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Sandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock online

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this night." He pulled out the rod and spat on the



THE CAVE 155

end that was beginning to glow dully. "J ust a touch
or so, a bit o' persuadin' to wake 'em up an' ye'll see a
pair o' lambs! Tis but a good old gipsy trick, I'm after
usin' on 'em! Are ye ready, me buck, to hold the darlin's
while the shearin's on? If there's bleatin' to distress your
ears or wake the neighbors, just roll up their heads in
the blanket an' sit on 'em. There's precious few will
hear anything in this wilderness, I'm sayin'!"

Sandy Flash rose from his knees, holding the smoking
bar of iron in his hand. Dougherty felt covertly for the
knife in his stocking. He had no fear of Dave, misjudg-
ing the strength of the lad because he was a boy in size,
but Bob's great build and play of muscle had not been
lost upon him earlier in the day when he had tied the
wounded boy's wrists. Shackled as both youths were,
he would take no chances.

As the outlaw crossed the cave, Dave stirred uneasily
and awoke. For an instant he did not know where he
was, but the bite of the anklet as he shifted his feet
brought back his surroundings with an unpleasant shock
of reality. It also awoke Bob. The big lad groaned,
as he turned and felt the sting of his shoulder. Then,
simultaneously, the boys caught sight of Sandy Flash
standing over them with the dull glow of the iron in his
hand. Neither lad realized at all what he was about.

The scene held motionless for a full half moment in
the shifting murk of the cavern. Then three things hap-
pened at once.

Dave, awake at last and half mad with terror, caught
the pungent taste of hot metal and saw the purpose of
the bar in the outlaw's grasp. Dougherty forestalled the



156 SANDY FLASH

lad's attempt to move by throwing himself bodily across
both boys, meshing them helpless under his own great
weight in the tangling folds of the blanket. Sandy Flash,
quick to seize the opening offered, bent forward and
snatched with his free hand at Dave's arm, as the boy
writhed in helpless panic to squirm away. The lad's
sleeve ripped sharply, then tore off. The bared flesh
gleamed white to the shoulder as the muscles whipped and
strained beneath the skin. The highwayman exerted his
strength with a sudden wrench that forced the boy's
elbow backward, bent cruelly tense against his knee.
Dave's breath sucked gaspingly. Suddenly Flash started
and turned his head.

A whistle had sounded without the cavern. Very thin
and faint, but none the less a whistle, rising and falling
twice in unmistakable notes.



CHAPTER VIII
THE ESCAPE

AS long as they lived Dave and Bob never went
through such a moment of mental agony as that
immediately preceding the note of the whistle. It was
as though some unseen power had laid hold upon the
four actors in the cavern's drama and held them motion-
less. Though inert in body, the boys were active in
mind, most torturingly so. They knew they were help-
less. They saw what the men were about. What had
prompted such a sudden attack of fiendish cruelty upon
them, neither lad could guess. It was enough to feel
themselves crushed beneath the bulky form of Dougherty,
tangled in the folds of the blanket, their feet chained
fast together with Sandy Flash and his smoking bar of
iron bending over them.

Bob had been slower to awake than Dave; longer at
a loss to know what had happened. The weight of Mor-
decai Dougherty upon him and the smothering fold of
the blanket pulled over his head had goaded the boy to
fury. The stab of the wound lent its spur to the fight.
It was in the tearing and writhing of his struggle that
the covering was ripped to one side and he caught sight
of Dave's arm bent backward in the outlaw's grip. For
the first time the shocking horror of it struck him. Bob
braced himself for the effort and tore one hand free.
Then with a scream of rage and pain the lad smashed

157



i 5 8 SANDY FLASH

his fist upward, seeking Mordecai's face. The man
dodged by ducking, driving his chin deep into the bullet-
ripped shoulder where the boy's knuckles could not reach
him. At the same time he caught the flailing arm and
pushed it above the lad's head.

Bob, coming into his full growth, was fit and clean
and hard as nails from the out of doors, nearly as strong
as the blackguard pinning him down had the fight been
fair. Drink and foul living had long left their mark
on Mordecai, so that his life told in the scales against
him. But the lad was wounded. The odds were too
high; the man won. The quick, agonizing push of Dough-
erty's chin into the throbbing shoulder was more than
any one could bear without a flinch. That slight shudder
of pain gave the brute on top his chance. He was instant
to seize it. Bob set his teeth and went rigid from neck
to heel as he fought the pressure inch by inch. His breath
came in long pants that broke from his lips with sobs.
Every muscle in the well-knit body stretched and quiv-
ered with the strain. Sweat stood out on the boy's
forehead in spite of the cold. With his free foot he
scratched for a purchase on the slippery stones. If only
he could get his other hand loose from the blanket wound
tight about him! Again the breath broke from the boy
in a coughing sort of groan as his chest relaxed a little.
It was piteous. Bob's lips drew back from his clenched
teeth, his eyes set in the torture of effort, but Mordecai
let the whole weight of his body push the arm upward.
Slowly it began to move. Muscle and nerve and sinew
could stand no more. The boy sobbed out another gasp
and went limp, his arm at full length above his head.



THE ESCAPE 159

Dougherty reached like a flash with his free hand to help
his chief, pinning Bob's arm helpless with his left.

Then it was that the whistle had sounded.

The next two minutes passed in a confused nightmare
for the prisoners. Terror, hope of rescue and pain blinded
them to what was taking place. All they knew was that
Sandy Flash had sprung upward, dropping Dave's arm.
Mordecai grasped it by the wrist before the wiry lad
could wrench it away. The man still lay sprawled upon
them, mashing them down. Flash paused, then tossed
the iron bar upon the hearth, where it fast lost its reddish
glow. Then he disappeared in the narrow crevice that
gave exit from the cave. Dave and Bob felt the crisis
passing for the moment at least. Dougherty seemed to
sense the change in their tense bodies. He let go his
hold and scrambled to his feet. The dirk gleamed in
the candle light as he drew it from his stocking, but he
could have spared himself the trouble. The boys sat up,
crowding back against the wall. Neither spoke. The
pounding of their hearts smothered them.

A shuffling of steps in the passageway and the outlaw
was back. A man in a long riding cloak and three-cor-
nered hat edged in after him. The atmosphere cleared.
Dougherty returned the knife to his stocking. Bob gritted
his teeth and felt at the wound. His hand came away
bloody.

"The devil's to pay! " Sandy Flash was white with ex-
citement, his eyes glinting in the firelight like those of
a man who has been drinking. "They've changed the
date. The whole thing's in doubt!"

"To-night, I tell you!" The stranger broke in with



160 SANDY FLASH

quick, sharp tones. "There's scarcely time to get there.
You must act at once!"

"Ye means the gold?" Mordecai Dougherty turned
from the boys. "Doan, he sez to-morrer, as clear as as
clear as ever can be. Not to-day, but "

"They've changed it! Can't ye understand? I tell
ye they've gone an' changed it! Torley here has just
bin tellin' me."

"Moses Doan got word this evening. Late, it was, too
late. He rushed me out to Castle Rock to try to get
you word. With the three of us, he said we might still
be in time!"

"Oh, it's Dick Torley, is it? Me ole pal Dandy Dick!"
Mordecai squinted in the uncertain light. "I couldn't
tell wot ye were, not no ways fer lookin' I couldn't. Very
fine in yer new cloke! Ye've come in the nick, as the
sayin' is! We've just bin busy with these here young
bloods! A kind of barbequin' of 'em, ye might say!"

Sandy Flash had been taking a bullet pouch from a
rude wooden box in the corner. At Dougherty's garrulous
mention of the boys, he whirled round with an oath
that silenced the other. Dougherty had long since learned
to heed his chief. It paid to do so.

"Will ye stand gabblin' an' dawdlin' there all night,
ye " The tone altered as he faced Torley. "When
do they leave the town, Dick? Any change in the road?
Is there to be a guard? If Doan had only minded his
end of the game, we'd stand a show out here. Lettin'
a feller know at this late hour, small wonder if they
pass us by."

"He couldn't help it, Captain Fitz, not possibly, he



THE ESCAPE 161

couldn't. We didn't know ourselves till close by seven
that they'd leave with the gold to-night. They're coming
this way for sure, straight to Head of Elk. The Goshen
Road to the Square, then west through White Horse.
There's one with the money and one as guard. They
feared too many might give the thing away. What are
you doing with the boys? Did they learn of anything?"

Sandy Flash slung the loop of the pouch over his
shoulder and reached for his powder horn. It lay with
a pistol belt on a ledge of stone. Slowly he spat toward
the fire.

"Oh, the boys? No, they had scant chance! They'd
been prowlin' an' pry in' round here for two weeks gone.
Settin' traps. Spyin', like as not. Easy could have bin
anyway. I'd take no risk on 'em. Hurry up, Mort, ye
slowpoke, we've not a second to lose! Can't ye see it's
on the Goshen Road we ought to be this hour gone!
I nabbed 'em this afternoon, Dick, for to keep 'em out
of harm's way till we'd finished the work."

Flash kicked the rod of iron close to the hearth. As
he did so, he glanced at Dougherty, who had started
slightly at the clang of the metal. It was an ugly look
and full of meaning. Quite clearly the outlaw chief did
not see the need of sharing his methods of persuasion with
all his companions in crime. Dougherty scowled back
by way of reply. The man still resented Flash's show
of temper earlier in the day, when the leader had raised
a cudgel to strike him, at the cedar thicket. Mordecai
fairly gasped at the knavery of it, as the other went
coolly on.

"They're quiet enough lads in all an' give no manner



162 SANDY FLASH

o' trouble, but Mort, here, nigh blowed the shoulder off
the big buck. I saved him ; but a pretty pickle it'd bin
for us to be killin' lads the like of them. An' all to no
purpose. Mort always acts without thinkin' that way.
Hot as a pepper! We'll let 'em go safe an' sound, onct
we've turned the trick in hand an' are ready to cut away
for it! " Flash smiled across the cave at the look of stupe-
faction on Dougherty's face.

Bob eyed the stranger deliberately, while he sized up
the man and weighed his chances. Then he addressed
him as the newcomer crossed the rude hearthstone for a
look at the prisoners.

"That's a lie, a straight lie! I don't know who you
are or what you came for, but it isn't true he's telling
you!"

Mort whistled softly to himself. He feared Sandy
Flash more than any one else on earth and his mind
was of such a type that he could not grasp the thought
of another daring to oppose Lim, much less a wounded
boy, like Bob, who had just gotten a taste of what he
might expect. Dick Torley glanced from the lad's
strained face to that of Sandy Flash. Then he smiled.

"The other man did shoot me, that's truth enough, but
Sandy Flash was trying his best to " Bob's voice was
steady.

"Just as you came in!" Dave, shocked to momentary
silence by his comrade's bid for aid, saw the slim chance
of the dare and grasped it. If the outlaws could only
be split among themselves, there might still be some hope
for them. The man Torley seemed of a better sort than



THE ESCAPE 163

his two companions. "The poker! He had it red hot
and tried "

" 'Twas scarin' 'em ; I was after, just puttin' a snatch
o' wholesome fear to 'em, that's all. I'm ready, Dick.
We had a tussle just now as ye came; the big buck nearly
worked loose. Don't ye be botherin' with 'em. Ready,
Mort? We'll rope 'em up an' get down to the road.
We've not a second to lose!"

Bob tried to speak, to tell of the horror they had so
narrowly missed, but the three men had little time to
waste. His words were choked off by the very gag he
had suffered from on the way to the cave. Dave, too,
was tied and muzzled at the same time. Both boys saw
the folly of resistance, so gave in with sinking hearts.
While the men bound his arms and rammed the gag
between his teeth, the younger lad fairly sobbed with
mortification. In his frequent day dreams his imagina-
tion had always gotten him free from such predicaments
with a facility that was flattering, to say the least. Now,
face to face with facts, there seemed to be no way out
of it at all. The suave surface of Dandy Dick Torley
had misled the lad, for the man gave no heed whatever
to his rush of words, apart from an amused laugh. He
knew a thing or two of Flash's reputation. Dave lay on
a rumpled blanket, limp and beaten outwardly, yet in very
despair his wits were keen and active. He had sense
enough to listen to his captors talk, as snatches of it came
to him.

"There's three of us now. That means two in one
place I'll take the other," Sandy Flash spoke in a low



164 SANDY FLASH

tone, but rapidly. "The messenger, the feller with gold,
I mean, he'll be sure to stop at the Square. May have
a change of horses for him there, him an' the guard. Did
they say anything about that in the town?"

"We couldn't find it out. No time. But it's the only
place they could change between here and the Turk's
Head. He won't go that way, either, beyond the Street
Road, so I reckon it'll be at Newtown Square that he'll
get a fresh post of horses."

"Good! Ye'll go there now, fast as ye can. Get near,
but keep hidden. Wait till they reach the inn, then ride
back to the ford of the Goshen Road. Don't let 'em see
ye whatever ye do! When ye get back to the ford, Crum
Creek, right below Echo Valley, where the Boot Road
joins in, turn sharp to the woods on the left. Ye can't
miss it, for Goshen Road's straight as any arrow from the
butt of Newtown Hill down. I'll be there waitin'.
Where's your horse? Then, Mort, here, he can stay
with me. We two will " The words grew indistinct.

The men had done their work. And well. The lads
lay rolled in a heap, half hidden in shadows. Back to
back, their arms were lashed first together, then to one
another, with strips of blanket. Their left ankles were
fast in the leg irons. The gags were securely knotted
behind their heads. The prospect of staying cramped
in such a position on the cold floor of the cave was not
a trifling matter, particularly for the older boy whose
wound had gone quite long enough without adequate
attention. Flash led the way, blowing out the candle.
The two men followed him from the cave. The prisoners
were left to themselves, their bodies a black smudge



THE ESCAPE 165

amid the shadowy play of the firelight. The sound of
their breathing rose from the floor in labored gasps as
they sucked air past the gags that were partially choking
them.

How long they lay there, the boys never knew. At
first, there was considerable light from the sticks on the
hearth. Little by little, the flames died down, as the dry
wood crumbled to a hot glow of embers and the shadows
ceased to leap grotesquely about the walls. Dave began
to shiver uncontrollably as he breathed. Bob's jaws
set hard. This fight against the cold could very well
be the end for both of them and they knew it. It was
the gameness of his struggle to keep himself in hand
that helped the older boy most, for, fighting dumbly, he
put the whole force of his body against the chills that
crept over him again and again. He would not give in.
He would hold himself rigid till the shaking passed.
He would

The stick Flash had used for a gag snapped suddenly
between the convulsive grinding of the lad's jaws. With
a cough of relief, he spat it out, together with the chok-
ing wad of cloth. A trickle of blood ran down his chin
from the scratch where the broken wood had torn the
side of his mouth. That bit of freedom was the one
thing that gave him courage for further effort. That,
and the now constant shivering that passed through his
chum's body. Dave was a wiry boy, lean, with no sur-
plus fat to ward off cold. The dim chill and damp of the
cavern shook him distressingly, biting into his very mar-
row. He knew his danger and was beginning to let the
fear of it get the better of him.



166 SANDY FLASH

"I say, Davey, all right? Can you move at all?" Bob
coughed blood from his mouth. His words were the
first sign the younger boy had of the breaking of the gag.

"If you can, try and wiggle a bit. If only we both
could edge over together, we'd get nearer the fire and
stop freezing to death anyway. Our feet are pretty free,
guess they forgot 'em in their rush."

The very ability to speak, to explain, made the rest
easy easy, that is, apart from the exquisite torture of
scraping the rawness of his wound over the stone floor,
as the husky boy slid his body, inch by inch, toward the
saving heat. He waited each time till Dave seemed ready,
then together the lads gained their hard fought fraction
of space. Tied helpless as mummies, the four wrists
fast together, it took some time to reach the hearth, but
the struggle served to warm them almost as much as
the dying charcoal. Then Bob made his next discovery.

"I say, Dave, if we both turn our heads sideways, I
may be able to get at that gag of yours. Twist round
far as ever you can and bend back your neck. I'll turn
and bite at it. If we really try don't mind how it hurts
we've got to work it now or we'll never do it!"

Gasping with the pain in his shoulder, Bob moved his
head as far to the left as it would go, while Dave craned
his upward from the floor and held it so that the knotted
cloth of the gag came within reach of his chum's teeth.
Never had the boys known the nerve torture of straining
muscles beyond their reach and attempting to hold them
there, but they learned it now. Three times Bob caught
a loose bit of the rag in his teeth and three times he had



THE ESCAPE 167

to let his head fall back. The lad's body ached with
the effort, ached all over with stabs of real and burning
agony, till he had begun to pant as though he had run
a race. The wounded shoulder was forgotten in the
greater pain, but he kept on. The tendons on the right
side of his neck and about his shoulder blades throbbed
agonizingly, literally scorching with pain. The fourth
time he got a grip that held. Then came the test.

Back and forth he worried the knot, an inch each way,
every move gaining a little, every motion costing a hew
fight to resist the desire to let go. He wanted to drop
back and relax, his whole body cried for it, every fiber
protesting with knifelike cuts. The small of his back
suffered most, that, and his cramped arm muscles, as
the sensitive nerve centers rebelled against the unusual
exertion. Dave's neck was twisted round and upward
as painfully, but his lighter build made it easier for
him. Bob's teeth set like a bulldog's in a last desperate
grip, then he let his head fall backward. He could
do no more. His whole body slackened from the strain
all but his jaws and his brain. He bit hard to that
wisp of rag and hung on. The weight tore loose part
of the knot. Savagely he snapped at the remaining end,
gasping and half crying. He could not stand the anguish
in his arms any longer. It was like searing fire. He
could not raise his head again, try as he would to force
his body to the will of his mind but he had ripped the
knotted gag!

Dave did the rest. A minute later he had shaken the
wad from his mouth. "That's something! Oh, Bob, your



i68 SANDY FLASH

arm must be some done for! I can't stand the cramp
in mine much more, but yours with the wound I'm
sorry!"

Bob Allyn lay silent, his eyes shut, breathing hard
and short. The cold was growing more intense and
neither lad could endure much more of it, with their
circulation slowing up as it was. There was now no light
in the cavern except the glow of the ashes which scarcely
served to show them where the fire had been. Bob had
done what he could; the boy was equal to no further
effort in that chill till he should have recovered from
the shock of the wound. Dave felt the relaxing of the
other's body and recognized the danger. They were
hardly bestead and he knew it well enough.

"Come on, Bob, let's try for the cloth on our wrists.
It's only a bit of a rag. We've got to do something or
the cold'll get us! Remember what happened to that
man last winter over in Uwchlan?"

"I certainly do." Bob roused himself with a mutter.
"He rolled up in a wolf's pelt, fur side out, 'stead of next
his body, poor fellow, and they found him in the spring
frozen stiff as a board. Pleasant thoughts you're having,
Dave, seeing we're like to come by the same end, our-
selves. Unless Flash comes back and slits our throats!
That man had a fur to start with, while we've nothing
at all. If only this stone floor wasn't so cold, we might "

"Bob, all we need is something to rub the strips of
blanket against, something sharp. Brace up for a try!
Let's feel for a stone. We'll do it yet!"

Twenty minutes later the lads' arms were free. Their



THE ESCAPE 169

wrists were chafed bloody, but the loosening of the bonds
had been a good deal easier than they had looked for.
The outlaws had left them in the hurry of excitement
incident to reaching the road in time to intercept the
courier. Torley's sudden appearance at the cave and
the message he had brought was enough to upset even
Flash's usual calm, for after a fortnight of effort in
keeping under cover, the change in plans had all but
ruined his chances. Moses Doan had done what he
could in the town, but at best Torley could not have
gained more than an hour or two over the authorities'
mounted agent. Small wonder that the boys had been
gagged without mercy and tied without proper care.

Dave's first move was to throw a pile of sticks on the
fire. He could stand upright and reach about without
making Bob stir at all, as the leg iron had a bit of
leeway in its half foot of rusty links. Then the smaller
boy turned his attention to the wounded shoulder. The
bandage he had put on earlier in the evening had been
rubbed to one side in the scuffle and as Bob had edged
his body, crablike, along the uneven floor. It was not
much of a task, however, to rip a piece from his shirt
and tie the arm up again.

Then the boys set about the problem of freeing their
feet from the shackles. They knew their time was short.
The men might be back at any moment, one of them
at all events. Besides, what with the heat of the new
fire to drive the chill from their bodies and the torturing
cramp gone from their arms, their spirits had picked
up amazingly. Dave was excited as though he had found



170 SANDY FLASH

a new trail in the woodland. Bob was more quiet, as
his blood began to warm him, but the set of his jaws
boded small good for the men who had hurt him when
he was down. The Scotch training in the lad, stern and
straight, cried out rebelliously for fair play. Particularly,
he wanted to match his strength against Dougherty's, the
scoundrel who had kicked him in the side as he lay on
the snow. New courage came to the lad, as he saw their
chances of freedom growing with every moment safely
passed.

"If only we can smash this rotten thing off." Dave
shook his foot angrily till the chain rattled. "We still
might do some good. They didn't know when the men
with the money were to get to the Square at Newtown.
I'm all mixed up, myself, about it."

"We've got to get away from here, that's sure, before
they come back. If we don't, they'll kill the pair of
us. I say, Dave, do you know we might be able to reach
the inn up there, for a fact! I reckon it's a tax collector
they're lying in wait for. That's what Sandy Flash does
mostly. But that fellow from the town looks as if it
was something pretty big. Get that stone by the fire,
Dave, and try to smash the chain. Lam it hard! Lop
it off! If we could break it, it'd be most as good as
getting the whole irons away!"

The stone did the trick. At the third crushing blow,
the rust-bitten links flattened and one cracked partially
open. A twist of the poker by way of a lever severed
the metal entirely.

"That's the stuff! We've got to leave the band on our


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Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 11 of 19)