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Sandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock online

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were lots bigger and finer. In the very early days when
the Swedes were at Upland, a man could drive a wheeled
cart straight through the forest!"

"The white people copied the burning," broke in Dave,,


"but we didn't use any sense about it. Now it seems
like we burn the best woods we have and have to chop
scrubby stuff for the timber we want! They had a ter-
rible fire, that way, down in Bethel, only last spring."

"This's out anyway." Bob poked the sodden remains
of the fire. "It can't cause harm now. I've got one
more rabbit bone to pick, Dave, and I'm through. How
about the traps themselves? You once said the best
men put kill-scent on 'em. We didn't do a thing to ours."

"Oh, everybody thinks something different about that,
but for what we're after I don't reckon any's needed.
Water sets don't have to be treated, 'cause it's no use
under water, naturally. Coons and skunks I've often
gotten with plain traps so I just never bother doing any-
thing at all to 'em. There're lots of ways of fixing 'em,

"That's what I mean. What's the best thing to put
on a trap, if a fellow is out after some animal crafty
enough to need it?"

"Rusty traps are good as any that I know of. Don't
cost anything either, not even trouble," replied Dave.
"Just let 'em hang out in all winds and weather till you're
ready to use 'em. The only bother is that you do have
to mind the spring getting a bit too rusty and the jaws
sticking fast or moving too slow. It's a fine trick, some-
times, to bury traps and chains and all in the chicken
yard. That kills the man scent and the iron smell both.
I once tried smearing a trap with wax and tallow from
a penny dip, because I'd heard it was fine, but it didn't
work so wonderfully well for me. Guess I didn't do it
right, 'cause they say it's a pretty fair way to treat 'em.


You've got to be careful to cover the whole thing, if
you're going to do it at all."

"How about us? Can't they smell us folks on the traps,
the land sets, when we've gone and picked the traps up
and lugged 'em about and set 'em?" queried Bob.

"That's the hard part, really." Dave knocked the
damp snow from his moccasins preparatory to moving
on. "A fellow ought to have a special outfit, I expect,
if he's trapping real suspicious things like bobcats and
so on. I wish I could get hold of a pair of buckskin
gloves tanned in smoke. They're great! I'll have to try
to make me a pair this winter some time. They can
be buried, too, in the barnyard, like the traps. That
helps. The best of all, the very thing we ought to have,
are gloves from a deerskin not tanned at all. If I ever
shoot a buck, that's what I'm going to get from it! My
father says I'll never kill a point stag in all the county,
but we'll have to show him he's wrong, I reckon."

"Yes, and we'll do it, too," laughed Bob, "if ever we
find the deer. There're lots I've seen on the hills, but
too wild to get near 'em. Oh, well, smoked gauntlets
would do us for a while. We're after beaver and otter,
first, you know. They're water sets." The boy's canny
Scotch mind never allowed vague possibilities to turn
him from the work at hand.

"Yes, and we'd better be getting down to the stream
now, I'm thinking, if we're ever to find that likely place
I told you of. If we did want deerskin and couldn't get
it, they say calfskin's nearly as good. Untanned, with
the hair side out. We could easily get that whenever
we wanted it, and make gloves or mittens out of it, too.


And big pads for the knees. You have to have 'em for
when you kneel fixing the sets. We're right in having
moccasins on now, though you would like to have come
in spurs like a hunting squire, I'll bet." Dave grinned
good-naturedly at his chum. "A heel mark'll ruin chances
quick as a wink. That, and smoking. But we don't
either of us have to bother about that. I'd rather have
good wind than smoke any day."

The boys reached the bank and turned up Ridley, seek-
ing the place where Dave had had the good luck of
coming upon otter the previous summer. He had been
working his way along the stream, north of the Strasburg
Road, far up near Dutton's Mill, when he had heard
faint splashings at a distance like stones falling into
water. Creeping closer, he had spied a family of otter
at play. It was truly a remarkable sight. One after
the other, the sleek-coated, glistening creatures had
climbed the steep bank by a well-beaten path. Then
they had moved to the top of the slide in a series of
awkward leaps their characteristic gait. The boy had
watched them long, scarcely daring to breathe, while they
slid. It fascinated him as nothing had ever done before.

Again and again they had climbed from the stream
and coasted, flat on their bellies, down the smooth mud
furrow with a splash to the water below. The slide was
eight or ten inches wide and as high as the bank. It
led into the deepest part of the pool. As each otter
slipped downward with the speed of lightning, front legs
pressed closed back to its side, the slot became wetter
and more slippery. An involuntary movement on Dave's
part had ended the play and sent the startled animals


diving from sight beneath the surface. He had searched
the place and found the hole, however, about a foot wide,
in the bank. The other entrance was, he knew, some-
where under water. Probably deep behind the roots of
an ancient chestnut tree where the stream had swung in-
ward and hollowed out the shore line. Five-toed tracks
had printed the mud all about and a half-eaten catfish
on the grass had told the boy what the otters were dining
on. He had laid the whole story away in his mind for
use in the winter. This was one of Dave's treasure troves
of memory and he guarded it well. Now he and Bob
were nearing the spot and both lads' excitement rose
proportionately. This was to be the real test. This
would prove their claim to the brotherhood of trappers,
the clan of the woodsmen. Their tramp of many miles
through forest and field, bog and thicket was forgotten.

The stream just below the pool turned from its course
in an ox-bow bend. Dave, already clever woodsman
enough to remember this, left the bank and cut across
through the brush. By so doing he unexpectedly stumbled
upon another important bit of otter history, for quite
by accident he noticed the unmistakable leaping tracks
of that animal in the snow before him. Clearly, otters,
too, knew the value of short cuts and used them. Eagerly
Dave followed the marks, Bob close behind him. The
awkward tracks ended at the pool, now partially open,
partially frozen. Both lads shouted with glee, forgetful
of all save the fact that otters were still here if they
themselves were true trappers enough to catch them.

It did not take them long to get everything ready.
They made the set with a toothed trap of good size. It


was their only large one. They put it just in the middle
of the slide which was visible for all the ice and snow.
Dave laid the trap carefully there, about six inches under
water and covered it with a handful of wet leaves, too
heavy to wash off. Bob meanwhile cut a stick, eight or
ten feet long, and fastened the four-foot chain to it.
This pole he made secure to the bank, the other end ex-
tending out over the deep water. It was the same arrange-
ment Dave had used for muskrats, only larger. The
younger boy watched it all with approval. His chum was
coming on famously in wild lore.

"That's fine, Bob! If it thaws a bit and they begin
to use the slide, we'll get one sure as preaching. Wish
we could find a beaver dam, though. It's easy to get an
otter there, sometimes, just at the foot of the spillway,
so they say. Queer we never saw beaver signs before
we got this far along."

"Yes, I was sure we would have."

While Bob made fast the long pole, Dave turned his
attention toward exploring the bank, unable to forego
the chance of gaining some new trick of the wood while
he had an opportunity for it. Suddenly he called out
excitedly, so strange in tone that the other boy sprang up.

"Here, Bob! Quick! I've found a track big as a
bear! And another Oh, I say " The boy, in his
excitement, lost his balance and slipped down the snow,
barely saving himself a ducking in frigid Ridley. An
instant later he had climbed again to the hole. Bob
joined him there and together they studied the prints.
They were otter, by all odds the largest they had ever
seen. But it was not the animal tracks alone which


brought them to their knees, studying the marks in per-

"It's the biggest otter trail I ever heard tell of, Bob!'
But " Dave pointed toward a bootprint on the bank
close by. "But somebody's after him already! We're
too late!" The lad's voice quivered and almost shook
with the bitterness of his disappointment. He had
counted on this far more deeply than he realized.

"Yes, and he's gone and put his own trap in the hole,
itself, for certain sure! Oh, I say!"

Bob Allyn broke off unexpectedly and reached into
the opening as far as his arm would go. He did so,
gingerly, fearful of a crushed finger or a broken hand.
Dave could scarcely keep his eyes from the splendid
five-toed tracks beside him. They told of a king among
otters and he knew it. For the first time, he felt hope-
ful of winning the most difficult creature of the woodland.

"Can you feel it? Where's the chain?" Dave's eyes
flitted here and there about the earth's mouth. "By
crickets, we may get an otter yet, Bob, and fool 'em all!"

"Don't know, Dave, but look what I have gotten T
What do you make of that!"

The boy had pulled his arm out quickly and now sat
back on his hunkers. He held in his hand a small silver
mug of antique fashioning, somewhat dirty from the dry
earth of the hole, but still polished and twinkling in the
afternoon light as he turned it about. On the one side
were initials. Both lads cried out instinctively as they
read the letters together an old-fashioned T, followed
by an L.

"What the where how " Dave's voice failed him.


Bob seemed cool, although he was fighting hard to keep
under his own excitement.

"Don't you see! I reached in to feel for a trap, and "
"It's do you think could it be Thomas Lewis's "
"Whose else! It must be his! And it's not been in
the damp long, either!" Bob struck the cup on his knee,
knocking out the earth. "Oh, I say, can't you under-
stand? Can't we've gone and tracked the biggest otter
of 'em all, Davey, lad, but this is bigger still. It's Sandy
Flash himself!"


BOB'S hand shook a little as he held the silver
tankard. Vainly he strove to appear unconcerned,
but the importance of the find was too much even for
his steady nature. Dave, equally tense, collected his
wits first. This was the sort of thing that his woodland
training had helped develop in him this facing of sud-
den crises that called for action on the moment. The
lad's Welsh brain was keen and quick.

"Bob, we've got to find out where he is! He's still
close by. He must be! Let's try to trail him to his
hiding place. And get the men together ! "

"Easy to say, hard to do! " This laconically from Bob,
who had been getting himself in hand, too. "Sandy Flash
has been here. He's come along the creek after robbing
Thomas Lewis's and he's seen this hole and pushed the
silver cup in it. He must have planned "

"Maybe there's more here! He made off with quite
a bit, you said." The younger boy jammed his arm into
the otter opening, but nothing further was found.

Bob Allyn and Dave wasted little time in vainly
searching further, but their haste in leaving the pond of
the otters proved fruitless. They tracked the highway-
man's bootprints for a little way, then, as on a previous
occasion, the marks disappeared among a tumbled pile
of rocks and boulders that pushed through the snow


along the brookside. Bob, the fox hunter, cast about in
a wide circle, hoping to strike the trail further on, but
not so much as a single track rewarded him. Sandy
Flash had no intention of being followed and, as a matter
of fact, had taken a great deal of care to leap from rock
to rock, as he left the neighborhood of his treasure. After
an hour spent in working along both sides of Ridley, the
boys finally gave it up. And wisely. Already the after-
noon was growing late and they had a long walk home.

Putting the cup in the bag with the frozen rabbit from
the snare, they turned south. An hour later they had
climbed to the higher ground of the ridge where Provi-
dence Road offered fair going. At the lane near Blue
Hill, they parted; Dave to hurry on to his house with
the story of Thomas Lewis's silver, Bob Allyn to follow
the narrower way downhill, eager to reach Sycamore
Mills in time for supper. Before they said good-by, how-
ever, it had been agreed between them that they would
get in touch the next day and join the men in further
search, if a posse of farmers should decide to go out once
more in an attempt to run down Sandy Flash. Neither
lad realized at the time that it was Saturday afternoon.

As a matter of fact, nothing was done on Sunday be-
yond a vain search for the rest of the silver up and down
the Ridley Woodlands. None of the neighboring farm-
ers of Providence felt it worth his while to take up the
wild-goose chase that had failed so signally the week
before when supported, as it was then, by a red-hot trail.
Dave saw no more of his chum until the end of the week,
when, chores attended to, Bob rode over bright and early,
merrily calling outside the Thomases' windows:


"Hey, there! I say, Dave! Oh, Dave! How about
riding over to the traps this morning? We can get there
lots quicker than walking and easily see to the sets. Did
we have luck last Thursday? You got over, didn't you?"

Dave was out of the house with a cheer before Bob
had swung clear of the saddle. The big lad's horse
snorted and shied away from the enthusiasm of the boys'

"To-day? Finest thing can be! Wait, Bob, and I'll
ask father let me take Duffryn. He needs some work,
that horse does, and a bit of a go like this'll just fix
him. Only a minute!" Dave Thomas bolted into the
house. A moment later he returned, his warwhoop of
joy proclaiming the good news.

Hugh Thomas had noted with considerable satisfaction
the faithfulness with which his son had been attending
to the farm chores since he had given him permission
to trap regularly. What extra time he had allowed the
boy to go with Bob on Saturdays and occasionally during
the week by himself, had been mighty well spent,, accord-
ing to his reckoning. Farmer Thomas was shrewd. Not
vainly did the canny blood of Merionethshire run strong
in him. If he could keep his boy interested in manly
outdoor sports, in the real joy of the countryside, why
so much less were the chances of the lad growing rest-
less and wanting to drift off to the army before he was
old enough to think of that. Dave's longing for trap-
ping and the life of the wilderness, his way of wander-
ing off by himself, was not without its dangerous side
in the mind of his father. The man recognized these
tendencies and sought to offer something to satisfy them,


something to fill the natural drift of the boy and give
him what he wanted while still on the farm. He knew
that trapping was a form of service to the freezing men
at Valley Forge as well as a needful help to conditions
at home. Accordingly, when Dave burst into the kitchen
with his plea for a chance to ride Duffryn to the sets up
Ridley, Hugh Thomas gave ready consent.

Five minutes later, the boys were on their way, trot-
ting along toward Hunting Hill. Dave told briefly of
his failure to find anything when he had looked the line
over on Wednesday afternoon. Near the rabbit-snare
meadow, the younger boy swung off, throwing his mount's
reins to his comrade.

"Lead him round for me, by Edgemont corner, will
you, Bob, and I'll meet you on the road. Near the ford.
It won't take me long to run down here and look over
the sets we've got in the hollow. Then I'll join you
and we can cover the whole line on foot."

"All right, Dave. We can see to the other traps further
up best that way the rest of 'em. I hope we've had
some luck! The best place we've come across anywhere
on Ridley is that otter pond. It'd be worth while to
get that big fellow! It's the"

"It's the biggest otter Ridley water ever saw! Or
the whole county, I guess, for the matter of that! Say,
steer clear of Sandy Flash if you come across him hiding
any more stuff! He might tie you up and spank you with
a hickory stick!"

Both chums laughed, and the bigger boy rode off,
leading Duffryn. He could ride, could Bob Allyn, ride
with the best of them. Practice had given him his seat,


his closely gripping thighs, but his hands, light and gentle
on the reins as any woman's, were the inborn gift of a
horseman. True hands are part of one's nature; no
amount of training can give them to one who has not
been blessed in the first place with this crowning at-
tribute of the rider.

Dave's tour of the trap line was short, but well worth
the trouble. His first haul offered a rabbit in the snare
loop and another in the coon set at the hollow log.
The last was disappointing, but trapper's luck, so the
lad made the best of it. The second log set showed two
sprung traps, empty, but no trail of any kind. A fresh
fall of snow accounted for that much, but he could find
no hint of how they had been sprung. Dave, none too
cheerful, hurried on to the skunk set on the hillside.
Here, he had been successful. Surely this was an agree-
able change from the blank he had drawn on Wednesday
last. This was the sort of luck that set his eyes to
sparkling with eagerness, that thrilled his whole body with
the surge of living. He had scored a point in the game
of outdoor chance.

A large skunk was in the trap, a big fellow, evidently
recently caught, as there was no sign of an attempt to
gnaw at the imprisoned foot. The boy got a stick, chose
a strategic position well above the hole and worked at
the chain. It was not long before the animal, in answer
to the jerking of the trap, had discharged the last of
its scent, filling the hole and the ground below it with
suffocating, choking stench like the odor of burning
rubber, only infinitely worse. Then Dave risked it and
managed to get the chain undone, keeping back from


and above the hole. He tried not to breathe. Indeed,
he was hardly able to. A turn or two of the chain about
the end of his long stick and he had retreated to one
side. Then, not waiting for the animal to secrete any
more scent fluid, he pulled it from the hole and swung
it down the bank deep in the waters of Ridley. A few
moments later he drew it out dead.

Dave looked at the rich, thick fur of the pelt. It was
a beauty, undeniably, and prime to a day. The color
was almost solid, scarcely a touch of white on it. The
tail was bushy and full. The animal was well above
average size. This, indeed, had been a catch worth while
one that served to restore the lad to higher spirits.
Happily, he hung the body of the skunk to a low branch
where it could dry out of harm's way. Then he rinsed
his hands in the brook and hurried up the hill, whistling
merrily as he climbed.

A moment later, he recalled the muskrat pond further
along stream, so he turned back and cut through the
underbrush to look it over. These traps were as lucky
as the skunk set, for each held a muskrat securely. The
stick had worked just as planned and the animal in that
particular set had been swung out into deep water and
drowned. The two traps at the end of the log had ac-
counted for their catch in like fashion. At the rat slide,
however, farther along Ridley, one trap had not been
sprung, although the parsnip was gone. Dave decided
it might have fallen off its stick, so he put another in
its place. He took two muskrats from the other sets.
Replacing the traps, he hastened onward by the stream,
eager to rejoin his companion with the story of their


surpassing luck. Two rabbits, one large skunk, five musk-
rats, this was a red-letter day for sure. Then there was
still the otter pond. That would be the real test of
their ability. Dave walked fast and soon had reached
the edge of the Strasburg Road. He caught sight of
Bob waiting for him there near the ford.

"I say, thought you'd been tied to a tree this time!
What kept you so long?" Bob's voice carried shrilly
across the snow. "See we've had luck how many?
What'd we get?"

"Five!" Dave lifted his heavy bundle of muskrats
and swung them high, so that the other boy might see.
Truly it was as much as he could do to hold them up.
"Five of these, Bob! And a skunk, too! The biggest
fellow you ever saw! Left him by the creek. And two
rabbits. They're both"

"Steer clear of me, laddybuck, if you've been meddling
with a polecat!" Bob made pretense to run away. "Oh,
well, reckon you'll do long as you stay down wind!
I've left the horses in that barn near Edgemont. The
MacAfees'. Cunningham, their man, said it was all right.
They're out of the cold there."

"That's fine. Now we can work up the creek on
shank's mare and get to the pond in no time. I'll bet "
The boy ceased speaking as his chum broke in excitedly.

"Oh, I say, Dave! Look over yonder! Quick! The
beauty! it's " Bob dropped his bundle of traps in
the snow and ran up the wayside bank pointing toward
a treeless knoll a few hundred yards south of the road.

Silhouetted against the cold sky of early winter stood
an antlered stag, a white-tailed kingly creature from beam


to pointed tine, alert, head high, its questing nose swing-
ing here and there to the breeze. Dave gasped, then hissed
at his chum:

"Be quiet, Bob! Oh, can't you be still! You'll"

It was too late. The head with its glorious crown of
points swung round sharply, the delicate nostrils ringed
wide and red, blowing a cloudy breath of challenge upon
the frost-keen air. There was a flash of grayish flank,
as the stag turned and leaped, then the white flag of the
tail bobbed and fell from sight and bobbed to view again
and was gone beyond the swell of the hill. Madly the
boys broke through the fence line, loudly they cheered,
but any thought of chase was out of the question. They
had no guns; the tracks proved hopeless.

As they gazed out across the bowl of the valley toward
the Edgemont ridge, over the icy sheen of Ridley, east-
ward up the slopes, they caught their last view and wel-
comed it with a ringing halloa ! The spot moved steadily
on across the snowy upland. Once only did it stop as
it topped a rise, pausing to glance back, sharp etched again
against the sky. The boys could do nothing. Sadly they
pointed and longed for hound or gun. The next moment
the stag passed from sight, as it sank the hill.

"That's the thing for us, Dave! I say, we've got to
get him! Just got to! I'd rather have that buck than
the king otter itself! Almost! Wouldn't you? We'll
come out here again with guns and stalk it! I told you
there were still lots of deer about!"

"First of all, we'll never come to Hunting Hill or
anywhere else without a gun! I'll tell you that for fair!
Never again long as I have anything to say about it.






Why the deuce couldn't you keep still, Bob, when he
came so close on the little hill there? It's fine to talk
of plenty of deer, just after you've gone and scared the
biggest one we've seen clean away. Wait till your father
hears that!"

Still arguing hotly, the lads turned back from their
vain pursuit. Picking up the muskrats, they crossed the
road and kept on by the side of the creek, seeking the
luck that might await them at the otter pond. Each
boy was out of sorts. They knew they had acted in a
way that would have brought upon them the scorn of
any woodsman.

As they entered the fringe of forest that veiled the
hollow, a man armed with a gun stepped from the coppice
behind the knoll where the stag had first broken view.
Catching sight of the boys, he watched them in silent
anger till they had rounded a bend. Apparently, he had
been following close upon the animal when they had
startled it to flight. Now with a muttered curse, he stood
looking after them.

"Hum! Fine enough ye be at trappin', fine enough,
me hearties! But a bit too close to home." He noted

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Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 6 of 19)