PART ONE: TOWARD THE LITTLE PIGEON
I am busy and will only say how da do, to you! You will get your land as it was promised, and you and all our Red brothers may rest satisfied that I will always hold you by the hand.
—letter from Sam Houston to Chief Bowl
Henry Longfellow was thinking about women, how wicked they are. While he was passing through a rainwater swamp five hours ago, a perfumey odor had infested his dreams as he drowsed in the saddle, and for a dizzy moment he was sniffing the silk drawers of the whore he had taken to his hotel room in New Orleans last month, a redheaded bitch who was about to scorn him before he split her lip with his fist.
The sweet, rotting flower fragrance of swamp gas reminded him of the cosmetics and colognes his wife had kept in crystal bottles on the marble-top table in front of her mirror, and he remembered the sight of her pale, skinny legs kicking in the air, her heels behind her ears, on either side of the hairy buttocks of a teamster in Henry’s own four-poster marriage bed on the second floor of their new home in Athens, Georgia.
Riding along the trail toward Austin, growing ever more clear of mind and angry in his heart, Henry thought of his mother, a shrieking Hardshell Baptist whose mean and spiteful tongue and frequent blows with a skillet had driven his father away from their family in Memphis, Tennessee, when Henry was a child of six, an awful thing to do to a boy. On the topic of the wickedness of women, Henry Longfellow would hold forth with gusto to the laughter of men and harlots in Blue’s Tavern in San Antonio. Women love the devil, Henry told them. His audience laughed, Henry believed, from nervousness, because he frightened them; they recognized that he was speaking a truth so profound that it could not be faced by their common minds in the cold and serious light that Henry saw.
When Henry was in higher social company, as an adviser to President Lamar, his former colleague in the Georgia legislature, he was polite, tried to be charming to the women he was forced to endure at dances and dinner parties, and he measured his words like speeches an actor might recite on the stage. But he saw through the fabric of their pretty dresses to their wicked souls.
Henry’s knees ached. His bones were too long for the stirrups of this silver concho-studded saddle that had been thrust upon him by the President. Henry had thought it presumptuous for Lamar to insist that the ride from San Antonio to Austin would be more significant if seated on the President’s ornamented saddle rather than in Henry’s two-horse buggy with the padded bench, but Henry accepted as if honored and delighted. He was, after all, partly on a mission for the Republic. He was searching for a choice site on which to build the presidential mansion in Austin. Lamar stipulated the house be on high ground but fed by its own spring, with a grand view but near enough to the city center that its property value would increase as Austin grew.
Once out of sight of Main Plaza at the beginning of the eighty-mile journey on a rutted track the width of an ox cart, Henry had climbed off the bayhorse that also was urged upon him as a loan from the President. He tried to let out the stirrups to their full length but discovered they were already at their full length. Henry cursed the stubby-legged bastard Lamar, but he needed the President’s continued warm association until the documents were signed for the lands Henry was on his way to select for himself in the new town of Austin, soon to become capital of the Republic. Lamar was creating Austin in the heart of a river valley favored by savages.There was scenic land, praised for its beauty by Lamar writing as a poet, abounding with water and timber, to be owned for bargain rates—often no more than the correct signatures. Lamar asked Henry to consider investing as a partner in commercial lots along the spring-fed creek that was being renamed Congress Avenue and would run from the river to the square reserved for the new capitol building. If Henry acted with reasonable haste and care, his prosperity was assured.
He would build a plantation house on a hill near the capitol, Henry thought. His house would have a long, shaded veranda and white Doric columns like the houses of the cotton growers of LaGrange who had supported his entry into the Georgia legislature in Athens. Henry had solicited their political backing because they were wealthy and ignorant men by his view, most of them outright stupid compared to how he saw himself. With his law degree from Memphis College of Jurisprudence as credential, Henry had won a cotton-fraud case against a Georgia seller in a Georgia court and attracted the attention of the cotton growers of LaGrange. His menacing demeanor in court, his ability to twist the truth and intimidate witnesses, proved to the cotton growers that he would enforce their will in the statehouse without scruple. He rammed their desires through the legislature and appeared to have a bright future in Georgia politics. Perhaps he would become a national figure.
Henry married the daughter of a plantation owner. His bride was a bony, homely girl who had been educated at a fancy finishing school in Philadelphia. She was a debutante who entered the adult world riding in an open carriage filled with peach blossoms on the main street of the small commercial center called Atlanta,where her father and his friends had begun bringing their trade and building their city mansions.
Although the judge and the jury found displeasure in Henry’s ungainly appearance and unrepentant attitude in court, they ruled him not guilty of murder in the deaths by gunshots and stabbing of his wife and the teamster. As Henry knew the judge and jury would be, they were guided by the unwritten code that protects a gentleman from the treachery of his wife, especially as it applies to adultery, most especially to fornication with a lover in the husband’s own bed.
However, his late wife’s father and four brothers lived by still another part of the unwritten code of gentlemen, which required satisfaction be paid in blood for an injury or insult such as Henry murdering their beloved Dorothy. Her father and each of her brothers sent cotton gentry or military men as seconds to challenge Henry to duels with pistols or sabers. He was denounced as a craven to his face in restaurants and saloons by her father and brothers. He was called a consummate coward and a dastardly poltroon. His political financing from the LaGrange cotton growers vanished.There was scandal put about the state that Henry had regularly ripped the clothes off his skinny debutante bride and beaten her naked breasts and thighs with a switch from a peach tree. But the worst blow of all to Henry was the disgrace when he learned she had betrayed him with more than twenty men and boys—including the grocer’s son—before he caught her with the teamster, and by now the whole town knew it.
Henry saw himself not as a coward but as intelligent. He was not at all reluctant to shoot and stab Dorothy’s father and four brothers, one at a time as the code demanded, but what then? Even if he survived five duels, he was ruined in Georgia. Henry called his two slave boys into the house and told them to start packing. A couple of years earlier, Henry’s legislative colleague, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, had suffered the deaths of his wife, sister, father and brother in a short period and had gone off to Texas to leave the pain of their memory behind and look into land investments. Lamar distinguished himself in the revolution against Mexico, and now he had been elected second president of the Republic of Texas. Henry reminded himself that Heraclitus said nothing is permanent except change. In Texas, anyone could invent a new life. Henry decided to move to Texas and renew his friendship with Lamar and become a land speculator. Soon he would be as rich as the plantation owners in LaGrange. He would have his house painted white with white shutters and a gallery above the Doric columns. He would buy twelve more slaves to add to the two boys he already owned, and several would be tender young girls who would heat water for his bath and fill the tub and remove his clothes slowly and stroke his skin with their fingers and crawl into his bed when he tinkled a silver bell on the nightstand. The girls would desire to be with him because he sensed their need to be writhing in lusty embrace with the devil. Eve’s daughters came from the seed of the serpent.
He heard a woman’s voice.
She was singing in Cherokee. Henry recognized one phrase—huh-so-suh—which meantwhere the sun comes out, or east. Henry had been among many Cherokees in Tennessee and Georgia, and he had read the Cherokee newspaper, The Phoenix, which ran columns of English beside columns of the Cherokee printed language. Henry had read The Phoenix to see what the savages might be writing about him. In the Georgia legislature, Henry had voted to outlaw the Cherokee Nation and banish the savages from Georgia after gold was discovered in the mountains the Cherokees called their own. Cherokee laws and customs were declared null and void. The mountains where gold was found were sold by lottery to whites only. The newspaper, The Phoenix, was seized by the Georgia government to stop the spread of news. The United States Supreme Court ruled Georgia’s action against the Cherokees unconstitutional, but President Andrew Jackson—like Henry, a slaveholder and a loather of aborigines—said, If the Supreme Court wants to make law to help the Cherokees, let Justice Marshall enforce it himself. Henry considered this Jackson’s finest moment.
Defeating the Creeks at Horsehoe Bend in Alabama was a commendable act by Jackson, whose policy of promoting new opportunities in business for the common white man had helped Henry rise in the world. The press and the pulpits persistently attacked the President for adultery, but Henry blamed the evil of women. Jackson’s legacy, in Henry’s mind, was taking the mountainsaway from the savage Cherokees, a magnificent achievement.
Henry listened to the young woman singing. Other than the musk of their women, the only thing Henry admired about the Cherokees was their melodious speech. Henry understood hardly a word of their language, but sounds like Chatahoochie, Tuckaseegee and Hiwassee struck the part of him that would have become a musician had his choices in life been different.
Henry’s saber in its scabbard dangled by a leather thong from the saddle horn. He felt the blade against his left leg and nudged it so that he could cross-draw without hitting thehorse’s neck. His cap and ball pistol lay in its holster against his right thigh, nestled beside his powder horn and bullet pouch. The woman’s voice was coming from the other side of a thicket that was blooming with purple blossoms thirty feet ahead of him, at the edge of the path. It was a girl perhaps not yet twenty years old.
He needed a girl right now. The trilling of her voice aroused him. He heard the deceit in her voice, the lure of seduction, the cry of sexual longing.
He knew it would be remarkable if this young Cherokee female was alone in the Texas wilderness. Her kind of subhumans traveled in bunches, Henry had observed. But if there were only two or three more Cherokees with her, Henry could soon have her. Shooting aborigines was fair sport and regarded in his society as good and necessary. Henry pulled the shotgun out of its saddle sheath. If there were too many Cherokees, he would bid them ‘morning and ride on toward the ferry. Henry’s groin began to ache. He felt his pecker crawling like a snake against the saddle. He was swelling up. A flash struck him, a burning. He must have relief. He knew this girl was thirsty to swallow his seed.