Authors: J. T. Edson
‘You’re a lousy, yellow, no-good skunk,’ Dusty said quietly. ‘And I’m telling you just the once. Be long gone from here by nightfall, or I’ll be coming after you, and when I come I’m shooting on sight.’
A shudder ran through Madlarn’s frame. He had seen Dusty in action, seen that flickering half-second in which Dusty drew his guns and shot. If Dusty Fog said he would be back, back he would come.
Three men rode down the hill towards the body of the dead cavalry officer.
On the right was a Texan—small and insignificant-looking. His name was Dusty Fog. On the left was Mark Counter, the dandy of the group, known and feared from Texas to New Mexico. And in the middle, hands never far from the butts of his guns rode the Ysabel Kid, six feet of slim and deadly manhood.
Three men with purpose in their hearts and death in their holsters.
A CORGI BOOK 552 09344 0
Originally published in Great Britain by
Brown Watson Ltd.
Brown Watson Edition published 1964
Brown Watson Edition reprinted 1966
Corgi Edition published 1969
Corgi Edition reissued 1973
Corgi Edition reprinted 1978
Copyright © 1964 and 1966 by Brown Watson Ltd.
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Made and printed in Great Britain by
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Captain van Druten’s career came to an end as a result of his own stupidity. Transferred to the 15th Cavalry, he received orders to take command of a battalion based at Fort Tucker. Instead of travelling with a replacement sergeant-major and a party of recruits, he took the civilian scout, left word where he would meet the detachment, and set off on a hunting trip. On his way to the rendezvous, fate, in the shape of four young Sioux bucks, took a hand. The small captain—family influence gained him his commission and held him in it—died as he took off his hat to wipe his forehead, a bullet shattering his skull. An instant later the scout dropped at his side.
While stripping their victims prior to mutilating the bodies, one of the braves glanced up, saw something and died as he opened his mouth to give warning. Three rifle-armed white men sat horses on the slope above them, but before the remaining bucks could make a move, two more died.
The last brave went for his horse in racing strides, bounding up. On the rim the black-dressed rider on the huge white stallion followed the Sioux with his rifle, taking careful sight. His finger squeezed the trigger as the brave bounded up to his horse. Even though he landed on the horse the Sioux had taken lead, his lifeless body slid off the other side and the horse sprang forward.
Weapons held ready for use, the three men rode down the slope. While young, each one bore a legendary name; although they would be better known on a more southerly range than the Dakota Territory.
At the right, sitting his huge blood-bay stallion with the relaxed grace of a light rider despite his giant size, rode Mark Counter. Six foot three inches tall, with wide shoulders and a slender waist, with the classic features of a Greek god and the muscular development of a Hercules. His costly, low-crowned, wide-brimmed Texas-style J.B. Stetson hat sat back on his curly golden-blond hair and shielded the handsome face from the sun. His clothes were costly and he wore them well, with the air of a dandy. Yet the brown leather buscadero gunbelt and the matched ivory-handled Colt Cavalry Peacemakers in the holsters were both practical and showed the signs of belonging to a fast man with a gun. In his powerful right hand he held one of the new centre-fire 44·40 Winchester rifles, the gun Soon to be known as the model of 1873 and replacing the old brass-framed model of 1866 such as the rider at the left carried.
Siting his white stallion with a relaxed, almost Indian-like grace, the Ysabel Kid looked down at the bodies with little or no emotion. Six foot of slim, wiry and deadly manhood the Kid nevertheless contrived to look as young and innocent as a choirboy in church. His hair was black as the wing of a deep-south crow, his face tanned, young looking and almost babyishly handsome. Yet the eyes were neither Young nor innocent. They were hard, cold, menacing, red-hazel in colour and with a touch of hell in them. The Kid wore all black, from hat, through bandana, shirt, levis, down to boots. Even his gunbelt had been made of black leather and only the ivory hilt of the James Black bowie knife at his left and the walnut grips of the old Second Model Dragoon Colt butt forward at his right relieved the blackness. He cradled the old ‘yellow boy’ Winchester ‘66 rifle across his arm, looking as wild, alien and cruel as the Sioux before they fell.
Riding in the centre of the trio Dusty Fog alone did not appear to be the kind of man who made a name for himself. In height he stood at most five foot six and, when among his taller friends, people were apt to discount the breadth of shoulders which told of a muscle packed and powerful body. He wore just as costly clothes as either of his friends, yet did not have the flair for setting them off to their full advantage. Just as Mark Counter could look elegantly attired in old rags, Dusty was able to wear the best clothes money could buy and make them look like nothing. His hair had a dusty blond colour, the face was handsome, strong yet not in Mark’s eye-catching manner. Around his waist the gunbelt, with the matched brace of bone-handled Colt Civilian Peacemakers, butt forwards for a cross draw, in the holsters, did not look dangerous. For so insignificant appearing a Young man the huge paint stallion looked out of place. One so ordinary looking should never own or ride so fine an animal as the paint. Yet own and ride it he did and there were few others who could even claim to have tried and failed to ride Dusty Fog’s big paint. He sat relaxed in the saddle, holding a Winchester ‘73 carbine, preferring the shorter, twenty-inch barrel and the twelve- instead of sixteen-round magazine capacity for its better handling qualities in saddle use.
Strange as it may seem, of the three men the small insignificant Texan called Dusty Fog, had made a name which ranked higher than the other two, more eye-catching though they might be.
First in the Civil War, as a Confederate cavalry captain at seventeen, Dusty Fog rose to fame. His name ranked with Turner Ashby and John Singleton Mosby as a raider in the military sense of the word. He led a troop of fast-riding, hard-hitting Texans and built a name for courage, ability, gallantry and chivalry even among his Union Army enemies. After the War men spoke of Dusty as tophand cowboy, segundo of Ole Devil Hardin’s mighty OD Connected cattle outfit, leader of the elite of a tough and capable crew. Ole Devil’s floating outfit. He built a name as a trail boss, running the cattle herds north to the Kansas shipping pens. Men spoke of him also as a town taming lawman who brought peace and tamed Quiet Town after lesser men died trying.
Mostly they spoke of Dusty Fog’s speed on the draw, his accuracy once the guns were clear. His name stood high on the list of the knights of the tied-down holster. In all he did he stood head and shoulders above his fellows despite his lack of inches.
Mark Counter also carried a well-known name. The Texan cowhands claimed Mark knew his trade better than Dusty Fog even. His dress style set the fashion for the rangeland dandies from East Texas to the New Mexico line. His strength was a legend, his prowess in a rough-house brawl spoken of with bated breath by all who witnessed it. Yet few could say just how good or fast he was with his matched Colts. Those who did know claimed him to be fast, very fast, and accurate too. Yet there were few who knew for Mark Counter dwelled in the shadow of the Rio Hondo gun-wizard, Dusty Fog, and his true prowess remained hidden in the shade.
The final member of the trio had a name. Loncey Dalton Ysabel, the Ysabel Kid,
the border Mexicans whispered when they spoke of him among themselves. Friend of many, terror of those who were not his friends, down on the Rio Grande that was how the Ysabel Kid had been known. Those days, when he ran contraband across the river with his father, had long gone by. Now he rode with Dusty and Mark in the floating outfit and was scout in time of war. His father gave him a sturdy but truculent spirit, a sighting eye like an eagle or a mountain man of old. From the blood of Chief Long Walker, old man chief of the dreaded Dog Soldier lodge, came the Kid’s ability to ride anything with hair, to follow a trail where a buck Apache might falter, to know and understand Indians and read the ways of nature. From the French-Creole came a love of cold steel as a weapon which made him retain that wicked bowie knife at his side and use it as his pet weapon for close-range war. These qualities were all in the one package and made an explosive bundle which might have gone off the wrong way but for joining Dusty Fog. Now the Kid had a name for being a good friend to those he gave his loyalty and friendship, but a real bad enemy to any who crossed him.
On hearing of thousands of gold-hungry people gathering in the Dakotas, Dusty knew there would be a market for beef. So he gathered a herd and brought it north. Apart from his two friends, all the rest of the trail crew stayed on to try to make a fortune. Dusty, Mark and the Kid ignored the rumours of ‘gold at the grass roots’, remembering that the Black Hills were regarded as sacred land by the Indians and had been given in solemn treaty to the Sioux. The three friends had started their journey home when they came upon the sight of the Sioux, although arriving too late to save van Druten or the scout.
Dropping from his saddle, the Kid examined the bodies. ‘They’re all cashed, Dusty,’ he said.
Working swiftly, the Texans buried van Druten and the scout under a pile of rocks, dragged the Sioux away and hid as much of the sign of sudden death as they could. Taking van Druten’s belongings and horse to hand over to the first army post they found, the three young men continued their interrupted journey.
The day was drawing to a close when the Texans brought their horses to a halt and listened to the distant crackle of gunfire. Advancing cautiously, they topped a rim and saw the cause of the shooting. Using van Druten’s field glasses, Dusty studied the situation. He did not like what he saw.
About half a mile away, near a spring, six army wagons formed an oblong of defence for the men within. The soldiers appeared to be in a good position, their horses picketed in lines within the oblong, boxes making a barricade under and between the wagons. Surrounding the oblong, making a determined attack, the Sioux appeared to be in strength, over two hundred of them, mostly armed with bows or lances, but with enough firearms of various kinds to make things real interesting for all concerned.
Studying the soldiers, Dusty knew them to be unblooded recruits in their first fight. Even as he watched, Dusty saw the sergeant-major commanding the party crumple and fall. Instantly near-panic and uncertainty ran through the camp. Fortunately the Sioux were withdrawing to make fresh medicine or the circle would have been broken. One more rush and the leaderless soldiers would be finished.
The Sioux had all gathered, or most, for they left a few men on the other flanks, to one side. They sat their horses, watching the old medicine-man as he raised his arms to the sky, gripping the war lance between them as he called down the air of their great war god. He would make his medicine, give courage and strength to the brave-heart warriors so that they would sweep down and overwhelm the solider-coats and wagons.
‘We’ve not got long afore the medicine’s made,’ drawled the Kid. ‘Then, less I never seen a bad Injun, it’ll be like a Christmas turkey shoot with those blue belly boys for the turkeys.’
‘We’ve got to go shake those boys together, Dusty,’ Mark stated after studying the scene through the field glasses.
‘Be a tolerable pile of dead Yankee scalps on the Sioux lodge poles if we don’t,’ was the Kid’s summing up of the situation. ‘Happen we run down that dry wash there and don’t meet any Sioux in it, we can get to within a hundred yards or so of the wagons. Go across faster’n fast, hit that small bunch of braves there and we might get through afore the main bunch know what’s hit them—unless the soldier boys inside spook and shoot us first.’
Dusty agreed with his friends and already formed his plan, but also saw its difficulties. The soldiers were not veterans who could recognize a leader no matter how he dressed. To the recruits, a leader wore either stripes on his sleeves or bars on his shoulders. If Dusty were to save the soldiers, he must be able to take command of them from the moment he landed in their midst. Given time, he could win the men over, but time was something he did not have.
Despite the difficulty of the decision, Dusty only hesitated for a moment. It did not come easily, for Dusty remembered the aftermath of the War Between the States, but he went ahead with his plan. Swiftly he stripped off his hat, boots and levis, replacing them with the dead captain’s clothing. The uniform fitted him well; it was strange how two men so different in character should be so physically alike.
Setting his borrowed campaign hat at the old jaunty angle, Dusty looked to where Mark was packing his cowhand clothing into his bedroll. Somehow Dusty had changed, looked less inconspicuous and more of his real self as he strapped on his gunbelt. Wanting a horse he could trust under him, he vaulted into the paint’s saddle.
‘Let’s go,’ he said.
They rode along the drywash, finding no Sioux in it. However, a small bunch of braves sat horses between the Texans and the wagon circle.
‘You pair all set?’ asked Dusty in a whisper.
‘Tomorrow’d be a better day, or next fall,’ replied the Kid. ‘Only they just won’t haul off and wait that long for us.’
‘Straight down and through that bunch, Dusty?’ asked Mark, drawing his right-hand Colt.
‘Straight down and through,’ agreed Dusty. ‘Whooping like a drunk Kiowa on his way to a wedding.’
‘Best ride instead of whittle-whanging about it,’ drawled the Kid. ‘Afore some of those Sioux see us here and take offence at us for peeking. They’ve near on said their prayers over the back and are getting ready to go.’
Drawing his left-hand Colt, Dusty took out van Druten’s sabre with his right hand, finding its edge sharp enough for what he needed.
The Kid watched the Sioux, although he could not hear the words he read the signs and the meaning of the prayer. His eyes had a hellish gleam in them and his face twisted into the grin of a Comanche Dog Soldier about to make a joke such as slitting an enemy’s throat from ear to ear.
‘That old medicine-man there, Dusty,’ he said. ‘He’s just telling the great Manitou they’ve done killed the leader of the soldiers and that victory’ll be all their’n right soon. Which same you arriving there full of fancy buttons, shoulder bars and all’s sure going to make his medicine look awful watered down.’
‘If we get through,’ grinned Mark.
‘You’re tolerable safe,
,’ replied the Kid. ‘Only the good go young, which same you’re here for ever and I’m past where I should have gone.’
Dusty smiled, then his face went grim once more. His friends were mounted ready, the Kid holding his rifle, fully loaded once more and all set to make some good Indians. Mark held his right-hand Colt and unfastened the dead officer’s horse, for he did not wish to be hampered.
‘You go or stay, hoss,’ he said quietly. ‘But I’m sure not trying to haul you after me.’
The rebel war-yell shattered the air, ringing echoes back against the walls of the dry wash. Dusty gave it, then set his spurs to the flanks of the huge paint. Like a raging Texas twister the three horses hurled from the mouth of the dry wash. They went towards the oblong of wagons like the devil after a yearling. The cavalry horse followed, racing by their side. Straight at the startled bunch of Sioux tore the three fast riding men, two civilians and the other, every inch, a Union army captain.