Friday, March 1, 2013

Day Seven: The Hard Passage of Secundino Alvarez.

  The light fades and the pickets go over the wall to watch the night. No careless men and no fools. They take a blanket. Most go tomahawk and pistol. A few take a shotgun. Bill King goes and went last night. He wears two deerskin shirts, moccasines and carries Rutherford's double gun. He slides over the wall like a shadow and you don't hear a thing until he tosses a pebble on top to let you know he is back. Says he sits a different place so the Mexicans won't puzzle him out. Him, Milsap and Navarro trade. Last night he wasn't over the wall an hour when we heard Rutherford's shotgun. One barrel. Cu-Tonk!

  Then nothing. We ran to the wall but on top I could see Milsap motioning with his hand. Stay back. Stay down.

  A fringed deerskin rifle sock hung off the top ladder rung.

  Then it started. Wheezing. Then like a kind of a grunting. "Ump. Ump. Huh." A whispering mumble. Something. "Mio. Mio."

  The parapet filled up with low eyes watching the dark. The water was gurgling down at the river. "Mio. Dios. Aeg. Mumbling. Something....something. Dios."

  "Rutherford's double. One barrel. Best sit tight. King'll be up in a minute." Milsap was whispering.

  But he wasn't. Not that hour. Not as the stars swung around and Jupiter dipped low. I lined my rifle up on the whimpering. The corner battery bunch edged the cannon around. One of the Greys came over and checked his watchface on a blown coal off the fire now and then. Four oclock.

  "Mia. Miodios. Something something. Umph."

  A pebble bounced off the adobe with a click and King stepped out of a blue shadow passing the shotgun up. He came over the wall and flowed down the ladder. Couple people rose from around the glowing firecircle below. Milsap handed him the cup of broth he was sipping.

  "Mexican Scout." King let out a deep breath and shook himself from the chill. "Nearly stepped on me. He's done, just not quite yet. Gawd cold. I thought they might come for him, but they never. It'uz either shoot him or let him under the blanket. Knocked him off in some muddy weeds."

  Dawn began to pick out some treetrunks and King pointed out the place. You could hear him wheezing and see his leg slide up for a minute, then back down. Navarro listened with his hands behind his ears. "He's calling God and his mother."

  By the time the sun came over the East ridge half the fort had been up. Not much to see but you could make him out plain enough. He'd lie still and silent and we would decide he had travelled and then that leg would slide up and he'd start whispering again.

  The day filled with work. The Mexican batteries plonked away. Milsap and King rolled up in two blankets and slept with their faces to the wall. We would check and he would be still. Then we would check again and see that leg move. Quite a debate about putting another ball in him, but it wasn't enough to shoot at. A whole company marched around the East end of the fort past the trees. Esparza called out to the man in a voice you could hear in the downtown plaza but nobody came and never an answer.  Just two wrens in a treetop rasping back and forth.

  "I could stick him," said one of Davy's boys, but nobody moved.

  "Mio. Dios. Diodiohhh."

  We ate dinner and listened as the sun fell. Two of the Greys had bootheeled a big circle out in the plaza and were trying to get bets about how many cannonballs would be inside it by morning. Nobody was much interested.

  Milsap went up at dark out of the firelight to get his night eyes. King went with. Navarro.  King went over with his blanket under his arm. Milsap spit and said, "got dang," and went too. Navarro followed emptyhanded. Knife probably. I heard one little gravel crunch but otherwise they were smoke.

"Dio. Dios. Something. Uhh. Uhh."

  Three minutes later they came rushing back. Dang the noise. Had that man in the blanket. We reached over and hoisted him up, then Navarro. Milsap. King crouched in a shadow and when I looked a second later, the shadow was empty.

  In the room below we rolled the man out of the blanket. His right hand was mangled, gone like he put it over the muzzle and his side a bloody pulp. Smell of entrails and stale blood. Burnt mud. Lung. Maybe both. Navarro whispered to him while Enrique wiped his face. He was grinding his teeth and that leg was clenching still. Bowie's nurse Candalaria leaned into the firelight and squatted down like a man. She took a twig from the fire, popped off the flame on a rock and lifted his jacket with the glowing end.  "Muerto," she said and was gone in a swirl of skirts.

  The parson came and sponged his neck with warm water. We straightened him but he kept rolling on that side and drawing up that leg.

  An hour later Navarro came to the corner room where the fire was still glowing. "He was Secundino Alvarez of San Luis." Nav shrugged a little deeper into his coat. "He had a hard passing."

It was Monday, February 29, 1836.

When the sun came up I went back to the post. The body was rolled in the blanket with blood soaked through the middle. Two cannonballs and a big ring of shrapnel sat in the circle. King was at the cookfire. "If you think I'll say I'm sorry I shot," he said to nobody in particular, "I ain't."

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