The optimism of Mr. Austin endured
the next morning, but Ned was gloomy. Since it
was his habit to be silent, the man did not notice
it at first. The breakfast was good, with tortillas,
frijoles, other Mexican dishes and coffee, but the
boy had no appetite. He merely picked at his food,
made a faint effort or two to drink his coffee and
finally put the cup back almost full in the saucer.
Then Mr. Austin began to observe.
“Are you ill, Ned?” he
asked. “Is this imprisonment beginning to
tell upon you? I had thought that you were standing
it well. Can’t you eat?”
“I don’t believe I’m
hungry,” replied the boy, “but there is
nothing else the matter with me. I’ll be
all right, Uncle Steve. Don’t you bother
He ate a little breakfast, about one
half of the usual amount, and then, asking to be excused,
went to the window, where he again stared out at the
tiled roofs, the green foliage in the valley of Mexico
and the ranges and peaks beyond. He was taking
his resolution, and he was carrying it out, but it
was hard, very hard. He foresaw that he would
have to strengthen his will many, many times.
Mr. Austin took no further worry on Ned’s account,
thinking that he would be all right again in a day
But at the dinner which was brought
to them in the middle of the day Ned showed a marked
failure of appetite, and Mr. Austin felt real concern.
The boy, however, was sure that he would be all right
before the day was over.
“It must be the lack of fresh
air and exercise,” said Mr. Austin. “You
can really take exercise in here, Ned. Besides,
you said that you were going to escape. If you
fall ill you will have no chance at all.”
He spoke half in jest, but Ned took him seriously.
“I am not ill, Uncle Steve,”
he said. “I really feel very well, but I
have lost my appetite. Maybe I am getting tired
of these Mexican dishes.”
“Take exercise! take exercise!”
said Mr. Austin with emphasis.
“I think I will,” said Ned.
Physical exercise, after all, fitted
in with his ideas, and that afternoon he worked hard
at all the gymnastic feats possible within the three
rooms to which they were confined. De Zavala came
in and expressed his astonishment at the athletic
feats, which Ned continued with unabated zeal despite
“Why do you do these things?” he asked
“To keep myself strong and healthy.
I ought to have begun them sooner. The Mexican
air is depressing, and I find that I am losing my appetite.”
De Zavala’s eyes opened wide
while Ned deftly turned a handspring. Then the
young American sat down panting, his face flushed with
as healthy a color as one could find anywhere.
“You’ll have an appetite
to-night,” said Mr. Austin. But to his great
amazement Ned again played with his food, eating only
half the usual amount.
“You’re surely ill,”
said Mr. Austin. “I’ve no doubt de
Zavala would allow us to have a physician, and I shall
ask him for one.”
“Don’t do it, Uncle Steve,”
begged Ned. “There’s nothing at all
the matter with me, and anyhow I wouldn’t want
a Mexican doctor fussing over me. I’ve
probably been eating too much.”
Mr. Austin was forced to accede.
The boy certainly did not look ill, and his appetite
was bound to become normal again in a few days.
But it did not. As far as Mr. Austin could measure
it, Ned was eating less and less. It was obvious
that he was thinner. He was also growing much
paler, except for a red flush on the cheek bones.
Mr. Austin became alarmed, but Ned obstinately refused
any help, always asserting with emphasis that he had
no ailment of any kind. But the man could see
that he had become much lighter, and he wondered at
the boy’s physical failure. De Zavala,
also, expressed his sorrow in sonorous Spanish, but
Ned, while thanking them, steadily disclaimed any need
The boy found the days hard, but the
nights were harder. For the first time in his
life he could not sleep well. He would lie for
hours so wide awake that his eyes grew used to the
dark, and he could see everything in his room.
He was troubled, too, by bad dreams and in many of
these dreams he was a living skeleton, wandering about
and condemned to live forever without food. More
than once he bitterly regretted the resolution he
had taken, but having taken it, he would never alter
it. His silent, concentrated nature would not
let him. Yet he endured undoubted torture day
by day. Torture was the only name for it.
“I shall send an application
to President Santa Anna to have you allowed a measure
of liberty,” said Mr. Austin finally. “You
are simply pining away here, Edward, my lad.
You cannot eat, that is, you eat only a little.
I have passed the most tempting and delicate things
to you and you always refuse. No boy of your
age would do so unless something were very much wrong
with his physical system. You have lost many pounds,
and if this keeps on I do not know what will happen
to you. I shall not ask for more liberty for
you, but you must have a doctor at once.”
“I do not want any doctor, Uncle
Steve,” said the boy. “He cannot do
me any good, but there is somebody else whom I want.”
“Who is he?”
“A barber! Now what good can a barber do
“A great deal. What I crave
most in the world is a hair-cut, and only a barber
can do that for me. My hair has been growing for
more than three months, Uncle Steve, and you’ve
seen how extremely thick it is. Now it is so
long, too, that it’s falling all about my eyes.
Its weight is oppressing my brain. I feel a little
touch of fever now and then, and I believe it’s
this awful hair.”
He ran his fingers through the heavy
locks until his head seemed to be surrounded with
a defense like the quills of a porcupine. Beneath
the great bush of hair his gray eyes glowed in a pale,
“There is a lot of it,”
said Mr. Austin, surveying him critically, “but
it is not usual for anybody in our situation to be
worrying about the length and abundance of his hair.”
“I’m sure I’d be
a lot better if I could get it cut close.”
“Well, well, if you are taking
it so much to heart we’ll see what can be done.
You are ill and wasted, Edward, and when one is in
that condition a little thing can affect his spirits.
De Zavala is a friendly sort of young fellow and through
him we will send a request to Colonel Sandoval, the
commander of the prisons, that you be allowed to have
your hair cut.”
“If you please, Uncle Steve,” said Ned
Mr. Austin was not wrong in his forecast
about Lieutenant de Zavala. He showed a full
measure of sympathy. Hence a petition to Colonel
Martin Sandoval y Dominguez, commander of prisons
in the City of Mexico, was drawn up in due form.
It stated that one Edward Fulton, a Texan of tender
years, now in detention at the capital, was suffering
from the excessive growth of hair upon his head.
The weight and thickness of said hair had heated his
brain and destroyed his appetite. In ordinary
cases of physical decline a physician was needed most,
but so far as young Edward Fulton was concerned, a
barber could render the greatest service.
The petition, duly endorsed and stamped,
was forwarded to Colonel Martin Sandoval y Dominguez,
and, after being gravely considered by him in the
manner befitting a Mexican officer of high rank and
pure Spanish descent, received approval. Then
he chose among the barbers one Joaquin Menendez, a
dark fellow who was not of pure Spanish descent, and
sent him to the prison with de Zavala to accomplish
the needed task.
“I hope you will be happy now,
Edward,” said Mr. Austin, when the two Mexicans
came. “You are a good boy, but it seems
to me that you have been making an undue fuss about
“I’m quite sure I shall recover fast,”
It was hard for him to hide his happiness
from the others. He felt a thrill of joy every
time the steel of the scissors clicked together and
a lock of hair fell to the floor. But Joaquin
Menendez, the barber, had a Southern temperament and
the soul of an artist. It pained him to shear
away “shear away” alone described
it such magnificent hair. It was so
thick, so long and so glossy.
“Ah,” he said, laying
some of the clipped locks across his hand and surveying
them sorrowfully, “so great is the pity!
What senorita could resist the young senor if these
were still growing upon his head!”
“You cut that hair,” said
Ned with a vicious snap of his teeth, “and cut
it close, so close that it will look like the shaven
face of a man. I think you will find it so stated
in the conditions if you will look at the permit approved
in his own handwriting by Colonel Sandoval y Dominguez.”
Joaquin Menendez, still the artist,
but obedient to the law, heaved a deep sigh, and proceeded
with his sad task. Lock by lock the abundant
hair fell, until Ned’s head stood forth in the
shaven likeness of a man’s face that he had
“I must tell you,” said
Mr. Austin, “that it does not become you, but
I hope you are satisfied.”
“I am satisfied,” replied
Ned. “I have every cause to be. I know
I shall have a stronger appetite to-morrow.”
“You are certainly a sensitive
boy,” said Mr. Austin, looking at him in some
wonder. “I did not know that such a thing
could influence your feelings and your physical condition
Ned made no reply, but that night
he ate supper with a much better appetite than he
had shown in many days, bringing words of warm approval
and encouragement from Mr. Austin.
An hour or two later, when cheerful
good-nights had been exchanged, Ned withdrew to his
own little room. He lay down upon his bed, but
he was fully clothed and he had no intention of sleep.
Instead the boy was transformed. For days he
had been walking with a weak and lagging gait.
Fever was in his veins. Sometimes he became dizzy,
and the walls and floors of the prison swam before
him. But now the spirit had taken command of
the thin body. Weakness and dizziness were gone.
Every vein was infused with strength. Hope was
in command, and he no longer doubted that he would
He rose from the bed and went to the
window. The city was silent and the night was
dark. Floating clouds hid the moon and stars.
The ranges and the city roofs themselves had sunk
into the dusk. It seemed to him that all things
favored the bold and persevering. And he had been
persevering. No one would ever know how he had
suffered, what terrific pangs had assailed him.
He could not see now how he had done it, and he was
quite sure that he could never go through such an ordeal
again. The rack would be almost as welcome.
Ned did not know it, but a deep red
flush had come into each pale cheek. He removed
most of his clothes, and put his head forward between
the iron bar and the window sill. The head went
through and the shoulders followed. He drew back,
breathing a deep and mighty breath of triumph.
Yet he had known that it would be so. When he
first tried the space he had been only a shade too
large for it. Now his head and shoulders would
go between, but with nothing to spare. A sheet
of paper could not have been slipped in on either
side. Yet it was enough. The triumph of
self-denial was complete.
He had thought several times of telling
Mr. Austin, but he finally decided not to do so.
He might seek to interfere. He would put a thousand
difficulties in the way, some real and some imaginary.
It would save the feelings of both for him to go quietly,
and, when Mr. Austin missed him, he would know why
and how he had gone.
Ned stood at the window a little while
longer, listening. He heard far away the faint
rattle of a saber, probably some officer of Santa Anna
who was going to a place outside a lattice, the sharp
cry of a Mexican upbraiding his lazy mule, and the
distant note of a woman singing an old Spanish song.
It was as dark as ever, with the clouds rolling over
the great valley of Tenochtitlan, which had seen so
much of human passion and woe. Ned, brave and
resolute as he was, shivered. He was oppressed
by the night and the place. It seemed to him,
for the moment, that the ghosts of stern Cortez, and
of the Aztecs themselves were walking out there.
Then he did a characteristic thing.
Folding his arms in front of him he grasped his own
elbows and shook himself fiercely. The effort
of will and body banished the shapes and illusions,
and he went to work with firm hands.
He tore the coverings from his bed
into strips, and knotted them together stoutly, trying
each knot by tying the strip to the bar, and pulling
on it with all his strength. He made his rope
at least thirty feet long and then gave it a final
test, knot by knot. He judged that it was now
near midnight and the skies were still very dark.
Inside of a half hour he would be gone to
what? He was seized with an intense yearning
to wake up Mr. Austin and tell him good-by. The
Texan leader had been so good to him, he would worry
so much about him that it was almost heartless to
slip away in this manner. But he checked the
impulse again, and went swiftly ahead with his work.
He kept on nothing but his underclothing
and trousers. The rest he made up into a small
package which he tied upon his back. He was sorry
that he did not have any weapon. He had been
deprived of even his pocket-knife, but he did have
a few dollars of Spanish coinage, which he stowed
carefully in his trousers pocket. All the while
his energy endured despite his wasted form. Hope
made a bridge for his weakness.
He let the line out of the window,
and his delicate sense told him when it struck against
the ground. Six or eight feet were left in his
hand, and he tied the end firmly to the bar, knotting
it again and again. Then he slipped through the
opening and the passage was so close that his ears
scraped as they went by. He hung for a few moments
on the outside, his feet on the stone sill and his
hands clasping the iron bar. He felt sheer and
absolute terror. The spires of the cathedral were
invisible and only a few far lights showed dimly.
It seemed to him that he was suspended over a bottomless
pit, and he shivered from head to foot.
But he recalled his courage.
Such a black night was best suited to his task.
The shivering ceased. Hope ruled once more.
He knelt on the stone sill, and, grasping his crude
rope with both hands, let himself down from the window.
It required almost superhuman exertion to keep himself
from dropping sheer away, and the rope burned his palms.
But he held on, knowing that he must hold, and the
stone wall felt cold to him, as he lay against it,
and slid slowly down.
Perhaps his strength, which was more
of the mind than of the body, partly gave way under
such a severe strain, but he felt pains shooting through
his arms, shoulders and chest. His most vivid
recollections of the descent were the coldness of
the wall against which he lay and the far tinkle of
a mandolin which came to him with annoying distinctness.
The frequent knots where he had tied the strips together
were a help, and whenever he came to one he let his
hands rest upon it a moment or two lest he slide down
He had been descending, it seemed
to him, fully an hour, and he must have come down
a mile, when he heard the rattle of a saber. It
was so distinct and so near that it could not be imagination.
He looked in the direction of the sound and saw two
dark figures in the street. As he stared the
two figures shaped themselves into two Mexican officers.
Truth, not fancy, told him also that they were not
moving. They had seen him escaping and they would
come for him! He pressed his body hard against
the stone wall, and with his hands resting upon one
of the knots clung desperately to the rope. He
was hanging in an alley, and the men were on the street
at the mouth of it six or seven yards away. They
were talking and it must be about him!
He saw them create a light in some
manner, and his hands almost slipped from the rope.
Then joy flooded back. They were merely lighting
cigarettes, and, with a few more words to each other,
they walked on. Ned slid slowly down, but when
he came to the last knot his strength gave way and
he fell. It seemed to him that he was plunging
an immeasurable distance through depths of space.
Then he struck and with the force of the blow consciousness
When he revived he found himself lying
upon a rough stone pavement and it was still dark.
He saw above a narrow cleft of somber sky, and something
cold and trailing lay across his face. He shivered
with repulsion, snatched at it to throw it off, and
found that it was his rope. Then he felt of himself
cautiously and fearfully, but found that no bones
were broken. Nor was he bruised to any degree
and now he knew that he could not have fallen more
than two or three feet. Perhaps he had struck
first upon the little pack which he had fastened upon
his back. It reminded him that he was shoeless
and coatless and undoing the pack he reclothed himself
He was quite sure that he had not
lain there more than a quarter of an hour. Nothing
had happened while he was unconscious. It was
a dark little alley in the rear of the prison, and
the buildings on the other side that abutted upon
it were windowless. He walked cautiously to the
mouth of the alley, and looked up and down the street.
He saw no one, and, pulling his cap down over his
eyes, he started instinctively toward the north, because
it was to the far north that he wished to go.
He was fully aware that he faced great dangers, almost
impossibilities. Practically nothing was in his
favor, save that he spoke excellent Spanish and also
Mexican versions of it.
He went for several hundred yards
along the rough and narrow street, and he began to
shiver again. Now it was from cold, which often
grows intense at night in the great valley of Mexico.
Nor was his wasted frame fitted to withstand it.
He was assailed also by a fierce hunger. He had
carried self-denial to the utmost limit, and nature
was crying out against him in a voice that must be
He resolved to risk all and obtain
food. Another hundred yards and he saw crouched
in an angle of the street an old woman who offered
tortillas and frijoles for sale. He went
a little nearer, but apprehension almost overcame
him. It might be difficult for him to pass for
a Mexican and she would give the alarm. But he
went yet nearer and stood where he could see her face.
It was broad, fat and dark, more Aztec than Spaniard,
and then he approached boldly, his speed increased
by the appetizing aroma arising from some flat cakes
that lay over burning charcoal.
“I will take these, my mother,”
he said in Mexican, and leaning over he snatched up
half a dozen gloriously hot tortillas and frijoles.
A cry of indignation and anger was checked at the
old woman’s lips as two small silver coins slipped
from the boy’s hands, and tinkled pleasantly
together in her own.
Holding his spoils in his hands Ned
walked swiftly up the street. He glanced back
once, and saw that the old Aztec woman had sunk back
into her original position. He had nothing to
fear from any alarm by her, and he looked ahead for
some especially dark nook in which he could devour
the precious food. He saw none, but he caught
a glimpse beyond of foliage, and he recalled enough
of the city of Mexico to know what it was. It
was the Zócalo or garden of the cathedral, the
Holy Metropolitan Church of Mexico. Above the
foliage he could see the dark walls, and above them
he saw the dome, as he had seen it from the window
of his prison. Over the dome itself rose a beautiful
lantern, in which a light was now burning.
Ned entered the garden which contained
many trees, and sat down in the thickest group of
them. Then he began to eat. He was as ravenous
as any wolf, but he had been cultivating the power
of will, and he ate like a gentleman, knowing that
to do otherwise would not be good for him. But,
tempered by discretion, it was a glorious pursuit.
It was almost worth the long period of fasting and
suffering, for common Mexican food, bought on the
street from an old Aztec woman, to taste so well.
Strength flowed back into every vein and muscle.
He would not now give way to fears and tremblings
which were of the body rather than the mind. He
stopped when half of the food was gone, put the remainder
in his pocket, and stood up. Fine drops of water
struck him in the face. It had begun to rain.
And a raw wind was moaning in the valley.
Despite the warm food and his returning
strength Ned felt the desperate need of shelter.
It was growing colder, too. Even as he stood there
the fine rain turned to fine snow. It melted
as it fell, but when it struck him about the neck
and face it had an uncommonly penetrating power and
the chill seemed to go into the bone. He must
have shelter. He looked at the dark walls of
the cathedral and then at the light in the slender
lantern far up above the dome. What more truly
a shelter than a church! It had been a sanctuary
in the dark ages, and he might use it now as such.
He left the trees and stood for a
little while by a stone, one of the 124 which formerly
enclosed an atrium. Still seeing nothing and hearing
nothing but the whistle of the wind which drove the
cold drops of snow under his collar he advanced boldly
again, sprang over the iron railing, and came to the
walls of the old church, where he stood a moment.
Ned knew that in great Catholic cathedrals,
like the one of Mexico, there were always side doors
or little wickets used by priests or other high officials
of the church, and he was hoping to find one that he
could open. He passed half way around the building,
feeling cautiously along the cold stone. Once
he saw a watchman with sombrero, heavy cloak and lantern.
He pressed into a niche, and the watchman went on his
automatic way, little thinking that anyone was near.
The boy continued his circuit and
presently he found a wooden door, which he could not
force. A little further and he came to a second
which opened to his pressure. It was so small
an entrance that he stooped as he passed in.
He shut it carefully behind him, and stood in what
was almost total darkness, until his eyes grew used
to the gloom.
Then he saw that he was in a vast
interior, Doric in architecture, severe and simple.
It was in the form of a Latin cross, with fluted columns
dividing the aisles from the nave. Above him rose
a noble dome.
He could make out nothing more for
the present. It was very still, very imposing,
and at another time he would have been awed, but now
he had found sanctuary. The cold and the snow
were shut out and a grateful warmth took their place.
He walked down one of the aisles, careful that his
footsteps should make no sound. He saw that there
were rows of chapels, seven on either side of the
church. It occurred to him that he would be safer
in one of these rooms and he chose that which seemed
to be used the least.
While on this search he passed the
main altar in the center of the building. He
noticed above the stalls a picture of the Virgin.
He was a Protestant, but when he saw it he crossed
himself devoutly. Was not her church giving him
shelter and refuge from his enemies? He also passed
the Altar of the Kings, beneath which now lie the heads
of great Mexicans who secured the independence of
their country from Spain. He looked a little
at these before he entered the chapel of his choice.
It was a small room, lighted scarcely
at all by a narrow window, and it contained a few
straight wooden pews one of which had been turned about
facing the wall. He lay down in his pew, and,
even in daylight, he would have been hidden from anyone
a yard away. The hard wood was soft to him.
He put his cap under his head and stretched himself
out. Then, without will, he relaxed completely.
Nature could stand no more. His eyes closed and
he floated off into the far and happy region of sleep.