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knew it better than he. If he fired a second too soon, the
courier might dash back for the safety of the inn. If he
fired too late, he might miss the guard altogether. His
task was to make the horsemen think the attack had come
from the tavern to force them to flee from it. The out-
law half wondered whether it would not have been better
to have held by Flash's original scheme and fallen upon
the men, three to two, at the ford, far away from any
possible help. It was too late for that now, of course.

The scant time lost in changing horses gave token of
the value the couriers set upon speed. They swung from
their saddles before they left the road. Torley could see
them loosening their girths, as the horses moved toward
the stables. The light reappeared in answer to a hail, and
the hostler ran into the yard. A moment later, he dis-



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 187

appeared again, leaving the lantern on the ground. Tor-
ley steadied the long-barreled pistol on the log and aimed
calmly, deliberately, swinging his sights from one to the
other as the two men moved about, unsaddling. Just as
the stable boy came into the lantern glow, pulling the
fresh post horses behind him by their halter shanks, the
inn door opened again and another man came out. Tor-
ley did not know him, though, as a matter of fact, it was
the keeper of the tavern.

The four men spoke together in low tones, so low that
the outlaw could not catch a word, but he could see that
they were in a hurry from the manner in which the bridles
were slipped over the animals' heads and the saddles re-
girthed. Then the hostler picked up the light and held it
high, as one of the men felt at the buckle of his throat-
latch and let it out a hole. Silently they mounted and
turned from the yard. Torley covered the guard, moving
his pistol carefully as the horsemen came toward him out
the gate. He could not miss. The light was advantageous
here, throwing both men and horses into black silhouettes.
The man with the cantle roll turned to the left on the
Goshen way, gathered reins and clicked to his mount.
Torley waited an instant, noted that they were taking up
the same positions they had followed in coming to the inn,
then saw the leader's horse start with impatience at the
touch of roweled spur. He paused a few seconds more
and knew that the time had come. He fired. It was
almost point blank. His arm was steady.

That was the shot that came to the ears of Dave and
Bob Allyn, as they hastened up the hill from the west.
At the flash of the flintlock, the leading horseman, he who



188 SANDY FLASH

had been on the point of a gallop anyway, drove both
spurs into his mount's flanks with a slashing rip. Down
the slope he charged with never a glance behind, past the
unseen lads in the ditch, round the bend and out of sight.
The innkeeper shouted and turned for the door of the
house, seeking a weapon. The hostler, almost in direct
line of fire from Torley's pistol, saw the flash across the
road, caught a passing second's blur of white face behind
it, as the powder flared in the pan, then dropped his lan-
tern and ran. It was quite the wisest thing he could have
done, for Torley had let go the firearm the instant he had
pulled the trigger, and reached for another in his belt. A
blind shot from the landlord in the doorway had been the
second report heard by the boys.

Torley had paid no heed to it, whatever, but calmly
discharged his fresh pistol along the Goshen Road. It
was this which had sent its leaden slug pinging just over
the heads of the two lads. Torley had purposely fired
wide. He did not see Bob or Dave at all, but wanted to
make sure that the courier would not risk coming back
to help the other man.

The guard lay on the ground, pinned beneath his dying
horse. The bullet had entered the poor beast's body
back of the shoulder and bowled it over before the startled
rider could jump clear. At first Torley had intended to
aim at the man, then at the last moment he had unac-
countably lowered his sights and shot for the horse. It
would serve his purpose quite as well and, after all, save
needless murder. Seeing the animal down, lashing out
its life in spasmodic kicks, and the man fast in the stir-
rup irons, unable to rise, Torley replaced the pistols in



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 189

his belt and ran for the shelter of the trees before the
people at the tavern could rally to pursue him. He wanted
to reach his horse and from that point of safety await de-
velopments.

By the time Dave and Bob Allyn had raced up to the
Pratt House, slowed in their efforts by the metal round
their ankles, the innkeeper was out in the yard, reloading
his flintlock and peering across the white-gleaming fields
for some sign of the lone attacker. The stable boy had
returned from the shelter of the sheds. The lantern had
been overturned in the rush and gone out, so the landlord
sent the hostler on the run for another light. Then he
and the boys hurried over to the man in the road, still
pinned close beneath the struggling horse. The poor
brute stiffened convulsively, as they neared him, and
seemed to hold its breath. Then with a groaning sigh,
long drawn and truly piteous to hear, it twisted its head
and neck far up over its back. A slow shudder shook the
body and the head thudded limp, while the legs extended
to their full length. The lips strained back from the teeth
in ghastly fashion and the agony passed. Bob, seeing the
animal was done for, bent to drag the man from beneath.
The death of the horse and the blood-stained snow made
the boy weak, for a moment, and a little sick, but he kept
well in hand and fought it off.

"Where are you hurt? Did it were you hit, too?"
Only then did the lad see that the man lay heavily, not at-
tempting to extricate himself. "I say, Dave, he is hurt!
We'll have to roll the horse off him. Quick! Maybe he's
shot somewheres ! Pull at his cape ! "

It was a well-nigh impossible effort as one can realize



I 9 o SANDY FLASH

who has tried to move such a mass of limp and unman-
ageable weight, but between the four of them, they suc-
ceeded at last and drew out the unconscious form. The
man was not badly injured, as they saw to their relief,
once they had gotten him clear. His head had struck
heavily in falling, knocking him out for the time being.
His eyes opened, as they eased him to the snow. Evi-
dently he recognized the innkeeper, for he struggled to sit
up. Then he felt at the side of his head and motioned
toward the horse.

"The saddle! Hurry!" The man tried desperately to
rise. "The oh, can't you get it! They'll be back
caugh ah ugh " He groaned, reached awkwardly for
his forehead and fainted a second time in the hostler's
arms.

Dave's ear alone caught hint of meaning, as the mutter
trailed off into snoring gasps of unconsciousness. He saw
Bob and the innkeeper working hurriedly to unloosen the
man's neckerchief. He felt the hostler shift his position
and let the body settle back against his knee. Dave
glanced toward the guard's face. It was blue-gray and
drawn in the lamp light. The boy had a working knowl-
edge of accidents and realized that the blow, as the horse
fell, must have given the poor fellow a slight concussion.
A trickle of blood at the nostrils confirmed this. It would
be many minutes at best before the man could speak. The
catching breath alone told that.

Saying nothing, unnoticed by the others, Dave slipped
round the little group, crossed the road and dropped to
his knees at the side of the dead horse. There, the lad



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 191

felt for the girth straps beneath the flaps. He would
pull the whole thing off, if he could, and lug it to the
house himself. However, he saw almost instantly that
there were no bags there. Bewildered, he began to feel
over the leather in the star light. The man had certainly
mumbled about his saddle the moment he had regained
consciousness. Dave knew he had not imagined it or
heard wrongly. Then the pistol holsters caught his eye
and the boy's mind whipped back to Peter Burgandine
and the ruse the old farmer from Newlin had played so
cleverly on the Edgemont Road. Seizing the butt of the
one he could reach, Dave pulled it free and drove his
hand deep in the case. The bulky holster, made to house
a horse-pistol, ammunition and all, was empty.

Again the lad worked at the girths. He would get the
saddle off at any rate. It was in lifting the flaps of the
old-fashioned skirts that he noted their weight. The trick
began to dawn upon him, even before he could feel and
bend the heavy leather. Dave slipped his hands along the
inner lining, then whistled softly. He had heard enough
from Sandy Flash and his men to know that it was minted
coin they were after, sovereigns of the king. He had it
now beneath his fingers gold, heavy gold, more of it
than he had ever dreamed of.

It was a simple trick and a very old one that the
courier and his guard had played. The guard was the
man who carried the treasure concealed in the leather
skirts of his saddle and in the paneling of the tree. The
whole thing had been slit for the purpose, then stitched
fast. The plan was to divert attention in case of trouble



i 9 2 SANDY FLASH

to the saddle roll shown conspicuously at the cantle of
the leading rider. This was empty. If they were stopped
during their midnight gallop, there would be some chance
for the guard to make good his escape, while the other
was the center of interest on the part of the attackers. As
a matter of fact, both men felt that their main reliance
lay in speed and secrecy. The utterly unlooked-for on-
slaught at the inn, within help of the people there, had up-
set their well-conceived arrangement. The first horse-
man had naturally taken it for treachery on the part of
the landlord, and had gotten clear as fast as he could.
The one with the gold did not know at the time what had
occurred beyond the flash and the fall of his horse. He
was a luckier man than he imagined, for Torley's action
in aiming at the animal, not himself, was entirely on the
spur of the moment.

Dave raised his head to call Bob, then first became
aware that he was by himself. The three figures near the
light had picked up the unconscious man and were mov-
ing with him across the yard, dragging him on his heavy
riding cloak. Thanks to Bob's size and strength, and
despite his wounded arm, they were managing to move
the burden without calling on Dave for help. The younger
boy glanced up and down the Newtown lane. The way
was clear, but it would not do to leave the saddle where
it was unguarded. Two or three minutes were required
before the under flap tore loose from the dead bulk of
the horse upon it and the boy was able to drag it toward
the inn. The whole thing, saddle, holsters and gold, was
more than he could lift clear of the ground.

Had Dave looked to the northeast, across the low fence,



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 193

he would never have walked so calmly through the yard,
nor would he have paused to grip the saddle with one hand,
while he raised the lantern with the other. The land-
lord had left it in the snow. As it was, he did not even
hear the click of Torley's pistol, as the man cocked it
twenty yards away.

The outlaw had run for shelter the moment he had
seen the guard's horse fall in answer to his shot. From
the shadows of a neighboring spinney, he had watched
the man and the boys gather to the aid of the helpless
rider. At that distance, he had no way of recognizing
Dave or Bob. Indeed, he had long since forgotten all
about the lads held prisoners in the cave at Castle Rock.
It was only when he noted Dave leaving the group near
the light and beginning to work over the saddle that he
dared venture nearer. He was half persuaded to turn
back, mount his horse and circling the inn, canter to the
ford, perhaps in time to be of help there. When the boy
bent quickly down, however, and seemed to be pulling at
something heavy, the man could resist no longer. It
would do no harm to satisfy his curiosity and great good
might come of it. Sandy Flash and Dougherty were well
qualified to take care of one scared man between them.

Stepping lightly on the damp snow, he dodged across
the field and slid to cover at the log, where first he had
established his lookout. From here he watched Dave
jerk the saddle loose and start for the tavern. Then it was
he cocked his pistol, half raising it. He could not be sure
what the boy was about. That the gold was actually there,
almost within his reach, he had no way of guessing. Tor-
ley hesitated, then slipped over the fence line to the road.



194 SANDY FLASH

This time his pistol was leveled, steady and sure, as Dave's
outline sprang into sharp distinctness against the flood
of light from the Pratt House door.

Meanwhile, the man with the saddle roll had done ex-
actly what Sandy Flash had hoped galloped fast as ever
he could lay hoof to ground down the Goshen Road, up
the rise to Brook's Wood, then over the hill to Echo
Valley and the Crum Creek ford below. His horse was
fresh and he made the most of it, sparing neither crop
nor spur. For the first furlong, he did not realize that
he was alone, that his companion had gone down under the
shot. Had he known it, he would have reined up short
and fought his way back to help him, for the man had
courage. When he saw what had happened, it was too late
to return in the face of what appeared a clear enough at-
tack from the inn. His one chance now lay in riding on
to the next change, giving the alarm and trying to get back
before the gold in the saddle had been discovered. That
he was not the one shot at surprised him.

At the ford, he eased his mount and played unwittingly,
fatally, into Flash's hands by letting the animal suck up
a swallow or so between his bits. It was while off guard
thus, near the juncture of the Boot and Goshen Roads,
that the highwaymen sprang their dastardly ambuscade
upon him. The cowardly affair was shorter than it takes
to tell it. A shot from the cedars, a rearing plunge of the
horse amid the spray of the ford, a cry that choked off
in a horrible sucking moan that was all. Flash dragged
the man from the water, while Dougherty caught at the
flying reins and pulled the beast to a halt further up the



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 195

road. The two men bent over the courier. He had a
bullet through the neck. Two minutes after the flash of
the flintlock, he was dead, mercifully spared from suffer-
ing, never even knowing what hidden blow had struck him
from the saddle.

A little later, Flash tossed aside the man's waistcoat.
He had searched the body from head to foot, he had gone
over the horse's tack, sparing nothing. In a white passion
of anger, he had ripped the empty roll from the cantle
and hurled it to the creek but first he had blown the
acrid smoke from his pistol barrel and reloaded.

"It's Torley that's ruined the whole thing! The bloody
fool, I might have known it! " There followed a stream of
vituperation whose filth kept even Mordecai silent. "Well,
what are ye standin' there lookin' at me for? The gold's
still gold, ain't it? It's not ours yet, is it? Think I like
killin' a man for the sport of it! Huh?" Flash turned
irritably from the quiet face in the snow. The eyes
stared too fixedly, too wonderingly upward above the
horror of the blood-soaked stock. He did not want to re-
member those eyes. "Ye're damned well mistaken, Mort!
Run quick for the nags at Castle Rock, ye fool, an' stop
your wall-eyed starin'! I'll bide here for Torley or case
the other fellow comes! Run! The gold's at the Pratt
House, man, I tell ye, an' we're goin' there to get it!"

Dougherty turned and bolted through the trees.

Two miles to the east, Dave was, at this moment, pull-
ing the heavy saddle across the tavern threshold. On en-
tering, he found himself in a small room to the right of
the bar. The flicker of a candle on the taproom ceiling
told him where the injured guard had been carried. He



196 SANDY FLASH

could hear Bob's voice there and the hum of the inn-
keeper's tones, but before joining them, his first move
was to shut and bar the east door. The one to the north
was already fast. Little did he suspect the nearness of
the man outside or that he himself had been within an ace
of death. Torley's better judgment had saved the boy,
as the outlaw saw the folly of stirring up a hornet's nest
single-handed and perhaps to no purpose. If they had to
force the place, they would do it together, Flash and Mort
to help him. No doubt the gold was safe in his friends'
hands by now, anyway. He held his fire and slipped into
the shadow of the tavern wall.

The door fast barred, Dave breathed more freely,
though little there was to disturb him in the midnight
calm. He hurried across the room, scraping the saddle
after him on the cleanly sanded floor. At the door to the
taproom, he saw Bob standing beside a long settee on
which they had stretched the guard. The hostler and the
innkeeper were working over his head with some sort of
a wet bandage. Dave wondered vaguely how they could
have gotten it so soon. He saw the man was still uncon-
scious, breathing in long-drawn snores that rattled alarm-
ingly in his throat.

The innkeeper heard the boy at the door and swung
about. In the excitement that followed, the hostler was
left to bind up the guard's head, while Bob and the land-
lord helped Dave rip the saddle. A glance was enough.
The gold was there, far more than seemed possible in so
small a space, but the work had been done cleverly and
the saddle was a huge, old-fashioned affair to begin with.



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 197

The landlord pointed to the little cut they had made in
the leather, where the sovereigns glinted through.

"We can't have this lying round, that's one thing,"
he shook his head. "He must have known of it, the devil
that fired. More'n I did! All they bothered telling me
was to have the post change ready for two and stout
fresh horses at that. They never so much as hinted what
was being carried, the ones who ordered the relay didn't!"

"Oh, Flash had it all from some fellow in the town.
They knew the whole thing. We heard 'em!"

"Yes, and the other one "

"Flash!" the landlord cried out in startled wonderment.
"Sandy Flash! What's this you're saying? Quick, lad,
speak quick!"

Between them, the boys enlightened him as far as they
were able, telling of the plot to seize the gold as they had
heard it from Torley's report to Flash. The older man
knew a good deal of the outlaw from past experience. His
forehead furrowed deeply, as he heard the name of Sandy
Flash repeated and realized the gravity of what was tak-
ing place. Interrupting their story, he dropped the sad-
dle and called to his helper in tones full of anxiety. He
made no effort to conceal how he felt.

"Quick, Jim! It's Sandy Flash again! I might have
guessed it. They'll be on us any minute, when they miss
the gold! The bench, there, shove it against the door!
Run, lad, look to the windows! See to the back door and
the one in the hall that gives on Goshen Road! We'll
hold 'em off! Boys, you'll have to help. We've a gun
or two somewheres! Hunt 'em up, Jim! Take the settle



i 9 8 SANDY FLASH

to the hall and make a barricade! Quick, before they rush
us! Don't bother with that fellow's head, he'll come
round all right. Pile some chairs there!"

The boys did as they were ordered. The heavy settee,
reinforced with an upturned table, was shoved against the
main door, while the other was blocked with ale kegs. It
was the best they could do. The brew was heavy enough,
at that, rich country making. The hostler, Jim, ran
quickly from window to window, testing the oaken bars;
the landlord hastened upstairs to reassure his wife and
see that she kept out of danger. As he came down, he
beckoned to Dave.

"We'll show 'em a fight, lad! I learned a thing or two
about it once! They'll be breaking in any minute now,
like as not, but we'll be good and ready for 'em! Better
get this out of the way, though, first," he pointed to the
saddle on the floor. "Do you mind the pit I showed you
last time you were here? The "

"Under the kitchen closet?" The secret chamber
where the landlord had hidden his silver while Old Bur-
gandine held the light, flashed instantly into the boy's
mind. "Oh, yes, it's back there!"

"Well, get the gold in it quick as ever you can, boy!
You'll find the ladder somewhere. I must help the others.
Here, Jim, run quick with him! Seen to the windows?
Good! Hurry! They may be close about us now ! Bet-
ter keep back from the light

The four defenders were determined to make the best
of it and hold the tavern. The silence and the calm out-
side did not encourage them at all nor mislead them into
supposing that there would be no further trouble. Rather



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 199

it worked upon their nerves and made it all the harder
for them to wait, inactive and tense, expecting something
to happen. The landlord, whispering his orders, crouched
behind a pile of upturned furniture in the hall, flintlock
in hand. Bob, armed with an old-time fowling piece, was
in the taproom, watching the windows. Jim, the hostler,
had a leaded hunting crop which he carried with him, as
he accompanied Dave to the kitchen in the rear. All to-
gether, it was not much by way of armament, but then
the walls of the old stone inn were thick and the doors
and windows barred with oak. Best of all, the little
party had courage. The landlord had not gone in vain
to Louisburg Siege in the old days of '45. He was of
fighting stock and aimed to prove it now as he had with
PepperelPs New Englanders.

Dave hurried through the dim hallway, felt his steps
across the kitchen, and sank to his knees at the closet,
prying for the boards he knew would lift.

Had he not been shown the secret of loosening them
on his former visit, he never could have released them
now. Even so, he took a great deal longer than he should
have, wasting time in nervous haste. When the flooring
had been moved, Dave grabbed the saddle with a sigh of
relief and slung it over the black pit. His hand clasped
the slit in the leather to hold the packed coins in place.
Then suddenly he thought better of it, dragging it back.

"I reckon I'd better take it down myself, hadn't I,
not drop it and spill all the gold? We'd never get it
gathered again. Where's the ladder he had, Jim?"

Making as little noise as they could, the man and boy
searched by touch until they had found it behind a tall



200 SANDY FLASH

dresser in the corner. To lower it into the pit through
the narrow opening was harder than they had anticipated,
but they got it in place at last and Dave went down. The
stone-walled space below was inky black, damp, earthy.
The boy groped about for the sides, feeling his way inch
by inch as his fingers touched the sweat of masonry. It
was slimy like snails and he shuddered. The darkness was
more than lack of light down there. It was a smothering
pall, heavy, devoid of life. Dave completed the circle of
the room and felt his way back to the ladder, his out-
stretched arms waving before him like antennae.

As he grasped the lower rungs, vastly relieved, he called
to the hostler above in a thin whisper, a bit uncertain.
The silence and the dark had crushed the vitality out of
him, what was left after the ordeal he had been through
already that night.

"Hurry, lower me the saddle, will you! Quick, Jim,
I can reach it from here and ease it down ! "

There was no reply. Fearful of raising his voice fur-
ther, Dave began to climb upward. He regretted that he
had wasted any time at all stumbling about in the murk
of the pit. Better if he had tossed down the gold and
been done with it, whether it spilt all over the place
below or not. The hostler must have slipped away to
join the others for some reason.

Dave listened. The tavern was still, still as death. He
climbed a rung higher, felt for the saddle and pulled it
toward him. The noise it made scraping on the sand of
the floor seemed deafening. Dave's heart thumped pain-
fully. In a kind of quick panic, he worked the heavy
thing through the opening, pushed it to one side and let



THE BATTLE OF THE PRATT 201

go. The boy's nerves had frayed again and he knew he
would have to scream aloud if he did not get rid of the
saddle, if he did not get out of the place and that right
soon. He wanted to be with the others, to see them,
anything but this black pitch of terror that pressed in
on him from every side.

Just as he pulled his body half through the trapway,


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Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 13 of 19)