Opening twenty-two years after the events of The Seekers, John Jakes’s fourth Kent Family novel spans the blood-soaked era of America’s relentless expansion into the West. Amanda Kent, daughter of Gilbert Kent and Harriet Lebow, is one of the few women to escape the massacre at the Battle of the Alamo. Uncommonly brazen and focused, Amanda seeks to make a new life for herself by restoring the Kent family name. Her efforts to build a dynasty take her to northern California, just in time for the Gold Rush. Her passion and determination during these frenzied years make The Furies an exhilarating page-turner. This ebook features an illustrated biography of John Jakes including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
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About the Author
John Jakes (b. 1932), the author of more than a dozen novels, is regarded as one of today’s most distinguished writers of historical fiction. His work includes the highly acclaimed Kent Family Chronicles series and the North and South Trilogy. Jakes’s commitment to historical accuracy and evocative storytelling earned him the title of “the godfather of historical novelists” from the Los Angeles Times and led to a streak of sixteen consecutive New York Times bestsellers. Jakes has received several awards for his work and is a member of the Authors Guild and the PEN American Center. He and his wife, Rachel, live on the west coast of Florida.
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The Kent Family Chronicles (Book Four)
By John Jakes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 John Jakes
All rights reserved.
She awoke late in the night. At first she thought she was resting in her room, on the second floor of the adobe building local custom dignified with the name Gura's Hotel. It was a hotel, of sorts. But the small, well-kept establishment on Soledad Street served customers other than those who wanted a meal, a glass of aguardiente or a bed to be used for sleeping—
For a few drowsy, delicious moments she believed she was back there. Safe. Secure—
Her mind cleared. Reality shattered the comforting illusion. Gura's Hotel might only be a few hundred yards west of where she lay in the darkness, one torn blanket affording poor protection from the chill of the moonless night. But much more than distance cut her off from all that the hotel represented.
She was cut off by the four-foot-thick walls of the roofless chapel of the mission of San Antonio de Valero. She was cut off by the trenches among the cotton-woods—los alamos—that lined the water ditches outside. She was cut off by the heavily guarded plank bridges over the San Antonio River. She was cut off by an enemy force estimated to number between four and five thousand men.
Yet something other than the physical presence of an army was fundamentally responsible for her separation from the hotel. No one had forced her to come to the mission some said was nicknamed for the cottonwoods, and others for a garrison of soldiers from Coahuila that had been stationed here early in the century. Her own choice had isolated her.
In those lonely seconds just after full consciousness returned, the woman whose name was Amanda Kent de la Gura almost regretted her decision. She lay on the hard-packed ground, her head against a stone—the only kind of pillow available—and admitted to herself that she was afraid.
She had been in difficult, even dangerous circumstances before. She had been afraid before. But always, there had been at least a faint hope of survival. Only the most foolishly optimistic of the hundred and eighty-odd men walled up in the mission believed there was a chance of escape.
Turned on her side, her best dress of black silk tucked between her legs for warmth, Amanda stared into the darkness. In memory she saw the flag that had been raised from the tower of San Fernando Church on Bexar's main plaza. The flag was red, with no decoration or device to signify its origin. To the men and the handful of women who took refuge in the mission when the enemy arrived, however, the meaning of the flag was clear. It meant the enemy general would give no quarter in battle.
Amanda's mood of gloom persisted. Only with a deliberate effort of will did she turn her thoughts elsewhere. Pessimism accomplished nothing. Since she couldn't sleep, she ought to get up and look in on her friend the colonel—
But she didn't move immediately. She listened. She was disturbed by the silence. What had become of the night noises to which she and the others had grown accustomed during the past twelve—no, thirteen days?
She yawned. That was it, thirteen. It must be Sunday morning by now. Sunday, the sixth of March 1836. The first companies of enemy troops had clattered into San Antonio de Bexar on the twenty-third. Counting the extra day for a leap year, today would mark the thirteenth day of the siege—
She couldn't remember when the night had been so still.
There was no crump-crump of Mexican artillery pieces hammering away at the walls. No wild, intimidating yells from the troops slowly closing an armed ring around the mission. No sudden, terrifying eruptions of music as the enemy general's massed regimental bands struck up a brassy serenade in the middle of the night, to keep the defenders awake, strain their nerves. The general knew that tired men were more susceptible to fear—and less accurate with their firearms—than rested ones—
None of those tactics had worked, though. If anything, the resolve of the garrison had stiffened as the days passed; stiffened even when it became apparent that Buck Travis' appeals for help, sent by mounted messengers who dashed out through the enemy lines after dark, would not be answered.
Colonel Fannin supposedly had three hundred men at Goliad, a little over ninety miles away. Three hundred men might make the difference. But now everyone understood that Fannin wasn't coming. He hesitated to risk his troops against such a huge Mexican force. That message had been brought back by one of Travis' couriers, the courtly southerner Jim Bonham. He had risked his life to return alone when he could have stayed safely at Goliad after delivering Travis' plea to Fannin.
Oh, Buck Travis still talked of relief columns from Brazoria. Perhaps from San Felipe. But there really was no Texas army—nor any organization to this rebellion as yet. All Travis could honestly hope for—all any of them could hope for—was to hold the mission as long as possible, make it an example of the will of the Anglo-Americans to resist the Mexican tyrant. No one could get out any longer, not even under cover of darkness. The Mexican trenches and artillery emplacements had been advanced too close to the walls.
But why was this night, of all nights, so silent—?
She pushed the soiled blanket away from her legs. The quiet unnerved her. She wished Crockett would take up his fiddle as he'd done on several evenings when Mexican grape and canister whistled and crashed against the walls. Crockett's lively fiddling, counterpointed by the wild wail of John McGregor's bagpipes, would have been welcome. It would have lifted her spirits as it had before—
But I'd settle for just a cup off coffee, she thought, standing, stretching, brushing the dust from the black silk skirt spotted with beige patches of dried mud. She was weary of corn and beef and peppered beans served up without coffee. She and the dozen other women—Mexicans, mostly—cooked for the garrison. Although the women did their best, the men complained about the lack of a hot drink to wash down the meals. Amanda didn't blame them.
She folded the blanket, laid it on the ground and turned toward the east wall of the chapel. There, on a platform reached by a long ramp of earth and timber, she glimpsed the dim shapes of the twelve-pounders—three of the mission's fourteen cannons. She thought she saw a couple of men slumped over the guns, sleeping. Worn out. If only there'd been a little coffee to help everyone stay awake—!
Suddenly she wondered whether the enemy general knew they had none. Perhaps he did, and was gambling that a night of quiet would cause the defenders to fall into exhausted slumber. Did that mean a surprise attack was imminent—?
As she pondered the worrisome possibility, her right hand strayed to her left wrist. Unconsciously, she touched the fraying bracelet of ship's rope, its once-bright lacquering of tar dulled by time. The bracelet was a link to a past that now seemed wholly unreal.
But it had been real, hadn't it? There was a great house in a splendid eastern city. And ample meals. And clean bedding. And a tawny-haired cousin with whom she'd fled when her mother was killed and the family printing house burned—
Her fingers closed on the bracelet. God, she wished she were out of this place. She felt guilty admitting that, but it was true. The probability of death had become an inescapable reality. Too much to bear—
With an annoyed shake of her head, she overcame her gloom a second time. Such feelings were not only unworthy; they were wasteful of precious energy. She could still see to her good friend's welfare, even if she could do nothing about the fact that, very soon now, she might die—
Along with every other Anglo-American walled up within the mission that those in Bexar, Anglo and Mexican alike referred to as the Alamo.
A huge mound of stones blocked the center of the chapel's dirt floor. The rubble was left from last year, when the Alamo had been occupied by soldiers under the command of General Martin Perfecto de Cos, the elegant brother-in-law of the president of the Republic of Mexico. Cos and his men had been driven out by Texans—and the president himself had mustered a new army, marching north from Saltillo to punish those who had dared to fight his troops and resist his repressive laws.
A short twelve years earlier, a newly independent Mexico had welcomed American immigrants to its Texas territory. Under special legislation of 1824 and '25, empresarios such as the Austins, father and son, were encouraged to purchase land at favorable prices, to recruit settlers and bring them to the new Mexican state. The Americans all promised to become Catholics, but the government seldom bothered to enforce the vow once it was made. One of the most popular men in all Texas was a genial padre named Muldoon, who frankly didn't care whether the immigrants ever set foot in his church. To be a "Muldoon Catholic" was perfectly satisfactory to the Mexican government—
Indeed, the government's generosity to foreigners had very little to do with winning souls to the Mother Church. It had a great deal to do with the general feistiness for which Americans—particularly those on the western frontiers of the nation—were famous. The Anglos were intended to serve as a buffer between the marauding Texas Indian tribes and the more heavily settled Mexican states below the Rio Grande.
The Americans who came with the empresarios were hardy people. They defended their land, cultivated it, and thrived under the easy benevolence of the republican government. More and more Anglos arrived every year—
Until a series of political upheavals brought Mexico's current president to power.
Fearful of Andrew Jackson's well-known hunger for territory, and aware that the number of Americans in Texas was growing daily, the new President had instituted a series of harsh laws, including one in 1830 that prohibited further immigration. Another struck at the heart of the state's agricultural system, abolishing the sale and use of black slaves.
Friction resulted, then outright hostility. When Stephen Austin visited Mexico City in 1834, intending to press Texan claims about infringement of liberties, the President jailed him. From that time on, relations between the capital and its northern province worsened—
Erupting at last into open warfare.
The preceding June, a little army of Texans had swooped down on the port of Anahuac and driven out the officer responsible for enforcing newly imposed customs duties that made exporting of crops and importing of essential commodities all but impossible for the settlers. Anahuac marked the start of the armed struggle led by the Texas War Party, of which Buck Travis was a leading member. Now most of the Americans in Texas—about thirty thousand in all—were openly talking about, or waging, a rebellion—just as their forebears had done sixty years earlier, to protest the taxes and repressive policies of the English king who had ruled the continent's eastern seaboard.
When the Texans had driven General Cos from the Alamo in December, he had retreated back across the Rio Grande. Not a Mexican soldier was left in the entire state—until the president himself, stripped of his last pretense of friendliness, had led his new army and its horde of camp followers north to Bexar.
The president's arrival split families, as their members took sides. His presence sent a good portion of Bexar's population into frantic flight, their belongings piled in carts. The president secured the half-deserted town that had formerly held about four thousand people. He raised the red flag on the church. Those Texans determined to resist had already retreated to the Alamo. So began the siege, the president steadily advancing his fortifications at night, his goal to ultimately storm the mission on the east side of the winding San Antonio River—
All of the resulting turmoil and uncertainty seemed summed up for Amanda in the rubble pile she now circled with quick, precise steps. Moving briskly required effort. She was tired. She felt unclean. She wished she had a brush for her lusterless hair.
But somehow, as she walked on, a hardness that had been forged within her by years of risk-filled living reasserted itself. She wanted to survive this siege. But failing that, she could at least end her life in a way she could be proud of—
I don't want to die here, she said to herself. I've come so close to death so many times, I thought I'd earned a reprieve for a few years. But if this is the end, I ought to face it the way my own grandfather did when he fought against the British king—
Her grandfather had survived the American rebellion and died of natural causes in 1801, two years before her own birth. Yet because her father, Gilbert, had told her so much about Grandfather Philip—whose rather stern portrait she remembered from the library of the house in the east—he remained a very real presence. So real that she often thought of him as if he still lived and breathed.
I wouldn't want him to be ashamed of how I die. I would never want him to be ashamed that I belong to the Kent family.
That she was probably the family's last surviving member was perhaps the saddest part.
The Alamo chapel dated from the 1750s. Franciscan friars from Spain had built it, as part of a doomed effort to win Christian converts among the predatory Indian tribes. Unfortunately, the tribe the fathers chose as their chief target was notorious for a lack of belief in higher powers. Of all the Indians Amanda was familiar with, the Comanches came the closest to uniform atheism.
The chapel was located on the southeast corner of the sprawling complex of stone and adobe buildings that had grown to cover almost three acres. Invisible beyond the chapel's stout doors was the two-story long barracks, which ran roughly northeast to southwest. The barracks formed one wall of the great open rectangle known as the Alamo main plaza.
On the plaza's ramparts and in the rooms below, the defenders were awaiting the inevitable final assault by several thousand Mexican foot soldiers and cavalry. Some said there were a hundred and eighty-two men in the mission. Others put the number at one more than that. It included thirty-two who had ridden in from Gonzales knowing there was almost no chance of escape.
On Friday, Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis had called them all together in the main plaza and given permission for any man who wished to leave to do so. Only one had accepted the offer.
Strangely, hardly anyone called the man a coward. Perhaps it was because gnarled little Louis Rose was a friend of Colonel Bowie's. Or perhaps it was because he had long ago proved himself in combat. Rose had fought with Napoleon in Russia before taking ship to the Americas. He was no longer young, he explained, and he'd faced death too often. Once more would be pushing his luck too far.
Clearly the little soldier had no innate loyalty to the cause that held the rest of them together. Travis told him to collect his belongings and go over the wall while there was still time. By first light, Rose had vanished.
Amanda paused to glance into the sacristy, one of the few rooms adjoining the chapel that still had a roof. The sacristy, where most of the women and children slept, was dark and still.
She moved on, her expression pensive. How would the president treat the wives and youngsters after the battle? That the rebels would lose the battle hardly seemed in doubt any longer. Almost miraculously, not a man had been seriously injured during the thirteen-day siege. But things would be entirely different when the enemy launched a direct attack on the walls. The Mexicans had rifles with bayonets and, presumably, ample ammunition. The personal armament of the Americans consisted of squirrel guns, pistols, tomahawks and knives. And powder and shot were running low inside the mission. Some of the Alamo cannons had fired rocks and hacked-up horseshoes in the past couple of days—
Excerpted from The Furies by John Jakes. Copyright © 2003 John Jakes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
The Kent Family,
Book One: Turn Loose Your Wolf,
Chapter I The Chapel,
Chapter II The Massacre,
Chapter III The Bargain,
Chapter IV The Camp Follower,
Chapter V The Corn of San Jacinto,
The Journal of Jephtha Kent, 1844: Bishop Andrew's Sin,
Book Two: Gold,
Chapter I Cry in the Wilderness,
Chapter II The Fever,
Chapter III Christmas Among the Argonauts,
Chapter IV To See the Elephant,
Chapter V The Man Who Got in the Way,
Chapter VI The Parting,
The Journal of Jephtha Kent, 1850: A Higher Law,
Book Three: Perish with the Sword,
Chapter I The Legacy,
Chapter II Of Books and Bloomers,
Chapter III The Man Who Thundered,
Chapter IV Suspicion,
Chapter V The Girl Who Refused,
Chapter VI Of Stocks and Sin,
Chapter VII The Box,
Chapter VIII The Slave Hunter,
Chapter IX Besieged,
Chapter X Destruction,
Chapter XI Judgment,
Preview: The Titans,
A Biography of John Jakes,