|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Robbery Under Arms|
Robbery Under Arms.
[By Rolf Boldrewood.I
I brought it out sudden-like to Aileen before I could stop myself, but it was all true ; that, and nothing short of it, we'd laid it out to tackle as soon as we began to work regular together, and look ahead a bit. How we were to make the first start we couldn't agree; but we were bound to make another big touch, and this time would be the police after us for something: worth while. Anvhow. we could take it easy
at the Hollow for a bit, and settle all the ine and outs with out hurrying ourselves. Our dart now was to get to The Hollow that night some time, and not to leave much of a track either. Nobody had found out the place yet, and wasn't going to if we knew. It was too useful a hiding-place to give away without trouble, and we 6wore to take all sorts of good care to keep it secret, if it was to be done by the art of man; We went up Nulia mountain the same way as we remem bered doing when Jim and I rode to meet father that time he had the lot of weaners. We kept wide and didn't follow on after one another so as to mate a marked trail. It was a long, dark, dreary ride. We had to look sharp so as not to get dragged off by a breasthigh bough in the thick country. There was no fetching a doctor if any one was hurt. Father rode ahead. He knew the ins and outs of the road better than any of us, though Jim, who had lived most of his time in the Hollow after he got away from the police, was getting to know it pretty well. We were obliged to go elow mostly — for a good deal of the track lay along the bed ot a creek, full of boulders and rocks, that we had to cross ever so many times in a mile. The sharpedged rocks too overhung low enough to knock your brains out, if you didn't mind. It was far into the night when we got to the old yard*. There it eteod, just as I recollect seeing it the time Jim and I and Father branded the weaners. It had only been used once or twice since. It was patched up a bit in places, but nobody seemed to have gone next or nigh it for a long time. The grass had grown up round the slip-rails ; it was as strange and forsaken-looking as if it belonged to a deserted station. Ab we rode up, a man comes out from an angle of the fence and gives a whistle. We knew, almost without looking, that it was Warrigal. He'd come there to meet Starlight and take him round some other way. Every track and short cut there was in the mountains was as easy to him as the road to George Storefield's was to us. Nulia mountain was full of curious gullies, and caves, and places that the devil himself could hardly have run a man to ground in, unlees he'd lived near it all his life as Warrigal had. He wasn't very free in showing them to us, but he'd have made a bridge of his own body any time to let Starlight go safe. So when they rode away together we knew he was safe whoever might be after us, and that we should see him in Tbe Hollow some time next day. 'We went on for a mile or two further ; then we got off, and turned our horeee loose. The rest of the way we had to
tlo on foot. My horse and Jim's had got regularly broke in to Rocky Flat, and we knew that they'd go home as sore as possible, not quite straight but keeping somewhere in the right direction. As for father he always used to keep a hone or two, trained to go home when he d done with him. The pony he rode to-night would just trot off, and never put his nose to the ground almost till he got wind of home. We humped our saddles and swags ourselves ; a stiffish load too, but the night was cool, and we did our best. It was no use growling. It had to be done, and the sooner the better. It seemed a long time — following father step by step— before we came to the place where I thought the cattle were going to be driven over the precipice. Here we pulled up for a bit and had a smoke. It was a queer time and a queer look out. Three o'clock in the morning; the stars in the sky, and it so clear that we could see Nulla Mountain rising up against it like a huge black mass, without sign of trees or rocks. Below us the whole valley looked like a sea of mist, and we just going to throw ourselves into it. Before us, on the other side of The Hollow, was the high, clear-marked dome, which dad called Sugarloaf Everything was strange, silent, solitary, and, stranger than all, here were we— three desperate men— going to make ourselves a home in this lonesome, God-forsaken place. I was not very thin-skinned by that time,' but if I had seen the devil snddenb/ there amongst us, so as to make a fourth, I shouldn't have been surprised. Everything— the place, the time, the men — seemed so regularly cut out for him. 'We smoked our pipes out, and eaid nothing to each other. Then father makes a start down, and we follows him ; took a goodish while, but at last we got down all right, and father heads away for the cave. When we got there all our troubles ware oyer for a bit. Jim struck a match and had a good fire going in no time — there was plenty of dry wood about. Then father rolls a keg out from a hole in the wall ; it was first-rate dark brandy, and we did't feel any the worse for a nip all round. 'When a man's cold and tired and hungry, and troubled in his mind as well, a good strong caulker of grog doesn't do him any harm to speak of. It strings him up and just puts him straight ; if he's anything of a man he can stand it, and feel all the better for it. But it's an easy lesson to learn ; and there's them that can't stop, once they begin,- till they've smothered all the brains that God Almighty ever put inside their skulls. Just as if they was to bore a hole and pour laudanum and gunpowder in. No; they wouldn't stop if they were sure of going to heaven next minute, or to hell straight, if they put the last glass to their lips. I've heard men say it, and knew they meant it. Not the worst sort of men either. However, we were none of us like that. Then, anybovr. We could take it or leave it, and though dad could do with a good lot, he always knew what he was about, and could Dut the peg in when he liked as well as anybody. So we had one strongish tot, and then the tea was ready boiling. There were biscuits, and we fried some hung beef th*t was stowed away in a harness cask, and made a first-rate supper of it. 'We were too tired to talk much, so we made up the fire, rolled ourselves in our blankets, and slept as sound as tops till a good hour after snnrise. When I woke Jim was fast asleep ; but dad had been up a goodish while, made up the fire, and got things ready for breakfast. It was a fine, clear morning, and everything looked very pleasant, 'specially to me, who'd been locked up away from all this sort of thing so long. The grass was long and green all round the outside of the cave and right up to the big sandstone slabs of the floor, looking as it' it had never been eaten down much. No more it had. It wouldn't have paid to have overstocked 'J he Hollow. 'What cattle and horses there was there was always in splendid condition, and had a fine time of it. Opposite where we were the valley was narrow. I could see the great sandstone precipices that walled us in standing up a sort of yellowish- white colour, all lighted up by the sun's rays, and looking like gold against the dark green forest trees at the foot of them. A few birds were calling, and there was a little spring that fell drip, drip, just outside, all covered with ferns. Some of the hones had fed pretty close to the cave, and every now and then would walk up and smell, and look, and then trot off with their heads and tails up. Altogether it was a pretty eight, and made me feel a sort of false happiness for a time in thinking that we had such, a place to camp in on the quier, and call our own in a manner of speaking. Jim woke up soon and stretched himself ; and then father began quite cheerful like : ' Well, boys ! what d'ye think of the Hollow again. It's not a bad earth for the old dog fox and his cubs, when the hounds have run him close. They can't dig him out here though, or smoke him out either. 'We have no call to do anything, but rest ourselves for a week now, anyhow. Then we must settle on some thing, and buckle to it with more system like. We've been too helter-Bhelter lately, Jim and I. We was beginning to run risks and getting too near dropped upon once or twice.' There's no mistake, it's a grand thing to wake up and know you've got nothing to do for a bit but enjoy yourself and take it easy. No matter how light your work may be, if its reg'lar, and has to be done every day. The harness '11 gall you somewhere ; you'll get tirea-like in time, and Bick of the whole thing. Jim and I knew pretty well that bar accidents we were as safe in the HoUow as we UBed to be in our beds when we were boys. We'd searched it all over last time; came to believe that only two or three people, and those some times not for years at a time had ever been inside it. There were no tracks of the doings of more than these two or three 'We could see how the first lot lived. They were different. Every now and then they had a big drink— what we called a spree— when they must have done wild things. Something like the Spanish Buccaneers we'd read about. They'd brought prisoners with them too, and we saw graves, half a-dozen once close together. That didn't belong to the band. We had a good, quiet, comfortable meal and a smoke afterwards, and then Jim and I took a long walk through the Hollow, so as to be able to tell one another what was in our minds, which we had'nt the chance of doing before. Before we'd gone far Jim pulls a letter out of his pocket and gives it to me. ' It was no use sending it you, old man,' he says, 'while you was in the jug; you were quite bad enough without this, and I thought I'd keep it till we were settled a bit like. It might have come between you andAileeif you'd had it sooner; now we're going to turn regular workmen, and set up in business on our own account, you'd better look over your correspondence.' I knew the handwriting well, though I had not seen it lately. It was from Rate Morrison. It began this way ; not the way most women write; but it was like her :— ' Melbourne, 20th August, 1850. ' Bo this is the end of all your high and mighty doings, Richard Marston, after your passing yourself and Jim off as equatters. I don't blame him; (no, of course not, nobody ever blamed him, or ever would, I suppose, if he'd burned down Government House, and stuck up his Excellency as he was coming out of church) ; but when I saw in the papers that you had been arrested for cattle-stealing, I saw, for the first time, how completely we had been duped. ' I won't pretend I didn't think something of what you were said to have, and how pleasant it would be to have money and money's worth, after the miserable, scrambling, skimping life we have latterly been used to. But I loved you, Richard Marston, for yourself, with a passionate love, which you will never know now, and which you would treat lightly if you did know. You may yet have some means of finding out what you have lost, that is if you ever get out of that frightful gaol. ' I was not such a fool as to pine and fret and grieve over our romance so cruelly disturbed. No, Richard! My nature is not of that texture. When I am injured I am generally even with the person who has wronged me. I send you a photo, which gives a fair idea of me and of my husband, Mr. Mullockson. I accepted his offer directly after I heard of your adventures along with those of your friend, Starlight, which were in every newspaper in the colony. I did not consider myself bound to live single for your sake. So I did what most women do. though they pretend to act from other motives — I disposed of myself to the best advantage. ' Mr. Mullockson has plenty of money, so that 1 am pretty comfortable, which is nearly everything in this world. If I am not bappv that is your fault. Your fault, I say, because I am fool enough not to be able to tear your false image and falser sell from my thoughts. Whatever may happen to me in the future you may consider yourself to blame for. I should have made a happy and fairly well- I behaved good woman— as women go— if you had been true
or rather if everything about you had not been ntterly false, deceptive, and despicable. a ?' You may think it fortunate after reading all this that we are separated for ever — but we may meet again, Richard Marston, and you may have reason to curse the day, as I do most sincerely, upon which you first set eyes on » Kate MULLOCK60N.' This wasn't a pleasant letter, not by any manner of means. I was glad I didn't get it while I was eating my heart out under the stifling low roofed cell at Nnnmii. nr while I was boarine: mv load
at Berrima. A few ounces more, when my burden was all I could bear, would have pressed the very heart out of me. I didn't want anything to; cross me while I was looking at Aileen and mother, and thinking how we'd all done everything between us that our worst enemy could have wished us to do. But here, when there was plenty of time to think over old times and plan quietly for the future, I could bear the savage, spiteful tone of the whole letter, and laugh at the way she had taken out of her troubles and closed with a stupid old fellow whose cheque-book was the only good thing about him. I was not sorry to be rid of her either. Since I had seen Gracey Storen'eld again, every other woman seemed unpleasant to me. I tore up the letter and thought 1 had cast off the writer for good and all with her handwriting.' ' Glad you take it so quietly, Dick/' says Jim, after holding his tongue much longer than usual. ' ' She's a bad hearted, cold-blooded jade, though she is Jeannie's sister. If I thought she was lite her, I'd never waste another thought on her ; but she ain't and never was. The worse luck I've had the closer she's stuck to me, like a little brick as she is. I'd give all I ever shall have in the world if I could go to her and say, 'Here I am, Jim Marston, without a penny, but I can look every man in the face, and we'll work our way along the road of life cheerful and loving together.' But I 'can't say it, Dick— that's the devil of it ; and it makes me so wild thinking of it sometimes that 1 could knock my brains out against the first tree I come across.' I didn't say anything, but I took hold of Jim's hand and shook it. We looked in each other's face for a minute ; there was no call to say anything : we always understood one another, Jim and I. As we were likely to stop in the hollow for good long spells from lime to time, we took a good look over it, as far as we could do on foot. We found a queer little place at the end of a long gully that ran up from the main valley in an easterly direction. In a sort of way you'd think the whole valley 'bad once been an arm of the sea; it was a bit like Sydney harbour, with one principal valley like and no end of small cullies and coves running off from it and winding about in and out. Even the sandstone walls by which the whole affair, great and small, was hemmed in were just like the cliffs about South Head, and there were lines on the face of them, Jim and I made out, just like where the waves had washed marks and levels in the sea rock. Any how, we didn't trouble ourselves much about that part of it. Whatever might have been there once, it grew stunning fine grass now, and there was beautiful fresh water in creeks that ran through and through it. Well, we rambled up the long, crooked gully that I was talking about, and about halfway up it seemed to be stopped by a big rock that had tumbled down from the top ana blocked up the path. It was pretty well grown up as well with wild raspberries and climbers. 'It's no use going any further,' says Jim. ' There's nothing to see.' ' I don't know that,' I said ; ' there's been a track here pome time ; let's get round the rock and see.' When we got round the track was plain again ; it had been well worn once, but neither foot nor hooftziark had been on it for ever so long. The gully widened out bit by bit ; at last we came to a little round green flat right under the side of the rock walls, which rose up above it as straight as a house on three sides. On this was an old hut ; very old it seemed to be, but still in pretty good trim. The roof was of shingles, split very thick, and wedge-shaped ; the walls heavy iron bark slabs, and there was a stone chimney. Outside these had been a garden, and there were a few rose trees standing yet, rugged and stunted, but we *new what they were. There had been a bit of a corn patch too ; we could see the marks where it had been hoed up, the same 88 they used to do in old times when there were more hoes than ploughs and more convicts than horses and working bullocks. ' Well, this is a queer start,' says Jim, as we sat down on a log outside the door that looked as if it had been Uf ed for a seat before. ' Who the deuce built this gunyali. and lived in it too by himself for years and years ? You can see it was no two or three months' time he done here. There's the spring coming out of the rock he used to dip his water from. The track's reg'lar worn smooth over the stones that lead to it. There was a fence round this garden ; some of it's lying down now rotten enough, but it takes many a year for hardwood timber to rot. He's had a stool ana a table too, not a bad one either, this Robinson Crusoe cove. No end of manavelins besides. I wonder whether .he come here before them first chaps we heard of, Likely he did, and died here too. He might have chummed in with them of course, or he might not. Per haps Warrigal knows something about him, or Starlight. We'li ask them.' We fossicked about for a good while to see if the man who had lived so long by himself in this queer solitary place had left anything behind him to help us make out what eort he was. We couldn't make out much. Here and there were bits of writing on the walls, and things cut in the fireplace posts. Jim couldn't make head or tail of them, nor me neither. 'The old cove might have left something worth having behind him,' Jim said, after staring at the hearth ever so long. Chaps' like him often leave gold pieces, and jewels, and things behind them, locked up in brassbouud boxes— leastways the story-books says so. I've half a mind to root up the old hearthstone : it's a thundering big heavy one, ain't it P I wonder how he got it in here by himself.' ?' It is pretty heavy,' I said, looking at it ' For all we know he may have had help at the first. We've no time now though. We'd better make tracks, and see if Starlight has made back. We shall have to shape after a bit, and we may as well see how he stands affected. ' -* He'll be back safe enough. There's no pull being outside now, with all the world chiveying you, and half rations of grub and sleep.' Jim was right. As we got up to the cave we saw Star light talking to the old man and Warrigal letting go the horses. They'd taken their time to come in, but Warrigal knew some hole or other where they'd hid before very likely. So they could take it more easy than we did the night we left Rocky Creek. 'Well, boys,' says Starlight, coming forward, quite hearty; 'glad to see you again. So, you've been taking a walk and enjoying yourselves in the fresh air. Rather a nice country residence of ours, isn't it ? Wonder how. long we shall remain in possession. What a charm there is in being at home ; no place like home ; is there, governor?' Dad didn't smile ; he very seldom did that ; but- 1 always thought he didn't look so glum at Starlight as he did at most people. ' The place is well enough,' he said, ' if we don't smother it all by letting our tracks be follered up. We've been lucky so* far, but it'll take all -we know to come in and out, if we've any roadwork on hand, and no one the wiser.' II It can be managed well enough, Starlight says. Is that dinner ever going to be ready ? Jim, make the tea, there's a good fellow, I'm starving. The main thing to take care of is never to be seen all together, except on great occasions. Two men, or three at the outside, can stick up any coach and any number of travellers that are worth while. We can get home one by one, and there won't be half the risk that there would be if we were all together. There, that will do now. Hand me the corned beef, if you please. We must hold a council of war in the afternoon.' An hour or two afterwards, when we were smoking our pipes and lying about on the dry floor of the cave, where the sun came in just enough to make it pleasant, I started the ball. v , , ' We mav as well have it out now what lay we re going upon, and whether we're all quite agreed and made up our minds to turn out and do the thing in the regular good old fashioned Sydney-side style. It's risky enough, of course, and we're pretty sure to come in for a smart brush or two ; but I for one am not going to be jugged again— if I know it— and I don't see but what bushranging— yes, bush ranging ; it's no use saying one thing and meaning another ? ain't as safe a game, let alone the profits of it, as mooch ing about cattle or horse duffing, and in the long run being lagged all the same.