Clifton Lisle.

Sandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock online

. (page 12 of 19)
Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 12 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ankles, I reckon for a while, anyway."



THE ESCAPE 171

"Tie the end of the chain against our legs with a
strip of blanket and it won't bother us so much. It's
the best we can do now at any rate. Let's hurry!"

The boys worked with feverish haste, binding the odd
links above the metal bands, making the whole thing
as snug as they could. An hour after the men had left
them, trussed back to back and helpless, they were free
and able to move as fast as they wanted despite the
weight of the broken irons on their left legs. In the
dark they could go no quicker than a walk anyway.
Leaving the fire as it was, they squeezed into the crevice
and pushed their way to the natural platform of rock
beneath the thorn screen. Their flintlocks and ammuni-
tion they could not find, although they wasted scant time
in search. Chiefly they wanted to get clear of the rocks
undetected.

From the ledge onward, it was hard to feel their course
in the gloom, but the fog had lifted considerably with
the chill of night and the star gleam of the winter con-
stellations helped them. Once in the oaks that ringed
the massive pile of the Castle, the boys paused to hold
a consultation and to get their bearings aright. It would
not do to rush blindly toward the Square for all they
knew straight into the arms of Sandy Flash once more.
On the other hand, they realized they would have to act
immediately, as it was already after eleven at night and
the rider from town must be nearing the crossroad inn,
if indeed, he had not already passed it.

"Let's keep together this time. We can put up a better
fight that way than by ourselves. If that man ever tries
again to touch us with "



172 SANDY FLASH

"What'll we fight 'em with?" Bob's voice was a low
whisper. "I might have fetched that poker he had, but
now we've not a thing. Bare hands or nothing, I guess
it's got to be."

"I only wish we could have found our guns," Dave
broke in, "but they've hidden 'em somewheres or taken
'em with 'em. I've got this, though." The boy held
out his hand. A long knife sheated in leather showed
up dimly. "It's like the one Dougherty had in his stock-
ing. I found it in the cave back there. We can use it!' 1

"That's the stuff! Let's get our direction and hurry."
Bob looked at the sky. "The Dipper's right over yonder,
let me see, there's the North Star. See it, Dave? Get
it by the Pointers, right over by that branch? We've got
to work along almost due east for the Square. It's quite
a ways, too!"

"Not by the roads though, we can't go. They're on
'em. I reckon they're right below us somewheres now,
Sandy Flash and Dougherty, between here and the Goshen
ford. He said they'd split, you know."

"Yes, and we've got to cross the creek below the Stras-
burg ford to miss 'em. It'll be full of ice, but there's no
other way because they'll likely watch both roads west.
I say, let's hurry!"

As quietly as they could, Dave and Bob hurried over
the frozen ground, trying to work toward Newtown
Square, yet at the same time keeping the forest-shadowed
slope of Castle Rock between them and the place they
knew the outlaws must be. The waters of Crum proved
their greatest obstacle, as they could find no convenient
stones to cross on. The boys, well hidden in the tangle



THE ESCAPE 173

of trees, paused and looked despairingly at the brook
slipping past them. Like deep-piled velvet lay the
shadows on the water, blue-black, impenetrable, unbroken,
near the bank, etching the outline of the forest oaks,
further out, where the star gleam turned the mirrored
surface to a sheen of faintly burnished steel. Silent and
deep and biting cold, it ran, with only a fringing shelf
of ice. To wade meant a midnight soaking to the waist.
Irresolutely, they checked a moment, yet mindful of the
cost of delay.

"What's it to be?" Dave glanced at the water.
"Think you can stand it, Bob?"

"Got to. Looks awfully cold, doesn't it?" The big
lad shivered in spite of himself. Then his mind turned
back to Dougherty and how the man had kicked him
so brutally and so needlessly when he was down. The
boy's lips set thin and hard. "I guess it'll kill the pair
of us with chill, but it's the best we can do, Dave. They're
at the ford and the man is riding toward 'em. I've been
letting you do everything to-night, but it's time we stopped
being babies!"

"I'll try it, if you will! It's kinder more shallower
there at the bend. Hear it purring?" Dave glanced at
his friend, relieved to note the return of energy as the
wound shock wore off under the spur of excitement. To
tell the truth, he had been worried all evening by Bob's
most unusual lack of initiative. Dave had failed to ap-
preciate what the other had suffered from the low velocity
slug of Dougherty's pistol.

"We've got to get in, so the sooner, the better. Come
along!" Bob chose the most likely spot and stepped



174 SANDY FLASH

down. He was really beginning to feel like himself again
for the first time since afternoon.

By luck the brook broadened here and lost proportion-
ately in depth. The boys climbed out on the slippery
eastern bank, well soaked to the thighs, yet dry in body.
Their teeth chattered uncontrollably, none the less, as
they hastened along. Dave shivered, breathing short and
hard, as he took up a jog in hopes of getting warmer,
but the chain about his ankle worked loose from the
cloth and he lost a precious minute in making it fast
again. After that, he contented himself with a brisk
walk. The remembrance of Sandy Flash's face as the
blackguard had strained back his arm and held the hot
iron over the bared flesh was enough to lend courage
to the boy. He thought about it in a puzzled way.

"Bob, what do you suppose they were trying to burn
us with that iron for? We'd not moved nor done a thing.
Sound asleep, too. It seems queer to me."

"I've tried to make that out myself, Dave. All I can
think of is that they're either raving mad or maybe did
it to scare us. That, most likely. To make us tell 'em
something they wanted to know. They sure did scare me!
When I woke up with that Mordecai fellow on top and
saw Sandy Flash most breaking your arm and that poker
of his wheel I'll never forget the look he had on his
face. I say! Like some animal's more'n a man's! Lucky
for us that other one came along when he did!"

"It certainly was! Let's hurry it up, Bob. Think
we'll be in time? This darned old chain is going to be
loose again in a minute! Hang it all!"

Climbing the slope of Newtown Hill was no easy matter



THE ESCAPE 175

what with the snow and the wet clothes and the handicap
of the leg irons holding them back. Suddenly Bob
laughed to himself.

"Reckon I'm going crazy, Dave, but what do you think
I've been scheming over ever since we crossed the creek
back there? I've been thinking of how to get that old
otter we missed the other day."

"Otter!" Dave looked toward his chum in bewilder-
ment. That was the last thing he had been thinking
about. "Are you crazy? What put otter in your head
to-night?"

"Yes, the otter, the big one up in Ridley, you know-
Silly, I reckon, but it's been on my mind as much as
Sandy Flash. Because I know now how to get it. A
sure thing!"

"Won't hold us back any to tell me, I guess. Must
admit I've not been thinking much of traps to-night.
The otter! Of all things! How'll you go get him, Bob?
Salt on his tail or magic pass and magic word?" Dave
laughed a little hysterically. The strain of the last few
hours was beginning to tell on the high-strung boy, as
well it might. Bob, for all his hurt, was the more com-
posed, his stolid nature standing him in good stead. One
would hardly have taken him for the shocked and
wounded lad of the earlier evening.

"No, I'm not joking either, Dave. Really mean it.
It'll work, too. Just you wait and see if it doesn't.
Remember where "

"Look, Bob, we're almost there!" Dave's strained whis-
per broke in. "Vender's the crossroad at Newtown
Square! We're in time!" He vaulted the wayside fence,,



176 SANDY FLASH

forgetful of his chain, and dropped to the ditch below.
The boys had been cutting cross-country and come into
the Goshen Road a couple of hundred yards west of the
Pratt House Tavern. It lay round a bend on the hill,
a little to their right.

"Can you run, Dave? We'd better "< Bob pointed
and cried out.

The lad never finished his sentence.

Things had begun to happen along the narrow stretch
of road that rose sharply before them. The midnight calm
cracked with such amazing suddenness that they paused,
too taken aback for an instant to move.

A shot, an outcry and the sound of shouting recalled
their mission and sent them running up the rising ground
as hard as they could go. Just as they topped it and
caught sight of the white-walled hostelry, another shot
echoed across the snowy pastures.

"It's the fellow from town and the man Flash sent'
here!" Dave pointed, as he ran on, breathing hard
hoping against hope that the chain might not break loose
again from his leg and trip him. "They must have
gotten"

"They're fighting at the inn! We're in time! They're
here! Oh, I say " Bob Allyn hugged his wounded arm
close. "Lookout! We're in for it now, Davey! They're
beginning to shoot!"

Out of the turmoil before them came the rush and
throb of pounding hoofs. A flintlock flared brightly
against the dark and the boys ducked instinctively as
the slug whined overhead, thudding savagely into an oak



THE ESCAPE 177

behind them. Bob grabbed his comrade's arm, pulling
him to one side of the road.

"They're trying for Flash's man on the horse! He's
running away. We'll be hit here next thing I Get low.!
Duck for it, Dave!"

Each knew enough of firearms to treat them with re-
spect. An instant later, they were deep in the shelter
of the ditch, but still stumbling along as fast as they
could toward the inn. The horse thundered past them
in a scud of flying snow, the rider low bent on the animal's
neck, spurring madly, hat off, greatcoat streaming behind.
The lads swung round, as he dashed by, shielding their
faces from the frozen lumps that hurtled back at every
drive of hoofs. The sound of galloping died quickly, as
the man turned the bend and sank from sight beyond the
hill toward Brook's Wood. Bob and Dave still stood
in the ditch, looking after him.

"That wasn't it must have been " Bob rubbed the
pelted snow from his face. "It wasn't their fellow at all!
Not Torley! I say, Dave, it's the man with the gold
and he's heading "

Dave clutched the other's arm convulsively, as he fin-
ished his companion's sentence.

"Straight for Flash at Crum Creek ford! They must
have hit the guard ! "



CHAPTER IX
THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT

WHEN Sandy Flash with his two accomplices slipped
from the cavern at Castle Rock, leaving the boys
cramped and shivering upon the floor, the leader of the
outlaws had already thought out his plan for trapping
the couriers and making off with the gold. He knew the
authorities were moving it under cover of night, depending
more upon the secrecy than upon a larger force to guard
it. The very fact that Moses Doan had got wind of
their change in date showed they were suspicious, wary.
That meant they would do all to push the thing with
despatch, rushing their men post haste toward Head of
Elk, speeded by a change of mounts as often as could
be arranged for in advance. All this Doan had learned
and passed on to Flash through Dougherty and Dick
Torley. It was upon his knowledge of the route they
were to follow that the outlaw based the ambuscade.
With three on his side working together, supported by
darkness and surprise, he had small doubt of the outcome.
On reaching the Strasburg Road below Castle Rock,
Sandy Flash sent Torley to fetch his horse from the
bushes a short distance away. He and Mordecai re-
mained on foot near the ford. Flash was no longer un-
easy about the altered plans, although he had counted
mightily on this particular hold-up ever since Doan first

178




bJD



a

<u
_c



-o
c



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 179

heard of the gold shipment and determined to get it with
his aid. Torley rejoined them a moment later, rolling
up the tether strap that had fastened his horse. The three
men drew under the shadows and talked in low voices.
Sandy Flash repeated his instructions to Torley, stressing
the place where he was to rejoin them after seeing the
courier arrive at the inn. The brook ford and the pitch
of the banks on the Goshen Road would make a place
ideally staged for their purpose. The highwayman had
long since learned the elementary requirements for success
at his dangerous game. He had not the least idea of
courting trouble.

"All clear? By the Boot Road fork near Echo Valley!
Good ye know the country, Dick. Then best o' luck an'
be off!" Sandy Flash nodded up the road.

"There's just one thing, Captain Fitz," Torley hesi-
tated, then spoke on rapidly, "I've thought of. If this
fellow's on guard, as he ought to be, he'll maybe notice
the tracks in the snow and see 'em for fresh. Not one
chance in a thousand, but how about this? Suppose I
get me now to the tavern, watch for 'em to come, then
just as they're changing horses, take a shot at the pair?
If I can wing the guard, so much the better. But the
main thing is that the fellow with the money'll think the
game is up and he'll ride for his life. Whether they're
one or two, they'll pull slow for the ford by Echo Valley
they've got to. Then when they hear no chasing, they'll
think they're clean away. That'll make it all the easier
for you and Mort Dougherty. And I might get a chance
to knock the guard over, at that. It won't take "

"Can ye be sure of it? The folks at the inn'll be warned



i8o SANDY FLASH

before this, small doubt, to have the fresh post ready and
saddled. They'll be up an' about. If ye shoot, they'll
jump in to help 'em quick as a weasel. That'd ruin every-
thing. I think ye'd best "

"I can take my time near the inn and see which carries
the coin. It's a rare fat sum and weighs it, every ounce!
Never fear! I'll know soon enough who's got it. If you
see one coming down the road, he'll be your man. Under-
stand? If there's two, why, you'll know I've missed the
shot. Then you and Mort'll have to handle the pair.
Shall I try it? The scare of it'll help you mightily."

Sandy Flash saw the cleverness of the trick. If it only
succeeded in stampeding or separating the riders and mak-
ing them think that the danger had passed, it would be
well worth while. No one knew better than the outlaw of
the Brandywine that a man is seldom so unprepared as
when he relaxes from a strain. Dick Torley had hit upon
the one thing most likely to bring this about with the least
danger to them all. Flash was clever enough to avail him-
self of anything his followers had to offer provided it
seemed reasonably sure of success. He changed his own
arrangements promptly.

As Torley cantered off, bent on nearing the Square from
the south, Flash and Dougherty hurried into the woodland
beyond the Strasburg Road. Following Crum Creek
through the ravine where they had captured the boys that
afternoon, the men soon came to the Goshen ford. Flash
looked about him with more than his usual care, studying
the lay of the roadside shadows and the shelter of the tree
trunks.

"The fittest place in the Three Counties, me hearty!



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 181

The ford'll make 'em slow to a walk, howsoever fast they
come from the Square. The down slope, ye know."

Mordecai glanced round him. Somehow or other, he
could not feel the enthusiasm of his chief.

"Looks all right to me, Cap'n, but wot I sez is supposin'
they don't come this here way at all? Supposin' they
goes off some'eres else. Wot then?"

"Oh, it's here they'll come, all right, never ye fear.
Doan was sure of it. He told you clear enough, didn't he! "

"So he sez to me larst time I saw him. But wot's to
pay if they don't? That's wot I asks, Cap'n, wot's to pay
if they up an' changes? It's "

"Ye're devilish low to-night, Mort, with all your ifs!
What's ailin' ye? Ye know right well he said they'd fol-
low the Haverford Road from town to the "

"That he did. He told me clearly. From the town to
Couperstown, then over the crick an' on up to the New-
town crossing!"

"Straight to the Square by the Goshen Road. Ye told
me so yourself, when ye came. Your very words. From
the Square on west. It's plain as a Quaker's bonnet! "

"True, I did an' that's Doan's own words. None other.
Luck'll play fer us or agin' us. It's all luck, so wot's
the use o' fightin' it? The place is fit enough to trap the
devil himself in, that it is!"

"There's no better betwixt us an' the Brandywines.
Ye told the truth there. Sure an' the black murk o' fear
is on ye this night, whatever's the cause. Cheer up, me
buck, an' ye'll see the neatest game ye've ever set an eye
to! I only wish the ford was not so near the cave, though.
Means we'll have to clear out o' here the minute we get



182 SANDY FLASH

the stuff. A good thing we got holt o' the boys when we
did. We can leave 'em tied there an' ride for the Valley
hills, hell for leather, or maybe Newlin. Soon as ever
they raise the hue an' cry, some farmer'll find 'em like as
not and turn 'em loose again."

"Frozen stiff as pine cones, they'll be, 'fore mornin', I'm
thinkin', if we lets 'em stay up there, wot with no fire an'
the winter night bio win' over 'em that a-way. It's a damp
hole enough an' they're but yearlings after all. 'Course
we saves ourselves, that's first, but it wouldn't take much
time fer to slip by an' cut the hobbles off 'em."

"I thought ye wanted to slit the throats on the pair of
'em, like a couple o' shotes, a bit ago? Cut 'em off, head
an' tail, branch an' rush, as the parson used to say? Ye're
changin' like a weather cock, me buck, to-night!" Sandy
Flash grinned to himself. He saw that his brutality had
stirred up such sympathy toward the boys as his accom-
plice was capable of. The man took it as a compliment.
"If ye're so tender-hearted, better have stayed in the
town with Doan. It's easier to play the spy there than
the man out here. A deal easier!"

"I only was a-sayin' " Mordecai was apologetic once
more, as he felt that his chief had detected the passing
weakness. In truth, his attitude had changed since the
afternoon. Then, he felt the boys a menace; he had
really tried to kill the big one with his pistol. Now, as
prisoners, he no longer feared them. After all, what were
they but lads.

"Mort, ye've lots to learn. A whole lot!" Flash spoke
with emphasis. "To-night, for one thing. Ye'll be tellin'
Moses Doan a rare tale enough o' the way I was torturin*



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 183

the lads. Small doubt of it, the minute ye meet him.
Well, go ahead an' tell him what ye like, but remember
this. Not once did I touch the boy with the iron. Not
once did I maul 'em like ye did the big one when he was
hurt. Comin' to that, I didn't shoot 'em, either, nor yet
try to kill 'em. You did. See the difference. Mort, me
boy, if ye'd brains, ye might mark reason in all this, but
ye've none, so one minute it's brutal cruel ye be an' the
next ye're repentin' an' weak. An' all the time, ye're get-
tin' nothin' done. But me I only scared 'em once, scared
'em real, while I was at it, an' was fair to gettin' all I
wanted of 'em, an' they not a whit the worse. Come, get
yonder to the shadow an' mind your eyes. I'll take this
side."

Dougherty crossed the road, shaking his head in the
darkness. It all sounded plausible enough, but then he
had seen Flash's face as he had strained back Dave's arm
earlier in the evening. He did not need any explanation
as to that. Dougherty felt again that strange surge of re-
pulsion for the other's bestial cruelty. He had followed
Flash in many a blackguardly undertaking before, but
it had always been man against man not shackled,
wounded boys as opponents. What saving good was
latent in the fellow revolted at the thought.

Quietly the men took their places, one on either side
of the way, both well hidden by the trees. Echo Valley,
dreamy and faint with haze, lay before them, its snow
mist-gray and silver beneath the stars, its peaceful pas-
tures rolling upward to the black rim of Brook's Wood
and the Newtown Hill. Between dark fencerows ran the
Goshen Road, straight as any street from ford to forest.



184 SANDY FLASH

Midnight passed. Meanwhile, Torley, the third of
Flash's band, had been riding hard. Before Dave and
Bob had had time to free themselves and escape from the
cave, he had reached the neighborhood of the Pratt House
Tavern and concealed himself behind a fallen chestnut
tree near the north-east angle of the road. The man had
previously tied his horse in a clump of bushes two hundred
yards away. For almost an hour he waited, hugged tight
in his cloak, as the wind cut sharply across the level up-
land from the Radnor Hills to the east. It was raw and
damp with thaw, but chilling to the bone.

Nearly one hundred years before, William Penn, the
great Proprietory, as they called him, had stood on the
same spot and, noting the spacious plain, prophesied that
here would spring up the first inland town west of his
little City of Brotherly Love. He had called the place
Newtown Square against the time the village should come
into being. To-day, well over two centuries since that
prophecy, all that stands at the crossroad is the ancient
building that housed the Pratt House inn the only sign
of the town that never was.

It must have been well after midnight when a distant
pounding caught Torley's ear. He shivered, then peered
over the log. The throbbing hoof beats carried far in the
still, moist air, but he could see nothing. He waited, listen-
ing eagerly. There could be no mistake. Up the Goshen
Road, the double rhythm told of galloping strides, muffled
and dulled to a thud in the snow, but unmistakably horses
horses coming at speed from the dark. Torley sank to
his knees behind the fallen tree and primed the pan of his
flintlock pistol. At the same moment a shaft of light



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 185

stabbed out upon the whitened road before the inn as the
door opened. Some one came into the yard carrying a
lantern. Clearly the change of horses had been well
timed.

While the light bobbed toward the stables, Torley
looked again over the trunk of his sheltering tree, then
ducked quickly. Two horsemen were in view now, thun-
dering down the road. They were not sparing of their
mounts, either, a hint that they counted on a fresh relay
at the inn. The outlaw had chosen his place well, for it
commanded the crossways, the Pratt House and the roads
that led away from it, north, south, east and west.

Torley could see surprisingly well in the star light, as
the riders drew near. One galloped in advance, perhaps
ten yards, while the other kept hugging the side of the
way, evidently doing what he could to dodge the lumps of
snow tossed back by the leader's driving hoofs. Both men
were armed, the first horseman with pistols, the second
with a short blunderbuss strapped over his shoulder. He,
too, carried heavy holsters at his pummel, marking him as
the guard. Cloaks muffled them against the cold of mid-
night.

It was not for that, however, that Torley searched, as
he sought to keep under cover and see as much as he could
at the same time. Ah, there he had it! The men were
abreast of him now, easing their horses at sight of the inn
and the moving light by the stables. Close tied to the
cantle of the leader's saddle was the outline of a bulky
roll the sort of leather bag used by post boys on the
road. That was the gold! Torley smiled at the ease of
his trick. Then he cocked his pistol.



1 86 SANDY FLASH

The riders jogged past within twenty yards of the man's
position. Torley could hear the faint complainings of
their saddles, as the leather stretched and gave to the play
of the horses' gait. He could catch the sharper tinkle of
curb chains on the cheeks and the occasional click of a
spur buckle next a stirrup. All the little indescribable
sounds of horsemen and their gear. He saw the breath
rings blowing wide from the animals' nostrils, as they
reached at their reins and pricked ears for the warm stalls
beyond. So near was he that he could have shot either
of them with scarcely an aim, but he knew the game he
was playing and waited for the change of mounts at the
stable. Once the gold in that leather cantle roll was on
the fresh horse and the man in the saddle, then it would
be time enough to deal with the guard.

Torley's part in the plot called for skill and no one


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 12 of 19)