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their breathing. The snow, too, seemed a lot more slip-
pery and bothersome than it had in the morning. Dave
was hardened to walking, thoroughly hardened to it, but
he knew another fast climb or two would bring him to
going on his nerve alone. It was not so much the dis-
tance as it was the pace that was telling. Bob plugged
onward stolidly, showing little outward signs of distress,
despite the bad going. His good Scotch grit would carry
him forward that way till he stopped from exhaustion.

Luck came to them as they slumped downward toward
a little glade where the mist swirls played among the
green spires of a cedar thicket. Indeed, it was the cover
of the fog that helped them, for both boys were long since
too weary for much thought of woodcraft. The stag had
been resting and feeding here since early morning. Now
the sound of approaching steps sent him bounding through
the cover with a slither of falling snow behind him, as
the cedar boughs swung wide to give him passage. The
boys forgot the miles they had covered and sprang for-
ward on the instant, guns in readiness. Now was the
time for skill.

"I say! It's him!" Bob sank on one knee, forgetful
of grammar, as he whispered to Dave, and motioned with
his gun barrel. "We're up to him at last. We've got to
stalk now for a shot! Who'd have thought we'd ever "

"Hush! Be still, can't you!" Dave's hard grip on
the other's arm made him wince. "He must have been in
there eating! We're close to him still, I think. Listen!
Let's one of us try for a shot from the other end of the



THE BEAVER DAM 125

hollow where he'll come out! He's got to go that way,
you know."

In whispers that choked with excitement, they made
their arrangements. Dave, it was agreed, as the more
skilled of the two in woodcraft, had best slip round the
copse and take up a position at the glade's end, while Bob
would work straight through the thicket. If he got a
view he was to fire. Otherwise, his stalk would serve, at
least, to keep the deer on the move toward his friend's
hidden point of vantage below. There was little time to
do more or to make further study of the lay of the land.
This was a serious handicap, as both boys had no idea at
all where they were. They did have knowledge enough
of the country, however, to understand that the glen must
needs open on the larger valley somewhere to the south.

Silently as they could step, they parted, Bob to wait
for a reasonable time, Dave to swing round the western
border of the coppice. Luckily for the boy, the wind,
such as penetrated the sheltered ravine, came from the
stag toward him. The ground broke away sharply here
from the rolling upland hills to the north and west on
which they had been tramping all day. Had he but known
it, he was in the hollow through which Crum Creek flowed
south toward Castle Rock. The boy, hampered by the
fog, and the new angle from which he was approaching
the open valley of the Strasburg Road, had not the very
vaguest idea of his whereabouts. He knew what he was
trying to do, though, and he made such fair speed at it
that he came to the end of the glade before the stag had
broken cover to a view.



126 SANDY FLASH

The deer, alarmed by the first disturbing approach of
the lads, had soon grown calm again and, on hearing noth-
ing further, had begun to browse along the side of the
creek. By and by, it grew uneasy as instinct still whis-
pered that something was wrong within danger distance
of its shelter. The kingly animal ceased lipping at sap-
ling shoots, mildly alarmed, and froze to an image of
tense grace. Only its sensitive nostrils twitched as they
stretched wide, quivering to test each strand of scent that
came to them on the quiet air. Then the glorious head
went round and he turned till he had proved the breeze
in every quarter. It told him nothing. Yet he was not
satisfied. Something was wrong and he knew it. It came
to his brain sharp and insistent, not to be ignored, through
some forgotten sense that humans have long since lost.
He caught, ever so faint and far away, the deep baying of
the old hound, still worrying along the trail that the boys
had followed. That gave him no concern at all.

Unable to locate the danger, but none the less acutely
aware of it, the stately creature blew his nostrils clear at
last and stepped daintily down the hollow. He would not
hurry his pace, but he would move along till that uneasy
feeling left him. So it was that by the time he approached
the end of the coppice, Dave had been able to conceal
himself behind a clump of cedars in readiness for a shot.
The boy was so excited, as he waited prone on the snow,
that he could scarcely pour the priming powder in his
flintlock's pan.

Further to the north, Bob had crouched, unmoved and
stiff, as long as he could control his impatience, then he



THE BEAVER DAM 127

had risen and begun to slip from tree to tree, eyes leaping
down the vistas ahead of him. He made no attempt to
follow the tracks, for the stag had wandered about as he
nibbled until the slotted cover looked like a maze. All
the boy hoped for was a view within gunshot. He had the
vantage of wind on his left quarter, so need not fear be-
trayal there. The mist eddies bothered him provokingly,
for they seemed to hang heavily like a blind among the
close-growing patches of cedar. The lad had loaded and
primed his gun like a good woodsman, while waiting for
Dave to get to place.

The stag hunt ended in a manner that was startling,
though it came to each boy in a different way. Bob viewed
just as the buck crossed an open glade far ahead. The
animal had paused there before venturing out into the
meadowland of the valley beyond. The tall lad swung up
his gun, steadied the stock to his cheek with a reassuring
cuddle, played the sights a moment till they rested in line
behind the stag's shoulder where he wanted them, then,
bracing himself on widespread feet, he squeezed off the
trigger, too keen a sportsman to jerk it even in the stress
of firing at such a splendid target. Flint struck steel with
scratching click and fat sparks flamed to the firing pan,
but the powder did not flash. The instant the boy had
raised his arm, a puff of wind had soughed down the hol-
low and the cedars had swayed gently in answer to it,
shaking little snowslides from their boughs. A pinch of
clustering flakes, tobogganing downward, came to rest
full upon the priming of the flintlock a second before the
spark could ignite it. Bob dropped the gun to the crook



128 SANDY FLASH

of his arm with a mutter of anger and disgust while he
tore at the stopper of his powder flask. The boy's face
went white with the disappointment of it.

By the time he had reprimed, the stag had gone from
view. There was nothing for it now, but wait till the
sound of Dave's shot should reassure him. To run for-
ward seeking a second try would mean the spoiling of his
comrade's chances. Further, it would tend to bring him
into his line of fire. Bob wisely stayed where he was,
peering toward the opening in the trees. Of deer or Dave
he caught no trace.

As a matter of fact, a moment before the stag had
paced to the covert's edge and paused to choose his line
across the fields, Dave's mind had turned from thoughts
of hunting with a suddenness that he had never before
experienced. A hand laid on his shoulder set him rigid
in dumb surprise, a surprise all the more painful in that
his every instinct had been keyed to mark the buck's ap-
pearance. A pistol at his head quickly turned his aston-
ishment to bewilderment and terror. Indeed, it paralyzed
him completely. The sudden shock of the thing held him
motionless, his heart contracting with stabs of pain, his
skin prickling hotly, as he sucked in his breath. That
was the natural physical reaction to the unexpectedness
of it. Dave was brave as the next, but he had a human
body and it functioned as suqh. An instant of real tor-
ture, and the boy's brain began to register once more, as
the quickening blood flooded back. He turned his head,
rolling sideways, to see, from where he had been lying in
the snow. For a wild instant, he had guessed at a joke,
but now he knew he was in mortal danger.



THE BEAVER DAM 129

"Not a peep from ye!" A jab that hurt accompanied
the whisper and the pistol muzzle poked savagely in his
rib. "If ye lift so much as a sound, I'll drill ye to a
sieve! Stand up an' do as I tell ye. That's it!"

Dave did so. He was afraid now, terribly afraid, but
he was no coward. He was a lot more self-possessed, ac-
tually, than his captor gave him credit for. The boy had
wit enough to keep his head and to see the folly of re-
sistance. He was fairly trapped and in the man's power,
whoever he might be. The only game left for him to play
was one of instant compliance. Besides, there was Bob
Bob still unwarned in the covert. That settled it. He
would obey orders and give no hint of his comrade's
presence. The matter of his own escape could come later,
when they had gotten a bit away from the neighborhood
of the unsuspecting Bob.

Led by the man, the pistol ever nudging his side, Dave
slipped back into a dense thicket. Its screen had served
to hide the former's stealthy approach when he had stalked
in upon him, as the lad lay on the ground, every sense
quivering in anticipation of the stag. The cedars swung
close, as they passed and climbed the bank. That was all.

The whole thing had not taken more than a minute.
The stag had leaped away toward the open bottoms when
the boy and man had first moved, but otherwise the cov-
ert's end was as before.

In the meantime, Bob, at the other end of the wood,
was calm as usual, though the mishap with his priming
had rendered him bitterly angry. That, and the excite-
ment of the chase, finally wore down even the Scotch pa-
tience of the lad. Would Dave never fire? What in the



i 3 o SANDY FLASH

world was the matter with him, anyway? It probably was
five minutes, but it seemed like an hour to the uneasy
boy, when he could stand it no longer. Springing to his
feet, he made way down the glen, heading straight for the
opening where he last had seen the deer. This was dan-
gerous in view of his companion's position, but Bob was
too impatient to think of that and too untrained a woods-
man to appreciate the risk.

It was at a point halfway down the hollow that fate
took a hand in the lives of both boys. Bob stumbled.
Had he not stepped on the bit of stone that rolled away
so provokingly beneath him, he must have kept on and
found at once the telltale tracks where his comrade had
gone into the thicket at the point of his captor's pistol a
few moments before. As fate arranged it, however, Bob
did step on that wobbling bit of stone and he did stumble
for fair, bringing up on hands and knees with a bruising
jolt. The large trap he carried swung round in the fall
and welted his leg a crack that he remembered for many
a day. Then he first saw the water, a broad gleam of it,
and the ice, through the trees, with a silvery mist float-
ing close above it.

To his left, visible under the low-hanging cedar limbs,
ran Crum Creek. He would have passed it by unwittingly
had he not fallen just where he did. As he hopped about
on one foot, rubbing his leg, the sheen of the water, cou-
pled with the sting of the scratch, recalled the purpose for
which he had been lugging the trap about with him all day.
Dave must have seen the deer and withheld his fire for
some good reason, Bob hazarded a reassuring guess. No
doubt a shot would whang out at any moment now down



below. Meanwhile, he would steal a march on his trap-
ping chum by looking at the pond, for pond it surely was.
That meant muskrat or beaver. Bob grinned in delight
and forgot the pain on his shin. Vividly he recalled what
Dave had once told him of the value of a good beaver pelt
a prime skin. Chuckling to himself, he limped to the
water's edge.

"This is a find! The greatest bit of luck I've ever
had ! I say ! This'll make good old Dave wink green for
envy! I might get one, at that, if only they're here
beaver 'stead of rats. That'd mean something for the
soldiers, all right, if I could sell it for all it's really worth
in silver!"

Bob did not know a great deal about trapping, but he
had taken in everything that his chum had told him dur-
ing the last few weeks and he remembered enough of it
to recognize a beaver sign when he saw it. The pond was
not a disappointment, nor was it anything to become es-
pecially elated over. The dam was there and it was the
work of beaver. A glance at the make of it and at the
chewed-off ends of the logs proved him that conclusively.
Also, that it was a long-established one, although the
slides or runways by which the tireless workers had
floated their timber to the dam breast were still in evi-
dence. Here and there a gnawed stump stood in mute wit-
ness of their work. Bob noticed subconsciously that the
birch trees, what few of them there were, had suffered
more than any other kind. Beavers everywhere seem to
single out these trees to gnaw upon. Their tooth marks
shov/ed up very clearly like the bites of a wood-carver's
chisel.



132 SANDY FLASH

Eagerly Bob quartered the pond's edges for tracks, but
he could not find any that he was sure of. Had he been
skilful enough to locate them, the big lad would have been
surprised at the resemblance they bore to the familiar
tracks of a muskrat. Very much larger, of course, yet
the shape is much the same, though the beaver shows but
four toes. The front feet are webbed and register this in
the print they make in the mud.

Bob sat down on a convenient stump to lay his plans.
He did not waste much time about it. Beaver had
dammed the pond and dug the runways; they had chewed
down the trees and barked the birch saplings. Even
without tracks they might still be there, as the melting
snow might well have destroyed fresh marks. He would
make the set and leave the rest to luck. Recalling what
Dave had told him, he chose the largest log slide, one
that looked as if it might be still in use, and put his trap
at the foot of it. The thaw had melted the ice at a
point where the slide emptied into the pond, so that he
had no trouble whatever in setting it there about six
or seven inches under water. He knew beaver were
always pottering about their dams and getting down new
logs to reinforce it. This was the best spot to try.

Bob next cast about for a stout stick to fasten his
chain to. He had been warned by Dave that beaver
would chew themselves free from anything green or from
wood that rose above the surface. Having found the
dry kind of wood he wanted, Bob staked the chain to
it securely and drove it under water. It was a hard
thing to do without falling in himself, but he finally suc-
ceeded, perched precariously on the bank. He regretted



THE BEAVER DAM 133

that he did not have a much longer chain, for with it
he could have made the trap fast to a log that lay tempt-
ingly out in the pond six or seven feet away. Then it
would have been a simple matter to have weighted the
bed-piece of his trap with a stone tied to it and to have
set the thing on the log. A bit of popple or a birch branch
laid above it would have served as bait. Had he only
been able to do this, his chances of luck would have been
vastly better, for the snared beaver, granting he caught
one, would have dived from the log the instant the trap
snapped upon its foot. The weighted set would have done
the rest. And speedily. Bob sighed. It is hard to know
how to do a thing better, then have to let a second-rate
makeshift serve. At that, he had done a finer job of
trapping than he gave himself credit for. Even Dave
would have had to admit that, if he had been there to
see it.

With a last look at the trap in the log slide, the boy
picked up his heavy flintlock. It was high time he
had hurried on to find what had become of his comrade.
And of the stag as well. It did not take him long to
see that something must have gone wrong. The tracks
at the cover's edge were clear enough. Bob dropped
the butt of his gun and leaned upon the long barrel,
as he frowned over them. He saw where Dave had
crept forward to the screen of the little bush patch.
He saw the other footprints deep cut in the snow. He
read the trace of Dave's getting up and walking back
toward the cedars that veiled the slope of the hollow.
Any suspicion of a struggle was farthest from the boy's
mind, as he noted the undisturbed marks. Some one



134 SANDY FLASH

had evidently joined his chum and they had gone off
together. Perhaps, it was

Bob Allyn straightened with a start, as a voice rasped
from the bushes near him.

"Drop that gun where ye stand! An' drop it soon!
Ye're covered 1 Put up yer hands!"

Quicker than voice could carry or brain could act,
Bob's eyes flashed from the tracks at his feet to the
bank above. He saw a motionless form bulking large
against the green, he saw the leveled muzzle of a pistol
sloping toward him from the cedars. His brain pictured
vividly; he knew he was trapped, but it was beyond the
man and behind him that the boy's gaze held itself in
helpless, incredulous horror. Bob's breath came short
between his teeth, as he gulped and cried out:

"Dave, oh, I"

Then, without a thought, not knowing what he did,
the lad swung up his gun and sprang blindly toward the
slope straight for the point where the threatening pistol
flashed as flint struck steel.



CHAPTER VII
THE CAVE

WHEN Bob Allyn had whipped up his weapon and
jumped for the bank, he had acted solely on im-
pulse, although hi a dim way he seemed to sense that
he could not fire. Behind the man at the edge of the
cedars lay his chum, prone upon the ground. Any bullet
from Bob's gun, were it to miss its mark or were it not
to stop in the man's body, needs must go on straight for
the fallen lad. The sight of Dave had spurred Bob to
instant action, with wit enough left to hold his fire. In
answer to his leap came the flash and whang of the pistol,
as the man discharged the leveled piece. He was Mor-
decai Dougherty, Sandy Flash's yoke-fellow in crime.
That the bullet did not lodge in the boy's brain was due
to no fault in his aim or intention. Dougherty had done
his best to kill the lad, but squeezed his trigger an instant
too late. As he had fired, the barrel had been knocked
sideways in his grasp by a quick blow of a cudgel.
Flash himself had leaped to view from behind the cedars.
"Damn your eyes! Do as ye're told for onct, can't
ye!" Flash cried out as he swung back his heavy stick
and stood facing Mordecai. Both men were fairly quiv-
ering with rage. For the barest fraction of time it looked
as though the outlaw chief were out of hand and on the
point of striking his accomplice. Hot wrath flared quick

135



136 SANDY FLASH

in the flush of his face and showed in the set of his angry
lips. Then he turned away with a jerk of the head and
cursed as he sprang down the slope toward Bob.

The lad had seen the flame of Dougherty's pistol, but
he had leaped already and could not stop. An instant
later the sear of the bullet burned across his shoulder,
as though some one had hit him, hit him suddenly and
hard, with a club. The heavy lead pellet, low in velocity,
large in size as a slug, merely grazed the flesh of the
boy's right arm at the shoulder, but such was the force
of the blow that it swung him round completely on his
feet and bowled him over. As he fell, he dropped his
gun, reaching instinctively with the other hand to cover
the wound. Before he had stopped rolling, Sandy Flash
had snatched the flintlock from the ground, slung it up
the bank toward Dougherty and caught hold of Bob's
coat. The wrench of it nearly forced a scream from the
wounded boy.

"Where're ye hit? Serves ye right for runnin' into a
gun that a-way, ye blind fool! Sit up!"

Dragging the half-conscious boy roughly forward,
propped against his knee, the highwayman tore open Bob's
coat and bloody shirt, exposing a welt that traced the
course of the bullet. He ran his finger cruelly down
the raw wound, then moved back, letting Bob fall over
suddenly.

"Reckon that won't be the death of ye, me hearty.
More scared than anything else. Hey, Mort, hog-tie
this one 'fore he comes round, will ye? Then we'll have
the pair of 'em where we want 'em. Eh? Gasps like a
Brandywine bass, by the Lord ! " Flash's anger had died



THE CAVE 137

away as quickly as it had flamed to the surface, once
he saw the boy had not been killed. It was not so with
Mordecai.

Bob had never fully lost consciousness, although the
shock of the bullet had paralyzed him for the time being.
He knew he was hit. He knew he was falling. That
was all he did know clearly till the jab of the outlaw's
finger burned the open wound like a red-hot poker and
made him pant with pain. The jolt of tumbling back-
ward on the ground served to bring him round entirely.
The boy's shoulder scratch amounted to little in spite of
the anguish and the flow of blood. As soon as he had
gotten himself in hand from the shock, he was able to
take in what was going on about him.

Mordecai Dougherty, livid as a thunder cloud, slid
down the bank. He had wanted to shoot the boy, once
and for all, and he had done his best to do it, in spite
of the orders he had received from his superior. Now
he had lost the chance, though everything had been set
in his favor, when Bob had failed to drop his gun. The
man was sullen enough at best, but his leader's burst
of anger had stirred the lowest depths of his nature till
his brutish face set white with the fires of smoldering
rage within. Disappointment, black temper and a sly
cunning showed all too plainly in the twist of the scoun-
drel's mouth and in his shifty eyes, as he bent over the
boy.

C T11 larn ye to know a pistol's end from a chestnut
bur!" He rolled the unresisting lad on his face with
a sudden kick of his heavy boot. Then, with a wrench
that brought a cry of agony from Bob's lips, he whipped



i 3 8 SANDY FLASH

the boy's hands together behind his back and made them
fast there with a turn of dirty rag.

The torture for an instant was almost more than the
lad could bear, when the first stretch of the shoulder
pulled the tendons beneath the seared flesh, but it was
only that sudden stabbing dart of pain that wrung a
hint of weakness from him. After that, Bob lay as the
man had kicked him, face downward in the snow, while
his wrists were knotted securely. He made no effort
to cry out. Indeed, the shock of the wound had left
him too dazed and helpless. The boy moaned a little
from time to time, as Mordecai yanked heartlessly at
the wounded arm. Once the tall lad almost choked, as
he swallowed a mouthful of snow in a gasp for breath.
A last savage pull at the fastenings and the man had
done. He pushed Bob over on his side, regardless of
the bleeding wound that dyed the trampled surface of
the snow a fiery crimson.

"There ye be! An' there ye'll stay! Now, how does
it feel to be in a trap?" Dougherty laughed in rasping
sarcasm. "Ain't so pleasant some ways as a feather
bed, they do say." He stood up. The laugh turned
to a scowl, as he spied Flash bending over the other
prisoner some distance off. "Yer rotten foolin' with
these fellers'll be the end of us yit. Wot the deuce, I
sez! The chanct I had an' then ye ruinin' it, ye chicken
livered " The epithet between the man's teeth was so
unspeakably vile that had he heard it, even Sandy Flash
could not have let it go unchallenged. Dougherty knew
his chief, however, and took good care to hold his mut-
tered curses under breath.



THE CAVE 139

"All right, Mort." Sandy Flash swung round.
"Ready? Gotten him tied to suit? Can he walk?"

"Sure he can that, the pulin' baby. It's but the prick
of a pin wot he's got at all." The man shoved the boy
with his foot, but not so much as a moan came from
Bob's gritted teeth. The boy was himself now and game,
fighting with his last ounce of strength to play the man.
Had it not been for the sucking gasps for breath that
racked him, one could not tell that he was in pain at all.

"This one here," Sandy Flash motioned toward Dave,
"is all quiet. Right as a pickle! Ain't got the spunk
of the big feller, though, or he might of raised a rumpus,
too, when we nabbed him. He never so much as lifted
finger!"

"Speakin' o' that, it seems to me he nearly bit the
thumb off ye, Cap'n, wotever the lamb was doin', when
ye started to put the gag to him. Ha! hal Ye let go
quick enough!"

Sandy Flash ignored the laugh. Reaching down with
a mighty heave he yanked Dave to his feet. The lad's


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Online LibraryClifton LisleSandy Flash, the highwayman of Castle Rock → online text (page 9 of 19)