Texas Anthem (The Texas Anthem Series)

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9780312976828: Texas Anthem (The Texas Anthem Series)
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He left home a boy. Returned a man. And rode out again a renegade...

At the Bonnet Ranch they thought Johnny Anthem had died on the Mexican border. But then Anthem came home, escaped from the living hell of a Mexican prison, and returned to find the woman he loved married to the man who betrayed him. For Johnny Anthem, the time had come to face his betrayer, to stand up to the powerful rancher who had raised him as his own son, and to fight for the only love of his life. And when the battle between Anthem and the Bonnet started shaking the blood-stained hills of the mescalero country, good men and bad would choose sides, and a new legend would be born...

Texas Anthem is Kerry Newcomb's epic novel of family, fortune, murder and love, as a young man is driven from his adopted home-to find his soul and his future in a place called Texas...

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About the Author:

Kerry Newcomb was born in Milford, Connecticut, but had the good fortune to be raised in Texas. He has served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and taught at the St. Labre Mission School on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Mr. Newcomb has written plays, film scripts, commercials, liturgical dramas, and over thirty novels under both his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. He lives with his family in Ft. Worth, Texas.

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PART ONEAPRIL 18491The dream began where it always did ... Chihuahua, Mexico, July 4, 1848. Nine months past, on the borderline. Johnny Anthem had spent his twentieth birthday, and his country’s seventy-second, riding for his life.With gunfire for fireworks and his galloping black mare’s hoofbeats for cadenzas, Anthem was his own parade. Wishing himself and America many happy returns, Anthem hunched low in the saddle as a musket ball whistled past his head. He glanced over his shoulder in time to see Vin Cotter thumb a shot at their pursuers.A year older and two sizes smaller, Vin presented less of a target than Johnny Anthem’s broad burly frame. Vin twisted around and wasted a second shot from his Walker Colt at the dozen Mexican dragoons who had been chasing them for the better part of an hour.Sunlight glinted off drawn sabers. And the narrow walls of the canyon rang with the answering exchange of musket and small-arms fire. The war with Mexico had ended with the declaration of peace five months ago. Peace, sweet glorious peace at last. Johnny and Vin had been mustered out of the Texas Rangers and were heading for home. It just didn’t make any sense to get killed now.“Ride!” Johnny shouted.Vin holstered his gun and, hunkering over the neck of his horse, spurred the animal unmercifully, raking the sorrel’s flesh until blood oozed. “Come on, damn you,” Vin growled, leaning over his horse.Johnny had the faster mount, and given his lead, the black mare couldn’t be caught. The mare, which Johnny had raised from a foal, had been a gift from Vin’s father, who had also given the orphaned boy a home. Well, Johnny Anthem might be like a brother, but “like” didn’t mean he was one. It was a distinction Vin regarded with importance as he looked jealously toward the black mare leading the way.The sun-glazed walls of the canyon swept past as they veered into a narrow gorge that plunged them into disorienting shadow. Johnny suffered a moment of blindness, but he trusted the mare’s instincts. With jagged limestone ledges closing in on either side of him, Anthem held the mare to a gallop. A single false step meant disaster. Johnny pushed his luck. The hoofbeats on the limestone rubble echoed off the shadowy walls, became a crunching battering noise that increased as the Mexicans swung their mounts around and filed into the passage the two Anglos had taken. Sunlight and the walls of the file receded thirty feet. Ahead, framed by the limestone battlements where the passage through the mountain opened up unto the plains, the Chihuahuan grasslands rolled down to the Rio Grande. He pulled back on the reins to slow the mare. The animal fought him. The black wanted to run.Johnny lifted his battered broad-brimmed hat and wiped his forehead on his torn sleeve. His thick red hair was matted with sweat. His square-jawed features were caked with dirt, and he noticed his arm was streaked with blood. He remembered riding too close to an ocotillo. Its slender spiny branches clawed at the gringo riding past. Even the land wanted to be rid of him. Johnny Anthem was only too happy to oblige. He’d had a bellyfull of war.Vin Cotter burst from the shadows, his narrow, thin-veined features flush with fear. He had lost his hat in the gorge. His flesh was sunburned and peeling away, even as the veneer of respectability had peeled away since he had ridden south with Johnny Anthem and the other newly conscripted Rangers. His eyes were wide with panic as he galloped up to the man on the black mare.“They’re right behind me,” Vin yelled, his voice rising in pitch. “My horse is about played out.”“It isn’t far now,” Johnny replied. “Hang on. We ought to reach the Rio Grande by noon or so.” He pointed toward the mouth of the valley, then swatted the black mare’s rump with his hat. “Come on, Vin. I’ll race you to Texas.”The mare took the lead again, leaving Cotter’s sorrel in its dusty wake. A fine, refreshing spray of cold spring water showered the men as their horses followed the creekbed. With empty canteens rattling against their saddles, the spray was better than no drink at all. The two young Texans rode hard and reached the mouth of the gorge as their pursuers poured out of the narrows. Johnny Anthem loosed a wild yell as the grasslands spread out before him. Here the rolling landscape was splashed with chino and tobosa grasses in hues of faded green, stretching as far as the eye could see. The colors darkened against the bluestem-covered slopes. The Chisos Mountains shimmered in a blue haze, and at their base, like a spool of glistening gold, the sundappled surface of the Rio Grande—Río Bravo to the Mexicans—gleamed like a beacon of hope.“Texas!” John shouted, ignoring the fact they must race death to reach it. Not twelve Mexican soldiers, not Santa Anna’s whole blamed army were going to stop them now.“Anthem!”Texas in the mist, so close. The black mare glistened with perspiration. Johnny knew she had enough heart to carry him home.“Anthem!”Johnny wheeled his horse around and saw Vin Cotter standing in the dust, the canyon walls rising overhead, dry harsh battlements on the outskirts of hard scrabble country. The sorrel was down, its legs flailing at the earth as it endured its death throes. Vin was afoot and running for all he was worth. Behind him, the pursuing Mexican soldiers spread outward in a single file to bring every gun to bear on the Texans.Texas in the mist ... so far away. Johnny spurred his horse. The mare bolted forward. They wouldn’t make it, riding double. The mare couldn’t carry both men home. Johnny’s hopes plummeted. There were too damn many to stand against, but stand they must. Because there was nothing else to do. They had ridden into Mexico together and Johnny intended to ride out the same way. Or not at all. For such was the promise he had made Everett Cotter. The words of Vin’s father echoed in Johnny’s mind. “Look after my son. Look after my son. Look after ...”Johnny leaned low in the saddle and stretched out his arm as he rode back at a gallop toward Vin. It was no place to make a stand. They needed cover, anything to hide behind; Johnny wasn’t proud, a rock, a stand of timber, anything would do. Geysers of dust spewed upward to either side of Vin, lead slugs whined through the air, whistling their high-pitched tune of death. Vin ran with his arms outstretched, face pale with fear, his battered boots digging into the shallow topsoil. He stumbled and Johnny thought he had been hit but Vin regained his footing as the shadow of the black mare fell across him. The Mexican dragoons charged. Some with sabers drawn, others with carbines brought to bear.Twenty, fifteen ... ten feet away, and riding at a gallop came Johnny Anthem on his black mare.“Hurry, Vin, hurry! Swing up behind me,” Johnny shouted. He holstered his pistol and leaned down, stretching out to clasp Vin’s hand. The smaller man caught hold. Johnny lifted his eyes and glanced toward the charging line of soldiers, then back to Vin. He saw Vin’s Colt drawn, held by the barrel, saw it swinging upward in a savage arc, saw the desperate fear in Vin’s eyes. Vin knew the mare couldn’t carry them both home. The wooden pistol grip slammed against Johnny’s skull, opening a gash at his temple. The world shattered into sunlit splinters and Johnny toppled from the saddle, dragged free by Vin Cotter, who swung astride the mare and turned the animal around. Johnny tasted dirt, spat out a mouthful of clay, and lifted himself upon his elbows. The world tilted crazily. But he could see Vin riding hell for Sunday toward the Rio Grande. Adiós, Vin, vaya con Dios, you son of a bitch. Johnny rolled over on his back and stared up at the flat, hot, cloudless Mexican sky. In Texas it probably looked exactly the same.The earth trembled as half a dozen horsemen galloped past in pursuit of the mare. Forget it, boys, you haven’t a chance. As light as Vin is, not a chance. You’ll eat his dust all the way to the Bravo.A figure shaded Johnny, a man on horseback. One of the soldiers. Vision cleared enough to make out a black sombrero stitched with silver thread. Johnny saw a face like a hawk’s, the look of a predator in that dark-skinned visage. Aztec blood was there, too. And pride ... in the man’s bearing, and later in the tone of his voice. He wore a cruel excuse for a smile, more like a livid scar beneath the black scrawl of his mustache.“Good day, my young friend. It seems you have not chosen your companions wisely or well.”Johnny groaned at the pain in his battered skull and dug his fingers into the dirt, bracing himself for the gunshot he expected at any moment, the bullet that would end pain and life as well.“The war is over,” Johnny managed to say. “Peace treaty’s been signed in Mexico City.” The very effort of speech made him shudder. His head felt as if it were coming apart. Oh, Vin, you were like a brother ...“A treaty?” came the silken reply. “But I, General Andrés Varela, have signed no treaty.”Several silhouettes on horseback crowded into view. Johnny heard a carbine being cocked. But the man in the sombrero snapped an order and the weapon was lowered.“You will have many days to consider such a peace.” Andrés Varela chuckled. “Many days to regret you ever crossed the Río Bravo and invaded the land of our fathers.” His men laughed too. But Johnny couldn’t hear them anymore. He closed his eyes and sank back against the wild grasses and drowned in their sweet fragrance.That was the way the dream ended and the next began.

In the nine months he had been imprisoned at Varela’s hacienda, Johnny had learned to tame his nightmares. Sanctuary and peace existed in a single name, Rose McCain. Sweet Rose. They had endured tragedy together, suffering the massacre of both their parents at the hands of the Apache. They had cowered together in the same cave while the braves searched for them. They lived, survived, and were taken in by Everett Cotter and raised in Cotter’s household, as brother and sister.Later, when toys and pranks and carefree hours were traded for the ambitions and desires of adulthood, Johnny Anthem and Rose McCain found their emotions deepening. He could see her now, forming her out of the stuff of dreams, watching as yellow-gold hair replaced the hurt ofVin’s betrayal. Yellow-gold hair and tawny limbs and a taut tender body. He remembered a pond with weeping willows hugging the water’s edge. He had surprised her, swimming alone. He felt again the stirring as he had then, remembering how she looked as she climbed out of the shaded pool, her cotton underskirt plastered to her legs, her cotton bodice soaked, revealing the ripened thrust of her breasts only partly concealed by the soft fall of her hair. Rose ... my Rose ... my Yellow Rose ... And always would be. She promised to wait. She was waiting still, he knew, beyond the Río Bravo, across the Rio Grande, waiting for him, in Texas.He called her name in his sleep. His own name returned in an echo, then a hand upon his shoulder was rousing him, robbing him of his vision of peace. His right arm shot up as he came awake. His right hand closed around the throat of the man leaning over him. His grip was iron—after nine months of swinging hammer and pickax in the silver mines of Andrés Varela, a man grew strong as iron, or died.“No, Johnny,” the voice hissed, the man struggled to free himself. “It’s me!” Johnny recognized the voice and loosened his hold. Almost twenty years older than Anthem, Pokeberry Tyler was also a norteamericano. Tyler had spent the last five years toiling in the mines of Varela, the price for prospecting on the wrong side of the border. Imprisonment had taken its toll on Tyler. Not even forty, he looked sixty. His teeth were blackened, and only a few strands of straw-colored hair clung to his skull. He was nursing a fractured ankle that Johnny had applied a splint to. While the bone healed, Tyler had been unable to work. The only reason he hadn’t been driven off by Varela’s guards to die in the desert was that Johnny did the injured man’s work, taking Poke Tyler’s place in the mine. Varela’s vaqueros and guards and even the landowner himself had bet on how long Johnny could work the double shift. No one had expected the youth to last the day. He had lasted weeks. He had endured. He had become iron.Johnny blinked and rubbed his eyes and looked around. The courtyard where the peons and prisoners were quartered was a veritable beehive of activity. He bolted upright and asked Tyler, “What’s happened?”Guards were hurrying from pillar to pillar, unshackling the prisoners and snapping instructions, pointing toward the dark slope that rose behind the hacienda, where the mine shaft shown in the moonlight like a lurid scar upon the hillside. Men with torches scurried up the slope. Smoke gutted from the shaft and Johnny heard the earth tremble and groan. Poke didn’t have to answer. Johnny knew.Cave-in. And there must be men trapped in the bowels of the mine. Poor slave bastards and their keepers, Varela’s guards, buried in the bowels of the mountain. Lights burned in the window of Casa Varela, the general’s two-storied, sprawling home. His precious silver ore was in danger, not to mention a full complement of slave labor.A vaquero on a brown gelding galloped past. His whip cracked and Johnny felt the tip sting his back, drawing blood. He whirled around, fists clenched. The vaquero ignored such defiance.“Go on, gringo. Up the slope. We need your strength in the tunnels. You too, old one.” The whip cracked again, but with surprising agility Poke hopped aside, favoring his leg. Poke knew the whip well—its sting and the way the tip lapped and darted like a rattler’s tongue. As far as Pokeberry Tyler was concerned, it had tasted enough of his blood over the years; his shoulders were scarred to prove it.Johnny looked down at his legs, free from the iron tethers that had chained him to the post. All the workers were free in the courtyard. Vaqueros rode among them, their whips flecking out, some with lances prodding the already startled conglomeration of peons, Negro and Yaqui slaves and criminals. General Andrés Varela, as judge and military governor, had sentenced all of them to labor in his mine until he deemed them rehabilitated. The air rang with a raucous chorus of cries and shouts, gruff orders, bellowed commands, and the weary frightened protests of Varela’s hapless captives.Pokeberry tugged Johnny’s tattered sleeve. “We better go.” He ran a trembling hand over the silver stubble covering his jaw.Johnny fell into step with the older man, running side by side and taking care not to lose him as they joined the other prisoners streaming out the courtyard gate. The gravel-littered ground slowed the procession of men and horses. A hundred yards up on the hillside, a handful of men were gathered around the opening to the mine shaft, and the screams of the wounded living seemed to rise from the very earth like the spirits of the dead. Johnny melted deeper into the confusion of guards and men, leading Tyler through the clamoring throng. The vaqueros with their torches were spread thinly now and the hillside was cloaked in patches of darkness. Bending double so as not to stand out from the rest of the prisoners—for he stood taller than most of the men around him—Johnny gauged the distance to the approaching shadows and began drifting toward the fringe of ...

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Publisher: New American Library (Signet), 1986
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