclaimed.

    "It's de truf."

    "It is not. You have either hidden the papers or else given them to somebody."

    At this the half-breed shrugged his shoulders again.

    "You cannot deceive me longer," went on the settler. "By and by you will want food and more water. You shall have neither."

    "Goin' ter starve me to death?"

    "It will be your own fault. I am now treating you with more kindness than you deserve. Many a man would have strung you up to the nearest tree for your misdeeds."

    At this Hank Stiger winced, for he knew only too well that Mr. Radbury spoke the truth. He felt that he could not go too far or he might get into deeper trouble.

    "I'll tell yer all," he said at last. "But give me somethin' to eat first."

    "Not a mouthful until you have told your story. Then you can have all the food and water you wish, and we'll try to make you as comfortable as we can."

    This was the straw which broke the camel's back, so far as Hank Stiger was concerned, and with much hesitation he told his story, which in substance was as follows:

    About six months before, he had fallen in with a man of mixed American and Spanish blood named Carlos Martine, who was anxious to obtain possession of a large grant of land on the Guadalupe from the Radbury claim northward.

    Carlos Martine was in league with a number of Mexican officials, and had obtained ownership of a large portion of the land without much difficulty. But the best of the land, that fronting the river, belonged to Amos Radbury, and this Martine could not obtain, although he tried to do so through a certain John Morgan. Morgan had asked Mr. Radbury to sell several times, but had been refused.

    Carlos Martine had had a hold on Hank Stiger, and during the Indian raid had asked the half-breed to obtain possession of the papers relating to the land, if they could be found in the Radbury cabin. What Martine was going to do with the papers Stiger did not know.

    Having obtained the papers, Hank Stiger had gone off to Gonzales with them. From there he had journeyed to Goliad, and there met Carlos Martine. The latter had promised him twenty dollars, Mexican money, for the documents, but at the time of the meeting the half-breed had been so intoxicated that he could not remember whether he received the cash or not. Certainly, when he had sobered up, two days later, every cent of the money was missing.

    "And have you seen Carlos Martine since?" questioned Amos Radbury.

    "No."

    "Then you do not know where he is?"

    Once more Hank Stiger shrugged his shoulders. "I think he got afraid and went to Mexico. A good many people around Gonzales do not like him, and I think he was afraid I would expose him," he ventured.

    Amos Radbury questioned the half-breed, and at last concluded that the story must be largely true. This being so, he ordered Pompey to fetch some more water and prepare such a meal as might be good for the sick man. The planter had had considerable experience at doctoring, and he attended to the wounded knee with almost as much skill as a surgeon.

    As Carlos Martine was out of reach, nothing could at present be done toward getting back the missing documents.

    "But I shall fortify myself as much as possible," said Amos Radbury; and on the following day he wrote down Hank Stiger's confession in full, made the half-breed sign it with his mark, and had Poke Stover witness the paper.

    "Thet might not hold with the Mexican government," drawled the old frontiersman, "but I calkerlate 'twill hold with the government o' this free an' enlightened State o' Texas, hear me!" And at this the others had to laugh.

    The holidays came and went, and nothing of more than ordinary interest happened at the ranch. It was at times bitter cold, the sweeping "northers," as they are called, hurling themselves over Texas with great fury. During those times everybody remained indoors hugging the fire. Hank Stiger still kept to his couch at the cattle shed, and was provided regularly with all that he needed to eat and drink. If the truth must be told, the half-breed was thankful that he had such a comfortable home for the time being, knowing it was much better than any the Indians could offer him, or better than he would get at the Gonzales lockup.

    In the meantime, matters politically were in a very mixed-up state throughout Texas. The majority of the settlers were for liberty, but some, while wishing State rights, still thought it best to remain in the Mexican Confederation, while others wanted annexation to the United States without delay.

    Many meetings were held, but this only increased the confusion, and though a portion of the Texans set up a provisional government, others continued to act largely on their own responsibility. There were many wrangles and, to look back, it is a great wonder that anarchy did not reign supreme. But it is a satisfaction to know that, in the end, law and order conquered. With the political troubles our tale has nothing to do.

    While the Texans were speculating upon what to do next, Santa Anna, in Mexico, was not idle. At the head of a party peculiarly his own, he had cut off many of the rights of the Mexican citizens, and made himself virtually a dictator, although still called simply the president. This accomplished, he set out to subdue Texas, the only spot where his authority was resisted.

    Santa Anna had sent out a small command to relieve General Cos at San Antonio. The two forces met at the Rio Grande River, and there waited for further orders. Early in February, General Santa Anna came up to Monova with about four thousand troops. These soldiers were joined by those on the Rio Grande, thus increasing the Mexican army to about seven thousand.

    The order now came for a direct advance upon San Antonio, and the army set off on its wearisome journey of about six hundred miles over a plain which was hardly protected by any timber from the cutting winter winds. Slow progress was made, and, food falling short, the whole army had to be put on short rations. Some of the soldiers tried to desert, but these were promptly shot by Santa Anna's orders. Whenever a settlement was passed, the inhabitants were made to give the hungry Mexicans all the provisions they could possibly spare. Once the whole army came close to open rebellion, but Santa Anna's orders were supreme, and on the 22d day of February, 1836, the first of his troops appeared within sight of San Antonio; and the war, which had hung fire since the December before, was again begun.
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