Part 6 out of 11
two or three pounds' weight of gold out of a tub of dirt.
One night Jim and I were strolling about with some of our Yankee friends,
when some one said there'd been a new hotel opened by some Melbourne people
which was very swell, and we might take a look at it. We didn't say no,
so we all went into the parlour and called for drinks. The landlady herself
came in, dressed up to the nines, and made herself agreeable,
as she might well do. We were all pretty well in, but one of the Americans
owned the Golden Gate claim, and was supposed to be the richest man
on the field. He'd known her before.
`Waal, Mrs. Mullockson,' says he, `so you've pulled up stakes
from Bendigo City and concluded to locate here. How do you approbate Turon?'
She said something or other, we hardly knew what. Jim and I couldn't help
giving one look. Her eyes turned on us. We could see she knew us,
though she hadn't done so at first. We took no notice; no more did she,
but she followed us to the door, and touched me on the shoulder.
`You're not going to desert old friends, Dick?' she said in a low voice.
`I wrote you a cross letter, but we must forgive and forget, you know.
You and Jim come up to-morrow night, won't you?'
`All right, Kate,' I said, and we followed our party.
This meeting with Kate Morrison put the stuns upon me and Jim,
and no mistake. We never expected to see her up at the Turon,
and it all depended which way the fit took her now whether it would be
a fit place for us to live in any longer. Up to this time we had done
capital well. We had been planted as close as if we had been at the Hollow.
We'd had lots of work, and company, and luck. It began to look as if our luck
would be dead out. Anyhow, we were at the mercy of a tiger-cat of a woman
who might let loose her temper at any time and lay the police on to us,
without thinking twice about it. We didn't think she knew
Starlight was there, but she was knowing enough for anything.
She could put two and two together, and wait and watch, too.
It gave me a fit of the shivers every time I thought of it.
This was the last place I ever expected to see her at.
However, you never can tell what'll turn up in this world.
She might have got over her tantrums.
Of course we went over to the Prospectors' Arms that night, as the new hotel
was called, and found quite a warm welcome. Mrs. Mullockson had turned into
quite a fashionable lady since the Melbourne days; dressed very grand,
and talked and chaffed with the commissioner, the police inspectors,
and goldfield officers from the camp as if she'd been brought up to it.
People lived fast in those goldfields days; it don't take long to pick up
that sort of learning.
The Prospectors' Arms became quite the go, and all the swell
miners and quartz reefers began to meet there as a matter of course.
There was Dandy Green, the Lincolnshire man from Beevor,
that used to wear no end of boots and spend pounds and pounds in blacking.
He used to turn out with everything clean on every morning,
fit to go to a ball, as he walked on to the brace. There was Ballersdorf,
the old Prussian soldier, that had fought against Boney,
and owned half-a-dozen crushing machines and a sixth share
in the Great Wattle Flat Company; Dan Robinson, the man that picked up
the 70 pound nugget; Sam Dawson, of White Hills, and Peter Paul, the Canadian,
with a lot of others, all known men, went there regular.
Some of them didn't mind spending fifty or a hundred pounds in a night
if the fit took them. The house began to do a tremendous trade,
and no mistake.
Old Mullockson was a quiet, red-faced old chap, who seemed to do
all Kate told him, and never bothered himself about the business,
except when he had to buy fresh supplies in the wine and spirit line.
There he was first chop. You couldn't lick him for quality.
And so the place got a name.
But where was Jeanie all this time? That was what Jim put me up to ask
the first night we came. `Oh! Jeanie, poor girl, she was stopping
with her aunt in Melbourne.' But Kate had written to her,
and she was coming up in a few weeks. This put Jim into great heart.
What with the regular work and the doing well in the gold line,
and Jeanie coming up, poor old Jim looked that happy that he was
a different man. No wonder the police didn't know him. He had grown out of
his old looks and ways; and though they rubbed shoulders with us every day,
no one had eyes sharp enough to see that James Henderson and his brother Dick
-- mates with the best men on the field -- were escaped prisoners,
and had a big reward on them besides.
Nobody knew it, and that was pretty nigh as good as if it wasn't true.
So we held on, and made money hand over fist. We used to go up to the hotel
whenever we'd an evening to spare, but that wasn't often. We intended
to keep our money this time, and no publican was to be any the better
for our hard work.
As for Kate, I couldn't make her out. Most times she'd be
that pleasant and jolly no one could help liking her.
She had a way of talking to me and telling me everything that happened,
because I was an old friend she said -- that pretty nigh knocked me over,
I tell you. Other times she was that savage and violent
no one would go near her. She didn't care who it was --
servants or customers, they all gave her a wide berth
when she was in her tantrums. As for old Mullockson, he used to take a drive
to Sawpit Gully or Ten-Mile as soon as ever he saw what o'clock it was --
and glad to clear out, too. She never dropped on to me, somehow.
Perhaps she thought she'd get as good as she gave; I wasn't over good to lead,
and couldn't be drove at the best of times. No! not by no woman
that ever stepped.
One evening Starlight and his two swell friends comes in,
quite accidental like. They sat down at a small table by themselves
and ordered a couple of bottles of foreign wine. There was plenty of that
if you liked to pay a guinea a bottle. I remember when common brandy
was that price at first, and I've seen it fetched out of a doctor's tent
as medicine. It paid him better than his salts and rhubarb.
That was before the hotels opened, and while all the grog was sold on the sly.
They marched in, dressed up as if they'd been in George Street,
though everybody knew one of 'em had been at the windlass all day with
the wages man, and the other two below, working up to their knees in water;
for they'd come on a drift in their claim, and were puddling back. However,
that says nothing; we were all in good clothes and fancy shirts and ties.
Miners don't go about in their working suits. The two Honourables
walked over to the bar first of all, and said a word or two to Kate, who was
all smiles and as pleasant as you please. It was one of her good days.
Starlight put up his eyeglass and stared round as if we were all
a lot of queer animals out of a caravan. Then he sat down and took up
the `Turon Star'. Kate hardly looked at him, she was so taken up
with his two friends, and, woman-like, bent on drawing them on,
knowing them to be big swells in their own country. We never looked his way,
except on the sly, and no one could have thought we'd ever slept
under one tree together, or seen the things we had.
When the waiter was opening their wine one of the camp officers comes in
that they had letters to. So they asked him to join them,
and Starlight sends for another bottle of Moselle -- something like that,
he called it.
`The last time I drank wine as good as this,' says Starlight,
`was at the Caffy Troy, something or other, in Paris. I wouldn't mind
being there again, with the Variety Theatre to follow. Would you, Clifford?'
`Well, I don't know,' says the other swell. `I find this amazing good fun
for a bit. I never was in such grand condition since I left Oxford.
This eight-hours' shift business is just the right thing for training.
I feel fit to go for a man's life. Just feel this, Despard,'
and he holds out his arm to the camp swell. `There's muscle for you!'
`Plenty of muscle,' said Mr. Despard, looking round. He was a swell
that didn't work, and wouldn't work, and thought it fine
to treat the diggers like dogs. Most of the commissioners and magistrates
were gentlemen and acted as such; but there were a few young fools
like this one, and they did the Government a deal of harm with the diggers
more than they knew. `Plenty of muscle,' says he, `but devilish
`I don't agree with you,' says the other Honourable.
`It's the most amusing and in a way instructive place for a man
who wants to know his fellow-creatures I was ever in. I never pass a day
without meeting some fresh variety of the human race, man or woman;
and their experiences are well worth knowing, I can tell you.
Not that they're in a hurry to impart them; for that there's more natural,
unaffected good manners on a digging than in any society I ever mingled in
I shall never doubt. But when they see you don't want to patronise,
and are content to be a simple man among men, there's nothing they won't
do for you or tell you.'
`Oh, d--n one's fellow-creatures; present company excepted,' says Mr. Despard,
filling his glass, `and the man that grew this "tipple". They're useful to me
now and then and one has to put up with this crowd; but I never could take
much interest in them.'
`All the worse for you, Despard,' says Clifford. `You're wasting
your chances -- golden opportunities in every sense of the word.
You'll never see such a spectacle as this, perhaps, again as long as you live.
It's a fancy dress ball with real characters.'
`Dashed bad characters, if we only knew,' says Despard, yawning.
`What do you say, Haughton?' looking at Starlight, who was
playing with his glass and not listening much by the look of him.
`I say, let's go into the little parlour and have a game of picquet,
unless you'll take some more wine. No? Then we'll move. Bad characters,
you were saying? Well, you camp fellows ought to be able to give an opinion.'
They sauntered through the big room, which was just then crowded
with a curious company, as Clifford said. I suppose there was
every kind of man and miner under the sun. Not many women,
but what there was not a little out of the way in looks and manners.
We kept on working away all the time. It helped to stop us from thinking,
and every week we had a bigger deposit-receipt in the bank
where we used to sell our gold. People may say what they like,
but there's nothing like a nest egg; seeing it grow bigger
keeps many a fellow straight, and he gets to like adding to it,
and feels the pull of being careful with his money, which a poor man that
never has anything worth saving doesn't. Poor men are the most extravagant,
I've always found. They spend all they have, which middling kind of people
just above them don't. They screw and pinch to bring up their children,
and what not; and dress shabby and go without a lot which the working man
never thinks of stinting himself in. But there's the parson here
to do that kind of thing. I'm not the proper sort of cove to preach.
I'd better leave it to him. So we didn't spend our money foolish,
like most part of the diggers that had a bit of luck; but we had to do
a fair thing. We got through a lot of money every week, I expect.
Talking of foolish things, I saw one man that had his horse shod with gold,
regular pure gold shoes. The blacksmith made 'em -- good solid ones,
and all regular. He rode into the main street one holiday,
and no end of people stopped him and lifted up his horse's feet to see.
They weighed 7 oz. 4 dwt. each. Rainbow ought to have been shod that way.
If ever a horse deserved it he did. But Starlight didn't go in for
that kind of thing. Now and then some of the old colonial hands,
when they were regularly `on the burst', would empty a dozen of champagne
into a bucket or light their pipes with a ten-pound note. But these
were not everyday larks, and were laughed at by the diggers themselves
as much as anybody.
But of course some allowance had to be made for men not making
much above wages when they came suddenly on a biggish stone,
and sticking the pick into it found it to be a gigantic nugget
worth a small fortune. Most men would go a bit mad over a stroke of luck
like that, and they did happen now and then. There was the Boennair nugget,
dug at Louisa Creek by an Irishman, that weighed 364 oz. 11 dwt.
It was sold in Sydney for 1156 Pounds. There was the King of Meroo nugget,
weighing 157 oz.; and another one that only scaled 71 oz. seemed
hardly worth picking up after the others, only 250 Pounds worth or so.
But there was a bigger one yet on the grass if we'd only known,
and many a digger, and shepherd too, had sat down on it and lit his pipe,
thinking it no better than other lumps of blind white quartz that lay piled up
all along the crown of the ride.
Mostly after we'd done our day's work and turned out clean and comfortable
after supper, smoking our pipes, we walked up the street for an hour or two.
Jim and I used to laugh a bit in a queer way over the change it was
from our old bush life at Rocky Flat when we were boys,
before we had any thoughts beyond doing our regular day's work
and milking the cows and chopping wood enough to last mother all day.
The little creek, that sounded so clear in the still night when we woke up,
rippling and gurgling over the stones, the silent, dark forest all round
on every side; and on moonlight nights the moon shining over Nulla Mountain,
dark and overhanging all the valley, as if it had been sailing
in the clear sky over it ever since the beginning of the world.
We didn't smoke then, and we used to sit in the verandah,
and Aileen would talk to us till it was time to go to bed.
Even when we went into Bargo, or some of the other country towns, they did
not seem so much brighter. Sleepy-looking, steady-going places they all were,
with people crawling about them like a lot of old working bullocks.
Just about as sensible, many of 'em. What a change all this was!
Main Street at the Turon! Just as bright as day at twelve o'clock at night.
Crowds walking up and down, bars lighted up, theatres going on,
dance-houses in full swing, billiard-tables where you could hear the balls
clicking away till daylight; miners walking down to their night shifts,
others turning out after sleeping all the afternoon quite fresh and lively;
half-a-dozen troopers clanking down the street, back from escort duty.
Everybody just as fresh at midnight as at breakfast time -- more so, perhaps.
It was a new world.
One thing's certain; Jim and I would never have had the chance of seeing
as many different kinds of people in a hundred years if it hadn't been
for the gold. No wonder some of the young fellows kicked over the traces
for a change -- a change from sheep, cattle, and horses,
ploughing and reaping, shearing and bullock-driving; the same old thing
every day; the same chaps to talk to about the same things.
It does seem a dead-and-live kind of life after all we've seen and done since.
However, we'd a deal better have kept to the bulldog's motter, `Hang on',
and stick to it, even if it was a shade slow and stupid.
We'd have come out right in the end, as all coves do that hold fast
to the right thing and stick to the straight course, fair weather or foul.
I can see that now, and many things else.
But to see the big room at the Prospectors' Arms at night -- the hall,
they called it -- was a sight worth talking about -- as Jim and I
walked up and down, or sat at one of the small tables smoking our pipes,
with good liquor before us. It was like a fairy-tale come true
to chaps like us, though we had seen a little life in Sydney and Melbourne.
What made it so different from any other place we'd ever seen
or thought of before was the strange mixture of every kind and sort
of man and woman; to hear them all jabbering away together in
different languages, or trying to speak English, used to knock us altogether.
The American diggers that we took up with had met a lot of foreigners
in California and other places. They could speak a little Spanish and French,
and got on with them. But Jim and I could only stare and stand open-mouthed
when a Spanish-American chap would come up with his red sash
and his big sheath-knife, while they'd yabber away quite comfortable.
It made us feel like children, and we began to think what a fine thing
it would be to clear out by Honolulu, and so on to San Francisco,
as Starlight was always talking about. It would make men of us, at any rate,
and give us something to think about in the days to come.
If we could clear out what a heaven it would be! I could send over
for Gracey to come to me. I knew she'd do that, if I was only once
across the sea, ready and willing to lead a new life, and with something
honest-earned and hard-worked-for to buy a farm with. Nobody need know.
Nobody would even inquire in the far West where we'd come from
or what we'd done. We should live close handy to one another
-- Jim and Jeanie, Gracey and I -- and when dad went under,
mother and Aileen could come out to us; and there would still be
a little happiness left us, for all that was come and gone.
Ah! if things would only work out that way.
Well, more unlikely things happen every day. And still the big room
gets fuller. There's a band strikes up in the next room
and the dancing begins. This is a ball night. Kate has started that game.
She's a great hand at dancing herself, and she manages to get a few girls
to come up; wherever they come from nobody knows, for there's none to be seen
in the daytime. But they turn out wonderfully well-dressed, and some of them
mighty good-looking; and the young swells from the camp come down,
and the diggers that have been lucky and begin to fancy themselves.
And there's no end of fun and flirting and nonsense,
such as there always is when men and women get together in a place
where they're not obliged to be over-particular. Not that there was any
rowdiness or bad behaviour allowed. A goldfield is the wrong shop for that.
Any one that didn't behave himself would have pretty soon found himself
on his head in the street, and lucky if he came out of it with whole bones.
I once tried to count the different breeds and languages of the men
in the big room one night. I stopped at thirty. There were Germans, Swedes,
Danes, Norwegians, Russians, Italians, Greeks, Jews, Spaniards, Frenchmen,
Maltese, Mexicans, Negroes, Indians, Chinamen, New Zealanders, English, Irish,
Scotch, Welsh, Australians, Americans, Canadians, Creoles, gentle and simple,
farmers and labourers, squatters and shepherds, lawyers and doctors.
They were all alike for a bit, all pretty rich; none poor, or likely to be;
all workers and comrades; nobody wearing much better clothes
or trying to make out he was higher than anybody else. Everybody was free
with his money. If a fellow was sick or out of luck, or his family
was down with fever, the notes came freely -- as many as were wanted,
and more when that was done. There was no room for small faults and vices;
everything and everybody was worked on a high scale.
It was a grand time -- better than ever was in our country before or since.
Jim and I always said we felt better men while the flash time lasted,
and hadn't a thought of harm or evil about us. We worked hard enough, too,
as I said before; but we had good call to do so. Every week when we washed up
we found ourselves a lot forrarder, and could see that if it held on like this
for a few months more we should have made our `pile', as the diggers
called it, and be able to get clear off without much bother.
Because it wasn't now as it was in the old times, when Government could afford
to keep watch upon every vessel, big and little, that left the harbour.
Now there was no end of trouble in getting sailors to man the ships,
and we could have worked our passage easy enough; they'd have
taken us and welcome, though we'd never handled a rope in our lives before.
Besides that, there were hundreds of strangers starting for Europe and America
by every vessel that left. Men who had come out to the colony
expecting to pick up gold in the streets, and had gone home disgusted;
lucky men, too, like ourselves, who had sworn to start for home
the very moment they had made a fair thing. How were any police in the world
to keep the run of a few men that had been in trouble before
among such a mixed-up mob?
Now and then we managed to get a talk with Starlight on the sly.
He used to meet us at a safe place by night, and talk it all over.
He and his mates were doing well, and expected to be ready for a start
in a few months, when we might meet in Melbourne and clear out together.
He believed it would be easy, and said that our greatest danger
of being recognised was now over -- that we had altered so much
by living and working among the diggers that we could pass
for diggers anywhere.
`Why, we were all dining at the Commissioner's yesterday,' he said,
`when who should walk in but our old friend Goring. He's been made
inspector now; and, of course, he's a great swell and a general favourite.
The Commissioner knew his family at home, and makes no end of fuss about him.
He left for the Southern district, I am glad to say. I felt queer,
I must say; but, of course, I didn't show it. We were formally introduced.
He caught me with that sudden glance of his -- devilish sharp eyes, he has --
and looks me full in the face.
`"I don't remember your name, Mr. Haughton," said he; "but your face
seems familiar to me somehow. I can't think where I've met you before."
`"Must have been at the Melbourne Club," says I, pulling my moustache.
"Met a heap of Sydney people there."
`"Perhaps so," says he. "I used to go and lunch there a good deal.
I had a month's leave last month, just after I got my step.
Curious it seems, too," says he; "I can't get over it."
`"Fill your glass and pass the claret," says the Commissioner.
"Faces are very puzzling things met in a different state of existence.
I don't suppose Haughton's wanted, eh, Goring?"
`This was held to be a capital joke, and I laughed too in a way
that would have made my fortune on the stage. Goring laughed too,
and seemed to fear he'd wounded my feelings, for he was most polite
all the rest of the evening.'
`Well, if HE didn't smoke you,' says Jim, `we're right till
the Day of Judgment. There's no one else here that's half a ghost of a chance
to swear to us.'
`Except,' says I ----
`Oh! Kate?' says Jim; `never mind her. Jeanie's coming up
to be married to me next month, and Kate's getting so fond of you again
that there's no fear of her letting the cat out.'
`That's the very reason. I never cared two straws about her,
and now I hate the sight of her. She's a revengeful devil,
and if she takes it into her head she'll turn on us some fine day
as sure as we're alive.'
`Don't you believe it,' says Jim; `women are not so bad as all that.'
(`Are they not?' says Starlight.) `I'll go bail we'll be snug and safe here
till Christmas, and then we'll give out, say we're going to Melbourne
for a spree, and clear straight out.'
As everything looked so fair-weather-like, Jim and Jeanie made it up
to be married as soon after she came up as he could get a house ready.
She came up to Sydney, first by sea and after that to the diggings
by the coach. She was always a quiet, hard-working, good little soul,
awful timid, and prudent in everything but in taking a fancy to Jim.
But that's neither here nor there. Women will take fancies
as long as the world lasts, and if they happen to fancy the wrong people
the more obstinate they hold on to 'em. Jeanie was one of the prettiest girls
I ever set eyes on in her way, very fair and clear coloured,
with big, soft blue eyes, and hair like a cloud of spun silk.
Nothing like her was ever seen on the field when she came up,
so all the diggers said.
When they began to write to one another after we came to the Turon,
Jim told her straight out that though we were doing well now
it mightn't last. He thought she was a great fool to leave Melbourne
when she was safe and comfortable, and come to a wild place,
in a way like the Turon. Of course he was ready and willing to marry her;
but, speaking all for her own good, he advised her not.
She'd better give him up and set her mind on somebody else.
Girls that was anyway good-looking and kept themselves proper and decent
were very scarce in Melbourne and Sydney now, considering the number of men
that were making fortunes and were anxious to get a wife and settle down.
A girl like her could marry anybody -- most likely some one
above her own rank in life. Of course she wouldn't have no one but Jim,
and if he was ready to marry her, and could get a little cottage,
she was ready too. She would always be his own Jeanie,
and was willing to run any kind of risk so as to be with him and near him,
and so on.
Starlight and I both tried to keep Jim from it all we knew.
It would make things twice as bad for him if he had to turn out again,
and there was no knowing the moment when we might have to make a bolt for it;
and where could Jeanie go then?
But Jim had got one of his obstinate fits. He said we were regularly mixed up
with the diggers now. He never intended to follow any other life,
and wouldn't go back to the Hollow or take part in any fresh cross work,
no matter how good it might be. Poor old Jim! I really believe
he'd made up his mind to go straight from the very hour
he was buckled to Jeanie; and if he'd only had common luck
he'd have been as square and right as George Storefield to this very hour.
I was near forgetting about old George. My word! he was getting on
faster than we were, though he hadn't a golden hole. He was gold-finding
in a different way, and no mistake. One day we saw a stoutish man
drive up Main Street to the camp, with a well-groomed horse, in a dogcart,
and a servant with him; and who was this but old George? He didn't twig us.
He drove close alongside of Jim, who was coming back from the creek,
where he'd been puddling, with two shovels and a pick over his shoulder,
and a pair of old yellow trousers on, and him splashed up to the eyes.
George didn't know him a bit. But we knew him and laughed to ourselves
to see the big swell he had grown into. He stopped at the camp
and left his dogcart outside with his man. Next thing we saw
was the Commissioner walking about outside the camp with him,
and talking to him just as if he was a regular intimate friend.
The Commissioner, that was so proud that he wouldn't look at a digger
or shake hands with him, not if he was a young marquis,
as long as he was a digger. `No!' he used to say, `I have to keep
my authority over these thousands and tens of thousands of people,
some of them very wild and lawless, principally by moral influence,
though, of course, I have the Government to fall back upon.
To do that I must keep up my position, and over-familiarity would be
the destruction of it.' When we saw him shaking hands with old George
and inviting him to lunch we asked one of the miners next to our claim
if he knew what that man's name and occupation was there.
`Oh!' he says, `I thought everybody knew him. That's Storefield,
the great contractor. He has all the contracts for horse-feed
for the camps and police stations; nearly every one between here and Kiandra.
He's took 'em lucky this year, and he's making money hand over fist.'
Well done, steady old George! No wonder he could afford to drive
a good horse and a swell dogcart. He was getting up in the world.
We were a bit more astonished when we heard the Commissioner say --
`I am just about to open court, Mr. Storefield. Would you mind taking
a few cases with me this morning?'
We went into the courthouse just for a lark. There was old George
sitting on the bench as grave as a judge, and a rattling good magistrate
he made too. He disagreed from the Commissioner once or twice, and showed him
where he was right, too, not in the law but in the facts of the case,
where George's knowing working men and their ways gave him the pull.
He wasn't over sharp and hard either, like some men directly
they're raised up a bit, just to show their power. But just seemed
to do a fair thing, neither too much one way or the other.
George stayed and had lunch at the camp with the Commissioner
when the court was adjourned, and he drove away afterwards
with his upstanding eighty-guinea horse -- horses was horses in those days --
just as good a gentleman to look at as anybody. Of course we knew
there was a difference, and he'd never get over a few things he'd missed
when he was young, in the way of education. But he was liked and respected
for all that, and made welcome everywhere. He was a man
as didn't push himself one bit. There didn't seem anything
but his money and his good-natured honest face, and now and then
a bit of a clumsy joke, to make him a place. But when the swells
make up their minds to take a man in among themselves
they're not half as particular as commoner people; they do a thing well
when they're about it.
So George was hail-fellow-well-met with all the swells at the camp,
and the bankers and big storekeepers, and the doctors and lawyers
and clergymen, all the nobs there were at the Turon;
and when the Governor himself and his lady came up on a visit
to see what the place was like, why George was taken up and introduced
as if he'd been a regular blessed curiosity in the way of contractors,
and his Excellency hadn't set eyes on one before.
`My word! Dick,' Jim says, `it's a murder he and Aileen
didn't cotton to one another in the old days. She'd have been
just the girl to have fancied all this sort of swell racket,
with a silk gown and dressed up a bit. There isn't a woman here
that's a patch on her for looks, is there now, except Jeanie,
and she's different in her ways.'
I didn't believe there was. I began to think it over in my own mind,
and wonder how it came about that she'd missed all her chances
of rising in life, and if ever a woman was born for it she was.
I couldn't help seeing whose fault it was that she'd been kept back
and was now obliged to work hard, and almost ashamed to show herself
at Bargo and the other small towns; not that the people were ever shy
of speaking to her, but she thought they might be, and wouldn't give them
a chance. In about a month up comes Jeanie Morrison from Melbourne,
looking just the same as the very first evening we met Kate and her
on the St. Kilda beach. Just as quiet and shy and modest-looking --
only a bit sadder, and not quite so ready to smile as she'd been
in the old days. She looked as if she'd had a grief to hide and fight down
since then. A girl's first sorrow when something happened to her love!
They never look quite the same afterwards. I've seen a good many,
and if it was real right down love, they were never the same
in looks or feelings afterwards. They might `get over it', as people call it;
but that's a sort of healing over a wound. It don't always cure it,
and the wound often breaks out again and bleeds afresh.
Jeanie didn't look so bad, and she was that glad to see Jim again
and to find him respected as a hard-working well-to-do miner that she forgot
most of her disappointments and forgave him his share of any deceit
that had been practised upon her and her sister. Women are like that.
They'll always make excuses for men they're fond of and blame anybody else
that can be blamed or that's within reach. She thought Starlight and me
had the most to do with it -- perhaps we had; but Jim could have
cut loose from us any time before the Momberah cattle racket much easier
than he could now. I heard her say once that she thought other people were
much more to blame than poor James -- people who ought to have known better,
and so on. By the time she had got to the end of her little explanation
Jim was completely whitewashed of course. It had always happened to him,
and I suppose always would. He was a man born to be helped and looked out for
by every one he came near.
Seeing how good-looking Jeanie was thought, and how all the swells
kept crowding round to get a look at her, if she was near the bar,
Kate wanted to have a ball and show her off a bit. But she wouldn't have it.
She right down refused and close upon quarrelled with Kate about it.
She didn't take to the glare and noise and excitement of Turon at all.
She was frightened at the strange-looking men that filled the streets by day
and the hall at the Prospectors' by night. The women she couldn't abide.
Anyhow she wouldn't have nothing to say to them. All she wanted
-- and she kept at Jim day after day till she made him carry it out --
was for him to build or buy a cottage, she didn't care how small,
where they could go and live quietly together. She would cook his meals
and mend his clothes, and they would come into town on Saturday nights only
and be as happy as kings and queens. She didn't come up to dance or flirt,
she said, in a place like Turon, and if Jim didn't get a home for her
she'd go back to her dressmaking at St. Kilda. This woke up Jim,
so he bought out a miner who lived a bit out of the town. He had made money
and wanted to sell his improvements and clear out for Sydney.
It was a small four-roomed weatherboard cottage, with a bark roof,
but very neatly put on. There was a little creek in front,
and a small flower garden, with rose trees growing up the verandah posts.
Most miners, when they're doing well, make a garden. They take a pride
in having a neat cottage and everything about it shipshape.
The ground, of course, didn't belong to him, but he held it
by his miner's right. The title was good enough, and he had a right
to sell his goodwill and improvements.
Jim gave him his price and took everything, even to the bits of furniture.
They weren't much, but a place looks awful bare without them.
The dog, and the cock and hens he bought too. He got some real nice things
in Turon -- tables, chairs, sofas, beds, and so on; and had the place
lined and papered inside, quite swell. Then he told Jeanie
the house was ready, and the next week they were married. They were married
in the church -- that is, the iron building that did duty for one.
It had all been carted up from Melbourne -- framework, roof, seats, and all --
and put together at Turon. It didn't look so bad after it was painted,
though it was awful hot in summer.
Here they were married, all square and regular, by the Scotch clergyman.
He was the first minister of any kind that came up to the diggings,
and the men had all come to like him for his straightforward, earnest way
of preaching. Not that we went often, but a good few of us diggers
went every now and then just to show our respect for him;
and so Jim said he'd be married by Mr. Mackenzie and no one else.
Jeanie was a Presbyterian, so it suited her all to pieces.
Well, the church was chock-full. There never was such a congregation before.
Lots of people had come to know Jim on the diggings,
and more had heard of him as a straightgoing, good-looking digger,
who was free with his money and pretty lucky. As for Jeanie,
there was a report that she was the prettiest girl in Melbourne,
and something of that sort, and so they all tried to get a look at her.
Certainly, though there had been a good many marriages since we had come
to the Turon, the church had never held a handsomer couple.
Jeanie was quietly dressed in plain white silk. She had on a veil;
no ornaments of any kind or sorts. It was a warmish day, and there was
a sort of peach-blossom colour on her cheeks that looked as delicate
as if a breath of air would blow it away. When she came in and saw
the crowd of bronze bearded faces and hundreds of strange eyes bent on her,
she turned quite pale. Then the flush came back on her face,
and her eyes looked as bright as some of the sapphires we used to pick up
now and then out of the river bed. Her hair was twisted up in a knot behind;
but even that didn't hide the lovely colour nor what a lot there was of it.
As she came in with her slight figure and modest sweet face
that turned up to Jim's like a child's, there was a sort of hum in the church
that sounded very like breaking into a cheer.
Jim certainly was a big upstanding chap, strong built but active with it,
and as fine a figure of a man as you'd see on the Turon or any other place.
He stood about six feet and an inch, and was as straight as a rush. There was
no stiffness about him either. He was broad-shouldered and light flanked,
quick on his pins, and as good a man -- all round -- with his hands
as you could pick out of the regular prize ring. He was as strong
as a bullock, and just as good at the end of a day as at the start.
With the work we'd had for the last five or six months
we were all in top condition, as hard as a board and fit to work at any pace
for twenty-four hours on end. He had an open, merry, laughing face, had Jim,
with straight features and darkish hair and eyes. Nobody could ever
keep angry with Jim. He was one of those kind of men that could fight
to some purpose now and then, but that most people found it very hard
to keep bad friends with.
Besides the miners, there were lots of other people in church who had heard
of the wedding and come to see us. I saw Starlight and the two Honourables,
dressed up as usual, besides the Commissioner and the camp officers;
and more than that, the new Inspector of Police, who'd only arrived
the day before. Sir Ferdinand Morringer, even he was there,
dividing the people's attention with the bride. Besides that,
who should I see but Bella and Maddie Barnes and old Jonathan.
They'd ridden into the Turon, for they'd got their riding habits on,
and Bella had the watch and chain Starlight had given her.
I saw her look over to where he and the other two were,
but she didn't know him again a bit in the world. He was sitting there
looking as if he was bored and tired with the whole thing --
hadn't seen a soul in the church before, and didn't want to see 'em again.
I saw Maddie Barnes looking with all her eyes at Jim, while her face
grew paler. She hadn't much colour at the best of times,
but she was a fine-grown, lissom, good-looking girl for all that,
and as full of fun and games as she could stick. Her eyes seemed to get
bigger and darker as she looked, and when the parson began to read the service
she turned away her head. I always thought she was rather soft on Jim,
and now I saw it plain enough. He was one of those rattling,
jolly kind of fellows that can't help being friendly with every girl he meets,
and very seldom cares much for any one in particular. He had been
backward and forward a good deal with father before we got clear of Berrima,
and that's how poor Maddie had come to take the fancy so strong
and set her heart upon him.
It must be hard lines for a woman to stand by, in a church or anywhere else,
and see the man she loves given away, for good and all, buckled hard and fast
to another woman. Nobody took much notice of poor Maddie,
but I watched her pretty close, and saw the tears come into her eyes,
though she let 'em run down her face before she'd pull out her handkerchief.
Then she put up her veil and held up her head with a bit of a toss,
and I saw her pride had helped her to bear it. I don't suppose anybody else
saw her, and if they did they'd only think she was cryin' for company --
as women often do at weddings and all kinds of things. But I knew better.
She wouldn't peach, poor thing! Still, I saw that more than one or two
knew who we were and all about us that day.
We'd only just heard that the new Inspector of Police had come
on to the field; so of course everybody began to talk about him
and wanted to have a look at him. Next to the Commissioner and the P.M.,
the Inspector of Police is the biggest man in a country town
or on a goldfield. He has a tremendous lot of power,
and, inside of the law, can do pretty much what he pleases.
He can arrest a man on suspicion and keep him in gaol for a month or two.
He can have him remanded from time to time for further evidence,
and make it pretty hot for him generally. He can let him out
when he proves innocent, and nobody can do anything. All he has to say is:
`There was a mistake in the man's identity;' or, `Not sufficient proof.'
Anything of that sort. He can walk up to any man he likes (or dislikes)
and tell him to hold up his hands for the handcuffs, and shoot him
if he resists. He has servants to wait on him, and orderly troopers
to ride behind him; a handsome uniform like a cavalry officer;
and if he's a smart, soldierly, good-looking fellow, as he very often is,
he's run after a good deal and can hold his head as high as he pleases.
There's a bit of risk sometimes in apprehending desperate -- ahem! --
bad characters, and with bush-rangers and people of that sort,
but nothing more than any young fellow of spirit would like mixed up
with his work. Very often they're men of good family in the old country
that have found nothing to do in this, and have taken to the police.
When it was known that this Ferdinand Morringer was a real baronet
and had been an officer in the Guards, you may guess
how the flood of goldfields' talk rose and flowed and foamed all round him.
It was Sir Ferdinand this and Sir Ferdinand that wherever you went.
He was going to lodge at the Royal. No, of course he was going to stay
at the camp! He was married and had three children. Not a bit of it;
he was a bachelor, and he was going to be married to Miss Ingersoll,
the daughter of the bank manager of the Bank of New Holland.
They'd met abroad. He was a tall, fine-looking man. Not at all,
only middle-sized; hadn't old Major Trenck, the superintendent of police,
when he came to enlist and said he had been in the Guards, growled out,
`Too short for the Guards!'
`But I was not a private,' replied Sir Ferdinand.
`Well, anyhow there's a something about him. Nobody can deny he looks
like a gentleman; my word, he'll put some of these Weddin Mountain chaps
thro' their facin's, you'll see,' says one miner.
`Not he,' says another; `not if he was ten baronites in one; all the same,
he's a manly-looking chap and shows blood.'
This was the sort of talk we used to hear all round us -- from the miners,
from the storekeepers, from the mixed mob at the Prospectors' Arms,
in the big room at night, and generally all about. We said nothing,
and took care to keep quiet, and do and say nothing to be took hold of.
All the same, we were glad to see Sir Ferdinand. We'd heard of him before
from Goring and the other troopers; but he'd been on duty in another district,
and hadn't come in our way.
One evening we were all sitting smoking and yarning in the big room
of the hotel, and Jim, for a wonder -- we'd been washing up -- when we saw
one of the camp gentlemen come in, and a strange officer of police with him.
A sort of whisper ran through the room, and everybody made up their minds
it was Sir Ferdinand. Jim and I both looked at him.
`Wa-al!' said one of our Yankee friends, `what 'yur twistin' your necks at
like a flock of geese in a corn patch? How d'ye fix it that a lord's better'n
any other man?'
`He's a bit different, somehow,' I says. `We're not goin' to kneel down
or knuckle under to him, but he don't look like any one else in this room,
`He's no slouch, and he looks yer square and full in the eye, like a hunter,'
says Arizona Bill; `but durn my old buckskins if I can see why you Britishers
sets up idols and such and worship 'em, in a colony, jest's if yer was in
that benighted old England again.'
We didn't say any more. Jim lit his pipe and smoked away, thinking,
perhaps, more whether Sir Ferdinand was anything of a revolver shot,
and if he was likely to hit him (Jim) at forty or fifty yards,
in case such a chance should turn up, than about the difference of rank
and such things.
While we were talking we saw Starlight and one of the Honourables
come in and sit down close by Sir Ferdinand, who was taking his grog
at a small table, and smoking a big cigar. The Honourable and he
jumps up at once and shook hands in such a hurry so as we knew
they'd met before. Then the Honourable introduces Starlight to Sir Ferdinand.
We felt too queer to laugh, Jim and I, else we should have
dropped off our seats when Starlight bowed as grave as a judge,
and Sir Ferdinand (we could hear) asked him how many months he'd been out
in the colony, and how he liked it?
Starlight said it wasn't at all a bad place when you got used to it,
but he thought he should try and get away before the end of the year.
We couldn't help sniggerin' a bit at this, 'specially when Arizona Bill said,
`Thar's another durned fool of a Britisher; look at his eyeglass!
I wonder the field has not shaken some of that cussed foolishness out of him
by this time.'
Jim and his wife moved over to the cottage in Specimen Gully;
the miners went back to their work, and there was no more talk or bother
about the matter. Something always happened every day at the Turon
which wiped the last thing clean out of people's mind.
Either it was a big nugget, or a new reef, or a tent robbery,
a gold-buyer stuck up and robbed in the Ironbarks, a horse-stealing match,
a fight at a dance-house, or a big law case. Accidents and offences
happened every day, and any of them was enough to take up
the whole attention of every digger on the field till something else
Not that we troubled our heads over much about things of this sort.
We had set our minds to go on until our claims were worked out, or close up;
then to sell out, and with the lot we'd already banked
to get down to Melbourne and clear out. Should we ever be able
to manage that? It seemed getting nearer, nearer, like a star
that a man fixes his eyes on as he rides through a lonely bit of forest
at night. We had all got our eyes fixed on it, Lord knows,
and were working double tides, doing our very best to make up a pile
worth while leaving the country with. As for Jim, he and his little wife
seemed that happy that he grudged every minute he spent away from her.
He worked as well as ever -- better, indeed, for he never took his mind
from his piece of work, whatever it was, for a second. But the very minute
his shift was over Jim was away along the road to Specimen Gully, like a cow
going back to find her calf. He hardly stopped to light his pipe now,
and we'd only seen him once up town, and that was on a Saturday night
with Jeanie on his arm.
Well, the weeks passed over, and at long last we got on as far in the year
as the first week in December. We'd given out that we might go somewhere
to spend our Christmas. We were known to be pretty well in,
and to have worked steady all these months since the early part of the year.
We had paid our way all the time, and could leave at a minute's notice
without asking any man's leave.
If we were digging up gold like potatoes we weren't the only ones.
No, not by a lot. There never was a richer patch of alluvial, I believe,
in any of the fields, and the quantity that was sent down in one year
was a caution. Wasn't the cash scattered about then? Talk of money,
it was like the dirt under your feet -- in one way, certainly --
as the dirt was more often than not full of gold.
We could see things getting worse on the field after a bit.
We didn't set up to be any great shakes ourselves, Jim and I;
but we didn't want the field to be overrun by a set of scoundrels
that were the very scum of the earth, let alone the other colonies.
We were afraid they'd go in for some big foolish row, and we should get
dragged in for it. That was exactly what we didn't want.
With the overflowing of the gold, as it were, came such a town
and such a people to fill it, as no part of Australia had ever seen before.
When it got known by newspapers, and letters from the miners themselves
to their friends at home, what an enormous yield of gold
was being dug out of the ground in such a simple fashion, all the world
seemed to be moving over. At that time nobody could tell a lie hardly
about the tremendous quantity that was being got and sent away every week.
This was easy to know, because the escort returns were printed
in all the newspapers every week; so everybody could see for themselves
what pounds and hundredweights and tons -- yes, tons of gold --
were being got by men who very often, as like as not, hadn't to dig
above twenty or thirty feet for it, and had never handled a pick or a shovel
in their lives before they came to the Turon.
There were plenty of good men at the diggings. I will say this
for the regular miners, that a more manly, straightgoing lot of fellows
no man ever lived among. I wish we'd never known any worse.
We were not what might be called highly respectable people ourselves -- still,
men like us are only half-and-half bad, like a good many more in this world.
They're partly tempted into doing wrong by opportunity, and kept back
by circumstances from getting into the straight track afterwards.
But on every goldfield there's scores and scores of men
that always hurry off there like crows and eagles to a carcass to see
what they can rend and tear and fatten upon. They ain't very particular
whether it's the living or the dead, so as they can gorge their fill.
There was a good many of this lot at the Turon, and though the diggers
gave them a wide berth, and helped to run them down when they'd committed
any crime, they couldn't be kept out of sight and society altogether.
We used to go up sometimes to see the gold escort start.
It was one of the regular sights of the field, and the miners
that were off shift and people that hadn't much to do generally
turned up on escort day. The gold was taken down to Sydney once a week
in a strong express waggon -- something like a Yankee coach,
with leather springs and a high driving seat; so that four horses
could be harnessed. One of the police sergeants generally drove,
a trooper fully armed with rifle and revolver on the box beside him.
In the back seat sat two more troopers with their Sniders ready for action;
two rode a hundred yards ahead, and another couple about
the same distance behind.
We always noticed that a good many of the sort of men that never seemed
to do any digging and yet always had good clothes and money to spend
used to hang about when the escort was starting. People in the crowd
'most always knew whether it was a `big' escort or a `light' one.
It generally leaked out how many ounces had been sent by this bank
and how much by that; how much had come from the camp, for the diggers
who did not choose to sell to the banks were allowed to deposit their gold
with an officer at the camp, where it was carefully weighed, and a receipt
given to them stating the number of ounces, pennyweights, and grains.
Then it was forwarded by the escort, deducting a small percentage
for the carriage and safe keeping. Government did not take all the risk
upon itself. The miner must run his chance if he did not sell.
But the chance was thought good enough; the other thing was hardly worth
talking about. Who was to be game to stick up the Government escort,
with eight police troopers, all well armed and ready to make a fight
to the death before they gave up the treasure committed to their charge?
The police couldn't catch all the horse-stealers and bush-rangers
in a country that contained so many millions of acres of waste land;
but no one doubted that they would make a first-rate fight,
on their own ground as it were, and before they'd let anything
be taken away from them that had been counted out, box by box,
and given into their charge.
We had as little notion of trying anything of the sort ourselves
than as we had of breaking into the Treasury in Sydney by night.
But those who knew used to say that if the miners had known
the past history of some of the men that used to stand up and look on,
well dressed or in regular digger rig, as the gold boxes
were being brought out and counted into the escort drag,
they would have made a bodyguard to go with it themselves
when they had gold on board, or have worried the Government
into sending twenty troopers in charge instead of six or eight.
One day, as Jim and I happened to be at the camp just as the escort
was starting, the only time we'd been there for a month,
we saw Warrigal and Moran standing about. They didn't see us;
we were among a lot of other diggers, so we were able
to take them out of winding a bit.
They were there for no good, we agreed. Warrigal's sharp eyes
noted everything about the whole turn-out -- the sergeant's face that drove,
the way the gold boxes were counted out and put in a kind of fixed locker
underneath the middle of the coach. He saw where the troopers sat
before and behind, and I'll be bound came away with a wonderful good
general idea of how the escort travelled, and of a good many things more
about it that nobody guessed at. As for Moran, we could see him fix his eyes
upon the sergeant who was driving, and look at him as if he could look
right through him. He never took his eyes off him the whole time,
but glared at him like a maniac; if some of his people hadn't given him
a shove as they passed he would soon have attracted people's attention.
But the crowd was too busy looking at the well-conditioned prancing horses
and the neatly got up troopers of the escort drag to waste their thoughts
upon a common bushman, however he might stare. When he turned away to leave
he ground out a red-hot curse betwixt his teeth. It made us think
that Warrigal's coming about with him on this line counted for no good.
They slipped through the crowd again, and, though they were pretty close,
they never saw us. Warrigal would have known us however we might have
been altered, but somehow he never turned his head our way.
He was like a child, so taken up with all the things he saw
that his great-grandfather might have jumped up from the Fish River Caves,
or wherever he takes his rest, and Warrigal would never have wondered at him.
`That's a queer start!' says Jim, as we walked on our homeward path.
`I wonder what those two crawling, dingo-looking beggars were here for?
Never no good. I say, did you see that fellow Moran look at the sergeant
as if he'd eat him? What eyes he has, for all the world like a black snake!
Do you think he's got any particular down on him?'
`Not more than on all police. I suppose he'd rub them out,
every mother's son, if he could. He and Warrigal can't stick up the escort
We managed to get a letter from home from time to time now we'd settled,
as it were, at the Turon. Of course they had to be sent
in the name of Henderson, but we called for them at the post-office,
and got them all right. It was a treat to read Aileen's letters now.
They were so jolly and hopeful-like besides what they used to be.
Now that we'd been so long, it seemed years, at the diggings,
and were working hard, doing well, and getting quite settled, as she said,
she believed that all would go right, and that we should be able
really to carry out our plans of getting clear away to some country
where we could live safe and quiet lives. Women are mostly like that.
They first of all believe all that they're afraid of will happen.
Then, as soon as they see things brighten up a bit, they're as sure as fate
everything's bound to go right. They don't seem to have
any kind of feeling between. They hate making up their minds,
most of 'em as I've known, and jump from being ready
to drown themselves one moment to being likely to go mad with joy another.
Anyhow you take 'em, they're better than men, though.
I'll never go back on that.
So Aileen used to send me and Jim long letters now, telling us
that things were better at home, and that she really thought mother
was cheerfuller and stronger in health than she'd been ever since
-- well, ever since -- that had happened. She thought her prayers
had been heard, and that we were going to be forgiven for our sins
and allowed, by God's mercy, to lead a new life. She quite believed
in our leaving the country, although her heart would be nearly broken
by the thought that she might never see us again, and a lot more
of the same sort.
Poor mother! she had a hard time of it if ever any one ever had in this world,
and none of it her own fault as I could ever see. Some people
gets punished in this world for the sins other people commit.
I can see that fast enough. Whether they get it made up to 'em afterwards,
of course I can't say. They ought to, anyhow, if it can be made up to 'em.
Some things that are suffered in this world can't be paid for,
I don't care how they fix it.
More than once, too, there was a line or two on a scrap of paper
slipped in Aileen's letters from Gracey Storefield. She wasn't half as good
with the pen as Aileen, but a few words from the woman you love
goes a long way, no matter what sort of a fist she writes.
Gracey made shift to tell me she was so proud to hear I was doing well;
that Aileen's eyes had been twice as bright lately; that mother looked better
than she'd seen her this years; and if I could get away to any other country
she'd meet me in Melbourne, and would be, as she'd always been,
`your own Gracey' -- that's the way it was signed.
When I read this I felt a different man. I stood up and took an oath
-- solemn, mind you, and I intended to keep it -- that if I got clear away
I'd pay her for her love and true heart with my life, what was left of it,
and I'd never do another crooked thing as long as I lived.
Then I began to count the days to Christmas.
I wasn't married like Jim, and it not being very lively in the tent at night,
Arizona Bill and I mostly used to stroll up to the Prospectors' Arms.
We'd got used to sitting at the little table, drinking our beer or what not,
smoking our pipes and listening to all the fun that was going on.
Not that we always sat in the big hall. There was a snug little parlour
beside the bar that we found more comfortable, and Kate used to run in herself
when business was slack enough to leave the barmaid; then she'd sit down
and have a good solid yarn with us.
She made a regular old friend of me, and, as she was a handsome woman,
always well dressed, with lots to say and plenty of admirers,
I wasn't above being singled out and made much of. It was partly policy,
of course. She knew our secret, and it wouldn't have done to have let her
let it out or be bad friends, so that we should be always going
in dread of it. So Jim and I were always mighty civil to her,
and I really thought she'd improved a lot lately and turned out
a much nicer woman than I thought she could be.
We used to talk away about old times, regular confidential,
and though she'd great spirits generally, she used to change
quite sudden sometimes and say she was a miserable woman,
and wished she hadn't been in such a hurry and married as she had.
Then she'd crack up Jeanie, and say how true and constant she'd been,
and how she was rewarded for it by marrying the only man she ever loved.
She used to blame her temper; she'd always had it, she said,
and couldn't get rid of it; but she really believed,
if things had turned out different, she'd have been a different woman,
and any man she really loved would never have had no call to complain.
Of course I knew what all this meant, but thought I could steer clear
of coming to grief over it.
That was where I made the mistake. But I didn't think so then,
or how much hung upon careless words and looks.
Well, somehow or other she wormed it out of me that we were off somewhere
at Christmas. Then she never rested till she'd found out that we were going
to Melbourne. After that she seemed as if she'd changed right away
into somebody else. She was that fair and soft-speaking and humble-minded
that Jeanie couldn't have been more gentle in her ways;
and she used to look at me from time to time as if her heart was breaking.
I didn't believe that, for I didn't think she'd any heart to break.
One night, after we'd left about twelve o'clock, just as the house shut up,
Arizona Bill says to me --
`Say, pard, have yer fixed it up to take that young woman along
when you pull up stakes?'
`No,' I said; `isn't she a married woman? and, besides,
I haven't such a fancy for her as all that comes to.'
`Ye heven't?' he said, speaking very low, as he always did,
and taking the cigar out of his mouth -- Bill always smoked cigars
when he could get them, and not very cheap ones either;
`well, then, I surmise you're lettin' her think quite contrairy,
and there's bound to be a muss if you don't hide your tracks
and strike a trail she can't foller on.'
`I begin to think I've been two ends of a dashed fool;
but what's a man to do?'
`See here, now,' he said; `you hev two cl'ar weeks afore ye.
You slack off and go slow; that'll let her see you didn't sorter cotton to her
more'n's in the regulations.'
`And have a row with her?'
`Sartin,' says Bill, `and hev the shootin' over right away.
It's a plaguey sight safer than letting her carry it in her mind,
and then laying for yer some day when ye heven't nary thought of Injuns
in your head. That's the very time a woman like her's bound to close on yer
and lift yer ha'r if she can.'
`Why, how do you know what she's likely to do?'
`I've been smokin', pard, while you hev bin talkin', sorter careless like.
I've had my eyes open and seen Injun sign mor'n once or twice either.
I've hunted with her tribe afore, I guess, and old Bill ain't forgot
all the totems and the war paint.'
After this Bill fresh lit his cigar, and wouldn't say any more.
But I could see what he was driving at, and I settled to try all I knew
to keep everything right and square till the time came for us
to make our dart.
I managed to have a quiet talk with Starlight. He thought
that by taking care, being very friendly, but not too much so,
we might get clean off, without Kate or any one else being much the wiser.
Next week everything seemed to go on wheels -- smooth and fast,
no hitches anywhere. Jim reckoned the best of our claim would be worked out
by the 20th of the month, and we'd as good as agreed to sell our shares
to Arizona Bill and his mate, who were ready, as Bill said,
`to plank down considerable dollars' for what remained of it.
If they got nothing worth while, it was the fortune of war,
which a digger never growls at, no matter how hard hit he may be.
If they did well, they were such up and down good fellows,
and such real friends to us, that we should have grudged them nothing.
As for Jeanie, she was almost out of her mind with eagerness
to get back to Melbourne and away from the diggings.
She was afraid of many of the people she saw, and didn't like others.
She was terrified all the time Jim was away from her,
but she would not hear of living at the Prospectors' Arms with her sister.
`I know where that sort of thing leads to,' she said; `let us have
our own home, however rough.'
Kate went out to Specimen Gully to see her sister pretty often,
and they sat and talked and laughed, just as they did in old times,
Jeanie said. She was a simple little thing, and her heart was as pure
as quartz crystal. I do really believe she was no match for Kate in any way.
So the days went on. I didn't dare stay away from the Prospectors' Arms,
for fear she'd think I wanted to break with her altogether,
and yet I was never altogether comfortable in her company.
It wasn't her fault, for she laid herself out to get round us all,
even old Arizona Bill, who used to sit solemnly smoking,
looking like an Indian chief or a graven image, until at last
his brick-coloured, grizzled old face would break up all of a sudden,
and he'd laugh like a youngster. As the days drew nigh Christmas
I could see a restless expression in her face that I never saw before.
Her eyes began to shine in a strange way, and sometimes
she'd break off short in her talk and run out of the room.
Then she'd pretend to wish we were gone, and that she'd never seen us again.
I could hardly tell what to make of her, and many a time I wished
we were on blue water and clear away from all chance of delay and drawback.
We made up our minds to start by Saturday's coach. It left at night
and travelled nigh a hundred miles by the same hour next morning.
It's more convenient for getting away than the morning.
A chap has time for doing all kinds of things just as he would like;
besides, a quieter time to slope than just after breakfast.
The Turon daily mail was well horsed and well driven.
Nightwork though it was, and the roads dangerous in places,
the five big double-reflector lamps, one high up over the top of the coach
in the middle with two pair more at the side, made everything plain.
We Cornstalks never thought of more than the regular pair of lamps,
pretty low down, too, before the Yankee came and showed us
what cross-country coaching was. We never knew before. My word,
they taught us a trick or two. All about riding came natural,
but a heap of dodges about harness we never so much as heard of
till they came to the country with the gold rush.
We'd made all our bits of preparations, and thought nothing
stood in the way of a start next evening. This was Friday.
Jim hadn't sold his bits of traps, because he didn't want it to be known
he wasn't coming back. He left word with a friend he could trust, though,
to have 'em all auctioned and the goodwill of his cottage,
and to send the money after him. My share and his in the claim
went to Arizona Bill and his mate. We had no call to be ashamed of the money
that stood to our credit in the bank. That we intended to draw out,
and take with us in an order or a draft, or something, to Melbourne.
Jeanie had her boxes packed, and was so wild with looking forward
to seeing St. Kilda beach again that she could hardly sleep or eat
as the time drew near.
Friday night came; everything had been settled. It was the last night
we should either of us spend at the Turon for many a day -- perhaps never.
I walked up and down the streets, smoking, and thinking it all over.
The idea of bed was ridiculous. How wonderful it all seemed!
After what we had gone through and the state we were in less than a year ago,
to think that we were within so little of being clear away and safe for ever
in another country, with as much as would keep us comfortable for life.
I could see Gracey, Aileen, and Jeanie, all so peaceful and loving together,
with poor old mother, who had lost her old trick of listening and trembling
whenever she heard a strange step or the tread of a horse.
What a glorious state of things it would be! A deal of it was owing
to the gold. This wonderful gold! But for it we shouldn't have had
such a chance in a hundred years. I was that restless I couldn't settle,
when I thought, all of a sudden, as I walked up and down,
that I had promised to go and say good-bye to Kate Mullockson,
at the Prospectors' Arms, the night before we started.
I thought for a moment whether it would be safer to let it alone.
I had a strange, unwilling kind of feeling about going there again;
but at last, half not knowing what else to do, and half not caring to make
an enemy of Kate, if I could help it, I walked up.
It was latish. She was standing near the bar, talking to
half-a-dozen people at once, as usual; but I saw she noticed me at once.
She quickly drew off a bit from them all; said it was near shutting-up time,
and, after a while, passed through the bar into the little parlour
where I was sitting down. It was just midnight. The night was half over
before I thought of coming in. So when she came in and seated herself
near me on the sofa I heard the clock strike twelve, and most of the men
who were walking about the hall began to clear out.
Somehow, when you've been living at a place for a goodish while,
and done well there, and had friends as has stuck by you,
as we had at the Turon, you feel sorry to leave it. What you've done
you're sure of, no matter how it mayn't suit you in some ways,
nor how much better you expect to be off where you are going to.
You had that and had the good of it. What the coming time may bring
you can't reckon on. All kinds of cross luck and accidents may happen.
What's the use of money to a man if he smashes his hip and has to walk
with a crutch all his days? I've seen a miner with a thousand a month
coming in, but he'd been crushed pretty near to death with a fall of earth,
and about half of him was dead. What's a good dinner to a man
that his doctor only allows him one slice of meat, a bit of bread,
and some toast and water? I've seen chaps like them, and I'd sooner a deal
be the poorest splitter, slogging away with a heavy maul, and able, mind you,
to swing it like a man, than one of those broken-down screws.
We'd had a good time there, Jim and I. We always had a kind spot
in our hearts for Turon and the diggings afterwards. Hard work, high pay,
good friends that would stick to a man back and edge, and a safe country
to lie in plant in as ever was seen. We was both middlin' sorry,
in a manner of speaking, to clear out. Not as Jim said much about it
on account of Jeanie; but he thought it all the same.
Well, of course, Kate and I got talkin' and talkin', first about the diggings,
and then about other things, till we got to old times in Melbourne,
and she began to look miserable and miserabler whenever she spoke
about marrying the old man, and wished she'd drownded herself first.
She made me take a whisky -- a stiffish one that she mixed herself --
for a parting glass, and I felt it took a bit of effect upon me.
I'd been having my whack during the day. I wasn't no ways drunk;
but I must have been touched more or less, because I felt myself
to be so sober.
`You're going at last, Dick,' says she; `and I suppose we shan't meet again
in a hurry. It was something to have a look at you now and then.
It reminded me of the happy old times at St. Kilda.'
`Oh, come, Kate,' I said, `it isn't quite so bad as all that.
Besides, we'll be back again in February, as like as not.
We're not going for ever.'
`Are you telling me the truth, Richard Marston?' says she,
standing up and fixing her eyes full on me -- fine eyes they were, too,
in their way; `or are you trying another deceit, to throw me off the scent
and get rid of me? Why should you ever want to see my face after you leave?'
`A friendly face is always pleasant. Anyhow, Kate, yours is,
though you did play me a sharpish trick once, and didn't stick to me
like some women might have done.'
`Tell me this,' she said, leaning forward, and putting one hand
on my shoulder, while she seemed to look through the very soul of me --
her face grew deadly pale, and her lips trembled, as I'd seen them do
once before when she was regular beyond herself -- `will you take me with you
when you go for good and all? I'm ready to follow you round the world.
Don't be afraid of my temper. No woman that ever lived ever did more
for the man she loved than I'll do for you. If Jeanie's good to Jim
-- and you know she is -- I'll be twice the woman to you, or I'll die for it.
Don't speak!' she went on; `I know I threw you over once.
I was mad with rage and shame. You know I had cause, hadn't I, Dick?
You know I had. To spite you, I threw away my own life then;
now it's a misery and a torment to me every day I live. I can bear it
no longer, I tell you. It's killing me -- killing me day by day.
Only say the word, and I'll join you in Melbourne within the week --
to be yours, and yours only, as long as I live.'
I didn't think there was that much of the loving nature about her.
She used to vex me by being hard and uncertain when we were courting.
I knew then she cared about me, and I hadn't a thought about any other woman.
Now when I didn't ask her to bother herself about me,
and only to let me alone and go her own way, she must turn the tables on me,
and want to ruin the pair of us slap over again.
She'd thrown her arms round my neck and was sobbing on my shoulder
when she finished. I took her over to the sofa, and made her sit down
by the side of me.
`Kate,' I said, `this won't do. There's neither rhyme nor reason about it.
I'm as fond of you as ever I was, but you must know well enough
if you make a bolt of it now there'll be no end of a bobbery,
and everybody's thoughts will be turned our way. We'll be clean bowled --
the lot of us. Jim and I will be jugged. You and Jeanie will be left
to the mercy of the world, worse off by a precious sight than ever you were
in your lives. Now, if you look at it, what's the good of spoiling
the whole jimbang for a fancy notion about me? You and I are safe to be
first-rate friends always, but it will be the ruin of both of us if we're
fools enough to want to be more. You're living here like a regular queen.
You've got a good husband, that's proud of you and gives you everything
you can think of. You took him yourself, and you're bound to stick to him.
Besides, think of poor Jeanie and Jim. You'll spoil all their happiness;
and, more than all -- don't make any mistake -- you know what Jeanie thinks
of a woman who leaves her husband for another man.'
If you let a woman have a regular good cry and talk herself out,
you can mostly bring her round in the end. So after a bit
Kate grew more reasonable. That bit about Jeanie fetched her too.
She knew her own sister would turn against her -- not harsh like,
but she'd never be the same to her again as long as she lived.
The lamp had been put out in the big hall. There was only one
in this parlour, and it wasn't over bright. I talked away,
and last of all she came round to my way of thinking; at any rate
not to want to clear off from the old man now, but to wait till I came back,
or till I wrote to her.
`You are right, Dick,' she said at last, `and you show your sense
in talking the way you have; though, if you loved as I do,
you could not do it. But, once more, there's no other woman
that you're fonder of than me? It isn't that that makes you so good?
Dick Marston good!' and here she laughed bitterly. `If I thought that
I should go mad.'
What was I to do? I could not tell her that I loved Gracey Storefield
ten times as much as I'd ever cheated myself into thinking I cared about her.
So I swore that I cared more for her than any woman in the whole world,
and always had done so.
This steadied her. We parted good friends, and she promised
to keep quiet and try and make the best of things. She turned up the lamp
to show me the way out, though the outer door of the hall was left open
night and day. It was a way we had at the Turon; no one troubled themselves
to be particular about such trifles as furniture and so on.
There was very little small robbery there; it was not worth while.
All petty stealers were most severely punished into the bargain.
As I stood up to say good-bye a small note dropped out of my breast-pocket.
It had shifted somehow. Kate always had an eye like a hawk. With one spring
she pounced upon it, and before I could interfere opened and read it!
It was Gracey Storefield's. She stood for one moment and glared in my face.
I thought she had gone mad. Then she threw the bit of paper down
and trampled upon it, over and over again.
`So, Dick Marston,' she cried out hoarsely, her very voice changed,
`you have tricked me a second time! Your own Gracey! your own Gracey!
and this, by the date, at the very time you were letting me persuade myself,
like a fool, like an idiot that I was, that you still care for me!
You have put the cap to your villainy now. And, as God made me,
you shall have cause -- good cause -- to fear the woman you have once betrayed
and twice scorned. Look to yourself.'
She gazed at me for a moment with a face from which every trace of expression
had vanished, except that of the most devilish fury and spite --
the face of an evil spirit more than of a woman; and then she walked
slowly away. I couldn't help pitying her, though I cursed my own folly,
as I had done a thousand times, that I had ever turned my head
or spoken a word to her when first she crossed my path.
I got into the street somehow; I hardly knew what to think or to do.
That danger was close at our heels I didn't doubt for a moment.
Everything seemed changed in a minute. What was going to happen?
Was I the same Dick Marston that had been strolling up Main Street
a couple of hours ago? All but off by the to-morrow evening's coach,
and with all the world before me, a good round sum in the bank;
best part of a year's hard, honest work it was the price of, too.
Then all kinds of thoughts came into my head. Would Kate,
when her burst of rage was over, go in for revenge in cold blood?
She could hardly strike me without at the same time hurting Jeanie
through Jim. Should I trust her? Would she come right, kiss,
and make friends, and call herself a madwoman -- a reckless fool --
as she'd often done before? No; she was in bitter earnest this time.
It did not pay to be slack in making off. Once we had been caught napping,
and once was enough.
The first thing to do was to warn Jim -- poor old Jim, snoring away,
most like, and dreaming of taking the box-seat for himself and Jeanie
at the agent's next morning. It seemed cruel to wake him,
but it would have been crueller not to do so.
I walked up the narrow track that led up to the little gully
with the moon shining down upon the white quartz rock.
The pathway wound through a `blow' of it. I threw a pebble at the door
and waited till Jim came out.
`Who's there? Oh! it's you, old man, is it? It's rather late
for a call; but if you've come to spend the evening I'll get up,
and we'll have a smoke, anyhow.'
`You dress yourself, Jim,' I said, `as quick as you can.
Put on your hat and come with me; there's something up.'
`My God!' says Jim, `what is it? I'm a rank coward now I've got Jeanie.
Don't go and tell me we've got to cut and run again.'
`Something like it,' I said. `If it hasn't come to that yet,
it's not far off.'
We walked up the gully together. Jim lit his pipe while I told him shortly
what had happened to me with Kate.
`May the devil fly away with her!' said Jim savagely, `for a bad-minded,
bad-hearted jade; and then he'd wish he'd left her where she was.
She'd be no chop-down there even. I think sometimes
she can't be Jeanie's sister at all. They must have changed her,
and mothered the wrong child on the old woman. My word!
but it's no laughing matter. What's to be done?'
`There's no going away by the coach to-morrow, I'm afraid.
She's just the woman to tear straight up the camp and let it all out
before her temper cooled. It would take a week to do that.
The sergeant or Sir Ferdinand knows all about it now. They'll lose no time,
you may be certain.'
`And must I leave without saying good-night to Jeanie?' says Jim.
`No, by ----! If I have half-a-dozen bullets through me,
I'll go back and hold her in my arms once more before
I'm hunted off and through the country like a wild dog once more.
If that infernal Kate has given us away, by George, I could go and kill her
with my own hand! The cruel, murdering, selfish brute, I believe
she'd poison her mother for a ten-pound note!'
`No use swearing at Kate, Jim,' I said; `that won't mend matters.
It's not the first time by a thousand that I've wished I'd never
set eyes on her; but if I'd never seen her that day on St. Kilda beach
you'd never known Jeanie. So there's evens as well as odds. The thing is,
what are we to do now?'
`Dashed if I know. I feel stupid about tackling the bush again;
and what can I do with Jeanie? I wish I was dead. I've half a mind
to go and shoot that brute of a woman and then myself. But then, poor Jeanie!
poor little Jeanie! I can't stand it, Dick; I shall go mad!'
I thought Jim was going to break out crying just as he used when he was a boy.
His heart was a big soft one; and though he could face anything
in the way of work or fighting that a man dare do, and do two men's share
very like, yet his tears, mother said, laid very near his eyes,
and till he was a grown man they used to pump up on all sorts of occasions.
`Come, be a man, Jim,' I said, `we've got to look the thing in the face;
there's no two ways about it. I shall go to Arizona Bill's claim
and see what he says. Anyhow I'll leave word with him what to do
when we're gone. I'd advise you not to try to see Jeanie;
but if you will you must, I suppose. Good-bye, old man. I shall make my way
over to Jonathan's, borrow a horse from him, and make tracks for the Hollow
as soon as I can. You'd better leave Jeanie here and do the same.'
Jim groaned, but said nothing. He wrung my hands till the bones
seemed to crack, and walked away without a word. We knew it was a chance
whether we should meet again.
I walked on pretty quick till I came to the flat where
Arizona Bill and his mates had their sluicing claim.
There were six of them altogether, tall wiry men all of them;
they'd mostly been hunters and trappers in the Rocky Mountains
before the gold was struck at Suttor's Mill, in the Sacramento Valley.
They had been digging in '49 in California, but had come over
when they heard from an old mate of a placer diggings at Turon,
richer than anything they had ever tried in America.
This camp was half a mile from ours, and there was a bit
of broken ground between, so that I thought I was safe
in having a word with them before I cleared for Barnes's place,
though I took care not to go near our own camp hut. I walked over,
and was making straight for the smallest hut, when a rough voice hailed me.
`Hello! stranger, ye came darned near going to h--l with your boots on.
What did yer want agin that thar cabin?'
I saw then that in my hurry I had gone stumbling against a small hut
where they generally put their gold when the party had been washing up
and had more than was safe to start from camp with. In this they always put
a grizzled old hunter, about whom the yarn was that he never went to sleep,
and could shoot anything a mile off. It was thought a very unlikely thing
that any gold he watched would ever go crooked. Most people considered him
a deal safer caretaker than the escort.
`Oh! it's you, is it?' drawled Sacramento Joe. `Why, what's doin'
at yer old camp?'
`What about?' said I.
`Wal, Bill and I seen three or four half-baked vigilantes
that call themselves police; they was a setting round the hut
and looked as if they was awaiting for somebody.'
`Tell Bill I want him, Joe,' I said.
`Can't leave guard nohow,' says the true grit old hunter,
pointing to his revolver, and dodging up and down with his lame leg,
a crooked arm, and a seam in his face like a terrible wound there
some time or other. `I darsn't leave guard. You'll find him
in that centre tent, with the red flag on it.'
I lifted the canvas flap of the door and went in. Bill raised himself
in the bed and looked at me quite coolly.
`I was to your location a while since,' he said. `Met some friends of yours
there too. I didn't cotton to 'em muchly. Something has eventuated.
Is that so?'
`Yes. I want your help.' I told him shortly all I could tell him
in the time.
. . . . .
He listened quietly, and made no remark for a time.
`So ye hev' bin a road agent. You and Jim, that darned innocent old cuss,
robbing mails and cattle ranches. It is a real scoop up for me, you bet.
I'd heern of bush-ranging in Australia, but I never reckoned on their bein'
men like you and Jim. So the muchacha went back on yer -- snakes alive!
I kinder expected it. I reckon you're bound to git.'
`Yes, Bill, sharp's the word. I want you to draw my money and Jim's
out of the bank; it's all in my name. There's the deposit receipt.
I'll back it over to you. You give Jeanie what she wants,
and send the rest when I tell you. Will you do that for me, Bill?
I've always been on the square with you and your mates.'
`You hev', boy, that I'll not deny, and I'll corral the dollars for you.
It's an all-fired muss that men like you and Jim should have a black mark
agin your record. A spry hunter Jim would have made. I'd laid out
to have had him to Arizona yet -- and you're a going to dust out right away,
`I'm off now. Jim's waited too long, I expect. One other thing;
let Mr. Haughton, across the creek, have this before daylight.'
`What, the Honourable!!! Lawful heart! Wal, I hope ye may strike
a better trail yet. Yer young, you and Jim, poor old Jim. Hold on.
Hev' ye nary shootin' iron?'
`No time,' I said. `I haven't been to the camp.'
`Go slow, then. Wait here; you'll want suthin, may be, on the peraira.
If ye do, boy! Jim made good shootin' with this, ye mind.
Take it and welcome; it'll mind ye of old Arizona Bill.'
He handed me a beautifully finished little repeating rifle,
hardly heavier than a navy revolver, and a small bag of cartridges.
`Thar, that'll be company for ye, in case ye hev to draw a bead
on the -- any one -- just temp'ry like. Our horses is hobbled
in Bates's clearing. Take my old sorrel if ye can catch him.'
He stopped for a second and put his hand in a listening fashion.
His hunter's ear was quicker than mine. `Thar's a war party on the trail,
I reckon. It's a roughish crossing at Slatey Bar,' and he pointed
towards the river, which we could plainly hear rushing over a rocky bed.
We shook hands, and as I turned down the steep river bank
I saw him walk slowly into his tent and close the canvas after him.
The line he pointed to was the one I fixed in my own mind to take
long before our talk was over. The Turon, always steep-banked,
rocky in places, ran here under an awful high bluff of slate rock.
The rushing water in its narrow channel had worn away the rock a good deal,
and left ledges or bars under which a deal of gold had been found.
Easy enough to cross here on a kind of natural ford. We had many a time
walked over on Sundays and holidays for a little kangaroo-shooting
now and then. It was here Jim one day, when we were all together
for a ramble, surprised the Americans by his shooting
with the little Ballard rifle.
As I crossed there was just moon enough to show the deep pools
and the hurrying, tearing waters of the wild river, foaming betwixt
the big boulders and jags of rock which the bar was strewed with.
In front the bank rose 300 feet like the roof of a house,
with great overhanging crags of slate rock, and a narrow track
in and out between. If I had light enough to find this and get to the top --
the country was terribly rough for a few miles, with the darkness coming on --
I should be pretty well out of reach by daylight.
I had just struck the track when I heard voices and a horse's tramp
on the other side of the river. They seemed not to be sure whether
I'd crossed or not, and were tracking up and down on each side of the bar.
I breasted the hill track faster than I had done for many a day,
and when I got to the top stopped to listen, but could hear nothing.
The moon had dropped suddenly; the forest was as black as pitch.
You couldn't see your hand before you.
I knew that I was safe now, if a hundred men were at my heels,
till daybreak at any rate. I had the two sides of the gully to guide me.
I could manage to make to the farm where the sorrel was at grass
with a lot of other diggers' horses. If I could get a saddle
and catch the old horse I could put many a mile between me and them
before sundown. I stood still when I reached the top of the bluff,
partly to get breath and partly to take a last look at old Turon.
Below lay the goldfield clearly marked out by hundreds of camp-fires
that were still red and showed bright in the darkened sky.
The course of the river was marked by them, in and out,
as most of the shallow diggings had followed the river flats.
Far back the fires glowed against the black forest,
and just before the moon fell I could catch the shine of the water
in the deeper reaches of the river.
It was the very picture of what I'd read about an army in camp --
lines of tents and a crowd of men all spread out over a bit of land
hardly big enough for a flock of sheep. Now and then a dog would bark --
now a revolver would go off. It was never quiet on Turon diggings,
day or night.
Well, there they all were, tents and diggers, claims and windlasses,
pumps and water-wheels. I had been happy enough there, God knows; and perhaps
I was looking at it all for the last time. As I turned and made
down the hill into the black forest that spread below me like the sea,
I felt as if I was leaving everything that was any good in life behind
with the Turon lights, and being hunted once more, in spite of myself,
into a desert of darkness and despair.
I got to Bates's paddocks about daylight, and went straight up to the hut
where the man lived that looked after it. Most of the diggers that cared
about their horses paid for their grass in farmers' and squatters' paddocks,
though the price was pretty high. Old Bates, who had a bit
of a good grassed flat, made a pretty fair thing out of it
by taking in horses at half-a-crown a week apiece. As luck would have it,
the man in charge knew me; he'd seen me out with the Yankees one day,
and saw I was a friend with them, and when I said I'd come for Bill's sorrel
he thought it likely enough, and got out the saddle and bridle.
I tipped him well, and went off, telling him I was going to Wattle Flat
to look at a quartz-crushing plant that was for sale.
I accounted for coming up so early by saying I'd lost my road,
and that I wanted to get to Wattle Flat sharp, as another chap wished
to buy the plant. I cut across the range, kept the sun on my right hand,
and pushed on for Jonathan's. I got there early, and it's well I did.
I rode the sorrel hard, but I knew he was pretty tough,
and I was able to pay for him if I killed him. I trusted to leaving him
at Jonathan's, and getting a fresh horse there. What with the walk
over the bluff and the forest, having no sleep the night before,
and the bother and trouble of it all, I was pretty well used up.
I was real glad to see Jonathan's paddock fence and the old house
we'd thought so little of lately. It's wonderful how soon
people rise grand notions and begin to get too big for their boots.
`Hello, Dick, what's up?' says Jonathan. `No swag, 'lastic-side boots,
flyaway tie, new rifle, old horse; looks a bit fishy don't it?'
`I can't stop barneying,' I said. `Have you a decent horse to give me?
The game's up. I must ride night and day till I get home. Heard anything?'
`No; but Billy the Boy's just rode up. I hear him a-talkin' to the gals.
He knows if anybody does. I'll take the old moke and put him in the paddock.
I can let you have a stunner.'
`All right; I'll go in and have some breakfast. It's as much as I dare
stop at all now.'
`Why, Dick Marston, is that you? No, it can't be,' said both girls together.
`Why, you look like a ghost. He doesn't; he looks as if he'd been at a ball
all night. Plenty of partners, Dick?'
`Never mind, Dick,' says Maddie; `go and make yourself comfortable
in that room, and I'll have breakfast for you while you'd let a cow
out of the bail. We don't forget our friends.'
`If all our friends were as true as you, Maddie,' I said, rather down-like,
`I shouldn't be here to-day.'
`Oh! that's it, is it?' says she; `we're only indebted to somebody's
laying the traps on -- a woman of course -- for your honour's company.
Never mind, old man, I won't hit you when you're down. But, I say,
you go and have a yarn with Billy the Boy -- he's in the kitchen.
I believe the young imp knows something, but he won't let on to Bell and I.'
While the steaks were frying -- and they smelt very good, bad as I felt --
I called out Master Billy and had a talk with him. I handed him a note
to begin with. It was money well spent, and, you mark my words,
a shilling spent in grog often buys a man twenty times the worth of it
in information, let alone a pound.
Billy had grown a squarish-set, middle-sized chap; his hair wasn't so long,
and his clothes were better; his eye was as bright and bold-looking.
As he stood tapping one of his boots with his whip, he looked
for all the world like a bull-terrier.
`My colonial oath, Dick, you're quite the gentleman -- free with your money
just the same as ever. You takes after the old governor;
he always paid well if you told him the truth. I remember him
giving me a hidin' when I was a kiddy for saying something I wasn't sure of.
My word! I was that sore for a week after I couldn't button my shirt.
But ain't it a pity about Jim?'
`Oh, that's it. What about Jim?'
`Why, the p'leece grabbed him, of course. You fellers don't think you're
going on for ever and ever, keepin' the country in a state of terrorism,
as the papers say. No, Dick, it's wrong and wicked and sinful.
You'll have to knock under and give us young uns a chance.'
Here the impudent young rascal looked in my face as bold as brass
and burst out laughing. He certainly was the cheekiest young scoundrel
I ever came across. But in his own line you couldn't lick him.
`Jim's took,' he said, and he looked curiously over at me.
`I seen the p'leece a-takin' him across the country to Bargo
early this morning. There was poor old Jim a-lookin' as if
he was goin' to be hanged, with a chap leading the screw he was on,
and Jim's long legs tied underneath. I was gatherin' cattle, I was.
I drew some up just for a stall, and had a good look.'
`How many men were with him?'
`Only two; and they're to pass through Bargo Brush about sundown to-night,
or a bit earlier. I asked one of the men the road; said I'd lost myself,
and would be late home. Ha! ha! ha!'
And how the young villain laughed till the tears came into his eyes,
while he danced about like a blackfellow.
`See here, Billy,' I said, `here's another pound for you,
and there'll be a fiver after if you stick well to me to-day.
I won't let Jim be walked off to Berrima without a flutter to save him.
It'll be the death of him. He's not like me, and he's got
a young wife besides.'
`More fool he, Dick. What does a cross cove want with a wife?
He can't never expect to do any good with a wife follerin' of him about.
I'm agin marrying, leastways as long as a chap's sound on his pins.
But I'll stick to you, Dick, and, what's more, I can take you a short cut
to the brush, and we can wait in a gully and see the traps come up.
You have a snack and lie down for a bit. I seen you were done
when you came up. I'll have the horses ready saddled up.'
`How about the police? Suppose they come this way.'
`Not they. They split and took across towards the Mountain Hut,
where you all camped with the horses. I didn't see 'em;
but I cut their tracks. Five shod horses. They might be here to-morrow.'
A bush telegraph ain't a bad thing. They're not all as good as Billy the Boy.
But the worst of 'em, like a bad sheep dog, is a deal better than none.
A bush telegraph, you see, is mostly worked about the neighbourhood
he was born in. He's not much good anywhere else. He's like a blackfellow
outside of his own `tauri'. He's at sea. But within twenty or thirty miles
of where he was born and bred he knows every track, every range,
every hill, every creek, as well as all the short cuts and by-roads.
He can bring you miles shorter than any one that only follows the road.
He can mostly track like a blackfellow, and tell you whether
the cattle or horses which he sees the tracks of are belonging to his country
or are strangers. He can get you a fresh horse on a pinch, night or day,
for he knows everybody's paddocks and yards, as well as the number, looks,
pace, and pluck of everybody's riding horses -- of many of which
he has `taken a turn' out of -- that is, ridden them hard and far,
and returned them during the night. Of course he can be fined
-- even imprisoned for this -- when he is caught in the act.
Herein lies the difficulty. I felt like another man after a wash,
a nip, and a real good meal, with the two girls sitting close by,
and chattering away as usual.
`Do you know,' says Bella, `it half serves you right.
Not that that Port Phillip woman was right to peach. She ought to have had
her tongue torn out first, let alone go open-mouthed at it. But mightn't you
have come down here from the Turon on Sundays and holidays now and then,
and had a yarn with us all?'
`Of course we ought, and we deserve to be kicked -- the lot of us;
but there were good reasons why we didn't like to. We were regularly boxed up
with the diggers, nobody knew who we were, or where we came from,
and only for this Jezebel never would have known. If we'd come here
they'd have all dropped that we were old friends, and then they'd have known
all about us.'
`Well, I'm glad you've lost your characters,' says Maddie.
`You won't have to be so particular now, and you can come as often
as Sir Ferdinand will let you. Good-bye. Billy's waving his hat.'
It wasn't long before I was in the saddle and off again.
I'd made a bit of a bargain with Jonathan, who sold me a pair of riding boots,
butcher's, and a big tweed poncho. The boots were easier
to take a long rough ride in than trousers, and I wanted the poncho
to keep the Ballard rifle under. It wouldn't do to have it in your hand
all the time.
As we rode along I settled upon the way I'd try and set poor Jim free.
Bad off as I was myself I couldn't bear to see him chained up, and knew
that he was going for years and years to a place more wicked and miserable
than he'd ever heard of.
After riding twenty miles the sun was getting low, when Billy pointed
to a trail which came broad ways across the road, and which then followed it.
`Here they are -- p'leece, and no mistake. Here's their horses' tracks
right enough. Here's the prisoner's horse, see how he stumbled?
and this road they're bound to go till they cross the Stony point,
and get into Bargo Brush, near a creek.'
We had plenty of time by crossing a range and running a blind creek down
to be near the place where the troopers must pass as they crossed
the main creek. We tied up the horses a hundred yards' distance behind us
in the forest, and I made ready to rescue Jim, if it could be managed anyhow.
How was it to be done? I could depend on the rifle carrying true
at short ranges; but I didn't like the notion of firing at a man
behind his back, like. I hardly knew what to do, when all of a sudden
two policemen showed up at the end of the track nearest the creek.
One man was a bit in front -- riding a fine horse, too. The next one
had a led horse, on which rode poor old Jim, looking as if he was going
to be hanged that day, as Billy said, though I knew well he wasn't thinking
about himself. I don't believe Jim ever looked miserable for so long
since he was born. Whatever happened to him before he'd have
a cry or a fight, and it would be over. But now his poor old face
looked that wretched and miserable, as if he'd never smile again
as long as he lived. He didn't seem to care where they took him;
and when the old horse stumbled and close upon fell down
he didn't take notice.
When I saw that, my mind was made up. I couldn't let them
take him away to his death. I could see he wouldn't live a month.
He'd go fretting his life about Jeanie, and after the free life
he'd always led he'd fall sick like the blacks when they're shut up,
and die without any reason but because a wild bird won't live in a cage.
So I took aim and waited till they were just crossing the creek
into the forest. The leading man was just riding up the bank,
and the one that led Jim's horse was on the bit of a sand bed that the water
had brought down. He was the least bit ahead of Jim, when I pulled trigger,
and sent a ball into him, just under the collar-bone. I fired high
on purpose. He drops off his saddle like a dead man. The next minute
Billy the Boy raises the most awful corroboree of screams and howls,
enough for a whole gang of bush-rangers, if they went in
for that sort of thing. He emptied four chambers of his revolver
at the leading trooper right away, and I fired at his horse.
The constable never doubted -- the attack was so sudden and savage like --
but there was a party of men hid in the brush. Billy's shots
had whistled round him, and mine had nearly dropped his horse,
so he thought it no shame to make a bolt and leave his mate,
as seemed very bad hit, in our hands.
His horse's hand-gallop growed fainter and fainter in the distance,
and then we unbound poor Jim, set his feet at liberty, and managed
to dispose of the handcuffs. Jim's face began to look more cheerful,
but he was down in the mouth again when he saw the wounded man.
He began at once to do all he could for him. We stopped a short distance
behind the brush, which had already helped us well.
Jim propped up the poor chap, whose life-blood was flowing red
through the bullet-hole, and made him as comfortable as he could.
`I must take your horse, mate,' he says; `but you know
it's only the fortune of war. A man must look after himself.
Some one'll come along the road soon.' He mounted the trooper's horse,
and we slipped through the trees -- it was getting dark now --
till we came to our horses. Then we all rode off together.
We took Billy the Boy with us until he put us on to a road that led us
into the country that we knew. We could make our own way from there,
and so we sent off our scout, telling him to ride to the nearest township
and say he'd seen a trooper lying badly wounded by the Bargo Brush roadside.
The sooner he was seen to, the better chance he'd have.
Jim brightened up considerably after this. He told me how he'd gone back
to say good-bye to Jeanie -- how the poor girl went into fits,
and he couldn't leave her. By the time she got better
the cottage was surrounded by police; there was no use being shot down
without a chance, so he gave himself up.
`My word, Dick,' he said, `I wished for a bare-backed horse,
and a deep gully, then; but it wasn't to be. There was no horse handy,
and I'd only have been carried into my own place a dead man
and frightened the life out of poor Jeanie as well.'
`You're worth a dozen dead men yet, Jim,' I said. `Keep up your pecker,
old man. We'll get across to the Hollow some time within
the next twenty-four hours, and there we'll be safe anyhow.
They can't touch Jeanie, you know; and you're not short of what cash
she'll want to keep her till this blows over a bit.'
`And what am I to do all the time?' he says so pitiful like.
`We're that fond of one another, Dick, that I couldn't hardly bear her
out of my sight, and now I'll be months and months and months
without a look at her pretty face, where I've never seen anything yet
but love and kindness. Too good for me she always was;
and what have I brought her to? My God! Dick, I wish you'd shot me
instead of the constable, poor devil!'
`Well, you wasn't very far apart,' I says, chaffing like.
`If that old horse they put you on had bobbed forward level with him
you'd have got plugged instead. But it's no use giving in, Jim.
We must stand up to our fight now, or throw up the sponge.
There's no two ways about it.'
We rattled on then without speaking, and never cried crack
till we got to Nulla Mountain, where we knew we were pretty safe
not to be followed up. We took it easier then, and stopped to eat
a bit of bread and meat the girls had put up for me at Jonathan's.
I'd never thought of it before. When I took the parcel
out of the pocket of my poncho I thought it felt deuced heavy,
and there, sure enough, was one of those shilling flasks of brandy
they sell for chaps to go on the road with.
Brandy ain't a good thing at all times and seasons, and I've seen
more than one man, or a dozen either, that might just as well
have sawed away at their throats with a blunt knife as put the first glass
to their lips. But we was both hungry, thirsty, tired, miserable,
and pretty well done and beaten, though we hadn't had time to think about it.
That drop of brandy seemed as if it had saved our lives. I never forgot it,
nor poor Maddie Barnes for thinking of it for me. And I did live
to do her a good turn back -- much as there's been said again me,
and true enough, too.
It was a long way into the night, and not far from daylight either,
when we stumbled up to the cave -- dead beat, horses and men both.
We'd two minds to camp on the mountain, but we might have been followed up,
hard as we'd ridden, and we didn't like to throw a chance away.
We didn't want the old man to laugh at us, and we didn't want to do
any more time in Berrima -- not now, anyhow. We'd been living
too gay and free a life to begin with the jug all over again.
So we thought we'd make one job of it, and get right through,
if we had to sleep for a week after it. It would be slow enough,
but anything was better than what we'd gone through lately.
After we'd got down the mountain and on the flat land of the valley
it rested our feet a bit, that was pretty nigh cut to pieces with the rocks.
Our horses were that done we dursn't ride 'em for hours before.
As we came close, out walks old Crib, and smells at us.
He knew us in a minute, and jumped up and began to try and lick Jim's hand:
the old story. He just gave one sort of sniff at me, as much as to say,
`Oh! it's you, is it?' Then he actually gave a kind of half-bark.
I don't believe he'd barked for years, such a queer noise it was. Anyhow,
it woke up dad, and he came out pretty sharp with a revolver in his hand.
As soon as he saw the old dog walking alongside of us he knew it was right,
and begins to feel for his pipe. First thing father always did as soon as
any work or fighting or talking was over was to get out his pipe and light it.
He didn't seem the same man without it.
`So you've found your way back again, have ye?' he says. `Why, I thought you
was all on your way to Californy by this time. Ain't this Christmas week?
Why, I was expecting to come over to Ameriky myself one of these days,
when all the derry was over ---- Why, what's up with the boy?'
Jim was standing by, sayin' nothing, while I was taking off
the saddles and bridles and letting the horses go, when all of a sudden
he gives a lurch forward, and if the old man hadn't laid hold of him
in his strong arms and propped him up he'd have gone down face foremost
like a girl in a dead faint.
`What's up with him, Dick?' says father, rather quick, almost as if he was
fond of him, and had some natural feeling -- sometimes I raly think he had --
`been any shooting?'
`Yes; not at him, though. Tell you all about it in the morning.
He's eaten nothing, and we've been travelling best part of twenty-four hours
right off the reel.'
`Hold him up while I fetch out the pannikin. There's plenty of grub inside.
He'll be all right after a sleep.'
A drop of rum and water brought him to, and after that
we made ourselves a cup of tea and turned in. The sun was pretty high
when I woke. When I looked out there was the old man sitting on the log
by the fire, smoking. What was a deal more curious, I saw the half-caste,
Warrigal, coming up from the flat, leading a horse and carrying
a pair of hobbles. Something made me look over to a particular corner
where Starlight always slept when he was at the Hollow.
Sure enough there was the figure of a man rolled up in a cloak.
I knew by the way his boots and things were thrown about
that it could be no other than Starlight.
I'd settled in my mind that it couldn't be any one else, when he sat up,
yawned, and looked round as if he had not been away from the old place a week.
`Ha! Richard, here we are again! "Feeds the boar in the old frank?"
The governor told me you and Jim had made back. Dreadful bore, isn't it?
Just when we'd all rubbed off the rust of our bush life
and were getting civilised. I feel very seriously ill-treated, I assure you.
I have a great mind to apply to the Government for compensation.
That's the worst of these new inspectors, they are so infernally zealous.'
`You were too many for them, it seems. I half thought you might
have been nailed. How the deuce did you get the office in time?'
`The faithful Warrigal, as usual, gave me timely warning, and brought a horse,
of course. He will appear on the Judgment Day leading Rainbow,
I firmly believe. Why he should be so confoundedly anxious about my welfare
I can't make out -- I can't, really. It's his peculiar form of mania,
I suppose. We all suffer from some madness or other.'
`How the blazes did he know the police were laid on to the lot of us?' I said.
`I didn't know myself that your Kate had come the double on you.
I might have known she would, though. Well, it seems Warrigal
took it into his semi-barbaric head to ride into Turon and loaf about,
partly to see me, and partly about another matter that your father
laid him on about. He was standing about near the Prospectors' Arms,
late on Friday night, doing nothing and seeing everything, as usual,
when he noticed Mrs. Mullockson run out of the house like a Bedlamite.
"My word, that missis big one coolah!" was his expression, and made straight
for the camp. Now Warrigal had seen you come out just before.
He doesn't like you and Jim over much -- bad taste, I tell him, on his part --
but I suppose he looks upon you as belonging to the family.
So he stalked the fair and furious Kate.'
`That was how it was, then?'
`Yes, much in that way. I must say, Dick, that if you are
so extremely fond of -- well -- studying the female character,
you should carry on the pursuit more discreetly. Just see
what this miscalculation has cost your friends!'
`Confound her! She's a heartless wretch, and I hope she'll die in a ditch.'
`Exactly. Well, she knocked, and a constable opened the outer door.