Emerson Bennett’s “A Narrow Escape” [1910]

This feature article was reprinted in several American newspapers in 1910. This was third story published under Bennett’s name involving Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The subject of the highwaymen must have intrigued Bennett, since he returned to it three times. Bennett died in his eighties in 1905, and had given up writing years before, so the late publication date is a minor mystery. He was one of the most popular American writers of the 1850s and 1860s, and produced dozens of adventure novels, most set on the frontier of the United States.

A NARROW ESCAPE

by Emerson Bennett

In the dusk of evening, two dusty, weary-looking foot travelers entered the little town of Doneraile, in Ireland.

One was quite a young man, of medium size, with a fresh complexion, a quick, sharp eye, which seemed ever on the alert for danger.

The other was tall, had a commanding figure, and had he been dressed like a gentleman, might easily have passed for one.

His clothes, however, as well as those of his companion, were patched, and soiled, and such as were worn by mendicants, or laborers of the poorer class.

Beside this, the younger man had his face tied up, as if suffering from a toothache, and the elder wore a green patch over one eye.

Both kept a sharp lookout all around them, though they moved with firm steps and a careless swagger, as if they had nothing to fear.

“Satan take me if I like traveling on foot!” said the elder, in a complaining way.

“And Satan will take you, whichever way you travel,” laughed the younger.

“And if he do, the consolation will be mine of having you for a companion,” was the retort.

“Yes,” returned the younger, with an affected sigh, “no doubt the devil will get us both in the end; but so the hangman doesn’t get us first, is the most I care for now. It’s a pity we had to leave Cork on foot, but there was no help for it. My horse had been ridden to death and when you sent for yours the stable-keeper wanted to see the owner. Which owner? Ha! ha! ha! You were too modest to even assume to be that wealthy individual, you know; and so here we are, not in the garb of lords, nor even high commissioners, but rather as mendicants.”

“And lucky we were to procure these clothes, and bury our others!” said the elder.

“Well, where are we going to stop?”

“At the nearest inn we can find, I suppose.”

“I’ll lay you a bottle of wine, then, that mine host will not accept us for lodgers till we show him the color of our money.”

“Done! And I hope you’ll win.”

“Why?”

“Because then we may not be taken for those two scapegoats who keep all the sheriffs and constables so busy looking out for them.”

“I suppose our fame has preceded us even here?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Such are the troubles of distinction. Though I have longed for it in my time, I see now that it has its disagreeable side, especially when one wishes to pass unnoticed.”

They made their way to a small, miserable inn; and, on asking if they could get something to eat and lodging there for the night, the innkeeper eyed them suspiciously, and in turn inquired if they had money enough to pay for what they wanted.

The younger glanced at the elder; and the elder with just a slight twinkle in his eye, grimly answered:

“We’re not over burdened with money, ’cause we’s two laboring chaps what’s looking for work; but I guess as how we can scrape enough to pay you, if you don’t charge too much.”

“Well, I’d like to see the value of half a crown to begin with,” said the cautious innkeeper.

“I told ye so,” said the younger of the travelers, in a lugubrious tone, as he turned to the elder, with a long, solemn face. “I told ye he’d want to see the color of our money. Some people think innkeepers are fools,” he continued, with a sly grin, which the landlord did not perceive; “but I don’t. They all know something. I’ve never knowed one yit what was a out-and-out idiot.”

“If I tell ye I’ve got money to pay for all we order, that’ll do, won’t it?” inquired the elder, addressing the landlord direct.

“Divi1 a bit will it do with Mike Callahan now!” answered the host.

“Well, then, hold your gab while I make a rummage!” returned the senior traveler, as he began feeling in his different pockets.

At last he fished up three shillings, which caused the landlord’s eyes to brighten and his manner to become more agreeable.

As the two wayfarers glanced around the taproom their eyes fell upon a printed poster, offering a large reward for the capture, dead or alive, of the two noted highwaymen, of John Doherty, alias Captain Thunderbolt, and John Martin, alias Captain Lightfoot, and describing the personal appearance of each very accurately.

“My eyes!” exclaimed the eider.

“Make it eye,” interposed the younger, “since you’ve only got one.”

“My eye, then!” coincided the other. “How I’d like to be the fellow to catch them two scoundrels and git all the money.”

“Sure, an’ there’s more like ye,” chimed in the landlord. “If I could catch them rascals, it’s mesilf would become a rich man, so it is.”

“I’m afraid there’s no sich good luck for poor bodies,” sighed the elder traveler. ·

He then asked to be shown to his lodging room, and ordered some bread and cheese and brandy, remarking that he and his friend must keep within their means.

When the two were alone together in their room they decided to remain there and rest themselves through the night and the following day, and leave Doneraile on the following night.

Nothing of importance occurred till the following day, when, the elder man being asleep on the bed and the younger one looking out of a window, a crowd of persons, among whom were several soldiers, was seen approaching the house.

The inn was on the outskirts of the village, and there was a large field back of it which extended to a heavy wood.

Hastening to his companion the younger man seized him by his whiskers, and, as he started up, ready for something desperate, the latter said:

“Quick, captain! There is no time to lose! Suspicious soldiers are heading this way, accompanied by a crowd of citizens.”

With one bound the newly awakened sleeper reached the door and went crashing down some narrow, creaking stairs, closely followed by his companion.

The landlord, hearing the noise, and perhaps suspecting something of the truth, ran to the foot of the stairs and attempted to head off his escaping lodgers.

Catching hold of the big man as he was in the act of bounding past him to the rear door he cried out: “Here, now, stop, ye thafe! Ye’ll not lave here till ye pays me my scot!”

The fellow jerked himself loose in an instant, and with a sort ot grim humor, as he raised his fist and knocked the innkeeper down, he said,

“All right, my friend I’ll settle the scot by giving you my note for it.”

The next moment be shot through the open door, with his companion close at his heels, and the two bounded away together across the open fields toward a distant wood.

Instantly loud cries and shouts were heard:

“There they go! There they go!”

“Stop thief! Stop thief!”

“Shoot them! Shoot them!”

“They are the great highwaymen, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot!”

“Shoot them! Shoot them!”

The soldiers at once drew up and fired at the fugitives; and then, finding the latter did not stop running, they set off in pursuit of them, being joined by a number of civilians, some of whom were eager because of the great reward.

The fugitives were several rods in advance of their nearest pursuers, and this distance the elder maintained for some time, without increasing it, as his fleeter companion expected him to do.

“Why, captain, what’s the matter with you,” he exclaimed, as he suddenly forged ahead a few paces and looked back. “Are you going to let those cursed drones overhaul you?”

“I’m doing my best, brother,” answered Thunderbolt. “I’m hit.”

“Good lord! Where?”

“In the calf of my leg.”

“Ha, yes! I see the blood running; and you limp; is it painful?”

“Very!” panted the wounded man.

Lightfoot glanced at his companion’s face and saw that it was deathly pale, covered with great drops of sweat, and corrugated with lines of suffering.

“Do you feel faint?” he anxiously questioned.

“Yes.”

“For Heaven’s sake, don’t give way to it, or you are lost!”

“I know it.”

“It is death to be taken.”

“I know it.”

“Can you hold out?”

“The Lord only knows. I will do my best.”

“Here, lean somewhat on me–that may help you a little.”

As Thunderbolt rested one arm on the shoulder of Lightfoot, the crowd behind, seeing the action and divining the cause, at once set up a wild shout of anticipated triumph.

“He’s been hit, and we’ll soon have him,” cried one.

“He can’t hold out much longer!” exclaimed another.

“Load and fire again, soldiers, and make sure work ot both!” chimed in a third.

While one yelled one thing and another another, the officer in command of the soldiers, finding that, encumbered with their muskets and knapsacks, they were not gaining on the fugitives at all, even though one of them was wounded and limping, ordered them to halt, load and fire at the escaping men, with the best aim they could, hoping thus to arrest their flight with some well-sped bullet.

By the time the order was executed, the freebooters were so far in advance of their military foes that either the distance, bad aim or inaccuracy of their weapons, the fear of hitting some of the citizens who were still vigorously keeping up the pursuit, or all these circumstances combined, rendered their several shots ineffectual; and the robbers still held on their course, the wounded man straining every nerve and his companion still urging and helping him forward.

In this manner the two outlaws reached the wood a fair distance in advance of the nearest pursuers, when Lightfoot turned with a shout of defiance and flourishing his pistol, sent a bullet so near to the head of the foremost citizen that he actually jumped to one side as the ball whistled past him, and then came to an abrupt halt.

From the time of entering the wood the two daring highwaymen saw nothing of their pursuers; but, comprehending the danger of remaining in a locality where their presence was known, they still held on, over hill and valley, across streams and fields, and through belts timber and brush wood for a distance of ten long, fatiguing miles; when at last as they plunged into a thick covert of bushes the strength of Thunderbolt gave out, and he suddenly fell down in a death-like swoon.

“Oh, Lord of mercy! He is either dying or dead! ” cried his frightened companion, as he dropped down by his side and felt for his pulse and the beat of his heart. “Oh, captain, for the love of Heaven don’t die now, just as we have reached a place of safety!” he wailed.

Thunderbolt was not dead, though his face had a ghastly look and his breath was suspended.

Lightfoot vigorously chafed his face and hands, all the time calling upon him in endearing terms to come back to life.

As if in answer to this prayer, the prostrate man presently revived a little, and said in a faint, catching voice:

“Look–in–pocket–bottle.”

Lightfoot rapidly passed his hands over his companion’s ragged dress till he felt a hard substance that proved to be a small bottle, which he drew out and uncorked.

With an effort Thunderbolt took this in his hand, smelt of the liquid it contained, put a few drops on his tongue, and then, pouring some into his hand, rubbed it over his head.

“It is the elixir of life,” he said with a reviving smile, “and I feel better and stronger already. Didn’t we have a run tor it, my boy? But that cursed bullet is in my calf yet, and it must be cut out. Come, my lad, let us see what kind of surgeon you will make. Out with your knife and set to work.”

“But I am no surgeon,” returned Lightfoot, deprecatingly.

“I’ll make you one then. Don’t be afraid, my boy! You’re not going to carve a puling infant. You’ll find me a doctor who understands my own case, and also a quiet patient to work on. Down with you–find the lead, cut as near to it as possible, and don’t mind a little blood. I can afford to lose a good deal more than you’ll draw.”

Thus urged by his brave comrade, Lightfoot set to work, and, finding his friend did not flinch, be proceeded to cut away the flesh from around the bullet, till at last he extracted it.

“Bravo!” said Thunderbolt. “I knew you could do it. Now I will dress the wound myself.”

This he did; but he was not able to walk another step that day.

“I must have rest,” he said, “and do without food till the inflammatory stage is over.”

Lightfoot cut down some bushed, made his friend a bed in the thicket, and remained by his side, without anything to eat or drink, for more than twenty-four hours.

The second night Lightfoot went in search of food and returned with a couple of turkeys which he had stolen from a fowl-house.

With his pistol he started a fire, roasted one of the fowls, and ate ravenously himself; but he could not prevail upon Thunderbolt to touch a morsel.

“I’m nearly starved,” said the self-denying highwayman, “but if the richest banquet in the world spread before me I would not indulge in even a taste, knowing as I do that total abstinence is the shortest road to convalescence.”

They remained at this place for two days more, and then Thunderbolt found himself able to walk a little, with Lightfoot’s assistance.

Subsequently, Lightfoot left his companion concealed in a wood, while he alone proceeded to a small village where from an apothecary he procured such medicines as Thunderbolt directed him to get.

After this the two highwaymen kept themselves concealed and almost starving for two or three weeks, by which time Thunderbolt had so far recovered that he could walk briskly with a slight limp.

The two rascals now considered themselves in good condition for new adventures, and went plunging forward into new exploits and crimes, as if they knew themselves possessed of charmed lives.

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