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Sandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock online

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A moment later, he stood erect in the middle of a good-
sized cave, brushing the dust from his sleeve. The place
was dry as a bone, high enough for him to walk upright
in some places and quite large enough for several men to
sit down in comfortably. A rude fireplace had been built
in one corner by the simple expedient of rolling together
some flat stones. A darkened streak up the sloping wall
of granite showed the outlet for smoke. It escaped
through the same little split that let in light near the en-
trance. A penny dip stuck on a harrow tooth driven in a


crack served to light the place, when Sandy had scratched
at his flint and flashed a bit of powder in the pan. The
candle spluttered a moment, then burned with a clear
yellow light.

A bundle of clothes near the fireplace stirred, as a man
sat up suddenly rubbing his eyes and stretching, turn by
turn. He was not nice to look upon. Unshaven, dirty
to a degree, sullen and evil-eyed, the fellow had none of
the swaggering neatness that marked the bearing of Sandy
Flash. Rather he looked every inch the thieving black-
guard that he was. Mordecai Dougherty yawned loudly,
then spat in the embers of a dying fire.

"Wot luck, Cap'n? Any buck meat?"

"Little enough, me sleepin' beauty!" Sandy Flash set
the candle so that the light fell across the hearth. "Shake
out there, Mort, an' cut me a bite o' pork from the hunk
yonder, like a good fellow. I'll stir up a fire. The lads
with the traps ruined the finest hit o' venison for us ye
ever clapped eyes on. The buck I told ye of, it was.
The very same!"

"Snared it, the dirty raskils?" Mordecai bent to draw
a villainous looking knife, none too clean, from its rest-
ing place in his left stocking. Then he set about slicing
the meat. "I said ye ought to've knocked 'em off fer fair,
the brace of 'em, the time wot they first found yer siller
drinkin' mug."

"I'm runnin' this party! When your ways're wanted,
they'll be asked for. Not sooner. Understand? No,
they didn't snare the deer. Naturally not! How'd they
know to? Scared it off the very sights o' me gun, though,
the beauty that it was, too! Foolin' with traps and


snares, and all that, they were, over in the other valley.
Reckon ye never thought o' seein' to our own nags, now,
did ye?"

Dougherty's answer was to lay aside the meat and make
his way out of the cave, followed by a hearty curse from
his leader. By the time he had returned, the fire was un-
der way, taking some of the chill from the cavern. And
a cleverly built fire it was. Very small, of the driest
wood, it served to boil a pot of water and cook the simple
meal, yet it gave forth practically no smoke. Sandy Flash
went on with his tale, describing the stalk of the stag and
his vain wait for the boys' return. Mordecai Dougherty
offered no further suggestions, but it was clear that he
felt that the presence of the lads and the knowledge they
had, justified extremes. The man was lacking in Flash's
brains, but he was every whit as cruel in destroying
what stood in his way. Just now both men had plans
brewing of considerable import. They lost no more time
in getting to them.

"I've gotten the whole thing pretty well lined up,
Mort." Sandy Flash carefully replenished the fire with
more dry sticks, using an iron rod as a poker. He had
found it in the cave. "That message ye brought me last
night from Moses Doan turned the trick for a good 'unl
So they're to ship the gold toward Head of Elk, are
they? Reckon it's less likely to be captured there, eh?
How about it's gettin' down there first, says I! How
about that, me hearty?"

"This comin' week, it is. We heard it all. Old Doan
he sez wot " Dougherty paused, as Sandy Flash mo-


tioned for silence in a way that showed he looked for

"They're afraid to use the main road through Chester,
I take it? It'd be too risky for 'em. Hum! They're to
come straight west, are they, just as Doan told me he
thought they would, when he spoke o' me comin' to Castle
Rock in the first place? Think o' that, me dear! They're
to ride right by our door, ye might say on the Goshen
Road! Ye've told me so! It's a favor truly they're after
doin' us. An' not a one the wiser!" Flash laughed.
"Thinkin' I'm back in Cain or Bradford! They'll wake
up more sudden than they fell asleep, that they will!"

"Ye're forgettin' the cup an' the boys wot found it.
It's not our'n yet, that gold ain't, nor like to be, either,
long as ye let that pair o' sneakin' spies have the run o'
the country. They'll be fetchin' a halter tether fer us
both, Cap'n Fitz, before "

"Oh, no, they won't! Rest ye easy on that. Listen,
now, to what I'm tellin' ye, an' stow the gab. Ye're pow-
erful strong in talk, but poverishin' little work it is ye're

Sandy Flash ran over the fuller details of his plot for
the enlightenment of his accomplice. Tipped off by the
infamous Moses Doan, through Mordecai, who had acted
as go-between, it appeared that Flash had learned some
while before of the authorities covertly collecting large
sums of money for use in buying military stores. This,
in gold coin, was to be moved as soon as might be from
its present precarious hiding place close to the enemy's
lines. Arrangements had just been made to do this by
couriers, one of whom was to ride out past Newtown


Square and the White Horse, then south to the Brandy-
wine by the Street Road and on toward Head of Elk.
All secretly and under cover of darkness.

Sandy Flash had acted on Doan's advice and moved to
Castle Rock a fortnight before, bent upon lying quietly
in wait until he should have received further word. All
was now in readiness and the tip had come with the ar-
rival of Dougherty at the cave the evening before. Sandy
disclosed a few of his own plans as the conference ended.
He lent emphasis to his words by speaking slowly, tapping
the hearth stone with the iron rod.

"Do ye understand now, me hearty, why ye've no man-
ner o' need to be botherin' about 'em? 'Tis perishin' little
that couple o' game cocks'll have to do with this deal!
Ye can tell Moses, too, he's no need o' worry."

Sandy chuckled at the look of unbelieving surprise be-
ginning to dawn in the face of his companion. It gave
way to a sort of grudging admiration, as the meaning of
the leader's words sank deeper. Mordecai Dougherty
was a brute and hardened to most things, yet now he
whistled softly.

"Ye'd not try that! It's but lads they be after all,
Cap'n. Ye couldn't."

"Oh, couldn't I? Just bide a wee an' see who couldn't!
Do ye know what the rider's to carry? In solid coin o'
the realm, me beauty! " Sandy's lips purred as he named
it. "Now, how about it, lads or no? Eh?"

Dougherty nodded.

Meanwhile, at Sycamore Mills, Bob Allyn had just
wheedled his father out of a promise to let him have Mon-
day off for a try at the stag. He little knew to what the
chase would lead him.


THE two boys put in a quiet Sunday. A few neces-
sary chores in the morning were gotten over with as
soon as might be. Then came the reading of family
prayer, as neither the Allyns or the Thomases were able
to arrange for the long drive to church, this particular
morning. But both families replaced this with a little
service of their own at home, as was their custom. A
late dinner kept them at table till mid-afternoon. Before
one could realize it the short winter day had slipped on
to twilight and the sun began to set across the hills of dis-
tant Thornbury. There was a queer, uncertain light there
in the west. John Allyn looked at it a moment critically
as he came up from the barn by Sycamore Mills. Then
he shook his head and spoke to Bob, who was walking
beside him with a pail of milk.

"That's a lovely sight, if ever there was one, son, but
it's got the token of change in it. Mind how the wind's
gone down and the snow's got a yellow streak to it off
there under the sunset? By to-morrow we'll have it in a
different quarter. I feel the weather breeding in my
bones already. 'Tis a queer thing that, but it rarely

Bob had thought of riding over to Dave's after supper,
but now he gave up the idea. He studied the sky care-
fully. Of late, he had begun to take an interest in such



things. Not only did he appreciate more than he used to
the unsearchable beauties of coloring burning so vividly
there before him, but he also was learning what a vast
wealth of practical information the clouds and the sky
and the sunlight contained for those who had schooled
themselves to read the lessons aright. He knew that his
father was the best teacher he could have, for big John
Allyn had been making his farming earn him a livelihood
from boyhood, thanks in no small way, to his skillful
judging of wind and weather. Bob now noted the for-
mation of the clouds and the coloring on the hilltops with
a view of putting their signs to account. The beauty of
the thing held him a moment, then with a shift of thought,
his mind turned toward Dave and the passion of his chum
for the open and all the ways of nature.

"Father, I reckon you're like Dave Thomas." Bob
laughed, as he looked at the tall form of his parent.
"Dave's always busy studying out what's going to happen
next to the weather and telling what hour it is from the
sun and the stars, if it's night. Everything like that. I
used to laugh at him, but I'm going to pick up a bit of it
myself. Look yonder, at that funny twist of cloud with
no glow on it at all. Looks just like smoke from a chim-
ney to me. I say, what's it mean?"

"I'm glad you saw it." Mr. Allyn glanced at the cloud
his son had spoken of. "It's just a freak of the wind!
Know what it puts me in mind of, though? It's for all
the world like the signal fires the Delawares used to make
in the olden days. They'd send 'em up when they were
out hunting, sometimes, when they'd gotten on the track
of a big herd of deer. Then when they made their camps


they kept signal smokes going most all the time, telling
outlying parties I don't know what. Used to scare the
old-time settlers mighty near out their skins for fear it
was trouble brewing. But it never was hereabouts, thanks
to Penn's Treaty."

"Where did they make the fires?" asked Bob. "On
the highest hills they could?"

"Yes. They had fixed places more or less. One was
the Cathcart Rock in Willistown. Then another was
Signal Hill beyond Old St. David's, Radnor. The oldest
fire rock of all was great stone down by Lewis's Mill,
near the Darby Road. They say the Indians used that
for a thousand years and more. I reckon they did, from
all the smoke that's on it to this very day. I once saw
one in Middletown, too."

Father and son climbed the little slope to the house and
went indoors. Supper was waiting. As they ate, the talk
veered round to the chances of finding the stag. Bob
made ready for an early start by going to bed in good
season. He knew what he could look forward to, once the
stalk began.

Monday morning dawned in a smother of fog a thaw
faint with the tang of the distant sea. Blurred trees
dripped with the moisture of it. Hedgerows lost them-
selves in swirling eddies of it. Even farm buildings,
familiar barns and sheds and corncribs, rose in gray, un-
certain masses, different altogether from their wonted
selves. But little wind stirred the mist and what there
was came drifting in from the east, over the hills of Upper
Providence. John Allyn had discerned the face of the
sky truly. The change had come over night.


Dave, near Rose Tree corner, was up in the wet chill
of earliest dawn, seeing to his cnores. Like Bob, he had
his father's consent to take the day off in search of the
deer. And he had no idea of being late. At the crossing
where the lane from Sycamore Mills joined the Provi-
dence Road, the boys hailed one another gleefully. This
was a red-letter day one that did not come to them often
and right royally their spirits were rallying to it. A mo-
ment's pause settled their course of action.

First they would go cross country to Hunting Hill,
looking at such traps as chanced to lie in their way. Then
they would work north by the Ridley Woodlands on the
watch for signs of deer. Hugh Thomas had heard of
their particular stag being viewed several times lately on
the forested slopes of the high ground over toward Fairie
Hill and the Rising Sun in Willistown. Both lads de-
termined to seek it first in that quarter. They could ask
for report of it as they crossed the farms beyond the
Strasburg Road. They felt that such an antlered crown
could not have escaped notice in the neighborhood for

As they followed Ridley north, they could spare a mo-
ment's passing to look at the otter and mink sets since
these were along their line. Bob had brought a large
trap with him on the chance of finding a beaver dam.
Each boy carried a flintlock, powder horn and bullet
pouch. Then they had a sandwich or so crammed in their
pockets, simple wheat bread and cheese, which they could
munch as they went along. This was to be a tramp of
many miles at best and they were eager to travel un-


hampered and avail themselves of daylight to the last

The first traps they visited were unsprung, just as they
had left them two days before. A coon, however, re-
warded them in one of the hollow logs. While Bob des-
patched the pugnacious creature with a merciful blow on
the head, fearing to risk the noise of a shot, Dave ran
on to the next log. Here the trap was still set, so they
hid their spoil and hastened to the bank where the skunk
had been caught on the Saturday preceding. This was
empty, but the trappers were not downcast by it. They
could hardly be expected to fill all their traps in so short
a time.

"We've been lucky enough as it is to satisfy most."
Dave made sure that the trap was in working order. "But
I reckon nobody's ever really satisfied with what he's got,
do you? The more he has, the more he wants ! We both

"I'm ready to call us lucky! " Bob shifted his flintlock
into the crook of his arm. "We'll clean out the whole
country in no time, if we keep it up like we've begun.
Do you know, Dave, I think we ought to use judgment in
this trapping game. I mean we ought to trap only what
we really need, and what there's lots of. If we don't, why
first thing you know we'll begin to run out of a supply!"

"That's a funny one!" Dave laughed. "How could
anybody ever make a dent in all the game there's here-
abouts? Why, there's so much of it that we could make
the whole army fur coats and lug 'em over to the Valley


"What about the fish in the Brandywine, then?" broke
in Bob. "Don't you know only a few years back the
stream had heaps and heaps of shad in it far up as the
Forks in Bradford and miles beyond, too? Where're
they now? There's not a one, hardly, only trout and bass
and fall fish, and all because folks have fished the shad
out and built dams for 'em and set nets for 'em whole-
sale. Why, if they just keep on like they've started, we
won't have any game left some day."

"We've not over-set our end of the country, at any
rate." Dave picked up his gun and together they turned
from the earth. "But it's worth thinking of, as we go on
trapping. Let's see how many we've caught all together
so far." He fell to checking over their list.

The walk for several miles proved uneventful. No trace
or slot of deer greeted them. At the pool where the musk-
rat houses rose like queer haycocks through the mist, the
boys took several animals, safely drowned, from the traps.
This was not much of a surprise, but it did give them a
pleasant tingle of satisfaction. Luck was evidently with
them still.

"Rats are stupid things." Dave sprung the trap he
held, letting the dead muskrat flop upon the snow. "A
fellow can make sets and catch 'em, day after day, and
they never seem to understand enough what's going on
to be afraid." He replaced the trap in the water and se-
cured the pole. "Let's move along, Bob."

A disappointment awaited them at the pond in the
glen where the set had been made for the otter. It was
just as they had left it, although fresh tracks were in
evidence a-plenty about the bank. Unmistakable, among


the others, ran those of the giant they had noticed before
the king otter of the pool. The boys were clearly at
fault somewhere, yet neither of them knew in what way.
It would have been no small comfort to them had they
understood that the otter is regarded by the professional
trapper as one of the most difficult of all animals to take.
When they had nipped a bit of fur from one of them, they
had come as near success as they were likely to in that
small place where every otter was now doubly on guard.
Not knowing the difficulties before them, they kept dog-
gedly at it, which was, after all, the best thing they could
do. The mink set in the water by the foot of the bank re-
stored them to high feelings the instant they caught sight
of the animal in it. It was a fair-sized one, probably
twenty-five inches from muzzle to tail tip, and the fur
was prime. Especially did the catch justify the wisdom
of the way they had laid their trap. It showed that they
had read the signs aright and tried for mink where mink
were. Two minutes' delay served to reset the trap in the
same place.

"It's a regular walk they have along here, like as not,
where they come hunting after muskrats," volunteered
Dave. "We might as well try it again. This pelt's fine.
We'll get a jolly good price for it at the Pratt. Or we can
see what mother can make out of it. Your mother, if she'll
do it."

"No need for a cubby here, I guess, or whatever you
call 'em." Bob stroked the sleek fur. "The water set
does just as well, it seems to me. Besides, it's lots easier.
Nothing to it but putting in a trap. We'll divvy up on
the pelts to-night. I think we ought to have enough pretty


soon to take over to the Valley Forge for caps and

"All right. Here's for the water set again," said Dave.
"Sometimes you have to have cubbies, though. They're
good things, all right. It's the only way you can get a
fisher a black cat, that is. I heard a fellow once say
there're lots of 'em back in the mountains where the green
timber grows spruce, they love, fishers do."

"I say, how'd he get 'em?" Bob pricked up his ears
for what might be useful. "Did he try in the woods?"

"Built cubbies for 'em. Over in the pines of Birming-
ham, it was. Just like mine I told you of for mink. Only
bigger. His were a good two feet long and a foot wide
and high. Then he covered 'em over with spruce boughs
for thatch to keep the snow from filling 'em up. He said
the less you fooled round 'em, the better. Fishers are
scary as the pop of a weasel ! The great thing's to make
the cubby, then leave it strictly alone!"

"Wish there were some fishers round here, nearer than
way off there. It'd be great to get a big thing like that!"
Bob sighed. The fever of the trapper had gotten deep in
his blood. He wanted to accomplish everything at once,
now he had tasted the joy of the start.

"Our buck isn't so very small, you know," the younger
boy grinned, as he saw that his comrade had almost for-
gotten their real mission. "We've still to get him to-day.
It would be rare if there were fisher about, but I've never
heard of one close by in Edgemont or Providence. Not
since father was a boy, anyway. Must be lots in the
Welsh Mountains, though. \Ve could easily get over
there, if they'd let us mal;e a hunting trip of it sometime.*


"That man I spoke of told me how to get 'em. You use
a big trap, 'bout the same as we did for the otters. Then
you make the cubby and put in the trap. You've got
to hitch the chain to a sapling spring pole so that when
he's fast, it'll yank him up in the air. Just like that rab-
bit loop of ours, only the trap and all goes up with this.
It takes a real good sapling with lots of spring. It's hard
to find the right kind, he said."

"Should think it might be! How much does a fisher
weigh?" queried Bob.

"Don't know. Never even saw one." Dave pushed
his way through a thicket of alders and began to climb
toward the higher ground. "Let's get out of this hollow.
It's thick as cheese! Can't see a blessed thing for the
fog. We could easily pass by that deer and never know
it. How much does a fisher weigh? A good deal, I
reckon. Their pelt's as big as all get out! The trick of
catching 'em is to lay a long drag with some bait or other
a piece of rabbit is what the man used. He said it was
still better to put some fox scent or even aniseed on the
bait, then pull that along with a strip of rawhide thong
behind you. Then you go and make some cubbies, here
and there, where you drag the bait. There ought to be a
bit of bait in each cubby. The greatest trouble must be
to find the right kind of saplings to yank 'em up, I'd

"We'll have to try it, anyway, sometime, just for the
fun of it. That laying a drag with more than one cubby
along it, sounds pretty good to me." Bob slung his heavy
trap and chain over his shoulder. "I say, it was mighty
foolish lugging this thing along to-day with the gun and


all, wasn't it? It'll only be in the way, if we ever do come
up with the stag. Pretty much like a needle in a hay-
stack, finding him in this fog. What's a fisher's tracks
look like? Ever see 'em?"

"Don't know. I never did. But the trapper said they
were mighty hard to trail, the fishers themselves were, so
I guess they keep their tracks scarce, too. If you ever
come on any pine marten where there's lots of spruce
trees, why then you'll find the fisher, sure as can be. I
know because "

The boys had climbed up from the cleft of the valley
and now saw that they were on one of several bare hills
that dropped away in rounded contours as far as the eye
could carry through the east wind's shifting haze. The
mist had largely cleared away up here, patches of it only
still veiling the bottom in fleecy waves of fog. Across the
field in which they stood came the melodious baying of a
hound. It was that which had brought Dave to a halt,
his words unfinished. Luck was with them this day, for
sure. The boys scanned the view in all directions. It
was blank.

"That dog's after something, sure as preaching!" Bob
spoke. "It's just as apt to be a deer's trail as not."

"Let's run over and see then. It just might be that
buck! This is near where they said they saw him last
time, you know. Come along!" Dave broke into a jog
trot, Bob Allyn at his side.

They were right. An old hound was busily working
away at the slot of a deer. There was no mistake about
that for the cloven hoof marks showed up clearly in the
soft snow. And they were large, too. A full-grown stag.


The difficulty, however, lay in the fact that the trail was
not fresh. The manner in which the dog labored over it
soon convinced them that they were wasting their time in
depending on his ancient, though laudable, endeavors.
The stag had passed that way, but how long before neither
lad was clever enough to guess.

"There's only one thing to do. And do it quick!"
Dave passed the hound and hurried on. "That old dog'll
spend the day working round here in this one field, yowl-
ing and towling along the line for dear life. But he'll
never get forward! We've got to run it ourselves, far as
it goes in the snow. Maybe it may get clearer by and by.
Let's try!"

"All right. Get to it then!" Bob's powerful stride
brought him alongside the smaller boy. Without further
word they settled down to what they knew would be the
real test of the day a grueling match of endurance and

It was not hard to follow the slot, but it was hard to
keep up the speed that they felt absolutely necessary if
they hoped to come within gunshot of the deer before
dark. For more than five hours they trudged on, speak-
ing little, now climbing to the uplands where they could
search the countryside in all directions, again drop-
ping with the winding, uncertain trail to the bottom of
the little valleys where they could scarcely see a hundred
fog-dimmed yards ahead of them. The boys were be-
ginning to tire as the winter afternoon came on. Their
bread and cheese served to pick them up, however, and
they kept right gamely at it, following the hoof marks
step by step. The hills, now, were topped a good deal


more slowly than at first, with occasional rests to ease

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Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 8 of 19)