|Chapter Number||VIII, IX|
|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Robbery Under Arms|
Robbery Under Arms.
FBy Rolf Boldrewood.]
The ' big squatter,' as he was called on our side of the country, was Mr. Falkland. He was an Englishman, that had come young to the colony, and worked his way up by degrees. He had had no money when he first came, people said ; indeed he often said so himself. He was not proud — at any rate in that way, for he was not above telling a young fellow that he should never be downhearted because he hadn't a coat to his back or a shilling in his pocket,
because he, Herbert Falkland, had known what it was to be without either. ' This was the best country in the whole world,' he used to say, '? for a gentleman who was poor or a working man.' The first sort could always make an in dependence if they were moderately strong, liked work, and did not drink. There were very few countries where idle, unsteady people got rich. ' As for the poor man, he was the real rich man in Australia. High wages, cheap food, lodging, clothing, travelling. What more did he want ? He could save money, live happily, and die rich if he wasn't a fool or a rogue. Unfortunately, these last were highly popular professions; and many people, high and low, belonged to them here— and everywhere else.' We were all well up in this kind of talk, because for the last two or three years since we had begun to shear pretty well— we had always thorn at his shed. He was one of those gentlemen, and he was a gentleman— if there is such a thing— if ever there was one —that takes a deal of notice of his working hands, particularly if they were young. Jim he took a great fancy to the first moment he saw him. He didn't care so much about me. ' You're a sulky young dog, Richard Marston,' he used to say, ' I'm not sure that you'll come to any good, and thpugh I don't like to say all I hear about your father before you I'm afraid he doesn't teach yon anything worth know ing. But Jim there's a grand fellow ; if he'd been caught young and weaned from all of your lot he'd have been an honour to the land he was born in. He's too good for you all.' 'Every one of you gentlemen wants to be a small God Almighty,' I said, impudently. ' You'd like to break us all in and put us in yokes and bows, like a lot of working bullocks.' ?- You mistake me, my boy, and all the rest of us who are worth calling men — let alone gentlemen. W e are your best friends, and would help you in every way if you'd only let us,' | ' I don't see so much of that.' ' Because you often fight against your own good. We should like to see you all have farms of your own — to be all well taught and able to make the beBt of your lives— not driven to drink, aB many of you are, because you have no notion of any rational amusement and anything between hard work and idle dissipation.' 'And suppose you had all this power,' I said, for if I wasn't afraid of Father, there wasn't another man living that could overcrow me. ' Den't you think you'd know the way to keep all the good things for yourselves ? Hasn't it always been so ?' ' I see your argument,' he said, quite quiet and reason able, just as if I had been a swell like himself, that was when he was unlike any other man I ever knew, ' and it is a perfectly fair way of putting it. But your class might, I -think, always rely upon there being enough kindness and wisdom in ours to prevent that state of things. Unfor tunately, neither side trusts the other enough, And now the bell is going to ring, I think.' Jim and I stopped at Boree shed till all the sheep were cut out. It pays well if the weather is pretty fair, and it isn't bad fun when there's 20 or 30 chaps of the right soft in the shearers' hut. There's always some fun going on. Sheared work pretty hard, and as they buy their own rations generally they can afford to live well. After a hard day's shearing— that is, from 5 o'clock in the morning till 7 atnipht. coins best Dace all the time. fiVflTO YYIflT) TO/lvVm r* aa I
hard as if he was at it for his life— one would tbinfr a man would be too tired to do anything. But we were mostly strong and hearty, and at that age a man takes a deal of killing. So we used to have a little card-playing at night to pass away the time. Very few of the fellows had any money to spend. They couldn't get any, either, until shearing was over and they were paid off. But they'd get some one who could write to scribble a lot of I O U's, and they did as well. WeuEedto play 'all- fours' and 'loo,' and now and then an American game which some of the fellows had picked up. It was strange how soon we managed to get into big stakes. I won at first, and then Jim and I began to lose, and had such a lot of I O U's out that I was afraid we'd have no money to take home after shearing, . Then I began to think what a fool I'd been to play myself, and drag Jim into it ; for he didn't want to play at first One day I got a couple , of. letters from home— one from Aileen, and another in a strange hand. It had come to our little poBt-office, and Afleen had sent it on to Boree. When I opened it there were a few lines, with father's name at the bottom. He couldn't write, so I made sure that Starlight had written it for him. He was quite well, it said, and to look -Jut for him about Christmas time. He might come home ttien, or Bend for us. To stop at Boree if we could get work, iand keep a couple of horses in good trim, as he might want us. A couple of £5-notes fell out of the letter aB I opened it. When 1 looked at them first, I felt a kind of fear. I knew what they came from. And I had a sort of fArftng that we should be better without them. However the devil was too strong for me. Money's a tempting thing whether it's notes or gold, especially when a man's in debt.' j 1 had begun to think the fellows looked a little cool on I us the last three or four nights, as our losses were grow ing big. So I gave Jim his chare; and after tea, when we sat: ?down again', there wasn't more than a dozen of us * were in the card racket I flung down my note, and Jim did his, and told them that we owed to to take the change out of that, and hand us o^er their paper for the balance. They all stared, for such a thing hadn't been seen since the shearing began. Shearers,- as a rule, come from »Wr homes in the settled districts very bare. They are not very well supplied with clothes; their horses are poor and done up ; and they very seldom have a note in their pockets, unless they have managed to sell a spare horse on the journey. So we were great mm for the time, looked at by the others with wonder and respect . We were fools enough to be pleased with it Strangdy, too, our luck turned from that minute, and it ended in otir winning not only our own back, but more than as much more from the other men. I don't think Mr. Falkland liked these goings on. He wouldn't have allowed cards at all if he could have helped it He was a man that hated what was wrong, and didn't value hie own interest a pin, when it came in the way. However, the shearing hut was our own, in a manner of speaking, ana as keg as we shore clean and kept the shed going, the over
eeer, Mr. M'Intyre. didn't trouble his head much about' our doings in the hut He was anxious to get done with, the shearing, to get the wool into the bales before the dust came in, and the grass seed ripened, and the clover burrs began to fall. Ti why ahouldye fash yoursel' ?' I heard him say once to Mr. Falkland, ' aboot these young deevils like the Marstons. . They're as good's ready money in auld Nick's purse. It's' bred and bom and welded in them. Ye'll just have the burrs and seeds amang the wool, if ye keep losing a smart shearer for the sake o' a wheen cards Mid dice ; and ye'll mak' nae heed of convairtin' thae young caterans ony mair rtnii ye'll change a Norroway falcon into a barn-door chuckie.' I wonder if what he said was true— if we couldn't help if if it was in our blood. It seems like it ; and yet if s hari lines to ^inlr a fellow must grow up and get on the cross in spite of himself, and come to the gallows-foot at last, whether he likes it or not. The parson here isn't bad at all. He's a man, and a gentleman too ; and he's talked and read to me by the hour. I suppose some of us chaps are like the poor stupid tribes that the Israelites found in Canaan, onlv meant to live for a bit, and then to be rubbed out, to make room for better people. When the shearing was nearly over we had a Saturday afternoon to ourselves. We had finished all the sheep thafr were in the shed, and old M'Intyre didn't like to begin a. fresh flock. So we got on our horses and took a ride into the township, just for the fun of the thing and for a little change. The horses had got quite fresh with the rest and - the spring grass. Their coats were shining, and they all looked very different from what they did when we first i came. Our two were not so very poor when they came, so ? they looked the best of the lot and jumped about in style when we mounted. Ah ! only to think of a good horse 1 All the ttioh washed themselves and put on clean clothes. ' Then we had our dinner, and about a dozen of us started for Jim, how well he looked that day. I don't think you could pick a young fellowany where in the country- - Bide that was a patch on him for good looks and manlK De|omewhere about six foot or a little over, as straight as a rush, with a bright blue eye that was always laughing and twinkling, and curly dark-brown hair. No wonder all the the girls used to think so much of him. He could do any thing and everything that a man could do. He was as strong as a young bull and as active as a rock wallably— and. ride I Well he sat on his horse as if he was born on one. With his broad shoulders and upright, easy seat, he was a regular picture on a good horse. ... Anil he had a good one under him to-day, a big brown resolute, well-bred horse he had got in a swap because the man that had him was afraid of him. Now that he had got a little flesh on his bones, he looked something quite out of the common. ' A deal too good for a poor man, and him honest,' as old M'Intyre said. But Jim turned on him pretty sharp, and said he had got the horse in a fair deal, and had as much right to a good mount as any one else — super or Bquatter, he didn't care, who he was. And Mr. Falkland took Jim'B part, and rather made Mr. M'Intyre out in the wrong for saying what he did. The old man didn't say much more, only shook his head saying : ' Ah, ye're a grand laddie, ana buirdly. and no that thrown, either — like ye, Dick, ye born deevil, looking at me. But I misdoot sair ye'll die wi' your boots on. There's a smack o' Johnnie Armstrong in the glint o' yer e'e. Ye'll be to dree ver weird, there's nae help for't.' 'What's all that lingo, Mr. M'Intyre P' called out Jim, all good-natured again. ' Is it French or Queensland blacks' yabber ? Blest if I understand a word of it. But J. didn't want to be nasty, only I'm regular shook on this old moke, I believe, and he's as square as Mr. Falkland's old dogcart horse.' ' Maybe ye bocht him fair eneugh, I'll no deny you. I saw the receipt mysel'. But where did you lang-Ieggit, long-lockit, Fish River moss-trooping callant win haud o' him P Answer me that, Jeems Y' ' That Bays nothing,' answered Jim. ' I'm not supposed to trace back every horse in the country and find out all the people that owned him since he was a foal. He's mine now, and mine he'll be till I get a better one.' ' A conterma-aciouB and stiff-necket genera-ation,' said the old man, walking off and shaking his head ; ' and yet he's a fine laddie ; a gra-and laddie wad he be with good guidance. It's the Lord's doing, nae doot, and we daurna fault it ; it's wondrous in oor een.' That was the way old Mac always talked. Droll lingo, wasn't it? Chapter IX. Well, away we went to thiB township. Bundah was the name of it; not that there was anything to do or to see when we got there. It was the regular up-country village, with a public-house, a store, a pound, and a blacksmith's shop. However, a public-house is not such a bad place — at any rate, it's better than nothing when a fellow's young and red-hot for anything like a bit of fun, or even a change. Some people can work away day after day, and year after
year, like a bullock in a team or a horse in a ahaffcutting machine. It's all the better for them if they can, though i suppose they never enjoy themselves except in a cold-blooded sort of way. But there's other men that can' t do that sort o£ thing, and it's no use talking. They must have life and liberty and a free range. There's some birds and animals, too, that either pine in a cage or kill themselves, and £ suppose it's the same way with some men. They can't stand the cage of what's called honest labour, which means working for Bome one else for 20 or 30 years, never having a day to yourself, or doing anything you like, and saving up a trifle for your old age when you can't enjoy it. I don't wonder youngsters break traces and' gallop off like a colt out of a team. Besides, sometimes there's a good looking girl even at a1 bush public, the daughter or the barmaid, andit's--dd now what a difference that makes. There's a few glasses grog going, a little noisy rattling talk, a few smiles, and a' saucy answer or two from the girl, a look at the last news paper, or a bit of the town news from the landlord ; he's 1 always time' to read. Hang him — I mean confound him— ~ for he's generally a sly old spider who sucks us fellows pretty ? dry, and then don't care what becomes of us. Well, it don't ' amount to much, but its life. The only taste of it that chaps like us are likely to get. And people may fadfr as much as they like, boys and men, too, will like it, and take to it and hanker after it as long as the world laBts. There's danger in it, and misery* and death often enough comes of it, but what o£ that? If a man wants a swim on the seashore he won't stand all day on the beanh because he may bs drowned or snapped up by a shark, or knocked against s ? rock, or tired out and drawn under by the surf. No, if he's a man he'll jump in and enjoy himself all the more because the waves are high and the waters deep. So it was very good fun to us, simple as it might sound to some people. It was pleasant to be bowling along over the firm green turf, along the plain, through the forest, gully,, and over the creek. Our horses were fresh, and we had a scurry or two, of course; but there wasn't one that could hold a candle to Jim's brown horse. He was a long striding, smooth goer, but he got over the ground in , wonderful style. He could jump, too, for Jim pnt him over a big log fence or two, and he sailed ever tnnm like a forester buck over the head of a fallen wattle. Well, we'd had our lark at the Bundah Royal Hotel, were coming home to tot at the station, all in good spirits, . but sober enough, when, just as we were crossing one of th& roads that came through the run— over ' the Pretty Plain,' as they called it, we heard a horse coming along best pace. . When we looked, who should it be bat IriuBs Falkland, tho owner's only daughter She was an only child, and the very apple of her father's eye, y-m may be sure. The shearers mostly knew her by sight, because she had taken a fancy to come down with her father a couple of times to see the shed when we were all in lull work. into. Shearers are rough in tSeir language'now and then. But every man liked and respected Mr. Falkland. So wa all put ourselves on our beat behaviour, and the two or three flash fellows who had no sense or decent feeling, were warned that if they broke out at all, they would get some thing to remember it by. But when we saw that beautiful delicate-looking creature stepping down the boards between the two rows of shearers, most of themstripped to their jerseys, and working like steam- - engines, looking curiously and pitifully at the tired men and the patient sheep, with her great soft dark eyes and fair
white face like a lily, ve began to think we'd heard of angels from leaven but never seen one before. JuBt as she came opposite Jim, who was trying to shear sheep and sheep with the 'ringer' of the shed, who was next on our right, the wether .he was holding lacked, and knocking the shears out of his hand, sent them point down against his wrist. One of the points went right in, and though it didn't cut the sinews as luck would nave it, bat tbe point stuck out at the other side : out spurted the blood, and Jim was just going to let out when he looded up and saw Miss Falkland look ing at him, with her beautiful eyes so full of pity and eurpriee that he could have had his hand chopped off -so he tola me afterwards — rather than vex her for a moment. So lie shut up bis mouth and ground his teeth together, for it was no joke in the way of pain, and the blood began to run like a blind creek after a thunderstorm. 41 Oh ! poor fellow. 'What a dreadful cut ! Look, papa ! ' ' she cried out. ' Hadn't something better be bound round it. Bow it bleeds. Does it pain much ? ' ' Not a bit, miss ! ' said Jim, standing np like a school boy going to Bay his leBeon. ' That is, it doesn't matter if it don't stop my shearing.' ' Tar ! ' sings out my next door neighbour. ' Here, boy ; tar wanted for No. 36. That'll put it all right, Jim ; it's only a scratch.' ' You mind your shearing, my man,' said Mr. Falkland, quietly, ' I don't know whether Mr. M'Intyre will quite approve of that last sheep of your*s. This is rather a serious wound. The best thing is to bind it up at once.' Before anyone could say another word Miss Falkland had whipped out her soft fine cambric handkerchief and torn it in two. ' Hold up your hand,' she said. ' Now, papa, lend me yours. With* the last she cleared the wound of the flowing blood and then neatly and skilfullv bound up the wrist firmly with the strips of cambric. This she further pro tected by her father's handkerchief which she helped herself to and finally stopped the blood with. Jim kept looking at her small white hands all the time she was doing it Neither of us had ever seen such before. The dainty skin, the pink nails, the glittering rings. ' There,' she said, ' 1 don't think you ought to shear any more to-day, it might bring on inflammation. I'll send to know how it gets on to-morrow.' ' No Miss ; my grateful thanks, MisB,' said Jim, opening his eyes and looking as if he'd like to drop down on his knees and pray to her. ' I shall never forget your goodness, Miss Falkland, if I live till I'm a hundred.' Then Jim bent his head a bit. I don't suppose he ever made a bow in his life before, and then drew himself up as straight as a soldier, and MisB Falkland made a kind of bow and smile to us all and paBBed out. Jim did shear all the same that afternoon, though the tally wasn't any great things. ' I can't go and lie down in a bunk in the men's hut,' he said ; I must chance it,' and he did. Next day it was worse and very painful, but Jim stuck to his shears, though he used to turn white with the pain at times, and I thought he'd faint. However, it gradually got better, and, except a scar, Jem's hand was as good as ever. Jim sent back Mr. Falkland's handkerchief after getting the cook to wash it and iron it out with a bit of a broken axle tree ; but the strips of white handkerchief— one had 0. F. in the corner — he put away in his swag, and made some foolish excuse when I laughed at him about it. She sent down a boy from the house next day to ask how Jim's hand was, and the day after that, but she never came to the shed any more. So we didn't see her again. So it was this young lady that we saw coming tearing down the back road, as they called it, that led over the Pretty Plain. A good way behind we saw Mr. Falkland, but he had as much chance of coming up with her as a cattle dog of catching a ' brush flyer.' The stable boy, Billy Donnellan, had told us (of course like all those sort of youngsters he was fond of getting among the men and listening to them talk) all about Miss Falkland's new mare. She was a great beauty and thoroughbred. The stud groom had bought her out of a travelling mob from New England when she was dog-poor and hardly able to drag herself along. Everybody thought she was going to be the best lady's horse in the district; but though she was as quiet as a lamb at first, she had began to show a nasty temper lately, and to get very touchy. ' I don't care about chestnuts myself,' says Master Billy, smoking a short pipe as if he was thirty ; ' they#e a deal of temper, and she's got too much white in her eye for my money. I'm afeard she'll do some mischief afore we've done with her; and Miss Falkland's that game as she won't have nothing done to her. I'd ride the tail off her, but what I'd bring her to, if I had my way.' So this was the brute that had got away with Miss Falk land, the day we were coming back from Bundah. Some horses, and a good many men and women, are all pretty right as long as they're well kept under and starved a bit, at odd timeB. But give them an easy life, and four feeds of com a day, and they're troublesome brutes, and mischievous too. It seems this mare came of a strain that had turned out more devils and killed more grooms and breakers than any other in the country. She was a Troubadour, it seems, and there never was a Troubadour yet that wouldn't buck and bolt, and smash himself and his rider, if he got a fright, or his temper was roused. Menand women, horses and dogs are very much alike. 1 know which can talk best. As to the rest, 1 don't know whether there's so much for us to be proud of. It seems that this cranky wretch of a mare had been sideling and fidgetting when Sir. Falkland and his daughter started for their ride; but had gone pretty fairly— Miss Falkland, like my sister Aileen, could ride anything in reason— when suddenly a dfeod limb dropped off a tree close to the side of the road. 1 believe she made one wild plunge, and set to; she propped and reared, but Miss Falkland sat her splendidly and got her head up. When she saw she could do nothing that way, she stretched out her head and went off as hard as she could lay IegB to the ground. She had one of these mouths that are not so bad when horses are going easy, but get quite callous when they are over eager and excited. Anyhow it was like trying to stop a mailcoach going down Mount Victoria with the brake off. So what we saw was the wretch of a mare coming along as if the devil was after her, and heading straight across the plain at its narrowest part; it wasn't more than halfa mile wide there, in fact it was more like a fiat than a plain. The people about Boree didn't see much open counby, eo they made a lot out of what they had. The mare, like some women when they get their monkey up, was clean out ot her senses, and I don't believe any thing could have held her under a hide rope with a turn round a stockyard post That was just what she wanted, and if it had broken her infernal neck so much the better. Miss Falkland was Bitting straight and square, with her hands down, doing leaning a bit back, and doing her level best to stop the brute. Her hat was off and her hair had fallen down and' hung down her back ; plenty of it there was, too. The mare's neck was stretched straight out ; her mouth was like a deal board, I expect, by that time. 'We didn't sit staring at her all the time, you bet. We could see the boy even so far off. We gathered up our reinB and went after her, not in a hurry, but just collecting ourselves a bit to Bee what would be the best way to wheel the brute and stop her. Jim's horse was far-ond-a-way the fastest, and he let out to head the mare off from a creek that was just in front, at the end of the plain. ' By George, said one of the men — a young fellow who lived near the place—'1 the mare's turning off her course, and she's heading straight for the Trooper's Downfall —where the policeman was killed. If she goes over that, they'll be smashed np like a matchbox, horse and rider.' 'What's that V I said, dosing up alongside of him ; we were all doing our best, and were Just in the line to back up Jim, who looked as if he was overhauling the mare fast ' 'Why, if s a bluff 100 feet deep— s straight drop — and rocks at the bottom. She's making as straight as a beeline for it sow, blast her !' ' And Jim don't know it,1' I said ; M hefa closing up to her, hut he doesn't calculate to do it for a quarter of a mile more ; he's letting her take it out of herself.' ' He'll never catch her in time,' said the young chap. *' My God ! ifs an awful thing, isn't it ; and a fine young IMy like her— so kind to ub chaps as she was.' - ' I'll see if I can make Jim hear,' I said, for though I looked cool I was as nearly mad as I could be to think of I such a girl being lost before our eyes. ' No, I can't do ! that, but I'D TZLB6BATH.' !