Clifton Lisle.

Sandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock online

. (page 18 of 19)
Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 18 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the dam where ice was thicker. That meant death, death
beneath a roof he could not break. A rat drowning in a

Bob in sudden terror gripped at the slippery edge be-
fore him. It crumbled away, mushy, in his grasp. His
water-logged clothing, heavy homespun, drew him stead-
ily downward, irresistible, all the weightier for the sucking
tug of the stream about his booted feet. He made a
herculean effort to resist, to keep afloat by savage strength,
thrashing out wildly, all judgment gone in a panic oi
fear. The boy's head went under.


It must have been well after eight o'clock that night
when Dave Thomas met his chum's horse coming rider-
less into the lane, head tossed high, broken reins lashing
from side to side. The storm had rushed down from the
northwest in fury two hours earlier, driving the snow in
vicious drifts before it, uprooting the ice-laden trees,
tearing loose great branches from the oaks themselves,
crushing young apples and pears in the orchard to ruin.
It was no night for any one to be abroad. Luck alone
had sent the terrified animal to the shelter of the Thomas
barn, just as Dave came out of it. Nine times out of
ten, the horse would have turned aside at Blue Hill and
sought its own stable, but to-night it had come to the
other familiar barn. Dave had gone down there to see
that all was well for the night against the blizzard, and
he now was struggling, head held low, to regain the
house. A glance sufficed him. Bob must have been hurt
somewheres. Either the horse had slipped and thrown
him or he had been struck by a falling branch. It was
trouble of some sort, clearly, and desperately serious.

Dave was a quick thinker. He already knew that his
chum had ridden up toward Goshen Meeting that morning,
expecting to be back before dark. He knew it because
John Allyn had stopped in at the Thomas farmhouse late
that afternoon to see his father. While there, he had
mentioned to Dave that Bob was off on an all-day errand
in connection with a cattle sale. The big farmer had
added further that the boy spoke of something he hoped
to attend to at the MacAfees' some trapping thing or
other, he thought it was, with the man there.

There was but one thing to be done now. Dave's mind


was working at lightning speed. Get over to Edgemont
without delay, see if Bob had gotten that far on his way
home, then, if he had not ; set out on the road toward
Button's Mill, with Cunningham along to help. Dave,
"for all his quiet ways, could put plenty of action into play
once he realized the need for it. Catching the ripped
reins of Bob's horse, he knotted them fast, swung to
the saddle, turned the unwilling beast hard about and
plunged doggedly through the mounting drifts for Provi-
dence Road. Not till he was well past Blue Hill, brought
almost to a standstill by the lash of the wind and the
cut of snow in his face, did he remember that he had
left no word with his people. It was too late now, how-
ever, and the boy sunk his head deeper between the collar
of his coat and kept on. Unconsciously, he noted his
progress by the ancient markers of the wayside the few
remaining sentinels of the Hollingsworth Apples. He
could not get back now, even if he wanted to. It was
all he could hope for to reach the MacAfees' and leave
the exhausted horse there.

Just how he ever did manage to make the little farm
near Castle Rock Dave never knew. The last few hun-
dred yards from Edgemont crossways, he covered on
foot, plunging and staggering about in the snow, dragging
the sullen horse along behind him by the bridle reins.
Twice the animal fell headlong in a drift and Dave had
all he could do to get him on his feet again. The lad
was ready to give up, conquered by the cold, the smother-
ing beat of the wind, and the snow about his feet that
held him back so cruelly, when at last he viewed lights
in the MacAfee windows. They were far off and looked


the size of sixpence, but they gave him new courage.
That, and the thought of Bob. Perhaps, even now, his
comrade was lying out in this storm, pinned beneath some
crippling bough, dying slowly under the savage whip
of the wind, the cold no life could long resist. Dave
struggled toward the welcome gleam, little guessing the

At the farm lane, the boy turned in to the north,
shutting his eyes against the driving gale. He would stall
his mount first, then run for the house and Cunningham's
help. The stable shed lay to the rear, a little way uphill.
Dave hurried on, new strength coming to him, as he
neared his goal. Even the horse, nearly done for, now
plunged through the drifts with some show of effort;
he, too, sensed shelter ahead. They came at last, half
blind, numb, weak with chill, the pair of them, into the
lee of the stable, rough-hewn of logs dovetailed together.

Dave entered, struggling, gasping, rubbing his eyes
clear. Then he felt for a tying shank. There was no
time to lose. The place was dim-gray, indistinct, hazy
with light from the snow without. He could hear other
horses near him, munching steadily, grinding away at
their hay. Now and then one of them shifted restlessly
in the deep straw or paused, gulping, to lip more fodder
from the rack. It was a comfortable, reassuring sort of
sound, one that he knew well. The boy's vitality quick-
ened on the instant to the warm, moist air of the place,
the animal heat, the momentary let-up from the sav-
agery of the blizzard without. He would tether the
horse, as soon as he could find that provoking shank.
He knew it was there. Then with Cunningham, he would


Dave ducked and flung up his arm. Why he did so,
he could not say, but that instinctive warding of a blow,
that defense quicker than mind can function, saved his

A man had sprung at the lad from the shadow of the
stalls, without warning, without sound, aiming a vicious,
crushing blow for his head. Dave's quickness in dodg-
ing, as the shadow filled the doorway, allowed the club
to whistle harmlessly past him. It flew from the fellow's
grip with its own momentum. They closed on the in-
stant. Dave was too startled, too bewildered, to under-
stand at all what was happening, but he knew that he
must fight and fight for his very life. That was enough.
The struggling pair toppled over, each striving to get
some purchase on the other, as they rolled about in the

Dave was never more fit in his life. Farm chores
had steeled his muscles, sweated out the fat. Outdoor
work and sport, day in, day out, under every sort of
weather, about the place and in the forest, had tough-
ened him amazingly, blending leanness with a deceiving
power of speed. Clean, straight living had lent him en-
durance and the grit to hang on. He felt the man trying
for his throat and fought the harder. The boy had passed
sixteen this January and knew a thing or two about
a rough-and-tumble. He twisted clear, leaving half his
coat and the shirt beneath it in the fellow's fingers.
An instant later, they had closed again, this time the
boy getting in a smashing blow on the other's body before
the clinch.

Over and over went the two of them, their breath*com-


ing in short grunts, their lungs straining for air, as first
one, then the other, rolled deep in the stifling straw dust.
That was the worst of it. Dave managed, for the time
being, to save his throat from the man's attack, some
instinct warning him to fight first for that. At the same
instant, he put his own good fists to use, jabbing repeated
blows with either arm into his assailant. He struck and
struck hard at short range, smashing for all he had in
him at face and jaw and kidneys. At every opening,
he struck. Not that he did not suffer in return. The
man, missing his try for the lad's throat, fought for his
unfair hold again, now going after the boy's eyes to
gouge them.

Once his fingers got purchase about Dave's hand. Be-
fore the boy could wrench it free, the right thumb had
been snapped back and crippled. An old trick and
vicious, excruciatingly painful, sickening one with nerve
shock. The ruffian's fight was foul from start to finish
while Dave's previous struggle with cold and wind and
punishment of snow had taken his strength, sapped his
power of reserve. But he fought on, the boy did dumbly,
warily, watching for openings, instant to take advantage
of them.

Two minutes more and the man and boy were blown
winded to a deadlock fast rolled in a clinch, Dave
below, stretched half in, half out, the shed door, the
other lying heavily upon him. The boy still kept his
hold on the man's wrist, however, as they both gasped
and strained for the fresher, snow-chilled air outside.
Dave's face was blackened with dust and dirt, scratched
with savage rips from the man's fingers. A smear of


blood ran from his mouth where his lip was torn. A
fist blow had done that, but the lad had saved his jaw
and chin in time. He knew the vital nerve centers and
guarded them like a clever boxer. His clothes, such
rags as still were left him, hung in patches. The thumb
was a stab of fiery torture. But the man on top was
little better off.

A faint gleam from the storm penetrated the open
door and Dave saw the face above him, clearly, distinctly,
for the first time. It was disfigured with blood and
bruises, matted with stubbled beard and dirt, yet unmis-

Mordecai Dougherty! The accomplice of Sandy Flash!
The man who had so nearly taken their lives the day
he and Bob had been seized by the highwaymen! In a
flash, the lad recalled the cedar thicket and the cowardly
attack upon them there. Then the later terror of the
cave at Castle Rock!

A convulsive, wrenching turn took the outlaw off guard.
Over they rolled again, kicking, striking, tearing like brute
beasts while the straw chaff rose in choking clouds about
them. Dave saw that the man was desperate. He knew
that he could look for no mercy. If he died for it, the
boy was determined to pay off his old score first. Blind
with rage, sucking for air, spitting out dirt and blood,
his flesh slippery with sweat and grime, torn bare to the
waist and gleaming, the lad writhed and twisted, struck
and kicked, madly spending his strength to gain a telling
hold, to land a crippling blow. He had no plan. He
fought as a trapped beast fights to save his life. It
was not a nice thing to see.


Suddenly Dougherty's hand, quick drawn for a smash
to the face, touched the club he had dropped at the first
rush of the boy. His fingers closed upon it and he uttered
a grunting sort of laugh. Dave saw the move and struck
upward with his crippled right, lashing out despite the
torture in the tendon, every nerve and sinew and well
of grit in his body backing up the blow. It fell short.

Dougherty swung the bludgeon.

At that very instant, two hundred yards down the lane,
Bob Allyn was picking himself out of a snowdrift into
which he had fallen. The boy was bitterly cold, weary
with tramping. Angry, too, at the loss of his horse and
the ducking he had met with in Ridley. That had been
the worst, of course, and he realized, even in his disgust,
that he should the rather feel thankful for his life. Just
in time, as he had gone under the water and the ice
fragments had closed above his head, Bob's struggle had
brought him in touch with a branch of the submerged
poplar trunk. It had been an easy matter then for a lad
of his strength to pull up on it and so to shore.

Half an hour in the Duttons' kitchen by the mill saw
him warmed and dry in borrowed clothes. Then, against
the protests of the miller, he had started for home, riding
away just as the first snow flurries began to dance down
the upland meadows from Rocky Hill. They soon cov-
ered the icy going of the old Boot Road and led Bob
into a false feeling of safety. He quickened his pace.
By Fairie Hill, he and the horse came down together
in a scrambling pile, luckily unhurt, save for a bruised
knee. Before the boy could get to his feet, the animal,
already cold and fidgeting under the long delay of the


ride, had broken free. It was sullen lad enough who heard
the hoofbeats throb to silence off where White Horse Hill
bulked gray before him through the blinding scuds of
snow. There was nothing now save walking and Bob
set about it with the best grace he could muster.

The storm, coming as it did from his back, helped
a bit, but the wind and drifts soon convinced him that
he would never make Sycamore Mills that night. Nor
the Rose Tree either. He had suffered more shock than
he had reckoned with, plunging into Ridley through the
ice. Wisely, he turned aside at Edgemont. He would
put up at the MacAfees' overnight, then on in the morn-
ing for home. As to the horse, he could do nothing
about that now. The contrary brute had taken things
its own way and would have to face the storm as best
it might. Bob heaved himself from the snow of the
lane and struggled onward. The lighted windows of the
farmhouse looked mighty inviting and warm, a fair haven
in need. The boy had faced about all he could stand
for one day. And he knew it.

He saw by the time he had neared the building that
the good people had not gone to bed as early as usual.
Doubtless William MacAfee and his wife were making
the most of their son's leave Captain Robert MacAfee,
of the Continental Line. Bob had heard that he was
there for a day or two. Rachel Walker, a neighbor from
Tredyffrin, in the Valley, was also stopping with them
on a visit. Dave Thomas had told him so. Cunningham,
as keen a trapper as the boys themselves, and their rare
good friend, to boot, made the fifth of the little Edgemont


Bob glanced through a window as he fought his way
round to the kitchen in the rear, mildly surprised to see
no one within. It was too cold for delay, however, so
he pushed at the door without knocking, glad to find it
unlatched this late at night. He entered, blowing on
his numbed hands, relieved, yet vaguely puzzled. Foot-
steps overhead caught his attention and he crossed to
the stairway. Something was wrong. Somebody must
have been taken ill and seriously. The confusion of
the room, the opened drawers in the dresser, the people
all above, pointed to that. Could the Captain have been
brought home wounded? Surely he would have heard
of that? The boy hesitated, then set foot on the lower
step. He would call softly and see if At that very
moment there came a thud overhead, followed instantly
by a scream and the sound of a struggle, terrifying in
its sudden shattering of silence. Bob Allyn sprang up
the stairs two steps at a time.

Reaching the room above, he saw a sight that mo-
mentarily paralyzed him, halting him, breathless, at the
door, unable for the moment to take in what was happen-
ing. Captain MacAfee, in his stocking feet, the buff and
blue tunic of his uniform off, was close locked in a fero-
cious struggle with another man, toppling here and there
about the room, upsetting chairs, crashing into the table,
threatening with every move to bring the plaster from
the walls. Mistress McAfee, his mother, death-white
with terror, the back of her hand pressed to her mouth,
crouched in a corner. Her scream had come to the boy
below. Now, she was too frightened to utter a sound.


William MacAfee, the husband, lay struggling on the
floor, piteously trying to rise. Not at her, however,
nor at the old man, did Bob gaze in astonishment before
hurling himself into the fight. The fellow in the grip of
the Continental officer was Sandy Flash! The high-
wayman himself! Fast about the scoundrel's waist hung
Rachel Walker, hampering him, dragging him down,
bravely pinning his arms in a twist of the coverlet snatched
from the bed!

The boy, after that startled pause, regained his pres-
ence of mind and leaped through the door to help. He
reached the men just as Flash lost balance and fell.
The captain was on him like a shot. Rachel Walker,
as quick to seize her chance and follow it up, whipped
the coverlet over his head, drawing it tight about him,
smothering him in its folds. She was a young woman and

Before Bob could do more than grip at Flash's free
arm, as it flailed and lashed about in vicious blows, be-
fore he could fairly get his weight on it to help the cap-
tain, the night without roared to the discharge of a flint-
lock. The glass of a casement tinkled sharply below.
Captain MacAfee, still fighting desperately for the out-
law's wrists, called sharply to his mother:

"The gun! His pistol! Give it to the boy! Quick,
you, fire down the stairs when they rush us! Shout for
Cunningham! Call for help!"

He redoubled his effort to hold the man straining so
savagely beneath him. Sandy Flash fought like one pos-
sessed. His strength was incredible, but the bed cover-


ing smothered and meshed him for the time being. A
pistol, evidently his, lay on the floor beyond the elder

The urgency of the captain's voice brought the old
lady to her senses. As Bob cocked the weapon she thrust
into his hand, he heard voices below. And hurried steps.
A door slammed. He was just in time! They were
rushing the house already The lad ran for the stair-
head. Then he dropped his pistol arm, quite limply, and
fell back, amazement rendering him speechless. Dave
Thomas was leaping toward him up the steps, blackened
face scarcely recognizable for blood and dirt. Close be-
hind him sprang Cunninghim, his eyes wide with anxiety
and fright. Bob cried out sharply:

"Dave! What the I say"

"He's gotten away!" The boy's excitement had driven
his original fear for Bob entirely from his mind. Indeed,
he had forgotten what had brought him to Edgemont,
and that he had looked for no such meeting with his
chum here. "Fired through the window and galloped off
in the storm! Dougherty, it was, Flash's man!" The
younger lad, still panting, half naked, foul with the sweat
and grime of his struggle, held out a rusty sword. "Look,
Bob, he dropped this as he ran! In the snow! What's
how did you happen "

He stopped as his eyes for the first time caught sight
of Rachel Walker and the captain still struggling over
the writhing form on the floor. Old William MacAfee
had crawled to his knees, blood trickling down the side
of his face. The man was dazed, evidently in a good
deal of pain.


"It's Flash himself!" Bob, recalled to the urgency of
the moment, found voice and shouted excitedly. "We've
got him down! Quick, Cunningham, help! I say, Dave,
let me past "

The serving man and the boy sprang through the door
in answer, quick to aid, while Bob, pistol in hand, rushed
by them down the stairs. The lad was fully awake to
their danger. His job it was to bolt and bar the house
and do it soon. Before Dougherty could return to help
his chief.

Half an hour later, Captain MacAfee finished telling
the boys of the attack, as he sat in the kitchen, flintlock
on knee, guarding Sandy Flash. The outlaw lay on
the floor, across the room, trussed hand and foot, quite
helpless, white with impotent fury. The part that Rachel
Walker had played in his capture, the realization that
a woman and a boy had helped to overcome him, mad-
dened him to rage unspeakable. Cunningham had ridden
off as fast as he could through the drifts, to summon
aid and alarm the neighbors. Before he left, he prom-
ised both boys that he would get reassuring word passed
on to their parents, so that they could ease their mind
on that score and not worry about anxiety at home. The
women were above with William MacAfee, seeing to
the wound in the old man's head. Dave and Bob had
explained their presence in the house to their mutual en-
lightenment, while they were helping barricade the lower
story. They were taking no chances on Mordecai Dough-
erty's return.

"I'd been sitting quiet all evening here in the kitchen


with my folks, the old people, you know, making the
most of a short leave from the Forge. That blackguard
yonder knocked at the door." Captain MacAfee glanced
toward the figure on the floor. "Cunningham had gone
out some time before. I let that ruffian in, thinking
he must be some neighbor caught in the storm. Never
suspicioned a thing! He pulled a pistol on me instanter!
Said he'd come round to levy dues on cursed rebels!
My share, he allowed, was one hundred and fifty pounds!
Sterling, at that! Likely I'd have it! Then he drove
us all before him up the stairs. I couldn't draw sword
nor pistol, for the fellow's weapon at my back! He or-
dered us about and fairly plundered the house, looking
for money. What little we had was hidden well. Finally,
he struck me with his butt and told me to take the very
pumps from off my feet and give 'em to him! I had to!
As he was trying 'em on, one foot resting on the bed,
Rachel Walker, my mother's friend upstairs, she grabbed
the pistol from his fist! Bravest thing I ever saw! I
jumped in to help and so did father. He hit that old
man before I could get at him! Hit him good and hard,
too! You saw the rest. Rachel Walker had lots of

Captain MacAfee's face set sternly a moment. Then
he ended his story. "She took him off his guard, but
you came in the nick of time to pull us through. With-
out your coming when you did, Bob Allyn, I'd have had
my hands full, and to spare! That man's like a bull
o' Bashan! I'd never have kept him down alone. To
say nothing of the other scoundrel getting upstairs to help!

I couldn't draw sword nor pistol for the fellow's pistol at

my back.


Owe that part to you, Dave, my friend." He glanced
across the room.

Dave shook his head, blushing quick with pleasure
none the less. The lad was striving to wash the stains
of fight from his body with a damp towel. His sprained
thumb had been bandaged.

"Don't thank me, Captain, thank David Cunningham!
As I do! I didn't do a blessed thing 'cept nearly get
killed! Couldn't find a tether for my horse. Was feel-
ing for it by the stalls. All of a sudden, he hit at me
with a club! Near the door, he was, that fellow Mor-
decai, out there. And I ducked to his shadow in time.
We had it pretty hot then for a minute or two, each
catching the other some pretty good stingers and getting
'em in return. But I saved my chin, the while!

"Then all of a sudden, I saw it was Mordecai Dough-
erty. That set me to raging! He'd kicked Bob, here,
when he was hurt and down, the last time, you know,
and he'd helped with the poker in the cave! I did my
best! He got me under finally in the straw, half choked.
Then he found his club by luck and picked it up. The
one he'd lost, you know, at the beginning. My hand
interfered and I couldn't smash him like I ought. Reckon
I was about done for, but Cunningham must have heard
the racket as he was coming past. Anyway he "

"Mighty lucky he came back when he did! He'd
gone up the hi 1 ! to see if the sheepcote was tight against
the storm. It's a blizzard, this time, for certain, lads!"
Captain MacAfee kept his eyes on the prostrate form
of Sandy Flash, as the wind pounded at the door and


roared about the eaves and chimney pots. The flames on
the hearth quivered high in answer, leaping up the maw
of the fireplace, or, now and then, spluttered angrily
to sudden whirls of snow driven downward by the gusts.
"He said"

"Yes, and that he came past the stable just when he
did, too! Another second and I'd been brained, like as
not, I reckon ! As it was, Cunningham jumped in and we
all had a rough and tumble of it. That took off what few
clothes I'd left on!" Dave pointed ruefully to his
scanty remnants. "That fellow's like a bear! He most
ripped me apart and tore me naked, then broke free!
We lost him in the dark. He fired through the window,
at us, after he'd gotten on his horse, but we were running
then across the kitchen to see what'd happened here! I
picked up the sword he dropped from his saddle. Didn't
have it on in the stable, anyway. It'll make a fine corn-
knife!" He laughed, then grew serious again. "If only
he hadn't got clear! I think I could match him by
myself in a fight that's half fair ! Thumb and all ! "

"Reckon you could, Davey, you old lion, but I'm most
glad, myself, he's gone." Bob spoke slowly, lowering
his voice so that the man across the room might not
catch his words. "Yes, even if he did get me once, like
he did. This Flash fellow is the one we really wanted
and both of us helped a good bit in the getting of him.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18

Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 18 of 19)