Chapter 161923895

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Chapter NumberXIX
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161923895
Full Date1882-10-21
Page Number687
Corrections0
Word Count4732
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
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.1

Chapter XIX. — {.Continued.)

If anytMng could have given a man's heart a turn the right way that would have done it. I felt again as if some one cared for me in the world, as if I had a soul worth saving. And people may talk aB they like, but when a man has the notion that everybody has given Mm up as a bad job, and has dropped troubling themselves about Mm, he gets worse and worse, and meets tho devil half way. She said : ' Richard Marston, I cannot tell how grieved

I am to see you here. Both papa and 1 were so sorry to hear all about those Momberah cattle.' 1 stammered out something or other, I hardly knew what. She looked at me again with her great beautiful eyes like a wondering child. ' Is your brother here, too V' ' No, Miss Falkland,' I said. ' They've never caught Jim yet, and what's more, I don't think they will. He jumped on a bare-backed horse, without saddle or bridle, and got clear.' She looked aB if she was going to smile, but she didn't. I saw her eyes sparkle though, and she said softly, ' Poor Jim i so he got away ; I am glad ot that. What a wonderful rider he was ! But I suppose he will be caught some day. Oh, I do so wish I could say anything that would make you repent of what you have done, and try and do better by-and-bye. Papa says you have a long life before you most likely, and might do bo much with it yet. You will try for my sake ; won't you, now ?' ' I'll do what I can, miss ;' 1 said, 'and if I ever see Jim again I'll tell Mm of your kindness.' ' Thank you, and good-bye,' she said, and she held out her hand again and took mine. I walked away ; but I couldn't help holding my head higher, and feeling a different man, somehow. I ain't much of a religious chap, wasn't then, and 1 am further off it now than ever, but I've heard a power of the Bible and all that read in my time; and when the parson read out next Sunday about Jesus Christ dying for men, and wanting to have their souls saved, I felt as if I could have a show of understanding it better than I ever did before. If I'd been a Catholic, like Aileen and mother, I should have settled what the Virgin Mary was like when she was alive, and never said a prayer to her without think ing of Mies Falkland. While I was dying one week, and getting over it another, and going through all the misery every fellow has in his first year of gaol. Starlight was just his old self all the time. He took it quite easy — never gave any one trouble— and there wasn't a soul in the place that wouldn't have done anything for him. The visiting magistrate thought his a most in teresting case, and believed in Mb heart that he had been the means of turning Mm from the error of his ways— he and the chaplain between them, anyhow. He even helped Mm to be allowed to be kept a little separate from the other prisoners (lest they should contaminate him !) and in lots of ways made his life a bit easier to him. It was reported about that it was not the first time that he'd been in a gaol. That he'd ' done time,' as they call it, in another colony. He might or he might not. He never said. And he wasn't the man, with all his soft ways, you'd like to ask about such a thing. By the look of it you wouldn't think he cared abont it a bit. He took it very easy, read half his time and had no sign about him that he wasn't perfectly satisfied. He intended when he got out to lead a new life, the chap lain said, and be the means of keeping other men right and straight. One day we had a chance of a word together. He got the soft side of the chaplain, who thought he wanted to convert me and take me out of my sulky and obstinate state of mind. He took good care that we were not overheard or watched and then said rather loud, for fear of accidents 'Well, Richard, how are you feeling? I am happy to say that I have been led to think seriously of my former evil ways, and I have made up my mind, besides, to use every effort in my power to clear out of this infernal stone col lection of tombstones when the moon gets dark again, abont the end of tMs month.' 'How have you taken to become religious P' I said. 'Are you quite sure that what you Bay can be depended upon ? and when did you get the good news ' 1 have had many doubts in my mind for a long time,' he said, 'and have watched and prayed long and listened for the word that was to come ; and the end of it is that I have at length heard the news that makes the soul rejoice, even for the heathen, the boy Warrigal, who will be waiting outside these walls with fresh horses.' ' 1 must now leave yon, my dear Richard,' he said ; 'and I hope my words will have made an impression on

you. When I have more to communicate for your good I will ask leave to return.' After I heard tMs news I began to live again. Was there a chance of our getting ont of tMs terrible tomb into the free air and sunshine once more ? However it was to be managed I could not make out. I trusted mostly to Starlight, who seemed to know everything, and to be quite easy about the way it would all turn ont. All that I conld get ont of him afterwards was that, on a certain night, a man would be waiting with two horses ontside of the gaol wall ; and that, if we had the luck to get out safe, and he thought we should, we would be on their backs in three minutes, and all the police in New Sonth Wales wouldn't catch us — once we got five minutes' start. TMs was all very well if it came out right ; but there was an awful lot to be done before we were even near it. The more I began to think over it, the worse it looked ; sometimes I quite lost heart, and believed we should never have half a chance of carrying out our plan. We knew from the other prisoners that men had tried from time to time to get away. Three had been caught. One had been shot dead— he was lucky— another had fallen off the wall and broke his leg. Two had got clear off, and bad never been heard of since. We were all locked up in our cells every evening, and at 6 o'clock too. We didn't get out till 6 in the morning ; a long long time. Cold enough in the bitter winter weather, that had then come in, and a long weaiy wretched time to wait and watch for daylight. Well, first of all, we had to get the cell door open. That was the easiest part of the lot. There's alwayB men in a big gaol that all kinds of keys and locks are like large print to. They can make moBt locks fly open like magic; what's more, they're willing to do it for anybody 'else, or show them how. It keepB their hand in ; they have a pleasure in spiting those above them when ever they can do it. The getting out of the cell was easy enough ; but there was a lot of danger after you had got ont. A passage to cross, where the warder^ with his rifle, walked up and down every half -hour all night; then a big courtyard ; then another smaller door in the wall ; then the outer yard for those prisoners who are allowed to work at stone-catting or out-of-door trades. After all this, there was the great onter wall to climb up and drop down from on the other side. We managed to pick our night well. A French convict, who liked that sort of thing, gave me the means of undoing the cell door. It was 3' o clock in the morning, when in winter most people are sleepy that haven't much on their minds. The warder that came down the passage wasn't likely to be asleep, but he might have made it up in his mind that all was right, and not taken as much notice as usual. This was what we trusted to. Besides, we had got a few five-pound notes smuggled in to us ; and though I wouldn't say that we were able to bribe any of the gaolers, we didn't do ourselves any harm in one or two little ways by throwing a few sovereigns abont. 1 did just as I was told by the Frenchman, and I opened the cell door as easy as a wooden latch. 1 had to shut it again for fear the warder would see it and begin to search and sound the alarm at once. Jnst as I'd done this he came down the passage. I had only time to crouch down in the shadow when he passed me. 'That was right ; now he would not he hack for half-an-hour. I crawled and scrambled, and crept along like a snake until little by little I got to the gate through the last wall but one. The lock here was not so easy as the cell door, and took me more time. While I stood there I was in a regular tremble with fright, thinking someone might come up and all my chance would be gone. After a hit the lock gave way and I foundmyself in the outer yard. I went over to the wall and crept along it till I came to one of the angles. There I was to meet Starlight. He was not there, and he was to bring some spikes to climb the wall with, and a rope, with two or three other things. 1 waited and waited for half-an-hour, which seemed a month. What was I to do if he didn't come ? I could not climb the 30-foot wall by myself. One had to be cautions, too, for there were towers at short distances along the wall ; in every one of these a warder, armed with a rifle, which he was sure to empty at any one that looked like gaol breaking. I began to tMnk he had made a mistake in the night. Then, that he had been discovered and caught the moment he tried to get out of the cell. I should he sure to be caught if he was prevented from coming ; and shotting up would be harder to bear than ever. Then I heard a man's step coming np softly. I knew it was Starlight. I knew his step, and thought I could always tell it from a thousand other men's : it was so light and firm, soquick and free. Even in a prison it was different from other men's ; and I remembered everything he had ever said abont walking and running, both of wMch he was wonderfully good at. He was just as cool as ever. ' All right, Dick ; take these spikes.' He had half-a-dozen stout bits of iron : however he got them I know no more than the dead, but there they were, and a light strong coil of rope as weH. I knew what the spikes were for. of course : to drive into the wall between the stones and climo up by. With the rope we were to drop ourselves over the waU the other side. It was 30 feat Mgh —no fool of a drop. More than one man had been picked up disabled at the bottom of it. He had a short stout piece of iron that did to hammer the spikes in ; and that had to be don every soft and quiet , vou may be sure. It took along time, t thought the night wonld be over and daylight come before it was all done ; it was so slow. I could hear the tick-tack of Ms iron every time he knocked one of the spikes in. Of course he went higher every time. They were just far enough apart for a man to get his |foot on from one to another. As he went up he had one end of the coil of the rope round his wrist. When he got to the top he was to draw it np to fasten to the top spike, and lower himself down by it to the ground on the other Bide. At last I felt Mm pull hard on the rope. I held it, and put my foot on the first spike. 1 don't mow that I should have found it so very easy in the dark to get np by the spikes it was almost blackfellows' work, when they put their big toe into a notch cat in the smooth stem of a gam tree that runs a hundred feet without a branch, ana climb np the ontside of it— but Jim and 1 had often practised this sort of climbing when we were boys, and were both pretty good at it. As for Starlight, he had been to sea when he was young, and could climb like a cat. 'When I got to the top, I could jnst see his head above the wall. The rope was fastened well to the top spike, wnich was driven almost to the head into the wall. Directly he saw me, he began to lower Mmself down the rope, and was ont of sight in a minute. I wasn't long after him, you may be sure. In my huny, I let the rope sup through my hands so faet they were sore for a week afterwards. But I didn't feel it then. I should hardly have felt it if I had cut them in two, for as my feet touched the ground in the darkness I heard the stamp of a horse's hoof and the jingle of a bit — not much of a sound, but it went through my heart like a knife, along with the thought that I was & free man onoe more : that is. free in a manner of speaking. I knew wa couldn't be taken then, bar accidents, and I felt ready to ride through a regiment of soldiers. As I stood up, a man caught my hand and gave it a squeeze as if he'd have crashed my fingers in. I knew it was Jim. Of course, I'd expected him to be there, but wasn't sure if he'd be able to work it. We didn't speak, but started to walk over to where two horses were standing, with a man holding 'em. It was pretty dark, but I could see Rainbow's star — just in his forehead it was— the only white he had about him. Of course it was Warrigal that was holding them. ? ' We must double-hank my horse,' whispers Jim, 'for a mile or two, till we're clear of the place; wp didn't want to bring a lot of horses about.' He jumped up, and I mounted behind him. Star light was on Rainbow in a second. The half-caste disappeared in the dark ; he was going to keep dark for a few days and send us the news. Jim's horse went off as if he had only ten stone on his back instead of pretty nigh five anc^ twenty. And we were free! Lord Goal to think that men can be such fools as ever to do anything of their own freewill and guiding that puts their liberty in danger when there's such a world outride of a gaol wall — such a heaven on earth as long as a man's young ''-1 strong, and has all the feelings of a free man, in a country like this. 'Would I do the first crooked thing again if I had my life to live over again, and knew a hundredth part of what I know now P would I put my hand in the fire ont of lazinesB or greed ? or sit still and let a unaVn »Hng me, knowing I should he dead in twelve hours ? Any man's fool enough to do one that '11 do the other. Men and women don't know this in time; that's the worst of it ; they won't

believe half they're told by them that do know and wish 'cm well. They ran on heedless and obstinate, too proud to take advice, till they do as we did. The world's always been the same, I suppose, and will to the end. Most of the books say so, anyway. Chapter XX. What a different feel from prison air the fresh night breeze had as we swept along a lonely outride track ! The stars were out, though the sky was cloudy now and then, and the big forest trees looked strange in the broken light. It was so long since I'd seen any. I felt aB if I was going to a new world. None of us spoke for a hit. Jim pulled up at a small hut by the roadside ; it looked Eke a farm, but there was not much show of oops or anytMng abont the place. There was a tumble-down old tarn, with a strong door to it and a pad lock ; it seemed the only building mat there was any care taken abont. A man opened the door of the hat and looked ont. ' Look sharp,' says Jim, ' Is the horse all right— and fit?' ' Fit enough to go for the Hawkesbtuy Guineas. I was np, and fed Mm three hours ago. He's ? ' ' Bring him out, and be hanged to you,' says Jim. ' We've no time for chat.' The man went straight to the barn, and after a minute or two brought ont a horse— the Bame I'd ridden from Gippe land, saddled and bridled, and ready to jump out of his skin. Jim leaned forward and put something into his hand, which pleased him. for he held my rein and stirrup, ana then said, ' Good lack and a long reign to yon,' as we rode away. All this time Starlight had sat on his horse in the shade of a tree a good bit away. When we started he rode along side of us. » We were soon in a pretty fair hand-gallop, and! we kept it up. All our horses were good, and we bowled along ob if we were going to ride for a week without stopping. What a ride it was ! It was a grand night any way, I thought so. I blessed the stars, I know. Mile after mile, and still the horses seemed to go all the fresher the farther they went. I felt I could ride on that way for ever. As the horses pulled and snorted and snatched at their bridles, I felt as happy as ever I did in my life. Mile after mile it was all the same ; we conld hear Rainbow snorting from time to time and see Ms star move as he tossed up his head. We had many a night ride after together, bat that was the best. We had laid it ont to make for a place we knew not so far from home. We dursn't go there straight of course, but nigh enough to make a dart to it whenever we had word that the coast was clear. l We knew directly we were missed the whole country ride wonld be turned out looking for us, and that every trooper within a hundred milea would be hopuig for promotion in case he was lucky enough to (drop on either of the Marstons on the notorious Starlight. His name had been pretty well in every one's month before, and would be a little more before they were done with him. Itwas too far toride to the Hollow in a day, bnt Jim had got a place read v for us to keep dark in tor a bit, in case we got clear off. There's never any great trouble in ns?ctaaps finding a home for a week or two, and somebody to help us onjour way as long as we've the notes to chuck about. All the worse in the long run. We rode hardish — some people would have called it a hand gallop most of the way ; up hill and down, across rocky creeks, through thick timber. More than one river we had to swim. It was mountain water, and Starlight cursed and swore, and said he should catch Mb death of cold. Then we all laughed ; it was the first time we'd done that since we were out My heart was too foil to talk, much less laugh, with the thought of being out of that cursed prison and on my own horse again, with the free bush breeze filling my breasts and the free forest I'd lived in all my life once more around me. I frit like a king, and as for what might come afterwards I had no more thought than a schoolboy has of Ms next vear'B les sons at the beginning of Mb holidays. It might oome now. As I took the old horse by the head and.raced him down the mountain-side, I frit I was living again and might call myself a man once more. The sun was just rising, the morning was misty and drizzling ; the long, sour grass, the brandies of the scrabhy trees, everything we touched and saw was dripping with the night dew, as we rode up a 'gap' between two stiffish hills. We had .been riding all night, (from track to track, sometimes steering by guesswork. Jim seemed to know the country in a general way, and he told as father and he had been about there a good deal lately, cattle dealing and so on. For the last hour or so we had been on a pretty fair beaten road, though there wasn't much traffic on it. It was one of the old mail tracks once, but new ooach lines had knocked away all the traffic. Some of the old inns had been good big houses, well kept and looked after then. Now, lots of them were empty, with broken windows and everything in ruins ; others were just good enottgh'to let to people who would live in them ana make a living by cultivating a bit and selling grog on the sly. Where we pulled up was one of these places, and the people were just what you might expect. First of all there was the man of the house, Jonathan Barnes, a tall, rionching, flash -looking native ; he'd been a little in the horse-racing line, a little in the prize-fighting line — enough to have his nose broken, and was fond of talking about 'pugs' as he'd known intimate — a little in the farming and carrying line— a little in every line that meant a good deal of gassing, drinking, and idling and mighty little hard work. He'd a decent, industrious little wife, about forty times too good for Mm, and the girls Bella and Maddie worked well, or else he'd have been walking about the country with a swag on Ms back. They kept him and the house too, like many another man, and he took all the credit of it, and ordered them abont as if he'd been the best and straightest man in the land. If he made a few EDunds now and then he'd drop it on a horse raoe before e'd had it a week. They were glad enough to see us, any how, and made ua comfortable, after a fashion. Jim had brought fresh clothes, and both of us had stopped on the road and rigged ourselves out, so that we didn't look so * queer as men just out of the jug mostly do with their close shaved faces, cropped heads, and prison clothes. Starlight had brought a false moustache with Mm, which he stuck on, so that he looked as much like a swell as ever. The - Warrigal had handed him a small parcel, which he brought { with Mm, jnst as we started; and, with a ring on Ms finger, some notes and gold in his pocket, he ate Ms breakfast, ana chatted away with the girls as if he'd only ridden out for a day to have a look at the country. ?] Our horses were put in the stable and well looked to, yon may be sore. The man that straps a cross cove's horss don't go short of Ms halfcrown— two or three of them,* I maybe. We made a first-rate breakfast of it, what with the cold and the wet and not being used to riding lately, we j were; pretty hungry, and tired too. We intended to camp 1 there that day, ana be off again as soon as it was dark. Of course we ran a bit of a risk, but not as bad aB we ! should by riding in broad daylight. The Mlla on the south 1 were wild and rangy enough, hat there were all sorts of people about on their business in the daytime ; and of course any of them wonld know with one look that three men, all on wellbred horses, riding right across country and not stopping to epeak or make free with any one, ware ukriy to be ' on the cross' — all the more if the police weremaking particular inquiries about them. We were all armed, too, now. Jim had seen to that. If we were caught, we in tended to have a flatter for it. We.were not going .back to Berrima, if we knew it. So we tamed in, and slept aB if we were never going to wake again. We'd had a glass of grog or two, nothing to hurt, though ; and the food and one thing and another made us sleep like tops. Jim was to keep a good lookout, and we didn't take off our clothes. Our horses were kept ''ddled, too, with the bridleB on their heads, and duly the bite out or their mouths. We could have managed without the bite at a pinch. Everything ready to be ont of the house In one minute, and unsaddle and off full-split the next. We were learned that trick pretty well before things came to an end. Besides that, Jonathan kept a good lookout, too, for strangers of the wrong sort. It wasn't a bad place in that way. There was a long stony track coming down to the j house, and yon conld see a horseman or a carriage of any ] kind nearly a mile off. Then, in the old times, toe timber f had been cleared pretty nigh all round the plooe, so (here I was no chance of any one sneaking np unknown to people. | There couldn't have been a better harbour for our sort, ana I many a jolly spree we had there afterwards. Manya queer i sight that old table in the little parlour saw, years after, ana J the notes and gold and watches and rings and things I've 1 seen the girls handling would have stunned you. But tut ^ J was all to come. ^ 1