Chapter 161923146

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Chapter NumberXV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161923146
Full Date1882-09-23
Page Number494
Corrections1
Word Count4343
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Last Corrected2018-11-23
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)
Trove TitleRobbery Under Arms
article text

Fiction.

Robbery Under Arms.

[By Rolf Boldrewood.]

Chapter XV.

George Storefield's place, for the old man was dead and all the place belonged to him and Gracey, quite stunned Jim and me. We'd been away more than a year, and he'd pulled down the old fences and put up new ones—first-rate work it was too; he was always a dead hand at splitting. Then there was a big hayshed, chocktull of good sweet hay and wheat sheaves; and, last of all, the new stable, with six stalls and a loft above, and racks, all built of ironbark slabs, sb solid and reg'lar as a church, Jim said.

They'd had a good-six roomed cottage and a new garden fence ever so long. There were more fruit trees in the garden and a lot of good draught horses standing about, that looked well, but as if they'd come off a journey. The stable door opens and out comes old George as hearty as ever, but looking full of business. "Glad to see you boys," he says, "what a time you've been away! Been away myself these three months with a lot of teams, carry- ing. I've taken greatly to the business lately. I'm just settling up with my drivers ; but put the horses in, there's chaff and corn in the mangers, and I'll be down in a few minutes. Its well on to dinner-time, I see." We took the bridles off and tied up the horses. There was any amount of feed for them, and strolled down to the cottage again. "Wonder whether Gracey's as nice as she used to be," says Jim. "Next to Aileen I used to think she wasn't to be beat. When I was a little chap I believed you and she must be married for certain. And old George and Aileen. I never laid out any one for myself, I remem- ber. The firat two don't look like coming off." I said, "You're the likeliest man to marry and settle if Jeanie sticks to you." "She'd better go down to the pier and drown herself com- fortably," said Jim. "If she knew what was before us all, perhaps she would. Poor little Jeanie ! We'd no right to drag other people into our troubles. I believe we're getting worse and worse. The sooner we're shot or locked up the better." "You won't think so when it comes, old man," I said. "Don't bother your head — it ain't the best part of you— about things that can't be helped. We're not the only horses that can't be kept on the course — with a good turn of speed too. "'They want shooting like the dingoes,' as Aileen said. They're never no good, except to ruin those that back 'em and disgrace their owners and the stable they come out of. That's our sort, all to pieces. Well, we'd better come in, Grace'll think we're afraid to face her." When we went away last, Grace Storefield was a little over seventeen, so now she was nineteen all out, and a fine girl she'd grown, though I never used to think her a beauty. Now I almost began to think she must be. She wasn't tall, and Aileen looked slight alongside of her ; but she was wonderful fair and fresh coloured for an Australian girl, with a lot of soft brown hair and a pair of clear blue eyes that always looked kindly and honestly into everybody's face. Every look of her seemed to wish to do you good and make you think that nothing that wasn't square and right and honest and true could live in the same place with her. She held out both hands to me and said, " Well, Dick, so you're back again. You must have been to the end of the world, and Jim, too. I'm very glad to see you both." She looked into my face with that pleased look that put me in mind of her when she was a little child and used to come toddling up to me, staring and smiling all over her face the moment she saw me. Now she was a grown woman, and a sweet-looking one too. I couldn't lift her up and kiss her as I used to do, but I felt as if I should like to do it all the same. She was the only creature in the whole world, I think, that liked me better than Jim. I'd been trying to drive all thoughts of her out of my heart, seeing the tangle I'd got into in more ways than one. But now the old feel- ing which had been a part of me ever since I'd grownup came rushing back stronger than ever. I was surprised at myself, and looked queer I daresay. Then Aileen laughed, and Jim comes to the rescue and says : — "Dick doesn't remember you, Gracey. You've grown such a swell, too. You can't be the little girl we used to carry on our backs. "Dick remembers very well," she says, and her very voice was ever so much fuller and softer, " Don't you, Dick ? " and she looked into my face as innocent as a child. "I don't think he could pull me out of the water and carry me up to the cottage now. " You'tumble in and we'll try," says Jim. " First man to keep you for good— eh, Gracey? It's fine hot weather, and Aileen shall see fair play." ' You're just as saucy as ever, Jim,' eays she, blushing and smiling. ' 1 Bee George coming, so I must go and fetch in dinner. Aileen's going to help me instead of mother. You must tell us all about your travels when wo sit down.' When George came in he began to talk to make up for lost time, and told us where he had been— a long way out in some new back country, just taken up with sheep. He had got a first-rate paying price for his carriage out, and ft had brought back and delivered a full loading of wool. 1 ' I intend to do it every year for a bit,' he said. I can 1 breed and feed a good stamp of draught horse here. I pay II drivers for three waggons and drive the fourth myself. It M pays first-rate so far, and we had very fair feed all the way H there and back.' I ' Suppose you get a dry season,' I said, ' how will that « be.' ' We shall have to carry forage, of course; but then carriage will be higher, and it will come to the same thing. I don't like being so long away from home ; but it pays first rate, and I think I see a way to its paying better still.' ' So you've ridden over to show them the way, Aileen,' he said, as the girls came in ; ' very good of you, it was. I was afraid you'd forgotten the way.' ' I never forget the way to a friend's place, George,' she said, ' and you've beeu our best friend while these naughty boys have left mother and me so long by ourselves. But you've been away yourself.' ' Only fourmonths,' he said, 'and after a few more trips I shan't want to go away any more.' ' That will be a good day for all of us,' she said. ' You know, Gracey. we can't do without George, can we P I felt quite deserted, 1 can tell you.' ' He wouldn't have gone away at all if you'd held up your little finger, you know that, you hard-hearted girl,' says Grace, trying to frown. ' It's all your fault.' ' Oh ! I couldn't interfere with Mr. Storefield's business,' , said Aileen, looking very grave. 'What kind of country ( waB it you were out in ?' i ' Not a bad place for sheep and cattle and blacks,' said - poor George, looking rather glum, 'And not a bad country to make money or do anything but live in— but that hot and dry and full of flies and mosquitoes that I'd sooner live on a pound a week down here than take a good station as a present there. That is, if I was contented,' he went on to say, with a sort of a groan. There never was a greater mis take in the world, I believe, than for a man to let a woman know how much he cares for her. It's right enough if she's make up her mind to take him, no odds what happens. But if there's any half-and-half feeling iu her mind about him, and she's uncertain^ and doubtful whether ahe likes well enough, all this down-on-your-knees business works against you, more than your worst enemy could do. I didn't know so much about then. I've found it out einoe, worse luck. And I really believe if George had h«»d tho savey to crack himself np a little, and sav he'd met a nice girl or two in the back country, and hid 'his hand, Aileen would have made it np with him that very Christmas, and been a happy woman all her life. When old Mrs. Storefield came in she put us through our facings pretty brisk. Where we'd been, what we'd done ? » What took us to Melbourne, how we liked it? What kind '?- of people they were, and so on. We had to tell her a good /X lot, part of it tmth of course, but pretty mixed. It made jPfl rather a good yarn, and I could spe Grace was listening with w I

come very hiee people m Melbourne named J ackeon, and they |® . -were ?very kind to ne.' ' Were there any daughters in the family, Jim ?' aeked Grace. ' Oh ! yes, three ?' ' Were they good-looking?' ' No, rather homely, particularly the youngest.' 'What did they do?' 'Oh! their mother kept a boardinghouse. We Btayed there.' I don't think I ever knew Jim do so much lying before ; but after he'd begun he had to stick to it. He told me after* wards he nearly broke down about the three daughters ; bat ' was rather proud of making the youngest the ugliest. ' I can see Gracey's as fond of you as ever she was, ' Hick,' says he, ' that's why she made me tell all those crammers. It's an awful pity we can't all square it, and get spliced this Christmas. Aileen would take George if she wasn't a fool, as most women are. I'd like to bring Jeanie up here, and join George in the carrying business. It's going to be a big thing, I can see. You might marry Gracey, and look after both places while we were away.' 'And how about Kate ?' ' The devil take her ! and then he'd have a bargain. I , wish yon'd never dropped across her, and that she wasn't * Jennie's sister,' blurts out Jim. ' She'll bring bad luck among us before she's done, I feel as sure as we're standing here.' 'If s all a toss up— like our lives, married or lagged; bush-work or road- work (in irons) , free or bond. We can't tell how it will be with us this day year.' ' I've half a mind to shoot myself,' says Jim, ' and end it all. I would, too, only for mother and Aileen. What's the use of life that isn't life, but fear and misery, from one dav's end to another, and we only just grown up ? It's d— d hard that a chap's brains don't grow along with his legs and arms. We didn't ride home till quite the evening. Grace would have us stay for tea : it was a pretty hot day, so there was no use riding in the sun. George saddled his horse, and he and Grace rode part of the way home with us. He'd got regular sunburnt like us, and as he could ride a bit, like most natives, he looked better outside of a horse than on his ' own' legs, being rather thick- set and shortish. But his heart was in the right place, like his sister's, and his head was screwed on right too. I think more of old George now than I ever did before, and wish I'd had the sense to value his independent straight-ahead nature, and the track it led him, as he deserved. Jim and I rode in front, with Gracie between us. She had on a neat habit and a better hat and glove than Aileen, but nothing could ever give her the seat and hand and light, easy, graceful way with her in the saddle that our girl had. kAll the same she could ride and drive too, and as we rode side by side in the twilight, talking about the places I'd been to, ana she wanting to know everything (Jim drew off a bit i when the road got narrow) I felt what a fool I'd been to let things slide, and would have given my right hand to have been able to put them as they were three short years before. At last we got to the Gap ; it was the shortest halt from their home. George shook hands with Aileen, and turned back. ' We'll come and see you next,' he said— ' Christmas Eve !' said Aileen. ' Christmas Eve let it be,' says George. ' All right,' I said, holding Grace's hand for a bit. And so we parted— for how long, do you think ? Chapter XVI. When we got home it was pretty late, and the air was beginning to cool after the hot day. There was a low moon, and everything showed out clear, so that you could see the smallest branches of the trees on Nulla Mountain, where it stood like a dark cloudbank against the western - sky. There wasn't the smallest breeze. The air was that still and quiet yon could have heard anything stir in the grass or almost a 'possum digging his claws into the smooth bark of the white gum trees. The curlews set up a cry from time to time ; but they didn't sound so queer and shrill as they mostly do at night. I don't know how it was, bnt everything seemed qniet and pleasant, and homelike, as if a chap might live a hundred years, if it was all like this, and keep growing better and I happier every day. I remember all this so particular, because it was tbe only time I'd felt like it for years, and I never had the same feelings afterwards ; nor likely to. 'Oh I what a happy day I've had,' Aileen said, on a sudden. Jirnnnd I and her had been riding a long spell without speaking. '1 don't know when I've enjoyed myself so much ; I've got quite out of the way of being happy lately, and hardly know the taste of it. How lovely it would be if you and Jim could always stay at home like this, and we could do our work happy and comfortable together, withont separating, and all this deadly fear of something terrible happening, that's never out of my mind. Oh t Hick, won't yon promise me to stop quiet and work steady at home, if yon— if you -and Jim haven't anything brought against you ?' She bent forward and looked into my face as she said this, I could see her eyes shine, and every word she said seemed to come straight from her heart. How sad and pitiful she looked, and we felt for a moment jnst as we did when we were boys, and she used to come and persuade us to go on with our work and not grieve mother, and run the risk of a licking from father when he came home. Her mare, Lowan, was close alongside of my horse, stepping along at her fast tearing walk, throwing np her head and snorting every now and then, bat Aileen Bat in her saddle better than some people can sit in a chair ; she held the rein and whip together and kept her hand on mine V till I spoke. ft -- We'll do all we can, Aileen dear, for you and poor 9 mother, won't we, Jim?' I felt soft and down-hearted than, I if ever I did. ' But it's too late, too late. You'll see us now ft' and then. But we can't Btop at home quiet, nor work about ft here all the time as we used to do. That day's gone. Jim knows it as well as me. There's no help for it now. We'll have to do like the rest, enjoy ourselves a bit while we can, and stand up to our fight when the trouble comes.' She took her hand away, and rode on with her rein loose and her head down. I could see the tears falling down her face, but after a bit she put herself to rights, and we rode quietly np to the door. Mother was working away in her ?chair, and father walking up and down before the door smoking. When we were letting go the horses, father comes np and says ' I've got a bit of news for you, boys ; Starlight's been took and the darkey with him.' 'Where?' I said. Somehow I felt struck all of a heap by hearing this. I'd got oat of the way of thinking they'd drop on him. As for Jim, he heard it 'straight enough, but he went on whistling and patting the mare's neck, teasing her like, because she was so uneasy to get her head -stall off and run after the others. ' Why in New Zealand, to be sure. The blamed fool stuck there all this time, just because he found himBelf comfortably situated among people as he liked. I wonder how he'll fancy Berrima after it all? Sarves him well | right.' I 'Bnt how did yon come to hear about it?' We knew B father couldn't read nor write. ' I have a chap as is paid to read the papers reg'lar, and to pnt me on when there's anything in 'em as I want to know. He's bin over hero to-day and give me the office. Here* the paper he left.' Father pulls out a crampled-up dirty-lookin' bit of news paper. It wasn't much to look at; but there was enough to Keep us in readin', and thinkin', too, for a good while, as soon as we made it out. In pretty big letters, too. ' /»n portant capture by Detective StCllbrook, of the New South Wales Police ' — that was atop of the page. Then comeB this ' Our readers may remember the description given in this journal, some months once, of a cattle robbery on the largest scale, when upwards of a fhnnmaia head were stolen from one of Mr. Hood's stations, driven to Adelaide, and then sold, by a 'party of men whose names nave not as yet transpired. It is satisfactory to find that the leader of the gang, who is well known to the police by the assumed name of ' Starlight,' with a half-caste lad recognised as an accomplice, has been arrested by this active officer. It appears that, from information re i ceived, Detective Stillbrook went to New Zealand, and, after several months' patient search, took his passage in the boat which left that colony, in order to meet the mail steamer, i outward bound, for San Francisco. As the passengers were landing he arrested a gentlemanlike and well-dressed , personage^who, with his servant, was abont to proceed to T Henries' Hotel. Considerable surprise was manifested by iff the other passengers, with whom the prisoner had become

universally popular. He indignantly denied all knowledge of the charge; but we have reason to believe that there will be no difficulty as to identification. A large sum of money in gold and notes was found upon him. Other arrests are likely to follow.' Inis looked bad ; for a bit we didn't know what to think. 'While Jim and I was makin' it all out. with the help of a bit of candle, we smuggled out. We daren't take it inside. Father was emokin' his pipe — in the old fashion — and say in' nothing. When we'd done, he pat np his pipe in his pouch and begins to talk. ' It's come jnst as I said, and knowed it wonld, through Starlight's cussed flashness and carry ins on in fine company. If he'd cleared out and made for (he islands as I warned him to do, and he settled to, or as good, afore he left us that day at the camp, he'd been safe in some o' them Merikin places he was always gassin' about, and all this wouldn't a' happened.' ' He couldn't help that,' says Jim ; 'he thought they'd never know him from any other swell in Canterbury or wherever he was. He's been took in like many smother man. What I look at is this : he won't squeak. How are they to find out that we had any hand in it ? ' That's what I'm dnbersome about,' says father, lightin' his pipe again. ' Nobody down there got much of a look at me, and I let my beard grow on the road and shaved clean coon's I got back, same as I always do. Now, the thing is, does any one know that yon boys was in the fakement? ' ' Nobody's likely to know but him and Warrigal. The knockabouts and those other three chaps won't come it on tis for their own eakes. We may as well stop here till Christmas is over and then make down to the Barwon, or somewhere thereabouts. We could take a long job at drov ing till the derry's off a bit. ' If you'll be said by me,' the old man |growls out, ' you'll make tracks for the Hollow afore daylight and keep dark till we hear how the play goes. I know Starlight's as dose as a spring lock ; but that chap Warrigal don't cotton to either of you, and he's likely to give you away if he's pinched himself — that's my notion of aim.'' ' Starlight '11 keep him from doing that,' Jim says ; ' the boy'll do nothing his master don't agree to, and he'd break his neck if he found him out in any dog's trick like that.' ' Starlight and he ain't in the same cell, you take your oath. I don't trust no man, except ihm. I'll be off now, and if you'll take a fool's advice, though he is your father, you'll go too ; we can be there by daylight.' Jim and 1 looked at each other. 'We promised to stay Chris'mas with mother and Aileen,' says he, ' and if all the devils in hell tried to stop us, I wouldn't break my word. But we'll come to the Hollow on Boxing Day, won't we, Dick ?' ' All right ! It's only two or three days. The day after to-morrow's ChriB'mas Eve. We'll chance that, as it's gone so far.' ' Take your own way,' growls father. 'Fetch me my saddle. The old mare's close by the yard.' Jim fetches the saddle and bridle, and Cribb comes after him, out of the verandah, where he had been lying. Bless you! He knew something was up. Just like a Christian he was, and nothing never happened that dad was in as he wasn't down to. ' May as well stop till morning, dad,' says Jim, as we walked up to the yard. ' Not another minute,' says the old man, and he whips the bridle out of Jim's hand and walks over to the old mare. She lifts up her head from the dry grass and stands as steady as a rock. ' Good-bye,' he says, and be shook hands with both of us ; 'if I don't see you again. I'll send you word if I hear anything fresh.' In another minute we heard the old mare's hoofs pro ceeding away among the rocks up the gully, and gradually getting fainter in the distance. Then we went in. Mother and Aileen had been in bed an hour ago, and all the better for them. Next morning we told mother and Aileen that father had gone. They didn't j eay much. They were used to his ways. They never expected him till they saw him, and had got out of the fashion of asking why he did this or that. He had reasons of his own, which he* never told them, for going or coming, and they'd left off troubling their heads about it. Mother was always in dread while ne was there, and they were far easier in their minds when he was away off the place. As for ub, we had made up our minds to enjoy ourselves while we could, and we had come to his way or thinking, . that most likely nothing was known of our being in the cattle affair that Starlight and the boy had been arrested for. We knew nothing would drag it out of Starlight about his pals in this or any other job. Now they'd got him, it would content them tor a bit, and may be take off their attention from us and the others that were in it.