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Authors: Don Worcester

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BOOK: Gone to Texas
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On up the hill by a winding road they went, until the castle loomed directly over them, much more forbidding than it seemed when they were looking down on it from the mountains. As they rode through the gate and across the drawbridge, Ellis gazed up at the awesome towers and felt fear. I'm glad I won't be alone, he thought.

The prisoners dismounted and stood stiffly while an officer read their names. When his name was called, Ellis stepped forward and a lieutenant beckoned him to follow. He looked back and saw the others weren't coming. At the side of the castle, the lieutenant stopped at a narrow door with a small opening in it. The hinges creaked as he opened the door and gestured for Ellis to enter. They creaked again as he closed and locked it.

Ellis stared at the cell in the dim light, a cubicle only three feet wide and seven feet long. At one end was a small grated window that let in a little air and light. He leaned down to peer through the opening in the door and saw a soldier standing guard. “Where are my friends?” Ellis asked him.

“Together in a big room.” Ellis swore.

Before dark, the lieutenant returned, accompanied by a soldier carrying Ellis' blanket, old clothes, and a straw mat for a bed. The lieutenant handed Ellis a bowl with a piece of bread and a chunk of tough beef in it, and a pot of water. “Why can't I be with my friends?” Ellis asked.

The lieutenant hesitated before answering. “Colonel Carreño received a letter from a friend of his, an officer in Chihuahua,” he replied. “I don't know what it said, but the colonel ordered us to take every precaution to see that you don't escape.” Ellis scowled. The officer whose daughter he'd spurned must be gloating. He thought of María Baldonado, cursing himself for hesitating too long.

The next morning when the soldier came with food and water, and opened the door to inspect Ellis' shackles, he said nervously, “Colonel Carreño wants to see you.” Ellis stood and faced the door, where a heavy-set man scowled at him. His mouth turned down at the corners, and his bushy mustache drooped around his mouth. His small, black eyes glittered like the eyes of a coiled rattlesnake. His lips curled and his nostrils wrinkled at the stench from the cell. Ellis shivered.

“So you're our
Señor
Bean,” Carreño said, in a tone of contempt. “Make yourself comfortable. You won't be leaving as long as I'm governor of this castle.” He turned and left. The soldier, who had been standing nervously to one side looked relieved.

“He looks like one mean son-of-a-bitch,” Ellis said in Spanish. The soldier peered out the door to be sure Carreño was gone, then nodded his head vigorously and left, closing the door behind him.

Every day, the soldier who brought Ellis food and water also checked his shackles to see that they were in place. Ellis still had the money he'd brought from Chihuahua. He took a peso from his pocket. “Will you buy me a knife?” he asked the soldier, handing him the coin.

“I'll bring it tonight,” the soldier replied.

When he had the knife, Ellis tried to pick out the mortar between the huge stones of the outer wall, but soon realized it was hopeless. The days dragged by; Ellis thought only of being free again. It appeared that he'd never be released and would have to escape. But how?

One day, he noticed a white lizard that had crawled through the little window and was trying to catch flies. Out of curiosity, Ellis caught a fly, impaled it on a straw from his mat, and slowly held it up to the lizard's head. It eyed him suspiciously, but accepted the fly, and as many others as Ellis could catch. Every morning when the lizard crawled through the window, it sang like a frog to announce its arrival. From the time it turned light each day, Ellis listened eagerly for its song. He named the lizard Bill.

After some days, Bill became so tame Ellis could hold him in his hand and feed him scraps of beef. When he held Bill up to the light, the lizard was so transparent he could make out its bones. “You're just about the only friend I've got left in the world,” he told it, and it cocked its head, staring at Ellis with shiny eyes. Bill became so tame that he even stayed with Ellis nights, but when the soldier came each day to inspect Ellis' shackles, the lizard hid under his blanket. He came out as soon as he heard the door close, and Ellis always picked him up. “Don't you worry about any of those soldiers,” he said, stroking Bill's back. “If one ever tried to harm you, I'd strangle him.”

When he'd been at Acapulco nearly a year, Ellis developed a fever, and the castle doctor ordered an Indian to carry him to the hospital. Now, he thought, if I ever get well, I'll find a way to escape. But at the hospital he was put in stocks—two logs with semicircular cuts in them that fit over his legs. While he was in the stocks, small biting insects called
chinces
nearly drove him mad by biting his legs, for there was no way he could get at them.

Many in Acapulco had been struck by the same fever, and the hospital was crowded. When men on each side of him died one night, and two more died the next morning, Ellis was sure his time had come, but he slowly recovered. He was fed only a little bread and gruel mornings, and soup and a chicken's head nights. As he recovered he was ravenously hungry, but the volume of his food wasn't increased.

One evening a monk with a shaved head brought Ellis his usual fare. Famished and feeling desperate, Ellis, who happened to be out of the stocks, arose. “Why is it that the only part of the chicken you ever give me is the head?” he growled.

“Eat it or go to Hell for more,” the monk retorted. Enraged, Ellis flung his bowl, striking the monk's shaved head. While the monk howled in pain, Ellis threw his water pot at him but missed. Weakened by the fever, he fell back on his mat. A sergeant entered the room and put Ellis' neck in the stocks, where it remained for fifteen days. He regretted not killing the monk, for then they would have shot him and ended his troubles. While his neck was in the stocks the
chinces
bit the skin off it, leaving it raw.

When Ellis was released from the hospital, two soldiers armed only with sabers escorted him back to the castle. At the edge of town they came to a house where a woman sold beer. Ellis invited the soldiers to have some, and they gladly accepted. Determined to escape, Ellis asked one of the soldiers to accompany him to the garden behind the house. Catching him off guard, Ellis held his knife to the man's throat and seized his saber.

“What are you going to do?” the frightened soldier asked.

“I'm leaving. Why don't you come with me?”

“I will. If I don't Colonel Carreño will put me in your place.” Seeing that the soldier really didn't plan to accompany him, Ellis gave him a peso and told him to buy some bread for the journey. Then he fled to the woods before the soldier could return with others and arrest him. With the steel he used to strike fire, he removed the chains from his legs. He hid in the woods all day, listening to the birds and smelling the flowers. At night he slipped into town and bought bread, cheese, and a gourd of brandy. Two men in the shop were talking in English, so Ellis waited for them outside. They were Irishmen, and told him they were crewmen on a privateer that had just arrived from Peru.

“Will your captain talk to me?” Ellis asked.

“Come with us and we'll ask him,” one of the men replied. They walked to the house where the captain was staying. He invited Ellis to his room.

“Are you Mexican?” he asked.

“No, American.” The captain looked surprised.

“But you speak Spanish so well,” he said.

“I've been a prisoner for years,” Ellis told him, “Eight or nine, maybe more. I've lost track of time.

The captain shook his head sympathetically.

“Will you take me with you when you sail?” Ellis asked. “I've got to get away before they find me. I don't want to die in that hole.”

“I'll take you, but I can't talk any longer now. Meet my men at the wharf tomorrow night. They'll take you out to the brig and hide you. We sail at noon.”

After hiding in the woods all day and reveling in his freedom, Ellis met the two Irishmen at night, and once on board the brig they hid him in an empty water barrel. At last I'm going to get away, he thought, and anxiously waited for the brig to weigh anchor. Cramped and uncomfortable, he remained there all night as the ship rose and fell with the tide. At mid-morning he heard voices, and soon knew that a patrol had come to see if he was on board. Ellis held his breath and tried to make himself smaller. When he heard the patrol leave, he exhaled. Only a couple of hours more before we sail, he thought. He relaxed and tried not to think.

But the patrol returned, and Ellis shivered as he heard the clanking of swords and heavy footsteps on the deck. A voice said, “I know you're hiding a king's prisoner. Turn him over to us or you'll take his place.” Ellis cursed under his breath as he heard the footsteps approaching.

“He's in that one,” the Irish captain said. Soldiers removed the lid, dragged him out, and bound him hand and foot. Two of them picked him up and threw him down into their boat, bruising him badly but not breaking any bones. He wished they'd killed him.

When Ellis was back in his cell, Carreño ordered his arms and legs shackled. He was bitterly disappointed that he had come so close to escaping before being betrayed. At least I was free for a while and heard the birds sing, he thought. He looked for Bill. The white lizard had become wary again; it took Ellis a week to regain its confidence.

One morning a few months later, a captain and a sergeant came to bring food and inspect Ellis' shackles as usual. The captain remarked to the sergeant that he needed some rocks blasted. “We have men who can drill the holes,” the sergeant replied, “but none to set the charges.”

Seeing an opportunity to get out of his cell again, Ellis announced that he knew blasting. The captain ignored him, but a few days later, the sergeant told Ellis that Carreño had given orders for him to do the blasting. “If you behave, you can earn many privileges,” the sergeant said. “Just don't try to escape.” Ellis nodded as if agreeing, but his thoughts were on flight.

The shackles were replaced by a heavy chain around each ankle. By wrapping the chains around his waist, Ellis was able to walk under guard to the blasting site. He saw twenty soldiers guarding forty prisoners, and was astonished to recognize Nolan's old scout among them. “Luciano,” he called, “why are you here?”

The old man's wrinkled face broke into a broad smile, and he came to give Ellis an
abrazo.
“It's good to see you, my friend,” he said. “They called me a traitor to Spain for serving
Señor
Nolan—that's why I'm here.” A soldier ordered him to get back to work.

Ellis made matches for igniting the blasting powder in the gallery of a house not far away. In the evening, he questioned the prisoners about escaping. They talked it over, and one of them said, “Some of us will go with you if you tell us when, and give the signal.”

“Tomorrow afternoon, when you see me carry a basket of stones to the dump, get ready,” Ellis replied, “but we must not flee until the soldiers are on the run. Each of you try to grab a soldier's gun.”

As blaster, Ellis wasn't required to carry away the debris, but he loaded a basket with broken stones, hoisted it to his left shoulder, and carried it to the dump. A bored soldier stood there, yawning and watching the prisoners through half-closed eyes. Ellis paused beside him as if out of breath. He took a stone from the basket, knocked the soldier down, and seized his musket. The prisoners all threw rocks at the soldiers, who hastily retreated.

In the distance, Ellis saw reinforcements coming on the run, and most of the prisoners quickly scattered. Ellis and Luciano ran off together, both still in chains. Because the old man had difficulty keeping up with him, Ellis stopped and fired at their pursuers, who were gaining on them but who stopped momentarily.

“I'll hold them back while you get away,” Ellis told Luciano. “Go and don't stop till you're in the woods. I'll join you there.” Luciano ran ahead but soon returned with his hat full of rocks.

“What are you doing?” Ellis called, trying to conceal his irritation.

“I'm here to help you, my friend. See, I brought more stones.”

Ellis glanced at the soldiers. “There are too many of them now,” he exclaimed. “We've got to get into the woods.” He fired a shot to slow the pursuers, while Luciano showered them with rocks. The soldiers knelt and fired a volley. When he looked around for Luciano, Ellis was shocked to see him stretched out on the ground, grimacing in pain.

“They've shattered my thigh,” the old man gasped. “You must save yourself, but shoot me first. I'd rather be dead than a prisoner.” Ellis looked at him sorrowfully, but couldn't bring himself to carry out his request. With bullets whistling around him, he fled, but the heavy chains slowed him down and he was soon recaptured and taken before Governor Carreño.

“Aha,” he said. “So you tried to escape but we outwitted you. I assure you that you'll never leave here again. Not alive, anyway.” He ordered Ellis chained to a huge mulatto and placed in a room with twenty other prisoners. The mulatto scowled, but said nothing to Ellis. At night, when they lay on mats, the prisoner next to Ellis touched his shoulder. Ellis turned.

“The colonel told that man he'll let him out early if he takes care of you,” the man whispered. “He told him to beat you whenever he wants to.”

“Muchas gracias, amigo
,” Ellis whispered. He lay back, determined to settle affairs with the mulatto at the first opportunity.

The next morning they were taken out to the castle yard to eat breakfast. As Ellis reached for a piece of bread, the mulatto jerked on the chain, throwing him to the ground. Ellis saw a bull's skull with one horn attached to it near him. Grabbing it, he arose and struck the mulatto on the head with it, knocking him down. Ellis stood over him, striking him again and again with all his strength, while the mulatto bellowed for the guards.

BOOK: Gone to Texas
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