Authors: J. T. Edson
A mercenary General in Mexico offered to use his army for the Confederate cause. Belle Boyd, the Rebel Spy, received orders to deliver $15,000.00 as payment for his services. Helping her rode two tough Texans, the Ysabel Kid and his father. Matched against them were the United States Secret Service, determined to prevent the delivery; the French, who wanted the gold for Maximilian; Mexican supporters of Juarez who saw it as a way of freeing their country from foreign domination; and, when word of it leaked out, the worst rabble of murderous thieves the bloody border between Texas and Mexico ever saw.
The lady in the stylish black two piece suit, her red hair neat and tidy, her right hand gently holding a dainty parasol, did not look in the least like the swarthy skinned Mexican peasant girl who, a few hours later, was riding along in a small cart—a cart which appeared to be loaded with nothing more suspicious than vegetables.
And neither of them looked anything like the notorious Belle Boyd!
Only the Ysabel Kid and his father knew that Belle was in fact engaged in the most dangerous exploit of her entire career!
THE BLOODY BORDER
A CORGI BOOK 552 08131 0
First publication in Great Britain
Corgi edition published 1969
Corgi edition reprinted 1972
Corgi edition reprinted 1975
Copyright © J. T. Edson 1969
This book is set in 10/10½ pt. Times
Corgi Books are published by Transworld Publishers Ltd.,
Cavendish House, 57—59 Uxbridge Road,
Ealing, London, W.5.
Made and Printed in Great Britain by
Hunt Barnard Printing Ltd., Aylesbury, Bucks.
“You sure you’ll be all right, ma’am?” the sailor asked doubtfully, looking around the deserted beach illuminated by the beacon fire which had guided them ashore.
“Yes, thank you,” the girl replied, trying to sound more confident than she felt. “My friends will be close by. Carry out your orders.”
With a Yankee steam-sloop approaching through the darkness and the blockade-runner
hove-to at the mouth of the bay, she did not dare delay the boat’s return. Owned by British businessmen responsible for her presence on the deserted beach some miles south of the Mexican town of Matamoros, the
carried a cargo badly needed by the Confederate States and must not fall into Union hands. So she stepped ashore and the men unloaded her two specially-designed trunks. After setting the trunks by the fire, the men returned to the boat. For a moment they hesitated, but a brief flicker of light from the
gave an urgent warning signal. Climbing back into the boat, the sailors set their oars working to turn it and make for the waiting ship.
Watching them disappear into the night, the girl could not hold down a small sigh. Tall, slender, although far from skinny, she had a strikingly beautiful face with strength of will and intelligence in its lines. Despite the hurried departure from the
, and the fact that a blockade runner offered few facilities for passengers, her red hair looked remarkably neat and tidy. She wore a plain, stylish black two-piece suit, the jacket ending at waist level and hanging open over a dark blue shirt-waist. Apart from a single somewhat strangely-shaped bracelet on her left wrist, no jewellery decorated her appearance. Striking an incongruous note under the circumstances, she held a dainty parasol in her right hand.
Even knowing of its presence, the girl could not make out the shape of the
at the mouth of the bay. That did not surprise her, for the ship had been designed, built and coloured for the sole purpose of slipping unseen through the U.S. Navy’s blockading squadrons outside Southern ports. If Captain Horsfell acted as fast as she expected, within five minutes, ten at most, the boat would be back aboard and the
moving away from the danger of the Yankee sloop.
With the ship went her last link to safety if anything should have happened to her escort. That possibility did not escape her, and grew stronger with their non-appearance. While Mexico might be neutral in the War Between The States, it had troubles of its own. The French under Maximilian were fighting to hold the country against Benito Juarez’s Mexican patriots. Either side in the brutal, bloody conflict might find the presence of her escort puzzling and knew of a swift, effective way of solving mysteries. Nor would the French or Mexican forces look kindly on her arrival. From what she had heard, it might go badly with a lone young woman who fell into either side’s hands in such a lonely area.
Hearing a slight sound, the girl turned to see what had caused it. Momentarily her spirits rose at the sight of the six men who came from the blackness beyond the fire; then dropped again as she realised none of them could be her escort. Despite his name, Sergeant Sam Ysabel was no Mexican and all the approaching party could lay at least nominal claim to belonging to that race.
All in all, the bunch approaching the girl struck her as being the most villainous collection of humanity she had ever seen. None wore a uniform, which proved little in a disorganised state of affairs across Mexico. Few of Juarez’s supporters enlisted in an official army unit and fought in whatever clothes came their way. If the men before her belonged to a
band, their appearances hinted at successful campaigning. Their clothing looked garish, too good, over-done in every respect; such as poor men wore when sudden wealth came their way. All carried hand-guns on their belts, ranging from single-shot, muzzle-loading pistols to an 1860 Army Colt. However the knife each man wore at his waist would be his chief weapon. Tall, short, slim or heavily built, one thing all had in common. Their faces bore the stamp of evil, lust and cruelty.
One possibility for their presence came to mind. Ysabel needed men to help his work. For all their unprepossessing appearance, the Mexicans might be working for him. Smuggling goods run through the blockade across the Rio Grande into Confederate hands did not call for the services of saints.
” greeted the short, wiry man in the lead, eyes roaming over her from head to foot in a lecherous, insolent manner.
” she replied. “Are you the men who lit the fire?”
“There’s nobody else here,” grinned the small man.
Walking towards the speaker, the girl happened to glance at the ground by the fire. She saw a blackish patch, different in colour to the sand around it. Raising her eyes, she saw the little man also staring at the discoloration. Then he looked at her with a wicked leer twisting his lips. Moving on, he came to a halt before the girl and his companions started to form a half circle around them.
“What you doing here,
?” the small man asked.
“You don’t know?” the girl asked quietly, standing with feet spread slightly apart and the parasol gripped at the handle and on the folded canopy.
,” came the mocking reply. “The
who lit the fire, he didn’t have time to tell us.”
“He didn’t even have time to pray,” another man went on.
Cold shock bit into the girl at the words. Taken. with that patch of drying blood by the fire, they meant only one thing. Her escort was dead—and his position might be preferable to her own in the near future. Realising the danger of landing on a deserted Mexican beach, it had originally been arranged that the
should remain off shore until her escort arrived. But the presence of the Yankee sloop had deprived her of that means of escape.
If frightened, the girl gave no sign of it. Nor did she allow it to take control and induce panic. Swiftly she reviewed the situation and made her plans to counter its menace. As far as she could see, only one course remained open to her. Yet she must time everything right if she hoped to succeed.
“What happened to him?” she asked in an even voice, as if she believed all was well.
,” the little man answered, giving her correct marital status for the first time. “That’s his blood you’re looking at.”
One of the men, a huge hulk with a brute’s face, pointed to the trunks and commented on them. Then he walked across and knelt by one of them, hands going to the straps buckled about it.
“What’re you doing?” the girl snapped in fair Spanish, going towards the big man. “Take your hands off that.”
“If he does, he can’t open it,
,” the little spokesman put in.
“Why should he open it?” the girl demanded, swinging to face the speaker.
“How else will we know what’s inside?”
None of the other men moved. Watching them, the girl realised they were playing with her as a cat with a mouse. Sneering, lust-filled faces watched her every move and she could guess that they hoped she would provide them with some sport. So much the better; her chances of escape were increased slightly by their attitude.
“Tell him to get away from that trunk!” she ordered.
“Jose’s a bad boy,
,” the little man replied. “Maybe you’d better tell him.”
“And if he doesn’t,” another of the group continued with a grin, “hit him with your parasol.”
“That will frighten him away,” mocked a third.
Watching the big man, the girl walked in his direction. Although still crouching by the trunk, his body was tense to spring when she came within reaching distance. He hoped that she would struggle, it was always more fun when they fought unavailingly to escape from his brute strength.
“You watch her good, Jose!” warned the little man. “She’s going to hit you with that parasol.”
“I heard!” Jose rumbled and started to thrust himself erect.
Considerable experience had turned Jose into something of an expert on the subject of rape and he felt that he could guess at the girl’s reactions. She would either stand still, paralysed with fear, turn and flee, or make a feeble, futile attempt to fight him off. On previous occasions, given the chance, his victims did one or the other.
Only the girl did none of them.
Instead she advanced to meet him, approaching before he reached his feet. With a twist of her left hand, she separated the parasol’s head from the handle and let the upper section fall. Doing so revealed a small steel ball around which her first two fingers curled. At their pull, the ball slid out of the handle on a short steel rod which telescoped into a powerful coil spring. No longer did she hold a harmless piece of feminine frippery, but gripped a deadly weapon.
Just how deadly she rapidly proved. Out flashed the parasol handle, driven by a snapping motion which imparted a savage whip to the spring. Taken aback by the girl’s unexpected action, the burly man hesitated. Coming around, the steel ball caught him at the side of the jaw. Bone cracked audibly and Jose pitched sideways. Limp and unresisting as a pole-axed steer, the big body sprawled on to the sand.
After drawing the striking head of the spring-loaded blackjack from its place of concealment, the girl’s left hand flew to her waistband. A tug at a strap freed the skirt, allowing it to fall away even as she struck the man. Taken with the sight of Jose going down, the girl’s action shocked the remainder of the Mexicans into immobility. Rapacious eyes followed the skirt as it slid downwards, to be met with disappointment. Instead of seeing what they hoped for, the men discovered that she wore riding breeches and boots under the skirt. While fitting tightly enough to emphasise the shape of her legs, the breeches lacked the attraction underwear and stockings would have offered.
Expecting to be met by friends, or at least supporters of the Confederate States, the girl had decided against strapping on her gunbelt and its Dance Brothers Navy revolver when dressing to leave the ship. She wished to avoid adding to the interest her departure from the
at such a place aroused among its crew and the gunbelt’s contours would have been noticeable even beneath the skirt.
Although she regretted the omission, the girl wasted no time in brooding on it. Unsure just how much of a respite her unexpected actions might have gained, she intended to make the most of it.
Already the little man was recovering from his surprise. Springing forward, he shot out his right hand to catch hold of the girl’s back hair. It felt stiff and unnatural to the touch; a fact that barely registered before he received a shock which drove all thoughts of it from his mind. He intended to jerk her backwards, inflicting sufficient pain to make her drop the deadly thing which had felled Jose.
At the pull, the whole head of hair came away in the man’s hand. Expecting some resistance, the lack of it caused him to stagger backwards. Boyishly-short black locks now replaced the full covering of red hair which had previously adorned the girl’s head.
The sight added to the men’s confusion and held them frozen. To their illiterate, superstitious minds what appeared to be a full scalp coming away at a touch—and without its owner exhibiting the slightest discomfort at the loss—seemed miraculous, awe-inspiring even.
“Get her!” screeched the little man.
At the sound of his voice, the other men jolted from their daze; although, fortunately for the girl, not all at once. Snatching at the knife in his belt, one of the men flung himself into her path as she started a dash for the darkness. His other hand thrust forward to catch her right wrist as the blackjack licked his way. Instantly she whipped up her other arm, driving it at her captor’s face. Her fist did not strike the man, in fact she appeared to deliberately avoid it doing so. Instead she raked the bracelet down the man’s cheek. A screech broke from the man’s lips as blood gushed from the gash which followed where the bracelet touched. Releasing her wrist and his knife, he stumbled away with hands going to the injured cheek.
Hoping to take advantage of his companion’s efforts, yet another of the Mexicans flung himself forward. The girl pivoted around fast. With the smooth grace of a ballet dancer, she whipped up her left leg in a kick. Unable to stop himself, the man ran full into the rising boot. It smashed with considerable force against his jaw and sent him reeling aside. Only just in time did he avoid going head-first into the fire.
It could not last, of course, and the girl knew it. Once the men threw off their state of surprise, they would quickly overpower her. Then—she did not want to think of that eventuality. So she must make for the darkness and hope for the best. One thing she swore: when she left the illuminated area of the fire, she would make them pay heavily and in advance for anything they might do if they caught her.
Lashing around with the parasol handle-blackjack, she caused a man to make a hurried spring rearwards, and prepared to dart away. With a spitting snarl like a hound-scared cat, the man jerked the revolver from his belt to line it at the girl. At the same moment the smallest of the party slid out his knife and moved forward. There would, she knew, be no time to deal with both threats, even discounting whatever action the remainder of the gang might take.
A shot crashed from the darkness before the man could complete the cocking and firing of his revolver. Nor would he ever manage to do so. Lead ripped into his head, spinning him around and tumbling him lifeless to the ground.
Bursting from the darkness, two armed men dashed towards the fire, the taller—a powerfully-built, black haired men wearing a battered Confederate campaign hat, buckskin shirt, pants and Indian moccasins—held a smoking Dragoon Colt in his right hand. A long-bladed knife hung sheathed at his waist. Although he looked a wild, dangerous figure, the girl welcomed the sight at that moment.
Dressed in the same general manner, the second of the newcomers was tall, slim and looked very young. Bareheaded, with raven black hair, his Indian dark features bore a savage expression. He reversed his companion’s system of armament in that his walnut-handled Dragoon Colt rode butt forward in its holster and he held the knife in his right hand; and such a knife. Two and a half inches wide, its eleven and a half inches long blade’s top side swooped down at the end in a concave arc to form a needle-sharp point with the convex curve of the cutting edge. Firelight flickered on the knife, adding to the wild aspect of the youngster.
Swinging around, the small Mexican saw the younger figure rushing at him. From all appearances, the youngster was allowing recklessness to over-ride caution. Certainly the small man seemed to believe so. Out licked his knife in a low, driving thrust aimed to disembowel the rash intruder. Even as the girl thought to scream a warning, the youngster swerved in his tracks. The big knife moved, curving around to catch and deflect the blow launched by the Mexican. Then it drove forward. Shock momentarily twisted the little man’s face, to be wiped away by pain. Razor-sharp steel sank into his belly and ripped across. As the knife slid free, blood and intestines gushed from the gaping wound it left.
Accustomed to sudden death through she had been forced to become, the girl could not hold down a gasp of horror at the sight. To her ears came the youngster’s low-voiced grunt, but she could not understand what he said.
” he barked, almost as if taking part in some barbaric sacrificial ritual. The word left him before his victim landed face down by the fire.
There was no time to wonder what the word might mean, or give way to the nausea welling inside her. From the corner of her eye, the girl saw a Mexican pulling out his pistol. Leaping forward, she whipped her blackjack in a backhand swing that drove its steel-ball head into his face. Teeth shattered and he reeled back with his mouth spraying blood. An instant later the big newcomer’s Dragoon boomed and its .44 bullet struck the man in the left side of the chest. Such was the impact of Colonel Colt’s hand cannon that the man hurtled backwards when hit.
Out at sea, something streaked sparking redly into the air and burst into a brilliant white glow of light that drifted downwards again. Knowing it to be an illuminating rocket from the Yankee steam-sloop, the girl felt a momentary alarm. Then she realised that it had been aimed to explode over the beach, which meant that the enemy ship had not become aware of the departing
. Probably the sound of shooting had carried across the water and the sloop had sent up a rocket to expose whoever did it. Telescopes would be pointing towards the beach, possibly some of them powerful enough to make out the nature of the fracas. In which case, seeing three obvious
Americanos del Norte
fighting with a bunch of Mexicans, an investigation would surely be made. There were sufficient deserters from both sides in Mexico to arouse the interest of the Yankee captain, without him guessing the true nature of the trio, and to cause him to attempt their capture.
Clearly the Mexicans realised the danger, those in a position to do so. At the first warning glow of the exploding rocket, the two men still on their feet—one of them holding his bracelet-slashed cheek—turned and fled. Looking like a charging cougar, the youngster launched himself after them.
“Let ‘em go, Lon!” barked the big man.
At the words, the youngster skidded to a halt and turned. While the rocket’s glow had died away, the fire still gave sufficient light for the girl to study her rescuers closely. Hard, tough as nails, but without the vicious, inhuman cruelty of the Mexican attackers was how the big man struck her: and she prided herself as a judge of human character. For all his shaggy black hair, buckskins and generally unsoldierly appearance, she felt sure that she could identify him.
Then she looked at the second of her rescuers. All the savagery had left his face. Suddenly it took on a handsome cast of almost babyish innocence, apart from the reckless glint that remained in the red-hazel eyes. Young he undoubtedly was, yet she gained the impression that he had spent hard, wild years of growing that had left an indelible mark. Walking across to the man he had killed, the youngster bent down. Such had been his actions on arrival that, taken with his Indian-dark skin pigmentation, the girl thought he meant to scalp his victim. From what she had heard, although her personal experience did not support it, Western men sometimes took scalps. However the youngster did no more than clean the blade of his knife on the body’s clothing, then dropped it back into the sheath at the lest of his belt.
Before the reaction to her narrow escape, or to how the small Mexican had died, could strike the girl, the big man came up.
“Southrons, hear your country call you,” he said, twirling the Dragoon’s four pounds, one ounce weight on his finger and dropping the big revolver butt forward in his holster.
Relief flooded over the girl and the tact that the man’s words formed the opening line to General Albert Pike, C.S.A.’s stirringly patriotic version of Daniel B. Eminet’s song ‘Dixie’ did not entirely account for it. Maybe her rescuers looked as wild and reckless as the hairiest of the old mountain men, but the taller of them had given a password known only to a few.
“Up lest worse than death befall you,” she replied. “You must be Se—.”
“We’d best get going, ma’am.” the man interrupted. “There’ll be a Yankee ship out thatways, I’d reckon.”
“Figures. No blockade runner’d be sending up rockets that ways. Warn’t there nobody here when you landed?”
“No. I thought that you would be when I saw the beacon.”
“Right sorry about that, ma’am,” the big man apologised, sensing the undercurrent of anger in her voice. “See, we’d just lit up when—.”
“There’s a boat coming,
,” the youngster put in, nodding towards the bay.
Swinging around, the girl stared into the blackness; but could make out no sign that he spoke the truth. However the man appeared satisfied with the warning.
“We’d best get going, ma’am,” he said. “Grab a hold of that pannier, boy. I’ll take the other one.”
“Beach ahoy!” bawled a voice from the bay. “Stand fast there!”
“I’d as soon not,” drawled the big man, striding towards the trunks.
A point the girl found herself in complete agreement with. However she did not wish to abandon her property. So she darted to where her skirt lay and picked it up, then snatched the parasol’s head from the sand. Just as she turned to follow the men, she remembered the wig.