Authors: J. T. Edson
‘BRAVE UP, BROTHERS!’
Lobo Colorado’s booming shout rang out over every other sound. ‘This is a good day to die!’
It was a shout which carried to the men on the edge of town. Zeke spoke Apache, and the words brought the hair standing bristly and stiff along the back of his neck.
It was a shout no self-respecting Apache brave could resist. Not when their great war chief was hurling his horse down the slope towards them. The braves sent their horses leaping forward, charging down the slope to count coup, to loot, to kill.
They made an ill-assorted crowd. The pious citizens of Baptist’s Hollow. Major Ellwood, mayor and town marshal. Doc Thornett’s medicine show, with Madame Fiona, woman bare-knuckle boxer, her daughters, and Elwin, the boy who wanted to be a juggler. Sergeant Magoon, the wild Irish soldier who had brought his men. Chet Bronson and Harris, going to the Stockade for life. Big Em, the female fist-fighting champion of Fort Owen. The miners driven from the hills by Lobo Colorado’s Apache warriors.
There were four Texans also. Three were tall, eye-catching men. Yet when the chips were down and a leader was needed they called on the fourth Texan — a small insignificant, soft talking man. His name was Dusty Fog.
A CORGI BOOK 552 08282 1
Originally published in Great Britain by
Brown, Watson Ltd.
Brown, Watson Edition published 1963
Brown, Watson Edition reprinted 1966
Corgi Edition published 1969
Corgi Edition reprinted 1972
Corgi Edition reprinted 1978
Copyright © 1963, 1966 by Brown, Watson Ltd.
Copyright © 1969 by Transworld Publishers Ltd.
Conditions of Sale
1. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade
, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise
without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published
and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
2. This book is sold subject to the Standard Conditions of Sale of Net Books and may not be re-sold in the U.K. below the net price fixed by the publishers for the book.
This book is set in Times 10/11 pt.
Corgi Books are published by Transworld Publishers Ltd.,
Century House, 61—63 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, London, W5 5SA
Made and printed in Great Britain by
Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press), Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk
The wagon showed up like a black sheep on a snow-bank against the dull greys, browns and greens of the Dragoon Mountains. Originally it had been one of the big, four-horse, covered wagons which made the great cross-continental trails, taking travellers from the East to California. Instead of the canvas-covered top the sides were now made of wood, squarely built. The right side was made in two pieces, the outer of stout wood, serving as a stage, for this was a medicine show wagon. On the false side and the real sides, in glaring red, gold-edged letters, against the yellow of the wood, was emblazoned a message to the world.
‘DOCTOR ERAZMUS K. THORNETTS SUPERIOR
MADAM FIONA . . . . World’s Strongest Woman
THE MASKED MARKSWOMAN . . . . With Her Rifles
MAGDALENE AND SHARON . . . . . . Acrobats
Janice . . . . . With Songs You Love To Hear
Rosemary . . . . Graceful, Artistic Dancing’
With its red-spoked wheels to augment the other colours the wagon made quite a vivid splash in the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains. It was no more or less garish-looking than any other medicine show and offered a better selection of entertainment than most. The owner of the show, Doctor Erazmus K. Thornett presented an air of sober respectability to the wagon. It was an air which never really deserted him, not even while out on the trail, wearing an old, collarless shirt and trousers.
In town, dressed in his stylish, though just a little old-fashioned, black cutaway coat, fancy vest and elegant white trousers, he oozed respectability and confidence. His rather pompous, sun-reddened face and white hair helped his appearance. Even the fact that he always carried a Merwin and Hulbert army pocket revolver in a shoulder holster, did nothing to detract from his appearance. Rather it gave him an added touch of respectability and poise, a kind of dignity. It showed him as a gentleman who must be prepared to defend his life, property and honour in a hard land.
Taken all in all it would have come as a shock to many people that this elegant, learned-looking and educated-talking man was not a qualified doctor and never even attended any formal school of medicine. That did not make Doc Thornett a complete quack for he’d been thoroughly taught in the medicine show arts by a doctor who was struck from the rolls. Thornett could diagnose most ills which came his way and knew the best cures for all of them. He was an acknowledged expert at setting bones and removing bullets, two of the Western doctors’ most common duties. He also pulled teeth with as little pain as possible, and there were several children who came into the world aided by his skilled attention.
So, even though his Superior Elixir was not the omnipotent cure-all he claimed it to be, he himself served a useful purpose. His medicine was harmless, did not taste bad, his show entertained and most folks thought they were getting their money’s worth out of both. In the West there were few doctors, and at times Thornett served a very useful purpose, for he travelled to small villages where regular doctors but rarely came.
‘We’re headed for the wrong place this time, Doc,’ said the woman who sat by Thornett’s side on the wagon box.
‘And why, Phyllis me dove?’
Phyllis Lanley was anything but dove-like in appearance. She was a good-looking woman in her late thirties, middle-sized and stockily built. There was a tanned, healthy, happy air about her and her body, although plump looking, was hard and firm fleshed without any fat. Her red hair still was its own colour and untouched by any aids against the greying of time, her skin was losing the youthful texture but not much. She wore an old shirtwaist which was strained by her swelling bust, her old jeans were tight at her hips, her arms and feet bare. The arms were strong looking, and hard muscles rolled under the skin, for she was Madam Fiona, the strong woman. Naturally strong, judicious fakery helped Phyllis to appear even stronger when she did her act. Her four daughters were the rest of the cast. They were in the back of the wagon and dressed in the same way as their mother.
Three of the girls leaned on the back of the wagon box, looking over Phyllis and Thornett’s shoulders. Molly, the oldest girl was at the right. She was a plump red-haired girl, pretty and talented. She was the Masked Markswoman and Magdalene of the acrobatic act, good at both and a possible successor to her mother’s crowd-drawing act. In the centre was Patty, red-haired, pretty, hot-tempered and slim; she appeared as Sharon and was a skilled contortionist. Rosemary, or Rosie as she was always called by the others, stood at the left. She was a slim, good-looking blonde, pleasant, a good dancer, but by far the most naïve of the girls.
The last of the girls, Rosie’s twin sister, Janice, was inside the wagon. She sat on the lid of a box which contained the troupe’s costumes, reading the words of a new song. Janice was blonde, plump and the best-looking of the girls. She was also the most house-proud. It was Janice who, besides her singing, took care of the affairs of the troupe. The others helped with the chores but Janice was the only one who gave any thought to the state of the food supply, or the purchasing and repair of clothing. Her voice was very good, and Thornett hoped one day to get her on the legitimate stage.
The towns the show played were rough, raw, rugged and proud of the boast that they’d never been curried below the knees. The men were fighters, the saloon girls and poorer townswomen, proud of their ability in a hair-yanking battle. So Phyllis became a bare-knuckle boxer and later added the claim that she was Champion of the World. A strong woman’s act was an open challenge to the rough girls of the towns, and Phyllis learned to look after herself.
Even though he would rather not have been going for the fight, Thornett was not sorry to leave Tucson behind. The town was too big and civilised these days. A town with two resident doctors and a dentist was of no use to Thornett, for people tended to go to them rather than to him. Out at Fort Owen it would be different; the soldiers were cut off from civilization and would welcome a visit from the show. It was more. than likely they would want to bet on their challenger, so Thornett was planning to make a stop at Baptist’s Hollow and raise some extra cash.
The wagon, pulled by the four big, matched black horses, was following the main stage-coach route. Route was a grandiloquent name for the scar left by the wheels of many vehicles. It followed the smoothest, easiest route, one once used by Apache war parties and there were few better natural surveyors of land than the Apache. On either side rolled off barren land, marred by stinkwood, cholla, cactus and prickly pear. Even the sparse grass looked yellowish and unpalatable to animals. All in all the landscape looked what it was, a hard, harsh, raw land. Until only a couple or so years ago it was the roaming land of the Apache nation.
Looking around her Phyllis felt a dislike for the land. There was none of the rich, lush green of the Texas cattle country or the orderly neatness of the farm lands of the Mississippi. This country was harsh and unpleasant compared with either of them. For all that Phyllis would rather be out here than in the town of Baptist’s Hollow.
‘Let’s just collect supplies, Doc,’ she suggested. ‘We needn’t take the wagon in. Janice and I can walk in and bring out all we’ll need to get us to Fort Owen without taking the wagon.’
‘Most certainly not, me dear. Our good friends, Sergeants Magoon and Tolitski, will have money to wager on your fistic encounter and we can always use money. Can we not?’ Thornett said pompously, beaming at Phyllis. ‘The more we wager the more we will win, without the risk of coming too close to the proverbial blanket in the inconceivable event of your losing the pending bout of fisticuffs. True, money does little or nothing to purchase happiness, yet it goes far to allowing one to be miserable in comfort.’
Phyllis laughed as she heard Thornett once more expressing his views on the subject of money. She knew it was no use trying to dissuade him once his mind was made up. Yet Phyllis did not relish the idea of going into the hostile town, for hostile she knew it would be. There’d been other hostile towns in their travels, they’d been won over by Thornett’s eloquence or the show. This town was different, it wanted no part of them and would treat them as undesirable aliens.