Part 2 out of 11
`Hold his head up one of you while I go for the brandy.
How did he get hit, Warrigal?'
`That ---- Sergeant Goring,' said the boy, a slight, active-looking chap,
about sixteen, that looked as if he could jump into a gum tree and back again,
and I believe he could. `Sergeant Goring, he very near grab us at Dilligah.
We got a lot of old Jobson's cattle when he came on us. He jump off his horse
when he see he couldn't catch us, and very near drop Starlight.
My word, he very nearly fall off -- just like that' (here he imitated a man
reeling in his saddle); `but the old horse stop steady with him, my word,
till he come to. Then the sergeant fire at him again; hit him in the shoulder
with his pistol. Then Starlight come to his senses, and we clear.
My word, he couldn't see the way the old horse went. Ha, ha!' --
here the young devil laughed till the trees and rocks rang again.
`Gallop different ways, too, and met at the old needle-rock.
But they was miles away then.'
Before the wild boy had come to the end of his story
the wounded man had proved that it was only a dead faint,
as the women call it, not the real thing. And after he had tasted
a pannikin full of brandy and water, which father brought him,
he sat up and looked like a living man once more.
`Better have a look at my shoulder,' he said. `That ---- fellow shot
like a prize-winner at Wimbledon. I've had a squeak for it.'
`Puts me in mind of our old poaching rows,' said father, while he carefully
cut the shirt off, that was stiffened with blood and showed where the bullet
had passed through the muscle, narrowly missing the bone of the joint.
We washed it, and relieved the wounded man by discovering
that the other bullet had only been spent, after striking a tree most like,
when it had knocked the wind out of him and nearly unhorsed him,
as Warrigal said.
`Fill my pipe, one of you. Who the devil are these lads?
Yours, I suppose, Marston, or you wouldn't be fool enough to bring them here.
Why didn't you leave them at home with their mother?
Don't you think you and I and this devil's limb enough
for this precious trade of ours?'
`They'll take their luck as it comes, like others,' growled father;
`what's good enough for me isn't too bad for them. We want
another hand or two to work things right.'
`Oh! we do, do we?' said the stranger, fixing his eyes on father
as if he was going to burn a hole in him with a burning-glass;
`but if I'd a brace of fine boys like those of my own I'd hang myself
before I'd drag them into the pit after myself.'
`That's all very fine,' said father, looking very dark and dangerous.
`Is Mr. Starlight going to turn parson? You'll be just in time,
for we'll all be shopped if you run against the police like this,
and next thing to lay them on to the Hollow by making for it
when you're too weak to ride.'
`What would you have me do? Pull up and hold up my hands?
There was nowhere else to go; and that new sergeant rode devilish well,
I can tell you, with a big chestnut well-bred horse,
that gave old Rainbow here all he knew to lose him. Now, once for all,
no more of that, Marston, and mind your own business.
I'm the superior officer in this ship's company -- you know that very well --
your business is to obey me, and take second place.'
Father growled out something, but did not offer to deny it.
We could see plainly that the stranger was or had been far above our rank,
whatever were the reasons which had led to his present kind of life.
We stayed for about ten days, while the stranger's arm got well.
With care and rest, it soon healed. He was pleasant enough, too,
when the pain went away. He had been in other countries,
and told us all kinds of stories about them.
He said nothing, though, about his own former ways, and we often wondered
whatever could have made him take to such a life. Unknown to father, too,
he gave us good advice, warned us that what we were in was the road
to imprisonment or death in due course, and not to flatter ourselves
that any other ending was possible.
`I have my own reasons for leading the life I do,' he said,
`and must run my own course, of which I foresee the end as plainly
as if it was written in a book before me. Your father had a long account
to square with society, and he has a right to settle it his own way.
That yellow whelp was never intended for anything better.
But for you lads' -- and here he looked kindly in poor old Jim's honest face
(and an honest face and heart Jim's was, and that I'll live and die on) --
`my advice to you is, to clear off home, when we go, and never
come back here again. Tell your father you won't come; cut loose from him,
once and for all. You'd better drown yourselves comfortably at once
than take to this cursed trade. Now, mind what I tell you,
and keep your own counsel.'
By and by, the day came when the horses were run in
for father and Mr. Starlight and Warrigal, who packed up to be off
for some other part.
When they were in the yard we had a good look at his own horse
-- a good look -- and if I'd been a fellow that painted pictures,
and that kind of thing, I could draw a middlin' good likeness of him now.
By George! how fond I am of a good horse -- a real well-bred clinker.
I'd never have been here if it hadn't been for that, I do believe;
and many another Currency chap can say the same -- a horse or a woman --
that's about the size of it, one or t'other generally fetches us.
I shall never put foot in stirrup again, but I'll try and scratch out
a sort of likeness of Rainbow.
He was a dark bay horse, nearly brown, without a white hair on him.
He wasn't above 15 hands and an inch high, but looked a deal bigger
than he was, for the way he held his head up and carried himself.
He was deep and thick through behind the shoulders, and girthed
ever so much more than you'd think. He had a short back,
and his ribs went out like a cask, long quarter, great thighs and hocks,
wonderful legs, and feet of course to do the work he did. His head
was plainish, but clean and bony, and his eye was big and well opened,
with no white showing. His shoulder was sloped back that much
that he couldn't fall, no matter what happened his fore legs.
All his paces were good too. I believe he could jump -- jump anything
he was ridden at, and very few horses could get the better of him
for one mile or three.
Where he'd come from, of course, we were not to know then.
He had a small private sort of brand that didn't belong
to any of the big studs; but he was never bred by a poor man.
I afterwards found out that he was stolen before he was foaled,
like many another plum, and his dam killed as soon as she had weaned him.
So, of course, no one could swear to him, and Starlight could have ridden
past the Supreme Court, at the assizes, and never been stopped,
as far as this horse was concerned.
Before we went away father and Starlight had some terrible long talks,
and one evening Jim came to me, and says he --
`What do you think they're up to now?'
`How should I know? Sticking up a bank, or boning a flock of maiden ewes
to take up a run with? They seem to be game for anything.
There'll be a hanging match in the family if us boys don't look out.'
`There's no knowing,' says Jim, with a roguish look in his eye
(I didn't think then how near the truth I was), `but it's about a horse
`Oh! a horse; that alters the matter. But what's one horse
to make such a shine about?'
`Ah, that's the point,' says poor old Jim, `it's a horse worth talking about.
Don't you remember the imported entire that they had his picture
in the papers -- him that Mr. Windhall gave 2000 Pounds for?'
`What! the Marquis of Lorne? Why, you don't mean to say
they're going for him?'
`By George, I do!' says Jim; `and they'll have him here,
and twenty blood mares to put to him, before September.'
`They're all gone mad -- they'll raise the country on us.
Every police trooper in the colony'll be after us like a pack of dingoes after
an old man kangaroo when the ground's boggy, and they'll run us down, too;
they can't be off it. Whatever made 'em think of such a big touch as that?'
`That Starlight's the devil, I think,' said Jim slowly. `Father didn't seem
to like it at first, but he brought him round bit by bit --
said he knew a squatter in Queensland he could pass him on to;
that they'd keep him there for a year and get a crop of foals by him,
and when the "derry" was off he'd take him over himself.'
`But how's he going to nail him? People say Windhall keeps him
locked up at night, and his box is close to his house.'
`Starlight says he has a friend handy; he seems to have one or two everywhere.
It's wonderful, as father told him, where he gets information.'
`By George! it would be a touch, and no mistake. And if we could get
a few colts by him out of thoroughbred mares we might win half the races
every year on our side and no one a bit the wiser.'
It did seem a grand sort of thing -- young fools that we were --
to get hold of this wonderful stallion that we'd heard so much of,
as thoroughbred as Eclipse; good as anything England could turn out.
I say again, if it weren't for the horse-flesh part of it,
the fun and hard-riding and tracking, and all the rest of it,
there wouldn't be anything like the cross-work that there is in Australia.
It lies partly between that and the dry weather. There's the long spells
of drought when nothing can be done by young or old. Sometimes for months
you can't work in the garden, nor plough, nor sow, nor do anything useful
to keep the devil out of your heart. Only sit at home and do nothing,
or else go out and watch the grass witherin' and the water dryin' up,
and the stock dyin' by inches before your eyes. And no change, maybe,
for months. The ground like iron and the sky like brass, as the parson said,
and very true, too, last Sunday.
Then the youngsters, havin' so much idle time on their hands,
take to gaffin' and flash talk; and money must be got to sport and pay up
if they lose; and the stock all ramblin' about and mixed up,
and there's a temptation to collar somebody's calves or foals,
like we did that first red heifer. I shall remember her to my dying day.
It seems as if I had put that brand on my own heart when I jammed it down
on her soft skin. Anyhow, I never forgot it, and there's many another
like me, I'll be bound.
The next morning Jim and I started off home. Father said
he should stay in the Hollow till Starlight got round a bit.
He told us not to tell mother or Ailie a word about where we'd been.
Of course they couldn't be off knowin' that we'd been with him;
but we were to stall them off by saying we'd been helping him with
a bit of bush-work or anything we could think off. `It'll do no good,
and your mother's quite miserable enough as it is, boys,' he said.
`She'll know time enough, and maybe break her heart over it, too.
Dashed if I ever heard father say a soft thing before.
I couldn't 'a believed it. I always thought he was ironbark outside and in.
But he seemed real sorry for once. And I was near sayin', `Why don't ye cut
the whole blessed lot, then, and come home and work steady and make us all
comfortable and happy?' But when I looked again his face was all changed
and hard-like. `Off you go,' he says, with his old voice. `Next time
I want either of you I'll send Warrigal for you.'
And with that he walked off from the yard where we had been
catching our horses, and never looked nigh us again.
We rode away to the low end of the gully, and then we led the horses up,
foot by foot, and hard work it was -- like climbing up the roof of a house.
We were almost done when we got to the tableland at the top.
We made our way to the yard, where there were the tracks of the cows
all round about it, but nothing but the wild horses had ever been there since.
`What a scrubby hole it is!' said Jim; `I wonder how in the world
they ever found out the way to the Hollow?'
`Some runaway Government men, I believe, so that half-caste chap told me,
and a gin* showed 'em the track down, and where to get water and everything.
They lived on kangaroos at first. Then, by degrees, they used to
crawl out by moonlight and collar a horse or two or a few cattle.
They managed to live there years and years; one died,
one was killed by the blacks; the last man showed it to the chaps
that passed it on to Starlight. Warrigal's mother, or aunt or something,
was the gin that showed it to the first white men.'
* A black woman.
It was pretty late that night when we got home, and poor mother and Aileen
were that glad to see us that they didn't ask too many questions.
Mother would sit and look at the pair of us for ever so long without speaking,
and then the tears would come into her eyes and she'd turn away her head.
The old place looked very snug, clean, and comfortable, too,
after all the camping-out, and it was first-rate to have our own beds again.
Then the milk and fresh butter, and the eggs and bacon -- my word!
how Jim did lay in; you'd have thought he was goin' on all night.
`By George! home's a jolly place after all,' he said. `I am going to stay
ever so long this time, and work like an old near-side poler --
see if I don't. Let's look at your hands, Aileen; my word,
you've been doin' your share.'
`Indeed, has she,' said mother. `It's a shame, so it is,
and her with two big brothers, too.'
`Poor Ailie,' said Jim, `she had to take an axe, had she,
in her pretty little hands; but she didn't cut all that wood
that's outside the door and I nearly broke my neck over, I'll go bail.'
`How do you know?' says she, smiling roguish-like. `All the world
might have been here for what you'd been the wiser -- going away
nobody knows where, and coming home at night like -- like ----'
`Bush-rangers,' says I. `Say it out; but we haven't turned out yet,
if that's what you mean, Miss Marston.'
`I don't mean anything but what's kind and loving, you naughty boy,' says she,
throwing her arms about my neck; `but why will you break our hearts,
poor mother's and mine, by going off in such a wild way and staying away,
as if you were doing something that you were ashamed of?'
`Women shouldn't ask questions,' I said roughly. `You'll know time enough,
and if you never know, perhaps it's all the better.'
Jim was alongside of mother by this time, lying down like a child
on the old native dogskin rug that we tanned ourselves with wattle bark.
She had her hand on his hair -- thick and curly it was always from a child.
She didn't say anything, but I could see the tears drip, drip down
from her face; her head was on Jim's shoulder, and by and by
he put his arms round her neck. I went off to bed, I remember,
and left them to it.
Next morning Jim and I were up at sunrise and got in the milkers,
as we always did when we were at home. Aileen was up too. She had done
all the dairying lately by herself. There were about a dozen cows to milk,
and she had managed it all herself every day that we were away;
put up the calves every afternoon, drove up the cows in the cold mornings,
made the butter, which she used to salt and put into a keg,
and feed the pigs with the skim milk. It was rather hard work for her,
but I never saw her equal for farm work -- rough or smooth.
And she used to manage to dress neat and look pretty all the time;
not like some small settlers' daughters that I have seen,
slouching about with a pair of Blucher boots on, no bonnet, a dirty frock,
and a petticoat like a blanket rag -- not bad-looking girls either --
and their hair like a dry mop. No, Aileen was always neat and tidy,
with a good pair of thick boots outside and a thin pair for the house
when she'd done her work.
She could frighten a wildish cow and bail up anything that would stay
in a yard with her. She could ride like a bird and drive bullocks on a pinch
in a dray or at plough, chop wood, too, as well as here and there a one.
But when she was in the house and regularly set down to her sewing
she'd look that quiet and steady-going you'd think she was only fit
to teach in a school or sell laces and gloves.
And so she was when she was let work in her own way,
but if she was crossed or put upon, or saw anything going wrong,
she'd hold up her head and talk as straight as any man I ever saw.
She'd a look just like father when he'd made up his mind, only her way
was always the right way. What a difference it makes, doesn't it?
And she was so handsome with it. I've seen a goodish lot of women
since I left the old place, let alone her that's helped to put me where I am,
but I don't think I ever saw a girl that was a patch on Aileen for looks.
She had a wonderful fair skin, and her eyes were large and soft
like poor mother's. When she was a little raised-like you'd see
a pink flush come on her cheeks like a peach blossom in September,
and her eyes had a bright startled look like a doe kangaroo
when she jumps up and looks round. Her teeth were as white and even
as a black gin's. The mouth was something like father's,
and when she shut it up we boys always knew she'd made up her mind,
and wasn't going to be turned from it. But her heart was that good
that she was always thinking of others and not of herself.
I believe -- I know -- she'd have died for any one she loved.
She had more sense than all the rest of us put together.
I've often thought if she'd been the oldest boy instead of me
she'd have kept Jim straight, and managed to drive father
out of his cross ways -- that is, if any one living could have done it.
As for riding, I have never seen any one that could sit a horse or handle him
through rough, thick country like her. She could ride barebacked,
or next to it, sitting sideways on nothing but a gunny-bag,
and send a young horse flying through scrub and rocks,
or down ranges where you'd think a horse could hardly keep his feet.
We could all ride a bit out of the common, if it comes to that.
Better if we'd learned nothing but how to walk behind a plough,
year in year out, like some of the folks in father's village in England,
as he used to tell us about when he was in a good humour. But that's all
as people are reared, I suppose. We'd been used to the outside of a horse
ever since we could walk almost, and it came natural to us.
Anyhow, I think Aileen was about the best of the lot of us at that,
as in everything else.
Well, for a bit all went on pretty well at home. Jim and I
worked away steady, got in a tidy bit of crop, and did everything
that lay in our way right and regular. We milked the cows in the morning,
and brought in a big stack of firewood and chopped as much as would last
for a month or two. We mended up the paddock fence, and tidied the garden.
The old place hadn't looked so smart for many a day.
When we came in at night old mother used to look that pleased and happy
we couldn't help feeling better in our hearts. Aileen used to read
something out of the paper that she thought might amuse us.
I could read pretty fair, and so could Jim; but we were both lazy at it,
and after working pretty hard all day didn't so much care about spelling out
the long words in the farming news or the stories they put in.
All the same, it would have paid us better if we'd read a little more
and put the `bullocking' on one side, at odd times. A man can learn
as much out of a book or a paper sometimes in an hour as will save his work
for a week, or put him up to working to better purpose. I can see that now --
too late, and more's the pity.
Anyhow, Aileen could read pretty near as fast as any one I ever saw,
and she used to reel it out for us, as we sat smoking over the fire,
in a way that kept us jolly and laughing till it was nearly turning-in time.
Now and then George Storefield would come and stay an hour or two.
He could read well; nearly as well as she could. Then he had
always something to show her that she'd been asking about.
His place was eight miles off, but he'd always get his horse and go home,
whatever the night was like.
`I must be at my work in the morning,' he'd say; `it's more
than half a day gone if you lose that, and I've no half-days to spare,
or quarter-days either.'
. . . . .
So we all got on first-rate, and anybody would have thought
that there wasn't a more steady-going, hard-working, happy family
in the colony. No more there wasn't, while it lasted. After all,
what is there that's half as good as being all right and square,
working hard for the food you eat, and the sleep you enjoy,
able to look all the world in the face, and afraid of nothing and nobody!
We were so quiet and comfortable till the winter was over and the spring
coming on, till about September, that I almost began to believe
we'd never done anything in our lives we could be made to suffer for.
Now and then, of course, I used to wake up in the night,
and my thoughts would go back to `Terrible Hollow', that wonderful place;
and one night with the unbranded cattle, and Starlight,
with the blood dripping on to his horse's shoulder,
and the half-caste, with his hawk's eye and glittering teeth --
father, with his gloomy face and dark words. I wondered whether
it was all a dream; whether I and Jim had been in at all;
whether any of the `cross-work' had been found out; and, if so,
what would be done to me and Jim; most of all, though,
whether father and Starlight were away after some `big touch';
and, if so, where and what it was, and how soon we should hear of it.
As for Jim, he was one of those happy-go-lucky fellows
that didn't bother himself about anything he didn't see or run against.
I don't think it ever troubled him. It was the only bad thing
he'd ever been in. He'd been drawn in against his will,
and I think he had made up his mind -- pretty nearly --
not to go in for any more.
I have often seen Aileen talking to him, and they'd walk along in the evening
when the work was done -- he with his arm round her waist,
and she looking at him with that quiet, pleased face of hers,
seeming so proud and fond of him, as if he'd been the little chap
she used to lead about and put on the old pony, and bring into the calf-pen
when she was milking. I remember he had a fight with a little bull-calf,
about a week old, that came in with a wild heifer, and Aileen
made as much of his pluck as if it had been a mallee scrubber.
The calf baaed and butted at Jim, as even the youngest of them will,
if they've the wild blood in 'em, and nearly upset him; he was only
a bit of a toddler. But Jim picked up a loose leg of a milking-stool,
and the two went at it hammer and tongs. I could hardly stand for laughing,
till the calf gave him best and walked.
Aileen pulled him out, and carried him in to mother, telling her
that he was the bravest little chap in the world; and I remember I got scolded
for not going to help him. How these little things come back!
`I'm beginning to be afraid,' says George, one evening,
`that it's going to be a dry season.'
`There's plenty of time yet,' says Jim, who always took
the bright side of things; `it might rain towards the end of the month.'
`I was thinking the same thing,' I said. `We haven't had any rain to speak of
for a couple of months, and that bit of wheat of ours is beginning to go back.
The oats look better.'
`Now I think of it,' put in Jim, `Dick Dawson came in from outside,
and he said things are shocking bad; all the frontage bare already,
and the water drying up.'
`It's always the way,' I said, bitter-like. `As soon as a poor man's
got a chance of a decent crop, the season turns against him or prices go down,
so that he never gets a chance.'
`It's as bad for the rich man, isn't it?' said George. `It's God's will,
and we can't make or mend things by complaining.'
`I don't know so much about that,' I said sullenly. `But it's not as bad
for the rich man. Even if the squatters suffer by a drought
and lose their stock, they've more stock and money in the bank, or else credit
to fall back on; while the like of us lose all we have in the world,
and no one would lend us a pound afterwards to save our lives.'
`It's not quite so bad as that,' said George. `I shall lose my year's work
unless rain comes, and most of the cattle and horses besides;
but I shall be able to get a few pounds to go on with,
however the season goes.'
`Oh! if you like to bow and scrape to rich people, well and good,' I said;
`but that's not my way. We have as good a right to our share of the land
and some other good things as they have, and why should we be done out of it?'
`If we pay for the land as they do, certainly,' said George.
`But why should we pay? God Almighty, I suppose, made the land
and the people too, one to live on the other. Why should we pay
for what is our own? I believe in getting my share somehow.'
`That's a sort of argument that doesn't come out right,' said George.
`How would you like another man to come and want to halve the farm with you?'
`I shouldn't mind; I should go halves with some one else
who had a bigger one,' I said. `More money too, more horses, more sheep,
a bigger house! Why should he have it and not me?'
`That's a lazy man's argument, and -- well, not an honest man's,' said George,
getting up and putting on his cabbage-tree. `I can't sit and hear you
talk such rot. Nobody can work better than you and Jim, when you like.
I wonder you don't leave such talk to fellows like Frowser,
that's always spouting at the Shearers' Arms.'
`Nonsense or not, if a dry season comes and knocks all our work over,
I shall help myself to some one's stuff that has more than he knows
what to do with.'
`Why can't we all go shearing, and make as much as will keep us
for six months?' said George. `I don't know what we'd do
without the squatters.'
`Nor I either; more ways than one; but Jim and I are going shearing next week.
So perhaps there won't be any need for "duffing" after all.'
`Oh, Dick!' said Aileen, `I can't bear to hear you make a joke
of that kind of thing. Don't we all know what it leads to!
Wouldn't it be better to live on dry bread and be honest than to be
full of money and never know the day when you'd be dragged to gaol?'
`I've heard all that before; but ain't there lots of people
that have made their money by all sorts of villainy, that look as well
as the best, and never see a gaol?'
`They're always caught some day,' says poor Aileen, sobbing,
`and what a dreadful life of anxiety they must lead!'
`Not at all,' I said. `Look at Lucksly, Squeezer, and Frying-pan Jack.
Everybody knows how they got their stock and their money.
See how they live. They've got stations, and public-house and town property,
and they get richer every year. I don't think it pays to be too honest
in a dry country.'
`You're a naughty boy, Dick; isn't he, Jim?' she said, smiling through
her tears. `But he doesn't mean half what he says, does he?'
`Not he,' says Jim; `and very likely we'll have lots of rain after all.'
The `big squatter', as he was called on our side of the country,
was Mr. Falkland. He was an Englishman that had come young to the colony,
and worked his way up by degrees. He had had no money when he first came,
people said; indeed, he often said so himself. He was not proud,
at any rate in that way, for he was not above telling a young fellow
that he should never be downhearted because he hadn't a coat to his back
or a shilling in his pocket, because he, Herbert Falkland,
had known what it was to be without either. `This was the best country
in the whole world,' he used to say, `for a gentleman who was poor
or a working man.' The first sort could always make an independence
if they were moderately strong, liked work, and did not drink.
There were very few countries where idle, unsteady people got rich.
`As for the poor man, he was the real rich man in Australia;
high wages, cheap food, lodging, clothing, travelling.
What more did he want? He could save money, live happily, and die rich,
if he wasn't a fool or a rogue. Unfortunately, these last
were highly popular professions; and many people, high and low,
belonged to them here -- and everywhere else.'
We were all well up in this kind of talk, because for the last
two or three years, since we had begun to shear pretty well, we had always
shorn at his shed. He was one of those gentlemen -- and he was a gentleman,
if ever there was one -- that takes a deal of notice of his working hands,
particularly if they were young. Jim he took a great fancy to
the first moment he saw him. He didn't care so much about me.
`You're a sulky young dog, Richard Marston,' he used to say.
`I'm not sure that you'll come to any good; and though I don't like to say
all I hear about your father before you, I'm afraid he doesn't teach you
anything worth knowing. But Jim there's a grand fellow;
if he'd been caught young and weaned from all of your lot,
he'd have been an honour to the land he was born in. He's too good
for you all.'
`Every one of you gentlemen wants to be a small God Almighty,'
I said impudently. `You'd like to break us all in and put us
in yokes and bows, like a lot of working bullocks.'
`You mistake me, my boy, and all the rest of us who are worth calling men,
let alone gentlemen. We are your best friends, and would help you
in every way if you'd only let us.'
`I don't see so much of that.'
`Because you often fight against your own good. We should like to see you all
have farms of your own -- to be all well taught and able to make
the best of your lives -- not driven to drink, as many of you are,
because you have no notion of any rational amusement, and anything between
hard work and idle dissipation.'
`And suppose you had all this power,' I said -- for if I was afraid of father
there wasn't another man living that could overcrow me -- `don't you think
you'd know the way to keep all the good things for yourselves?
Hasn't it always been so?'
`I see your argument,' he said, quite quiet and reasonable,
just as if I had been a swell like himself -- that was why he was unlike
any other man I ever knew -- `and it is a perfectly fair way of putting it.
But your class might, I think, always rely upon there being enough
kindness and wisdom in ours to prevent that state of things. Unfortunately,
neither side trusts the other enough. And now the bell is going to ring,
Jim and I stopped at Boree shed till all the sheep were cut out.
It pays well if the weather is pretty fair, and it isn't bad fun
when there's twenty or thirty chaps of the right sort in the shearers' hut;
there's always some fun going on. Shearers work pretty hard,
and as they buy their own rations generally, they can afford to live well.
After a hard day's shearing -- that is, from five o'clock in the morning
to seven at night, going best pace all the time, every man working
as hard as if he was at it for his life -- one would think a man
would be too tired to do anything. But we were mostly strong and hearty,
and at that age a man takes a deal of killing; so we used to have
a little card-playing at night to pass away the time.
Very few of the fellows had any money to spend. They couldn't get any either
until shearing was over and they were paid off; but they'd get some one
who could write to scribble a lot of I O U's, and they did as well.
We used to play `all-fours' and `loo', and now and then an American game
which some of the fellows had picked up. It was strange how soon we managed
to get into big stakes. I won at first, and then Jim and I began to lose,
and had such a lot of I O U's out that I was afraid we'd have no money
to take home after shearing. Then I began to think what a fool I'd been
to play myself and drag Jim into it, for he didn't want to play at first.
One day I got a couple of letters from home -- one from Aileen
and another in a strange hand. It had come to our little post-office,
and Aileen had sent it on to Boree.
When I opened it there were a few lines, with father's name at the bottom.
He couldn't write, so I made sure that Starlight had written it for him.
He was quite well, it said; and to look out for him about Christmas time;
he might come home then, or send for us; to stop at Boree
if we could get work, and keep a couple of horses in good trim,
as he might want us. A couple of five-pound notes fell out of the letter
as I opened it.
When I looked at them first I felt a kind of fear. I knew what they
came from. And I had a sort of feeling that we should be better without them.
However, the devil was too strong for me. Money's a tempting thing,
whether it's notes or gold, especially when a man's in debt.
I had begun to think the fellows looked a little cool on us
the last three or four nights, as our losses were growing big.
So I gave Jim his share; and after tea, when we sat down again,
there weren't more than a dozen of us that were in the card racket.
I flung down my note, and Jim did his, and told them that we owed to take
the change out of that and hand us over their paper for the balance.
They all stared, for such a thing hadn't been seen since the shearing began.
Shearers, as a rule, come from their homes in the settled districts
very bare. They are not very well supplied with clothes;
their horses are poor and done up; and they very seldom have a note
in their pockets, unless they have managed to sell a spare horse
on the journey.
So we were great men for the time, looked at by the others
with wonder and respect. We were fools enough to be pleased with it.
Strangely, too, our luck turned from that minute, and it ended in our winning
not only our own back, but more than as much more from the other men.
I don't think Mr. Falkland liked these goings on. He wouldn't
have allowed cards at all if he could have helped it. He was a man
that hated what was wrong, and didn't value his own interest a pin
when it came in the way. However, the shearing hut was our own,
in a manner of speaking, and as long as we shore clean and kept the shed going
the overseer, Mr. M`Intyre, didn't trouble his head much
about our doings in the hut. He was anxious to get done with the shearing,
to get the wool into the bales before the dust came in,
and the grass seed ripened, and the clover burrs began to fall.
`Why should ye fash yoursel',' I heard him say once to Mr. Falkland,
`aboot these young deevils like the Marstons? They're as good's ready money
in auld Nick's purse. It's bred and born and welded in them.
Ye'll just have the burrs and seeds amang the wool if ye keep losing
a smart shearer for the sake o' a wheen cards and dice;
and ye'll mak' nae heed of convairtin' thae young caterans ony mair
than ye'll change a Norroway falcon into a barn-door chuckie.'
I wonder if what he said was true -- if we couldn't help it;
if it was in our blood? It seems like it; and yet it's hard lines to think
a fellow must grow up and get on the cross in spite of himself,
and come to the gallows-foot at last, whether he likes it or not.
The parson here isn't bad at all. He's a man and a gentleman, too;
and he's talked and read to me by the hour. I suppose some of us chaps
are like the poor stupid tribes that the Israelites found in Canaan,
only meant to live for a bit and then to be rubbed out to make room
for better people.
When the shearing was nearly over we had a Saturday afternoon to ourselves.
We had finished all the sheep that were in the shed, and old M`Intyre
didn't like to begin a fresh flock. So we got on our horses and took a ride
into the township just for the fun of the thing, and for a little change.
The horses had got quite fresh with the rest and the spring grass.
Their coats were shining, and they all looked very different
from what they did when we first came. Our two were not so poor
when they came, so they looked the best of the lot, and jumped about in style
when we mounted. Ah! only to think of a good horse.
All the men washed themselves and put on clean clothes.
Then we had our dinner and about a dozen of us started off for the town.
Poor old Jim, how well he looked that day! I don't think you could pick
a young fellow anywhere in the countryside that was a patch on him
for good looks and manliness, somewhere about six foot or a little over,
as straight as a rush, with a bright blue eye that was always
laughing and twinkling, and curly dark brown hair. No wonder all the girls
used to think so much of him. He could do anything and everything
that a man could do. He was as strong as a young bull,
and as active as a rock wallaby -- and ride! Well, he sat on his horse
as if he was born on one. With his broad shoulders and upright easy seat
he was a regular picture on a good horse.
And he had a good one under him to-day; a big, brown, resolute,
well-bred horse he had got in a swap because the man that had him
was afraid of him. Now that he had got a little flesh on his bones
he looked something quite out of the common. `A deal too good for a poor man,
and him honest,' as old M`Intyre said.
But Jim turned on him pretty sharp, and said he had got the horse
in a fair deal, and had as much right to a good mount as any one else --
super or squatter, he didn't care who he was.
And Mr. Falkland took Jim's part, and rather made Mr. M`Intyre out
in the wrong for saying what he did. The old man didn't say much more,
only shook his head, saying --
`Ah, ye're a grand laddie, and buirdly, and no that thrawn, either --
like ye, Dick, ye born deevil,' looking at me. `But I misdoot sair
ye'll die wi' your boots on. There's a smack o' Johnnie Armstrong
in the glint o' yer e'e. Ye'll be to dree yer weird, there's nae help for't.'
`What's all that lingo, Mr. M`Intyre?' called out Jim,
all good-natured again. `Is it French or Queensland blacks' yabber?
Blest if I understand a word of it. But I didn't want to be nasty,
only I am regular shook on this old moke, I believe, and he's as square
as Mr. Falkland's dogcart horse.'
`Maybe ye bocht him fair eneugh. I'll no deny you. I saw the receipt mysel'.
But where did yon lang-leggit, long-lockit, Fish River moss-trooping callant
win haud o' him? Answer me that, Jeems.'
`That says nothing,' answered Jim. `I'm not supposed to trace back
every horse in the country and find out all the people that owned him
since he was a foal. He's mine now, and mine he'll be
till I get a better one.'
`A contuma-acious and stiff-necked generation,' said the old man,
walking off and shaking his head. `And yet he's a fine laddie;
a gra-and laddie wad he be with good guidance. It's the Lord's doing,
nae doot, and we daurna fault it; it's wondrous in our een.'
That was the way old Mac always talked. Droll lingo, wasn't it?
Well, away we went to this township. Bundah was the name of it;
not that there was anything to do or see when we got there.
It was the regular up-country village, with a public-house, a store, a pound,
and a blacksmith's shop. However, a public-house is not such a bad place --
at any rate it's better than nothing when a fellow's young and red-hot
for anything like a bit of fun, or even a change. Some people can work away
day after day, and year after year, like a bullock in a team or a horse
in a chaff-cutting machine. It's all the better for them if they can,
though I suppose they never enjoy themselves except in a cold-blooded
sort of way. But there's other men that can't do that sort of thing,
and it's no use talking. They must have life and liberty and a free range.
There's some birds, and animals too, that either pine in a cage
or kill themselves, and I suppose it's the same way with some men.
They can't stand the cage of what's called honest labour,
which means working for some one else for twenty or thirty years,
never having a day to yourself, or doing anything you like,
and saving up a trifle for your old age when you can't enjoy it.
I don't wonder youngsters break traces and gallop off like a colt
out of a team.
Besides, sometimes there's a good-looking girl even at a bush public,
the daughter or the barmaid, and it's odd, now, what a difference that makes.
There's a few glasses of grog going, a little noisy, rattling talk,
a few smiles and a saucy answer or two from the girl,
a look at the last newspaper, or a bit of the town news from the landlord;
he's always time to read. Hang him -- I mean confound him --
for he's generally a sly old spider who sucks us fellows pretty dry,
and then don't care what becomes of us. Well, it don't amount to much,
but it's life -- the only taste of it that chaps like us are likely to get.
And people may talk as much as they like; boys, and men too, will like it,
and take to it, and hanker after it, as long as the world lasts.
There's danger in it, and misery, and death often enough comes of it,
but what of that? If a man wants a swim on the seashore he won't stand
all day on the beach because he may be drowned or snapped up by a shark,
or knocked against a rock, or tired out and drawn under by the surf.
No, if he's a man he'll jump in and enjoy himself all the more because
the waves are high and the waters deep. So it was very good fun to us,
simple as it might sound to some people. It was pleasant to be bowling along
over the firm green turf, along the plain, through the forest, gully,
and over the creek. Our horses were fresh, and we had a scurry or two,
of course; but there wasn't one that could hold a candle to Jim's brown horse.
He was a long-striding, smooth goer, but he got over the ground
in wonderful style. He could jump, too, for Jim put him over
a big log fence or two, and he sailed over them like a forester buck
over the head of a fallen wattle.
Well, we'd had our lark at the Bundah Royal Hotel, and were coming home
to tea at the station, all in good spirits, but sober enough,
when, just as we were crossing one of the roads that came through the run
-- over the `Pretty Plain', as they called it -- we heard a horse
coming along best pace. When we looked who should it be but Miss Falkland,
the owner's only daughter.
She was an only child, and the very apple of her father's eye,
you may be sure. The shearers mostly knew her by sight,
because she had taken a fancy to come down with her father a couple of times
to see the shed when we were all in full work.
A shed's not exactly the best place for a young lady to come into.
Shearers are rough in their language now and then. But every man
liked and respected Mr. Falkland, so we all put ourselves
on our best behaviour, and the two or three flash fellows
who had no sense or decent feeling were warned that if they broke out at all
they would get something to remember it by.
But when we saw that beautiful, delicate-looking creature
stepping down the boards between the two rows of shearers,
most of them stripped to their jerseys and working like steam-engines,
looking curiously and pitifully at the tired men and the patient sheep,
with her great, soft, dark eyes and fair white face like a lily,
we began to think we'd heard of angels from heaven, but never seen one before.
Just as she came opposite Jim, who was trying to shear sheep and sheep
with the `ringer' of the shed, who was next on our right,
the wether he was holding kicked, and knocking the shears out of his hand,
sent them point down against his wrist. One of the points went right in,
and though it didn't cut the sinews, as luck would have it,
the point stuck out at the other side; out spurted the blood,
and Jim was just going to let out when he looked up and saw Miss Falkland
looking at him, with her beautiful eyes so full of pity and surprise
that he could have had his hand chopped off, so he told me afterwards,
rather than vex her for a moment. So he shut up his mouth
and ground his teeth together, for it was no joke in the way of pain,
and the blood began to run like a blind creek after a thunderstorm.
`Oh! poor fellow. What a dreadful cut! Look, papa!' she cried out.
`Hadn't something better be bound round it? How it bleeds!
Does it pain much?'
`Not a bit, miss!' said Jim, standing up like a schoolboy going to say
his lesson. `That is, it doesn't matter if it don't stop my shearing.'
`Tar!' sings out my next-door neighbour. `Here, boy; tar wanted for No. 36.
That'll put it all right, Jim; it's only a scratch.'
`You mind your shearing, my man,' said Mr. Falkland quietly. `I don't know
whether Mr. M`Intyre will quite approve of that last sheep of yours.
This is rather a serious wound. The best thing is to bind it up at once.'
Before any one could say another word Miss Falkland had whipped out
her soft fine cambric handkerchief and torn it in two.
`Hold up your hand,' she said. `Now, papa, lend me yours.' With the last
she cleared the wound of the flowing blood, and then neatly and skilfully
bound up the wrist firmly with the strips of cambric.
This she further protected by her father's handkerchief,
which she helped herself to and finally stopped the blood with.
Jim kept looking at her small white hands all the time she was doing it.
Neither of us had ever seen such before -- the dainty skin, the pink nails,
the glittering rings.
`There,' she said, `I don't think you ought to shear any more to-day;
it might bring on inflammation. I'll send to know how it gets on to-morrow.'
`No, miss; my grateful thanks, miss,' said Jim, opening his eyes
and looking as if he'd like to drop down on his knees and pray to her.
`I shall never forget your goodness, Miss Falkland, if I live
till I'm a hundred.' Then Jim bent his head a bit -- I don't suppose
he ever made a bow in his life before -- and then drew himself up as straight
as a soldier, and Miss Falkland made a kind of bow and smile to us all
and passed out.
Jim did shear all the same that afternoon, though the tally wasn't any
great things. `I can't go and lie down in a bunk in the men's hut,' he said;
`I must chance it,' and he did. Next day it was worse and very painful,
but Jim stuck to the shears, though he used to turn white with the pain
at times, and I thought he'd faint. However, it gradually got better,
and, except a scar, Jim's hand was as good as ever.
Jim sent back Mr. Falkland's handkerchief after getting the cook
to wash it and iron it out with a bit of a broken axletree;
but the strips of white handkerchief -- one had C. F. in the corner --
he put away in his swag, and made some foolish excuse when I laughed at him
She sent down a boy from the house next day to ask how Jim's hand was,
and the day after that, but she never came to the shed any more.
So we didn't see her again.
So it was this young lady that we saw coming tearing down the back road,
as they called it, that led over the Pretty Plain. A good way behind
we saw Mr. Falkland, but he had as much chance of coming up with her
as a cattle dog of catching a `brush flyer'.
The stable boy, Billy Donnellan, had told us (of course,
like all those sort of youngsters, he was fond of getting among the men
and listening to them talk) all about Miss Falkland's new mare.
She was a great beauty and thoroughbred. The stud groom had bought her
out of a travelling mob from New England when she was dog-poor and hardly able
to drag herself along. Everybody thought she was going to be
the best lady's horse in the district; but though she was
as quiet as a lamb at first she had begun to show a nasty temper lately,
and to get very touchy. `I don't care about chestnuts myself,'
says Master Billy, smoking a short pipe as if he was thirty;
`they've a deal of temper, and she's got too much white in her eye
for my money. I'm afeard she'll do some mischief afore we've done with her;
and Miss Falkland's that game as she won't have nothing done to her.
I'd ride the tail off her but what I'd bring her to, if I had my way.'
So this was the brute that had got away with Miss Falkland,
the day we were coming back from Bundah. Some horses,
and a good many men and women, are all pretty right
as long as they're well kept under and starved a bit at odd times.
But give them an easy life and four feeds of corn a day,
and they're troublesome brutes, and mischievous too.
It seems this mare came of a strain that had turned out more devils
and killed more grooms and breakers than any other in the country.
She was a Troubadour, it seems; there never was a Troubadour yet
that wouldn't buck and bolt, and smash himself and his rider,
if he got a fright, or his temper was roused. Men and women, horses and dogs,
are very much alike. I know which can talk best. As to the rest,
I don't know whether there's so much for us to be proud of.
It seems that this cranky wretch of a mare had been sideling and fidgeting
when Mr. Falkland and his daughter started for their ride;
but had gone pretty fairly -- Miss Falkland, like my sister Aileen,
could ride anything in reason -- when suddenly a dead limb dropped off a tree
close to the side of the road.
I believe she made one wild plunge, and set to; she propped and reared,
but Miss Falkland sat her splendidly and got her head up.
When she saw she could do nothing that way, she stretched out her head
and went off as hard as she could lay legs to the ground.
She had one of those mouths that are not so bad when horses are going easy,
but get quite callous when they are over-eager and excited.
Anyhow, it was like trying to stop a mail-coach going down Mount Victoria
with the brake off.
So what we saw was the wretch of a mare coming along as if the devil
was after her, and heading straight across the plain at its narrowest part;
it wasn't more than half-a-mile wide there, in fact, it was more like a flat
than a plain. The people about Boree didn't see much open country,
so they made a lot out of what they had.
The mare, like some women when they get their monkey up,
was clean out of her senses, and I don't believe anything could have held her
under a hide rope with a turn round a stockyard post.
This was what she wanted, and if it had broken her infernal neck
so much the better.
Miss Falkland was sitting straight and square, with her hands down,
leaning a bit back, and doing her level best to stop the brute.
Her hat was off and her hair had fallen down and hung down her back --
plenty of it there was, too. The mare's neck was stretched straight out;
her mouth was like a deal board, I expect, by that time.
We didn't sit staring at her all the time, you bet. We could see the boy
ever so far off. We gathered up our reins and went after her, not in a hurry,
but just collecting ourselves a bit to see what would be the best way
to wheel the brute and stop her.
Jim's horse was far and away the fastest, and he let out to head the mare off
from a creek that was just in front and at the end of the plain.
`By George!' said one of the men -- a young fellow who lived near the place --
`the mare's turning off her course, and she's heading straight
for the Trooper's Downfall, where the policeman was killed.
If she goes over that, they'll be smashed up like a matchbox,
horse and rider.'
`What's that?' I said, closing up alongside of him. We were all doing
our best, and were just in the line to back up Jim, who looked as if
he was overhauling the mare fast.
`Why, it's a bluff a hundred feet deep -- a straight drop --
and rocks at the bottom. She's making as straight as a bee-line for it now,
`And Jim don't know it,' I said; `he's closing up to her,
but he doesn't calculate to do it for a quarter of a mile more;
he's letting her take it out of herself.'
`He'll never catch her in time,' said the young chap. `My God!
it's an awful thing, isn't it? and a fine young lady like her --
so kind to us chaps as she was.'
`I'll see if I can make Jim hear,' I said, for though I looked cool
I was as nearly mad as I could be to think of such a girl being lost
before our eyes. `No, I can't do that, but I'll TELEGRAPH.'
Now Jim and I had had many a long talk together about what we should do
in case we wanted to signal to each other very pressing. We thought the time
might come some day when we might be near enough to sign, but not to speak.
So we hit upon one or two things a little out of the common.
The first idea was, in case of one wanting to give the other the office
that he was to look out his very brightest for danger,
and not to trust to what appeared to be the state of affairs,
the sign was to hold up your hat or cap straight over your head.
If the danger threatened on the left, to shift to that side.
If it was very pressing and on the jump, as it were, quite unexpected,
and as bad as bad could be, the signalman was to get up on the saddle
with his knees and turn half round.
We could do this easy enough and a lot of circus tricks besides.
How had we learned them? Why, in the long days we had spent in the saddle
tailing the milkers and searching after lost horses for many a night.
As luck would have it Jim looked round to see how we were getting on,
and up went my cap. I could see him turn his head and keep watching me
when I put on the whole box and dice of the telegraph business.
He `dropped', I could see. He took up the brown horse,
and made such a rush to collar the mare that showed he intended
to see for himself what the danger was. The cross-grained jade!
She was a well-bred wretch, and be hanged to her! Went as if
she wanted to win the Derby and gave Jim all he knew to challenge her.
We could see a line of timber just ahead of her, and that Jim was riding
for his life.
`By ----! they'll both be over it,' said the young shearer.
`They can't stop themselves at that pace, and they must be close up now.'
`He's neck and neck,' I said. `Stick to her, Jim, old man!'
We were all close together now. Several of the men knew the place,
and the word had been passed round.
No one spoke for a few seconds. We saw the two horses rush up at top speed
to the very edge of the timber.
`By Jove! they're over. No! he's reaching for her rein. It's no use.
Now -- now! She's saved! Oh, my God! they're both right. By the Lord,
well done! Hurrah! One cheer more for Jim Marston!'
. . . . .
It was all right. We saw Jim suddenly reach over as the horses were going
stride and stride; saw him lift Miss Falkland from her saddle
as if she had been a child and place her before him; saw the brown horse prop,
and swing round on his haunches in a way that showed he had not been called
the crack `cutting-out' horse on a big cattle run for nothing.
We saw Jim jump to the ground and lift the young lady down.
We saw only one horse.
Three minutes after Mr. Falkland overtook us, and we rode up together.
His face was white, and his dry lips couldn't find words at first.
But he managed to say to Jim, when we got up --
`You have saved my child's life, James Marston, and if I forget the service
may God in that hour forget me. You are a noble fellow. You must allow me
to show my gratitude in some way.'
`You needn't thank me so out and out as all that, Mr. Falkland,' said Jim,
standing up very straight and looking at the father first,
and then at Miss Falkland, who was pale and trembling,
not altogether from fear, but excitement, and trying to choke back the sobs
that would come out now and then. `I'd risk life and limb any day
before Miss Falkland's finger should be scratched, let alone see her killed
before my eyes. I wonder if there's anything left of the mare, poor thing;
not that she don't deserve it all, and more.'
Here we all walked forward to the deep creek bank. A yard or two farther
and the brown horse and his burden must have gone over the terrible drop,
as straight as a plumb-line, on to the awful rocks below.
We could see where the brown had torn up the turf as he struck all four hoofs
deep into it at once. Indeed, he had been newly shod, a freak of Jim's
about a bet with a travelling blacksmith. Then the other tracks,
the long score on the brink -- over the brink -- where the frightened,
maddened animal had made an attempt to alter her speed, all in vain,
and had plunged over the bank and the hundred feet of fall.
We peered over, and saw a bright-coloured mass among the rocks below --
very still. Just at the time one of the ration-carriers came by
with a spring cart. Mr. Falkland lifted his daughter in and took the reins,
leaving his horse to be ridden home by the ration-carrier.
As for us we rode back to the shearers' hut, not quite so fast as we came,
with Jim in the middle. He did not seem inclined to talk much.
`It's lucky I turned round when I did, Dick,' he said at last,
`and saw you making the "danger-look-out-sharp" signal. I couldn't think
what the dickens it was. I was so cocksure of catching the mare
in half-a-mile farther that I couldn't help wondering what it was all about.
Anyhow, I knew we agreed it was never to be worked for nothing,
so thought the best thing I could do was to call in the mare,
and see if I could find out anything then. When I got alongside, I could see
that Miss Falkland's face was that white that something must be up.
It weren't the mare she was afraid of. She was coming back to her.
It took something to frighten her, I knew. So it must be something
I did not know, or didn't see.
`"What is it, Miss Falkland?" I said.
`"Oh!" she cried out, "don't you know? Another fifty yards and we'll be over
the downfall where the trooper was killed. Oh, my poor father!"
`"Don't be afraid," I said. "We'll not go over if I can help it."
`So I reached over and got hold of the reins. I pulled and jerked.
She said her hands were cramped, and no wonder. Pulling double
for a four-mile heat is no joke, even if a man's in training.
Fancy a woman, a young girl, having to sit still and drag at a runaway horse
all the time. I couldn't stop the brute; she was boring like a wild bull.
So just as we came pretty close I lifted Miss Falkland off the saddle
and yelled at old Brownie as if I had been on a cattle camp, swinging round
to the near side at the same time. Round he came like one o'clock.
I could see the mare make one prop to stop herself, and then go flying
right through the air, till I heard a beastly "thud" at the bottom.
`Miss Falkland didn't faint, though she turned white and then red,
and trembled like a leaf when I lifted her down, and looked up at me
with a sweet smile, and said --
`"Jim, you have paid me for binding up your wrist, haven't you?
You have saved me from a horrible death, and I shall think of you
as a brave and noble fellow all the days of my life."
`What could I say?' said Jim. `I stared at her like a fool.
"I'd have gone over the bank with you, Miss Falkland," I said,
"if I could not have saved you."
`"Well, I'm afraid some of my admirers would have stopped short of that,
James," she said. She did indeed. And then Mr. Falkland and all of you
`I say, Jim,' said one of the young fellows, `your fortune's made.
Mr. Falkland 'll stand a farm, you may be sure, for this little fakement.'
`And I say, Jack,' says old Jim, very quiet like, `I've told you all the yarn,
and if there's any chaff about it after this the cove will have to see
whether he's best man or me; so don't make any mistake now.'
There was no more chaff. They weren't afraid. There were
two or three of them pretty smart with their hands, and not likely
to take much from anybody. But Jim was a heavy weight
and could hit like a horse kicking; so they thought it wasn't good enough,
and left him alone.
Next day Mr. Falkland came down and wanted to give Jim a cheque for a hundred;
but he wouldn't hear of so much as a note. Then he said he'd give him
a billet on the run -- make him under overseer; after a bit
buy a farm for him and stock it. No! Jim wouldn't touch nothing
or take a billet on the place. He wouldn't leave his family, he said.
And as for taking money or anything else for saving Miss Falkland's life,
it was ridiculous to think of it. There wasn't a man of the lot in the shed,
down to the tarboy, that wouldn't have done the same, or tried to.
All that was in it was that his horse was the fastest.
`It's not a bad thing for a poor man to have a fast horse now and then,
is it, Mr. Falkland?' he said, looking up and smiling, just like a boy.
He was very shy, was poor Jim.
`I don't grudge a poor man a good horse or anything else he likes
to have or enjoy. You know that, all of you. It's the fear I have
of the effect of the dishonest way that horses of value are come by,
and the net of roguery that often entangles fine young fellows
like you and your brother; that's what I fear,' said Mr. Falkland,
looking at the pair of us so kind and pitiful like.
I looked him in the face, though I felt I could not say he was wrong.
I felt, too, just then, as if I could have given all the world
to be afraid of no man's opinion.
What a thing it is to be perfectly honest and straight --
to be able to look the whole world in the face!
But if more gentlemen were like Mr. Falkland I do really believe
no one would rob them for very shame's sake. When shearing was over we were
all paid up -- shearers, washers, knock-about men, cooks, and extra shepherds.
Every soul about the place except Mr. M`Intyre and Mr. Falkland
seemed to have got a cheque and a walking-ticket at the same time.
Away they went, like a lot of boys out of school; and half of 'em
didn't show as much sense either. As for me and Jim we had no particular wish
to go home before Christmas. So as there's always contracts to be let
about a big run like Banda we took a contract for some bush work,
and went at it. Mr. M`Intyre looked quite surprised. But Mr. Falkland
praised us up, and was proud we were going to turn over a new leaf.
Nobody could say at that time we didn't work. Fencing, dam-making,
horse-breaking, stock-riding, from making hay to building a shed, all bushwork
came easy enough to us, Jim in particular; he took a pleasure in it,
and was never happier than when he'd had a real tearing day's work
and was settling himself after his tea to a good steady smoke.
A great smoker he'd come to be. He never was much for drinking
except now and again, and then he could knock it off as easy as any man
I ever seen. Poor old Jim! He was born good and intended to be so,
like mother. Like her, his luck was dead out in being mixed up
with a lot like ours.
One day we were out at the back making some lambing yards. We were
about twenty miles from the head station and had about finished the job.
We were going in the next day. We had been camping in an old shepherd's hut
and had been pretty jolly all by ourselves. There was first-rate feed
for our horses, as the grass was being saved for the lambing season.
Jim was in fine spirits, and as we had plenty of good rations
and first-rate tobacco we made ourselves pretty comfortable.
`What a jolly thing it is to have nothing on your mind!' Jim used to say.
`I hadn't once, and what a fine time it was! Now I'm always waking up
with a start and expecting to see a policeman or that infernal half-caste.
He's never far off when there's villainy on. Some fine day he'll sell us all,
I really do believe.'
`If he don't somebody else will; but why do you pitch upon him?
You don't like him somehow; I don't see that he's worse than any other.
Besides, we haven't done anything much to have a reward put on us.'
`No! that's to come,' answered Jim, very dismally for him.
`I don't see what else is to come of it. Hist! isn't that a horse's step
coming this way? Yes, and a man on him, too.'
It was a bright night, though only the stars were out; but the weather
was that clear that you could see ever so well and hear ever so far also.
Jim had a blackfellow's hearing; his eyes were like a hawk's;
he could see in about any light, and read tracks like a printed book.
I could hear nothing at first; then I heard a slight noise a good way off,
and a stick breaking every now and then.
`Talk of the devil!' growled Jim, `and here he comes.
I believe that's Master Warrigal, infernal scoundrel that he is.
Of course he's got a message from our respectable old dad or Starlight,
asking us to put our heads in a noose for them again.'
`How do you know?'
`I know it's that ambling horse he used to ride,' says Jim.
`I can make out his sideling kind of way of using his legs.
All amblers do that.'
`You're right,' I said, after listening for a minute. `I can hear
the regular pace, different from a horse's walk.'
`How does he know we're here, I wonder?' says Jim.
`Some of the telegraphs piped us, I suppose,' I answered. `I begin to wish
they forgot us altogether.'
`No such luck,' says Jim. `Let's keep dark and see what
this black snake of a Warrigal will be up to. I don't expect he'll ride
straight up to the door.'
He was right. The horse hoofs stopped just inside a thick bit of scrub,
just outside the open ground on which the hut stood. After a few seconds
we heard the cry of the mopoke. It's not a cheerful sound
at the dead of night, and now, for some reason or other,
it affected Jim and me in much the same manner. I remembered the last time
I had heard the bird at home, just before we started over for Terrible Hollow,
and it seemed unlucky. Perhaps we were both a little nervous; we hadn't
drunk anything but tea for weeks. We drank it awfully black and strong,
and a great lot of it.
Anyhow, as we heard the quick light tread of the horse pacing in
his two-feet-on-one-side way over the sandy, thin-grassed soil, every moment
coming nearer and nearer, and this queer dismal-voiced bird hooting
its hoarse deep notes out of the dark tree that swished and sighed-like
in front of the sandhill, a queer feeling came over both of us
that something unlucky was on the boards for us. We felt quite relieved
when the horse's footsteps stopped. After a minute or so we could see
a dark form creeping towards the hut.
Warrigal left his horse at the edge of the timber, for fear he might want him
in a hurry, I suppose. He was pretty `fly', and never threw away a chance
as long as he was sober. He could drink a bit, like the rest of us,
now and then -- not often -- but when he did it made a regular devil of him --
that is, it brought the devil out that lives low down in most people's hearts.
He was a worse one than usual, Jim said. He saw him once
in one of his break-outs, and heard him boast of something he'd done.
Jim never liked him afterwards. For the matter of that
he hated Jim and me too. The only living things he cared about
were Starlight and the three-cornered weed he rode, that had been a `brumbee',
and wouldn't let any one touch him, much less ride him, but himself.
How he used to snort if a stranger came near him! He could kick the eye
out of a mosquito, and bite too, if he got the chance.
As for Warrigal, Starlight used to knock him down like a log
if he didn't please him, but he never offered to turn upon him.
He seemed to like it, and looked regular put out once
when Starlight hurt his knuckles against his hard skull.
Us he didn't like, as I said before -- why, I don't know -- nor we him.
Likes and dislikes are curious things. People hardly know the rights of them.
But if you take a regular strong down upon a man or woman
when you first see 'em it's ten to one that you'll find some day
as you've good reason for it. We couldn't say what grounds we had
for hating the sight of Warrigal neither, for he was as good a tracker
as ever followed man or beasts. He could read all the signs of the bush
like a printed book. He could ride any horse in the world, and find his way,
day or night, to any place he'd ever once been to in his life.
Sometimes we should have been hard pushed when we were making
across country at night only for him. Hour after hour
he'd ride ahead through scrub or forest, up hill or down dale,
with that brute of a horse of his -- he called him `Bilbah' -- ambling away,
till our horses, except Rainbow, used to shake the lives out of us jogging.
I believe he did it on purpose.
He was a fine shot, and could catch fish and game in all sorts of ways
that came in handy when we had to keep dark. He had pluck enough, and could
fight a pretty sharp battle with his fists if he wasn't overweighted.
There were white men that didn't at all find him a good thing
if they went to bully him. He tried it on with Jim once, but he knocked
the seven senses out of him inside of three rounds, and that satisfied him.
He pretended to make up, but I was always expecting him
to play us some dog's trick yet. Anyway, so far he was all right,
and as long as Starlight and us were mixed up together, he couldn't hurt one
without the other. He came gliding up to the old hut in the dull light
by bits of moves, just as if he'd been a bush that had changed its place.
We pretended to be asleep near the fire.
He peeped in through a chink. He could see us by the firelight,
and didn't suppose we were watching him.
`Hullo, Warrigal!' sung out Jim suddenly, `what's up now?
Some devil's work, I suppose, or you wouldn't be in it.
Why don't you knock at a gentleman's door when you come a visiting?'
`Wasn't sure it was you,' he answered, showing his teeth;
`it don't do to get sold. Might been troopers, for all I know.'
`Pity we wasn't,' said Jim; `I'd have the hobbles on you by this time,
and you'd have got "fitted" to rights. I wish I'd gone
into the police sometimes. It isn't a bad game for a chap
that can ride and track, and likes a bit of rough-and-tumble now and then.'
`If I'd been a police tracker I'd have had as good a chance of nailing you,
Jim Marston,' spoke up Warrigal. `Perhaps I will some day.
Mr. Garton wanted me bad once, and said they'd never go agin me for old times.
But that says nothin'. Starlight's out at the back and the old man, too.
They want you to go to them -- sharp.'
`Dunno. I was to tell you, and show the camp; and now gimme some grub,
for I've had nothing since sunrise but the leg of a 'possum.'
`All right,' said Jim, putting the billy on; `here's some damper and mutton
to go on with while the tea warms.'
`Wait till I hobble out Bilbah; he's as hungry as I am, and thirsty too,
`Take some out of the barrel; we shan't want it to-morrow,' said Jim.
Hungry as Warrigal was -- and when he began to eat I thought
he never would stop -- he went and looked after his horse first,
and got him a couple of buckets of water out of the cask
they used to send us out every week. There was no surface water near the hut.
Then he hobbled him out of a bit of old sheep-yard, and came in.
The more I know of men the more I see what curious lumps of good and bad
they're made up of. People that won't stick at anything in some ways
will be that soft and good-feeling in others -- ten times more so
than your regular good people. Any one that thinks all mankind's divided
into good, bad, and middlin', and that they can draft 'em like a lot of cattle
-- some to one yard, some to another -- don't know much.
There's a mob in most towns though, I think, that wants boilin' down bad.
Some day they'll do it, maybe; they'll have to when all the good country's
stocked up. After Warrigal had his supper he went out again to see his horse,
and then coiled himself up before the fire and wouldn't hardly say
`How far was it to where Starlight was?'
`Long way. Took me all day to come.'
`Had he been there long?'
`Yes; had a camp there.'
`Anybody else with him?'
`Three more men from this side.'
`Did the old man say we were to come at once?'
`Yes, or leave it alone -- which you liked.'
Then he shut his eyes, and his mouth too, and was soon as fast asleep
as if he never intended to wake under a week.
`What shall we do, Jim?' I said; `go or not?'
`If you leave it to me,' says Jim, `I say, don't go. It's only some other
cross cattle or horse racket. We're bound to be nobbled some day.
Why not cut it now, and stick to the square thing? We couldn't do better
than we're doing now. It's rather slow, but we'll have a good cheque
`I'm half a mind to tell Warrigal to go back and say we're not on,' I said.
`Lots of other chaps would join without making any bones about it.'
`Hoo -- hoo -- hoo -- hoo,' sounded once more the night-bird
from the black tree outside.
`D---- the bird! I believe he's the devil in the shape of a mopoke!
And yet I don't like Starlight to think we're afraid. He and the old man
might be in a fix and want help. Suppose we toss up?'
`All right,' says Jim, speaking rather slowly.
You couldn't tell from his face or voice how he felt about it;
but I believe now -- more than that, he let on once to me --
that he was awfully cut up about my changing, and thought we were just in
for a spell of straightforward work, and would stash the other thing
for good and all.
We put the fire together. It burnt up bright for a bit.
I pulled out a shilling.
`If it's head we go, Jim; if it's woman, we stay here.'
I sent up the coin; we both bent over near the fire to look at it.
The head was uppermost.
`Hoo -- hoo -- hoo -- hoo,' came the night-bird's harsh croak.
There was a heavyish stake on that throw, if we'd only known.
Only ruin -- only death. Four men's lives lost, and three women
made miserable for life.
Jim and I looked at one another. He smiled and opened the door.
`It's all the fault of that cursed owl, I believe,' he said;
`I'll have his life if he waits till it's daylight.
We must be off early and get up our horses. I know what a long day
for Warrigal and that ambling three-cornered devil of his means --
seventy or eighty miles, if it's a yard.'
We slept sound enough till daybreak, and COULD SLEEP then,
whatever was on the card. As for Jim, he slept like a baby always
once he turned in. When I woke I got up at once. It was half dark;
there was a little light in the east. But Warrigal had been out before me,
and was leading his horse up to the hut with the hobbles in his hand.
Our horses were not far off; one of them had a bell on.
Jim had his old brown, and I had a chestnut that I thought nearly as good.
We weren't likely to have anything to ride that wasn't
middlin' fast and plucky. Them that overhauled us would have to ride for it.
We saddled up and took our blankets and what few things
we couldn't do without. The rest stopped in the hut for any one
that came after us. We left our wages, too, and never asked for 'em
from that day to this. A trifle like that didn't matter
after what we were going in for. More's the pity.
As we moved off my horse propped once or twice, and Warrigal looked at us
in a queer side sort of way and showed his teeth a bit -- smile nor laugh
it wasn't, only a way he had when he thought he knew more than we did.
`My word! your horse's been where the feed's good. We're goin'
a good way to-day. I wonder if they'll be as flash as they are now.'
`They'll carry us wherever that three-cornered mule of yours
will shuffle to to-night,' said Jim. `Never you mind about them.
You ride straight, and don't get up to any monkey tricks, or, by George,
I'll straighten you, so as you'll know better next time.'
`You know a lot, Jim Marston,' said the half-caste, looking at him
with his long dark sleepy eyes which I always thought were like
a half-roused snake's. `Never mind, you'll know more one of these days.
We'd better push on.'
He went off at a hand-gallop, and then pulled back into a long darting
kind of canter, which Bilbah thought was quite the thing for a journey
-- anyhow, he never seemed to think of stopping it -- went on mile after mile
as if he was not going to pull up this side of sundown. A wiry brute,
always in condition, was this said Bilbah, and just at this time
as hard as nails. Our horses had been doing nothing lately,
and being on good young feed had, of course, got fat, and were rather soft.
After four or five miles they began to blow. We couldn't well pull up;
the ground was hard in places and bad for tracking. If we went on at the pace
we should cook our horses. As soon as we got into a bit of open
I raced up to him.
`Now, look here, Warrigal,' I said, `you know why you're doing this,
and so do I. Our horses are not up to galloping fifty or sixty miles on end
just off a spell and with no work for months. If you don't pull up
and go our pace I'll knock you off your horse.'
`Oh! you're riled!' he said, looking as impudent as he dared,
but slackening all the same. `Pulled up before if I knowed your horses
were getting baked. Thought they were up to anything, same as you and Jim.'
`So they are. You'll find that one of these days. If there's work ahead
you ought to have sense enough not to knock smoke out of fresh horses
before we begin.'
`All right. Plenty of work to do, my word. And Starlight said,
"Tell 'em to be here to-day if they can." I know he's afraid of some one
follerin' up our tracks, as it is.'
`That's all right, Warrigal; but you ride steady all the same,
and don't be tearing away through thick timber, like a mallee scrubber
that's got into the open and sees the devil behind him
until he can get cover again. We shall be there to-night
if it's not a hundred miles, and that's time enough.'
We did drop in for a long day, and no mistake. We only pulled up
for a short halt in the middle, and Warrigal's cast-iron pony was off again,
as if he was bound right away for the other side of the continent. However,
though we were not going slow either, but kept up a reasonable fast pace,
it must have been past midnight when we rode into Starlight's camp;
very glad Jim and I were to see the fire -- not a big one either.
We had been taking it pretty easy, you see, for a month or two,
and were not quite so ready for an eighty-mile ride as if we had been
in something like training. The horses had had enough of it, too,
though neither of them would give in, not if we'd ridden 'em
twenty mile farther. As for Warrigal's Bilbah he was near as fresh
as when he started, and kept tossin' his head an' amblin' and pacin' away
as if he was walkin' for a wager round a ring in a show-yard.
As we rode up we could see a gunyah made out of boughs,
and a longish wing of dogleg fence, made light but well put together.
As soon as we got near enough a dog ran out and looked as if he was going
to worry us; didn't bark either, but turned round and waited for us
to get off.
`It's old Crib,' said Jim, with a big laugh; `blest if it ain't.
Father's somewhere handy. They're going to take up a back block
and do the thing regular: Marston, Starlight, and Company --
that's the fakement. They want us out to make dams or put up
a woolshed or something. I don't see why they shouldn't, as well as
Crossman and Fakesley. It's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other,
as far as being on the square goes. Depend upon it, dad's turned over
a new leaf.'
`Do you fellows want anything to eat?' said a voice that I knew
to be Starlight's. `If you do there's tea near the fire,
and some grub in that flour bag. Help yourselves and hobble out your horses.
We'll settle matters a bit in the morning. Your respected parent's abed
in his own camp, and it's just as well not to wake him, unless you want
his blessing ere you sleep.'
We went with Starlight to his gunyah. A path led through a clump of pines,
so thick that a man might ride round it and never dream there was anything
but more pines inside. A clear place had been made in the sandhill,
and a snug crib enough rigged with saplings and a few sheets of bark.
It was neat and tidy, like everything he had to do with. `I was at sea
when I was young,' he once said to Jim, when he was a bit `on',
`and a man learns to be neat there.' There was a big chimney outside,
and a lot of leaves and rushes out of a swamp which he
had made Warrigal gather.
`Put your blankets down there, boys, and turn in. You'll see
how the land lies in the morning.' We didn't want asking twice,
Jim's eyes were nigh shut as it was. The sun was up when we woke.
Outside the first thing we saw was father and Starlight talking.
Both of these seemed a bit cranky. `It's a d---- shame,'
we heard Starlight say, as he turned and walked off. `We could have done it
well enough by ourselves.'
`I know what I'm about,' says father, `it's all or none.
What's the use of crying after being in it up to our neck?'
`Some day you'll think different,' says Starlight, looking back at him.
I often remembered it afterwards.
`Well, lads,' says father, looking straight at us, `I wasn't sure
as you'd come. Starlight has been barneying with me about sending for you.
But we've got a big thing on now, and I thought you'd like to be in it.'
`We have come,' says I, pretty short. `Now we're here
what's the play called, and when does the curtain rise? We're on.'
I was riled, vexed at Starlight talking as if we were children,
and thought I'd show as we were men, like a young fool as I was.
`All right,' says father, and he sat down on a log, and began to tell us
how there was any quantity of cattle running at the back
where they were camped -- a good lot strayed and mixed up,
from the last dry season, and had never been mustered for years.
The stockmen hardly ever came out till the autumn musters.
One of the chaps that was in it knew all this side and had told them.
They were going to muster for a month or so, and drive the mob
right through to Adelaide. Store cattle were dear then,
and we could get them off easy there and come back by sea. No one was to know
we were not regular overlanders; and when we'd got the notes in our pockets
it would be a hard matter to trace the cattle or prove that we were the men
that sold 'em.
`How many head do you expect to get?' says Jim.
`A thousand or twelve hundred; half of 'em fat, and two-thirds of them
`By George! that's something like a haul; but you can't muster
such a lot as that without a yard.'
`I know that,' says father. `We're putting up a yard on a little plain
about a mile from here. When they find it, it'll be an old nest,
and the birds flown.'
`Well, if that ain't the cheekiest thing I ever heard tell of,'
says I laughingly. `To put up a yard at the back of a man's run,
and muster his cattle for him! I never heard the like before,
nor any one else. But suppose the cove or his men come across it?'
`'Tain't no ways likely,' says father. `They're the sleepiest lot of chaps
in this frontage I ever saw. It's hardly worth while "touching" them.
There's no fun in it. It's like shooting pheasants when they ain't preserved.
There's no risk, and when there's no risk there's no pleasure.
Anyway that's my notion.'
`Talking about risks, why didn't you work that Marquis of Lorne racket better?
We saw in the papers that the troopers hunted you so close you had to kill him
in the ranges.'
Father looked over at us and then began to laugh -- not long,
and he broke off short. Laughing wasn't much in his line.
`Killed him, did we? And a horse worth nigh on to two thousand pounds.
You ought to have known your old father better than that.
We did kill A chestnut horse, one we picked out a purpose;
white legs, white knee, short under lip, everything quite regular.
We even fed him for a week on prairie grass, just like the Marquis
had been eating. Bless you, we knew how to work all that.
We deceived Windhall his own self, and he thinks he's pretty smart.
No! the Marquis is all safe -- you know where.'
I opened my eyes and stared at father.
`You've some call to crow if you can work things like that.
How you ever got him away beats me; but not more than how you managed
to keep him hid with a ring of troopers all round you
from every side of the district.'
`We had friends,' father said. `Me and Warrigal done all the travelling
by night. No one but him could have gone afoot, I believe, much less
led a blood horse through the beastly scrub and ranges he showed us.
But the devil himself could not beat him and that little brute Bilbah
in rough country.'
`I believe you,' I said, thinking of our ride yesterday.
`It's quite bad enough to follow him on level ground. But don't you think
our tracks will be easy to follow with a thousand head of cattle before us?
Any fool could do that.'
`It ain't that as I'm looking at,' said father; `of course an old woman
could do it, and knit stockings all the time; but our dart is to be off
and have a month's start before anybody knows they are off the run.
They won't think of mustering before fat cattle takes a bit of a turn.
That won't be for a couple of months yet. Then they may catch us
if they can.'
We had a long talk with Starlight, and what he said came to much the same.
One stockman they had `squared', and he was to stand in.
They had got two or three flash chaps to help muster and drive,
who were to swear they thought we were dealers, and had bought cattle
all right. One or two more were to meet us farther on.
If we could get the cattle together and clear off before
anything was suspected the rest was easy. The yard was nearly up,
and Jim and I wired in and soon finished it. It didn't want
very grand work putting into it as long as it would last our time.
So we put it up roughly, but pretty strong, with pine saplings.
The drawing in was the worst, for we had to `hump' the most of them ourselves.
Jim couldn't help bursting out laughing from time to time.
`It does seem such a jolly cheeky thing,' he said. `Driving off
a mob of cattle on the quiet I've known happen once or twice; but I'm dashed
if ever I heard tell of putting up duffing improvements of a superior class
on a cove's run and clearing off with a thousand drafted cattle,
all quiet and regular, and him pottering about his home-station
and never "dropping" to it no more than if he was in Sydney.'
`People ought to look after their stock closer than they do,' I said.
`It is their fault almost as much as ours. But they are too lazy
to look after their own work, and too miserable to pay a good man
to do it for them. They just get a half-and-half sort of fellow
that'll take low wages and make it up with duffing, and of course
he's not likely to look very sharp after the back country.'
`You're not far away,' says Jim; `but don't you think
they'd have to look precious sharp and get up very early in the morning
to be level with chaps like father and Starlight, let alone Warrigal,
who's as good by night as day? Then there's you and me.
Don't try and make us out better than we are, Dick;
we're all d---- scoundrels, that's the truth of it, and honest men
haven't a chance with us, except in the long run -- except in the long run.
That's where they'll have us, Dick Marston.'
`That's quite a long speech for you, Jim,' I said; `but it don't matter much
that I know of whose fault it is that we're in this duffing racket.
It seems to be our fate, as the chap says in the book.
We'll have a jolly spree in Adelaide if this journey comes out right.
And now let's finish this evening off. To-morrow they're going to yard
the first mob.'
After that we didn't talk much except about the work. Starlight and Warrigal
were out every day and all day. The three new hands were some chaps
who formed part of a gang that did most of the horse-stealing
in that neighbourhood, though they never showed up. The way they managed it
was this. They picked up any good-looking nag or second-class racehorse
that they fell across, and took them to a certain place. There they met
another lot of fellows, who took the horses from them and cleared out
to another colony; at the same time they left the horses they had brought.
So each lot travelled different ways, and were sold in places
where they were quite strange and no one was likely to claim them.
After a man had had a year or two at this kind of work, he was good,
or rather bad, for anything. These young chaps, like us, had done pretty well
at these games, and one of them, falling in with Starlight, had proposed
to him to put up a couple of hundred head of cattle on Outer Back Momberah,
as the run was called; then father and he had seen that a thousand
were as easy to get as a hundred. Of course there was a risky feeling,
but it wasn't such bad fun while it lasted. We were out all day
running in the cattle. The horses were in good wind and condition now;
we had plenty of rations -- flour, tea, and sugar. There was no cart,
but some good packhorses, just the same as if we were a regular station party
on our own run. Father had worked all that before we came.
We had the best of fresh beef and veal too -- you may be sure of that --
there was no stint in that line; and at night we were always sure of a yarn
from Starlight -- that is, if he was in a good humour. Sometimes he wasn't,
and then nobody dared speak to him, not even father.
He was an astonishing man, certainly. Jim and I used to wonder, by the hour,
what he'd been in the old country. He'd been all over the world --
in the Islands and New Zealand; in America, and among Malays
and other strange people that we'd hardly ever heard of.
Such stories as he'd tell us, too, about slaves and wild chiefs
that he'd lived with and gone out to fight with against their enemy.
`People think a great deal of a dead man now and then
in this innocent country,' he said once when the grog was uppermost;
`why, I've seen fifty men killed before breakfast, and in cold blood, too,
chopped up alive, or next thing to it; and a drove of slaves
-- men, women, and children -- as big nearly as our mob,
handed over to a slave-dealer, and driven off in chains
just as you'd start a lot of station cattle. They didn't like it,
going off their run either, poor devils. The women would try
and run back after their pickaninnies when they dropped,
just like that heifer when Warrigal knocked her calf on the head to-day.'
What a man he was! This was something like life, Jim and I thought.
When we'd sold the cattle, if we got 'em down to Adelaide all right,
we'd take a voyage to some foreign country, perhaps, and see sights too.
What a paltry thing working for a pound a week seemed when a rise like this
was to be made!
Well, the long and short of it is that we mustered the cattle
quite comfortably, nobody coming anext or anigh us any more
than if we'd taken the thing by contract. You wouldn't have thought
there was anybody nearer than Bathurst. Everything seemed to be
in our favour. So it was, just at the start. We drafted out
all the worst and weediest of the cattle, besides all the old cows,
and when we counted the mob out we had nearly eleven hundred
first-rate store cattle; lots of fine young bullocks and heifers,
more than half fat -- altogether a prime well-bred mob
that no squatter or dealer could fault in any way if the price was right.
We could afford to sell them for a shade under market price for cash.
Ready money, of course, we were bound to have.
Just as we were starting there was a fine roan bull came running up
with a small mob.
`Cut him out, and beat him back,' says father; `we don't want to be bothered
with the likes of him.'
`Why, I'm dashed if that ain't Hood's imported bull,' says Billy the Boy,
a Monaro native that we had with us. `I know him well. How's he come
to get back? Why, the cove gave two hundred and fifty notes for him
afore he left England, I've heard 'em say.'
`Bring him along,' said Starlight, who came up just then.
`In for a penny, in for a pound. They'll never think of looking for him
on the Coorong, and we'll be there before they miss any cattle
worth talking about.'
So we took `Fifteenth Duke of Cambridge' along with us; a red roan he was,
with a little white about the flank. He wasn't more than four year old.
He'd been brought out from England as a yearling. How he'd worked his way out
to this back part of the run, where a bull of his quality ain't often seen,
nobody could say. But he was a lively active beast, and he'd got
into fine hard fettle with living on saltbush, dry grass, and scrub
for the last few months, so he could travel as well as the others.
I took particular notice of him, from his little waxy horns
to his straight locks and long square quarters. And so I'd need to --
but that came after. He had only a little bit of a private brand
on the shoulder. That was easily faked, and would come out quite different.
We didn't go straight ahead along any main track to the Lower Murray
and Adelaide exactly. That would have been a little too open and barefaced.
No; we divided the mob into three, and settled where to meet
in about a fortnight. Three men to each mob. Father and Warrigal
took one lot; they had the dog, old Crib, to help them.
He was worth about two men and a boy. Starlight, Jim, and I had another;
and the three stranger chaps another. We'd had a couple of knockabouts
to help with the cooking and stockyard work. They were paid by the job.
They were to stay at the camp for a week, to burn the gunyahs,
knock down the yard, and blind the track as much as they could.
Some of the cattle we'd left behind they drove back and forward
across the track every day for a week. If rain came they were to drop it,
and make their way into the frontage by another road.
If they heard about the job being blown or the police set on our track,
they were to wire to one of the border townships we had to pass.
Weren't we afraid of their selling us? No, not much; they were well paid,
and had often given father and Starlight information before, though they
took care never to show out in the cattle or horse-stealing way themselves.
As long as chaps in our line have money to spend, they can always get
good information and other things, too. It is when the money runs short
that the danger comes in. I don't know whether cattle-duffing
was ever done in New South Wales before on such a large scale,
or whether it will ever be done again. Perhaps not. These wire fences
stop a deal of cross-work; but it was done then, you take my word for it
-- a man's word as hasn't that long to live that it's worth while to lie --
and it all came out right; that is as far as our getting safe over,
selling the cattle, and having the money in our pockets.
We kept on working by all sorts of outside tracks on the main line of road
-- a good deal by night, too -- for the first two or three hundred miles.
After we crossed the Adelaide border we followed the Darling
down to the Murray. We thought we were all right, and got bolder.
Starlight had changed his clothes, and was dressed like a swell --
away on a roughish trip, but still like a swell.
`They were his cattle; he had brought them from one of his stations
on the Narran. He was going to take up country in the Northern Territory.
He expected a friend out from England with a lot more capital.'
Jim and I used to hear him talking like this to some of the squatters
whose runs we passed through, as grave as you please. They used to ask him
to stay all night, but he always said `he didn't like to leave his men.
He made it a practice on the road.' When we got within a fortnight's drive
of Adelaide, he rode in and lived at one of the best hotels.
He gave out that he expected a lot of cattle to arrive, and got a friend
that he'd met in the billiard-room (and couldn't he play surprisin'?)
to introduce him to one of the leading stock agents there.
So he had it all cut and dry, when one day Warrigal and I rode in,
and the boy handed him a letter, touching his hat respectfully,
as he had been learned to do, before a lot of young squatters and other swells
that he was going out to a picnic with.
`My confounded cattle come at last,' he says. `Excuse me
for mentioning business. I began to hope they'd never come;
'pon my soul I did. The time passes so deuced pleasantly here.
Well, they'll all be at the yards to-morrow. You fellows
had all better come and see them sold. There'll be a little lunch,
and perhaps some fizz. You go to the stock agents, Runnimall and Co.;
here's their address, Jack,' he says to me, looking me straight in the eyes.
`They'll send a man to pilot you to the yards; and now off with you,
and don't let me see your face till to-morrow.'
How he carried it off! He cantered away with the rest of the party, as if
he hadn't a thought in the world except about pleasure and honest business.
Nobody couldn't have told that he wasn't just like them other young gentlemen
with only their stock and station to think about, and a little fun
at the races now and then. And what a risk he was running
every minute of his life, he and all the rest of us. I wasn't sorry
to be out of the town again. There were lots of police, too.
Suppose one of them was to say, `Richard Marston, I arrest you for ----'
It hardly mattered what. I felt as if I should have tumbled down
with sheer fright and cowardliness. It's a queer thing you feel like that
off and on. Other times a man has as much pluck in him as if his life
was worth fighting for -- which it isn't.
The agent knew all about us (or thought he did), and sent a chap
to show Mr. Carisforth's cattle (Charles Carisforth, Esq., of Sturton,
Yorkshire and Banda, Waroona, and Ebor Downs, New South Wales;
that was the name he went by) the way to the yards. We were to draft them
all next morning into separate pens -- cows and bullocks,
steers and heifers, and so on. He expected to sell them all
to a lot of farmers and small settlers that had taken up a new district lately
and were very short of stock.
`You couldn't have come into a better market, young fellow,'
says the agent's man to me. `Our boss he's advertised 'em that well
as there'll be smart bidding between the farmers and some of the squatters.
Good store cattle's been scarce, and these is in such rattling condition.
That's what'll sell 'em. Your master seems a regular free-handed
sort of chap. He's the jolliest squatter there's been in town these years,
I hear folk say. Puts 'em in mind of Hawdon and Evelyn Sturt
in the old overlander days.'
Next day we were at the yards early, you bet. We wanted to have time
to draft them into pens of twenty to fifty each, so that
the farmers and small settlers might have a chance to buy. Besides,
it was the last day of our work. Driving all day and watching half the night
is pretty stiffish work, good weather and bad, when you've got to keep it up
for months at a time, and we'd been three months and a week on the road.
The other chaps were wild for a spree. Jim and I had made up our minds
to be careful; still, we had a lot to see in a big town like Adelaide;
for we'd never been to Sydney even in our lives, and we'd never seen the sea.
That was something to look at for the first time, wasn't it?
Well, we got the cattle drafted to rights, every sort and size and age
by itself, as near as could be. That's the way to draft stock,
whether they're cattle, sheep, or horses; then every man can buy
what he likes best, and isn't obliged to lump up one sort with another.
We had time to have a bit of dinner. None of us had touched a mouthful
since before daylight. Then we began to see the buyers come.
There'd been a big tent rigged, as big as a small woolshed, too.
It came out in a cart, and then another cart came with a couple of waiters,
and they laid out a long table of boards on trestles with a real
first-class feed on it, such as we'd never seen in our lives before.
Fowls and turkeys and tongues and rounds of beef, beer and wine in bottles
with gilt labels on. Such a set-out it was. Father began to growl a bit.
`If he's going to feed the whole country this way, he'll spend half the stuff
before we get it, let alone drawing a down on the whole thing.'
But Jim and me could see how Starlight had been working the thing to rights
while he was swelling it in the town among the big bugs.
We told him the cattle would fetch that much more money
on account of the lunch and the blowing the auctioneer was able to do.
These would pay for the feed and the rest of the fal-lals ten times over.
`When he gets in with men like his old pals he loses his head, I believe,'
father says, `and fancies he's what he used to be. He'll get "fitted"
quite simple some day if he doesn't keep a better look-out.'
That might be, but it wasn't to come about this time.
Starlight came riding out by and by, dressed up like a real gentleman,
and lookin' so different that Jim and I hardly dared speak to him --
on a splendid horse too (not Rainbow, he'd been left behind;
he was always left within a hundred miles of The Hollow, and he could do it
in one day if he was wanted to), and a lot of fine dressed chaps with him --
young squatters and officers, and what not. I shouldn't have been surprised
if he'd had the Governor out with him. They told us afterwards he did dine
at Government House reg'lar, and was made quite free and welcome there.
Well, he jumps down and shakes hands with us before them all.
`Well, Jack! Well, Bill!' and so on, calls us his good faithful fellows,
and how well we'd brought the cattle over; nods to father,
who didn't seem able to take it all in; says he'll back us against
any stockmen in Australia; has up Warrigal and shows him off to the company.
`Most intelligent lad.' Warrigal grinned and showed his white teeth.
It was as good as a play.
Then everybody goes to lunch -- swells and selectors, Germans and Paddies,
natives and immigrants, a good many of them, too, and there was
eating and drinking and speechifying till all was blue. By and by
the auctioneer looks at his watch. He'd had a pretty good tuck-in himself,
and they must get to business.
Father opened his eyes at the price the first pen brought,
all prime young bullocks, half fat most of them. Then they all went off
like wildfire; the big men and the little men bidding, quite jealous,
sometimes one getting the lot, sometimes another. One chap made a remark
about there being such a lot of different brands; but Starlight said
they'd come from a sort of depot station of his, and were the odds and ends
of all the mobs of store cattle that he'd purchased the last four years.
That satisfied 'em, particularly as he said it in a careless, fierce way
which he could put on, as if it was like a man's ---- impudence
to ask him anything. It made the people laugh; I could see that.
By and by we comes to the imported bull. He was in a pen by himself,
looking first-rate. His brand had been faked, and the hair had grown
pretty well. It would have took a sharp hand to know him again.
`Well, gentlemen,' says the auctioneer, `here is the imported bull
"Duke of Brunswick". It ain't often an animal of his quality comes in
with a mob of store cattle; but I am informed by Mr. Carisforth
that he left orders for the whole of the cattle to be cleared off the run,
and this valuable animal was brought away in mistake. He was to return
by sea; but as he happens to be here to-day, why, sooner than disappoint
any intending buyer, Mr. Carisforth has given me instructions to put him up,
and if he realises anything near his value he will be sold.'
`Yes!' drawls Starlight, as if a dozen imported bulls, more or less,
made no odds to him, `put him up, by all means, Mr. Runnimall.
Expectin' rather large shipment of Bates's "Duchess" tribe next month.
Rather prefer them on the whole. The "Duke" here is full of Booth blood,
so he may just as well go with the others. I shall never get
what he cost, though; I know that. He's been a most expensive animal to me.'
Many a true word spoken in jest. He had good call to know him,
as well as the rest of us, for a most expensive animal, before all
was said and done. What he cost us all round it would be hard indeed
to cipher up.
Anyhow, there was a great laugh at Starlight's easy way of taking it.