Part 7 out of 11
`"I want to see Sir Ferdinand," she says.
`"He's in bed and can't be disturbed," says the bobby.
"Any message I can deliver?"
`"I have important information," says she. "Rouse him up,
or you'll be sorry for it."
`"Won't it do to-morrow morning?" says he.
`"No, it won't," says she, stamping her foot. "Do what I tell you,
and don't stand there like a fool."
`She waited a bit. Then, Warrigal says, out came Sir Ferdinand, very polite.
"What can I do for you," says he, "Mrs. Mullockson?"
`"Should you like to know where the Marstons are, Sir Ferdinand," says she,
"Dick and Jim?"
`"Know? Would I not?" says he. "No end of warrants out for them;
since that Ballabri Bank robbery they seem to have disappeared under ground.
And that fellow Starlight, too! Most remarkable man of his day.
I'd give my eyes to put the bracelets upon him."
`She whispered something into his ear.
`"Guard, turn out," he roars out first; then, dropping his voice,
says out, "My dear Mrs. Mullockson" (you should hear Warrigal imitate him),
"you have made my fortune -- officially, I mean, of course.
I shall never forget your kindness. Thanks, a thousand times."
`"Don't thank me," she says, and she burst out crying, and goes slowly
back to the hotel.
`Warrigal had heard quite enough. He rips over to Daly's mob,
borrows a horse, saddle, and bridle, and leads him straight down to our camp.
He roused me up about one o'clock, and I could hardly make any explanation
to my mates. Such stunning good fellows they were, too!
I wonder whether I shall ever associate with gentlemen again?
The chances are against it.
`I had all kinds of trouble to tell them I was going away with Warrigal,
and yet not to tell too much.
`"What the dickens," says Clifford, "can you want, going away
with this familiar of yours at this hour of the night?
You're like the fellow in Scott's novel (`Anne of Geierstein')
that I was reading over again yesterday -- the mysterious stranger
that's called for at midnight by the Avenger of Blood,
departs with him and is never seen more."
`"In case you never see me afterwards," I said, "we'd better say good-bye.
We've been good mates and true friends, haven't we?"
`"Never better," he said. "I don't know what we shall do without you.
But, of course, you're not going very far?"
`"Good-bye, in case," I said. "Anyhow, I'll write you a line,
and as I shook hands with them -- two regular trumps, if ever there were any
in the world -- I had a kind of notion I'd never see them again.
Hardly think I shall, either. Sir Ferdinand surrounded the hut
about an hour later, and made them come out one by one --
both of them and the wages man. I daresay they were surprised.
`"Where's the fourth man, Clifford?" says Sir Ferdinand.
"Just ask him to come out, will you?"
`"What, Frank Haughton?" says he.
`I heard most of this from that young devil, Billy the Boy.
He saw Sir Ferdinand ride up, so he hid close by, just for the fun of hearing
how he got on. He'd seen Warrigal and me ride away.
`"Frank Devil!" bangs out Sir Ferdinand, who'd begun to get his monkey up.
"How should I know his infernal purser's name? No man, it seems to me,
has his right name on this confounded goldfield. I mean Starlight --
Starlight the cattle stealer, the mail robber, the bush-ranger,
whose name is notorious over the three colonies, and New Zealand to boot --
your intimate friend and partner for the last nine months!'
`"You perfectly amaze me," says Clifford. "But can't you be mistaken?
Is your information to be depended upon?"
`"Mine came from a jealous woman," says Sir Ferdinand. "They may generally
be depended upon for a straight tip. But we're losing time.
When did he leave the claim, and which way did he go?"
`"I have no idea which way he went," says Clifford. "He did not say,
but he left about an hour since."
`"On foot or on horseback?"
`"Any one with him?"
`"Yes, another horseman."
`"What was he like?"
`"Slight, dark man, youngish, good-looking."
`"Warrigal the half-caste! By George! warrants out for him also,"
says Sir Ferdinand. "On a good horse, of course, with an hour's start.
We may give up the idea of catching him this time. Follow him up
as a matter of form. Good-bye, Clifford. You'll hear news of your friend
before long, or I'm much mistaken."
`"Stop, Sir Ferdinand, you must pardon me; but I don't exactly understand
your tone. The man that we knew by the name of Frank Haughton may be,
as you say, an escaped criminal. All I know is that he lived with us
since we came here, and that no fellow could have behaved
more truly like a man and a gentleman. As far as we are concerned,
I have a material guarantee that he has been scrupulously honest.
Do you mean to hint for one moment that we were aware of his previous history,
or in any way mixed up with his acts?"
`"If I do, what then?" says Sir Ferdinand, laughing.
`"The affair is in no way ludicrous," says Clifford, very stiff and dignified.
"I hold myself to have received an insult, and must ask you to refer me
to a friend."
`"Do you know that I could arrest you and Hastings now and lock you up
on suspicion of being concerned with him in the Ballabri Bank robbery?"
says Sir Ferdinand in a stern voice. "Don't look so indignant.
I only say I could. I am not going to do so, of course.
As to fighting you, my dear fellow, I am perfectly at your service
at all times and seasons whenever I resign my appointment
as Inspector of Police for the colony of New South Wales.
The Civil Service regulations do not permit of duelling at present,
and I found it so deuced hard to work up to the billet
that I am not going to imperil my continuance therein. After all,
I had no intention of hurting your feelings, and apologise if I did.
As for that rascal Starlight, he would deceive the very devil himself."
`And so Sir Ferdinand rode off.'
`How did you come; by Jonathan's?'
`We called nowhere. Warrigal, as usual, made a short cut of his own
across the bush -- scrubs, gullies, mountains, all manner of desert paths.
We made the Hollow yesterday afternoon, and went to sleep in a nook
known to us of old. We dropped in to breakfast here at daylight,
and I felt sleepy enough for another snooze.'
`We're all here again, it seems,' I said, sour enough.
`I suppose we'll have to go on the old lay; they won't let us alone
when we're doing fair work and behaving ourselves like men.
They must take the consequences, d--n them!'
`Ha! very true,' says Starlight in his dreamy kind of way.
`Most true, Richard. Society should make a truce occasionally,
or proclaim an amnesty with offenders of our stamp. It would pay better
than driving us to desperation. How is Jim? He's worse off
than either of us, poor fellow.'
`Jim's very bad. He can't get over being away from Jeanie.
I never saw him so down in the mouth this years.'
`Poor old Jim, he's a deal too good for the place. Sad mistake
this getting married. People should either keep straight or have no relatives
to bear the brunt of their villainies. "But, soft," as they say in the play,
"where am I?" I thought I was a virtuous miner again. Here we are
at this devil-discovered, demon-haunted old Hollow again --
first cousin to the pit of Acheron. There's no help for it, Dick.
We must play our parts gallantly, as demons of this lower world,
or get hissed off the stage.'
. . . . .
We didn't do much for a few days, you may be sure. There was nothing to do,
for one thing; and we hadn't made up our mind what our line was to be.
One thing was certain: there would be more row made about us than ever.
We should have all the police in the country worried and barked at
by the press, the people, the Government, and their superior officers
till they got something to show about us. Living at the diggings
under the nose of the police, without their having the least suspicion
who we were, was bad enough; but the rescue of Jim and the shooting of
a policeman in charge of him was more serious -- the worst thing
that had happened yet.
There would be the devil to pay if they couldn't find a track of us.
No doubt money would be spent like water in bribing any one who might give
information about us. Every one would be tried that we had ever been known
to be friendly with. A special body of men could be told off to make a dart
to any spot they might get wind of near where we had been last seen.
We had long talks and barneys over the whole thing -- sometimes by ourselves
with Starlight, sometimes with father. A long time it was before we settled
upon any regular put-up bit of work to do.
Sooner or later we began to see the secret of the Hollow would be found out.
There was no great chance in the old times with only a few
shepherds and stock-riders wandering through the bush, once in a way
straggling over the country. But now the whole colony swarmed with miners,
who were always prospecting, as they called it -- that is, looking out
for fresh patches of gold. Now, small parties of these men -- bold, hardy,
experienced chaps -- would take a pick and shovel, a bucket, and a tin dish,
with a few weeks' rations, and scour the whole countryside.
They would try every creek, gully, hillside, and river bed. If they found
the colour of gold, the least trace of it in a dish of wash-dirt,
they would at once settle down themselves. If it went rich
the news would soon spread, and a thousand men might be gathered in one spot
-- the bank of a small creek, the side of a steep range -- within a fortnight,
with ten thousand more sure to follow within a month.
That might happen at any time on one of the spurs of Nulla Mountain;
and the finding out of the track down to the Hollow by some one of the dozens
of rambling, shooting, fishing diggers would be as certain to happen
as the sun to rise.
Well, the country had changed, and we were bound to change with it.
We couldn't stop boxed up in the Hollow day after day, and month after month,
shooting and horse-breaking, doing nothing and earning nothing.
If we went outside there were ten times more men looking out for us than ever,
ten times more chance of our being tracked or run down than ever.
That we knew from the newspapers. How did we see them? Oh, the old way.
We sent out our scout, Warrigal, and he got our letters and papers too,
from a `sure hand', as Starlight said the old people in the English wars
used to say.
The papers were something to see. First he brought us in a handbill
that was posted in Bargo, like this: --
FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS REWARD.
The above reward will be paid to any one giving information
as to the whereabouts of Richard Marston, James Marston, and a man whose name
is unknown, but who can be identified chiefly by the appellation of Starlight.
`Pleasing way of drawing attention to a gentleman's private residence,'
says Starlight, smiling first and looking rather grim afterwards.
`Never mind, boys, they'll increase that reward yet, by Jove!
It will have to be a thousand a piece if they don't look a little sharper.'
We laughed, and dad growled out --
`Don't seem to have the pluck, any on ye, to tackle a big touch again.
I expect they'll send a summons for us next, and get old Bill Barkis,
the bailiff at Bargo, to serve it.'
`Come, come, governor,' says Starlight, `none of that.
We've got quite enough devil in us yet, without your stirring him up.
You must give us time, you know. Let's see what this paper says.
"Turon Star"! What a godsend to it!
`STARLIGHT AND THE MARSTONS AGAIN.
`The announcement will strike our readers, if not with
the most profound astonishment, certainly with considerable surprise,
that these celebrated desperadoes, for whose apprehension
such large sums have been offered, for whom the police in all the colonies
have made such unremitting search, should have been discovered in our midst.
Yet such is the case. On this very morning, from information received,
our respected and efficient Inspector of Police, Sir Ferdinand Morringer,
proceeded soon after midnight to the camp of Messrs. Clifford and Hastings.
He had every reason to believe that he would have had no difficulty
in arresting the famous Starlight, who, under the cognomen of
the Honourable Frank Haughton, has been for months a partner in this claim.
The shareholders were popularly known as "the three Honourables",
it being rumoured that both Mr. Clifford and Mr. Hastings were entitled
to that prefix, if not to a more exalted one.
`With characteristic celerity, however, the famous outlaw had shortly before
quitted the place, having received warning and been provided with a fast horse
by his singular retainer, Warrigal, a half-caste native of the colony,
who is said to be devotedly attached to him, and who has been seen
from time to time on the Turon.
`Of the Marston brothers, the elder one, Richard, would seem to have been
similarly apprised, but James Marston was arrested in his cottage
in Specimen Gully. Having been lately married, he was apparently unwilling
to leave his home, and lingered too long for prudence.
`While rejoicing, as must all good citizens, at the discovery of evil-doers
and the capture of one member of a band of notorious criminals, we must state
in fairness and candour that their conduct has been, while on the field
as miners, free from reproach in every way. For James Marston,
who was married but a short while since to a Melbourne young lady
of high personal attractions and the most winning amiability,
great sympathy has been expressed by all classes.
So much for the "Star". Everybody is sorry for you, old man,' he says to Jim.
`I shouldn't wonder if they'd make you a beak if you'd stayed there
long enough. I'm afraid Dick's dropping the policeman won't add
to our popularity, though.'
`He's all right,' I said. `Hurrah! look here. I'm glad I didn't finish
the poor beggar. Listen to this, from the "Turon Banner": --
`The good old days have apparently not passed away for ever,
when mail robberies and hand-to-hand conflicts with armed robbers
were matters of weekly occurrence. The comparative lull
observable in such exciting occurrences of late has been proved to be
but the ominous hush of the elements that precedes the tempest.
Within the last few days the mining community has been startled
by the discovery of the notorious gang of bush-rangers,
Starlight and the Marstons, domiciled in the very heart of the diggings,
attired as ordinary miners, and -- for their own purposes possibly --
leading the laborious lives proper to the avocation. They have been
fairly successful, and as miners, it is said, have shown themselves
to be manly and fair-dealing men. We are not among those who care
to judge their fellow-men harshly. It may be that they had resolved
to forsake the criminal practices which had rendered them
so unhappily celebrated. James Marston had recently married
a young person of most respectable family and prepossessing appearance.
As far as may be inferred from this step and his subsequent conduct,
he had cut loose from his former habitudes. He, with his brother,
Richard Marston, worked an adjoining claim to the Arizona Sluicing Company,
with the respected shareholders of which they were on terms of intimacy.
The well-known Starlight, as Mr. Frank Haughton, became partner and tent-mate
with the Hon. Mr. Clifford and Mr. Hastings, an aristocratic society in which
the manners and bearing of this extraordinary man permitted him to mingle
without suspicion of detection.
`Suddenly information was furnished to the police respecting all three men.
We are not at present aware of the source from which the clue was obtained.
Suffice it to say that Sir Ferdinand Morringer promptly arranged for
the simultaneous action of three parties of police with the hope of capturing
all three outlaws. But in two cases the birds were flown.
Starlight's "ame damnee", a half-caste named Warrigal, had been
observed on the field the day before. By him he was doubtless furnished
with a warning, and the horse upon which he left his abode shortly before
the arrival of Sir Ferdinand. The elder Marston had also eluded the police.
But James Marston, hindered possibly by domestic ties, was captured
at his cottage at Specimen Gully. For him sympathy has been
universally expressed. He is regarded rather as a victim
than as an active agent in the many criminal offences
chargeable to the account of Starlight's gang.
`Since writing the above we have been informed that trooper Walsh,
who with another constable was escorting James Marston to Bargo Gaol,
has been brought in badly wounded. The other trooper reports
that he was shot down and the party attacked by persons concealed
in the thick timber near Wild Horse Creek, at the edge of Bargo Brush.
In the confusion that ensued the prisoner escaped. It was at first thought
that Walsh was fatally injured, but our latest report
gives good hope of his recovery.
`We shall be agreeably surprised if this be the end and not the commencement
of a series of darker tragedies.'
A month's loafing in the Hollow. Nothing doing and nothing to think of
except what was miserable enough, God knows. Then things began
to shape themselves, in a manner of speaking. We didn't talk much together;
but each man could see plain enough what the others was thinking of.
Dad growled out a word now and then, and Warrigal would look at us
from time to time with a flash in his hawk's eyes that we'd seen
once or twice before and knew the meaning of. As for Jim, we were bound to do
something or other, if it was only to keep him from going melancholy mad.
I never seen any man changed more from what he used to be than Jim did.
He that was the most careless, happy-go-lucky chap that ever stepped,
always in a good temper and full of his larks. At the end of the hottest day
in summer on the plains, with no water handy, or the middle of
the coldest winter night in an ironbark forest, and we sitting on our horses
waiting for daylight, with the rain pouring down our backs, not game
to light a fire, and our hands that cold we could hardly hold the reins,
it was all one to Jim. Always jolly, always ready to make little of it all.
Always ready to laugh or chaff or go on with monkey tricks like a boy.
Now it was all the other way with him. He'd sit grizzling and smoking
by himself all day long. No getting a word out of him. The only time
he seemed to brighten up was once when he got a letter from Jeanie.
He took it away into the bush and stayed hours and hours.
From never thinking about anything or caring what came uppermost,
he seemed to have changed all on the other tack and do nothing but think.
I'd seen a chap in Berrima something like him for a month or two;
one day he manned the barber's razor and cut his throat. I began to be afraid
Jim would go off his head and blow his brains out with his own revolver.
Starlight himself got to be cranky and restless-like too.
One night he broke out as we were standing smoking under a tree,
a mile or so from the cave --
`By all the devils, Dick, I can't stand this sort of thing much longer.
We shall go mad or drink ourselves to death' -- (we'd all been
pretty well `on' the night before) -- `if we stick here
till we're trapped or smoked out like a 'guana out of a tree spout.
We must make a rise somehow, and try for blue water again.
I've been fighting against the notion the whole time we've been here,
but the devil and your old dad (who's a near relative, I believe)
have been too strong for us. Of course, you know what it's bound to be?'
`I suppose so. I know when dad was away last week he saw that beggar
and some of his mates. They partly made it up awhile back,
but didn't fancy doing it altogether by themselves. They've been waiting
on the chance of our standing in and your taking command.'
`Of course, the old story,' he says, throwing his cigar away,
and giving a half laugh -- such a laugh it was, too.
`Captain Starlight again, I suppose. The paltry vanity of leadership,
and of being in the front of my fellow-men, has been the ruin of me
ever since I could recollect. If my people had let me go into the army,
as I begged and prayed of them to do, it might have been all the other way.
I recollect that day and hour when my old governor refused my boyish petition,
laughed at me -- sneered at me. I took the wrong road then.
I swear to you, Dick, I never had thought of evil till that cursed day
which made me reckless and indifferent to everything. And this is the end --
a wasted life, a felon's doom! Quite melodramatic, isn't it, Richard?
Well, we'll play out the last act with spirit. "Enter first robber,"
and so on. Good-night.'
He walked away. I never heard him say so much about himself before.
It set me thinking of what luck and chance there seemed to be in this world.
How men were not let do what they knew was best for 'em -- often and often --
but something seemed to drive 'em farther and farther along the wrong road,
like a lot of stray wild cattle that wants to make back to their own run,
and a dog here, a fence the other way. A man on foot or a flock of sheep
always keeps frightening 'em farther and farther from the old beat till they
get back into a bit of back country or mallee scrub and stop there for good.
Cattle and horses and men and women are awful like one another in their ways,
and the more you watch 'em the more it strikes you.
Another day or two idling and card-playing, another headache
after too much grog at night, brought us to a regular go in about business,
and then we fixed it for good.
We were to stick up the next monthly gold escort. That was all.
We knew it would be a heavy one and trusted to our luck to get clear off
with the gold, and then take a ship for Honolulu or San Francisco.
A desperate chance; but we were desperate men. We had tried to work
hard and honest. We had done so for best part of a year.
No one could say we had taken the value of a halfpenny from any man.
And yet we were not let stay right when we asked for nothing
but to be let alone and live out the rest of our lives like men.
They wouldn't have us that way, and now they must take us across the grain,
and see what they would gain by that. So it happened we went out one day
with Warrigal to show us the way, and after riding for hours and hours,
we came to a thick scrub. We rode through it till we came to
an old cattle track. We followed that till we came to a tumble-down slab hut
with a stockyard beside it. The yard had been mended, and the rails were up.
Seven or eight horses were inside, all in good condition. As many men
were sitting or standing about smoking outside the old hut.
When we rode up they all came forward and we had it out.
We knew who was coming, and were ready for 'em. There was Moran, of course,
quiet and savage-looking, just as like a black snake as ever
twisting about with his deadly glittering eyes, wanting to bite some one.
There was Daly and Burke, Wall and Hulbert, and two or three more
-- I won't say who they were now -- and if you please
who should come out of the hut last but Master Billy the Boy,
as impudent as you like, with a pipe in his mouth, and a revolver in his belt,
trying to copy Moran and Daly. I felt sorry when I see him, and thought
what he'd gradually come to bit by bit, and where he'd most likely end,
all along of the first money he had from father for telegraphing.
But after all I've a notion that men and women grow up as they are
intended to from the beginning. All the same as a tree from seed.
You may twist it this road or that, make it a bit bigger or smaller
according to the soil or the way it's pruned and cut down when it's young,
but you won't alter the nature of that tree or the fruit that it bears.
You won't turn a five-corner into a quince, or a geebung into an orange,
twist and twine, and dig and water as you like. So whichever way
Billy the Boy had been broken and named he'd have bolted and run
off the course. Take a pet dingo now. He might look very tame, and follow
them that feed him, and stand the chain; but as soon as anything passed close
that he could kill, he'd have his teeth into it and be lapping its blood
before you could say knife, and the older he got the worse he'd be.
`Well, Dick,' says this young limb of Satan, `so you've took
to the Queen's highway agin, as the chap says in the play. I thought
you and Jim was a-going to jine the Methodies or the Sons of Temperance
at Turon, you both got to look so thunderin' square on it. Poor old Jim
looks dreadful down in the mouth, don't he, though?'
`It would be all the better for you if you'd joined some other body,
you young scamp,' I said. `Who told you to come here? I've half a mind
to belt you home again to your mother;' and I walked towards him.
`No, you won't, Dick Marston, don't you make any mistake,'
says the young bull-pup, looking nasty. `I'm as good a man as you,
with this little tool.' Here he pulled out his revolver.
`I've as much right to turn out as you have. What odds is it to you
what I do?'
I looked rather foolish at this, and Moran and Burke began to laugh.
`You'd better set up a night-school, Dick,' says Burke,
`and get Billy and some of the other flash kiddies to come.
They might turn over a new leaf in time.'
`If you'll stand up, or Moran there, that's grinning behind you,
I'll make some of ye laugh on the wrong side,' I said.
`Come on,' drawls Moran, taking off his coat, and walking up;
`I'd like to have a smack at you before you go into the Church.'
We should have been at it hammer and tongs -- we both hated one another
like poison -- only the others interfered, and Billy said
we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for quarrelling like schoolboys.
We were nice sort of chaps to stick up a gold escort. That made a laugh,
and we knocked off.
Well, it looked as if no one wanted to speak. Then Hulbert,
a very quiet chap, says, `I believe Ben Marston's the oldest man here;
let's hear what he's got to say.'
Father gets up at once, and looks steady at the rest of 'em,
takes his pipe out of his mouth, and shakes the baccy out. Then he says --
`All on ye knows without my telling what we've come here about,
and what there's hangin' to it. It's good enough if it's done to rights;
but make no mistake, boys, it's a battle as must be fought game,
and right back to the ropes, or not at all. If there's a bird here
that won't stand the steel he'd better be put in a bag and took home again.'
`Never mind about the steel, daddy,' says one of the new men.
`We're all good for a flutter when the wager's good.
What'll it be worth a man, and where are we going to divide?
We know your mob's got some crib up in the mountains that no one knows about.
We don't want the swag took there and planted. It mightn't be found easy.'
`Did ever a one of ye heer tell o' me actin' crooked?' says father.
`Look here, Bill, I'm not as young as I was, but you stand up to me
for three rounds and I'll take some of the cheek out of yer.'
`No fear, daddy, I'd sooner face Dick or Jim. But I only want what's fair
between man and man. It's a big touch, you know, and we can't take it
to the bank to divide, like diggers, or summons yer either.'
`What's the good of growlin' and snappin'?' says Burke.
`We're all goin' in regular, I suppose, share and share alike?'
The men nodded. `Well, there's only one way to make things shipshape,
and that's to have a captain. We'll pick one of ourselves,
and whatever he says we'll bind ourselves to do -- life or death.
Is that it, boys?'
`Yes, yes, that's the only way,' came from all hands.
`Now, the next thing to work is who we're to make captain of.
There's one here as we can all depend on, who knows more about road-work
than all the rest of us put together. You know who I mean;
but I don't want ye to choose him or any man because I tell you. I propose
Starlight for captain if he'll take it, and them that don't believe me
let 'em find a better man if they can.'
`I vote for Dan Moran,' says another man, a youngish farmer-looking chap.
`He's a bushman, like ourselves, and not a half-bred swell,
that's just as likely to clear out when we want him most as do anything else.'
`You go back to the Springs and feed them pigs, Johnny,' says father,
walking towards the young chap. `That's about what YOU'RE bred for;
nobody'll take you for a swell, quarter-bred, or anything else.
Howsoever, let's draw lots for it. Every man put his fancy down
on a bit of paper, and put 'em into my old hat here.'
This was done after a bit, and the end of it was ten votes for Starlight
and two or three for Moran, who looked savage and sulkier than ever.
When this was over Starlight walked over from where he was standing,
near me and Jim, and faced the crowd. He drew himself up a bit,
and looked round as haughty as he used to do when he walked up the big room
at the Prospectors' Arms in Turon -- as if all the rest of us
was dirt under his feet.
`Well, my lads,' he said, `you've done me the great honour to elect me
to be your captain. I'm willing to act, or I shouldn't be here.
If you're fools enough to risk your lives and liberties
for a thousand ounces of gold a man, I'm fool enough to show you the way.'
`Hurrah!' said half-a-dozen of them, flinging up their hats.
`We're on, Captain. Starlight for ever! You ride ahead and we'll back up.'
`That will do,' he says, holding up his hand as if to stop
a lot of dogs barking; `but listen to me.' Here he spoke a few words
in that other voice of his that always sounded to me and Jim
as if it was a different man talking, or the devil in his likeness.
`Now mind this before we go: you don't quite know me;
you will by and by, perhaps. When I take command of this gang,
for this bit of work or any other, my word's law -- do you hear?
And if any man disputes it or disobeys my orders, by ----,
I'll shoot him like a dog.'
As he stood there looking down on the lot of 'em, as if he was their king,
with his eyes burning up at last with that slow fire that lay
at the bottom of 'em, and only showed out sometimes,
I couldn't help thinking of a pirate crew that I'd read of when I was a boy,
and the way the pirate captain ruled 'em.
We were desperate fidgety and anxious till the day came.
While we were getting ready two or three things went wrong, of course.
Jim got a letter from Jeanie, all the way from Melbourne, where she'd gone.
It seems she'd got her money from the bank -- Jim's share of the gold --
all right. She was a saving, careful little woman, and she told him
she'd enough to keep them both well for four or five years, anyhow.
What she wanted him to do was to promise that he'd never be mixed up
in any more dishonest work, and to come away down to her at once.
`It was the easiest thing in the world,' she said, `to get away from Melbourne
to England or America. Ships were going every day, and glad to take any man
that was strong and willing to work his passage for nothing;
they'd pay him besides.'
She'd met one or two friends down there as would do anything
to help her and him. If he would only get down to Melbourne
all would yet be well; but she begged and prayed him, if he loved her,
and for the sake of the life she hoped to live with him yet,
to come away from his companions and take his own Jeanie's advice,
and try and do nothing wrong for the future.
If Jim had got his letter before we made up matters, just at the last
he'd have chucked up the sponge and cleared out for good and all.
He as good as said so; but he was one of them kind of men
that once he'd made a start never turned back. There'd been some chaff,
to make things worse, between Moran and Daly and some of the other fellows
about being game and what not, specially after what father said at the hut,
so he wouldn't draw out of it now.
I could see it fretted him worse than anything since we came back,
but he filled himself up with the idea that we'd be sure to get the gold
all right, and clear out different ways to the coast, and then we'd have
something worth while leaving off with. Another thing, we'd been all used
to having what money we wanted lately, and we none of us fancied
living like poor men again in America or anywhere else.
We hadn't had hardly a scrap from Aileen since we'd come back this last time.
It wasn't much odds. She was regular broken-hearted; you could see it
in every line.
`She had been foolish enough to hope for better things,' she said;
`now she expected nothing more in this world, and was contented
to wear out her miserable life the best way she could. If it wasn't that
her religion told her it was wrong, and that mother depended on her,
she'd drown herself in the creek before the door. She couldn't think
why some people were brought into this miserable world at all. Our family
had been marked out to evil, and the same fate would follow us to the end.
She was sorry for Jim, and believed if he had been let take his own road
that he would have been happy and prosperous to-day. It was a pity
he could not have got away safely to Melbourne with his wife
before that wicked woman, who deserved to be burnt alive, ruined everything.
Even now we might all escape, the country seemed in so much confusion
with all the strangers and bad people' (bad people -- well, every one thinks
their own crow the blackest) `that the goldfields had brought into it,
that it wouldn't be hard to get away in a ship somehow. If nothing else
bad turned up perhaps it might come to pass yet.'
This was the only writing we'd had from poor Aileen. It began
all misery and bitterness, but got a little better at the end.
If she and Gracey could have got hold of Kate Morrison
there wouldn't have been much left of her in a quarter of an hour,
I could see that.
Inside was a little bit of paper with one line, `For my sake,' that was all.
I knew the writing; there was no more. I could see what Gracey meant,
and wished over and over again that I had the chance of going straight,
as I'd wished a thousand times before, but it was too late, too late!
When the coach is running down hill and the break's off,
it's no use trying to turn. We had all our plan laid out and settled
to the smallest thing. We were to meet near Eugowra Rocks
a good hour or two before the escort passed, so as to have everything ready.
I remember the day as well as if it was yesterday. We were all
in great buckle and very fit, certainly. I don't think I ever felt better
in my life. There must be something out-and-out spiriting in a real battle
when a bit of a scrimmage like this sent our blood boiling through our veins;
made us feel as if we weren't plain Dick and Jim Marston,
but regular grand fellows, in a manner of speaking. What fools men are
when they're young -- and sometimes after that itself -- to be sure.
We started at daylight, and only stopped once on the road
for a bite for ourselves and to water the horses, so that we were
in good time. We brought a little corn with us, just to give
the horses something; they'd be tied up for hours and hours
when we got to the place pitched on. They were all there before us;
they hadn't as good horses by a long chalk as we had,
and two of their packers were poor enough. Jim and I were riding ahead
with Starlight a little on the right of us. When the fellows saw Rainbow
they all came crowding round him as if he'd been a show.
`By George!' says Burke, `that's a horse worth calling a horse, Captain.
I often heard tell of him, but never set eyes on him before. I've two minds
to shake him and leave you my horse and a share of the gold to boot.
I never saw his equal in my life, and I've seen some plums too.'
`Honour among -- well -- bush-rangers, eh, Burke?' says Starlight cheerily.
`He's the right sort, isn't he? We shall want good goers to-night.
Are we all here now? We'd better get to business.'
Yes, they were all there, a lot of well-built, upstanding chaps,
young and strong, and fit to do anything that a man could do
in the way of work or play. It was a shame to see them there
(and us too, for the matter of that), but there was no get away now.
There will be fools and rogues to the end of the world, I expect.
Even Moran looked a bit brighter than he did last time.
He was one of those chaps that a bit of real danger smartens up.
As for Burke, Daly, and Hulbert, they were like a lot of schoolboys,
so full of their fun and larks.
Starlight just spoke a word to them all; he didn't talk much,
but looked hard and stern about the face, as a captain ought to do.
He rode up to the gap and saw where the trees had been cut down
to block up the road. It would be hard work getting the coach
through there now -- for a bit to come.
After that our horses and the two packers were left behind
with Warrigal and father, close enough for hearing, but well
out of the way for seeing; it was behind a thick belt of timber.
They tied up some to trees and short-hobbled others, keeping them all
so as to be ready at a moment's notice. Our men hid themselves behind
rocks and stumps on the high side of the road so as they could see well,
and had all the shadow on their side. Wall and Hulbert and their lot
had their mob of horses, packers, and all planted away, and two young fellows
belonging to their crowd minding them.
We'd been ready a good bit when a cove comes tearing up full bat.
We were watching to see how he shaped, and whether he looked likely
to lay on the police, when I saw it was Billy the Boy.
`Now I call this something like,' says he, pulling up short:
`army in readiness, the enemy not far off. My word, it is a fine thing
to turn out, ain't it, Dick? Do you chaps feel shaky at all?
Ain't yer gallied the least little bit? They're a-comin'!'
`How long will they be?' Starlight said. `Just remember
that you're not skylarking at a pound-yard, my boy.'
`All right, Captain,' he answered, quiet enough. `I started on ahead
the moment I saw 'em leave the camp. They're safe to be here
in ten minutes now. You can see 'em when they come into the flat.
I'll clear out to the back for a bit. I want 'em to think
I come up permiskus-like when it's over.' So the young rascal galloped away
till the trees hid him, and in a quarter of an hour more
we saw the leaders of the four-horse drag that carried the escort gold
turn round on the forest road and show out into the flat.
It gave me a queer feeling just at first. We hadn't been used to firing
on the Queen's servants, not in cold blood, anyhow, but it was them or us
for it now. There was no time to think about it. They came along
at a steady trot up the hill. We knew the Turon sergeant of police
that drove, a tall man with a big black beard down to his chest.
He had been in an English dragoon regiment, and could handle the ribbons
above a bit. He had a trooper alongside him on the box with his rifle
between his knees. Two more were in the body of the drag.
They had put their rifles down and were talking and laughing,
not expecting anything sudden. Two more of the mounted men rode in front,
but not far. The couple behind were a good way off. All of a sudden
the men in front came on the trees lying across the road.
They pulled up short, and one of them jumped down and looked to see
if anything could be done to move them. The other man held his horse.
The coach drove up close, so that they were bunched up pretty well together.
`Who the devil has been doing that?' sung out the sergeant.
`Just as if the road isn't bad enough without these infernal lazy
scoundrels of bullock-drivers cutting down trees to make us go round.
It's a beastly track here at the best of times.'
`I believe them trees have been fallen on purpose,' says the trooper
that was down. `There's been men, and horses too, about here to-day,
by the tracks. They're up to no good!'
The order was given in Starlight's clear, bold voice.
Just like a horn it sounded. You might have heard it twice as far off.
A dozen shots followed the next second, making as much row as fifty
because of the way the sound echoed among the rocks.
I never saw a bigger surprise in my life, and wasn't likely to do,
as this was my first regular battle. We had plenty of time to take aim,
and just at first it looked as if the whole blessed lot of the police
was killed and wounded.
The sergeant threw up his arms and fell off the box like a log,
just under the horses' feet. One of the troopers on ahead dropped,
he that was holding the horses, and both horses started off at full gallop.
The two men in the body of the drag were both hit -- one badly.
So when the two troopers came up full gallop from the back
they found us cutting the traces of the team, that was all plunging like mad,
and letting the horses go.
We opened fire at them directly they showed themselves;
of course they couldn't do much in the face of a dozen men,
all well armed and behind good cover. They kept it up for a bit
till one of their horses was hit, and then made tracks for Turon
to report that the escort had been stuck up by twenty or thirty men
at Eugowra Rocks -- the others had come up with the pack-horses by this time,
along with Master Billy the Boy firing his revolver and shouting enough
for half-a-dozen; so we looked a big crowd -- that all the men
were shot dead, wounded, or taken prisoners, and that a strong force
had better be despatched at once to recapture the gold.
A good deal of this was true, though not all. The only man killed was
the sergeant. He was shot clean through the heart, and never stirred again.
Of the five other men, three were badly wounded and two slightly.
We attended to them as well as we could, and tied the others
so that they would not be able to give any bother for an hour or two
at any rate.
Then the trouble began about dividing the gold. We opened the sort of locker
there was in the centre of the coach and took out the square boxes of gold.
They held canvas bags, all labelled and weighed to the grain,
of about 1000 oz. each. There were fourteen boxes in all. Not a bad haul.
Some of the others couldn't read or write, and they wouldn't trust us,
so they brought their friend with them, who was an educated man sure enough.
We were a bit stunned to see him, holding the sort of position he did
at the Turon. But there he was, and he did his work well enough.
He brought a pair of scales with him and weighed the lot,
and portioned it all out amongst us just the same as Mr. Scott, the banker,
used to do for us at the Turon when we brought in our month's washing-up.
We had 5000 oz. Starlight had an extra share on account of being captain,
and the rest had somewhere about 8000 oz. or 9000 oz. among them.
It wasn't so bad.
Dad wasn't long before he had our lot safely packed and on his
two pack-horses. Warrigal and he cleared out at a trot,
and went out of sight in a jiffy. It was every man for himself now.
We waited a bit to help them with their swag; it was awful heavy.
We told them that their pack-horses would never carry it
if there was anything of a close run for it.
`Suppose you think you've got the only good horse in the country,
Dick Marston,' says Daly. `We'll find a horse to run anything you've got,
barrin' Rainbow. I've got a little roan horse here as shall run ever a horse
ye own, for three mile, for a hundred notes, with twelve stone up.
What do you think of that, now?'
`Don't take your shirt off, Patsey,' I said. `I know the roan's as good
as ever was foaled' (so he was; the police got him after Patsey was done for,
and kept him till he died of old age), `but he's in no condition.
I'm talking of the pack-horses; they're not up to much, as you'll find out.'
We didn't want to rush off at once, for fear the other fellows
might say something afterwards if anything happened cross.
So we saw them make a fair start for a spot on Weddin Mountain,
where they thought they were right. We didn't think we could be caught
once we made tracks in earnest. After a couple or three hours' riding
we should be pretty safe, and daylight would see us at the Hollow.
We stopped, besides, to do what we could for the wounded men.
They were none of them regularly done for, except the sergeant.
One man was shot through the lungs, and was breathing out blood
every now and then. We gave them some brandy and water,
and covered them all up and left them as comfortable as we could.
Besides that, we sent Billy the Boy, who couldn't be recognised,
to the camp to have a doctor sent as soon as possible.
Then we cleared and started off, not the way we had to go,
but so as we could turn into it.
We couldn't ride very slow after such a turn as that, so we made the pace
pretty hot for the first twenty miles or so. By Jove! it was a great ride;
the forest was middling open, and we went three parts speed
when we could see before us. The horses seemed to go
as if they knew there was something up. I can see Rainbow now,
swinging along with that beautiful bounding style of going he had,
snorting now and then and sending out his legs as if one hundred miles,
more or less, was nothing. His head up, his eye shining like a star,
his nostrils open, and every now and then, if anything got up,
he'd give a snort as if he'd just come up out of the bush.
They'd had a longish day and a fast ride before they got to Eugowra,
just enough to eat to keep them from starving, with a drink of water.
Now they were going the same style back, and they'd never had the saddles
off their backs. All the night through we rode before we got
to the top of Nulla Mountain; very glad to see it we were then.
We took it easy for a few miles now and again, then we'd push on again.
We felt awful sleepy at times; we'd been up and at it
since the morning before; long before daylight, too.
The strangeness and the chance of being followed kept us up, else I believe
we'd have dropped off our horses' backs, regular dead beat.
We lost ground now and then through Warrigal not being there to guide us,
but Jim took the lead and he wasn't far out; besides, the horses knew
which way to steer for their grass at the Hollow. They wouldn't let us go
much off the line if it was ever so dark. We gave 'em their heads mostly.
The sun was just rising as we rode across the last tableland.
We got off and stumbled along, horses and men, down the track to the Hollow.
Dad and Warrigal hadn't come back; of course they couldn't stand
the pace we did. They'd have to camp for a bit, but they both knew
of plants and hiding holes, where all the police in the colony
couldn't find them. We knew they'd turn up some time next day.
So we let go our horses, and after a bit of supper laid down and slept
till well on in the afternoon.
When I looked round I saw the dog sleeping at Jim's feet, old Crib.
He never left father very far, so of course the old man must be home,
or pretty close up. I was that dead beat and tired out
that I turned over and went to sleep for another couple of hours.
When I next woke up I was right and felt rested, so I put on my things,
had a good wash, and went out to speak to father. He was sitting
by the fire outside smoking, just as if he'd never been away.
`We done that job to rights if we never done another, eh, lad?' says father,
reaching out for a coal to put in his pipe.
`Seems like it,' I said. `There'll be a deuce of a bobbery about it.
We shan't be able to move for a bit, let alone clear out.'
`We'll show 'em a trick or two yet,' says dad. I could see he'd had a tot,
early as it was. `I wonder how them chaps got on? But we'll hear soon.'
`How shall we hear anything? Nobody'll be mad enough to show out of here
for a bit.'
`I could get word here,' says father, `if there was a police barrack
on the top of Nulla Mountain. I've done it afore, and I can do it again.'
`Well, I hope it won't be long, for I'm pretty full up of this
staying-at-home business in the Hollow. It's well enough for a bit,
but it's awful slow when you've too much of it.'
`It wouldn't be very slow if we was all grabbed and tried for our lives,
Mr. Dick Marston. Would ye like that better for a change?' says the old man,
showing his teeth like a dog that's making up his mind to have ye
and don't see where he's to get first bite. `You leave the thing
to them as knows more than you do, or you'll find yourself took in,
and that precious sharp.'
`You'll find your pals, Burke and Moran, and their lot
will have their turn first,' I said, and with that I walked off,
for I saw the old man had been drinking a bit after his night's work,
and that always started his temper the wrong way. There was
no doing anything with him then, as I knew by long experience.
I was going to ask him where he'd put the gold, but thought it best
to leave that for some other time.
By and by, when we all turned out and had some breakfast,
we took a bit of a walk by ourselves and talked it over.
We could hardly think it was all done and over.
`The gold escort stuck up. Fourteen thousand ounces of gold taken.
Sergeant Hawkins shot dead. The robbers safe off with their booty.'
This is the sort of thing that we were sure to see in all the papers.
It would make a row and no mistake. It was the first time such a thing
had been thought of, much less carried out `to rights', as father said,
`in any of the colonies.' We had the five thousand ounces of gold,
safe enough, too. That was something; whether we should be let enjoy it,
or what chance we had of getting right away out of the country,
was quite another matter. We were all sorry for Sergeant Hawkins,
and would have been better pleased if he'd been only wounded like the others.
But these sorts of things couldn't be helped. It was the fortune of war;
his luck this time, ours next. We knew what we had to expect.
Nothing would make much difference. `As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.'
We were up to our necks in it now, and must fight our way out
the best way we could.
Bar any man betraying the secret of the Hollow we might be safe
for years to come, as long as we were not shot or taken in fair fight.
And who was to let out the secret? No one but ourselves
had the least notion of the track or where it led to,
or of such a place as the Hollow being in the colony. Only us five
were in possession of the secret. We never let any of these other men
come near, much less to it. We took good care never to meet them
within twenty miles of it. Father was a man that, even when he was drunk,
never let out what he didn't want other people to know.
Jim and I and Starlight were not likely to blab, and Warrigal
would have had his throat cut sooner than let on about anything that might be
against Starlight, or that he told him not to do.
We had good reason, then, to think ourselves safe as long as we had
such a place to make for whenever we were in danger or had done a stroke.
We had enough in gold and cash to keep us comfortable in any other country --
provided we could only get there. That was the rub. When we'd got
a glass or two in our heads we thought it was easy enough
to get across country, or to make away one by one at shearing time,
disguised as swagsmen, to the coast. But when we thought it over carefully
in the mornings, particularly when we were a bit nervous after the grog
had died out of us, it seemed a rather blue look-out.
There was the whole countryside pretty thick with police stations,
where every man, from the sergeant to the last-joined recruit,
knew the height, size, colour of hair, and so on of every one of us.
If a suspicious-looking man was seen or heard of within miles
the telegraph wires could be set to work. He could be met, stopped,
searched, and overhauled. What chance would any of us have then?
`Don't flatter yourselves, my boy,' Starlight said, when we'd got
the length of thinking how it was to be done, `that there's any little
bit of a chance, for a year or two at any rate, of getting away.
Not a kangaroo rat could hop across from one scrub to another
if there was the least suspicion upon him without being blocked or run into.
Jim, old man, I'm sorry for you, but my belief is we're quartered here
for a year or two certain, and the sooner we make up our minds to it
Here poor old Jim groaned. `Don't you think,' he said, quite timid-like,
`that about shearing-time a man might take his chance,
leading an old horse with a swag on, as if he wanted to get shearing
in some of the big down-the-river sheds?'
`Not a bit of it,' says Starlight. `You're such a good-looking,
upstanding chap that you're safe to be pulled up and made answer for yourself
before you'd get fifty miles. If you rode a good horse
they'd think you were too smart-looking for a regular shearer,
and nail you at once.'
`But I'd take an old screw with a big leg,' pleaded Jim.
`Haven't I often seen a cove walking and leading one just to carry
his blankets and things?'
`Then they'd know a chap like you, full of work and a native to boot,
ought to have a better turn-out -- if it wasn't a stall.
So they'd have you for that.'
`But there's Isaac Lawson and Campbelltown. You've seen them.
Isaac's an inch taller than me, and the same cut and make.
Why shouldn't they shop them when they're going shearing?
They're square enough, and always was. And Campbelltown's
a good deal like Dick, beard and all.'
`Well, I'll bet you a new meerschaum that both men are arrested on suspicion
before shearing. Of course they'll let them go again; but, you mark my words,
they'll be stopped, as well as dozens of others. That will show
how close the search will be.'
`I don't care,' says Jim, in his old, obstinate way, which he never put on
except very seldom. `I'll go in a month or two -- police or no police.
I'll make for Melbourne if there was an army of soldiers
between me and Jeanie.'
We had to settle where the gold was to be hid. After a lot of talk
we agreed to keep one bag in a hole in the side of the wall of the cave,
and bury the others in the place where we'd found old Mr. Devereux's box.
His treasure had laid many a year safe and sound without anybody touching it,
and we thought ours might do the same. Besides, to find it
they must get into the Hollow first. So we packed it out bag by bag,
and made an ironbark coffin for it, and buried it away there,
and put some couch-grass turfs on it. We knew they'd soon grow up,
and nobody could tell that it hadn't always been covered up
the same as the rest of the old garden.
It felt pretty hard lines to think we shouldn't be able to get away
from this lonely place after the life we'd led the last year; but Starlight
wasn't often wrong, and we came to the same way of thinking ourselves
when we looked at it all round, steady and quiet like.
We'd been a week or ten days all by ourselves, horse-breaking, fishing,
and shooting a bit, thinking how strange it was that we should have
more than 20,000 Pounds in gold and money and not be able
to do anything with it, when dad, sudden like, said he'd go out himself
and get some of the newspapers, and perhaps a letter or two if any came.
Starlight laughed at him a bit for being foolhardy, and said
we should hear of his being caught and committed for trial.
`Why, they'll know the dog,' says he, `and make him give evidence in court.
I've known that done before now. Inspector Merlin nailed a chap
through his dog.'
Father grinned. `I know'd that case -- a sheep-stealing one.
They wanted to make out Brummy was the man as owned the dorg --
a remarkable dorg he was, too, and had been seen driving the sheep.'
`Well, what did the dog do? Identify the prisoner, didn't he?'
`Well, the dashed fool of a coolie did. Jumps up as soon as he was brought
into court, and whines and scratches at the dock rails and barks,
and goes on tremenjus, trying to get at Brummy.'
`How did his master like it?'
`Oh! Brummy? He looked as black as the ace of spades.
He'd have made it hot for that dorg if he could ha' got at him.
But I suppose he forgived him when he came out.'
`Why should he?'
`Because the jury fetched him in guilty without leaving the box,
and the judge give him seven years. You wouldn't find this old varmint
a-doin' no such foolishness as that.'
Here he looks at Crib, as was lyin' down a good way off, and not letting on
to know anything. He saw father's old mare brought up, though, and saddled,
and knowed quite well what that meant. He never rode her unless he was going
out of the Hollow.
`I believe that dog could stick up a man himself as well as some fellows
we know,' says Starlight, `and he'd do it, too, if your father
gave him the word.'
. . . . .
While we were taking it easy, and except for the loneliness of it as safe
as if we had been out of the country altogether, Moran and the other fellows
hadn't quite such a good time of it. They were hunted from pillar to post
by the police, who were mad to do something to meet the chaff
that was always being cast up to them of having a lot of bush-rangers
robbing and shooting all over the country and not being able to take them.
There were some out-of-the-way places enough in the Weddin Mountains,
but none like the Hollow, where they could lie quiet and untroubled
for weeks together, if they wanted. Besides, they had lost their gold
by their own foolishness in not having better pack-horses, and hadn't much
to carry on with, and it's not a life that can be worked on the cheap,
I can tell you, as we often found out. Money comes easy in our line,
but it goes faster still, and a man must never be short of a pound or two
to chuck about if he wants to keep his information fresh, and to have people
working for him night and day with a will.
So they had some every-day sort of work cut out to keep themselves going,
and it took them all their time to get from one part of the country
where they were known to some other place where they weren't expected.
Having out-and-out good hacks, and being all of them chaps
that had been born in the bush and knew it like a book,
it was wonderful how they managed to rob people at one place one day,
and then be at some place a hundred miles off the next. Ever so many times
they came off, and they'd call one another Starlight and Marston, and so on,
till the people got regularly dumbfoundered, and couldn't tell
which of the gang it was that seemed to be all over the country,
and in two places at the same time. We used to laugh ourselves sometimes,
when we'd hear tell that all the travellers passing Big Hill on a certain day
were `stuck up by Wall's gang and robbed.' Every man Jack
that came along for hours was made to stand behind a clump of trees
with two of the gang guarding them, so as the others couldn't see them
as they came up. They all had to deliver up what they'd got about 'em,
and no one was allowed to stir till sundown, for fear they should send word
to the police. Then the gang went off, telling them to stay where they were
for an hour or else they'd come back and shoot them.
This would be on the western road, perhaps. Next day a station
on the southern road, a hundred and twenty miles off,
would be robbed by the same lot. Money and valuables taken away,
and three or four of the best horses. Their own they'd leave behind
in such a state that any one could see how far and fast they'd been ridden.
They often got stood to, when they were hard up for a mount,
and it was this way. The squatters weren't alike, by any manner of means,
in their way of dealing with them. Many of them had lots of fine
riding-horses in their paddocks. These would be yarded some fine night,
the best taken and ridden hard, perhaps returned next morning,
perhaps in a day or two.
It was pretty well known who had used them, but nothing was said;
the best policy, some think, is to hold a candle to the devil,
especially when the devil's camped close handy to your paddock,
and might any time sack your house, burn down your woolshed and stacks,
or even shoot at your worshipful self if he didn't like the way
you treated him and his imps.
These careful respectable people didn't show themselves too forward either
in giving help or information to the police. Not by no means.
They never encouraged them to stay when they came about the place,
and weren't that over liberal in feeding their horses,
or giving them a hand in any way, that they'd come again in a hurry.
If they were asked about the bush-rangers, or when they'd been last seen,
they were very careful, and said as little as possible.
No one wonders at people like the Barnes's, or little farmers,
or the very small sort of settlers, people with one flock of sheep
or a few cows, doing this sort of thing; they have a lot to lose
and nothing to get if they gain ill-will. But regular country gentlemen,
with big properties, lots of money, and all the rest of it,
they're there to show a good example to the countryside,
whether it paid for the time or whether it didn't; and all us sort of chaps,
on the cross or not, like them all the better for it.
When I say all of us, I don't mean Moran. A sulky, black-hearted,
revengeful brute he always was -- I don't think he'd any manly feeling
about him. He was a half-bred gipsy, they told us that knew
where he was reared, and Starlight said gipsy blood was a queer cross,
for devilry and hardness it couldn't be beat; he didn't wonder a bit
at Moran's being the scoundrel he was.
No doubt he `had it in' for more than one of the people who helped the police
to chevy Wall and his lot about. From what I knew of him I was sure
he'd do some mischief one of these days, and make all the country
ten times as hot against us as they were now. He had no mercy about him.
He'd rather shoot a man any day than not; and he'd burn a house down
just for the pleasure of seeing how the owner looked when it was lighted.
Starlight used to say he despised men that tried to
save themselves cowardly-like more than he could say,
and thought them worse than the bush-rangers themselves.
Some of them were big people, too.
But other country gentlemen, like Mr. Falkland, were quite
of a different pattern. If they all acted like him
I don't think we should any of us have reigned as long as we did.
They helped and encouraged the police in every possible way.
They sent them information whenever they had received any worth while.
They lent them horses freely when their own were tired out and beaten.
More than that, when bush-rangers were supposed to be in the neighbourhood
they went out with them themselves, lying out and watching
through the long cold nights, and taking their chance of a shot
as well as those that were paid for it.
Now there was a Mr. Whitman that had never let go a chance from the start
of running their trail with the police, and had more than once given them
all they knew to get away. He was a native of the country, like themselves,
a first-class horseman and tracker, a hardy, game sort of a chap
that thought nothing of being twenty-four hours in the saddle,
or sitting under a fence watching for the whole of a frosty night.
Well, he was pretty close to Moran once, who had been out by himself;
that close he ran him he made him drop his rifle and ride for his life.
Moran never forgave him for this, and one day when they had all been
drinking pretty heavy he managed to persuade Wall, Hulbert, Burke, and Daly
to come with him and stick up Whitman's house.
`I sent word to him I'd pay him out one of these fine days,' he drawled out,
`and he'll find that Dan Moran can keep his word.'
He picked a time when he knew Whitman was away at another station.
I always thought Moran was not so game as he gave himself out to be.
And I think if he'd had Whitman's steady eyes looking at him,
and seeing a pistol in his hand, he wouldn't have shot as straight
as he generally did when he was practising at a gum tree.
Anyhow, they laid it out all right, as they thought,
to take the place unawares. They'd been drinking at a flash kind of inn
no great way off, and when they rode up to the house it seems they were
all of 'em three sheets in the wind, and fit for any kind of villainy
that came uppermost. As for Moran, he was a devil unchained.
I know what he was. The people in the house that day trembled and shook
when they heard the dogs bark and saw five strange horsemen
ride through the back gate into the yard.
They'd have trembled a deal more if they'd known what was coming.
When we found that by making darts and playing hide and seek with the police
in this way we could ride about the country more comfortable like,
we took matters easier. Once or twice we tried it on by night,
and had a bit of a lark at Jonathan's, which was a change
after having to keep dark so long. We'd rode up there after dark one night,
and made ourselves pretty snug for the evening, when Bella Barnes asked us
if we'd dropped across Moran and his mob that day.
`No,' says I. `Didn't know they were about this part. Why, weren't they
at Monckton's the day before yesterday?'
`Ah! but they came back last night, passed the house to-day
going towards Mr. Whitman's, at Darjallook. I don't know, but I expect
they're going to play up a bit there, because of his following them up
that time the police nearly got Moran.'
`What makes you think that? They're only going for what they can get;
perhaps the riding-horses and any loose cash that's knocking about.'
`Billy the Boy was here for a bit,' says Maddie. `I don't like
that young brat, he'll turn out bad, you take my word for it;
but he said Moran knew Mr. Whitman was away at the Castlereagh station,
and was going to make it a warning to them all.'
`Well, it's too bad,' said Bella; `there's no one there
but Mrs. Whitman and the young ladies. It's real cowardly, I call it,
to frighten a parcel of women. But that Moran's a brute
and hasn't the feelings of a man about him.'
`We must ride over, boys,' says Starlight, yawning and stretching himself.
`I was looking forward to a pleasant evening here, but it seems to me
we ought to have a say in this matter. Whitman's gone a trifle fast,
and been hard on us; but he's a gentleman, and goes straight for what
he considers his duty. I don't blame him. If these fellows are half drunk
they'll burn the place down I shouldn't wonder, and play hell's delight.'
`And Miss Falkland's up there too, staying with the young ladies,'
says Maddie. `Why, Jim, what's up with you? I thought you wasn't
`Come along, Dick,' says Jim, quite hoarse-like, making one jump to the door.
`Dash it, man, what's the use of us wasting time jawing here? By ----,
if there's a hair of her head touched I'll break Moran's neck,
and shoot the lot of them down like crows.'
`Good-bye, girls,' I said, `there's no time to lose.'
Starlight made a bow, polite to the last, and passed out. Jim was
on his horse as we got to the stable door. Warrigal fetched Starlight's,
and in half a minute Jim and he were off together along the road full split,
and I had as much as I could do to catch them up within the next mile.
It wasn't twenty miles to Whitman's place, Darjallook, but the road was good,
and we did it in an hour and twenty minutes, or thereabouts.
I know Starlight lit a match and looked at his watch when we got near
the front gate.
We could see nothing particular about the house. The lights shone
out of the windows, and we heard the piano going.
`Seems all right,' says Starlight. `Wonder if they came, after all?
They'll think we want to stick the place up if we ride up to the hall door.
Get off and look out tracks, Warrigal.'
Warrigal dismounted, lit a couple of matches, and put his head down
close to the soft turf, as if he was going to smell it.
`Where track?' says Starlight.
`There!' says Warrigal, pointing to something we couldn't see if we'd looked
for a month. `Bin gone that way. That one track Moran's horse. I know him;
turn foot in likit cow. Four more track follow up.'
`Why, they're in the house now, the infernal scoundrels,' says Starlight.
`You stay here with the horses, Warrigal; we'll walk up.
If you hear shooting, tie them to the fence and run in.'
We walked up very quiet to the house -- we'd all been there before,
and knew where the front parlour was -- over the lawn and two flower-beds,
and then up to the big bow-window. The others stood under
an old white cedar tree that shadowed all round. I looked in,
and, by George! my face burned, cold as it was. There was Moran
lying back in an arm-chair, with a glass of grog in his hand,
takin' it easy and makin' himself quite at home. Burke and Daly were sitting
in two chairs near the table, looking a long way from comfortable;
but they had a couple of bottles of brandy on the table and glasses,
and were filling up. So was Moran. They'd had quite as much
as was good for them. The eldest Miss Whitman was sitting at the piano,
playing away tune after tune, while her eyes were wandering about
and her lips trembling, and every now and then she'd flush up
all over her face; then she'd turn as white as a sheet,
and look as if she'd fall off the stool. The youngest daughter
was on her knees by her, on the other side, with her head in her lap.
Every now and then I could hear a sob come from her, but stifled-like,
as if she tried to choke it back as much as she could.
Burke and Daly had their pistols on the table, among the bottles
-- though what they wanted 'em there for I couldn't see --
and Moran had stuck his on the back of the piano. That showed me
he was close up drunk, for he was a man as never hardly
let go of his revolver.
Mrs. Whitman was sitting crouched up in a chair behind her daughter,
with a stony face, looking as if the end of the world was come.
I hardly knew her again. She was a very kind woman, too;
many a glass of grog she'd given me at shearing time, and medicine too,
once I was sick there with influenza.
But Miss Falkland; I couldn't keep my eyes off her. She was sitting
on the sofa against the wall, quite upright, with her hands before her,
and her eyes looking half proudly, half miserable, round the room.
You couldn't hardly tell she was frightened except by a kind of twitching
of her neck and shoulders.
Presently Moran, who was more than half boozed as it was,
and kept on drinking, calls out to Miss Whitman to sing a song.
`Come, Miss Polly,' says he, `you can sing away fast enough
for your dashed old father and some o' them swells from Bathurst.
By George, you must tune your pipe a bit this time for Dan Moran.'
The poor girl said she couldn't sing just then, but she'd play as much
as he liked.
`Yer'd better sing now,' he drawls out, `unless ye want me
to come and make you. I know you girls wants coaxing sometimes.'
Poor Miss Mary breaks out at once into some kind of a song --
the pitifullest music ever you listened to. Only I wanted to wait a bit,
so as to come in right once for all, I'd have gone at him, hammer and tongs,
that very minute.
All this time Burke and Daly were goin' in steady at the brandy,
finished one bottle and tackled another. They began to get noisy
and talked a lot, and sung a kind of a chorus to Miss Mary's song.
After the song was over, Moran swore he'd have another one.
She'd never sing for him any more, he said, unless she took a fancy to him,
and went back to the Weddin Mountains with them.
`It ain't a bad name for a mountain, is it, miss?' says he, grinning.
Then, fixing his black snake's eyes on her, he poured out
about half a tumbler of brandy and drank it off.
`By gum!' he says, `I must have a dance; blest if I don't!
First chop music -- good room this -- three gals and the missus --
course we must. I'm regular shook on the polka. You play us a good 'un,
Polly, or whatever yer name is. Dan Moran's goin' to enjoy himself this night
if he never sees another. Come on, Burke. Patsey, stand up, yer blamed fool.
Here goes for my partner.'
`Come, Moran,' says Burke, `none of your larks; we're very jolly,
and the young ladies ain't on for a hop; are ye, miss?' and he looked over
at the youngest Miss Whitman, who stared at him for a moment,
and then hid her face in her hands.
`Are you a-goin' to play as I told yer?' says Moran. `D'ye think yer know
when yer well off?'
The tone of voice he said this in and the look seemed to frighten
the poor girl so that she started an old-style polka there and then,
which made him bang his heels on the floor and spin round
as if he'd been at a dance-house. As soon as he'd done two or three turns
he walks over to the sofa and sits down close to Miss Falkland,
and put his arm round her waist.
`Come, Fanny Falkland,' says he, `or whatever they call yer;
you're so dashed proud yer won't speak to a bush cove at all.
You can go home by'n by, and tell your father that you had a twirl-round
with Dan Moran, and helped to make the evening pass pleasant at Darjallook
afore it was burned.'
Anything like the disgust, misery, and rage mixed up
that came into Miss Falkland's face all in a moment and together-like,
I never saw. She made no sound, but her face grew paler and paler;
she turned white to the lips, as trembled and worked in spite of her.
She struggled fierce and wild for nigh a solid minute to clear herself
from him, while her beautiful eyes moved about like I've seen
a wild animal's caught in a trap. Then, when she felt her strength
wasn't no account against his, she gave one piercing, terrible scream,
so long and unnatural-like in the tone of it that it curdled my very blood.
I lifted up the window-sash quick, and jumped in; but before I made two steps
Jim sprang past me, and raised his pistol.
`Drop her!' he shouts to Moran; `you hound! Leave go Miss Falkland,
or by the living God I'll blow your head off, Dan Moran, before you can lift
your hand! How dare you touch her, you cowardly dog!'
Moran was that stunned at seeing us show up so sudden that he was a good bit
took off his guard, cool card as he was in a general way.
Besides, he'd left his revolver on the piano close by the arm-chair,
where his grog was. Burke and Daly were no better off.
They found Starlight and Warrigal covering them with their pistols,
so that they'd have been shot down before they could so much as reach
for their tools.
But Jim couldn't wait; and just as Moran was rising on his feet,
feeling for the revolver that wasn't in his belt (and that I never heard
of his being without but that once), he jumps at him like a wallaroo,
and, catching him by the collar and waist-belt, lifts him clean off his feet
as if he'd been a child, and brings him agen the corner of the wall
with all his full strength. I thought his brains was knocked out,
dashed if I didn't. I heard Moran's head sound against the stone wall
with a dull sort of thud; and on the floor he drops like a dead man --
never made a kick. By George! we all thought he had killed him.
`Stash that, now,' says Burke; `don't touch him again, Jim Marston.
He's got as much as 'll do him for a bit; and I don't say
it don't serve him right. I don't hold with being rough to women.
It ain't manly, and we've got wives and kids of our own.'
`Then why the devil didn't you stop it?' says Starlight. `You deserve
the same sauce, you and Daly, for sitting there like a couple of children,
and letting that ruffian torment these helpless ladies.
If you fellows go on sticking up on your own account, and I hear
a whisper of your behaving yourselves like brutes, I'll turn policeman myself
for the pleasure of running you in. Now, mind that, you and Daly too.
Where's Wall and Hulbert?'
`They went to yard the horses.'
`That's fair game, and all in the day's work. I don't care what you take
or whom you shoot for that matter, as long as it's all in fair fight;
but I'll have none of this sort of work if I'm to be captain,
and you're all sworn to obey me, mind that. I'll have to shoot a man yet,
I see, as I've done before now, before I can get attended to.
That brute's coming to. Lift him up, and clear out of this place
as soon as you can. I'll wait behind.'
They blundered out, taking Moran with them, who seemed quite stupid like,
and staggered as he walked. He wasn't himself for a week after,
and longer too, and threatened a bit, but he soon saw he'd no show,
as all the fellows, even to his own mates, told him he deserved all he got.
Old Jim stood up by the fireplace after that, never stirring nor speaking,
with his eyes fixed on Miss Falkland, who had got back her colour,
and though she panted a bit and looked raised like, she wasn't much different
from what we'd seen her before at the old place. The two Misses Whitman,
poor girls, were standing up with their arms round one another's necks,
and the tears running down their faces like rain. Mrs. Whitman was lying back
in her chair with her hands over her face cryin' to herself quiet and easy,
and wringing her hands.
Then Starlight moved forward and bowed to the ladies as if he was just
coming into a ballroom, like I saw him once at a swell ball they gave
for the hospital at Turon.
`Permit me to apologise, Mrs. Whitman, and to you, my dear young ladies,
for the rudeness of one of my men, whom I unhappily was not able to restrain.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Whitman, and I hope you will express
my regret that I was not in time to save you from the great annoyance
to which you have been subjected.'
`Oh! I shall be grateful all my life to you, and so, I'm sure,
will Mr. Whitman, when he returns; and oh! Sir Ferdinand,
if you and these two good young men, who, I suppose, are policemen
in plain clothes, had not come in, goodness only knows
what would have become of us.'
`I am afraid you are labouring under some mistake, my dear madam.
I have not the honour to be Sir Ferdinand Morringer or any other baronet
at present; but I assure you I feel the compliment intensely. I am sure
my good friends here, James and Richard Marston, do equally.'
Here the Misses Whitman, in spite of all their terror and anxiety,
were so tickled by the idea of their mother mistaking
Starlight and the Marstons for Sir Ferdinand and his troopers
that they began to laugh, not but what they were sober enough
in another minute.
Miss Falkland got up then and walked forward, looking just the way
her father used to do. She spoke to Starlight first.
`I have never seen you before, but I have often heard of you,
Captain Starlight, if you will allow me to address you by that title.
Believe me when I say that by your conduct to-night you have won
our deepest gratitude -- more than that, our respect and regard.
Whatever may be your future career, whatever the fate that your wild life
may end in, always believe there are those who will think of you,
pray for you, rejoice in your escapes, and sorrow sincerely for your doom.
I can answer for myself, and I am sure for my cousins also.'
Here the Misses Whitman said --
`Yes, indeed, we will -- to our life's end.'
Then she turned to Jim, who still stood there looking at her
with his big gray eyes, that had got ever so much darker lately.
`You, poor old Jim,' she said, and she took hold of his brown hand and held it
in her own, `I am more sorry than I can tell to hear all I have done
about you and Dick too. This is the second time you have saved me,
and I am not the girl to forget it, if I could only show my gratitude.
Is there any way?'
`There's Jeanie,' just them two words he said.
`Your wife? Oh yes, I heard about her,' looking at him
so kind and gentle-like. `I saw it all in the papers. She's in Melbourne,
isn't she? What is her address?'
`Esplanade Hotel, St. Kilda,' says Jim, taking a small bit of a letter
out of his pocket.
`Very well, Jim, I have a friend who lives near it. She will find her out,
and do all for her that can be done. But why don't you --
why don't all of you contrive to get away somehow from this hateful life,
and not bring ruin and destruction on the heads of all who love you?
Say you will try for their sake -- for my sake.'
`It's too late, Miss Falkland,' I said. `We're all thankful to you
for the way you've spoken. Jim and I would be proud to shed our blood for you
any time, or Mr. Falkland either. We'll do what we can, but we'll have to
fight it out to the end now, and take our chance of the bullet coming
before the rope. Good-night, Miss Falkland, and good luck to you always.'
She shook hands heartily with me and Jim, but when she came to Starlight
he raised her hand quite respectful like and just touched it with his lips.
Then he bowed low to them all and walked slowly out.
When we got to the public-house, which wasn't far off, we found that
Moran and the other two had stayed there a bit till Wall and Hulbert came;
then they had a drink all round and rode away. The publican said
Moran was in an awful temper, and he was afraid he'd have shot somebody
before the others got him started and clear of the place.
`It's a mercy you went over, Captain,' says he; `there'd have been
the devil to pay else. He swore he'd burn the place down
before he went from here.'
`He'll get caught one of these fine days,' says Starlight.
`There's more risk at one station than half-a-dozen road scrimmages,
and that he'll find, clever as he thinks himself.'
`Where's Mr. Whitman, Jack?' says I to the landlord (he wasn't a bad sort,
old Jack Jones). `What made him leave his place to the mercy of the world,
in a manner of speaking?'
`Well, it was this way. He heard that all the shepherds at the lower station
had cut it to the diggings, ye see; so he thought he'd make a dart
up to the Castlereagh and rig'late the place a bit. He'll be back
`How d'ye know that?'
`Well, he's ridin' that famous roan pony o' his, and he always
comes back from the station in one day, though he takes two to go;
eighty-five miles every yard of it. It's a big day, but that pony's a rum un,
and can jump his own height easy. He'll be welcome home to-night.'
`I daresay he will, and no wonder. The missus must ha' been awful frightened,
and the young ladies too. Good-night, Jack;' and we rattled off.
It wasn't so very late after all when we got back to Jonathan's;
so, as the horses wanted a bit of a rest and a feed, we roused up the girls
and had supper. A very jolly one it was, my word.
They were full of curiosity, you bet, to know how we got on when they heard
Moran was there and the others. So bit by bit they picked it out of us.
When they heard it all, Maddie got up and threw her arms round Jim's neck.
`I may kiss you now you're married,' she says, `and I know
there's only one woman in the world for you; but you deserve one
from every woman in the country for smashing that wretch Moran.
It's a pity you didn't break his neck. Never mind, old man;
Miss Falkland won't forget you for that, you take my word.
I'm proud of you, that I am.'
Jim just sat there and let her talk to him. He smiled
in a serious kind of way when she ran over to him first;
but, instead of a good-looking girl, it might have been his grandmother
for all he seemed to care.
`You're a regular old image, Jim,' says she. `I hope none of my other friends
'll get married if it knocks all the go out of them, same as it has from you.
However, you can stand up for a friend, can't you? You wouldn't see me
trod upon; d'ye think you would, now? I'd stand up for you, I know,
if you was bested anywhere.'
`My dear Maddie,' says Starlight, `James is in that particular
stage of infatuation when a man only sees one woman in the whole world.
I envy him, I assure you. When your day comes you will understand
much of what puzzles you at present.'
`I suppose so,' said Maddie, going back to her seat with a wondering,
queer kind of look. `But it must be dreadful dull being shut in
for weeks and weeks in one place, perhaps, and with only one man.'
`I have heard it asserted,' he says, `that a slight flavour of monotony
occasionally assails the honeymoon. Variety is the salt of life,
I begin to think. Some of these fine days, Maddie, we'll both get married
and compare notes.'
`You'll have to look out, then,' says Bella. `All the girls about here
are getting snapped up quick. There's such a lot of young bankers,
Government officers, and swells of all sorts about the diggings now,
not to reckon the golden-hole men, that we girls have double the pull we had
before the gold. Why, there was my old schoolmate, Clara Mason,
was married last week to such a fine young chap, a surveyor.
She'd only known him six weeks.'
`Well, I'll come and dance at your wedding if you'll send me an invite,'
`Will you, though?' she said. `Wouldn't it be fun? Unless Sir Ferdinand
was there. He's a great friend of mine, you know.'
`I'll come if his Satanic Majesty himself was present (he occasionally does
attend a wedding, I've heard), and bring you a present, too, Bella;
mind, it's a bargain.'
`There's my hand on it,' says she. `I wonder how you'll manage it,
but I'll leave that to you. It mightn't be so long either.
And now it's time for us all to go to bed. Jim's asleep, I believe,
this half hour.'
This bit of a barney, of course, made bad blood betwixt us and Moran's mob,
so for a spell Starlight and father thought it handier for us
to go our own road and let them go theirs. We never could agree
with chaps like them, and that was the long and short of it.
They were a deal too rough and ready for Starlight; and as for Jim and me,
though we were none too good, we couldn't do some of the things
these coves was up to, nor stand by and see 'em done, which was more.
This time we made up our mind to go back to the Hollow and drop out of notice
altogether for a bit, and take a rest like.
We hadn't heard anything of Aileen and the old mother for weeks and weeks,
so we fixed it that we should sneak over to Rocky Flat, one at a time,
and see how things were going, and hearten 'em up a bit. When we did get
to the Hollow, instead of being able to take it easy, as we expected,
we found things had gone wrong as far as the devil could send 'em that way
if he tried his best. It seems father had taken a restless fit himself,
and after we were gone had crossed Nulla Mountain to some place
above Rocky Flat, to where he could see what went on with a strong glass.
Before I go further I might as well tell you that, along with
the whacking big reward that was offered for all of us,
a good many coves as fancied themselves a bit had turned amateur policemen,
and had all kinds of plans and dodges for catching us dead or alive.
Now, men that take to the bush like us don't mind the regular paid force much,
or bear them any malice. It's their duty to catch us or shoot us if we bolt,
and ours to take all sorts of good care that they shan't do either
if we can help it.
Well, as I was sayin', we don't have it in for the regulars in the police;
it's all fair pulling, `pull devil pull baker', some one has to get
the worst of it. Now it's us, now it's them, that gets took or rubbed out,
and no more about it.
But what us cross coves can't stand and are mostly sure to turn nasty on
is the notion of fellows going into the manhunting trade, with us for game,
either for the fun of it or for the reward. That reward means the money
paid for our blood. WE DON'T LIKE IT. It may seem curious, but we don't;
and them as take up the line as a game to make money or fun out of,
when they've no call to, find out their mistake, sometimes when
it's a deal too late.
Now we'd heard that a party of four men -- some of them
had been gaol warders and some hadn't -- had made it up
to follow us up and get us one way or the other if it was to be done.
They weren't in the police, but they thought they knew quite as much
as the police did; and, besides, the reward, 5000 Pounds,
if they got our lot and any one of the others, was no foolish money.
Well, nothing would knock it out of these chaps' heads but that we were
safe to be grabbed in the long run trying to make into the old home.
This was what made them gammon to be surveyors when they first came,
as we heard about, and go measuring and tape-lining about,
when there wasn't a child over eight years old on the whole creek
that couldn't have told with half an eye they wasn't nothing of the sort.
Well, as bad luck would have it, just as father was getting
down towards the place he meets Moran and Daly, who were making over
to the Fish River on a cattle-duffing lay of their own.
They were pretty hard up; and Moran after his rough and tumble with Jim,
in which he had come off second best, was ready for anything --
anything that was bad, that is.
After he'd a long yarn with them about cattle and horses and what not,
he offered them a ten-pound note each if they'd do what he told them.
Dad always carried money about with him; he said it came in handy.
If the police didn't take him, they wouldn't get it; and if they did take him,
why, nothing would matter much and it might go with the rest.
It came in handy enough this time, anyhow, though it helped
what had been far better left undone.
I remember what a blinded rage father got into when he first had
Aileen's letter, and heard that these men were camped close to the old house,
poking about there all day long, and worrying and frightening
poor Aileen and mother.
Well, it seems on this particular day they'd been into the little township,
and I suppose got an extra glass of grog. Anyhow, when they came back
they began to be more venturesome than they generally were.
One chap came into the house and began talking to Aileen, and after a bit
mother goes into her bedroom, and Aileen comes out into the verandah
and begins to wash some clothes in a tub, splashing the water
pretty well about and making it a bit uncomfortable for any one
to come near her.
What must this fool do but begin to talk about what white arms she'd got --
not that they were like that much, she'd done too much hard work lately
to have her arms, or hands either, look very grand; and at last he began
to be saucy, telling her as no Marston girl ought to think so much of herself,
considerin' who and what she was. Well, the end of it was
father heard a scream, and he looked out from where he was hidden
and saw Aileen running down the garden and the fellow after her.
He jumps out, and fires his revolver slapbang at the chap; it didn't hit him,
but it went that close that he stopped dead and turned round
to see who it was.
`Ben Marston, by all that's lucky, boys!' says he, as two of the other chaps
came running down at the shot. `We've got the ould sarpint out of his hole
at last.' With that they all fires at father as quick as they could draw;
and Aileen gives one scream and starts running along the track up the hill
that leads to George Storefield's place.
Father drops; one of the bullets had hit him, but not so bad
as he couldn't run, so he ups again and starts running along the gully,
with the whole four of them shouting and swearin' after him,
making sure they got him to rights this time.
`Two hundred a man, boys,' the big fellow in the lead says;
`and maybe we'll take tay with the rest of 'em now.'
They didn't know the man they were after, or they'd have just as soon
have gone to `take tea', as they called it, with a tiger.
Father put on one of his old poacher dodges that he had borrowed
from the lapwing in his own country, that he used to tell us about
when we were boys (our wild duck 'll do just the same),
and made himself out a deal worse than he was. Father could run a bit, too;
he'd been fast for a mile when he was young, and though he was old now
he never carried no flesh to signify, and was as hard as nails.
So what with knowing the ground, and they being flat-country men,
he kept just out of pistol-shot, and yet showed enough to keep 'em filled up
with the notion that they'd run him down after a bit.
They fired a shot every now and then, thinking a chance one might wing him,
but this only let Moran and Daly see that some one was after dad,
and that the hunt was coming their way.
They held steady where they had been told to stop, and looked out
for the men they'd been warned of by father. As he got near this place
he kept lettin' 'em git a bit nearer and nearer to him,
so as they'd follow him up just where he wanted. It gave them
more chance of hitting him, but he didn't care about that,
now his blood was up -- not he. All he wanted was to get them.
Dad was the coolest old cove, when shooting was going on, ever I see.
You'd think he minded bullets no more than bottle-corks.
Well, he goes stumbling and dragging himself like up the gully, and they,
cocksure of getting him, closing up and shooting quicker and quicker,
when just as he jumps down the Black Gully steps a bullet did hit him
in the shoulder under the right arm, and staggers him in good earnest.
He'd just time to cut down the bank and turn to the left
along the creek channel, throwing himself down on his face among the bushes,
when the whole four of 'em jumps down the bank after him.
`Stand!' says Moran, and they looked up and saw him and Daly covering them
with their revolvers. Before they'd time to draw, two of 'em rolls over
as dead as door-nails.
The other two were dumbfoundered and knocked all of a heap
by suddenly finding themselves face to face with the very men
they'd been hunting after for weeks and weeks. They held up their pistols,
but they didn't seem to have much notion of using them --
particularly when they found father had rounded on 'em too,
and was standing a bit away on the side looking very ugly
and with his revolver held straight at 'em.
`Give in! Put down your irons,' says Moran, `or by ----,
we'll drop ye where ye stand.'
`Come on,' says one, and I think he intended to make a fight for it.
He'd 'a been better off if he had. It couldn't have been worse for him;
but the other one didn't see a chance, and so he says --
`Give in, what's the good? There's three to two.'
`All right,' says the other chap, the big one; and they put down
It was curious now as these two were both men that father and Moran
had a down on. They'd better have fought it out as long as they
could stand up. There's no good got by givin' in that I ever seen.
Men as does so always drop in for it worse in the end.
First thing, then, they tied 'em with their hands behind 'em,
and let 'em stand up near their mates that were down -- dead enough,
both of them, one shot through the heart and one through the head.
Then Moran sits down and has a smoke, and looks over at 'em.
`You don't remember me, Mr. Hagan?' says he, in his drawling way.
`No,' says the poor chap, `I don't think I do.'
`But I remember you devilish well,' says Moran; `and so you'll find
afore we leave this.' Then he took another smoke. `Weren't you warder
in Berrima Gaol,' says he, `about seven year ago? Ah! now we're coming to it.
You don't remember getting Daniel Moran -- a prisoner serving
a long sentence there -- seven days' solitary on bread and water
for what you called disobedience of orders and insolence?'
`Yes, I do remember now. I'd forgotten your face. I was only doing my duty,
and I hope you won't bear any malice.'
`It was a little thing to you, maybe,' says Moran; `but if you'd had to do
seven long days and long cold nights in that devil's den, you'd 'a thought
more about it. But you will now. My turn's come.'
`I didn't do it to you more than to the rest. I had to keep order
in the gaol, and devilish hard work it was.'
`You're a liar,' says Moran, striking him across the face
with his clenched hand. `You had a down on me because I wouldn't
knuckle down to you like some of them, and so you dropped it on to me
every turn you could get. I was a youngster then, and might have grown
into a man if I'd been let. But fellows like you are enough to turn any man
into a devil if they've got him in their power.'
`Well, I'm in your power now,' says he. `Let's see how you'll shape.'
`I don't like ye any the worse for being cheeky,' says Moran,
`and standing up to me, but it's too late. The last punishment I got,
when I was kept in irons night and day for a month because I'd tried
to get out, I swore I'd have your life if ever I came across ye.'
`You'll never shoot me in cold blood,' says the poor devil,
beginning to look blue about the lips.
`I don't know what old Ben's going to do with the man he found chevying
his daughter,' says Moran, looking at him with his deadly black-snake eyes,
`but I'm a-goin' to shoot you as soon as I've smoked out this pipe,
so don't you make any mistake.'
`I don't mind a shot or two,' says Daly, `but I'm dashed if I can stand by
and see men killed in cold blood. You coves have your own reasons, I suppose,
but I shall hook it over to the Fish River. You know where to find me.'
And he walked away to where the horses were and rode off.
. . . . .
We got fresh horses and rode over quick to Rocky Flat.
We took Warrigal with us, and followed our old track across Nulla Mountain
till we got within a couple of miles of the place. Warrigal picked up
the old mare's tracks, so we knew father had made over that way,
and there was no call for us to lose time running his trail any longer.
Better go straight on to the house and find out what had happened there.
We sent Warrigal on ahead, and waited with our horses in our hands
till he come back to us.
In about an hour he comes tearing back, with his eyes staring out of his head.
`I bin see old missis,' he says. `She yabber that one make-believe constable
bin there. Gammon-like it surveyor, and bimeby old man Ben gon' alonga hut,
and that one pleeceman fire at him and all about, and him break back
`Any of 'em come back?' says Jim.
`Bale! me see um tent-dog tied up. Cake alonga fireplace, all burn to pieces.
No come home last night. I b'lieve shot 'em old man longa gully.'
`Come along, boys,' says Starlight, jumping into his saddle.
`The old man might have been hit. We must run the tracks and see
what's come of the governor. Four to one's big odds.'
We skirted the hut and kept out wide till Warrigal cut the tracks,
which he did easy enough. We couldn't see a blessed thing.
Warrigal rode along with his head down, reading every tuft of grass,
every little stone turned up, every foot of sand, like a book.
`Your old fader run likit Black Gully. Two fellow track here --
bullet longa this one tree.' Here he pointed to a scratch
on the side of a box tree, in which the rough bark had been shivered.
`Bimeby two fellow more come; 'nother one bullet; 'nother one here, too.
This one blood drop longa white leaf.'
Here he picked up a dried gum leaf, which had on the upper side
a dark red spot, slightly irregular.
We had it all now. We came to a place where two horses had been tied
to a tree. They had been stamping and pawing, as if they had been there
a goodish while and had time to get pretty sick of it.
`That near side one Moran's horse, pigeon-toes; me know 'em,' says Warrigal.
`Off side one Daly's roan horse, new shoes on. You see 'um hair,
rub himself longa tree.'
`What the blazes were they doing hereabouts?' says Starlight.
`This begins to look complicated. Whatever the row was,
Daly and he were in it. There's no one rich enough to rob hereabouts,
is there? I don't like the look of it. Ride on, boys.'
We said nothing to each other, but rode along as fast as Warrigal
could follow the line. The sky, which was bright enough when we started,
clouded over, and in less than ten minutes the wind rose and rain began
to pour down in buckets, with no end of thunder and lightning.
Then it got that cold we could hardly sit on our horses for trembling.
The sky grew blacker and blacker. The wind began to whistle and cry
till I could almost swear I heard some one singing out for help.
Nulla Mountain was as black as your hat, and a kind of curious feeling
crept over me, I hardly knew why, as if something was going to happen,
I didn't know what.
I fully expected to find father dead; and, though he wasn't altogether
a good father to us, we both felt bad at the notion of his lyin' there
cold and stiff. I began to think of him as he used to be when we were boys,
and when he wasn't so out and out hard -- and had a kind word for poor mother
and a kiss for little Aileen.
But if he were shot or taken, why hadn't these other men come back?
We had just ridden by their tents, and they looked as if
they'd just been left for a bit by men who were coming back at night.
The dog was howling and looked hungry. Their blankets were all thrown about.
Anyhow, there was a kettle on the fire, which was gone out;
and more than that, there was the damper that Warrigal had seen
lying in the ashes all burnt to a cinder.
Everything looked as if they'd gone off in a hurry, and never come back
at night or since. One of their horses was tied with a tether rope close to
the tent poles, and he'd been walking round and trampling down the grass,
as if he'd been there all night. We couldn't make it out.
We rode on, hardly looking at one another, but following Warrigal,
who rattled on now, hardly looking at the ground at all, like a dog
with a burning scent. All of a sudden he pulls up, and points to a dip
into a cross gully, like an old river, which we all knew.
`You see um crow? I b'leeve longa Black Gully.'
Sure enough, just above the drop down, where we used to
gallop our ponies in old times and laugh to see 'em throw up their tails,
there were half-a-dozen crows and a couple of eagle-hawks high up in the sky,
wheeling and circling over the same place.
`By George! they've got the old man,' says Jim. `Come on, Dick.
I never thought poor old dad would be run down like this.'
`Or he's got them!' says Starlight, curling his lip in a way he had.
`I don't believe your old governor's dead till I see him. The devil himself
couldn't grab him on his own ground.'