Colum, former reb soldier, ex-Indian scout, rebellious son, is running from his Irish immigrant father and a family tragedy for which he has taken the blame.
He leaves his father’s Texas ranch on a fast horse, one gallop in front of a bullet.
Wild guns ambush him in Dodge, in Arizona, in Mexico and by the time he homesteads a hidden horse ranch in Texas, Colum is a weary man.
But trouble follows.
Waking the first morning in his valley, he finds an arrow pinning a scalp to a tree.
José Ortero made this arrow, he thinks.
He knows Ortero well; has tracked him, has fought him.
Ortero keeps score.
And then there’s Mason Lohman, his enemy since boyhood, his nemesis, his shadow, his punishment.
God knows why Lohman is punishing him.
Colum doesn’t know.
It was a long boyhood after Comanches murdered Colum’s mother, after his brother was killed in a fight, after a war that took four bloody years to lose, after a run from God knows who.
Well, at least, he didn’t know for sure.
A man needs something to care for, a woman to keep him warm at night, to smile at him across a table.
Why not Clementine Weaver, his best friend’s wife?
Her long chestnut hair is shot with gold, she fills her clean, starched dresses, a good girl, a nice girl.
He’s not used to nice girls.
The only women Colum know give him what he needs after he crosses their palms with silver.
Clementine smiles at him with secret eyes, stares, cannot pull her gaze away.
Come to me, he thinks.
Mason Lohman has an easy irony, a lifted eyebrow, a bitter undertone, and a barely restrained air of violence, like a bronco who’s been cross-tied and hobbled.
He wears a mustache which curves in a well-barbered arch around his lip, his broadcloth suits cost a fortune, he leans back in his chair, holding his cigarillo, smiling through the smoke.
Nobody knows what Lohman is thinking and not many men want to find out.
So it’s a mystery how Lohman and Colum McNeal became such intimate enemies.
Lohman’s father is a rich rancher who sent his son to Yale.
Colum’s father was forced to homestead on the Texas plains, using his sons as free labor, and Colum went to one room schoolhouse; when he went at all.
Colum and Lohman don’t run in the same crowd.
But when Colum was sixteen and Lohman in his twenties, Lohman began riding to Fort Griffin on Saturday nights, searching for Colum, then attacking with hot ferocity.
Fighting stopped when Colum joined the Confederate cavalry, yipping the foxhound from hell battle cry across Southern battlefields.
Lohman was a bluebelly, one of Lincoln’s boys, Texas-bred, Yankee trained.
When the boys come marching home again, hooray, hooray, nothing has changed.
Colum begs Mason to tell him why, just tell him why.
Lohman’s not interested in disclosing that secret.
He does promise to pin Colum’s scalp to his saddle.
Once, Lohman told Colum you can learn a lot about another men when you watch them.
Colum looks up and Lohman is watching.
Each time Colum looks behind him, Lohman is there.
Texas Ranger Captain William Henry
William Henry, his wife Belle, and his three daughters, homesteaded a Texas ranch.
The Henry place was so far from town the family couldn’t even pile in the buggy and drive to camp meetings.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound wailed on without them, while they forted up and watched for the Comanche moon.
Isolated, sure, but if he just worked hard enough, Henry knew the country would build up around them, neighbors would sit on the porch, the girls would waltz at barn dances.
But Texas seceded from the Union and Henry left to fight the blue bellies.
On Christmas Day, 1863, a cold day on a Virginia battlefield, Henry opened a letter.
The hell-hound Comanches had raped his wife and daughters, stuck lances in their hearts and tore their scalps from their heads.
I like to have fallen out of the saddle, he says, when he can tell the story at all.
Sometimes he feels the pain will knock him from the saddle and he will just lie there and never get up.
Annie Laurie’s arms are around his neck, her voice whispering in his ear: Papa.
She was only ten.
Henry had his vengeance.
He didn’t feel better.
Adopting Colum as his foster son and guiding him through the war (Captain Henry, private McNeal) helped Henry feed his empty heart.
And The Texas Rangers kept him busy.
Maybe not busy enough.
One day at headquarters, Henry opens a letter from Colum.
Help, Colum says, I’m after forting up on a homestead and the guns are after me.
Coming son, Henry says.
Clementine has only two childhood memories.
She remembers a ship’s big white sails, then standing alone at night on a Baltimore street lit by gas lamps.
Someone walks away from her, hooped skirts swaying.
Years later, she doesn’t recall the face.
A policeman stops.
Where do you belong?
The words echo with emptiness.
Wind in her head.
When she learns English, the little girl answers the question.
I don’t know.
What’s your name?
It was hard to remember. Hedvika?
Nobody can figure it out.
The nuns at St. Joseph’s Catholic Home for Foundling Children decide to name her Clementine Sullivan; a nice Irish name.
Once she marries Michael Weaver and moves to his Texas ranch, Clementine believes she should be happy and can’t understand why she doesn’t feel that way.
Something’s missing. Clementine’s heart feels so sterile she doesn’t believe flowers will grow in her garden.
Until one day William Henry rides past her house carrying an Apache Indian baby.
This kid needs a mama, Henry says.
Clementine reaches up and holds the round, warm, milk-smelling bundle and falls in love.
Texans hate Comanches and Apaches.
Everyone for miles around knows Clementine has an Indian baby and they think, she’s going to raise that savage with white children?
Just wait, he’ll turn into a murdering Apache right in front of her eyes. Nobody will be safe.
If they were really being honest, they would say take that kid fifty miles out and leave him for his people to find.
Or the wolves.
Clementine carries James with her wherever she goes, head held high, defiance in her heart.
My baby, do you love your mama, she says, nuzzling his cheek.
She never wonders if James has parents.
She won’t let herself ask that question.
She’s about to find out the answer.