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Sandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock online

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and the Square beyond. Here, as they drew up in front
of the Pratt House to water, Bob was able to ask of
the posse the afternoon before. Its luck had been, as he
knew it must be, poor. Sandy Flash had escaped. The
landlord knew nothing further of Burgandine. Indeed,

62



THE RIDLEY OTTER 63

he had not seen him or Jehu Evans, either, since the two
men had driven off with the boys to look for the runaway
horse.

The church of St. David, patron of Wales, lay in a
little hollow of pines and other evergreens not far from
Darby Road. It had been built in 1715, and was already
looked upon as ancient in the countryside. While they
were driving through the church yard after service, John
Allyn pointed toward the quaint low tombstones grouped
about the door.

"Many's the Welsh name you'll find yonder in God's
Acre, son. No doubt our neighbor Thomas has kith and
kin a-plenty amongst 'em. They used to tell how William
Penn himself came to preach in the Old Barony once
upon a time and not a soul could understand him there
because he didn't use the Welsh tongue, but the English!
It's a good thing we've gotten over that part of it anyway
or else little you'd learn of trapping from Davey." John
Allyn chuckled and swung the sledge out past the lich-
gate. Then he flicked at the pair with the whip and
turned toward Sycamore Mills.

During the rest of the drive Dave and his father kept
up a constant flow of conversation, centered for the
most part on horses, for the elder Allyn was as keen a
judge of horseflesh as was his boy. Dearly did he relish
the joy of a fine team or a clever saddler. They were
making plans now for the breaking of the spring colts,
as the Allyns had always added largely to their income
by breeding one or two of their mares each year. They
disposed of the young stock in the town where a good
market had awaited them until the war. Bob's mother



64 SANDY FLASH

took but little part in the talk. To tell the truth, she
was more engaged with thoughts of how she best could
provide her family with a comfortable living during the
winter. It was no slight thing to have supplies so scarce
and the country overrun with all sorts of thieving ruffians
ready to strip bare the first homestead that should fall
within their power. These Tory agents had already
worked far more harm than any of the regular troops
of the Crown, who were scrupulously honest in paying
for whatever they commandeered. Only a fortnight be-
fore, some cattle had been seized this way over in Con-
cord and driven off with threats. The women of the
countryside were uneasy.

When Bob went to bed on Sunday night, he had the
fullest intentions of rising early and getting over to
Dave's in time to make a good start for the trap line
the next morning. A storm of sleet and snow, however,
upset his plans. It would be out of the question to do
any useful work with the sets in such weather, so the
boy contented himself with putting in a good day by
the fireside, stitching at a pair of new names he was
helping his father to make. It was mighty hard on
the fingers, but he managed to turn out a neat bit of
leather work at that, before twilight dimmed the leaded
windows and supper smoked on the board.

Between farm chores and bad weather, neither Bob
nor Dave found an opportunity for going up Ridley to-
gether until a week had passed from the day they first
put out their traps. Bob had looked the line over by
himself in mid-week, it is true, galloping there on horse-
back, one afternoon when he could be spared from home



THE RIDLEY OTTER 65

but that was all. Two coons taken in the log sets had
been his reward. A proud boy he was when he rode with
them into Dave's lane on the way back. The boys
arranged at that time to go up the stream on Saturday,
regardless of the weather. Meanwhile they counted the
days and wondered if ever a week had passed so slowly.
Like all things it came to an end at last and the lads
set out bright and early in the morning. Their small
success had whetted their eagerness for more.

It was a brilliant winter day, neither too hot nor
too cold, but just enough tang in the air to make both
boys feel the surge of keen health. They walked fast,
swinging along over the crisp snow with the stride that
eats distance and does not weary. As they hurried on,
a flock of juncos kept pace with them for a field or two,
flitting busily about on the bare twigs of the sumacs
that lined the wayside walls. Here and there a chickadee,
with his quaint, betraying cap of black, swung like a jolly
circus tumbler among the berries of the bittersweet. All
nature seemed awake, keyed high to the sharp cold beauty
of the day. Just past the top of Blue Hill, the boys
caught a vivid flame of color as a cardinal flashed to the
shelter of a cedar before them. It was all so clean, so
full of things to look at and to watch for, so vitally alive,
this countryside of theirs, that the boys could scarce
restrain their overflowing spirits.

"They never saw a sign of him then, Sandy Flash, I
mean, after he rounded the turn beyond the Square?"
Dave it was who spoke. "Look, there's Hunting Hill
yonder. Let's cut down to the stream across this field."

"Not a trace," answered Bob, joining the other beyond



66 SANDY FLASH

the fence. "After we left the inn and came back to set
the rest of the traps, they hunted round everywhere, far
over as the Eagle and down toward the Buck, but there
were too many marks in the road, they said. Besides,
his horse was fresh. I say, hasn't he got a wonder! It'd
been resting while he was busy with Burgandine. I told
you we stopped at the Pratt last Sunday, didn't I? Father
was over to the Square again yesterday, and they think
Flash must have gone back to the Valley hills in Cain
for good. He's not likely to bother us here any more."

"Did you learn whether Burgandine got back his horse
and the money? I mean did your father hear of it yes-
terday?" Dave's mind swung round to the old farmer
from Newlin. "He surely was welted, for fair, poor
old fellow!"

"Father says he's all right. That Evans man caught
up with Peter's horse near the Street Road, and he rode
home in the afternoon. Sandy Flash did get some stuff
from a house beyond the Square, though. They hadn't
heard of it Sunday, but father got the news yesterday."

"I didn't know that! Whose, Bob? What'd he get?"
Bob paused before replying, collected himself, and leaped
across a small stream. The lad was big even for seven-
teen, but fit and close knit, hard as nails, from farm
chores and riding. Dave landed lightly as a cat beside
him and they turned left in the forest.

"Oh, not much money. It was Thomas Lewis's place
below the Pratt House that he robbed. Some silver, it
was. Solid, father heard, too. Mugs and things fetched
out from Wales in the old days. Lucky, I'd say, he
couldn't carry much with him."



THE RIDLEY OTTER 67

"He'll not be able to do anything with that kind
of stuff, will he? Reckon he's gone where he can lay
hold on shillings and sovereigns 'stead of old tankards!
Pewter, like as not. We've lots of it at home that came
from Merioneth in the old country."

The boys crossed Ridley Creek to the west bank, hop-
ping from stone to stone, and reached the meadow south
of Hunting Hill. A couple of rabbits swinging high in
the sapling snares served to bring their minds back to
the work in hand. One had just been caught; the fur
was still soft and warm. Dave, forgetful of his wood-
craft in his pride of success, ran forward with a cheer
and took them from the loops. Putting the frozen one
in his bag, he quickly bled the newly killed cottontail
from the mouth, propping the teeth open with a bit of
stick. Then he cleaned it carefully without removing
the fur. His fingers were deft, showing he had done it
many a time before. While he was busy, Bob reset the
trap snares. Already the older lad had become quite
handy in the ways of the wood and longed to put his
new-found knowledge to the proof.

"The more rabbits we catch, the better," Bob finished
setting the bait on the trigger stick. "The confounded
things are ringing all the young apple trees, and the
peaches, too, over in our orchard. Chew the bark right
off 'em! A tree can't live without bark, no matter how
good's the trunk."

<k l know. Same at our place. Glad we got this one
fresh. We'll have him for lunch. Be pretty good a cold
day like this! I'll bet the army's shivering up by Mount-
joy Forge!"



68

The other traps, set the previous Saturday, were visited
in turn and Bob pointed out where he had found the
two coons on Wednesday afternoon. To-day, the skunk
trap, in the hole on the side of the hill, proved a real
disappointment. It had been sprung, but no sign ap-
peared of an animal having been caught in it. The bit
of meat, however, had gone. Dave looked the hole over
long and carefully. Then his eye caught a telltale sign.

"I thought so! Fox! Vixen, like as not. It smelled
that rotten meat, before any skunk came along, and it
got it off the stick some way or other, keeping clear
of the trap the while. I bet she set it off on purpose,
too! They're that crafty and clever." The lad stood
up, holding in his hand a long reddish-brown hair tipped
with white. He had picked it from the side of the earth.
"That's fox's brush, sure as Judgment!"

"Well, we don't want to trap it, then!" Bob's jaws
set ominously. His tone showed very decided views on
that point. "I'm right glad we didn't get it. Hope he's
slick enough to stay out of every set we make! It's a
shame to trap a fox in a country like this where most
all farmers have a lot of sport in winter hunting 'em
with hounds. It's not fair and I won't be any party
to it!"

"Never fear." David had to laugh at the real anger
beginning to boil up in his usually calm and deliberate
chum. "Don't worry, Bob, you old hunting squire!
We'll not try to trap or shoot 'em hereabouts. Couldn't
catch 'em this way in the first place, 'cept by luck.
Father tells me never to try it, so you can rest easy.
You're right, though. It's different altogether in other



THE RIDLEY OTTER 69

parts of the country where they can't ride to hounds
and hunt 'em properly in a chase. There they have to
shoot foxes and trap 'em to keep 'em down. But here
with all the hounds there are about the townships,
why"

"Yes, I see that," Bob was still doubtful, "but we've
got to be mighty careful. I wouldn't ruin neighbors'
sport for anything. I say, let's get an otter or a beaver.
That's something worth while. We mustn't forget we're
after what'll help the folks at home and the men across
the Valley by Tredyffrin. They're freezing as it is."

"I know it and I'm with you, Bob. That's why we're
both here. Let's set this skunk trap first, same as before,
only without any bait. It might catch one of 'em coming
in and it won't bring any foxes here. I'm sure this is
a skunk's hole." Dave replaced the trap in the opening
and covered it once more with pebble-weighted leaves.
Then the boys slid down the bank and worked their way
upstream, on watch for any sign that might betray the
presence of an otter.

A muskrat colony offered them a tempting trapping
place, however, before they had gone very far. It was
too good to pass by, so they stopped to look it over. A
small natural pond had been formed in a clearing by
a collection of logs wedged against the boulders. Once,
perhaps, the beavers had laid its foundations, but the
tracks about the snowy banks were unmistakable. They
were very distinct, the hind feet about two inches in
length, the front ones much smaller. Both boys recog-
nized them at a glance. The prints wove serpentine pat-
terns here and there and everywhere. Between the foot-



70 SANDY FLASH

marks could be seen the light, wavering trace that told of
the tail, scaly, hairless, flattened, carried on its edge.
The muskrats use this to steer by when swimming, as
both lads knew.

In the midst of the pond, where a few frozen cat-tails
rose stiffly, a sorry reminder of summer's glory, were
the muskrat houses themselves, great beehive affairs,
from four to six feet in diameter. No external open-
ings were visible, but Bob Allyn and Dave knew that
none were needed. The younger boy had learned the
summer before, and since explained to his friend that
these strange nests were entered from beneath the water,
and that they were practically frost proof in the bitterest
cold of winter. How air penetrated their closely-woven
sticks and reed and mud neither lad knew.

Dave had also told Bob that the muskrats seemed
to be divided, as though split by some family feud. Many
of them, the builders, he had found in houses like those
before them in the pond. Others, which he called bankers,
seemed to delight in a hermit's life off by themselves,
making their lonely homes by burrowing up into some
steep bank from beneath the water's edge. The bankers,
especially, made slides in the mud. When much younger,
Dave had once mistaken these commonplace slides for
the sort made by otter. Now, however, he knew better.

"This is the best place we've come to yet! Look,
Bob!" Dave pointed at the tracks. "Aren't they just
like a pear with the toe marks circling round in front?
The hind feet do most the swimming, that's why they're
biggest, I guess. We'll set a lot of traps here. You can
never get 'em in a deadfall or snare. A three or four-



THE RIDLEY OTTER 71

inch spring is what they need. Look at that! They've
been washing some yellow lily roots in the water. They
always wash what they eat like that, then brush the rest
into the stream. Wash it two or three times. I've seen
'em. Cleanest things alive!"

The boys noted with delight all that promised so well
for them. The water of the pond had not frozen over
entirely on their side and it was here that the tracks were
most numerous and the signs of lily roots abundant.
They looked like sad enough fodder, for a fact, but the
animals must have dug them up from the unfrozen mud
far below the surface and found something of nourishment
still in them. Indeed, in winter, when they cannot get
watercress, they will eat any roots. Dave and Bob were
soon making the sets and using the best woodcraft they
were capable of, while at it, as muskrat pelts would fill a
needed want in both their homes. Dave made the first
set, placing his trap in the shallow water back of the
roots of a great buttonwood that rose from the pond's
border. He fastened the chain to a pole and then propped
it far out.

"That's so's to drown him right away, before he can
chew his foot off," he explained to Bob. "Soon as ever
he's caught, he'll swim to deep water and the trap will
hold him down. It saves him suffering and it keeps him
from getting free both. See? The stick makes the
chain hang over the deep part." Dave took an apple
from his pocket, halved it, tossed a piece to Bob, then
fixed his portion on a stick above the trap where the
water was about three inches.

Bob put his trap on a log that jutted several feet into



72 SANDY FLASH

the pond where the stream showed the stillness of depth.
He fastened the chain to the extreme end. Then he
made ready to lay the half apple on the log for bait.

"Try this." Dave dug down into his pocket again
and pulled out a small parsnip. "It's what they like best
of all. This and muskrat meat, itself. Doubt if you
catch anything, though, with the trap stuck up on a log
like a sore thumb. In the spring, when water is really
high and the spate has flooded 'em out from the banks,
then they'll climb on logs and things. That's the time
to get 'em that way. I once got four, though, by hanging
the traps a wee mite under the water, round the end
of a hunk of log that I had anchored in a deep place
with a lot of stuff they liked on top of it. Regular supper
party for 'em! They "

"What do they like most, 'side from roots?" asked
Bob, still interested in the tracks.

"Oh, most any greens. Parsnips, best of all, I reckon,
and apples. They'll ruin a garden, quick as a witch, if
they've half a chance to get at it. Chew up all the carrots
and turnips you've got. A good way from water, too.
Let's put a couple of traps over the end of the log, just
for luck, with the apple and a parsnip hanging so's they
can see 'em and climb up to get 'em."

This was done and Dave led the way further upstream.
The lad was in his element. Every bit of woodcraft
shown to his friend meant infinite satisfaction to him.
He had been the butt of many a joke among his fellows
for wasting his days tramping about in the woods alone.
Now was his justification. Now was he able to prove to
the other that his time had been well spent, after all.



THE RIDLEY OTTER 73

Dave was leader to-day, Bob the pupil. And he was an
apt and eager one, at that. Bob it was who first caught
sight of the muskrat slide half a mile above the pond,
where a high mud bank compelled them to crawl with
considerable care along the edge of the brook. The hole,
visible a little way under water, where the current was
too swift for ice, gave them the clue. A trap was set
at the entrance to it and staked far out over deep water
as before. Another trap was set at the foot of the slide.
The boys used parsnips for bait at a third trap, dangling
them just above the place where it lay on the bottom a
couple of inches below the surface. They hid their last
traps right in the middle of a muskrat trail that showed,
deep cut, along the bank.

"That ought to answer for a few of 'em, builders and
bankers, both." Dave pushed the parsnip bait securely
in place. "The great thing with the rats, Bob, is to
have the chain well out over deep water. Sometimes I
just tie the trap to a long stick, not fastened to the bank
at all, and let it go at that. They swim out and dive
and then the trap holds 'em under, like I said. Some
people even weight their trap a bit, but I never do.
Father thinks I ought to. The thing's not to let 'em
suffer any longer than we can help and that's the way
to do it."

"Why are the chains so long? I'd think they'd stand
a lot more chance of getting away like that than if you
made 'em short."

"It's just the opposite. The longer, the better. If
the chain's too short, it gives 'em something to pull
against and they'll get away, nine out of ten. Anything



74 SANDY FLASH

will. If the chain's long, with lots of leeway, and if it's
fast to something that'll bend a bit and give, why, they
can't get the steady pull they need to break away. They
can't get their foot loose. I like water sets best, though,
because you can always fix 'em so's to swing into deep
water and that's the end of it.

"How about dinner? We've got most the sets made."

Dave Thomas was not cruel. He trapped because he
knew the pelts were needed and the money, too. He
trapped as humanely as possible with the material at
hand. He did not relish the thought of being told any
of these things by the bigger boy. However, he had no
need of worry. Bob was as hungry as he. A day like
this in the open would make any ore ravenous.

A few moments later and they had a fire going, flint
and steel serving them for a light. The rabbit was
skinned, cut up, and broiled as steak over the glowing
coals. The boys were old hands at this job, both of them,
and no time was wasted. Bob Ailyn sat back against
a great beech tree, enjoying the heat that radiated from
the small fire. It was just enough to warm his mocca-
sined feet without danger of cracking the soft leather.
Dave was cook and worked away at his steak till it was
done to a turn.

"I reckon there's different kinds of trapping for most
everything, isn't there?" said Bob, at last, nibbling at a
hot and juicy morsel held in his fingers. "How many
kinds do you know, Dave? I say, did you ever count
'em?"

"Never did, Bob." Dave cleverly skewered a fresh
piece of meat on a stick and went on with his broiling.



THE RIDLEY OTTER 75

"There're traps and traps and still more traps. And
ways to use 'em without end. It depends on what you're
after. I divide 'em into three main lots, myself, but
there're more, like as not. I always think of the ones
that crawl and climb trees; skunks and coons, all those,
you know. Then there're the water ones, the beavers
and otters and mink and muskrats and the like of that.
Last of all, there's the game that runs, deer and the big
ones. Foxes and catamounts and bobcats come in a class
by themselves, I reckon. They're "

"Never thought of splitting 'em up that way. Makes
it easy to keep 'em clear, doesn't it?" interrupted Bob.
"I say, climbers, swimmers, runners! That's fine!"

"It's why I do it." Dave's mouth was fuller than it
should have been, but Bob contrived to understand him
in spite of it. "The climbers, they want deadfalls or
traps, just like we've got out for 'em now. The runners
want snares. The swimmers, they have to have traps.
What's too weak for an otter or a beaver is too strong
for a mink or a muskrat and that's what makes it all
so hard. A trap'll cut the leg clean off one thing and
not hold another. I reckon trapping's as clever a game
as your horse schooling, most, and a deal harder to learn!"
Dave's teeth picked hungrily at a bit of meat stuck on
the end of his rude wooden spit. Then the boy laughed.
He knew Bob Allyn was beginning to appreciate the
woods, as he had hoped he would.

"That's a fact, Dave, it is real work to master, but
I'll show you a thing or two about horses that'll surprise
you one of these days when the ground clears off a bit.
Turn about's fair play. There's plenty to learn in one



?6 SANDY FLASH

same as t'other. The bread's in the bag there by the
stump. Help yourself, and sling it over. Thanks!"

"What don't you understand now about trapping,
Bob?" Dave settled himself by the fire, having tossed
over the loaf.

"A whole lot, Dave, but I'll get it in time. The hard-
est part, I reckon, is knowing what to use as bait for
each thing. That and the scent I've heard tell of. It
all seems different. How can a fellow keep 'em straight?"

"Yes, that is hard. There's lots and lots of stuff I've
tried anise-seed oil and oil of peppermint for scents.
They smell like all get out! Animals can sniff 'em a
long way off, that kind of mess, and follow it up to see
what's there. All that stuff is good for a trail when
you're after fisher black cat, I mean. But I doubt if
any of 'em are left round here now. Then a fine thing
for bait is real animal scent. That'll fool most all of
J em. Chicken droppings, I reckon, about tops the lot,
but I've used bad meat already, like we put in the skunk's
hole back yonder."

"Fine when foxes don't come and eat it 'stead of
skunks," laughed Bob.

"A man once told me, the one who helped make the
traps over at Providence forge, that he'd used manure
from a sheep pen and caught more with that than any
other thing. They all have their special ways, every
trapper has. He laid trails with it up to where his traps
were hidden, and he buried traps in it, and he even rubbed
it on 'em and on his shoes and gloves when he was
working at the sets. It's fine. But we've no sheep now."

"Why not try it then next time? We have a nice



THE RIDLEY OTTER 77

flock. Might as well work these things out, Dave, and
see for ourselves which really is the best. I say, suppose
I bring some over next week? We can give it a fair
trial, anyway."

"It's the only way to learn try 'em out, like you
say." Dave began to cover the fire with handfuls of
snow. "Once I went away and left a wee bit of a fire
going. It very nearly took all our woodlot on the hill
by the time some rain came and put it out. I learned
a thing or two that time that I haven't forgotten yet!
Father saw to that." He heaped on more snow.

"It's a mighty good habit to get into, Dave, even in
winter." Bob picked up a stick, red hot at one end,
and twisted it round and round on the ground until he
had extinguished the fire amid a spluttering of sparks.
"The trouble of the fires in the woods all comes to us,
from the old Indians, the Lenapes, like Indian Hannah
up at Newlin's rock in Bradford. My father says that
when he was a boy and first came into the Rose Tree
country, the woods used to be burnt over every year
or so by the Delawares. They even burned the Valley
Hills clear of brush so they could see to chase the deer
better when they'd gotten 'em to running along the ridges.
Then they burned over the low places so's they could
plant their corn there and their little patches of tobacco.
It wasn't anything like so thick in the woods then as
now, father says, but the trees they did have in 'em.


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