Part 10 out of 11
but if it came to spending the evening, there was no saying
who might have ears and eyes open. At home I could have my horse ready
at a minute's warning, and be off like a shot at the first whisper of danger.
So off we went. We didn't ride very fast back. It was many a day
since we had ridden over that ground together side by side.
It might be many a day, years perhaps, before we did the same thing again.
Perhaps never! Who was to know? In the risks of a life like mine,
I might never come back -- never set eyes again upon the sister
that would have given her life for mine! Never watch the stars glitter
through the forest-oak branches, or hear the little creek
ripple over the slate bar as it did to-night.
We rode along the old track very quiet, talking about old times --
or mostly saying nothing, thinking our own thoughts.
Something seemed to put it into my head to watch every turn in the track
-- every tree and bush by the roadside -- every sound in the air --
every star in the sky. Aileen rode along at last with her head drooped down
as if she hadn't the heart to hold it up. How hard it must have seemed to her
to think she didn't dare even to ride with her own brother in the light of day
without starting at every bush that stirred -- at every footstep,
horse or man, that fell on her ear!
There wasn't a breath of air that night. Not a leaf stirred --
not a bough moved of all the trees in the forest that we rode through.
A 'possum might chatter or a night-owl cry out, but there wasn't
any other sound, except the ripple of the creek over the stones,
that got louder and clearer as we got nearer Rocky Flat. There was nothing
like a cloud in the sky even. It wasn't an over light night,
but the stars shone out like so many fireballs, and it was that silent
any one could almost have fancied they heard the people talking
in the house we left, though it was miles away.
`I sometimes wonder,' Aileen says, at last, raising up her head,
`if I had been a man whether I should have done the same things
you and Jim have, or whether I should have lived honestly and worked steadily
like George over there. I think I should have done so, I really do;
that nothing would have tempted me to take what was not my own --
or to -- to -- do other things. I don't think it is in my nature somehow.'
`I don't say as you would, Ailie,' I put in; `but there's many things
to be thought of when you come to reckon what a boy sees,
and how he's brought up in the bush. It's different with girls --
though I've known some of them that were no great shakes either,
and middling handy among the clearskins too.'
`It's hard to say,' she went on, more as if she was talking to herself
than to me; `I feel that. Bad example -- love of pleasure --
strong temptation -- evil company -- all these are heavy weights
to drag down men's souls to hell. Who knows whether I should have been better
than the thousands, the millions, that have fallen, that have taken
the broad road that leads to destruction. Oh! how dreadful it seems
to think that when once a man has sinned in some ways in this world
there's no turning back -- no hope -- no mercy -- only long bitter years
of prison life -- worse than death; or, if anything can be worse,
a felon's death; a doom dark and terrible, dishonouring to those that die
and to those that live. Oh that my prayers may avail -- not my prayers only,
but my life's service -- my life's service.'
Next morning I was about at daybreak and had my horse fed and saddled up
with the bridle on his neck, ready all but slipping the bit into his mouth,
in case of a quick start. I went and helped Aileen to milk her cows,
nine or ten of them there were, a fairish morning's work for one girl;
mothering the calves, bailing up, leg-roping, and all the rest of it.
We could milk well, all three of us, and mother too, when she was younger.
Women are used to cattle in Ireland, and England too.
The men don't milk there, I hear tell. That wouldn't work here.
Women are scarce in the regular bush, and though they'll milk
for their own good and on their own farms, you'll not get a girl to milk,
when she's at service, for anybody else.
One of the young cows was a bit strange with me, so I had to
shake a stick at her and sing out `Bail up' pretty rough
before she'd put her head in. Aileen smiled something like her old self
for a minute, and said --
`That comes natural to you now, Dick, doesn't it?'
I stared for a bit, and then burst out laughing. It was a rum go,
wasn't it? The same talk for cows and Christians. That's how things
get stuck into the talk in a new country. Some old hand like father,
as had been assigned to a dairy settler, and spent all his mornings
in the cowyard, had taken to the bush and tried his hand
at sticking up people. When they came near enough of course he'd pop out
from behind a tree in a rock, with his old musket or a pair of pistols,
and when he wanted 'em to stop `Bail up, d---- yer,' would come
a deal quicker and more natural-like to his tongue than `Stand.'
So `bail up' it was from that day to this, and there'll have to be
a deal of change in the ways of the colonies and them as come from 'em
before anything else takes its place, between the man that's got the arms
and the man that's got the money.
After we'd turned out the cows we put the milk into the little dairy.
How proud Jim and I used to be because we dug out the cellar part,
and built the sod wall round the slabs! Father put on the thatch;
then it was as cool and clean as ever. Many a good drink of cold milk
we had there in the summers that had passed away. Well, well,
it's no use thinking of those sort of things. They're dead and gone,
like a lot of other things and people -- like I shall be before long,
if it comes to that.
We had breakfast pretty comfortable and cheerful. Mother looked pleased
and glad to see me once more, and Aileen had got on her old face again,
and was partly come round to her old ways.
After breakfast Aileen and I went into the garden and had a long talk
over the plan we had chalked out for getting away to Queensland.
I got out a map Starlight had made and showed her the way we were going
to head, and why he thought it more likely to work than he had done before.
I was to make my way down the Macquarie and across by Duck Creek,
George's station, Willaroon; start from there with a mob of cattle
to Queensland as drover or anything that would suit my book.
Jim was to get on to one of the Murray River boats at Swan Hill,
and stick to her till he got a chance to go up the Darling
with an Adelaide boat to Bourke. He could get across from there by Cunnamulla
towards Rockhampton, and from there we were safe to find plenty of vessels
bound for the islands or San Francisco. We had hardly cared where,
as far as that goes, as long as we got clear away from our own country.
As soon as Jeanie got a word from Jim that he'd sailed and was clear
of Australia, she'd write up to Aileen, who was to go down to Melbourne,
and take mother with her. They could stop with Jeanie
until they got a message from San Francisco to say he'd safely arrived there.
After that they could start by the first steamer. They'd have money enough
to take their passages and something handsome in cash when they got to land.
Aileen agreed to it all, but in a curious sort of way. `It looked well,'
she said, `and might be carried out, particularly as we were
all going to work cautiously and with such a lot of preparation.'
Everything that she could do would be done, we might be sure; but though
she had prayed and sought aid from the Blessed Virgin and the saints
-- fasting and on her bare knees, night after night -- she had not been able
to get one gleam of consolation. Everything looked very dark,
and she had a terrible feeling of anxiety and dread about the carrying it out.
But she didn't want to shake my courage, I could see;
so she listened and smiled and cheered me up a bit at the end,
and I rode away, thinking there was a good show for us after all.
I got back to the Hollow right enough, and for once in a way
it seemed as if the luck was on our side. Maybe it was going to turn --
who was to know? There had been men who had been as deep in it as any of us
that had got clean away to other countries and lived safe and comfortable
to the day of their death -- didn't die so soon either --
lived to a good round age, and had wives and children round them
that never knew but what they'd been as good as the best.
That wouldn't be our case; but still if we once were able to put the sea
between us and our old life the odds would be all in our favour
instead of being a hundred to one that we weren't placed and no takers.
Starlight was glad enough to see me back, and like everything he tackled,
had been squaring it all for our getting away with head and hand.
We wanted to take everything with us that could do us any good, naturally.
Father and he had made it right with some one they knew at Turon
to take the gold and give them a price for it -- not all it was worth,
but something over three-fourths value. The rest he was to keep
for his share, for trouble and risk. There was some risk, no doubt,
in dealing with us, but all the gold that was bought in them days
wasn't square, not by a lot. But there was no way of swearing to it.
Gold was gold, and once it was in the banks it was lumped up with the rest.
There was a lot of things to be thought of before we regularly made a move
for good and all; but when you make up your mind for a dart,
it's wonderful how things shape. We hadn't much trouble dividing the gold,
and what cash there was we could whack easy enough. There was the live stock
that was running in the Hollow, of course. We couldn't well take them
with us, except a few of the horses. We made a deal at last with father
for them. He took my share and Starlight's, and paid us in cash
out of his share of the notes. All we wanted was a couple of horses each,
one to carry a pack, one to ride.
As for dad, he told us out, plump and plain, that he wasn't going to shift.
The Hollow was good enough for him, and there he was going to stop.
If Jim and I and Starlight chose to try and make blank emigrants of ourselves,
well and good. He didn't see as they'd have such a rosy time
getting over to these new townships on the other side. We might get took in,
and wish we was back again before all was said and done.
But some people could never let well alone. Here we had everything
that any man in his senses could wish for, and we wasn't contented.
Every one was going to cut away and leave him; he'd be all by himself,
with no one but the dog for company, and be as miserable as a bandicoot;
but no one cared a blank brass farden about that.
`Come with us, governor,' says Starlight, `have a cruise round the world,
and smell salt water again. You've not been boxed up in the bush
all your life, though you've been a goodish while there. Make a start,
and bring old Crib too.'
`I'm too old and getting stiff in the j'ints,' says dad, brightening up a bit,
`or I don't say as I wouldn't. Don't mind my growling.
But I'm bound to be a bit lonely like when you are all drawed off the camp.
No! take your own way and I'll take mine.'
`Next Monday ought to see us off,' says Starlight. `We have got
the gold and cash part all right. I've had that money paid
to Knightley's credit in the Australian Bank I promised him,
and got a receipt for it.'
`That's just like yer,' says father, `and a rank soft thing
for a man as has seen the world to drop into. Losin' yer share
of the five hundred quid, and then dropping a couple of hundred notes
at one gamble, besides buying a horse yer could have took for nothing.
He'll never bring twenty pound again, neither.'
`Always pay my play debts,' says Starlight. `Always did, and always will.
As for the horse -- a bargain, a bargain.'
`And a dashed bad bargain too. Why didn't ye turn parson instead of taking
to the bush?' says father, with a grin. `Dashed if I ain't seen some parsons
that could give you odds and walk round ye at horse-dealin'.'
`You take your own way, Ben, and I'll take mine,' says Starlight
rather fierce, and then father left off and went to do something or other,
while us two took our horses and rode out. We hadn't a long time
to be in the old Hollow now. It had been a good friend to us in time of need,
and we was sorry in a kind of way to leave it. We were going to play
for a big stake, and if we lost we shouldn't have another throw in.
Our horses were in great buckle now; they hadn't been doing much lately.
I had the one I'd brought with me, and a thoroughbred brown horse
that had been broken in the first season we came there.
Starlight was to ride Rainbow, of course, and he had great picking
before he made up his mind what to choose for second horse.
At last he pitched upon a thoroughbred bay mare named Locket
that had been stolen from a mining township the other side of the country.
She was the fastest mare they'd ever bred -- sound, and a weight-carrier too.
`I think I'll take Locket after all,' says he, after thinking about it
best part of an hour. `She's very fast and a stayer. Good-tempered too,
and the old horse has taken up with her. It will be company for him.'
`Take your own way,' I said, `but I wouldn't chance her.
She's known to a lot of jockey-boys and hangers-on. They could swear
to that white patch on her neck among a thousand.'
`If you come to that, Rainbow is not an every-day horse,
and I can't leave him behind, can I? I'll ship him, if I can, that's more.
But it won't matter much, for we'll have to take back tracks all the way.
You didn't suppose we were to ride along the mail road, did you?'
`I didn't suppose anything,' says I, `but that we were going to clear out
the safest way we could. If we're to do the swell business
we'd better do it apart, or else put an advertisement into the "Turon Star"
that Starlight, Marston, and Co. are giving up business and going to leave
the district, all accounts owing to be sent in by a certain date.'
`A first-rate idea,' says he. `I'm dashed if I don't do it. There's nothing
like making one's exit in good form. How savage Morringer will be!
Thank you for the hint, Dick.'
There was no use talking to him when he got into this sort of humour.
He was the most mad, reckless character I ever came across,
and any kind of checking only seemed to make him worse. So I left him alone,
for fear he should want to do something more venturesome still,
and went on with my packing and getting ready for the road.
We fixed up to start on the Monday, and get as far away
the first couple of days as we could manage. We expected to get a good start
by making a great push the first day or two, and, as the police would be
thrown off the scent in a way we settled -- and a good dodge it was --
we should have all the more time to be clear of New South Wales
before they regularly dropped that we were giving them leg bail for it.
The Sunday before Starlight started away by himself,
taking a couple of good horses with him -- one he led, and a spare saddle too.
He took nothing but his revolver, and didn't say where he was going,
but I pretty well guessed to say good-bye to Aileen. Just as he started
he looked back and says --
`I'm going for a longish ride to-day, Dick, but I shall be here late
if I'm back at all. If anything happens to me my share of what there is
I give to her, if she will take it. If not, do the best you can with it
for her benefit.'
He didn't take Warrigal with him, which I was sorry for,
as the half-caste and I didn't hit it well together,
and when we were by ourselves he generally managed to do or say something
he knew I didn't like. I kept my hands off him on account of Starlight,
but there was many a time my fingers itched to be at him,
and I could hardly keep from knocking some of the sulkiness out of him.
This day, somehow, I was not in the best of tempers myself.
I had a good lot on my mind. Starting away seems always a troublesome,
bothering sort of thing, and if a man's at all inclined to be cranky
it'll come out then.
Next day we were going to start on a long voyage, in a manner of speaking,
and whether we should have a fair wind or the vessel of our fortune
would be wrecked and we go down with it no one could say.
This is how it happened. One of the horses was bad to catch,
and took a little trouble in the yard. Most times Warrigal was quiet enough
with 'em, but when he got regular into a rage he'd skin a horse alive,
I really believe. Anyhow, he began to hammer the colt with a roping-pole,
and as the yard was that high that no beast could jump it
he had him at his mercy. I wouldn't have minded a lick or two,
but he went on and on, nearly knocking the poor brute down every time,
till I could stand it no longer, and told him to drop it.
He gave me some saucy answer, until at last I told him I'd make him.
He dared me, and I rushed at him. I believe he'd have killed me that minute
if he'd had the chance, and he made a deuced good offer at it.
He stuck to his roping-stick -- a good, heavy-ended gum sapling,
six or seven feet long -- and as I came at him he struck at my head
with such vengeance that, if it had caught me fair,
I should never have kicked. I made a spring to one side,
and it hit me a crack on the shoulder that wasn't a good thing in itself.
I was in at him before he could raise his hands, and let him have it
right and left.
Down he went and the stick atop of him. He was up again like a wild cat,
and at me hammer and tongs -- but he hadn't the weight,
though he was quick and smart with his hands. I drew off and knocked him
clean off his pins. Then he saw it wasn't good enough, and gave it best.
`Never mind, Dick Marston,' says he, as he walked off;
and he fixed his eyes on me that savage and deadly-looking,
with the blood running down his face, that I couldn't help shivering a bit,
`you'll pay for this. I owe it you and Jim, one a piece.'
`Confound you,' I said, `it's all your own fault. Why couldn't you stop
ill-using the horse? You don't like being hit yourself.
How do you think he likes it?'
`What business that of yours?' he said. `You mind your work
and I'll mind mine. This is the worst day's work you've done this year,
and so I tell you.'
He went away to his gunyah then, and except doing one or two things
for Starlight would not lift his hand for any one that day.
I was sorry for it when I came to think. I daresay I might have got him round
with a little patience and humbugging. It's always a mistake
to lose your temper and make enemies; there's no knowing what harm
they may do ye. People like us oughtn't to throw away a chance,
even with a chap like Warrigal. Besides, I knew it would vex Starlight,
and for his sake I would have given a trifle it hadn't happened.
However, I didn't see how Warrigal could do me or Jim any harm
without hurting him, and I knew he'd have cut off his hand
rather than any harm should come to Starlight that he could help.
So I got ready. Dad and I had our tea together pretty comfortable,
and had a longish talk. The old man was rather down in the mouth for him.
He said he somehow didn't expect the fakement to turn out well.
`You're going away,' he said, `from where you're safe,
and there's a many things goes against a man in our line,
once he's away from his own beat. You never know how you may be given away.
The Captain's all right here, when he's me to look after him,
though he does swear at me sometimes; but he was took last time.
He was out on his own hook, and it's my belief he'll be took this time
if he isn't very careful. He's a good man to fight through things
when once he's in the thick of 'em, but he ain't careful enough to keep
dark and close when the play isn't good. You draw along steady by yourself
till you meet Jim -- that's my advice to ye.'
`I mean to do that. I shall work my way down to old George's place,
and get on with stock or something till we all meet at Cunnamulla.
After that there ain't much chance of these police here grabbing us.'
`Unless you're followed up,' says the old man. `I've known chaps
to go a deuce of a way, once they got on the track, and there's getting
some smart fellows among 'em now -- native-born chaps as'll be as good
at picking up the tracks as you and Jim.'
`Well, we must take our chance. I'm sorry, for one thing,
that I had that barney with Warrigal. It was all his fault.
But I had to give him a hardish crack or two. He'd turn dog on me and Jim,
and in a minute, if he saw his way without hurting Starlight.'
`He can't do it,' says dad; `it's sink or swim with the lot of you.
And he dursn't either, not he,' says father, beginning to growl out his words.
`If I ever heard he'd given away any one in the lot I'd have his life,
if I had to poleaxe him in George Street. He knows me too.'
We sat yarning away pretty late. The old man didn't say it,
but I made out that he was sorry enough for that part of his life
which had turned out so bad for us boys, and for mother and Aileen.
Bad enough he was in a kind of way, old dad, but he wasn't all bad,
and I believe if he could have begun again and thought of what misery
he was going to bring on the lot of us he would never have gone on the cross.
It was too late, too late now, though, to think of that.
Towards morning I heard the old dog growl, and then the tramp
of a horse's feet. Starlight rode up to the fire and let his horse go,
then walked straight into his corner and threw himself down without speaking.
He had had a precious long ride, and a fast one by the look of his horse.
The other one he had let go as soon as he came into the Hollow;
but none of the three would be a bit the worse after a few hours' rest.
The horses, of course, were spare ones, and not wanted again for a bit.
Next morning it was `sharp's the word', and no mistake. I felt a deal
smarter on it than yesterday. When you've fairly started for the road
half the journey's done. It's the thinking of this and forgetting that,
and wondering whether you haven't left behind the t'other thing,
that's the miserablest part of going a journey; when you're once away,
no matter what's left behind, you can get on some way or other.
We didn't start so over and above early, though Starlight was up
as fresh as paint at sunrise, you'd thought he hadn't ridden a yard
the day before. Even at the very last there's a lot of things
to do and to get. But we all looked slippy and didn't talk much,
so that we got through what we had to do, and had all the horses
saddled and packed by about eight o'clock. Even Warrigal
had partly got over his temper. Of course I told Starlight about it.
He gave him a good rowing, and told him he deserved another hammering,
which he had a good mind to give him, if we hadn't been starting
for a journey. Warrigal didn't say a word to him. He never did.
Starlight told me on the quiet, though, he was sorry it happened,
`though it's the rascal's own fault, and served him right.
But he's a revengeful beggar,' he says, `and that he would play you
some dog's trick if he wasn't afraid of me, you may depend your life on.'
`Now,' says he, `we must make our little arrangements.
I shall be somewhere about Cunnamulla by the end of this month'
(it was only the first week). `Jim knows that we are to meet there,
and if we manage that all right I think the greatest part of the danger
will be over. I shall get right across by Dandaloo
to the back blocks of the West Bogan country, between it and the Lachlan.
There are tracks through the endless mallee scrub, only known
to the tribes in the neighbourhood, and a few half-castes like Warrigal,
that have been stock-riding about them. Sir Ferdinand and his troopers
might just as well hunt for a stray Arab in the deserts of the Euphrates.
If I'm alive -- mind you, alive -- I'll be at Cunnamulla on the day I mean.
And now, good-bye, old fellow. Whatever my sins have been, I've been true
to you and your people in the past, and if Aileen and I meet across the seas,
as I hope, the new life may partly atone for the old one.'
He shook hands with me and dad, threw his leg over Rainbow,
took Locket's bridle as if he was going for an easy day's ride,
and cantered off.
Warrigal nodded to both of us, then brought his pack-horse up level,
and followed up.
`There goes the Captain,' says father. `It's hard to say
if we'll ever see him again. I shan't, anyhow, nor you either, maybe.
Somehow I've had a notion coming over me this good while
as my time ain't going to be long. It don't make no odds, neither.
Life ain't no great chop to a man like me, not when he gets
the wrong side o' sixty, anyhow. Mine ain't been such a bad innings,
and I don't owe much to any man. I mean as I've mostly been square
with them that's done me a bad turn. No man can say Ben Marston
was ever back'ard in that way; and never will be, that's more.
No! them as trod on me felt my teeth some day or other. Eh, old man?'
Crib growled. He understood things regular like a Christian,
that old dog did. `And now you're a-goin' off and Jim's gone --
seems only t'other day as you and he was little toddlin' chaps,
runnin' to meet me when I come home from work, clearin' that fust paddock,
and telling me mammy had the tea ready. Perhaps I'd better ha' stuck
to the grubbin' and clearin' after all. It looked slow work,
but it paid better than this here in the long run.' Father turns
away from me then, and walks back a step or two. Then he faces me.
`Dash it, boy, what are ye waitin' for? Shake hands, and tell Jim
the old man han't forgot him yet.'
It was many a day since I'd felt father's hand in kindness;
he didn't do them sort of things. I held out mine and his fingers
closed on it one minute, like a vice -- blest if I didn't expect
to feel the bones grate agin one another; he was that strong
he hardly knew his own strength, I believe. Then he sits down on the log
by the fire. He took out his pipe, but somehow it wouldn't light.
`Good-bye, Crib,' says I. The old dog looked at me for a bit,
wagged his tail, and then went and sat between dad's knees.
I took my horse and rode away slowish. I felt all dead and alive like
when I got near the turn in the track. I looked back and seen the dog and him
just the same. I started both horses then. I never set eyes on him again.
Poor old dad!
I wasn't very gay for a bit, but I had a good horse under me,
another alongside, a smartish lot of cash in notes and gold,
some bank deposits too, and all the world before me. My dart now
was to make my way to Willaroon and look sharp about it.
My chance of getting through was none too good, but I settled
to ride a deal at night and camp by day. I began to pick up my spirits
after I got on the road that led up the mountain, and to look ahead
to the time when I might call myself my own man again.
Next day after that I was at Willaroon. I could have got there overnight,
but it looked better to camp near the place and come next morning.
There I was all right. The overseer was a reasonable sort of man,
and I found old George had been as good as his word, and left word
if a couple of men like me and Starlight came up we were to be put on
with the next mob of cattle that were going to Queensland.
He did a store cattle trade with the far-out squatters that were stocking up
new country in Queensland, and it paid him very well, as nearly everything did
that he touched. We were to find our own horses and be paid so much a week
-- three pounds, I think -- and so on.
As luck would have it, there was a biggish mob to start in a week,
and road hands being scarce in that part the overseer was disappointed
that my mate, as he called him, hadn't come on, but I said he'd gone
`Well, he'll hardly get such wages at any other job,' says he,
`and if I was Mr. Storefield I wouldn't hire him again,
not if he wanted a billet ever so bad.'
`I don't suppose he will,' says I, `and serves him quite right too.'
I put my horses in the paddock -- there was wild oats and crowsfoot
knee-high in it -- and helped the overseer to muster and draft.
He gave me a fresh horse, of course. When he saw how handy I was in the yard
he got quite shook on me, and, says he --
`By George, you're just the chap the boss wants to send out
to some new country he's going to take up in Queensland. What's your name?
Now I think of it he didn't tell me.'
`William Turner,' says I.
`Very well, William,' says he, `you're a dashed good man, I can see,
and I wish I could pick up a few more like you. Blessed if I ever saw
such a lot of duffers in my life as there are on this side.
I've hardly seen a man come by that's worth his grub. You couldn't stop
till the next mob starts, I suppose? I'd make it worth your while.'
`I couldn't well this time,' says I; `my mate's got a friend out north
just from home, and we're tied to time to meet him. But if I come
back this way I'll put in a year with you.'
`Well, an offer's an offer,' says he. `I can't say more,
but I think you'll do better by stopping on here.'
I got away with the cattle all right, and the drover in charge
was told to do all he could for me. The overseer said I was as good
as two men, and it was `Bill' here and `William' there all the time
till we were off. I wasn't sorry to be clear away, for of course any day
a trooper might have ridden up and asked questions about the horses,
that were a little too good for a working drover.
Besides, I'd had a look at the papers, and I saw that Starlight had been
as good as his word, in the matter of the advertisement. Sure enough,
the `Turon Star' and a lot of other papers had, on the same day,
received the same advertisement, with a pound note enclosed,
and instructions to insert it four times.
To all whom it may concern.
The Messrs. Marston Brothers and Co., being about to leave the district,
request that all accounts against them may be sent to the Police Camp,
Turon, addressed to the care of Sir Ferdinand Morringer, whose receipt
will be a sufficient discharge.
For the firm,
I couldn't have believed at first that he'd be so mad.
But after a bit I saw that, like a lot of his reckless doings,
it wasn't so far out after all.
All the papers had taken it up as usual, and though some of them
were pretty wild at the insult offered to the Government and so on,
I could see they'd most of them come to think it was a blind of some sort,
meant to cover a regular big touch that we were going in for, close by home,
and wanting to throw the police off the scent once more.
If we'd really wanted to make tracks, they said, this would be the last thing
we'd think of doing. Bit by bit it was put about as there should be
a carefully laid plot to stick up all the banks in Turon on the same day,
and make a sweep of all the gold and cash.
I laughed when I saw this, because I knew that it was agreed upon
between Aileen and Gracey that, about the time we were fairly started,
whichever of them saw Sir Ferdinand first should allow it to be
fished out of her, as a great secret, that we were working up
to some tremendous big affair of this sort, and which was to put the crown
on all our other doings. To make dead sure, we had sent word to Billy the Boy
(and some money too) to raise a sham kind of sticking-up racket
on the other side of the Turon, towards Bathurst way. He was to frighten
a few small people that would be safe to talk about it,
and make out that all the bush-rangers in the country were camped about there.
This was the sort of work that the young villain regularly went in for
and took a pleasure in, and by the way the papers put it in
he had managed to frighten a lot of travellers and roadside publicans
out of their senses most.
As luck would have it, Wall and Hulbert and Moran had been working up
towards Mudgee lately and stuck up the mail, and as Master Billy
thought it a great lark to ride about with them with a black mask on,
people began to think the gangs had joined again and that some big thing,
they didn't know what, was really on the cards. So a lot of police
were telegraphed for, and the Bathurst superintendent came down,
all in a hurry, to the Turon, and in the papers nothing went down
but telegrams and yarns about bush-rangers. They didn't know
what the country was coming to; all the sober going people
wishing they'd never got an ounce of gold in Australia,
and every little storekeeper along the line that had 100 Pounds
in his cash-box hiding it every night and afraid of seeing us ride up
every time the dogs barked.
All the time we were heading for Cunnamulla, and leaving New South Wales
behind us hand over hand.
The cattle, of course, couldn't travel very fast; ten or twelve miles a day
was enough for them. I could have drowned myself in the creeks
as we went crawling along sometimes, and I that impatient to get forward.
Eighty miles it was from Cunnamulla to the Queensland border.
Once we were over that we'd have to be arrested on warrant,
and there were lots of chaps, like us, that were `wanted',
on the far-out north stations. Once we sighted the waters of the Warrego
we should feel ourselves more than half free.
Then there was Jim, poor old Jim! He wrote to say he was just starting
for Melbourne, and very queer he felt about leaving his wife and boy.
Such a fine little chap as he'd grown too. He'd just got his head down,
he said, and taken to the pulling (he meant working) like our old
near-side poler, and he was as happy as a king, going home to Jeanie at night,
and having his three pounds every Saturday. Now he was going away ever so far
by land and sea, and God knows when he might see either of 'em again.
If it wasn't for the fear he had of being pitched upon by the police any day,
and the long sentence he was sure to get, he'd stay where he was.
He wasn't sure whether he wouldn't do so now.
After that Aileen had a letter, a short one, from Jeanie. Jim had gone.
She had persuaded him for the sake of the boy, though both their hearts
were nearly broken. She didn't know whether she'd done right.
Perhaps she never might see him again. The poor fellow
had forfeited his coach fare once, and come back to stay another day with her.
When he did go he looked the picture of misery, and something told her
it was their last parting.
Well, we struck the river about ten miles this side of Cunnamulla,
where there was a roadside inn, a small, miserable kind of place,
just one of those half-shanties, half-public-houses, fit for nothing
but to trap bushmen, and where the bad grog kills more men in a year
than a middling break-out of fever.
Somewhere about here I expected to hear of the other two.
We'd settled to meet a few miles one side or the other of the township.
It didn't much matter which. So I began to look about
in case I might get word of either of 'em, even if they didn't turn up
to the time.
Somewhere about dinner time (twelve o'clock) we got the cattle on to the river
and let 'em spread over the flat. Then the man in charge rode up to the inn,
the Traveller's Rest, a pretty long rest for some of 'em (as a grave
here and there with four panels of shickery two-rail fence round it showed),
and shouted nobblers round for us.
While we was standing up at the bar, waiting for the cove to serve it out,
a flash-looking card he was, and didn't hurry himself,
up rides a tall man to the door, hangs up his horse, and walks in.
He had on a regular town rig -- watch and chain, leather valise,
round felt hat, like a chap going to take charge of a store or something.
I didn't know him at first, but directly our eyes met I saw it was old Jim.
We didn't talk -- no fear, and my boss asked him to join us,
like any other stranger. Just then in comes the landlady to sharpen up
the man at the bar.
`Haven't you served those drinks yet, Bob?' she sings out.
`Why, the gentlemen called for them half-an-hour ago.
I never saw such a slow-going crawler as you are. You'd never have done
for the Turon boys.'
We all looked at her -- not a bad-looking woman she'd been once,
though you could see she'd come down in the world and been knocked about
a bit. Surely I knew her voice! I'd seen her before -- why, of course --
She was quicker than I was.
`Well, Dick!' says she, pouring out all the drinks, taking the note,
and rattling down the change on the counter, all in a minute,
same as I'd often seen her do before, `this is a rough shop
to meet old friends in, isn't it? So you didn't know me, eh?
We're both changed a bit. You look pretty fresh on it.
A woman loses her looks sooner than a man when she goes to the bad.
And Jim too,' she goes on; `only to fancy poor old Jim turning up here too!
One would think you'd put it up to meet at the township
on some plant of that sort.'
It was Kate, sure enough! How in the world did ever she get here?
I knew she'd left the Turon, and that old Mullockson had dropped
a lot of his money in a big mining company he'd helped to float,
and that never turned out gold enough to pay for the quicksilver
in the first crushing. We'd heard afterwards that he'd died
and she'd married again; but I never expected to see her brought down so low
as this -- not but what we'd known many a woman that started on the diggings
with silks and satins and a big house and plate-glass windows
brought down to a cotton gown and a bark shanty before half-a-dozen years
Jim and I both looked queer. The men began to laugh. Any one could see
we were both in a fix. Jim spoke first.
`Are you sure you're not making a mistake, missis?' says he,
looking at her very quiet-like. `Take care what you say.'
He'd better have held his tongue. I don't know whether she really
intended to give us away. I don't think she did altogether;
but with them kind of women it's a regular toss up whether
they'll behave reasonable or not. When they're once started,
'specially if they think they've not been treated on the square,
they can't stop themselves.
`Take care what I say!' she breaks out, rising her voice to a scream,
and looking as if she'd jump over the bar-counter and tear the eyes out of me.
`Why should I take care? It's you, Dick Marston, you double-faced
treacherous dog that you are, that's got a thousand pounds on your head,
that has cause to care, and you, Jim Marston, that's in the same reward,
and both of you know it. Not that I've anything against you, Jim.
You're a man, and always was. I'll say that for you.'
`And you're a woman,' groans out poor Jim. `That's the reason
you can't hold your infernal tongue, I suppose.'
Kate had let the cat out of the bag now and no mistake.
You should have seen the drover and his men look at us
when they found they had the famous bush-rangers among them
that they'd all heard so much about this years past.
Some looked pretty serious and some laughed. The drover spoke first.
`Bush-ranger here or bush-ranger there,' he says, `I'm going to lose
a dashed good man among cattle; and if this chattering fool of a woman
had held her tongue the pair of ye might have come on with the cattle
till they were delivered. Now I'm a man short, and haven't one as I can trust
on a pinch. I don't think any more of you, missis,' he says,
`for being so dashed ready to give away your friends, supposing they had been
on the cross.'
But Kate didn't hear. She had fallen down in a kind of fit,
and her husband, coming in to see what the row was about, picked her up,
and stood looking at us with his mouth open.
`Look here, my man,' says I, `your wife's taken me and this gentleman,'
pointing to Jim, `for some people she knew before on the diggings,
and seems to have got rather excited over it. If it was worth our while
to stay here, we'd make her prove it. You'd better get her to lie down,
and advise her, when she comes to, to hold her tongue, or you might be made
to suffer by it.'
`She's a terror when she's put out, and that's God's truth,' says the chap;
and starting to drag her over to one of the bits of back bedrooms.
`It's all right, I daresay. She will keep meddling with what
don't consarn her. I don't care who yer are or what yer are.
If you knowed her afore, I expect ye'll think it best to clear
while she's unsensible like.'
`Here's a shout all round for these men here,' says I, throwing a note
on the bar. `Never mind the change. Good-bye, chaps. This gentleman and I
have some business together, and there's no bush-ranging in it,
you may take my word.'
We all left then. The men went back to their cattle. Jim rode quietly
along the road to Cunnamulla just like any other traveller.
I went down and saddled up my horse. I'd got everything I wanted in my swag,
so I'd left the other horse at Willaroon.
`Never mind the settlement,' says I to the drover. `I'll be coming
back to the station after I've finished my business in Queensland,
and we can make up the account then.'
The overseer looked rather doubtful.
`This seems rather mixed,' says he. `Blest if I understand it.
That woman at the pub seems half off her head to me.
I can't think two quiet-looking chaps like you can be the Marstons.
You've been a thundering good road hand anyhow, and I wish you luck.'
He shook hands with me. I rode off and kept going along the road
till I overtook Jim.
When I'd gone a mile or two there was Jim riding steadily along the road,
looking very dull and down-like, just the way he used to do
when he was studying how to get round a job of work as he wasn't used to.
He brightens up a bit when he sees me, and we both jumped off,
and had a good shake-hands and a yarn. I told him about mother and Aileen,
and how I'd left dad all by himself. He said Jeanie and the boy
were all right, but of course he'd never heard of 'em since,
and couldn't help feeling dubersome about meeting her again,
particular now this blessed woman had dropped across us,
and wouldn't keep her mouth shut.
`As sure as we've had anything to do with her, bad luck's followed up,'
says Jim; `I'd rather have faced a trooper than seen her face again.'
`She can't do much now,' says I. `We're across the border.
I wonder where Starlight is -- whether he's in the township or not?
As soon as we meet him we can make straight for the ship.'
`He's there now,' says Jim. `He was at Kate's last night.'
`How do you know that?'
`I heard her mutter something about it just when she went into that fit,
or whatever it was. Devilment, I think. I never saw such a woman;
and to think she's my Jeanie's sister!'
`Never mind that, Jim. These things can't be helped. But what did she say?'
`Something like this: "He thought I didn't know him, passing himself off
as a gentleman. Warrigal, too. Kate Morrison's eyes are too sharp for that,
as he'll find out."'
`Think she'll give us away again, Jim?'
`God only knows. She mightn't this time, unless she wants
to smother you altogether, and don't mind who she hurts along with you.'
`There's one good thing in it,' says I; `there's no police
nearer than Trielgerat, and it's a long day's ride to them.
We made it all right before we left the Turon. All the police in the country
is looking for us on the wrong road, and will be for a week or two yet.'
Then I told him about Aileen putting Sir Ferdinand on the wrong lay,
and he said what a clever girl she was, and had as much pluck and sense
as two or three men. `A deal more than we've ever showed, Dick,' says he,
`and that's not saying much either.'
He laughed in his quiet way when he heard about Starlight's advertisement
in the `Turon Star', and said it was just like him.
`He's a wonderful clever fellow, the Captain. I've often thought
when I've been by myself in Melbourne, sitting quiet, smoking at night,
and turning all these things over, that it's a wonder he don't shoot himself
when he thinks of what he is and the man he ought to be.'
`He's head enough to take us safe out of this dashed old Sydney side,' says I,
`and land us in another country, where we'll be free and happy
in spite of all that's come and gone. If he does that, we've no call
to throw anything up to him.'
`Let him do that,' says Jim, `and I'll be his servant to the day of my death.
But I'm afeard it isn't to be any more than going to heaven right off.
It's too good, somehow, to come true; and yet what a thing it is
to be leading a working honest life and be afraid of no man!
I was very near like that in Melbourne, Dick,' he says;
`you've no notion what a grand thing it was -- when I'd done my week's work,
and used to walk about with Jeanie and her boy on Sundays,
and pass the time of day with decent square coves that I knew,
and never dreamed I was different; then the going home peaceful and contented
to our own little cottage; I tell you, Dick, it was heaven on earth.
No wonder it regular broke my heart to leave it.'
`We're close up to the township now,' says I. `This wire fence
and the painted gate ain't more than a couple of miles off,
that chap said at the inn. I wish there was a fire-stick in it,
and I'd never gone inside a door of it. However, that says nothing.
We've got to meet Starlight somehow, and there's no use in riding in together.
You go in first, and I'll take a wheel outside the house
and meet you in the road a mile or two ahead. Where's your pistol?
I must have a look at mine. I had to roll it up in my swag,
and it wants loading.'
`Mine's a good tool,' says Jim, bringing out a splendid-looking revolver --
one of these new Dean and Adams's. `I can make prime shooting at fifty yards;
but I hope to God I shan't want to use it.'
`There's no fear yet a bit,' says I; `but it's as well to be ready.
I'll load before we go any farther.'
I loaded and put her back in the belt. We were just going to push on
when we heard the sound of galloping, and round a patch of scrub
comes a horseman at full speed. When he sees us he cuts off the road
and comes towards us.
There was only one horse that carried himself like that,
even when he was pulling double. We spotted him the same second.
Rainbow and Starlight on him! What in thunder makes him ride like that?
When he came closer we saw by his face that something was up.
His eyes had the gloomy, dull fire in them that put me in mind
of the first time I saw him when he came back wounded and half dead
to the Hollow.
`Don't stop to talk, boys,' he sings out, without stopping,
`but ride like the devil. Head to the left. That infernal Warrigal
has laid the police on your track, Dick. They were seen at Willaroon;
may be up at any minute.'
`Where's Warrigal now?' I said, as we all took our horses by the head
and made for a patch of dark timber we could see far out on the plain.
`He dropped when I fired at him,' says Starlight; `but whether
the poor beggar's dead or not I can't say. It isn't my fault
if he betrays any one again.'
`How did it come out?'
`I was tired of waiting at that confounded hotel -- not a soul to speak to.
I rode back as far as Kate's, just to see if you had passed.
She didn't know me a bit.'
`The deuce she didn't! Why, she broke out on me and Jim.
Said something about you and Warrigal too.'
`Wonderful creatures, women,' says he, thoughtful-like;
`and yet I used to think I understood them. No time to do anything, though.'
`No; the nearest police station's a day off. I'd give a trifle to know
who's after us. How did you find out Warrigal's doubling on me?
not that it matters now; d--n him!'
`When I talked about going back he was in a terrible fright,
and raised so many objections that I saw he had some reason for it;
so I made him confess.'
`How did he do it?'
`After we'd passed Dandaloo, and well inside the West Bogan scrubs,
he picked up a blackfellow that had once been a tracker; gave him a pound
to let them know at the police camp that you were making out by Willaroon.'
`I knew he had it in for me,' said I; `but I depended
on his not doing anything for fear of hurting you.'
`So I thought, too; but he expected you'd be trapped at Willaroon
before there would be time for you to catch me up. If he hadn't met
that Jemmy Wardell, I daresay he wouldn't have thought of it. When he told me
I was in such an infernal rage that I fired point blank at him;
didn't wait to see whether he was dead or alive, and rode straight back here
to warn you. I was just in time -- eh, Jim, old man?
Why, you look so respectable they'd never have known you.
Why didn't you stay where you were, James?'
`I wish to God I had!' says poor old Jim. `It's too late
to think of that now.'
We hadn't over much time for talking, and had to range up close
to do it at all at the pace we were going. We did our best,
and must have ridden many a mile before dark. Then we kept going
through the night. Starlight was pilot, and by the compass he carried
we were keeping something in a line with the road. But we missed Warrigal
in the night work, and more than once I suspected we were going round
and not keeping a straight course.
We didn't do badly after all, for we struck the main road at daylight
and made out that we were thirty miles the other side of Cunnamulla,
and in the right direction. The worst of it was, like all short cuts
and night riding, we'd taken about twice as much out of our horses
as we need have done if we'd been certain of our line.
`This ought to be Murrynebone Creek,' says Starlight, `by the look of it,'
when we came to a goodish broad bit of water. `The crossing place is boggy,
so they told me at the hotel. We may as well pull up for a spell.
We're in Queensland now, that's one comfort.'
It took us all we knew to get over; it was a regular quicksand.
Rainbow never got flustered if he was up to his neck in a bog,
but my horse got frightened and plunged, so that I had to jump off.
Jim's horse was a trifle better, but he hadn't much to spare.
We weren't sorry to take the bridles out of their mouths and let them
pick a bit on the flat when we got safe over.
We didn't unsaddle our horses -- no fear; we never did that only at night;
not always then. We took the bits out of their mouths,
and let them pick feed round about, with the bridle under their feet,
stockhorse fashion. They were all used to it, and you'd see 'em
put their foot on a rein, and take it off again, regular as if they knew
all about it. We could run full pelt and catch 'em all three
in a minute's notice; old Rainbow would hold up his head
when he saw Starlight coming, and wait for him to mount if there was
a hundred horses galloping past. Lucky for him, he'd done it scores of times;
once on his back there was no fear of any other horse overhauling him,
any more than a coolie dog or a flying doe kangaroo.
Pretty well settled it came to be amongst us that we should be
well into Queensland before the police were handy. Starlight and Jim
were having a pitch about the best way to get aboard
one of these pearling craft, and how jolly it would be.
The captains didn't care two straws what sort of passengers they took aboard
so long as they had the cash and were willing to give a hand
when they were wanted.
We were just walking towards the horses to make a fresh start,
when Starlight puts up his hand. We all listened. There was no mistaking
the sound we heard -- horses at speed, and mounted men at that. We were in
a sort of angle. We couldn't make back over the infernal boggy creek
we'd just passed, and they seemed to be coming on two sides at once.
`By ----! they're on us,' says Starlight; and he cocks his rifle,
and walks over quite cool to the old horse. `Our chance, boys,
is to exchange shots, and ride for it. Keep cool, don't waste your fire,
and if we can drop a couple of them we may slip them yet.'
We hadn't barely time to get to our horses, when out of the timber they came
-- in two lots -- three on each side. Police, sure enough; and meeting us.
That shook us a bit. How the devil did they get ahead of us
after the pace we'd ridden the last twenty-four hours, too?
When they came close we could see how it was, Sir Ferdinand and three troopers
on one side; Inspector Goring, with two more, on the left; while outside,
not far from the lead, rode Sir Watkin, the Braidwood black tracker --
the best hand at that work in the three colonies, if you could keep him sober.
Now we could see why they took us in front. He had kept out wide
when he saw the tracks were getting hot, so as to come in on the road
ahead of us, and meet us full in the teeth.
He had hit it off well this time, blast him! We couldn't make back
on account of the creek, and we had double our number to fight,
and good men too, before we could break through, if we could do that.
Our time was come if we hadn't the devil's own luck;
but we had come out of as tight a place before, and might do it again.
When they were within fifty yards Sir Ferdinand calls out, `Surrender!
It's no use, men,' says he; `I don't want to shoot you down,
but you must see you're outnumbered. There's no disgrace in yielding now.'
`Come on!' says Starlight; `don't waste your breath! There's no man here
will be taken alive.'
With that, Goring lets drive and sends a bullet that close by my head
I put my hand up to feel the place. All the rest bangs away,
black tracker and all. I didn't see Sir Ferdinand's pistol smoke.
He and Starlight seemed to wait. Then Jim and I fires steady. One trooper
drops badly hit, and my man's horse fell like a log and penned his rider
under him, which was pretty nigh as good.
`Steady does it,' says Starlight, and he makes a snap shot at the tracker,
and breaks his right arm.
`Three men spoiled,' says he; `one more to the good and we may charge.'
Just as he said this the trooper that was underneath the dead horse
crawls from under him, the off side, and rests his rifle on his wither.
Starlight had just mounted when every rifle and pistol in the two parties
was fired at one volley. We had drawn closer to one another,
and no one seemed to think of cover.
Rainbow rears up, gives one spring, and falls backward with a crash.
I thought Starlight was crushed underneath him, shot through
the neck and flank as he was, but he saved himself somehow,
and stood with his hand on Rainbow's mane, when the old horse rose again
all right, head and tail well up, and as steady as a rock.
The blood was pouring out of his neck, but he didn't seem to care two straws
about it. You could see his nostril spread out and his eye looking
twice as big and fiery.
Starlight rests his rifle a minute on the old horse's shoulder,
and the man that had fired the shot fell over with a kick.
Something hits me in the ribs like a stone, and another on the right arm,
which drops down just as I was aiming at a young fellow with light hair
that had ridden pretty close up, under a myall tree.
Jim and Sir Ferdinand let drive straight at one another the same minute.
They both meant it this time. Sir Ferdinand's hat turned part round
on his head, but poor old Jim drops forward on his face and tears up the grass
with his hands. I knew what that sign meant.
Goring rides straight at Starlight and calls on him to surrender.
He had his rifle on his hip, but he never moved. There he stood,
with his hand on the mane of the old horse. `Keep back if you're wise,
Goring,' says he, as quiet and steady as if he'd been cattle-drafting.
`I don't want to have your blood on my head; but if you must ----'
Goring had taken so many men in his day that he was got over confident-like.
He thought Starlight would give in at the last moment or miss him in the rush.
My right arm was broken, and now that Jim was down we might both be took,
which would be a great crow for the police. Anyhow, he was a man
that didn't know what fear was, and he chanced it.
Two of the other troopers fired point blank at Starlight
as Goring rode at him, and both shots told. He never moved,
but just lifted his rifle as the other came up at the gallop.
Goring threw up his arms, and rolled off his horse a dying man.
Starlight looked at him for a minute.
`We're quits,' he says; `it's not once or twice either
you've pulled trigger on me. I knew this day would come.'
Then he sinks down slowly by the side of the old horse and leans against
his fore leg, Rainbow standing quite steady, only tossing his head up and down
the old way. I could see, by the stain on Starlight's mouth and the blood
on his breast, he'd been shot through the lungs.
I was badly hit too, and going in the head, though I didn't feel it so much
at the time. I began to hear voices like in a dream; then my eyes darkened,
and I fell like a log.
When I came to, all the men was off their horses, some round Goring --
him they lifted up and propped against a tree; but he was stone dead,
any one could see. Sir Ferdinand was on his knees beside Starlight,
talking to him, and the other saying a word now and then,
quite composed and quiet-like.
`Close thing, Morringer, wasn't it?' I heard him say. `You were too quick
for us; another day and we'd been out of reach.'
`True enough. Horses all dead beat; couldn't raise a remount
for love or money.'
`Well, the game's up now, isn't it? I've held some good cards too,
but they never told, somehow. I'm more sorry for Jim -- and --
that poor girl, Aileen, than I am for myself.'
`Don't fret -- there's a good fellow. Fortune of war, you know.
Here he closed his eyes, and seemed gone; but he wakes up again,
and begins in a dreamy way. His words came slowly, but his voice
never altered one bit.
`I'm sorry I fired at poor Warrigal now. No dog ever was more faithful
than he has been to me all through till now; but I was vexed
at his having sold Dick and poor Jim.'
`We knew we should find you here or hereabouts without that,'
says Sir Ferdinand.
`How was that?'
`Two jockey-boys met you one night at Calga gate; one of them
recognised Locket by the white patch on her neck. He wired to us
at the next station.'
`So you were right, after all, Dick. It was a mistake to take that mare.
I've always been confoundedly obstinate; I admit that.
Too late to think of it now, isn't it?'
`Anything else I can do?' says Sir Ferdinand.
`Give her this ring,' he pulls it off his finger, `and you'll see
Maddie Barnes gets the old horse, won't you? Poor old Rainbow!
I know she'll take care of him; and a promise is a promise.'
`All right. He's the property of the Government now, you know;
but I'll square it somehow. The General won't object
under the circumstances.'
Then he shuts his eyes for a bit. After a while he calls out --
`Dick! Dick Marston.'
`I'm here,' says I.
`If you ever leave this, tell Aileen that her name was the last word
I spoke -- the very last. She foresaw this day; she told me so.
I've had a queer feeling too, this week back. Well, it's over now.
I don't know that I'm sorry, except for others. I say, Morringer,
do you remember the last pigeon match you and I shot in, at Hurlingham?'
`Why, good God!' says Sir Ferdinand, bending down, and looking into his face.
`It can't be; yes, by Jove, it is ----'
He spoke some name I couldn't catch, but Starlight put a finger on his lips,
and whispers --
`You won't tell, will you? Say you won't?'
The other nodded.
He smiled just like his old self.
`Poor Aileen!' he says, quite faint. His head fell back. Starlight was dead!
The breath was hardly out of him when a horse comes tearing through the scrub
on to the little plain, with a man on his back that seemed hurt bad or drunk,
he rolled in his saddle so. The head of him was bound up with a white cloth,
and what you could see of it was dark-looking, with bloodstains on it.
I knew the figure and the seat on a horse, though I couldn't see his face.
He didn't seem to have much strength, but he was one of those sort of riders
that can't fall off a horse, that is unless they're dead.
Even then you'd have to pull him down. I believe he'd hang on somehow
like a dead 'possum on a branch.
It was Warrigal!
They all knew him when he came close up, but none of the troopers
raised their pieces or thought of stopping him. If a dead man
had rode right into the middle of us he'd have looked like that.
He stopped his horse, and slipped off on his feet somehow.
He'd had a dreadful wound, any one could see. There was blood on the rags
that bound his head all up, and being round his forehead and over his chin
it made him look more and more like a corpse. Not much you could see,
only his eyes, that were burning bright like two coals of fire.
Up to Starlight's body he goes and sits himself down by it.
He takes the dead man's head into his lap, looks down at the face,
and bursts out into the awfullest sort of crying and lamenting
I ever heard of a living man. I've seen the native women mourning
for their dead with the blood and tears running down their faces together.
I've known them sit for days and nights without stirring from round a corpse,
not taking a bite or sup the whole time. I've seen white people
that's lost an only child that had, maybe, been all life and spirits
an hour before. But in all my life I have never seen no man,
nor woman neither, show such regular right-down grief as Warrigal did
for his master -- the only human creature he loved in the wide world,
and him lying stiff on the ground before him.
He lifts up the dead face and wipes the blood from the lips so careful;
talks to it in his own language (or leastways his mother's)
like a woman over a child. Then he sobbed and groaned and shook all over
as if the very life was going out of him. At last he lays the head
very soft and gentle down on the ground and looks round.
Sir Ferdinand gives him his handkerchief, and he lays it over the face.
Then he turns away from the men that stood round, and got up
looking that despairing and wretched that I couldn't help pitying him,
though he was the cause of the whole thing as far as we could see.
Sudden as a flash of powder he pulls out a small revolver -- a Derringer --
Starlight gave him once, and holds it out to me, butt-end first.
`You shoot me, Dick Marston; you shoot me quick,' he says.
`It's all my fault. I killed him -- I killed the Captain.
I want to die and go with him to the never-never country
parson tell us about -- up there!'
One of the troopers knocked his hand up. Sir Ferdinand gave a nod,
and a pair of handcuffs were slipped over his wrists.
`You told the police the way I went?' says I. `It's all come out of that.'
`Thought they'd grab you at Willaroon,' says he, looking at me quite sorrowful
with his dark eyes, like a child. `If you hadn't knocked me down
that last time, Dick Marston, I'd never have done nothing to you nor Jim.
I forgot about the old down. That brought it all back again.
I couldn't help it, and when I see Jimmy Wardell I thought they'd catch you
and no one else.'
`Well, you've made a clean sweep of the lot of us, Warrigal,' says I,
`poor Jim and all. Don't you ever show yourself to the old man
or go back to the Hollow, if you get out of this.'
`He's dead now. I'll never hear him speak again,' says he,
looking over to the figure on the grass. `What's the odds about me?'
. . . . .
I didn't hear any more; I must have fainted away again.
Things came into my head about being taken in a cart back to Cunnamulla,
with Jim lying dead on one side of me and Starlight on the other.
I was only half-sensible, I expect. Sometimes I thought we were alive,
and another time that the three of us were dead and going to be buried.
What makes it worse I've seen that sight so often since --
the fight on the plain and the end of it all. Just like a picture
it comes back to me over and over again, sometimes in broad day,
as I sit in my cell, in the darkest midnight, in the early dawn.
It rises before my eyes -- the bare plain, and the dead men lying
where they fell; Sir Ferdinand on his horse, with the troopers standing round;
and the half-caste sitting with Starlight's head in his lap,
rocking himself to and fro, and crying and moaning like a woman
that's lost her child.
I can see Jim, too -- lying on his face with his hat rolled off and both arms
spread out wide. He never moved after. And to think that only the day before
he had thought he might see his wife and child again! Poor old Jim!
If I shut my eyes they won't go away. It will be the last sight
I shall see in this world before -- before I'm ----
The coroner of the district held an inquest, and the jury found
a verdict of `justifiable homicide by Sir Ferdinand Morringer
and other members of the police force of New South Wales
in the case of one James Marston, charged with robbery under arms,
and of a man habitually known as "Starlight", but of whose real name
there was no evidence before the jury.' As for the police,
it was wilful murder against us. Warrigal and I were remanded to Turon Court
for further evidence, and as soon as we were patched up a bit by the doctor
-- for both of us looked like making a die of it for two or three weeks --
we were started on horseback with four troopers overland all the way back.
We went easy stages -- we couldn't ride any way fast -- both of us handcuffed,
and our horses led.
One day, about a fortnight after, as we were crossing a river,
Warrigal's horse stopped to drink. It was a swim in the middle of the stream,
and the trooper, who was a young chap just from the depot,
let go his leading rein for a bit. Warrigal had been as quiet as a lamb
all the time, and they hadn't a thought of his playing up.
I heard a splash, and looked round; his horse's head was turned to the bank,
and, before the trooper could get out of the river, he was
into the river scrub and away as fast as his horse could carry him.
Both the troopers went after him, and we waited half-an-hour,
and then went on to the next police station to stop till they came back.
Next day, late, they rode in with their horses regularly done and knocked up,
leading his horse, but no Warrigal. He had got clear away from them
in the scrub, jumped off his horse when they were out of sight,
taken off his boots and made a straight track for the West Bogan scrub.
There was about as much chance of running him down there
as a brumbie with a day's start or a wallaroo that was seen on a mountain side
the week before last. I didn't trouble my head that much
to think whether I was glad or sorry. What did it matter?
What did anything matter now? The only two men I loved in the world
were dead; the two women I loved best left forsaken and disgraced;
and I -- well, I was on my way to be hanged!
I was taken along to Turon and put into the gaol, there to await my trial.
They didn't give me much of a chance to bolt, and I wouldn't have taken it
if they had. I was dead tired of my life, and wouldn't have taken my liberty
then and there if they'd given it me. All I wanted was to have
the whole thing done and over without any more bother.
It all passed like a dream. The court was crowded till
there wasn't standing room, every one wanting to get a look at Dick Marston,
the famous bush-ranger. The evidence didn't take so very long.
I was proved to have been seen with the rest the day the escort was robbed;
the time the four troopers were shot. I was suspected of being concerned
in Hagan's party's death, and half-a-dozen other things. Last of all,
when Sub-Inspector Goring was killed, and a trooper, besides two others
I was sworn to as being one of the men that fired on the police.
I didn't hear a great deal of it, but 'livened up when the judge
put on his black cap and made a speech, not a very long one,
telling about the way the law was set at naught by men who had dared
to infest the highways of the land and rob peaceful citizens
with arms and violence. In the pursuit of gain by such atrocious means,
blood had been shed, and murder, wilful murder, had been committed.
He would not further allude to the deeds of blood with which the prisoner
at the bar stood charged. The only redeeming feature in his career
had been brought out by the evidence tendered in his favour
by the learned counsel who defended him. He had fought fairly when opposed
by the police force, and he had on more than one occasion acted in concert
with the robber known as Starlight, and the brother James Marston,
both of whom had fallen in a recent encounter, to protect from violence
women who were helpless and in the power of his evil companions.
Then the judge pronounced the sentence that I, Richard Marston,
was to be taken from the place whence I came, and there hanged by the neck
until I was dead. `And might God have mercy upon my soul!'
My lawyer had beforehand argued that although I had been seen
in the company of persons who had doubtless compassed
the unlawfully slaying of the Queen's lieges and peace officers,
yet no proof had been brought before the court that day
that I had wilfully killed any one. `He was not aware,'
would his Honour remark, `that any one had seen me fire at any man,
whether since dead or alive. He would freely admit that.
I had been seen in bad company, but that fact would not suffice to hang a man
under British rule. It was therefore incumbent on the jury
to bring in a verdict for his client of "not guilty".'
But that cock wouldn't fight. I was found guilty by the jury
and sentenced to death by the judge. I expect I was taken back
without seeing or hearing to the gaol, and I found myself alone
in the condemned cell, with heavy leg-irons -- worn for the first time
in my life. The rough and tumble of a bush-ranger's life was over at last,
and this was the finish up.
For the first week or two I didn't feel anything particular.
I was hardly awake. Sometimes I thought I must be dreaming -- that this man,
sitting in a cell, quiet and dull-looking, with heavy irons on his limbs,
could never be Dick Marston, the shearer, the stock-rider, the gold-miner,
This was the end -- the end -- the end! I used to call it out sometimes
louder and louder, till the warder would come in to see if I had gone mad.
Bit by bit I came to my right senses. I almost think I felt
sharper and clearer in my head than I had done for ever so long.
Then I was able to realise the misery I had come down to
after all our blowing and roving. This was the crush-yard and no gateway.
I was safe to be hanged in six weeks, or thereabouts -- hanged like a dog!
Nothing could alter that, and I didn't want it if it could.
And how did the others get on, those that had their lives
bound up with ours, so that we couldn't be hurt without their bleeding,
almost in their hearts? -- that is, mother's bled to death, at any rate;
when she heard of Jim's death and my being taken it broke her heart clean;
she never held her head up after. Aileen told me in her letter
she used to nurse his baby and cry over him all day, talking about
her dear boy Jim. She was laid in the burying-ground at St. Kilda.
As to Aileen, she had long vowed herself to the service of the Virgin.
She knew that she was committing sin in pledging herself to an earthly love.
She had been punished for her sin by the death of him she loved,
and she had settled in her mind to go into the convent at Soubiaca,
where she should be able to wear out her life in prayer for those of her blood
who still lived, as well as for the souls of those who lay
in the little burying-ground on the banks of the far Warrego.
Jeanie settled to stop in Melbourne. She had money enough
to keep her comfortable, and her boy would be brought up in a different style
from his father.
As for Gracey, she sent me a letter in which she said she was like the bird
that could only sing one song. She would remain true to me
in life and death. George was very kind, and would never allow any one
to speak harshly of his former friends. We must wait and make the best of it.
So I was able, you see, to get bits of news even in a condemned cell,
from time to time, about the outside world. I learned that
Wall and Hulbert and Moran and another fellow were still at large,
and following up their old game. Their time, like ours,
was drawing short, though.
. . . . .
Well, this has been a thundering long yarn, hasn't it? All my whole life
I seem to have lived over again. It didn't take so long in the telling;
it's a month to-day since I began. And this life itself has reeled away
so quick, it hardly seems a dozen years instead of seven-and-twenty
since it began. It won't last much longer. Another week and it will be over.
There's a fellow to be strung up before me, for murdering his wife.
The scoundrel, I wonder how he feels?
I've had visitors too; some I never thought to see inside this gaol wall.
One day who should come in but Mr. Falkland and his daughter.
There was a young gentleman with them that they told me was an English lord,
a baronet, or something of that sort, and was to be married to Miss Falkland.
She stood and looked at me with her big innocent eyes,
so pitiful and kind-like. I could have thrown myself down at her feet.
Mr. Falkland talked away, and asked me about this and that.
He seemed greatly interested. When I told him about the last fight,
and of poor Jim being shot dead, and Starlight dying alongside the old horse,
the tears came into Miss Falkland's eyes, and she cried for a bit,
quite feeling and natural.
Mr. Falkland asked me all about the robbery at Mr. Knightley's,
and took down a lot of things in his pocket-book. I wondered what
he did that for.
When they said good-bye Mr. Falkland shook hands with me,
and said `he hoped to be able to do some good for me,
but not to build anything on the strength of it.'
Then Miss Falkland came forward and held out her beautiful hand to me
-- to me, as sure as you live -- like a regular thoroughbred angel,
as she always was. It very nigh cooked me. I felt so queer and strange,
I couldn't have spoken a word to save my life.
Sir George, or whatever his name was, didn't seem to fancy it over much,
for he said --
`You colonists are strange people. Our friend here may think himself
Miss Falkland turned towards him and held up her head, looking like a queen,
as she was, and says she --
`If you had met me in the last place where I saw this man and his brother,
you would not wonder at my avowing my gratitude to both of them.
I should despise myself if I did not. Poor Jim saved my life on one occasion,
and on another, but far more dreadful day, he -- but words, mere words,
can never express my deep thankfulness for his noble conduct,
and were he here now I would tell him so, and give him my hand,
if all the world stood by.'
Sir George didn't say anything after that, and she swept out of the cell,
followed by Mr. Falkland and him. It was just as well for him
to keep a quiet tongue in his head. I expect she was a great heiress
as well as a great beauty, and people of that sort, I've found,
mostly get listened to when they speak. When the door shut
I felt as if I'd seen the wings of an angel flit through it,
and the prison grew darker and darker like the place of lost souls.
One day I was told that a lady wanted to see me. When the door of the cell
opened who should walk in but Aileen! I didn't look to have seen her.
I didn't bother my head about who was coming. What did it matter,
as I kept thinking, who came or who went for the week or two
that was to pass before the day? Yes, the day, that Thursday,
when poor Dick Marston would walk over the threshold of his cell,
and never walk over one again.
The warder -- him that stopped with me day and night
-- every man in the condemned cell has to be watched like that --
stepped outside the door and left us together. We both looked at one another.
She was dressed all in black, and her face was that pale
I hardly knew her at first. Then she said, `Oh, Dick -- my poor Dick!
is this the way we meet?' and flings herself into my arms.
How she cried and sobbed, to be sure. The tears ran down her cheeks
like rain, and every time the leg-irons rattled she shook and trembled
as if her heart was breaking.
I tried to comfort her; it was no use.
`Let me cry on, Dick,' she said; `I have not shed a tear
since I first heard the news -- the miserable truth that has crushed
all our vain hopes and fancies; my heart has nearly burst for want of relief.
This will do me good. To think -- to think that this should be
the end of all! But it is just! I cannot dare to doubt Heaven's mercy.
What else could we expect, living as we all did -- in sin -- in mortal sin?
I am punished rightly.'
She told me all about poor mother's death. She never held up her head
after she heard of Jim's death. She never said a hard word about any one.
It was God's will, she thought, and only for His mercy
things might have gone worse. The only pleasure she had in her last days
was in petting Jim's boy. He was a fine little chap, and had eyes
like his father, poor old Jim! Then Aileen broke down altogether,
and it was a while before she could speak again.
Jeanie was the same as she had been from the first, only so quiet
they could hardly know how much she felt. She wouldn't leave
the little cottage where she had been so happy with Jim, and liked to work
in the chair opposite to where Jim used to sit and smoke his pipe
in the evenings. Most of her friends lived in Melbourne,
and she reckoned to stay there for the rest of her life.
As to father, they had never heard a word from him -- hardly knew
whether he was dead or alive. There was some kind of report
that Warrigal had been seen making towards Nulla Mountain,
looking very weak and miserable, on a knocked-up horse; but they did not know
whether it was true or false.
Poor Aileen stopped till we were all locked up for the night. She seemed
as if she couldn't bear to leave me. She had no more hope or tie in life,
she said. I was the only one of her people she was likely to see again,
and this was the last time -- the last time.
`Oh, Dick! oh, my poor lost brother,' she said, `how clearly
I seem to see all things now. Why could we not do so before?
I have had my sinful worldly dream of happiness, and death has ended it.
When I heard of his death and Jim's my heart turned to stone.
All the strength I have shall be given to religion from this out.
I can ease my heart and mortify the flesh for the good of my soul.
To God -- to the Holy Virgin -- who hears the sorrows of such as me,
I can pray day and night for their souls' welfare -- for mine, for yours.
And oh, Dick! think when that day, that dreadful day, comes that Aileen is
praying for you -- will pray for you till her own miserable life ends.
And now good-bye; we shall meet on this earth no more.
Pray -- say that you will pray -- pray now that we may meet in heaven.'
She half drew me to my knees. She knelt down herself
on the cold stone floor of the cell; and I -- well -- I seemed to remember
the old days when we were both children and used to kneel down
by mother's bed, the three of us, Aileen in the middle and one of us boys
on each side. The old time came back to me, and I cried like a child.
I wasn't ashamed of it; and when she stood up and said,
`Good-bye -- good-bye, Dick,' I felt a sort of rushing of the blood
to my head, and all my wounds seemed as if they would break out again.
I very near fell down, what with one thing and another.
I sat myself down on my bed, and I hid my face in my hands.
When I looked up she was gone.
. . . . .
After that, day after day went on and I scarcely kept count, until somehow
I found out it was the last week. They partly told me on the Sunday.
The parson -- a good, straight, manly man he was -- he had me told
for fear I should go too close up to it, and not have time to prepare.
Prepare! How was a man like me to prepare? I'd done everything I'd a mind to
for years and years. Some good things -- some bad -- mostly bad.
How was I to repent? Just to say I was sorry for them.
I wasn't that particular sorry either -- that was the worst of it.
A deal of the old life was dashed good fun, and I'd not say,
if I had the chance, that I wouldn't do just the same over again.
Sometimes I felt as if I ought to understand what the parson tried to hammer
into my head; but I couldn't do anything but make a jumble of it.
It came natural to me to do some things, and I did them.
If I had stopped dead and bucked at father's wanting me and Jim
to help duff those weaners, I really believe all might have come right.
Jim said afterwards he'd made up his mind to have another try
at getting me to join with George Storefield in that fencing job.
After that we could have gone into the outside station work with him --
just the thing that would have suited the pair of us;
and what a grand finish we might have made of it if we ran a waiting race;
and where were we now? -- Jim dead, Aileen dead to the world,
and me to be hanged on Thursday, poor mother dead and broken-hearted
before her time. We couldn't have done worse. We might, we must have,
I did repent in that sort of way of all we'd done since that first wrong turn.
It's the wrong turn-off that makes a man lose his way;
but as for the rest I had only a dull, heavy feeling that my time was come,
and I must make the best of it, and meet it like a man.
So the day came. The last day! What a queer feeling it was when I lay down
that night, that I should never want to sleep again, or try to do it.
That I had seen the sun set -- leastways the day grow dark --
for the last time; the very last time.
Somehow I wasn't that much in fear of it as you might think;
it was strange like, but made one pull himself together a bit.
Thousands and millions of people had died in all sorts of ways and shapes
since the beginning of the world. Why shouldn't I be able
to go through with it like another?
I was a long time lying and thinking before I thought of sleeping.
All the small, teeny bits of a man's life, as well as the big,
seemed to come up before me as I lay there -- the first things
I could recollect at Rocky Flat; then the pony; mother a youngish woman;
father always hard-looking, but so different from what
he came to be afterwards. Aileen a little girl, with her dark hair
falling over her shoulders; then a grown woman, riding her own horse,
and full of smiles and fun; then a pale, weeping woman all in black,
looking like a mourner at a funeral. Jim too, and Starlight
-- now galloping along through the forest at night --
laughing, drinking, enjoying themselves at Jonathan Barnes's,
with the bright eyes of Bella and Maddie shining with fun and devilment.
Then both of them lying dead at the flat by Murrynebone Creek --
Starlight with the half-caste making his wild moan over him;
Jim, quiet in death as in life, lying in the grass, looking as if
he had slid off his horse in that hot weather to take a banje;
and now, no get away, the rope -- the hangman!
I must have gone to sleep, after all, for the sun was shining into the cell
when I stirred, and I could see the chains on my ankles that I had worn
all these weary weeks. How could I sleep? but I had, for all that.
It was daylight; more than that -- sunrise. I listened,
and, sure enough, I heard two or three of the bush-birds calling.
It reminded me of being a boy again, and listening to the birds at dawn
just before it was time to get up. When I was a boy! -- was I ever a boy?
How long was it ago -- and now -- O my God, my God! That ever it should
have come to this! What am I waiting for to hear now? The tread of men;
the smith that knocks the irons off the limbs that are so soon to be
as cold as the jangling chains. Yes! at last I hear their footsteps --
here they come!
The warder, the blacksmith, the parson, the head gaoler, just as I expected.
The smith begins to cut the rivets. Somehow they none of them
look so solemn as I expected. Surely when a man is to be killed by law,
choked to death in cold blood, people might look a bit serious.
Mind you, I believe men ought to be hanged. I don't hold with any of that rot
that them as commits murder shouldn't pay for it with their own lives.
It's the only way they can pay for it, and make sure they don't do it again.
Some men can stand anything but the rope. Prison walls don't frighten them;
but Jack Ketch does. They can't gammon him.
`Knock off his irons quick,' says Mr. Fairleigh, the parson;
`he will not want them again just yet.'
`I didn't think you would make a joke of that sort, sir,' says I.
`It's a little hard on a man, ain't it? But we may as well
take it cheerful, too.'
`Tell him all, Mr. Strickland,' he says to the head gaoler.
`I see he can bear it now.'
`Prisoner Richard Marston,' says the gaoler, standing up before me,
`it becomes my duty to inform you that, owing to representations
made in your favour by the Hon. Mr. Falkland, the Hon. Mr. Storefield,
and other gentlemen who have interested themselves in your case, setting forth
the facts that, although mixed up with criminals and known to be present when
the escort and various other cases of robbery under arms have taken place,
wherein life has been taken, there is no distinct evidence of your having
personally taken life. On the other hand, in several instances,
yourself, with the late James Marston and the deceased person
known as Starlight, have aided in the protection of life and property.
The Governor and the Executive Council have therefore graciously been pleased
to commute your sentence of death to that of fifteen years' imprisonment.'
. . . . .
When I came to I was lying on my blankets in a different cell,
as I could see by the shape of it. The irons didn't rattle when I moved.
I was surprised when I looked and saw they were took off.
Bit by bit it all came back to me. I was not to be hanged.
My life was saved, if it was worth saving, by the two or three good things
we'd done in our time, and almost, I thought, more for poor old Jim's sake
than my own.
Was I glad or sorry now it was all over? I hardly knew.
For a week or two I felt as if they'd better have finished me off
when I was ready and ha' done with me, but after a while
I began to feel different. Then the gaoler talked to me a bit.
He never said much to prisoners, and what he said he meant.
`Prisoner Marston,' says he, `you'd better think over your situation
and don't mope. Make up your mind like a man. You may have friends
that you'd like to live for. Pull yourself together and face your sentence
like a man. You're a young man now, and you won't be an old one
when you're let out. If your conduct is uniformly good you'll be out
in twelve years. Settle yourself to serve that -- and you're a lucky man
to have no more -- and you may have some comfort in your life yet.'
Then he went out. He didn't wait to see what effect it had on me.
If I wasn't a fool, he thought to himself, I must take it in;
if I was, nothing would do me any good.
I took his advice, and settled myself down to think it over.
It was a good while -- a weary lot of years to wait, year by year --
but, still, if I got out in twelve years I should not be
so out and out broke down after all -- not much over forty,
and there's a deal of life for a man sometimes after that.
And then I knew that there would be one that would be true to me anyhow,
that would wait for me when I went out, and that would not be too proud
to join in her life with mine, for all that had come and gone.
Well, this might give me strength. I don't think anything else could,
and from that hour I made up my mind to tackle it steady and patient,
to do the best I could, and to work out my sentence, thankful for the mercy
that had been showed me, and, if ever a man was in this world,
resolved to keep clear of all cross ways for the future.
So I began to steady myself and tried to bear it the best way I could.
Other men were in for long sentences, and they seemed to be able
to keep alive, so why shouldn't I? Just at the first I wasn't sure
whether I could. Year after year to be shut up there,
with the grass growin' and the trees wavin' outside,
and the world full of people, free to walk or ride, to work or play,
people that had wives and children, and friends and relations --
it seemed awful. That I should be condemned to live in this shut-up tomb
all those long, weary years, and there was nothing else for it.
I couldn't eat or sleep at first, and kept starting up at night,
thinking they was coming for me to carry me off to the gallows.
Then I'd dream that Jim and Starlight was alive, and that we'd all
got out of gaol and were riding through the bush at night to the Hollow again.
Then I'd wake up and know they were dead and I was here.
Time after time I've done that, and I was that broken down and low
that I burst out crying like a child.
The months went on till I began to think it was a long time since anything
had been heard of father. I didn't expect to have a letter or anything,
but I knew he must take a run outside now and again; and so sure as he did
it would come to my ears somehow.
One day I had a newspaper passed in to me. It was against the regulations,
but I did get it for all that, and this was the first thing I saw: --
STRANGE DISCOVERY IN THE TURON DISTRICT.
A remarkable natural formation, leading to curious results,
was last week accidentally hit upon by a party of prospectors,
and by them made known to the police of the district. It may tend to solve
the doubts which for the last few years have troubled the public at large
with respect to the periodical disappearance of a certain gang of bush-rangers
now broken up.
Accident led the gold miners, who were anxious to find a practicable track
to the gullies at the foot of Nulla Mountain, to observe a narrow winding way
apparently leading over the brow of the precipice on its western face.
To their surprise, half hidden by a fallen tree, they discovered
a difficult but practicable track down a gully which finally opened out
into a broad well-grassed valley of considerable extent,
in which cattle and horses were grazing.
No signs of human habitation were at first visible, but after a patient search
a cave in the eastern angle of the range was discovered.
Fires had been lighted habitually near the mouth, and near a log
two saddles and bridles -- long unused -- lay in the tall grass.
Hard by was stretched the body of a man of swarthy complexion.
Upon examination the skull was found to be fractured,
as if by some blunt instrument. A revolver of small size
lay on his right side.
Proceeding to the interior of the cave, which had evidently
been used as a dwelling for many years past, they came upon
the corpse of another man, in a sitting posture, propped up against the wall.
One arm rested upon an empty spirit-keg, beside which
were a tin pannikin and a few rude cooking utensils.
At his feet lay the skeleton of a dog. The whole group
had evidently been dead for a considerable time. Further search revealed
large supplies of clothes, saddlery, arms, and ammunition
-- all placed in recesses of the cave -- besides other articles
which would appear to have been deposited in that secure receptacle
many years since.
As may be imagined, a large amount of interest, and even excitement,
was caused when the circumstances, as reported to the police,
became generally known. A number of our leading citizens, together with
many of the adjoining station holders, at once repaired to the spot.
No difficulty was felt in identifying the bodies as those of Ben Marston,
the father of the two bush-rangers of that name, and of Warrigal,
the half-caste follower always seen in attendance upon the chief of the gang,
the celebrated Starlight.
How the last members of this well-known, long-dreaded gang of freebooters
had actually perished can only be conjectured, but taking
the surrounding circumstances into consideration, and the general
impression abroad that Warrigal was the means of putting the police
upon the track of Richard Marston, which led indirectly
to the death of his master and of James Marston, the most probable solution
would seem to be that, after a deep carouse, the old man
had taxed Warrigal with his treachery and brained him with the American axe
found close to the body. He had apparently then shot himself
to avoid a lingering death, the bullet found in his body
having been probably fired by the half-caste as he was advancing upon him
axe in hand.
The dog, well known by the name of Crib, was the property
and constant companion of Ben Marston, the innocent accomplice
in many of his most daring stock-raids. Faithful unto the end,
with the deep, uncalculating love which shames so often that of man,
the dumb follower had apparently refused to procure food for himself,
and pined to death at the feet of his dead master. Though the philanthropist
may regret the untimely and violent end of men whose courage and energy
fitted them for better things, it cannot be denied that the gain to society
far exceeds the loss.
When the recesses of the Hollow were fully explored, traces of rude
but apparently successful gold workings were found in the creeks
which run through this romantic valley -- long as invisible
as the fabled gold cities of Mexico.
We may venture to assert that no great time will be suffered to elapse
ere the whole of the alluvial will be taken up, and the Terrible Hollow,
which some of the older settlers assert to be its real name,
will re-echo with the sound of pick and shovel; perhaps to be
the means of swelling those escorts which its former inhabitants
so materially lessened.
With regard to the stock pasturing in the valley, a puzzling problem
presented itself when they came to be gathered up and yarded.
The adjoining settlers who had suffered from the depredations
of the denizens of the Hollow were gladly expectant of
the recovery of animals of great value. To their great disappointment,
only a small number of the very aged bore any brand which could be
sworn to and legally claimed. The more valuable cattle and horses,
evidently of the choicest quality and the highest breeding,
resembled very closely individuals of the same breed stolen from
the various proprietors. But they were either unbranded or branded with
a letter and numbers to which no stock-owners in the district could lay claim.
Provoking, as well as perplexing, was this unique state of matters --
wholly without precedent. For instance, Mr. Rouncival and his stud-groom
could almost have sworn to the big slashing brown mare,
the image of the long-lost celebrity Termagant, with the same crooked blaze
down the face, the same legs, the same high croup and peculiar way
of carrying her head. She corresponded exactly in age to the date on which
the grand thoroughbred mare, just about to bring forth,
had disappeared from Buntagong. No reasonable doubt existed
as to the identity of this valuable animal, followed as she was
by several of her progeny, equally aristocratic in appearance.
Still, as these interesting individuals had never been seen
by their rightful owners, it was impossible to prove a legal title.
The same presumptive certainty and legal incompleteness existed
concerning Mr. Bowe's short-horns (as he averred) and Mr. Dawson's Devons.
`Thou art so near and yet so far,'
as a provoking stock-rider hummed. Finally, it was decided
by the officials in charge to send the whole collection to the public pound,
when each proprietor might become possessed of his own,
with a good and lawful title in addition -- for `a consideration' --
and to the material benefit of the Government coffers.
So it was this way the poor old Hollow was dropped on to,
and the well-hidden secret blown for ever and ever. Well, it had been
a good plant for us and them as had it before our time. I don't expect
there'll ever be such a place again, take it all round.
And that was the end of father! Poor old dad! game to the last.
And the dog, too! -- wouldn't touch bit or sup after the old man dropped.
Just like Crib that was! Often and often I used to wonder
what he saw in father to be so fond of him. He was about the only creature
in the wide world that was fond of dad -- except mother, perhaps,
when she was young. She'd rather got wore out of her feelings for him, too.
But Crib stuck to him to his end -- faithful till death,
as some of them writing coves says.
And Warrigal! I could see it all, sticking out as plain
as a fresh track after rain. He'd come back to the Hollow, like a fool
-- in spite of me warning him -- or because he had nowhere else to go.
And the first time dad had an extra glass in his head he tackled him
about giving me away and being the means of the other two's death.
Then he'd got real mad and run at him with the axe. Warrigal had fired
as he came up, and hit him too; but couldn't stop him in the rush.
Dad got in at him, and knocked his brains out there and then.
Afterwards, he'd sat down and drank himself pretty well blind;
and then, finding the pains coming on him, and knowing he couldn't live,
finished himself off with his own revolver.
It was just the way I expected he would make an ending.
He couldn't do much all alone in his line. The reward was a big one,
and there would be always some one ready to earn it.
Jim and Starlight were gone, and I was as good as dead.
There wasn't much of a call for him to keep alive. Anyhow, he died game,
and paid up all scores, as he said himself.
. . . . .
I don't know that there's much more for me to say. Here I am boxed up,
like a scrubber in a pound, year after year -- and years after that --
for I don't know how long. However, O my God! how ever shall I stand it?
Here I lie, half my time in a place where the sun never shines, locked up
at five o'clock in my cell, and the same door with never a move in it
till six o'clock next morning. A few hours' walk in a prison yard,
with a warder on the wall with a gun in his hand overhead.
Then locked up again, Sundays and week-days, no difference.
Sometimes I think they'd better have hanged me right off.
If I feel all these things now I've only been a few months doing my sentence,
how about next year, and the year after that, and so on, and so on?
Why, it seems as if it would mount up to more than a man's life
-- to ten lives -- and then to think how easy it might all have been saved.
There's only one thing keeps me alive; only for that I'd have starved to death
for want of having the heart to eat or drink either, or else have
knocked my brains out against the wall when one of them low fits came over me.
That one thing's the thought of Gracey Storefield.
She couldn't come to me, she wrote, just yet, but she'd come within the month,
and I wasn't to fret about her, because whether it was ten years
or twenty years if she was alive she'd meet me the day after I was free,
let who will see her. I must be brave and keep up my spirits
for her sake and Aileen's, who, though she was dead to the world,
would hear of my being out, and would always put my name in her prayers.
Neither she nor I would be so very old, and we might have many years of life
reasonably happy yet in spite of all that had happened. So the less
I gave way and made myself miserable, the younger I should look and feel
when I came out. She was sure I repented truly of what I had done wrong
in the past; and she for one, and George -- good, old, kind George --
had said he would go bail that I would be one of the squarest men
in the whole colony for the future. So I was to live on,
and hope and pray God to lighten our lot for her sake.
. . . . .
It must be years and years since that time as I last wrote about.
Awful long and miserable the time went at first; now it don't go
so slow somehow. I seemed to have turned a corner. How long is it?
It must be a hundred years. I have had different sorts of feelings.
Sometimes I feel ashamed to be alive. I think the man that knocked his head
against the wall of his cell the day he was sentenced and beat his brains out
in this very gaol had the best of it. Other times I take things quite easy,
and feel as if I could wait quite comfortable and patient-like
till the day came. But -- will it? Can it ever come that I shall be
a free man again?
People have come to see me a many times, most of them the first year or two
I was in. After that they seemed to forget me, and get tired of coming.
It didn't make much odds.
But one visitor I had regular after the first month or two.
Gracey, poor Gracey, used to come and see me twice a year.
She said it wouldn't do her or me any good to come oftener,
and George didn't want her to. But them two times she always comes,
and, if it wasn't for that, I don't think I'd ever have got through with it.
The worst of it was, I used to be that low and miserable after she went,
for days and days after, that it was much as I could do
to keep from giving in altogether. After a month was past
I'd begin to look forward to the next time.
When I'd done over eleven years -- eleven years! how did I ever do it?
but the time passed, and passed somehow -- I got word that they that I knew of
was making a try to see if I couldn't be let out when I'd done twelve years.
My regular sentence was fifteen, and little enough too. Anyhow,
they knock off a year or two from most of the long-sentence men's time,
if they've behaved themselves well in gaol, and can show a good conduct ticket
Well, I could do that. I was too low and miserable to fight much
when I went in; besides, I never could see the pull of kicking up rows
and giving trouble in a place like that. They've got you there fast enough,
and any man that won't be at peace himself, or let others be,
is pretty sure to get the worst of it. I'd seen others try it,
and never seen no good come of it. It's like a dog on the chain
that growls and bites at all that comes near him. A man can take a sapling
and half kill him, and the dog never gets a show unless he breaks his chain,
and that don't happen often.
Well, I'd learned carpentering and had a turn at mat-making
and a whole lot of other things. They kept me from thinking,
as I said before, and the neater I did 'em and the more careful I worked
the better it went with me. As for my mats, I came quite to be talked about
on account of 'em. I drew a regular good picture of Rainbow,
and worked it out on a mat with different coloured thrums,
and the number of people who came to see that mat, and the notice
they took of it, would surprise any one.
When my twelve years was within a couple of months or so of being up
I began to hear that there was a deal of in-and-out sort of work
about my getting my freedom. Old George Storefield and Mr. Falkland
-- both of 'em in the Upper House -- and one or two more people
that had some say with the Government, was working back and edge for me.
There was a party on the other side that wasn't willing as I should lose
a day or an hour of my sentence, and that made out I ought to have been hanged
`right away', as old Arizona Bill would have said, when I was first taken.
Well, I don't blame any of 'em for that; but if they could have known
the feelings of a man that's done a matter of twelve years,
and thinks he might -- yes, might -- smell the fresh air and feel the grass
under his feet in a week or two -- well, they'd perhaps consider a bit.
Whatever way it came out I couldn't say, but the big man
of the Government people at that time -- the Minister that had his say
in all these sort of things -- took it into his head
that I'd had about enough of it, if I was to be let out at all;
that the steel had been pretty well taken out of me, and that,
from what he knew of my people and so on, I wasn't likely
to trouble the Government again. And he was right. All I wanted
was to be let out a pardoned man, that had done bad things,
and helped in worse; but had paid -- and paid dear, God knows --
for every pound he'd got crooked and every day he'd wasted in cross work.
If I'd been sent back for them three years, I do r'aly believe
something of dad's old savage blood would have come uppermost in me,
and I'd have turned reckless and revengeful like to my life's end.