Clifton Lisle.

Sandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock online

. (page 7 of 19)
Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 7 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the lay of the landscape about him glumly. "Beside,
I can't have ye scarin' away any more stags. An' me
hard after stalkin' it to a shot, the neatest buck that
steps the Three Counties ! Trappin', is it? Hum! Ye'll
be back, little fear. Ye'll be passin' by this way, me
beauties, soon enough. A royal welcome ye'H find waitin'!
That ye will!"

Closely and long Sandy Flash studied the fringe of
woodland that marked the brook below. Then sullenly


the man turned and strode off among the chestnuts toward
Hunting Hill.

Meanwhile, Bob and Dave, unperturbed by suspicion
that they were being watched from above, walked on-
ward through the brookside beeches, intent only upon
the buck they had seen and the anticipation of the otter
sets. Twenty minutes after crossing the Strasburg Road,
the boys were deep in the little glen that hid the
stream below Dutton's Mill. The otter pond was soon
reached. Dave, forcing his way ahead, came first to the
high bank. Down he slid, his eyes everywhere seeking
signs of recent tracks in the freshly fallen snow. He
was not disappointed, for the same peculiarly awkward,
leaping footprints that they had noticed before showed
that the otters had been moving about in the neighbor-
hood of the slide since their last visit. As Bob came up,
they both caught sight of the pole to which their trap
chain had been fastened. It was leaning at a sharp angle
well out over the stream. The lads shouted together
at this discovery, too keen to heed the tradition of the
forest silence. But their joy gave place to chagrin when
they had pulled the trap to shore.

It had been sprung. An otter had been responsible
for that, as a tuft of fur, sleek, brown fur, of finest
texture, soon proved. Dave looked the trap over thor-
oughly, turning it about in his hands. Fast between the
powerful iron jaws, the bit of pelt told the tale. It was
not a foot, as he had at first supposed, but a wad nipped
from the chest of the animal. The color showed him
that. Clearly the otter had come off from its encounter
with the trap set but little the worse for the ordeal. And


doubtless a good deal the wiser. It was patent it must
have learned a lesson of experience likely to make fur-
ther success with a trap well-nigh out of the question.

"Know what's done it?" questioned Bob at length.
"We nearly got him, sure enough, didn't we?" The feud
over the stag had slipped from his mind with a facility
that boyhood alone can command.

"It's hard to say just what did happen." Dave sprung
the toothed jaws open, allowing the bit of fur to fall
to the ground. Picking it up, he went on. "That's otter,
all right. Looks to me like one of 'em must have been
swimming or ducking about near the slide a few inches
under where it isn't frozen. Maybe he tried to coast
down it a little way. Must have stumbled on the trap
somehow, belly first, so that his chest hit it 'stead of his
foot. See? They're so darned quick and squirmy, just
like eels, you know. I reckon he twisted out of it before
the spring could close on more than a bit of his hair."
The lad allowed the trap to snap shut with a metallic

"I say! That's speed!" Bob whistled. "You're right
enough, I guess. No other way for it to happen. Bet we'll
never get him again that one. Hope to goodness it
wasn't the big fellow! What now? There're tracks
enough about to "

"Try for 'em again the same way. All I know to do.
They're here all right, a-plenty. Look at that log over
there. The poplar trunk running out in the water. See
the pile of droppings on the end? Otter droppings, that
is. It's one of their regular ways. It's up to us to go get
'em. They're waiting for us, Bob!"


Between them, they reset the trap in the slide about
six inches below the surface of the water. Then they
fixed the long stick with the chain exactly as they had
done before. Neither lad felt much hope of success, yet
on the other hand, they realized how very near they
must have come to attaining it when the fur had been
snipped from the very breast of the animal before it had
made good its escape.

"The trouble with otter is that they're just about the
slickest thing that swims," said Dave disconsolately, as
they ended their work. "It's harder to get one than most
anything 'cept fox. We might try "

"None of them for us!" Bob was instantly on guard.
"You know I told you foxes were the one thing we
wouldn't go for. My father "

"Only said they were hard to get." Dave chuckled
in delight at the way his friend had risen to the bait.
"Hold your horses, Bob! I'm getting to be a bit of a
fox hunter myself ! I'm not going to kill any more ground-
hogs these days, either, 'cause they're the fellows that dig
the holes the foxes use. Guess you knew that? How
about working along upstream? I've got a small trap
in my pocket that we could use for mink. We might find
a likely place for 'em."

"Fine! We've lots of time. It's hardly noon by the
sun. We can ride home quickly afterwards. I'd like to
get a nice mink pelt for my mother."

"I heard David Cunningham say there're plenty of 'em
up here where the creek's narrow in the hollow. Guess
we'd better move along."

Epth boys set great store by the woodcraft of the


friendly man who worked on the farm of William Mac-
Afee just north of the Strasburg Road between Edge-
mont and Castle Rock. His hints nearly always proved
sound. They moved off now in Indian file, Dave leading.

This time the boys made slow progress, as it was nec-
essary to keep a close watch for tracks along the very
border of the water and here it was hardest for them to
walk. A good hour passed before they found what they
wanted. It was time well spent. No doubt remained as
to the presence of mink when luck finally came, far up
past the mill, where Ridley narrowed and wound its way
across the Barrens. The dead body of a muskrat first
caught the boys' eyes. It lay on the bank, close by the
water's edge. A clean-cut incision in the neck showed
where the blood had been sucked from the animal to the
last drop. The flesh was not otherwise torn.

"Mink!" Dave picked up the muskrat and turned in
triumph toward Bob. "They're at it like cats and dogs
all the time! Mink and muskrat never stop fighting, you
know. A mink's as wicked as a weasel, most, when it
comes to killing and sucking blood. Cunny was telling
me that they'd go for anything to get bloody meat. Even
a little lamb or a pig! That's true. He's seen 'em at it."

"Did you ever catch one?" Bob, practical as ever and
steadfast to the work in hand, looked at the stiff carcass.

"Oh, yes. Cubbies are best. Got one or two of 'em
last year that way. Water sets are all right, though.
We'd better try one of those to-day and make a cubby
later on when we've more time."

Dave studied the tracks that told of the fight between


the mink and the unfortunate muskrat. The bank rose
sharply here, to his left, leaving a narrow strand along
which the mink had evidently been walking when the at-
tack began. The boy, all eagerness as he read the marks,
pointed them out to Bob. He was literally seeing that
fight in his mind's eye, living it himself from start to
finish, with all the vivid detail of his imagination.

"We'll trust to luck he'll come back this way again.
We'd best set the trap right here, I guess. Queer how
they fight, mink and rats, every minute. A mink never
eats a thing but meat it's got to be fresh and raw, too.
That's why they're so savage! Look, Bob, where it first
pounced on the poor muskrat! See how they fought!"

"I'm not so sure they only eat fresh meat," Bob as-
serted himself with confidence. "I once saw a mink, actu-
ally watched him, down by our stream, and he was tear-
ing away at a piece of rotten, maggoty stuff one of the
dogs had carried there and left. It was that bad, a fel-
low could hardly come close to it, yet "

"Then he was after the maggots in it, not the meat it-
self," reasserted Dave. "They'll eat maggots all right.
I've found rotten meat, too, that they'd torn apart to get
at. But they never eat it. It's one sure way to know it's
mink you're on to."

The tracks along the narrow ledge of shore were
grouped in pairs, perhaps fifteen inches apart, the left
foot first. Dave called this to his comrade's notice.

"It's pretty easy to tell mink that way from the tracks
because they're always like it. When I built my cub-
bies last winter for the ones I got, I made 'em of sticks
about a foot square and a foot high maybe a little


more. They had three sides and I put up the trap right
in the open side, covered over. Then I put the bait way
in the back and roofed 'em over with more sticks and
snow. Father told me how to do it right."

"What did you use for bait? Parsnips or apples or

"Meat, I said. Got to be meat. They only like it
bloody, just as I told you. Muskrat's best, but rabbit or
chicken's most as good. I've used a dead muskrat that
I'd just caught. A mink has lots of curiosity, like a coon,
I reckon, so he hunts round investigating the cubby.
'Course he can only get in one way and so he steps on
the trap as he creeps toward the bait at the back. An-
other thing, minks always crawl through every hollow
log they come across, exploring 'em like. We're apt to
get one in that coon set of ours, back yonder, where we
covered the trap with the punky wood and put it inside.
Wouldn't surprise me a bit, if we did."

Dave noticed a point a rod or two beyond where the
pathway narrowed to a few inches. It was ideal for the
set he had in mind. Staking his trap securely to a nearby
stump, he placed the set just under water at the very edge
of the brook. In order to get it below the surface, he had
to scrape out a handful or two of pebbles and mud. He
then hid the metal with leaves. Sure that all was ar-
ranged as cleverly as his woodcraft could direct, he
looked about the bank. A large rock, a good foot round,
lay near to hand. With Bob's help, he managed to lift it
and drop it in place squarely upon the narrow shore be-
tween the water and the bank, very effectually blocking
the passage. However, a moment's survey convinced him


that this was not all that he needed, for spying a par-
tially fallen branch nearby he pulled that down, too, so
that it rested on top of the rock.

"I ought to have lopped that bough off in the first place.
Anything could climb over the stone by itself. It's all
right now, though, nothing can get past it and the limb,
both, unless they climb all the way up the bank. If a
mink comes marching by, and he's certain sure to, sooner
or later, he'll step round it in the water. And there's the
trap ready waiting for him! It's as sure a set for 'em as
you can make. Simple as pie, too, isn't it?" Dave
grinned, "Once you know how!"

"Sometimes when the bank doesn't run up steep and
make a little path like this down below," he pointed, "it's
fine to stake down fresh meat, rats or a rabbit or a bit of
raw chicken, close to the water edge. They'll see that
sure, coming along. Then you put the trap near it. In
a cubby always, the bait's got to be, of course."

"Have to find their tracks first, I guess, same as most
everything else." Bob splashed some water with a stick
upon the marks made by him and Dave during the set-
ting of the trap. "I say, we've made a deuce of a mess
here, tramping all about the place."

"Yes, and gotten good and wet, too." Dave kicked
out a well-soaked moccasin. "The thing's first to find out
where the minks have been coming from the tracks
then make the sets and the cubbies for 'em. Naturally!
Roundabout stumps, sometimes, and covered with leaves,
gives a pretty fair place."

He pulled a large stick from where it had lodged


against a boulder and joined Bob in splashing water along
the path where they had trodden the way to a muddy
slush. Whether or not water would do any good, he did
not know. The next fall of snow would hide their traces,
at any event, so neither boy bothered very much about it.

"That'll do, I reckon. If any more mink come by,
they'll trot along the path. And they'll have to step in
the water, to get round, so that's the best we can do for
'em. Hadn't we better be starting back, Bob? I'm
starved almost hollow as a grouse log. Really! And
we've nothing to eat with us, either. 'Less you feel like a
try at raw rabbit or some muskrat meat? That's about
the cleanest thing there is. Tastes a little like chicken."

"No, I reckon not. We'd best be getting along now.
Your turn to fetch the horses this trip. Meet me on the
Providence road. I'll go straight down creek and pick up
the skunk. I know the place you left it. The muskrats
and the rabbits I'll take along now. I say, give me the
bag, will you? That's it!"

They trudged off without more debate. Half an hour
later, they rejoined one another at the spot where they
had parted in the morning. Bob slung the skunk across
the pummel of his saddle, then climbed up himself. Dave
hung the rabbits in the game bag over his shoulder
and the muskrats, lashed together in a bundle, half and
half across his own saddle bow. It was a well-satisfied
pair of boys that parted company at the Thomas farm-
stead. Never had they dreamed of such luck at their
traps within so short a time. It had come to them as
a result, really, of the long days of earnest work that


Dave had put in studying the life of the forest before he
got his father's approval for systematic attention to the
sport. His patience was reaping its reward.

The main thought in the minds of both, as they turned
their horses' heads apart at the crossways, was for the
stag of Hunting Hill. That was a matter demanding ac-
tion, immediate, brooking no delay. They would try for
it Monday. As they called farewell and jogged off, the
future looked very rosy to them, as well it might They
had left one important consideration from their reckon-
ing, however. Neither boy gave thought to the presence
of Sandy Flash in the neighborhood, though the finding
of the silver cup from the Lewises' might well have warned
them. Neither suspected for an instant that they had
been watched by the outlaw that very morning. Nor did
they know that this was not the first time, by any means,
that he had been near them while they were tending
their traps.

Sandy Flash had taken cognizance of their presence
when chance had led him upon Dave's rabbit snare in
the meadow a fortnight before. The dangling game had
filled a needed want in his larder. It was the day after
this that he had come to Hunting Hill again, this time
with Peter Burgandine. Indeed, having strapped the old
farmer to the oak, he had suddenly recalled the snare, not
so far away, and determined to revisit it. Having set it
again, he would come back to the tortured man, trusting
that the interval in the killing cold of December might
serve to loosen his tongue and show way to money. Hear-
ing the boys hastening up the slope, he had sought his
horse, tethered near the Strasburg Road, and ridden off.


The chase from the Brandywine had been enough for one
day. Then had followed, on a wild urge of the moment,
the daring affair at the Newtown inn when he had bearded
the posse itself and disappeared. In the afternoon of
the same day, he had circled back, pilfered the Lewis
home of its silver and disappeared under cover of twi-

Sandy Flash since then had not gone back to Hand's
Pass nor to Newlin or Bradford, as the good people fondly
supposed. The great rock retreat near Cain Meeting
was empty. Rather he had been lying quiet close by in
Edgemont, craftily maturing plans of his own, getting
himself as snugly fixed in his new lair as possible. The
trapping operations of Bob Allyn and Dave soon drew
his attention to them and more than once he had been
within gunshot, as he shadowed their steps from tree to
tree along the brook. Had Dave but known it, it was
none other than the outlaw who had taken two coons
from the log traps and neglected to reset them before the
boy came by the Wednesday .previous. Sandy was living
well in his cave at Castle Rock, thanks to the abundance
of game and to the convenient endeavors of the boys.

The first real hint that came to him of danger from
them grew out of their set at the otter pond and their
finding of Thomas Lewis's silver tankard. The high-
wayman had, just as Bob suspected, hidden his loot in
several handy nooks and crannies here and there through-
out the woods of Edgemont and Newtown within reach
of Castle Rock. It so happened that he had the stolen
mugs with him when he had made his way toward his
hiding place, circling roundabout under cover of the Rid-


ley Woodlands. Seeing the otter hole in the bank not
far from Button's, he had slipped the cup in it for safe
keeping, never suspecting that the boys would trap so far
up the narrowing stream. Besides, he was making a com-
mon cache of all his plunder high among the crags of
Castle Rock, where no chance rover would be apt to
stumble upon it. He hoped soon to remove everything

Put on guard by the discovery of the silver, Sandy
Flash had at last made up his mind to watch the boys in
earnest. He was quite ready to go any length where his
own safety was concerned or where the carrying out of
his schemes seemed threatened. Particularly, what he
had in hand just now. The man was a strange mingling
of bestial cruelty and selfishness, warped with a strand
of what might have approached chivalry. His lashing
and torture of old Peter Burgandine had shown one side
of his degenerate nature. And the Newlin farmer was
not the only one who had been tied up and beaten in like
fashion. On the other hand, stories were rife of Sandy
Flash occasionally showing a kindly disarming friendship
toward his fellows, even giving the money he had taken
from well-to-do to help more poor and needy folk he met
with on the way.

Once while riding back to his cave in the Valley Hills,
between Cain Meeting and the old stone mill, he had
come upon a poor woman bound to market. She had a
few shillings and pence tied carefully in her kerchief, but,
even so, feared the chance of meeting with the dreaded
robber. On seeing Sandy Flash, she had asked him to


go with her through the wood, explaining her anxiety for
her little treasure, should she be stopped by the highway-
man. Sandy very courteously went with her to the far
edge of the copse where the road stretched down through
open fields toward the hamlet in the Valley. There, he
stopped, took off his hat and made himself known, pre-
senting the astonished old lady with a golden sovereign
before he slipped away among the trees.

Another twist in the man's nature was his love of dare-
deviltry toward the authorities and the farmer posses that
vainly tried to bring him to a reckoning at the bar of
justice. He had even gone so far as to round up two of
them, while they were out hunting the hills for him one
day, and he had given them a lasting taste of the lashing
that Burgandine had endured.

All in all, however, the man was a dangerous scoundrel,
well deserving to be hung. The few tricks he had played
on his pursuers and his occasional gifts to the poor, these
vastly exaggerated in the telling, blinded a person here
and there to the real villainy he was guilty of in the
county and to the utterly heartless way in which he
usually treated his victims. It was thanks to these mis-
guided folk, luckily only two or three in all, that the out-
law was able to escape capture and fare as well as he
did, hidden away in his many places of concealment.
They kept him in ammunition and food, what little of
both he needed, apart from the results of his robberies.
Most of his provisions he could get himself with his
flintlock. Like many clever criminals, Sandy Flash knew
the value of appearing in a hero's guise before the simple


folk, whenever he could. He invariably turned this pose
of helpfulness to good account, with never the faintest
heart throb of sincerity in it.

The stag he had been stalking this fair morning would
have meant smoked venison enough and to spare for many
weeks had not the boys startled it away from all chances
of a shot at that time. Sandy put that fact to their reck-
oning against the time he should have a settlement of
scores. He had a way of doing this that meant small
good for those concerned.

It is strange how little things alter the whole trend of
the future. The mild Saturday on which the boys had
ridden over to look at their traps by Hunting Hill was
touched with a bite of keener breeze as it grew toward
noon. This had led Bob to stable the horses at the Mac-
Afees', as he had explained to his chum, so that they
might be out of wind, until it was time for the return ride,
Coming home, it was Dave's turn to walk back for them
to the corners and on to meet Bob again by the road above.
As we know, the boy had done it. So it was that Sandy
Flash waited vainly till well after one o'clock for the lads
to approach him on foot, past the lower reaches of Ridley,
where he had concealed himself.

It was cold up there on the hill, bitter cold, standing
still, as the wind came flooding sharply up the valley.
The man cursed his folly for not having stalked them to
the brookside in the first place. Not knowing they had
gone far on to the mink track, he had mistakenly fancied
that they would come back as soon as they had worked a
little way along the stream. At last, he gave up all hopes
of seeing them and turned his steps toward Castle Rock.


It did not take him long to reach a strip of woodland
that swept from the southwestern slope of that hill up a
swale in the ground to the ridge topped by the Providence
Road. This high ground divided Crum on the east from
the waters of Ridley on the west. The outlaw could
move about pretty much as he pleased in both valleys
with plenty of cover and little chance of being seen. It
was only while crossing the road on the bare hilltop that
he had to make use of any special care to avoid detec-
tion. Even then it offered not the least difficulty to one
trained, as Flash had been from boyhood, in the ways of
the wood.

Castle Rock in Edgemont is a high hill bearing almost
the same relation to Crum Creek that Hunting Hill does
to Ridley. The forested slope on the east runs down
sharply to the edge of the brook. On the south, it drops
more gently to a narrow open valley, cut by the silver
sparkle of a swift little stream. The Strasburg Road
bounds the northern foot of Castle Rock where the oak
woods stretch upward from wayside thicket to the
weathered boulders that top the summit far above.

It was here at the peak of Castle Rock that the wooded
hill had won its name. And rightly so. Jutting high
among the ancient oaks and hickories, yet thoroughly hid-
den by them, bulked a great mass of granite. A huge
tower of it, gray, moss-grown, irregular, battered here and
there, with lichened shafts of rock reaching far above
the rest, it caught and held the eye like the crenelated
merlons of some crumbling old-world barbican. The
sides were solid in places, rising sheer for many yards.
Near the foot of the rocks, where the granite broke from


out of the solid core of the hill and pitched its tower
among the trees, a little opening hid behind a screen of
vines and briers. It was the only entrance to a natural
cleft or cavern in the rocks.

Instead of trying to crawl up to this from the west,
through an almost impassable tangle of thorns and briers
and wild-grapevines, Sandy Flash circled the pile and then
crept round its face, clinging to a little ledge of granite
that offered fair footing to one who knew the way. Above
the opening he paused, pushed the matted screen back
from the rock with his foot, then lowered himself gingerly
from grip to grip, toehold to toehold, till he dropped from
sight onto a platform below. The vines swung back
promptly to their former position above his head. The
outlaw stood within a perfect network of interwoven
thorns of such thickness that even the winter loss of leaves
had not forced them to lay bare the secret beneath.

Assured that the screen was as before, the man bent
low and pushed his way along the narrow crack in the
granite. A fair amount of light enabled him to see, some
of it coming from within, through a crevice in the roof.

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 7 of 19)