Cactus Flower (Gone-to-Texas Trilogy)

BOOK: Cactus Flower (Gone-to-Texas Trilogy)
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CACTUS FLOWER

 

 

 

BY

 

 

 

SHIRL HENKE

Previously published by Warner Books

 

Copyright 1988 by Shirl Henke

 

All rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic means without the written permission of the publisher.

 

Other electronic works by Shirl Henke:

 

A FIRE IN THE BLOOD

 

* * * *

 

“Billie Jo and the Valentine Crow”

 

* * * *

 

The Blackthorne Trilogy:

LOVE A REBEL…LOVE A ROGUE

WICKED ANGEL

WANTON ANGEL

 

* * * *

 

House of Torres Books:

PARADISE & MORE

RETURN TO PARADISE

 

* * * *

 

The Cheyenne Books:

SUNDANCER

THE ENDLESS SKY

CAPTURE THE SUN

 

* * * *

 

The Texas Trilogy:

CACTUS FLOWER

MOON FLOWER

NIGHT FLOWER

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

San Jacinto Plain, April22, 1836

 

      
The mud was a foot thick, and his boots felt as if they were being sucked off his feet with every step. He headed toward the general's tent, a haphazard affair set beneath the spreading live oak where Sam Houston had interrogated Santa Anna that afternoon. He wondered absently where they had quartered the defeated “Napoleon of the West,” as the Mexican dictator styled himself. At least the rain had stopped, the rain that had seemed everlasting for the past bleak month of desultory marching. The mud was still with them.

      
“Drought 'n mud are two sure things in Texas,” his pa had always said.
Pa.
He felt a tightening in his throat. As he approached the sentry in front of the graying canvas structure, he said a brief, silent prayer he would not be too late.

      
“Lieutenant Slade to see General Houston,” he said to the lank frontiersman leaning on his rifle in front of the tent. He did not expect the guard to salute him. Militiamen were all volunteers and possessed little or no military discipline. God, how well he had seen the truth of that yesterday afternoon!

      
The Kentuckian, one of Sid Sherman's men, motioned him inside the dilapidated tent, spitting a casual lob of tobacco juice from one corner of his mouth as he spoke. “Better talk quick, Slade. Gener’l jest took him some corn likker fer th' pain. I don't 'spect he'll be real alert in a spell.”

      
Nodding, Jim Slade entered the tent. The odd yellow light of a flickering tallow candle cast eerie shadows on the heavy canvas walls. Sam Houston half reclined on a makeshift pallet, his right leg elevated by a pillow. The lower leg was swollen and wrapped in thick bandages. Two Mexican musket balls had shattered the bone in several places just above the ankle.

      
Houston was working despite the cup of whiskey sitting at his left elbow on the floor of the tent. Papers and books lay scattered in untidy stacks around the sickbed, and he was scribbling with a pencil on damp paper. Without stopping his writing, he raised his shaggy head for only an instant and murmured, “At ease, Lieutenant. Sit down in my humble domicile. I'll be free in a moment.”

      
Slade found a battered wooden stool in one corner and gingerly sat on it.

      
Houston chuckled. “If it'll hold me, it'll hold you,” he said as he went on with his report.

      
Slade smiled at the comparison. General Sam was six feet six and a bit overweight, although his heavy-boned frame carried it well. Jim Slade was an even six feet and whipcord slim. Yes, the stool would hold him. As he watched Houston work, he could see pain etched on the craggy features. Sweat beaded the older man's brow and upper lip; but he never ceased writing, except to sip now and then from the home-distilled painkiller.

      
My God, he's in agony with that leg,
Slade thought, his own anguish forgotten.

      
When he had filled a page, the general tossed it onto the pile by his side and fixed Slade with a level, friendly stare. “Now, Jim, what is it you need?” He looked at the youth's haggard face. Lord, he couldn't be more than eighteen or nineteen. What the boy had lived through already would kill most men.

      
“A couple of days before the battle, sir, a messenger from my father's ranch finally caught up to me. My pa's dying, General. He's had another heart attack. I knew when I left he wasn't well, but I hoped...” His voice trailed off.

      
“You hoped we'd whip Santa Anna and you could go home a lot sooner,” Houston supplied gently. “Well, the battle is finally over, and I know personally, Lieutenant, that you've done more than your share. Go home to your pa. I'll issue the necessary papers.”

      
“Thank you, sir.” Slade stood up and prepared to take his leave, then stopped. “I would just like to say, sir, that I was proud to serve under you; and if you ever need me to fight again, I'll be honored.”

      
“That's a hell of an offer, Lieutenant Slade, especially considering what you saw yesterday,” Houston said quietly. “I appreciate it.” He grimaced in pain as he shifted his shattered leg on the pillow. “
Vaya con Dios, por ahora
. I just might take you up on that offer someday.”

      
As he walked back to his bedroll, Diego Augusto Slade, son of Teresa Magdalena Sandoval de Slade, mulled over the general's parting words, “Go with God, for now.” Slade knew Houston was aware of his Mexican ancestry. Indeed, a good number of men in the revolution against Santa Ana were Mexicans—Zavala, Seguin, Navarro. With a man like Sam Houston in control, Mexican Texians need fear nothing from the overwhelming numerical superiority of Anglo Texians. But what would the future bring if the general was not in charge? And what did Houston mean about taking him up on his offer? Slade was certain the remark alluded to more than military service.

 

* * * *

 

Bluebonnet Ranch, April 26, 1836

 

      
“You look like you've been through hell, Jimmy. Sometimes talking about it helps.” Will Slade's voice was raspy and thin.

      
Just hearing it made Jim's heart wrench. His beloved father looked so wasted. “It was hell, Pa. I don't mean the fighting, I'm used to that. When you're in the middle of it, with enemy soldiers charging while you duck musket balls and return fire, you don't have time to think or to see what's going on around you. No, I don't remember much about the battle at San Jacinto or any of the other times, even against the Comanche years ago.”

      
His father shook his gray head. Jim had been in the ranging companies, volunteers fighting against Indians and raiders, since he was fifteen. But he had never come home like this. Will Slade waited for his only son to continue.

      
“We had to fall back again and again, always marching east. The rain never stopped, not since we left Gonzalez. We couldn't feed the horses, so we had to order the men to leave them and walk through the mud. There was always talk of mutiny. The general drilled them and tried to make them into a disciplined army; but by the time we got to the Colorado, it was chaos. Civilians running for their lives, men deserting to go for their families, women and babies walking by the side of the road—all of them heard about the Alamo and Goliad.

      
“It was a runaway nightmare. Took two days to cross the river.” He shook his head in amazement. “I don't know how Houston held them together as well as he did; but by the time we got to Buffalo Bayou, he told the army we were going to fight. The hard core who stayed on were blood crazy by that time. He couldn't control them—none of the officers could.

      
“You know how long the battle lasted, Pa? Eighteen minutes by General Sam's own watch! We overran them like sleeping sheep! That's when it happened—the butchery went on until nearly dark, for hours after Santa Anna fled and they surrendered. There were Mexican bodies forming a barricade of human flesh across the bayou. The soldiers trying to get away were trapped by their own dead comrades, hundreds of men who had thrown down their weapons, hacked to pieces.” Jim Slade sat very still, his face shuttered and blank; only his voice gave away his emotional turmoil.

      
Gently Will Slade said, “At the Alamo and Goliad it was the other way around, remember? No one walked away, not Travis, nor Bowie, nor Fannin. Santa Anna's still alive.”

      
Without looking at the sick man on the bed, his son replied, “That doesn't mean we have to stoop to the level of a vicious dictator. ‘A base, unprincipled, bloody monster,’ that's what Stephen Austin called El Presidente. God, he was right!”

      
Trying to pull his son back from the dark abyss threatening him, Will said, “I bet ole Sam was madder than a boiled owl when his men broke ranks.”

      
In spite of the horror of his memories, Jim smiled. “Yep. I never heard a man swear like that, and I thought Weevils was better than anyone I knew. Houston has him beat cold. He stayed on horseback in spite of a shattered leg. He had two horses shot out from under him, running the length of the plain, beating the men back and yelling orders to the officers to stop the carnage and regroup the men. I'm just glad it's over now, Pa. You and I can go back to what we should have been doing all along—working the land in peace. We'll—”

      
“Not me...you, son,” Will cut him off softly. “I know Doc has told you how I am. I'd hoped to make it a while longer before joining your mama. You're still awfully young to have sole responsibility for a place as big as Bluebonnet, but that's the way it must be.”

      
“Pa, no! You'll pull through. You did last year.” He took the shrunken, veiny hand in his dark, strong one.

      
William Emory Slade's body was wasting away, but his determination was as iron hard as ever. “You can't stop what's meant to be, son. No, you'll do fine with Bluebonnet. Turn it into the finest ranch between San Antonio and Nacogdoches. But there is one thing you must promise me before I die.” His clear blue-gray eyes compelled Jim to return his gaze.

      
“You know your mother's cousin, Simon Aguilar, who lives just south of San Antonio. Don Simon has a daughter, Tomasina Constanzia, who is about your age. She'll be returning from school in England in a few weeks. She's his only child, as you are mine.”

      
Jim did not like the direction the conversation was taking. “Pa, I don't think—”

      
“I want you to marry her,” his father interrupted in a flat, no-nonsense voice, stronger than it had been since Jim returned home.

      
“Has the lady in question been consulted, or have you and Don Simon already made all the arrangements without us?” There was a slight edge to his attempt at levity.

      
“Simon and I have discussed it, and he plans to tell her as soon as she gets settled at home. At eighteen she's old enough to marry. I'd rather have you wait a few years, son; but after all you've been through growing up on the frontier, well, I know you're man enough for the responsibility of a wife and family.”

      
“That's not true, Pa. Just because I can fight or manage livestock, it doesn't mean I'm ready for a wife.”

      
Will's eyes twinkled. “Sometimes fighting is the only way to manage a wife! And there are compensations. I've met the girl, Jimmy. She's a real beauty. In fact, she reminds me a lot of your mama.” His eyes became wistful as he remembered a woman dead for nearly a decade now.

      
“That doesn't change the fact I'm too young to get married, Pa,” Jim protested earnestly.

      
“You too young for Susie Rader, Annabeth Sims, or any of those tarts in San Antonio?” At his son's guilty flush, Will pressed his advantage. “Son, I know you've been sowing wild oats since you were fifteen. I'm just worried about you sowing something else and having to marry some ignorant sod farmer's daughter like that Sims girl. Those loose women aren't for you. They're from inferior bloodlines. I want you to marry quality, someone worthy of you, an educated, genteel lady.”

      
“Like Don Simon's daughter?”

      
“Yes, like Don Simon's daughter. Her grandfather's served at the royal court of the Spanish kings. She's been educated at the best European schools, and she is downright lovely. Here, look for yourself.” He struggled to reach the drawer of his bedside table when a sudden fit of coughing overcame him.

BOOK: Cactus Flower (Gone-to-Texas Trilogy)
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