Part 3 out of 11
First one and then another of the squatters that was going in for breeding
began to bid, thinking he'd go cheap, until they got warm,
and the bull went up to a price that we never dreamed he'd fetch.
Everything seemed to turn out lucky that day. One would have thought
they'd never seen an imported bull before. The young squatters
got running one another, as I said before, and he went up to 270 Pounds!
Then the auctioneer squared off the accounts as sharp as he could;
an' it took him all his time, what with the German and the small farmers,
who took their time about it, paying in greasy notes and silver and copper,
out of canvas bags, and the squatters, who were too busy chaffing and talking
among themselves to pay at all. It was dark before everything was settled up,
and all the lots of cattle delivered. Starlight told the auctioneer
he'd see him at his office, in a deuced high and mighty kind of way,
and rode off with his new friend.
All of us went back to our camp. Our work was over, but we had to settle up
among ourselves and divide shares. I could hardly believe my eyes
when I saw the cattle all sold and gone, and nothing left at the camp
but the horses and the swags.
When we got there that night it was late enough. After tea
father and I and Jim had a long yarn, settling over what we should do
and wondering whether we were going to get clean away
with our share of the money after all.
`By George!' says Jim, `it's a big touch, and no mistake.
To think of our getting over all right, and selling out so easy,
just as if they was our own cattle. Won't there be a jolly row
when it's all out, and the Momberah people miss their cattle?'
(more than half 'em was theirs). `And when they muster
they can't be off seein' they're some hundreds short.'
`That's what's botherin' me,' says father. `I wish Starlight hadn't been
so thundering flash with it all. It'll draw more notice on us,
and every one 'll be gassin' about this big sale, and all that,
till people's set on to ask where the cattle come from, and what not.'
`I don't see as it makes any difference,' I said. `Somebody was bound
to buy 'em, and we'd have had to give the brands and receipts just the same.
Only if we'd sold to any one that thought there was a cross look about it,
we'd have had to take half money, that's all. They've fetched
a rattling price, through Starlight's working the oracle with those swells,
and no mistake.'
`Yes, but that ain't all of it,' says the old man, filling his pipe.
`We've got to look at what comes after. I never liked that imported bull
being took. They'll rake all the colonies to get hold of him again,
partic'ler as he sold for near three hundred pound.'
`We must take our share of the risk along with the money,' said Jim.
`We shall have our whack of that according to what they fetched to-day.
It'll be a short life and a merry one, though, dad, if we go on big licks
like this. What'll we tackle next -- a bank or Government House?'
`Nothing at all for a good spell, if you've any sense,' growled father.
`It'll give us all we know to keep dark when this thing gets into the papers,
and the police in three colonies are all in full cry like a pack of beagles.
The thing is, what'll be our best dart now?'
`I'll go back overland,' says he. `Starlight's going to take Warrigal
with him, and they'll be off to the islands for a turn.
If he knows what's best for him, he'll never come back.
These other chaps say they'll separate and sell their horses
when they get over to the Murray low down, and work their way up by degrees.
Which way are you boys going?'
`Jim and I to Melbourne by next steamer,' I said. `May as well
see a bit of life now we're in it. We'll come back overland
when we're tired of strange faces.'
`All right,' says father, `they won't know where I'm lyin' by for a bit,
I'll go bail, and the sooner you clear out of Adelaide the better.
News like ours don't take long to travel, and you might be nabbed very simple.
One of ye write a line to your mother and tell her where you're off to,
or she'll be frettin' herself and the gal too -- frettin' over
what can't be helped. But I suppose it's the natur' o' some women.'
We done our settling-up next day. All the sale money was paid over
to Starlight. He cashed the cheques and drew the lot in notes and gold --
such a bundle of 'em there was. He brought them out to us at the camp,
and then we `whacked' the lot. There were eight of us
that had to share and share alike. How much do you think we had to divide?
Why, not a penny under four thousand pounds. It had to be divided
among the eight of us. That came to five hundred a man. A lot of money
to carry about, that was the worst of it.
Next day there was a regular split and squander. We didn't wait long
after daylight, you bet. Father was off and well on his way
before the stars were out of the sky. He took Warrigal's horse, Bilbah,
back with him; he and Starlight was going off to the islands together,
and couldn't take horses with them. But he was real sorry
to part with the cross-grained varmint; I thought he was going to blubber
when he saw father leading him off. Bilbah wouldn't go neither at first;
pulled back, and snorted and went on as if he'd never seen only one man afore
in his life. Father got vexed at last and makes a sign to old Crib;
he fetches him such a `heeler' as gave him something else to think of
for a few miles. He didn't hang back much after that.
The three other chaps went their own road. They kept very dark all through.
I know their names well enough, but there's no use in bringing them up now.
Jim and I cuts off into the town, thinking we was due for a little fun.
We'd never been in a big town before, and it was something new to us.
Adelaide ain't as grand quite as Melbourne or Sydney, but there's something
quiet and homelike about it to my thinking -- great wide streets,
planted with trees; lots of steady-going German farmers,
with their vineyards and orchards and droll little waggons. The women work
as hard as the men, harder perhaps, and get brown and scorched up
in no time -- not that they've got much good looks to lose;
leastways none we ever saw.
We could always tell the German farmers' places along the road
from one of our people by looking outside the door. If it was
an Englishman or an Australian, you'd see where they'd throwed out
the teapot leavings; if it was a German, you wouldn't see nothing.
They drink their own sour wine, if their vines are old enough
to make any, or else hop beer; but they won't lay out their money
in the tea chest or sugar bag; no fear, or the grog either,
and not far wrong. Then the sea! I can see poor old Jim's face now
the day we went down to the port and he seen it for the first time.
`So we've got to the big waterhole at last,' he said. `Don't it make a man
feel queer and small to think of its going away right from here where we stand
to the other side of the world? It's a long way across.'
`Jim,' says I, `and to think we've lived all our lives up to this time
and never set eyes on it before. Don't it seem as if one was shut up
in the bush, or tied to a gum tree, so as one can never have a chance
to see anything? I wonder we stayed in it so long.'
`It's not a bad place, though it is rather slow and wired in sometimes,'
says Jim. `We might be sorry we ever left it yet. When does the steamer
go to Melbourne?'
`The day after to-morrow.'
`I'll be glad to be clear off; won't you?'
We went to the theatre that night, and amused ourselves pretty well
next day and till the time came for our boat to start for Melbourne.
We had altered ourselves a bit, had our hair cut and our beards trimmed
by the hairdresser. We bought fresh clothes, and what with this,
and the feeling of being in a new place and having more money in our pockets
than we'd ever dreamed about before, we looked so transmogrified
when we saw ourselves in the glass that we hardly knew ourselves.
We had to change our names, too, for the first time in our lives;
and it went harder against the grain than you'd think, for all we were
a couple of cattle-duffers, with a warrant apiece sure to be after us
before the year was out.
`It sounds ugly,' says Jim, after we had given our names
as John Simmons and Henry Smith at the hotel where we put up at
till the steamer was ready to start. `I never thought that Jim Marston
was to come to this -- to be afraid to tell a fat, greasy-looking fellow
like that innkeeper what his real name was. Seems such a pitiful mean lie,
don't it, Dick?'
`It isn't so bad as being called No. 14, No. 221, as they sing out
for the fellows in Berrima Gaol. How would you like that, Jim?'
`I'd blow my brains out first,' cried out Jim, `or let some other fellow
do it for me. It wouldn't matter which.'
It was very pleasant, those two or three days in Adelaide,
if they'd only lasted. We used to stroll about the lighted streets
till all hours, watching the people and the shops and everything that makes
a large city different from the country. The different sorts of people,
the carts and carriages, buggies and drays, pony-carriages and spring-carts,
all jumbled up together; even the fruit and flowers and oysters and fish
under the gas-lights seemed strange and wonderful to us. We felt as if
we would have given all the world to have got mother and Aileen down
to see it all. Then Jim gave a groan.
`Only to think,' says he, `that we might have had all this fun some day,
and bought and paid for it honest. Now it isn't paid for.
It's out of some other man's pocket. There's a curse on it;
it will have to be paid in blood or prison time before all's done.
I could shoot myself for being such a cursed fool.'
`Too late to think of that,' I said; `we'll have some fun in Melbourne
for a bit, anyhow. For what comes after we must "chance it",
as we've done before, more than once or twice, either.'
. . . . .
Next day our steamer was to sail. We got Starlight to come down with us
and show us how to take our passage. We'd never done it before,
and felt awkward at it. He'd made up his mind to go to New Zealand,
and after that to Honolulu, perhaps to America.
`I'm not sure that I'll ever come back, boys,' he said, `and if I were you
I don't think I would either. If you get over to San Francisco
you'd find the Pacific Slope a very pleasant country to live in.
The people and the place would suit you all to pieces. At any rate
I'd stay away for a few years and wait till all this blows over.'
I wasn't sorry when the steamer cleared the port, and got out of sight
of land. There we were -- where we'd never been before -- in blue water.
There was a stiff breeze, and in half-an-hour we shouldn't have
turned our heads if we'd seen Hood and the rest of 'em come riding after us
on seahorses, with warrants as big as the mainsail. Jim made sure
he was going to die straight off, and the pair of us wished we'd never seen
Outer Back Momberah, nor Hood's cattle, nor Starlight, nor Warrigal.
We almost made up our minds to keep straight and square
to the last day of our lives. However, the wind died down a bit next day,
and we both felt a lot better -- better in body and worse in mind --
as often happens. Before we got to Melbourne we could eat and drink,
smoke and gamble, and were quite ourselves again. We'd laid it out
to have a reg'lar good month of it in town, takin' it easy,
and stopping nice and quiet at a good hotel, havin' some reasonable pleasure.
Why shouldn't we see a little life? We'd got the cash, and we'd earned that
pretty hard. It's the hardest earned money of all, that's got on the cross,
if fellows only knew, but they never do till it's too late.
When we got tired of doing nothing, and being in a strange place, we'd get
across the border, above Albury somewhere, and work on the mountain runs
till shearing came round again; and we could earn a fairish bit of money.
Then we'd go home for Christmas after it was all over,
and see mother and Aileen again. How glad and frightened they'd be to see us.
It wouldn't be safe altogether, but go we would.
We got to Melbourne all right, and though it's a different sort of a place
from Sydney, it's a jolly enough town for a couple of young chaps
with money in their pockets. Most towns are, for the matter of that.
We took it easy, and didn't go on the spree or do anything foolish.
No, we weren't altogether so green as that. We looked out
for a quiet place to lodge, near the sea -- St. Kilda they call it,
in front of the beach -- and we went about and saw all the sights,
and for a time managed to keep down the thought that perhaps sooner or later
we'd be caught, and have to stand our trial for this last affair of ours,
and maybe one or two others. It wasn't a nice thing to think of;
and now and then it used to make both of us take an extra drop of grog
by way of driving the thoughts of it out of our heads. That's the worst
of not being straight and square. A man's almost driven to drink
when he can't keep from thinking of all sorts of miserable things
day and night. We used to go to the horse-yards now and then,
and the cattle-yards too. It was like old times to see
the fat cattle and sheep penned up at Flemington, and the butchers
riding out on their spicy nags or driving trotters. But their cattle-yards
was twice as good as ours, and me and Jim used often to wonder
why the Sydney people hadn't managed to have something like them
all these years, instead of the miserable cockatoo things at Homebush
that we'd often heard the drovers and squatters grumble about.
However, one day, as we was sitting on the rails, talking away
quite comfortable, we heard one butcher say to another, `My word,
this is a smart bit of cattle-duffing -- a thousand head too!' `What's that?'
says the other man. `Why, haven't you heard of it?' says the first one,
and he pulls a paper out of his pocket, with this in big letters:
`Great Cattle Robbery. -- A thousand head of Mr. Hood's cattle were
driven off and sold in Adelaide. Warrants are out for the suspected parties,
who are supposed to have left the colony.' Here was a bit of news!
We felt as if we could hardly help falling off the rails;
but we didn't show it, of course, and sat there for half-an-hour,
talking to the buyers and sellers and cracking jokes like the others.
But we got away home as soon as we could, and then we began to settle
what we should do.
Warrants were out, of course, for Starlight, and us too. He was known,
and so were we. Our descriptions were sure to be ready to send out
all over the country. Warrigal they mightn't have noticed.
It was common enough to have a black boy or a half-caste
with a lot of travelling cattle. Father had not shown up much.
He had an old pea-jacket on, and they mightn't have dropped down to him
or the three other chaps that were in it with us; they were just like
any other road hands. But about there being warrants out,
with descriptions, in all the colonies, for a man to be identified,
but generally known as Starlight, and for Richard and James Marston,
we were as certain as that we were in St. Kilda, in a nice quiet little inn,
overlooking the beach; and what a murder it was to have to leave it at all.
Leave the place we had to do at once. It wouldn't do
to be strollin' about Melbourne with the chance of every policeman we met
taking a look at us to see if we tallied with a full description they had
at the office: `Richard and James Marston are twenty-five and twenty-two,
respectively; both tall and strongly built; having the appearance of bushmen.
Richard Marston has a scar on left temple. James Marston has lost
a front tooth,' and so on. When we came to think of it,
they couldn't be off knowing us, if they took it into their heads
to bail us up any day. They had our height and make. We couldn't help
looking like bushmen -- like men that had been in the open air
all their lives, and that had a look as if saddle and bridle rein
were more in our way than the spade and plough-handle.
We couldn't wash the tan off our skins; faces, necks, arms,
all showed pretty well that we'd come from where the sun was hot,
and that we'd had our share of it. They had my scar, got in a row,
and Jim's front tooth, knocked out by a fall from a horse when he was a boy;
there was nothing for it but to cut and run.
`It was time for us to go, my boys,' as the song the Yankee sailor
sung us one night runs, and then, which way to go? Every ship was watched
that close a strange rat couldn't get a passage, and, besides,
we had that feeling we didn't like to clear away altogether
out of the old country; there was mother and Aileen still in it,
and every man, woman, and child that we'd known ever since we were born.
A chap feels that, even if he ain't much good other ways.
We couldn't stand the thought of clearin' out for America,
as Starlight advised us. It was like death to us, so we thought
we'd chance it somewhere in Australia for a bit longer.
Now where we put up a good many drovers from Gippsland used to stay,
as they brought in cattle from there. The cattle had to be brought
over Swanston Street Bridge and right through the town
after twelve o'clock at night. We'd once or twice, when we'd been out late,
stopped to look at them, and watched the big heavy bullocks and fat cows
staring and starting and slipping all among the lamps and pavements,
with the street all so strange and quiet, and laughed at the notion of
some of the shopkeepers waking up and seeing a couple of hundred wild cattle,
with three or four men behind 'em, shouldering and horning one another,
then rushing past their doors at a hard trot, or breaking into a gallop
for a bit.
Some of these chaps, seeing we was cattle-men and knew most things
in that line, used to open out about where they'd come from,
and what a grand place Gippsland was -- splendid grass country,
rivers that run all the year round, great fattening country;
and snowy mountains at the back, keeping everything cool in the summer.
Some of the mountain country, like Omeo, that they talked a lot of,
seemed about one of the most out-of-the-way places in the world.
More than that, you could get back to old New South Wales
by way of the Snowy River, and then on to Monaro. After that
we knew where we were.
Going away was easy enough, in a manner of speaking; but we'd been a month
in Melbourne, and when you mind that we were not bad-looking chaps,
fairishly dressed, and with our pockets full of money,
it was only what might be looked for if we had made another friend or two
besides Mrs. Morrison, the landlady of our inn, and Gippsland drovers.
When we had time to turn round a bit in Melbourne of course we began
to make a few friends. Wherever a man goes, unless he keeps himself
that close that he won't talk to any one or let any one talk to him,
he's sure to find some one he likes to be with better than another.
If he's old and done with most of his fancies, except smokin' and drinkin'
it's a man. If he's young and got his life before him it's a woman.
So Jim and I hadn't been a week in Melbourne before we fell across
a couple of -- well, friends -- that we were hard set to leave.
It was a way of mine to walk down to the beach every evening and have a look
at the boats in the bay and the fishermen, if there were any --
anything that might be going on. Sometimes a big steamer would be coming in,
churning the water under her paddles and tearing up the bay
like a hundred bunyips. The first screw-boat Jim and I saw
we couldn't make out for the life of us what she moved by.
We thought all steamers had paddles. Then the sailing boats,
flying before the breeze like seagulls, and the waves,
if it was a rough day, rolling and beating and thundering on the beach.
I generally stayed till the stars came out before I went back to the hotel.
Everything was so strange and new to a man who'd seen so little else
except green trees that I was never tired of watching, and wondering,
and thinking what a little bit of a shabby world chaps like us lived in
that never seen anything but a slab hut, maybe, all the year round,
and a bush public on high days and holidays.
Sometimes I used to feel as if we hadn't done such a bad stroke
in cutting loose from all this. But then the horrible feeling would come back
of never being safe, even for a day, of being dragged off and put in the dock,
and maybe shut up for years and years. Sometimes I used to throw myself
down upon the sand and curse the day when I ever did anything
that I had any call to be ashamed of and put myself in the power
of everything bad and evil in all my life through.
Well, one day I was strolling along, thinking about these things,
and wondering whether there was any other country where a man could go
and feel himself safe from being hounded down for the rest of his life,
when I saw a woman walking on the beach ahead of me. I came up with her
before long, and as I passed her she turned her head and I saw
she was one of two girls that we had seen in the landlady's parlour
one afternoon. The landlady was a good, decent Scotch woman,
and had taken a fancy to both of us (particularly to Jim -- as usual).
She thought -- she was that simple -- that we were up-country squatters
from some far-back place, or overseers. Something in the sheep or cattle line
everybody could see that we were. There was no hiding that.
But we didn't talk about ourselves overmuch, for very good reasons.
The less people say the more others will wonder and guess about you.
So we began to be looked upon as bosses of some sort, and to be treated
with a lot of respect that we hadn't been used to much before.
So we began to talk a bit -- natural enough -- this girl and I.
She was a good-looking girl, with a wonderful fresh clear skin,
full of life and spirits, and pretty well taught. She and her sister
had not been a long time in the country; their father was dead,
and they had to live by keeping a very small shop and by dressmaking.
They were some kind of cousins of the landlady and the same name,
so they used to come and see her of evenings and Sundays.
Her name was Kate Morrison and her sister's was Jeanie. This and a lot more
she told me before we got back to the hotel, where she said she was going
to stay that night and keep Mrs. Morrison company.
After this we began to be a deal better acquainted. It all came easy enough.
The landlady thought she was doing the girls a good turn by putting them
in the way of a couple of hard-working well-to-do fellows like us;
and as Jim and the younger one, Jeanie, seemed to take a fancy to each other,
Mrs. Morrison used to make up boating parties, and we soon got
to know each other well enough to be joked about falling in love
and all the rest of it.
After a bit we got quite into the way of calling for Kate and Jeanie
after their day's work was done, and taking them out for a walk.
I don't know that I cared so much for Kate in those days anyhow,
but by degrees we got to think that we were what people call
in love with each other. It went deeper with her than me, I think.
It mostly does with women. I never really cared for any woman in the world
except Gracey Storefield, but she was far away, and I didn't see
much likelihood of my being able to live in that part of the world,
much less to settle down and marry there. So, though we'd broken
a six-pence together and I had my half, I looked upon her as ever so much
beyond me and out of my reach, and didn't see any harm in amusing myself
with any woman that I might happen to fall across.
So, partly from idleness, partly from liking, and partly seeing that the girl
had made up her mind to throw in her lot with me for good and all,
I just took it as it came; but it meant a deal more than that,
if I could have foreseen the end.
I hadn't seen a great many women, and had made up my mind that,
except a few bad ones, they was mostly of one sort -- good to lead,
not hard to drive, and, above all, easy to see through and understand.
I often wonder what there was about this Kate Morrison to make her
so different from other women; but she was born unlike them, I expect.
Anyway, I never met another woman like her. She wasn't out-and-out handsome,
but there was something very taking about her. Her figure was pretty near
as good as a woman's could be; her step was light and active;
her feet and hands were small, and she took a pride in showing them.
I never thought she had any temper different from other women;
but if I'd noticed her eyes, surely I'd have seen it there.
There was something very strange and out of the way about them.
They hardly seemed so bright when you looked at them first; but by degrees,
if she got roused and set up about anything, they'd begin to burn
with a steady sort of glitter that got fiercer and brighter
till you'd think they'd burn everything they looked at.
The light in them didn't go out again in a hurry, either.
It seemed as if those wonderful eyes would keep on shining,
whether their owner wished it or not.
I didn't find out all about her nature at once -- trust a woman for that.
Vain and fond of pleasure I could see she was; and from having been
always poor, in a worrying, miserable, ill-contented way,
she had got to be hungry for money and jewels and fine clothes;
just like a person that's been starved and shivering with cold
longs for a fire and a full meal and a warm bed. Some people
like these things when they can get them; but others never seem to think
about anything else, and would sell their souls or do anything
in the whole world to get what their hearts are set on.
When men are like this they're dangerous, but they hardly hurt anybody,
only themselves. When women are born with hearts of this sort
it's a bad look-out for everybody they come near. Kate Morrison could see
that I had money. She thought I was rich, and she made up her mind
to attract me, and go shares in my property, whatever it might be.
She won over her younger sister, Jeanie, to her plans, and our acquaintance
was part of a regular put-up scheme. Jeanie was a soft, good-tempered,
good-hearted girl, with beautiful fair hair, blue eyes,
and the prettiest mouth in the world. She was as good as she was pretty,
and would have worked away without grumbling in that dismal little shop
from that day to this, if she'd been let alone. She was only just
turned seventeen. She soon got to like Jim a deal too well for her own good,
and used to listen to his talk about the country across the border,
and such simple yarns as he could tell her, poor old Jim! until she said
she'd go and live with him under a salt-bush if he'd come back and marry her
after Christmas. And of course he did promise. He didn't see
any harm in that. He intended to come back if he could,
and so did I for that matter. Well, the long and short of it was
that we were both regularly engaged and had made all kinds of plans
to be married at Christmas and go over to Tasmania or New Zealand,
when this terrible blow fell upon us like a shell. I did see one explode
at a review in Melbourne -- and, my word! what a scatteration it made.
Well, we had to let Kate and Jeanie know the best way we could
that our business required us to leave Melbourne at once,
and that we shouldn't be back till after Christmas, if then.
It was terrible hard work to make out any kind of a story that would do.
Kate questioned and cross-questioned me about the particular kind of business
that called us away like a lawyer (I've seen plenty of that since)
until at last I was obliged to get a bit cross and refuse to answer
any more questions.
Jeanie took it easier, and was that down-hearted and miserable
at parting with Jim that she hadn't the heart to ask any questions of any one,
and Jim looked about as dismal as she did. They sat with their hands
in each other's till it was nearly twelve o'clock, when the old mother came
and carried the girls off to bed. We had to start at daylight next morning;
but we made up our minds to leave them a hundred pounds apiece to keep for us
until we came back, and promised if we were alive to be at St. Kilda
next January, which they had to be contented with.
Jeanie did not want to take the money; but Jim said he'd very likely lose it,
and so persuaded her.
We were miserable and low-spirited enough ourselves at the idea of going away
all in a hurry. We had come to like Melbourne, and had bit by bit
cheated ourselves into thinking that we might live comfortably
and settle down in Victoria, out of reach of our enemies,
and perhaps live and die unsuspected.
From this dream we were roused up by the confounded advertisement.
Detectives and constables would be seen to be pretty thick
in all the colonies, and we could not reasonably expect not to be taken
some time or other, most likely before another week.
We thought it over and over again, in every way. The more we thought over it
the more dangerous it seemed to stop in Melbourne. There was only one thing
for it, that was to go straight out of the country. The Gippsland men
were the only bushmen we knew at all well, and perhaps that door
might shut soon.
So we paid our bill. They thought us a pair of quiet, respectable chaps
at that hotel, and never would believe otherwise. People may say
what they like, but it's a great thing to have some friends
that can say of you --
`Well, I never knew no harm of him; a better tempered chap couldn't be;
and all the time we knowed him he was that particular about
his bills and money matters that a banker couldn't have been more regular.
He may have had his faults, but we never seen 'em. I believe
a deal that was said of him wasn't true, and nothing won't ever make me
These kind of people will stand up for you all the days of your life,
and stick to you till the very last moment, no matter what you turn out to be.
Well, there's something pleasant in it; and it makes you think human nature
ain't quite such a low and paltry thing as some people tries to make out.
Anyhow, when we went away our good little landlady and her sister
was that sorry to lose us, as you'd have thought they was our blood relations.
As for Jim, every one in the house was fit to cry when he went off,
from the dogs and cats upwards. Jim never was in no house where everybody
didn't seem to take naturally to him. Poor old Jim!
We bought a couple of horses, and rode away down to Sale with these chaps
that had sold their cattle in Melbourne and was going home.
It rained all the way, and it was the worst road by chalks
we'd ever seen in our lives; but the soil was wonderful,
and the grass was something to talk about; we'd hardly ever seen
anything like it. A few thousand acres there would keep more stock
than half the country we'd been used to.
We didn't stay more than a day or so in Sale. Every morning at breakfast
some one was sure to turn up the paper and begin jabbering about
the same old infernal business, Hood's cattle, and what a lot were taken,
and whether they'll catch Starlight and the other men, and so on.
We heard of a job at Omeo while we were in Sale, which we thought
would just about suit us. All the cattle on a run there were to be
mustered and delivered to a firm of stock agents that had bought them;
they wanted people to do it by contract at so much a head.
Anybody who took it must have money enough to buy stock horses.
The price per head was pretty fair, what would pay well,
and we made up our minds to go in for it.
So we made a bargain; bought two more horses each, and started away for Omeo.
It was near 200 miles from where we were. We got up there all right,
and found a great rich country with a big lake, I don't know how many feet
above the sea. The cattle were as wild as hares, but the country
was pretty good to ride over. We were able to keep our horses
in good condition in the paddocks, and when we had mustered the whole lot
we found we had a handsome cheque to get.
It was a little bit strange buckling to after the easy life we'd led
for the last few months; but after a day or two we found ourselves
as good men as ever, and could spin over the limestone boulders
and through the thick mountain timber as well as ever we did.
A man soon gets right again in the fresh air of the bush;
and as it used to snow there every now and then the air was pretty fresh,
you bet, particularly in the mornings and evenings.
After we'd settled up we made up our minds to get as far as Monaro,
and wait there for a month or two. After that we might go in for the shearing
till Christmas, and then whatever happened we would both make a strike
back for home, and have one happy week, at any rate, with mother and Aileen.
We tried as well as we could to keep away from the large towns
and the regular mail coach road. We worked on runs where the snow came down
every now and then in such a way as to make us think that we might be
snowed up alive some fine morning. It was very slow and tedious work,
but the newspapers seldom came there, and we were not worried
day after day with telegrams about our Adelaide stroke,
and descriptions of Starlight's own look and way of speaking.
We got into the old way of working hard all day and sleeping well at night.
We could eat and drink well; the corned beef and the damper were good,
and Jim, like when we were at the back of Boree when Warrigal came,
wished that we could stick to this kind of thing always, and never have
any fret or crooked dealings again as long as we lived.
But it couldn't be done. We had to leave and go shearing
when the spring came on. We did go, and went from one big station
to the other when the spring was regularly on and shearers were scarce.
By and by the weather gets warmer, and we had cut our last shed
before the first week in December.
Then we couldn't stand it any longer.
`I don't care,' says Jim, `if there's a policeman standing
at every corner of the street, I must make a start for home.
They may catch us, but our chance is a pretty good one; and I'd just as soon
be lagged outright as have to hide and keep dark and moulder away life
in some of these God-forsaken spots.'
So we made up to start for home and chance it. We worked our way by degrees
up the Snowy River, by Buchan and Galantapee, and gradually made
towards Balooka and Buckley's Crossing. On the way we crossed
some of the roughest country we had ever seen or ridden over.
`My word, Dick,' said Jim one day, as we were walking along
and leading our horses, `we could find a place here if we were hard pushed
near as good for hiding in as the Hollow. Look at that bit of tableland
that runs up towards Black Mountain, any man that could find a track up to it
might live there for a year and all the police of the country be after him.'
`What would he get to eat if he was there?'
`That long chap we stayed with at Wargulmerang told us
that there were wild cattle on all those tablelands.
Often they get snowed up in winter and die, making a circle in the snow.
Then fish in all the creeks, besides the old Snowy, and there are places
on the south side of him that people didn't see once in five years.
I believe I shall make a camp for myself on the way, and live in it
till they've forgot all about these cursed cattle. Rot their hides,
I wish we'd never have set eyes on one of them.'
`So do I; but like many things in the world it's too late -- too late, Jim!'
One blazing hot day in the Christmas week Jim and I rode up the `gap' that led
from the Southern road towards Rocky Creek and the little flat near the water
where our hut stood. The horses were tired, for we'd ridden a long way,
and not very slow either, to get to the old place. How small and queer
the old homestead looked, and everything about it after all we had seen.
The trees in the garden were in full leaf, and we could see
that it was not let go to waste. Mother was sitting in the verandah sewing,
pretty near the same as we went away, and a girl was walking slowly
up from the creek carrying a bucket of water. It was Aileen.
We knew her at once. She was always as straight as a rush,
and held her head high, as she used to do; but she walked very slow,
and looked as if she was dull and weary of everything.
All of a sudden Jim jumped off, dropped his horse's bridle on the ground,
and started to run towards her. She didn't see him till he was pretty close;
then she looked up astonished-like, and put her bucket down.
She gave a sudden cry and rushed over to him; the next minute
she was in his arms, sobbing as if her heart would break.
I came along quiet. I knew she'd be glad to see me --
but, bless you, she and mother cared more for Jim's little finger
than for my whole body. Some people have a way of gettin'
the biggest share of nearly everybody's liking that comes next or anigh 'em.
I don't know how it's done, or what works it. But so it is;
and Jim could always count on every man, woman, and child, wherever he lived,
wearing his colours and backing him right out, through thick and thin.
When I came up Aileen was saying --
`Oh, Jim, my dear old Jim! now I'll die happy; mother and I were only
talking of you to-day, and wondering whether we should see you at Christmas --
and now you have come. Oh, Dick! and you too. But we shall be frightened
every time we hear a horse's tread or dog's bark.'
`Well, we're here now, Aileen, and that's something.
I had a great notion of clearing out for San Francisco and turning Yankee.
What would you have done then?'
We walked up to the house, leading our horses, Jim and Aileen hand in hand.
Mother looked up and gave a scream; she nearly fell down;
when we got in her face was as white as a sheet.
`Mother of Mercy! I vowed to you for this,' she said;
`sure she hears our prayers. I wanted to see ye both before I died,
and I didn't think you'd come. I was afraid ye'd be dreadin' the police,
and maybe stay away for good and all. The Lord be thanked
for all His mercies!'
We went in and enjoyed our tea. We had had nothing to eat that day
since breakfast; but better than all was Aileen's pleasant, clever tongue,
though she said it was getting stiff for want of exercise. She wanted to know
all about our travels, and was never tired of listening to Jim's stories
of the wonders we had seen in the great cities and the strange places
we had been to.
`Oh! how happy you must have been!' she would say, `while we have been
pining and wearying here, all through last spring and summer,
and then winter again -- cold and miserable it was last year;
and now Christmas has come again. Don't go away again for a good while,
or mother and I'll die straight out.'
Well, what could we say? Tell her we'd never go away at all if we
could help it -- only she must be a good girl and make the best of things,
for mother's sake? When had she seen father last?
`Oh! he was away a good while once; that time you and Jim
were at Mr. Falkland's back country. You must have had a long job then;
no wonder you've got such good clothes and look so smartened up like.
He comes every now and then, just like he used. We never know
what's become of him.'
`When was he here last?'
`Oh! about a month ago. He said he might be here about Christmas;
but he wasn't sure. And so you saved Miss Falkland from being killed
off her horse, Jim? Tell me all about it, like a good boy,
and what sort of a looking young lady is she?'
`All right,' said Jim. `I'll unload the story bag before we get through;
there's a lot in there yet; but I want to look at you and hear you talk
just now. How's George Storefield?'
`Oh! he's just the same good, kind, steady-going fellow he always was,'
says she. `I don't know what we should do without him when you're away.
He comes and helps with the cows now and then. Two of the horses
got into Bargo pound, and he went and released them for us.
Then a storm blew off best part of the roof of the barn,
and the bit of wheat would have been spoiled only for him.
He's the best friend we have.'
`You'd better make sure of him for good and all,' I said.
`I suppose he's pretty well-to-do now with that new farm he bought
the other day.'
`Oh! you saw that,' she said. `Yes; he bought out the Cumberers.
They never did any good with Honeysuckle Flat, though the land was so good.
He's going to lay it all down in lucerne, he says.'
`And then he'll smarten up the cottage, and sister Aileen 'll go over,
and live in it,' says Jim; `and a better thing she couldn't do.'
`I don't know,' she said. `Poor George, I wish I was fonder of him.
There never was a better man, I believe; but I cannot leave mother yet,
so it's no use talking.' Then she got up and went in.
`That's the way of the world,' says Jim. `George worships the ground
she treads on, and she can't make herself care two straws about him.
Perhaps she will in time. She'll have the best home and the best chap
in the whole district if she does.'
`There's a deal of "if" in this world,' I said; `and "if" we're "copped"
on account of that last job, I'd like to think she and mother had some one
to look after them, good weather and bad.'
`We might have done that, and not killed ourselves with work either,'
said Jim, rather sulkily for him; and he lit his pipe and walked off
into the bush without saying another word.
I thought, too, how we might have been ten times, twenty times, as happy
if we'd only kept on steady ding-dong work, like George Storefield,
having patience and seeing ourselves get better off -- even a little --
year by year. What had he come to? And what lay before us?
And though we were that fond of poor mother and Aileen that we would have done
anything in the world for them -- that is, we would have given
our lives for them any day -- yet we had left them -- father, Jim, and I --
to lead this miserable, lonesome life, looked down upon by a lot of people
not half good enough to tie their shoes, and obliged to a neighbour for help
in every little distress.
Jim and I thought we'd chance a few days at home, no matter what risk we ran;
but still we knew that if warrants were out the old home would be
well watched, and that it was the first place the police would come to.
So we made up our minds not to sleep at home, but to go away every night
to an old deserted shepherd's hut, a couple of miles up the gully,
that we used to play in when we were boys. It had been strongly built
at first; time was not much matter then, and there were no wages to speak of,
so that it was a good shelter. The weather was that hot, too,
it was just as pleasant sleeping under a tree as anywhere else.
So we didn't show at home more than one at a time, and took care
to be ready for a bolt at any time, day or night, when the police
might show themselves. Our place was middling clear all round now,
and it was hard for any one on horseback to get near it without warning;
and if we could once reach the gully we knew we could run
faster than any man could ride.
One night, latish, just as we were walking off to our hut
there was a scratching at the door; when we opened it there was old Crib!
He ran up to both of us and smelt round our legs for a minute
to satisfy himself; then jumped up once to each of us as if he thought
he ought to do the civil thing, wagged his stump of a tail,
and laid himself down. He was tired, and had come a long way.
We could see that, and that he was footsore too. We knew that father
wasn't so very far off, and would soon be in. If there'd been
anybody strange there Crib would have run back fast enough;
then father'd have dropped there was something up and not shown.
No fear of the dog not knowing who was right and who wasn't.
He could tell every sort of a man a mile off, I believe.
He knew the very walk of the police troopers' horses, and would growl,
father said, if he heard their hoofs rattle on the stones of the road.
About a quarter of an hour after father walks in, quiet as usual.
Nothing never made no difference to him, except he thought it was worth while.
He was middlin' glad to see us, and behaved kind enough to mother,
so the poor soul looked quite happy for her. It was little enough of that
she had for her share. By and by father walks outside with us,
and we had a long private talk.
It was a brightish kind of starlight night. As we walked down to the creek
I thought how often Jim and I had come out on just such a night
'possum hunting, and came home so tired that we were hardly able
to pull our boots off. Then we had nothing to think about
when we woke in the morning but to get in the cows; and didn't we enjoy
the fresh butter and the damper and bacon and eggs at breakfast time!
It seems to me the older people get the more miserable they get in this world.
If they don't make misery for themselves other people do it for 'em;
or just when everything's going straight, and they're doing their duty
first-rate and all that, some accident happens 'em just as if they was
the worst people in the world. I can't make it out at all.
`Well, boys,' says dad, `you've been lucky so far; suppose you had
a pretty good spree in Melbourne? You seen the game was up by the papers,
didn't you? But why didn't you stay where you were?'
`Why, of course, that brought us away,' says Jim; `we didn't want
to be fetched back in irons, and thought there was more show for it
in the bush here.'
`But even if they'd grabbed Starlight,' says the old man,
`you'd no call to be afeard. Not much chance of his peaching,
if it had been a hanging matter.'
`You don't mean to say there ain't warrants against us
and the rest of the lot?' I said.
`There's never a warrant out agin any one but Starlight,' said the old man.
`I've had the papers read to me regular, and I rode over to Bargo
and saw the reward of 200 Pounds (a chap alongside of me read it)
as is offered for a man generally known as Starlight, supposed to have left
the country; but not a word about you two and me, or the boy,
or them other coves.'
`So we might as well have stayed where we were, Jim.' Jim gave
a kind of groan. `Still, when you look at it, isn't it queer,' I went on,
`that they should only spot Starlight and leave us out? It looks as if
they was keepin' dark for fear of frightening us out of the country,
but watching all the same.'
`It's this way I worked it,' says father, rubbing his tobacco in his hands
the old way, and bringing out his pipe: `they couldn't be off
marking down Starlight along of his carryin' on so. Of course
he drawed notice to himself all roads. But the rest of us only come in
with the mob, and soon as they was sold stashed the camp and cleared out
different ways. Them three fellers is in Queensland long ago,
and nobody was to know them from any other road hands. I was back
with the old mare and Bilbah in mighty short time. I rode 'em night and day,
turn about, and they can both travel. You kept pretty quiet, as luck had it,
and was off to Melbourne quick. I don't really believe they dropped
to any of us, bar Starlight; and if they don't nab him
we might get shut of it altogether. I've known worse things
as never turned up in this world, and never will now.'
Here the old man showed his teeth as if he were going to laugh,
but thought better of it.
`Anyhow, we'd made it up to come home at Christmas,' says Jim;
`but it's all one. It would have saved us a deal of trouble in our minds
all the same if we'd known there was no warrants out after us two.
I wonder if they'll nail Starlight.'
`They can't be well off it,' says father. `He's gone off his head,
and stopped in some swell town in New Zealand -- Canterbury,
I think it's called -- livin' tiptop among a lot of young English swells,
instead of makin' off for the Islands, as he laid out to do.'
`How do you know he's there?' I said.
`I know, and that's enough,' snarls father. `I hear a lot in many ways
about things and people that no one guesses on, and I know this --
that he's pretty well marked down by old Stillbrook the detective
as went down there a month ago.'
`But didn't you warn him?'
`Yes, of course, as soon as I heard tell; but it's too late, I'm thinking.
He has the devil's luck as well as his own, but I always used to tell him
it would fail him yet.'
`I believe you're the smartest man of the crowd, dad,' says Jim,
laying his hand on father's shoulder. He could pretty nigh
get round the old chap once in a way, could Jim, surly as he was.
`What do you think we'd better do? What's our best dart?'
Father shook off his hand, but not roughly, and his voice wasn't so hard
when he said --
`Why, stop at home quiet, of course, and sleep in your beds at night.
Don't go planting in the gully, or some one 'll think you're wanted,
and let on to the police. Ride about the country till I give you the office.
Never fear but I'll have word quick enough. Go about and see
the neighbours round just as usual.'
Jim and I was quite stunned by this bit of news; no doubt we was pretty sorry
as ever we left Melbourne, but there was nothing for it now
but to follow it out. After all, we were at home, and it was pleasant
to think we wouldn't be hunted for a bit and might ride about the old place
and enjoy ourselves a bit. Aileen was as happy as the day was long,
and poor mother used to lay her head on Jim's neck and cry for joy
to have him with her. Even father used to sit in the front,
under the quinces, and smoke his pipe, with old Crib at his feet,
most as if he thought he was happy. I wonder if he ever looked back
to the days when he was a farmin' boy and hadn't took to poaching?
He must have been a smart, handy kind of lad, and what a different look
his face must have had then!
We had our own horses in pretty good trim, so we foraged up Aileen's mare,
and made it up to ride over to George Storefield's, and gave him a look-up.
He'd been away when we came, and now we heard he was home.
`George has been doing well all this time, of course,' I said.
`I expect he'll turn squatter some day and be made a magistrate.'
`Like enough,' says Jim. `More than one we could pick began lower down
than him, and sits on the Bench and gives coves like us a turn
when we're brought up before 'em. Fancy old George sayin',
"Is anything known, constable, of this prisoner's anterseedents?"
as I heard old Higgler say one day at Bargo.'
`Why do you make fun of these things, Jim, dear?' says Aileen,
looking so solemn and mournful like. `Oughtn't a steady worker
to rise in life, and isn't it sad to see cleverer men and better workers
-- if they liked -- kept down by their own fault?'
`Why wasn't your roan mare born black or chestnut?' says Jim, laughing,
and pretending to touch her up. `Come along, and let's see if she can trot
as well as she used to do?'
`Poor Lowan,' says she, patting the mare's smooth neck
(she was a wonderful neat, well-bred, dark roan, with black points --
one of dad's, perhaps, that he'd brought her home one time
he was in special good humour about something. Where she was bred or how,
nobody ever knew); `she was born pretty and good. How little trouble
her life gives her. It's a pity we can't all say as much,
or have as little on our minds.'
`Whose fault's that?' says Jim. `The dingo must live as well as the collie
or the sheep either. One's been made just the same as the other.
I've often watched a dingo turn round twice, and then pitch himself down
in the long grass like as if he was dead. He's not a bad sort, old dingo,
and has a good time of it as long as it lasts.'
`Yes, till he's trapped or shot or poisoned some day, which he always is,'
said Aileen bitterly. `I wonder any man should be content
with a wicked life and a shameful death.' And she struck Lowan with a switch,
and spun down the slope of the hill between the trees like a forester-doe
with the hunter-hound behind her.
When we came up with her she was all right again, and tried to smile.
Whatever put her out for the time she always worked things by kindness,
and would lead us straight if she could. Driven, she knew we couldn't be;
and I believe she did us about ten times as much good that way
as if she had scolded and raged, or even sneered at us.
When we rode up to Mr. Storefield's farm we were quite agreeable
and pleasant again, Jim makin' believe his horse could walk fastest,
and saying that her mare's pace was only a double shuffle of an amble
like Bilbah's, and she declaring that the mare's was a true walk --
and so it was. The mare could do pretty well everything but talk,
and all her paces were first-class.
Old Mrs. Storefield was pottering about in the garden
with a big sun-bonnet on. She was a great woman for flowers.
`Come along in, Aileen, my dear,' she said. `Gracey's in the dairy;
she'll be out directly. George only came home yesterday.
Who be these you've got with ye? Why, Dick!' she says,
lookin' again with her sharp, old, gray eyes, `it's you, boy, is it?
Well, you've changed a deal too; and Jim too. Is he as full of mischief
as ever? Well, God bless you, boys, I wish you well! I wish you well.
Come in out of the sun, Aileen; and one of you take the horses
up to the stable. You'll find George there somewhere.'
Aileen had jumped down by this time, and had thrown her rein to Jim,
so we rode up to the stable, and a very good one it was,
not long put up, that we could see. How the place had changed,
and how different it was from ours! We remembered the time
when their hut wasn't a patch on ours, when old Isaac Storefield,
that had been gardener at Mulgoa to some of the big gentlemen
in the old days, had saved a bit of money and taken up a farm;
but bit by bit their place had been getting better and bigger every year,
while ours had stood still and now was going back.
George Storefield's place, for the old man was dead and all the place
belonged to him and Gracey, quite stunned Jim and me. We'd been away
more than a year, and he'd pulled down the old fences and put up new ones --
first-rate work it was too; he was always a dead hand at splitting.
Then there was a big hay-shed, chock-full of good sweet hay and wheat sheaves,
and, last of all, the new stable, with six stalls and a loft above, and racks,
all built of ironbark slabs, as solid and reg'lar as a church, Jim said.
They'd a good six-roomed cottage and a new garden fence ever so long.
There were more fruit trees in the garden and a lot of good draught horses
standing about, that looked well, but as if they'd come off a journey.
The stable door opens, and out comes old George as hearty as ever,
but looking full of business.
`Glad to see you, boys,' he says; `what a time you've been away!
Been away myself these three months with a lot of teams carrying.
I've taken greatly to the business lately. I'm just settling up
with my drivers, but put the horses in, there's chaff and corn in the mangers,
and I'll be down in a few minutes. It's well on to dinner-time, I see.'
We took the bridles off and tied up the horses -- there was any amount of feed
for them -- and strolled down to the cottage again.
`Wonder whether Gracey's as nice as she used to be,' says Jim.
`Next to Aileen I used to think she wasn't to be beat.
When I was a little chap I believed you and she must be married for certain.
And old George and Aileen. I never laid out any one for myself, I remember.'
`The first two don't look like coming off,' I said. `You're the likeliest man
to marry and settle if Jeanie sticks to you.'
`She'd better go down to the pier and drown herself comfortably,' said Jim.
`If she knew what was before us all, perhaps she would. Poor little Jeanie!
We'd no right to drag other people into our troubles. I believe we're getting
worse and worse. The sooner we're shot or locked up the better.'
`You won't think so when it comes, old man,' I said. `Don't bother your head
-- it ain't the best part of you -- about things that can't be helped.
We're not the only horses that can't be kept on the course --
with a good turn of speed too.'
`"They want shooting like the dingoes," as Aileen said.
They're never no good, except to ruin those that back 'em
and disgrace their owners and the stable they come out of.
That's our sort, all to pieces. Well, we'd better come in.
Gracey 'll think we're afraid to face her.'
When we went away last Grace Storefield was a little over seventeen,
so now she was nineteen all out, and a fine girl she'd grown.
Though I never used to think her a beauty, now I almost began to think
she must be. She wasn't tall, and Aileen looked slight alongside of her;
but she was wonderful fair and fresh coloured for an Australian girl,
with a lot of soft brown hair and a pair of clear blue eyes
that always looked kindly and honestly into everybody's face.
Every look of her seemed to wish to do you good and make you think
that nothing that wasn't square and right and honest and true
could live in the same place with her.
She held out both hands to me and said --
`Well, Dick, so you're back again. You must have been
to the end of the world, and Jim, too. I'm very glad to see you both.'
She looked into my face with that pleased look that put me in mind of her
when she was a little child and used to come toddling up to me,
staring and smiling all over her face the moment she saw me.
Now she was a grown woman, and a sweet-looking one too.
I couldn't lift her up and kiss her as I used to do, but I felt as if
I should like to do it all the same. She was the only creature
in the whole world, I think, that liked me better than Jim.
I'd been trying to drive all thoughts of her out of my heart,
seeing the tangle I'd got into in more ways than one; but now the old feeling
which had been a part of me ever since I'd grown up came rushing back
stronger than ever. I was surprised at myself, and looked queer I daresay.
Then Aileen laughed, and Jim comes to the rescue and says --
`Dick doesn't remember you, Gracey. You've grown such a swell, too.
You can't be the little girl we used to carry on our backs.'
`Dick remembers very well,' she says, and her very voice was ever so much
fuller and softer, `don't you, Dick?' and she looked into my face
as innocent as a child. `I don't think he could pull me out of the water
and carry me up to the cottage now.'
`You tumble in and we'll try,' says Jim; `first man to keep you for good --
eh, Gracey? It's fine hot weather, and Aileen shall see fair play.'
`You're just as saucy as ever, Jim,' says she, blushing and smiling.
`I see George coming, so I must go and fetch in dinner. Aileen's going
to help me instead of mother. You must tell us all about your travels
when we sit down.'
When George came in he began to talk to make up for lost time,
and told us where he had been -- a long way out in some new back country,
just taken up with sheep. He had got a first-rate paying price
for his carriage out, and had brought back and delivered a full load of wool.
`I intend to do it every year for a bit,' he said. `I can breed and feed
a good stamp of draught horse here. I pay drivers for three waggons
and drive the fourth myself. It pays first-rate so far,
and we had very fair feed all the way there and back.'
`Suppose you get a dry season,' I said, `how will that be?'
`We shall have to carry forage, of course; but then carriage will be higher,
and it will come to the same thing. I don't like being so long
away from home; but it pays first-rate, and I think I see a way
to its paying better still.'
`So you've ridden over to show them the way, Aileen,' he said,
as the girls came in; `very good of you it was. I was afraid
you'd forgotten the way.'
`I never forget the way to a friend's place, George,' she said,
`and you've been our best friend while these naughty boys have left
mother and me so long by ourselves. But you've been away yourself.'
`Only four months,' he said; `and after a few more trips
I shan't want to go away any more.'
`That will be a good day for all of us,' she said. `You know, Gracey,
we can't do without George, can we? I felt quite deserted, I can tell you.'
`He wouldn't have gone away at all if you'd held up your little finger,
you know that, you hard-hearted girl,' said Grace, trying to frown.
`It's all your fault.'
`Oh! I couldn't interfere with Mr. Storefield's business,' said Aileen,
looking very grave. `What kind of a country was it you were out in?'
`Not a bad place for sheep and cattle and blacks,' said poor George,
looking rather glum; `and not a bad country to make money or do anything
but live in, but that hot and dry and full of flies and mosquitoes
that I'd sooner live on a pound a week down here than take a good station
as a present there. That is, if I was contented,' he went on to say,
with a sort of a groan.
There never was a greater mistake in the world, I believe,
than for a man to let a woman know how much he cares for her.
It's right enough if she's made up her mind to take him, no odds what happens.
But if there's any half-and-half feeling in her mind about him,
and she's uncertain and doubtful whether she likes him well enough,
all this down-on-your-knees business works against you,
more than your worst enemy could do. I didn't know so much about it then.
I've found it out since, worse luck. And I really believe
if George had had the savey to crack himself up a little,
and say he'd met a nice girl or two in the back country and hid his hand,
Aileen would have made it up with him that very Christmas,
and been a happy woman all her life.
When old Mrs. Storefield came in she put us through our facings pretty brisk
-- where we'd been, what we'd done? What took us to Melbourne, --
how we liked it? What kind of people they were? and so on.
We had to tell her a good lot, part of it truth, of course, but pretty mixed.
It made rather a good yarn, and I could see Grace was listening with her heart
as well as her ears. Jim said generally we met some very nice people
in Melbourne named Jackson, and they were very kind to us.
`Were there any daughters in the family, Jim?' asked Grace.
`Oh! yes, three.'
`Were they good-looking?'
`No, rather homely, particularly the youngest.'
`What did they do?'
`Oh! their mother kept a boarding-house. We stayed there.'
I don't think I ever knew Jim do so much lying before; but after he'd begun
he had to stick to it. He told me afterwards he nearly broke down
about the three daughters; but was rather proud of making the youngest
`I can see Gracey's as fond of you as ever she was, Dick,' says he;
`that's why she made me tell all those crammers. It's an awful pity
we can't all square it, and get spliced this Christmas.
Aileen would take George if she wasn't a fool, as most women are.
I'd like to bring Jeanie up here, and join George in the carrying business.
It's going to be a big thing, I can see. You might marry Gracey,
and look after both places while we were away.'
`And how about Kate?'
`The devil take her! and then he'd have a bargain. I wish you'd never
dropped across her, and that she wasn't Jeanie's sister,' blurts out Jim.
`She'll bring bad luck among us before she's done, I feel,
as sure as we're standing here.'
`It's all a toss up -- like our lives; married or lagged,
bushwork or roadwork (in irons), free or bond. We can't tell
how it will be with us this day year.'
`I've half a mind to shoot myself,' says Jim, `and end it all. I would, too,
only for mother and Aileen. What's the use of life that isn't life,
but fear and misery, from one day's end to another, and we only just grown up?
It's d----d hard that a chap's brains don't grow along with
his legs and arms.'
We didn't ride home till quite the evening. Grace would have us stay for tea;
it was a pretty hot day, so there was no use riding in the sun.
George saddled his horse, and he and Grace rode part of the way home with us.
He'd got regular sunburnt like us, and, as he could ride a bit,
like most natives, he looked better outside of a horse than on his own legs,
being rather thick-set and shortish; but his heart was in the right place,
like his sister's, and his head was screwed on right, too.
I think more of old George now than I ever did before,
and wish I'd had the sense to value his independent straight-ahead nature,
and the track it led him, as he deserved.
Jim and I rode in front, with Gracey between us. She had on a neat habit
and a better hat and gloves than Aileen, but nothing could ever give her
the seat and hand and light, easy, graceful way with her in the saddle
that our girl had. All the same she could ride and drive too,
and as we rode side by side in the twilight, talking about the places
I'd been to, and she wanting to know everything (Jim drew off a bit
when the road got narrow), I felt what a fool I'd been to let things slide,
and would have given my right hand to have been able to put them as they were
three short years before.
At last we got to the Gap; it was the shortest halt from their home.
George shook hands with Aileen, and turned back.
`We'll come and see you next ----' he said.
`Christmas Eve!' said Aileen.
`Christmas Eve let it be,' says George.
`All right,' I said, holding Grace's hand for a bit. And so we parted --
for how long, do you think?
When we got home it was pretty late, and the air was beginning to cool
after the hot day. There was a low moon, and everything showed out clear,
so that you could see the smallest branches of the trees on Nulla Mountain,
where it stood like a dark cloud-bank against the western sky.
There wasn't the smallest breeze. The air was that still and quiet
you could have heard anything stir in the grass, or almost a 'possum
digging his claws into the smooth bark of the white gum trees.
The curlews set up a cry from time to time; but they didn't sound
so queer and shrill as they mostly do at night. I don't know how it was,
but everything seemed quiet and pleasant and homelike,
as if a chap might live a hundred years, if it was all like this,
and keep growing better and happier every day. I remember all this
so particular because it was the only time I'd felt like it for years,
and I never had the same feeling afterwards -- nor likely to.
`Oh! what a happy day I've had,' Aileen said, on a sudden.
Jim and I and her had been riding a long spell without speaking.
`I don't know when I've enjoyed myself so much; I've got quite
out of the way of being happy lately, and hardly know the taste of it.
How lovely it would be if you and Jim could always stay at home like this,
and we could do our work happy and comfortable together, without separating,
and all this deadly fear of something terrible happening,
that's never out of my mind. Oh! Dick, won't you promise me
to stop quiet and work steady at home, if you -- if you and Jim
haven't anything brought against you?'
She bent forward and looked into my face as she said this.
I could see her eyes shine, and every word she said seemed to come
straight from her heart. How sad and pitiful she looked,
and we felt for a moment just as we did when we were boys,
and she used to come and persuade us to go on with our work
and not grieve mother, and run the risk of a licking from father
when he came home.
Her mare, Lowan, was close alongside of my horse, stepping along
at her fast tearing walk, throwing up her head and snorting
every now and then, but Aileen sat in her saddle better than some people
can sit in a chair; she held the rein and whip together
and kept her hand on mine till I spoke.
`We'll do all we can, Aileen dear, for you and poor mother, won't we, Jim?'
I felt soft and down-hearted then, if ever I did. `But it's too late --
too late! You'll see us now and then; but we can't stop at home quiet,
nor work about here all the time as we used to do. That day's gone.
Jim knows it as well as me. There's no help for it now.
We'll have to do like the rest -- enjoy ourselves a bit while we can,
and stand up to our fight when the trouble comes.'
She took her hand away, and rode on with her rein loose and her head down.
I could see the tears falling down her face, but after a bit
she put herself to rights, and we rode quietly up to the door.
Mother was working away in her chair, and father walking up and down
before the door smoking.
When we were letting go the horses, father comes up and says --
`I've got a bit of news for you, boys; Starlight's been took,
and the darkie with him.'
`Where?' I said. Somehow I felt struck all of a heap by hearing this.
I'd got out of the way of thinking they'd drop on him.
As for Jim, he heard it straight enough, but he went on whistling
and patting the mare's neck, teasing her like, because she was so uneasy
to get her head-stall off and run after the others.
`Why, in New Zealand, to be sure. The blamed fool stuck there all this time,
just because he found himself comfortably situated among people as he liked.
I wonder how he'll fancy Berrima after it all? Sarves him well right.'
`But how did you come to hear about it?' We knew father
couldn't read nor write.
`I have a chap as is paid to read the papers reg'lar, and to put me on
when there's anything in 'em as I want to know. He's bin over here to-day
and give me the office. Here's the paper he left.'
Father pulls out a crumpled-up dirty-lookin' bit of newspaper.
It wasn't much to look at; but there was enough to keep us in readin',
and thinkin', too, for a good while, as soon as we made it out.
In pretty big letters, too.
IMPORTANT CAPTURE BY DETECTIVE STILLBROOK, OF THE NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE.
That was atop of the page, then comes this: --
Our readers may remember the description given in this journal,
some months since, of a cattle robbery on the largest scale,
when upwards of a thousand head were stolen from one of Mr. Hood's stations,
driven to Adelaide, and then sold, by a party of men whose names
have not as yet transpired. It is satisfactory to find
that the leader of the gang, who is well known to the police
by the assumed name of `Starlight', with a half-caste lad
recognised as an accomplice, has been arrested by this active officer.
It appears that, from information received, Detective Stillbrook went
to New Zealand, and, after several months' patient search, took his passage
in the boat which left that colony, in order to meet the mail steamer,
outward bound, for San Francisco. As the passengers were landing
he arrested a gentlemanlike and well-dressed personage, who, with his servant,
was about to proceed to Menzies's Hotel. Considerable surprise was manifested
by the other passengers, with whom the prisoner had become
universally popular. He indignantly denied all knowledge of the charge;
but we have reason to believe that there will be no difficulty
as to identification. A large sum of money in gold and notes
was found upon him. Other arrests are likely to follow.
This looked bad; for a bit we didn't know what to think.
While Jim and I was makin' it all out, with the help of a bit of candle
we smuggled out -- we dursn't take it inside -- father was smokin' his pipe
-- in the old fashion -- and saying nothing. When we'd done
he put up his pipe in his pouch and begins to talk.
`It's come just as I said, and knowed it would, through Starlight's
cussed flashness and carryin's on in fine company. If he'd cleared out
and made for the Islands as I warned him to do, and he settled to,
or as good, afore he left us that day at the camp, he'd been safe
in some o' them 'Merikin places he was always gassin' about,
and all this wouldn't 'a happened.'
`He couldn't help that,' says Jim; `he thought they'd never know him
from any other swell in Canterbury or wherever he was. He's been took in
like many another man. What I look at is this: he won't squeak.
How are they to find out that we had any hand in it?'
`That's what I'm dubersome about,' says father, lightin' his pipe again.
`Nobody down there got much of a look at me, and I let my beard grow
on the road and shaved clean soon's I got back, same as I always do.
Now the thing is, does any one know that you boys was in the fakement?'
`Nobody's likely to know but him and Warrigal. The knockabouts
and those other three chaps won't come it on us for their own sakes.
We may as well stop here till Christmas is over and then make down
to the Barwon, or somewhere thereabouts. We could take a long job at droving
till the derry's off a bit.'
`If you'll be said by me,' the old man growls out, `you'll make tracks
for the Hollow afore daylight and keep dark till we hear how the play goes.
I know Starlight's as close as a spring-lock; but that chap Warrigal
don't cotton to either of you, and he's likely to give you away
if he's pinched himself -- that's my notion of him.'
`Starlight 'll keep him from doing that,' Jim says; `the boy 'll do nothing
his master don't agree to, and he'd break his neck if he found him out
in any dog's trick like that.'
`Starlight and he ain't in the same cell, you take your oath.
I don't trust no man except him. I'll be off now, and if you'll take
a fool's advice, though he is your father, you'll go too;
we can be there by daylight.'
Jim and I looked at each other.
`We promised to stay Chris'mas with mother and Aileen,' says he,
`and if all the devils in hell tried to stop us, I wouldn't break my word.
But we'll come to the Hollow on Boxing Day, won't we, Dick?'
`All right! It's only two or three days. The day after to-morrow's
Chris'mas Eve. We'll chance that, as it's gone so far.'
`Take your own way,' growls father. `Fetch me my saddle.
The old mare's close by the yard.'
Jim fetches the saddle and bridle, and Crib comes after him,
out of the verandah, where he had been lying. Bless you! he knew
something was up. Just like a Christian he was, and nothing never happened
that dad was in as he wasn't down to.
`May as well stop till morning, dad,' says Jim, as we walked up to the yard.
`Not another minute,' says the old man, and he whips the bridle
out of Jim's hand and walks over to the old mare. She lifts up her head
from the dry grass and stands as steady as a rock.
`Good-bye,' he says, and he shook hands with both of us;
`if I don't see you again I'll send you word if I hear anything fresh.'
In another minute we heard the old mare's hoofs proceeding away
among the rocks up the gully, and gradually getting fainter in the distance.
Then we went in. Mother and Aileen had been in bed an hour ago,
and all the better for them. Next morning we told mother and Aileen
that father had gone. They didn't say much. They were used to his ways.
They never expected him till they saw him, and had got out of the fashion
of asking why he did this or that. He had reasons of his own,
which he never told them, for going or coming, and they'd left off
troubling their heads about it. Mother was always in dread
while he was there, and they were far easier in their minds
when he was away off the place.
As for us, we had made up our minds to enjoy ourselves while we could,
and we had come to his way of thinking, that most likely
nothing was known of our being in the cattle affair that Starlight and the boy
had been arrested for. We knew nothing would drag it out of Starlight
about his pals in this or any other job. Now they'd got him,
it would content them for a bit, and maybe take off their attention
from us and the others that were in it.
There were two days to Christmas. Next day George and his sister would
be over, and we all looked forward to that for a good reminder of old times.
We were going to have a merry Christmas at home for once in a way.
After that we would clear out and get away to some of the far out stations,
where chaps like ourselves always made to when they wanted to keep dark.
We might have the luck of other men that we had known of, and never be traced
till the whole thing had died out and been half-forgotten. Though we didn't
say much to each other we had pretty well made up our minds to go straight
from this out. We might take up a bit of back country, and put stock on it
with some of the money we had left. Lots of men had begun that way
that had things against them as bad as us, and had kept steady,
and worked through in course of time. Why shouldn't we as well as others?
We wanted to see what the papers said of us, so we rode over
to a little post town we knew of and got a copy of the `Evening Times'.
There it all was in full: --
We have heard from time to time of cattle being stolen
in lots of reasonable size, say from ten to one hundred, or even as high
as two hundred head at the outside. But we never expected to have to record
the erecting of a substantial stockyard and the carrying off and disposing of
a whole herd, estimated at a thousand or eleven hundred head,
chiefly the property of one proprietor. Yet this has been done
in New South Wales, and done, we regret to say, cleverly and successfully.
It has just transpired, beyond all possibility of mistake,
that Mr. Hood's Outer Back Momberah run has suffered to that extent
in the past winter. The stolen herd was driven to Adelaide,
and there sold openly. The money was received by the robbers,
who were permitted to decamp at their leisure.
When we mention the name of the notorious `Starlight',
no one will be surprised that the deed was planned, carried out, and executed
with consummate address and completeness. It seems matter of regret
that we cannot persuade this illustrious depredator to take the command
of our police force, that body of life-assurers and property-protectors
which has proved so singularly ineffective as a preventive service
in the present case. On the well-known proverbial principle we might hope
for the best results under Mr. Starlight's intelligent supervision.
We must not withhold our approval as to one item of success
which the force has scored. Starlight himself and a half-caste henchman
have been cleverly captured by Detective Stillbrook, just as the former,
who has been ruffling it among the `aristocratic' settlers of Christchurch,
was about to sail for Honolulu. The names of his other accomplices,
six in number, it is said, have not as yet transpired.
This last part gave us confidence, but all the same we kept everything ready
for a bolt in case of need. We got up our horses every evening
and kept them in the yard all night. The feed was good by the creek now --
a little dried up but plenty of bite, and better for horses
that had been ridden far and fast than if it was green.
We had enough of last year's hay to give them a feed at night,
and that was all they wanted. They were two pretty good ones
and not slow either. We took care of that when we bought them.
Nobody ever saw us on bad ones since we were boys, and we had broken them in
to stand and be caught day or night, and to let us jump on and off
at a moment's notice.
All that day, being awful hot and close, we stayed in the house
and yarned away with mother and Aileen till they thought -- poor souls --
that we had turned over a new leaf and were going to stay at home
and be good boys for the future. When a man sees how little it takes
to make women happy -- them that's good and never thinks of anything
but doing their best for everybody belonging to 'em -- it's wonderful
how men ever make up their minds to go wrong and bring all that loves them
to shame and grief. When they've got nobody but themselves to think of
it don't so much matter as I know of; but to keep on breaking
the hearts of those as never did you anything but good,
and wouldn't if they lived for a hundred years, is cowardly and unmanly
any way you look at it. And yet we'd done very little else ourselves
these years and years.
We all sat up till nigh on to midnight with our hands in one another's --
Jim down at mother's feet; Aileen and I close beside them
on the old seat in the verandah that father made such a time ago.
At last mother gets up, and they both started for bed. Aileen seemed
as if she couldn't tear herself away. Twice she came back,
then she kissed us both, and the tears came into her eyes.
`I feel too happy,' she said; `I never thought I should feel like this again.
God bless you both, and keep us all from harm.' `Amen,' said mother
from the next room. We turned out early, and had a bathe in the creek
before we went up to the yard to let out the horses. There wasn't a cloud
in the sky; it was safe to be a roasting hot day, but it was cool then.
The little waterhole where we learned to swim when we were boys
was deep on one side and had a rocky ledge to jump off. The birds just began
to give out a note or two; the sun was rising clear and bright,
and we could see the dark top of Nulla Mountain getting a sort of rose colour
against the sky.
`George and Gracey 'll be over soon after breakfast,' I said;
`we must have everything look ship-shape as well as we can
before they turn up.'
`The horses may as well go down to the flat,' Jim says;
`we can catch them easy enough in time to ride back part of the way with them.
I'll run up Lowan, and give her a bit of hay in the calf-pen.'
We went over to the yard, and Jim let down the rails and walked in.
I stopped outside. Jim had his horse by the mane, and was patting his neck
as mine came out, when three police troopers rose up from behind the bushes,
and covering us with their rifles called out, `Stand, in the Queen's name!'
Jim made one spring on to his horse's back, drove his heels into his flank,
and was out through the gate and half-way down the hill before you could wink.
Just as Jim cleared the gate a tall man rose up close behind me
and took a cool pot at him with a revolver. I saw Jim's hat fly off,
and another bullet grazed his horse's hip. I saw the hair fly,
and the horse make a plunge that would have unseated most men
with no saddle between their legs. But Jim sat close and steady
and only threw up his arm and gave a shout as the old horse tore down the hill
a few miles an hour faster.
`D--n those cartridges,' said the tall trooper; `they always put
too much powder in them for close shooting. Now, Dick Marston!' he went on,
putting his revolver to my head, `I'd rather not blow your brains out
before your people, but if you don't put up your hands by ---- I'll shoot you
where you stand.' I had been staring after Jim all the time;
I believe I had never thought of myself till he was safe away.
`Get your horses, you d----d fools,' he shouts out to the men,
`and see if you can follow up that madman. He's most likely
knocked off against a tree by this time.'
There was nothing else for it but to do it and be handcuffed.
As the steel locks snapped I saw mother standing below wringing her hands,
and Aileen trying to get her into the house.
`Better come down and get your coat on, Dick,' said the senior constable.
`We want to search the place, too. By Jove! we shall get pepper
from Sir Ferdinand when we go in. I thought we had you both as safe
as chickens in a coop. Who would have thought of Jim givin' us the slip,
on a barebacked horse, without so much as a halter? I'm devilish sorry
for your family; but if nothing less than a thousand head of cattle
will satisfy people, they must expect trouble to come of it.'
`What are you talking about?' I said. `You've got the wrong story
and the wrong men.'
`All right; we'll see about that. I don't know whether you want
any breakfast, but I should like a cup of tea. It's deuced slow work
watching all night, though it isn't cold. We've got to be
in Bargo barracks to-night, so there's no time to lose.'
It was all over now -- the worst HAD come. What fools we had been
not to take the old man's advice, and clear out when he did. He was safe
in the Hollow, and would chuckle to himself -- and be sorry, too --
when he heard of my being taken, and perhaps Jim. The odds were
he might be smashed against a tree, perhaps killed, at the pace he was going
on a horse he could not guide.
They searched the house, but the money they didn't get.
Jim and I had taken care of that, in case of accidents.
Mother sat rocking herself backwards and forwards, every now and then
crying out in a pitiful way, like the women in her country do,
I've heard tell, when some one of their people is dead;
`keening', I think they call it. Well, Jim and I were as good as dead.
If the troopers had shot the pair of us there and then,
same as bushmen told us the black police did their prisoners
when they gave 'em any trouble, it would have been better for everybody.
However, people don't die all at once when they go to the bad,
and take to stealing or drinking, or any of the devil's favourite traps.
Pity they don't, and have done with it once and for all.
I know I thought so when I was forced to stand there with my hands
chained together for the first time in my life (though I'd worked for it,
I know that); and to see Aileen walking about laying the cloth for breakfast
like a dead woman, and know what was in her mind.
The troopers were civil enough, and Goring, the senior constable,
tried to comfort them as much as he could. He knew it was no fault of theirs;
and though he said he meant to have Jim if mortal men and horses could do it
he thought he had a fair chance of getting away. `He's sure to be caught
in the long run, though,' he went on to say. `There's a warrant out for him,
and a description in every "Police Gazette" in the colonies.
My advice to him would be to come back and give himself up.
It's not a hanging matter, and as it's the first time you've been fitted,
Dick, the judge, as like as not, will let you off with a light sentence.'
So they talked away until they had finished their breakfast.
I couldn't touch a mouthful for the life of me, and as soon as it was all over
they ran up my horse and put the saddle on. But I wasn't to ride him.
No fear! Goring put me on an old screw of a troop horse,
with one leg like a gate-post. I was helped up and my legs tied
under his belly. Then one of the men took the bridle and led me away.
Goring rode in front and the other men behind.
As we rose the hill above the place I looked back and saw mother
drop down on the ground in a kind of fit, while Aileen bent over her
and seemed to be loosening her dress. Just at that moment
George Storefield and his sister rode up to the door. George jumped off
and rushed over to Aileen and mother. I knew Gracey had seen me,
for she sat on her horse as if she had been turned to stone,
and let her reins drop on his neck. Strange things have happened to me since,
but I shall never forget that to the last day of my miserable life.
I wasn't in the humour for talking, but sometimes anything's better
than one's own thoughts. Goring threw in a word from time to time.
He'd only lately come into our district, and was sure to be promoted,
everybody said. Like Starlight himself, he'd seen better days
at home in England; but when he got pinched he'd taken the right turn
and not the wrong one, which makes all the difference.
He was earning his bread honest, anyway, and he was a chap
as liked the fun and dash of a mounted policeman's life.
As for the risk -- and there is some danger, more than people thinks,
now and then -- he liked that the best of it. He was put out at losing Jim;
but he believed he couldn't escape, and told me so in a friendly way.
`He's inside a circle and he can't get away, you mark my words,' he said,
two or three times. `We have every police-station warned by wire,
within a hundred miles of here, three days ago. There's not a man
in the colony sharper looked after than Master Jim is this minute.'
`Then you only heard about us three days ago?' I said.
`That's as it may be,' he answered, biting his lip. `Anyhow, there isn't
a shepherd's hut within miles that he can get to without our knowing it.
The country's rough, but there's word gone for a black tracker to go down.
You'll see him in Bargo before the week's out.'
I had a good guess where Jim would make for, and he knew enough
to hide his tracks for the last few miles if there was a whole tribe
of trackers after him.
That night we rode into Bargo. A long day too we'd had --
we were all tired enough when we got in. I was locked up, of course,
and as soon as we were in the cell Goring said, `Listen to me,'
and put on his official face -- devilish stern and hard-looking he was then,
in spite of all the talking and nonsense we'd had coming along.
`Richard Marston, I charge you with unlawfully taking, stealing,
and carrying away, in company with others, one thousand head of mixed cattle,
more or less the property of one Walter Hood, of Outer Back, Momberah,
in or about the month of June last.'
`All right; why don't you make it a few more while you're about it?'
`That'll do,' he said, nodding his head, `you decline to say anything.
Well, I can't exactly wish you a merry Christmas -- fancy this being
Christmas Eve, by Jove! -- but you'll be cool enough this deuced hot weather
till the sessions in February, which is more than some of us can say.
Good-night.' He went out and locked the door. I sat down on my blanket
on the floor and hid my head in my hands. I wonder it didn't burst
with what I felt then. Strange that I shouldn't have felt half as bad
when the judge, the other day, sentenced me to be a dead man
in a couple of months. But I was young then.
. . . . .
Christmas Day! Christmas Day! So this is how I was to spend it after all,
I thought, as I woke up at dawn, and saw the gray light just beginning
to get through the bars of the window of the cell.
Here was I locked up, caged, ironed, disgraced, a felon and an outcast
for the rest of my life. Jim, flying for his life, hiding from
every honest man, every policeman in the country looking after him,
and authorised to catch him or shoot him down like a sheep-killing dog.
Father living in the Hollow, like a blackfellow in a cave,
afraid to spend the blessed Christmas with his wife and daughter,
like the poorest man in the land could do if he was only honest.
Mother half dead with grief, and Aileen ashamed to speak to the man
that loved and respected her from her childhood. Gracey Storefield not daring
to think of me or say my name, after seeing me carried off a prisoner
before her eyes. Here was a load of misery and disgrace heaped up together,
to be borne by the whole family, now and for the time to come --
by the innocent as well as the guilty. And for what? Because we had been
too idle and careless to work regularly and save our money,
though well able to do it, like honest men. Because, little by little,
we had let bad dishonest ways and flash manners grow upon us,
all running up an account that had to be paid some day.
And now the day of reckoning had come -- sharp and sudden with a vengeance!
Well, what call had we to look for anything else? We had been working for it;
now we had got it, and had to bear it. Not for want of warning, neither.
What had mother and Aileen been saying ever since we could remember?
Warning upon warning. Now the end had come just as they said.
Of course I knew in a general way that I couldn't be punished
or be done anything to right off. I knew law enough for that.
The next thing would be that I should have to be brought up
before the magistrates and committed for trial as soon as they could get
After breakfast, flour and water or hominy, I forget which,
the warder told me that there wasn't much chance of my being brought up
before Christmas was over. The police magistrate was away on a month's leave,
and the other magistrates would not be likely to attend
before the end of the week, anyway. So I must make myself comfortable
where I was. Comfortable!
`Had they caught Jim?'
`Well, not that he'd heard of; but Goring said it was impossible for him
to get away. At twelve he'd bring me some dinner.'
I was pretty certain they wouldn't catch Jim, in spite of Goring
being so cocksure about it. If he wasn't knocked off the first mile or so,
he'd find ways of stopping or steadying his horse, and facing him up
to where we had gone to join father at the tableland of the Nulla Mountain.
Once he got near there he could let go his horse. They'd be following
his track, while he made the best of his way on foot to the path
that led to the Hollow. If he had five miles start of them there,
as was most likely, all the blacks in the country would never track
where he got to. He and father could live there for a month or so,
and take it easy until they could slip out and do a bit of father's old trade.
That was about what I expected Jim to do, and as it turned out
I was as nearly right as could be. They ran his track for ten miles.
Then they followed his horse-tracks till late the second day, and found that
the horse had slued round and was making for home again with nobody on him.
Jim was nowhere to be seen, and they'd lost all that time,
never expecting that he was going to dismount and leave the horse
to go his own way.
They searched Nulla Mountain from top to bottom; but some of the smartest men
of the old Mounted Police and the best of the stockmen in the old days
-- men not easy to beat -- had tried the same country many years before,
and never found the path to the Hollow. So it wasn't likely
any one else would. They had to come back and own that they were beat,
which put Goring in a rage and made the inspector, Sir Ferdinand Morringer,
blow them all up for a lot of duffers and old women. Altogether they had
a bad time of it, not that it made any difference to me.
After the holidays a magistrate was fished up somehow,
and I was brought before him and the apprehending constable's evidence taken.
Then I was remanded to the Bench at Nomah, where Mr. Hood
and some of the other witnesses were to appear. So away we started
for another journey. Goring and a trooper went with me,
and all sorts of care was taken that I didn't give them the slip on the road.
Goring used to put one of my handcuffs on his own wrist at night,
so there wasn't much chance of moving without waking him.
I had an old horse to ride that couldn't go much faster than I could run,
for fear of accident. It was even betting that he'd fall and kill me
on the road. If I'd had a laugh in me, I should have had a joke
against the Police Department for not keeping safer horses
for their prisoners to ride. They keep them till they haven't a leg
to stand upon, and long after they can't go a hundred yards
without trying to walk on their heads they're thought good enough to carry
packs and prisoners.
`Some day,' Goring said, `one of those old screws will be
the death of a prisoner before he's committed for trial,
and then there'll be a row over it, I suppose.'
We hadn't a bad journey of it on the whole. The troopers were civil enough,
and gave me a glass of grog now and then when they had one themselves.
They'd done their duty in catching me, and that was all they thought about.
What came afterwards wasn't their look-out. I've no call to have any
bad feeling against the police, and I don't think most men of my sort have.
They've got their work to do, like other people, and as long as they do
what they're paid for, and don't go out of their way to harass men for spite,
we don't bear them any malice. If one's hit in fair fight
it's the fortune of war. What our side don't like is men going in
for police duty that's not in their line. That's interfering,
according to our notions, and if they fall into a trap or are met with
when they don't expect it they get it pretty hot. They've only themselves
to thank for it.
Goring, I could see by his ways, had been a swell, something like Starlight.
A good many young fellows that don't drop into fortunes
when they come out here take to the police in Australia, and very good men
they make. They like the half-soldiering kind of life, and if they stick
steady at their work, and show pluck and gumption, they mostly get promoted.
Goring was a real smart, dashing chap, a good rider for an Englishman;
that is, he could set most horses, and hold his own with us natives
anywhere but through scrub and mountain country. No man can ride there,
I don't care who he is, the same as we can, unless he's been at it
all his life. There we have the pull -- not that it is so much after all.
But give a native a good horse and thick country, and he'll lose
any man living that's tackled the work after he's grown up.
By and by we got to Nomah, a regular hot hole of a place, with a log lock-up.
I was stuck in, of course, and had leg-irons put on for fear I should get out,
as another fellow had done a few weeks back. Starlight and Warrigal
hadn't reached yet; they had farther to come. The trial couldn't come
till the Quarter Sessions. January, and February too, passed over,
and all this time I was mewed up in a bit of a place enough to stifle a man
in the burning weather we had.
I heard afterwards that they wanted to bring some of the cattle over,
so as Mr. Hood could swear to 'em being his property. But he said
he could only swear to its being his brand; that he most likely had
never set eyes on them in his life, and couldn't swear on his own knowledge
that they hadn't been sold, like lots of others, by his manager.
So this looked like a hitch, as juries won't bring a man in
guilty of cattle-stealing unless there's clear swearing
that the animals he sold were the property of the prosecutor,
and known by him to be such.
Mr. Hood had to go all the way to Adelaide himself, and they told me
we might likely have got out of it all, only for the imported bull.
When he saw him he said he could swear to him point blank, brand or no brand.
He'd no brand on him, of course, when he left England;
but Hood happened to be in Sydney when he came out, and at the station
when he came up. He was stabled for the first six months,
so he used to go and look him over every day, and tell visitors
what a pot of money he'd cost, till he knew every hair in his tail,
as the saying is. As soon as he seen him in Adelaide he said
he could swear to him as positive as he could to his favourite riding horse.
So he was brought over in a steamer from Adelaide, and then drove all the way
up to Nomah. I wished he'd broken his neck before we ever saw him.
Next thing I saw was Starlight being brought in, handcuffed,
between two troopers, and looking as if he'd ridden a long way.
He was just as easy-going and devil-may-care as ever.
He said to one of the troopers --
`Here we are at last, and I'm deuced glad of it. It's perfectly monstrous
you fellows haven't better horses. You ought to make me remount agent,
and I'd show you the sort of horses that ought to be bought
for police service. Let me have a glass of beer, that's a good fellow,
before I'm locked up. I suppose there's no tap worth speaking of inside.'
The constable laughed, and had one brought to him.
`It will be some time before you get another, captain.
Here's a long one for you; make the most of it.'
Where, in the devil's name, is that Warrigal? I thought to myself.
Has he given them the slip? He had, as it turned out.
He had slipped the handcuffs over his slight wrists and small hands,
bided his time, and then dashed into a scrub. There he was at home.
They rode and rode, but Warrigal was gone like a rock wallaby.
It was a good while before he was as near the gaol again.
All this time I'd been wondering how it was they came to drop
on our names so pat, and to find out that Jim and I had a share
in the Momberah cattle racket. All they could have known
was that we left the back of Boree at a certain day; and that was nothing,
seeing that for all they knew we might have gone away
to new country or anywhere. The more I looked at it the more I felt sure
that some one had given to the police information about us --
somebody who was in it and knew all about everything. It wasn't Starlight.
We could have depended our life on him. It might have been
one of the other chaps, but I couldn't think of any one, except Warrigal.
He would do anything in the world to spite me and Jim, I knew;
but then he couldn't hurt us without drawing the net tighter round Starlight.
Sooner than hurt a hair of his head he'd have put his hand into the fire
and kept it there. I knew that from things I'd seen him do.
Starlight and I hadn't much chance of a talk, but we managed to get news
from each other, a bit at a time; that can always be managed.
We were to be defended, and a lawyer fetched all the way from Sydney
to fight our case for us. The money was there. Father managed
the other part of it through people he had that did every kind of work
for him; so when the judge came up we should have a show for it.
The weary long summer days -- every one of them about twenty hours long --
came to an end somehow or other. It was so hot and close
and I was that miserable I had two minds to knock my brains out
and finish the whole thing. I couldn't settle to read, as I did afterwards.
I was always wishing and wondering when I'd hear some news from home,
and none ever came. Nomah was a bit of a place where hardly anybody
did anything but idle and drink, and spend money when they had it.
When they had none they went away. There wasn't even a place
to take exercise in, and the leg-irons I wore night and day
began to eat into my flesh. I wasn't used to them in those days.
I could feel them in my heart, too. Last of all I got ill,
and for a while was so weak and low they thought I was going
to get out of the trial altogether.
At last we heard that the judge and all his lot were on the road,
and would be up in a few days. We were almost as glad when the news came
as if we were sure of being let off. One day they did come,
and all the little town was turned upside down. The judge stopped
at one hotel (they told us); the lawyers at another. Then the witnesses
in ours and other cases came in from all parts, and made a great difference,
especially to the publicans. The jurors were summoned, and had to come,
unless they had a fancy for being fined. Most of this I heard
from the constables; they seemed to think it was the only thing
that made any difference in their lives. Last of all I heard
that Mr. Hood had come, and the imported bull, and some other witnesses.
There were some small cases first, and then we were brought out,
Starlight and I, and put in the dock. The court was crammed and crowded;
every soul within a hundred miles seemed to have come in;
there never were so many people in the little courthouse before.
Starlight was quietly dressed, and looked as if he was there by mistake.
Anybody would have thought so, the way he lounged and stared about,
as if he thought there was something very curious and hard to understand
about the whole thing. I was so weak and ill that I couldn't stand up,
and after a while the judge told me to sit down, and Starlight too.
Starlight made a most polite bow, and thanked his Honour, as he called him.
Then the jury were called up, and our lawyer began his work.
He stood alongside of Starlight, and whispered something to him, after which
Starlight stood up, and about every second man called out `Challenge';
then that juror had to go down. It took a good while to get our jury
all together. Our lawyer seemed very particular about the sort of jury
he was satisfied with; and when they did manage to get twelve at last
they were not the best-looking men in the court by a very long way.
The trial had to go on, and then the Crown Prosecutor made a speech,
in which he talked about the dishonesty which was creeping unchecked
over the land, and the atrocious villainy of criminals
who took a thousand head of cattle in one lot, and made out
the country was sure to go to destruction if we were not convicted.
He said that unfortunately they were not in a position
to bring many of the cattle back that had been taken to another colony;
but one remarkable animal was as good for purposes of evidence as a hundred.
Such an animal he would produce, and he would not trespass
on the patience of jurors and gentlemen in attendance any longer,
but call his first witness.
John Dawson, sworn: Was head stockman and cattle manager at Momberah;
knew the back country, and in a general way the cattle running there;
was not out much in the winter; the ground was boggy, and the cattle
were hardly ever mustered till spring; when he did go, with some
other stock-riders, he saw at once that a large number of the Momberah cattle,
branded HOD and other brands, were missing; went to Adelaide
a few months after; saw a large number of cattle of the HOD brand,
which he was told had been sold by the prisoner now before the court,
and known as Starlight, and others, to certain farmers;
he could swear that the cattle he saw bore Mr. Hood's brand;
could not swear that he recognised them as having been at Momberah
in his charge; believed so, but could not swear it; he had seen
a short-horn bull outside of the court this morning; he last saw the said bull
at the station of Messrs. Fordham Brothers, near Adelaide;
they made a communication to him concerning the bull; he would and could swear
to the identity of the animal with the Fifteenth Duke of Cambridge,
an imported short-horn bull, the property of Mr. Hood;
had seen him before that at Momberah; knew that Mr. Hood
had bought said bull in Sydney, and was at Momberah when he was sent up;
could not possibly be mistaken; when he saw the bull at Momberah,
nine months since, he had a small brand like H on the shoulder;
Mr. Hood put it on in witness's presence; it was a horse-brand,
now it resembled J-E; the brand had been `faked' or cleverly altered;
witness could see the original brand quite plain underneath;
as far as he knew Mr. Hood never sold or gave any one authority
to take the animal; he had missed him some months since,
and always believed he had strayed; knew the bull to be a valuable animal,
worth several hundred pounds.
We had one bit of luck in having to be tried in an out-of-the-way place
like Nomah. It was a regular outside bush township, and though the distance
oughtn't to have much to say to people's honesty, you'll mostly find
that these far-out back-of-beyond places have got men and women to match 'em.
Except the squatters and overseers, the other people's mostly a shady lot.
Some's run away from places that were too hot to hold 'em.
The women ain't the men's wives that they live with, but somebody else's --
who's well rid of 'em too if all was known. There's most likely
a bit of horse and cattle stealing done on the quiet,
and the publicans and storekeepers know who are their best customers,
the square people or the cross ones. It ain't so easy
to get a regular up-and-down straight-ahead jury in a place of this sort.
So Starlight and I knew that our chance was a lot better
than if we'd been tried at Bargo or Dutton Forest, or any steady-going places
of that sort.
If we'd made up our minds from the first that we were to get into it
it wouldn't have been so bad; we'd have known we had to bear it.
Now we might get out of it, and what a thing it would be to feel free again,
and walk about in the sun without any one having the right to stop you.
Almost, that is -- there were other things against us;
but there wasn't so much of a chance of their turning up.
This was the great stake. If we won we were as good as made.
I felt ready to swear I'd go home and never touch a shilling
that didn't come honest again. If we lost it seemed as if everything
was so much the worse, and blacker than it looked at first,
just for this bit of hope and comfort.
After the bull had been sworn to by Mr. Hood and another witness,
they brought up some more evidence, as they called it, about the other cattle