THE CITY IN THE WILDERNESS
"What, are you stepping westward?"
* * * * *
Yet who would stop or fear to advance,
Though home or shelter there was none,
With such a sky to lead him on!"
"Ah! cool night wind, tremulous stars,
Ah! glimmering water,
Fitful earth murmur,
In A. D. sixteen hundred and ninety-two, a few Franciscan
monks began to build a city. The site chosen was a lovely
wilderness hundreds of miles away from civilization on every
side, and surrounded by savage and warlike tribes. But the
spot was as beautiful as the garden of God. It was shielded
by picturesque mountains, watered by two rivers, carpeted with
flowers innumerable, shaded by noble trees joyful with
the notes of a multitude of singing birds. To breathe the
balmy atmosphere was to be conscious of some rarer and finer
life, and the beauty of the sunny skies--marvellous at dawn
and eve with tints of saffron and amethyst and opal--was like
a dream of heaven.
One of the rivers was fed by a hundred springs situated in the
midst of charming bowers. The monks called it the San
Antonio; and on its banks they built three noble Missions.
The shining white stone of the neighborhood rose in graceful
domes and spires above the green trees. Sculptures, basso-
relievos, and lines of gorgeous coloring adorned the
exteriors. Within, were splendid altars and the appealing
charms of incense, fine vestures and fine music; while from
the belfreys, bells sweet and resonant called to the savages,
who paused spell-bound and half-afraid to listen.
Certainly these priests had to fight as well as to pray. The
Indians did not suffer them to take possession of their Eden
without passionate and practical protest. But what the monks
had taken, they kept; and the fort and the soldier followed
the priest and the Cross. Ere long, the beautiful Mission
became a beautiful city, about which a sort of fame full of
romance and mystery gathered. Throughout the south and west,
up the great highway of the Mississippi, on the busy streets
of New York, and among the silent hills of New England, men
spoke of San Antonio, as in the seventeenth century they spoke
of Peru; as in the eighteenth century they spoke of Delhi, and
Agra, and the Great Mogul.
Sanguine French traders carried thither rich ventures in fancy
wares from New Orleans; and Spanish dons from the wealthy
cities of Central Mexico, and from the splendid homes of
Chihuahua, came there to buy. And from the villages of
Connecticut, and the woods of Tennessee, and the lagoons of
Mississippi, adventurous Americans entered the Texan territory
at Nacogdoches. They went through the land, buying horses and
lending their ready rifles and stout hearts to every effort of
that constantly increasing body of Texans, who, even in their
swaddling bands, had begun to cry Freedom!
At length this cry became a clamor that shook even the old
viceroyal palace in Mexico; while in San Antonio it gave a
certain pitch to all conversation, and made men wear their
cloaks, and set their beavers, and display their arms, with
that demonstrative air of independence they called los
Americano. For, though the Americans were numerically few,
they were like the pinch of salt in a pottage--they gave the
snap and savor to the whole community.
Over this Franciscan-Moorish city the sun set with an
incomparable glory one evening in May, eighteen thirty-five.
The white, flat-roofed, terraced houses--each one in its
flowery court--and the domes and spires of the Missions,
with their gilded crosses, had a mirage-like beauty in the rare,
soft atmosphere, as if a dream of Old Spain had been
materialized in a wilderness of the New World.
But human life in all its essentials was in San Antonio, as it
was and has been in all other cities since the world began.
Women were in their homes, dressing and cooking, nursing their
children and dreaming of their lovers. Men were in the
market-places, buying and selling, talking of politics and
anticipating war. And yet in spite of these fixed
attributes, San Antonio was a city penetrated with romantic
elements, and constantly picturesque.
On this evening, as the hour of the Angelus approached, the
narrow streets and the great squares were crowded with a
humanity that assaulted and captured the senses at once; so
vivid and so various were its component parts. A tall sinewy
American with a rifle across his shoulder was paying some
money to a Mexican in blue velvet and red silk, whose breast
was covered with little silver images of his favorite saints.
A party of Mexican officers were strolling to the Alamo; some
in white linen and scarlet sashes, others glittering with
color and golden ornaments. Side by side with these were
monks of various orders: the Franciscan in his blue gown and
large white hat; the Capuchin in his brown serge; the Brother
of Mercy in his white flowing robes. Add to these
diversities, Indian peons in ancient sandals, women dressed as
in the days of Cortez and Pizarro, Mexican vendors of every
kind, Jewish traders, negro servants, rancheros curvetting on
their horses, Apache and Comanche braves on spying
expeditions: and, in this various crowd, yet by no means of
it, small groups of Americans; watchful, silent, armed to the
teeth: and the mind may catch a glimpse of what the streets of
San Antonio were in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and
It was just before sunset that the city was always at its
gayest point. Yet, at the first toll of the Angelus, a
silence like that of enchantment fell upon it. As a mother
cries hush to a noisy child, so the angel of the city seemed
in this evening bell to bespeak a minute for holy thought. It
was only a minute, for with the last note there was even an
access of tumult. The doors and windows of the better houses
were thrown open, ladies began to appear on the balconies,
there was a sound of laughter and merry greetings, and the
tiny cloud of the cigarette in every direction.
But amid this sunset glamour of splendid color, of velvet, and
silk, and gold embroidery, the man who would have certainly
first attracted a stranger's eye wore the plain and ugly
costume common at that day to all American gentlemen. Only
black cloth and white linen and a row palmetto hat with a
black ribbon around it; but he wore his simple garments with
the air of a man having authority, and he returned the
continual salutations of rich and poor, like one who had been
long familiar with public appreciation.
It was Dr. Robert Worth, a physician whose fame had penetrated
to the utmost boundaries of the territories of New Spain. He
had been twenty-seven years in San Antonio. He was a familiar
friend in every home. In sickness and in death he had come
close to the hearts in them. Protected at first by the
powerful Urrea family, he had found it easy to retain his
nationality, and yet live down envy and suspicion. The rich
had shown him their gratitude with gold; the poor he had never
sent unrelieved away, and they had given him their love.
When in the second year of his residence he married Dona Maria
Flores, he gave, even to doubtful officials, security for his
political intentions. And his future conduct had seemed to
warrant their fullest confidence. In those never ceasing
American invasions between eighteen hundred and three and
eighteen hundred and thirty-two, he had been the friend and
succourer of his countrymen, but never their confederate;
their adviser, but never their confidant.
He was a tall, muscular man of a distinguished appearance.
His hair was white. His face was handsome and good to see.
He was laconic in speech, but his eyes were closely observant
of all within their range, and they asked searching questions.
He had a reverent soul, wisely tolerant as to creeds, and he
loved his country with a passion which absence from it
constantly intensified. He was believed to be a thoroughly
practical man, fond of accumulating land and gold; but his
daughter Antonia knew that he had in reality a noble
imagination. When he spoke to her of the woods, she felt the
echoes of the forest ring through the room; when of the sea,
its walls melted away in an horizon of long rolling waves.
He was thinking of Antonia as he walked slowly to his home in
the suburbs of the city. Of all his children she was the
nearest to him. She had his mother's beauty. She had also
his mother's upright rectitude of nature. The Iberian
strain had passed her absolutely by. She was a northern rose
in a tropical garden. As he drew near to his own gates, he
involuntarily quickened his steps. He knew that Antonia would
be waiting. He could see among the thick flowering shrubs her
tall slim figure clothed in white. As she came swiftly down
the dim aisles to meet him, he felt a sentiment of worship for
her. She concentrated in herself his memory of home, mother,
and country. She embodied, in the perfectness of their mental
companionship, that rarest and sweetest of ties--a beloved
child, who is also a wise friend and a sympathetic comrade.
As he entered the garden she slipped her hand into his. He
clasped it tightly. His smile answered her smile. There was
no need for any words of salutation.
The full moon had risen. The white house stood clearly out in
its radiance. The lattices were wide open and the parlor
lighted. They walked slowly towards it, between hedges of
white camelias and scarlet japonicas. Vanilla, patchuli,
verbena, wild wandering honeysuckle--a hundred other scents--
perfumed the light, warm air. As they came near the house
there was a sound of music, soft and tinkling, with a
rhythmic accent as pulsating as a beating heart.
"It is Don Luis, father."
"Ah! He plays well--and he looks well."
They had advanced to where Don Luis was distinctly visible.
He was within the room, but leaning against the open door,
playing upon a mandolin. Robert Worth smiled as he offered
his hand to him. It was impossible not to smile at a youth so
handsome, and so charming--a youth who had all the romance of
the past in his name, his home, his picturesque costume; and
all the enchantments of hope and great enthusiasms in his future.
"Luis, I am glad to see you; and I felt your music as soon as
I heard it."
He was glancing inquiringly around the room as he spoke; and
Antonia answered the look:
"Mother and Isabel are supping with Dona Valdez. There is to
be a dance. I am waiting for you, father. You must put on
your velvet vest."
"And you, Luis?"
"I do not go. I asked the judge for the appointment. He
refused me. Very well! I care not to drink chocolate and
dance in his house. One hand washes the other, and one cousin
should help another."
"Why did he refuse you?"
"Who can tell?" but Luis shrugged his shoulders expressively,
and added, "He gave the office to Blas-Sangre."
"Yes, it is so--naturally;--Blas-Sangre is rich, and when the
devil of money condescends to appear, every little devil rises
up to do him homage."
"Let it pass, Luis. Suppose you sing me that last verse
again. It had a taking charm. The music was like a boat
rocking on the water."
"So it ought to be. I learned the words in New Orleans. The
music came from the heart of my mandolin. Listen, Senor!
"`Row young oarsman, row, young oarsman,
Into the crypt of the night we float:
Fair, faint moonbeams wash and wander,
Wash and wander about the boat.
Not a fetter is here to bind us,
Love and memory lose their spell;
Friends that we have left behind us,
Prisoners of content,--farewell!'"
"You are a wizard, Luis, and I have had a sail with you.
Now, come with us, and show those dandy soldiers from the
Alamo how to dance."
"Pardon! I have not yet ceased to cross myself at the affront
of this morning. And the Senora Valdez is in the same mind as
her husband. I should be received by her like a dog at mass.
I am going to-morrow to the American colony on the Colorado."
"Be careful, Luis. These Austin colonists are giving great
trouble--there have been whispers of very strong measures. I
speak as a friend."
"My heart to yours! But let me tell you this about the Americans--
their drum is in the hands of one who knows how to beat it."
"As a matter of hearsay, are you aware that three detachments
of troops are on their way from Mexico?"
"What are three detachments? Can a few thousand men put Texas
under lock and key? I assure you not, Senor; but now I must
He took the doctor's hand, and, as he held it, turned his
luminous face and splendid eyes upon Antonia. A sympathetic
smile brightened her own face like a flame. Then he went
silently away, and Antonia watched him disappear among the
"Come, Antonia! I am ready. We must not keep the Senora
waiting too long."
"I am ready also, father." Her voice was almost sad, and yet
it had a tone of annoyance in it--"Don Luis is so imprudent,"
she said. "He is always in trouble. He is full of enthusiasms;
he is as impossible as his favorite, Don Quixote."
"And I thank God, Antonia, that I can yet feel with him.
Woe to the centuries without Quixotes! Nothing will remain
to them but--Sancho Panzas."
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