Chapter 161924033

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161924033
Full Date1882-07-08
Page Number45
Corrections6
Word Count5000
IllustratedN
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 II.

Father was one of those people that gets shut of a deal of trouble in this world by always sticking to one thing. If he said he'd do this or that, he always did it and nothing else. As for turning him, a wild bull halfway down a range, was a likelier try-on. So nobody ever bothered him after he'd once opened his mouth. They knew it was so much lost labour. I sometimes thought Aileen was a bit like him in her way of sticking to things. But then she was always right—you see.

So that clinched it. Mother gave in like a wise woman as she was. The clergyman from Bargo came one day and christened me and Jim—made one job of it. But mother took Aileen herself in the spring cart all the way to the township and had her christened in the chapel, in the middle of the service all right and regular— by Father Roche. There's good and bad of every sort, and I've met plenty that were no chop of all churches — but if Father Roche, or Father any body else, had any hand in making mother and Aileen half as good as they were, I'd turn to-morrow, if I ever got out again. I don't suppose it was the religion that made much difference in our case, for Patsey Daly and his three brothers, that lived on the creek higher up were as much on the cross as men could be, and many a time I've seen them ride to chapel and attend mass and look as if they'd never seen a "clearskin" in their lives. Patsey was hanged afterwards for bushranging and gold robbery, and he had more than one man's blood to answer for. Now we wern't like that— we never troubled the church one way or the other—we knew we were doing what we oughtn't to do, and we scorned to look pious and keep two faces under one hood. By degrees we all grew older—began to be active and able to do half a man's work. We learned to ride—pretty well— at least that is we could ride a bare-backed horse at full gallop through timber or down a range : could back a colt just caught and have him as quiet as an old cow in a week. We could use the axe and the cross-cut saw—for father dropped that sort of work himself and made Jim and I do all the rough jobs of mending the fences, getting fire-wood, milking the cows, and, after a bit, ploughing the bit of flat we kept in cultivation. Jim and I, when we were fifteen and thirteen—he was bigger for his age than I was, and so near my own strength that I didn't care about touching him—were the smartest lads on the creek,— father said,— he didn't often praise us, either. We had often ridden over to help at the muster of the large cattle stations that were on the other side of the range, and not more than twenty or thirty miles from us. Some of our young stock used to stray among the squat- ters' cattle and we liked attending the muster because there was plenty of galloping about and cutting-out and fun in the men's hut at night and often a halfcrown or so for helping some one away with a big mob of cattle or a lot for the pound. Father didn't go himself and I used to notice that whenever we came up and said we were Ben Marston's boys—both master and super looked rather glum, and then appeared not to think any more about it. I heard the owner of one of these stations say to his managing man, "Pity, isn't it? fine boys, too." I didn't understand what they meant. I do now. We could do a few things besides riding, because, as I told you before, we had been to a bit of a school kept by an old chap that had once seen better days, that lived three miles off, near a little bush township. This village, like most of these places, had a public-house and a blacksmith's shop. That was about all—the publican kept the store and managed pretty well to get hold of all the money that was made by the people round about. That is of those that

were "good drinking men." He had half-a-dozen children, and though he was not up to much, he wasn't that bad that he didn't want his children to have the chance ot being better than himself. I've seen a good many crooked people in my day—but very few that though they'd given themselves up as a bad job didn't hope a bit that their youngsters mightn't take after them. Curious, isn't it? but it is true, I can tell you. So Lam- merby, the publican, though he was a greedy sly sort of fellow, that bought things he knew were stolen, and lent out money and charged everybody two prices for the things he sold 'em, didn't like the thought of his children growing up like myall cattle, as he said himself, and so he fished out this old Mr. Howard that had been a friend or a victim or seme kind of pal of his in old times, near Sydney, and got him to come and keep school. He was a curious man, this Mr. Howard. What he'd been or done none of us ever knew,—but he spoke up to one of the squatters that said something sharp to him one day, in a way that shewed us boys, that he thought himself as good as he was. And he stood up straight and looked him in the face, till we hardly could think he was the same man—that was so bent and shambling and broken-down looking, most times. He used to live in a little hut in the township all by himself. It was just big enough to hold him and us at our lessons. He had his dinner at the inn— along with Mr. and Mrs. Lammerby—she was always kind to him—and made him puddings and things when he was ill. He was pretty often ill, and then he'd hear us our lesson at the bedside, and make a short day of it. Mostly he drank nothing but tea. He used to smoke a good deal out of a big meerschaum pipe with figures on it that he used to show us when he was in a good humour. But two or three times a year, he used to set-to and drink for a week, and then school was left off till he was right. We didn't think much of that. Everybody, almost, that we knew did the same. All the men,—nearly all that is—and some of the women—not mother though—she wouldn't have touched a drop of wine or spirits to save her life ; and never did to her dying day. We just thought of it, as if they'd got a touch of fever or sunstroke or broke a rib or something. They'd get over it in a week or two and be all right again. All the same, poor old Mr. Howard wasn't always on the booze, not by any manner of means. He never touched a drop of anything—not even gingerbeer while he was straight, and he kept us all going from 9 o'clock in the morning till 3 in the afternoon, summer and winter, for more than six years. Then he died, poor old chap,—found dead in his bed one morning. Many a basting he gave me and Jim with an old malacca cane he had with a silver knob to it. We were all pretty frightened of him. He'd say — to me and Jim and the other boys, "It's the best chance of making men of yourselves you ever had, if you only knew it. You'll be rich farmers or settlers, perhaps magistrates, one of these days. That is, if you're not hanged—It's you, I mean,—he'd say—pointing to me and Jim and the Dalys: I believe some of you will be hanged unless you change a good deal. It's bold blood and bad blood that runs in your veins, and you'll come to earn the wages of sin some day. It's a strange thing," he used to say, as if he was talking to himself, "that the girls are so good, while the boys are delivered over to the evil one, except a case here and there. Look at Mary Darcy and Jane Lam- merby, and my little pet Aileen here. I defy any village in Britain to turn out such girls—plenty of rosy cheeked gigglers—but the natural refinement and intelligence of these little damsels astonishes me." Well, the old man died suddenly, as I said, and we were all very sorry—and the school was broken up. But he had taught us all to write fairly and to keep accounts, to read and spell decently, and to know a little geography. It wasn't a great deal, but what we knew we knew well, and— I often think of what he said—now it's too late—we ought to have made better use of it. After school broke up father said Jim and I knew quite as much as was likely to be any good to us, and we must work for our living like other people. We'd always done a pretty fair share of that, and our hands were hard with using the axe and the spade, let alone holding the plough at odd times, and harrowing. Helping father to kill and brand and a lot of other things, besides getting up while the stars were in the sky so as to get the cows milked early, before it was time to go to school. All this time, we had lived in a free kind of way—we wanted for nothing. We had plenty of good beef, and a calf now and then. About this time, I began to wonder, how it was that so many cattle and horses passed through father's hands and what became of them. I hadn't lived all my life on Rocky Creek, and among some of the smartest hands in that line that old New South Wales ever bred without knowing what "clearskins" and "cross" beasts meant, and being well aware that our brand was often put on a calf that no cow of ours ever suckled. Don't I remember well the first calf I ever helped to put our letters on ? I've often wished I'd defied father, then taken my licking and bolted away from home. It's that very calf and the things it led to—that's helped to put me where I am ! Just as I sit here, and these cursed irons rattle whenever I move my feet, I can see that very evening, and father and the old dog with a little mob of our crawling cattle and half a dozen head of strangers, cows and calves and a fat little steer—coming through the scrub to the old stockyard. It was an awkward place for a yard, people used to say ; scrubby and stony all round, a blind sort of hole— you couldn't see till you were right on the top of it. But there was a "wing" ran out, a good way through the scrub,— there's no belter guide to a yard like that,—and there was a sort of track cattle followed easy enough once you were round the hill. Anyhow, between father and the dog and the old mare he always rode, very few beasts ever broke away. These strange cattle had been driven a good way, I could see—the cows and calves looked done up, and the steer's tongue was out—it was hottish weather — the old dog had been "heeling" him up too, for he was bleeding up to the hocks, and the end of his tail was bitten off. He was a savage old wretch was Crib. Like all dogs that never bark —and men too—his bite was all the worse. "Go and get the brands—confound you—don't stand there frightening the cattle," says father, as the tired cattle after smelling and jostling a bit rushed into the yard. You, Jim, make a fire, and look sharp about it. I want to brand old Polly's calf, and another or two." Father came down to the hut while the brands were getting ready, and began to look at the harness cask which stood in a little back skillion. It was pretty empty ; we had been living on eggs, bacon, and bread and butter for a week. "Oh, mother! there's such a pretty red calf in the yard," I said, "with a star and a white spot on the flank—and there's a yellow steer fat enough to kill !" "What !" said mother, turning round and looking at father with her eyes staring—a sort of dark blue they were, people used to say mine and Jim's were the same colour, and her brown hair pushed back ofi her face, as if she was look- ing at a ghost. "Is it doing that again you are, after all you promised me, and you so nearly caught caught—after the last one? Didn't I go on my knees to ye to ask ye to drop it and lead a good life—and didn't ye tell me ye'd never do the like again—and the poor innocent children, too : I wonder ye've the heart to do it." It came into my head now to wonder why the sergeant and two policemen had come down from Bargo, very early in the morning, about three months ago, and asked father to show them the beef in his cask, and the hide {belonging to it. I wondered at the time the beast was killed why father made the hide into a rope, and before he did that had cut out the brand and dropped it into a hot fire. The police saw a hide with our brand on, all right — killed about a fortnight. They didn't know it had been taken off a cancered bullock—and that father took the trouble to "stick{" him and bleed him before he took the hide off, so as it shouldn't look dark. Father, certainly, knew most things in the way of working on the cross. I can see now he'd have made his money a deal easier, and no trouble of mind if he'd only chosen to go straight. When mother said this, father looked at her for a bit, as if he was sorry for it ; then he straightened himself up and an ugly look came into his face, as he growled out, "You mind your own business—we must live as well as other people. These squatters here, that does as bad. They're just like the squires at home; think a poor man hasn't a right to live. You bring the brand and look alive, Dick— or I'll sharpen ye up a bit." The brand was in the corner, but mother got between me and it and stretched out her hand to father as if to stop me and him. "In God's name," she cried out, "arn't ye satisfied with

losing your own soul and bringing disgrace upon you family, but ye must be the ruin or your innocent children- Don't touch the brand, Dick !" But father wasn't a man to be crossed, and what made it worse he had a couple of glasses of bad grog in him. There was an old villain of a shanty-keeper that lived on a back creek. He'd been there, as he came by and had a glass or two. He had a regular savage temper, father had—though he was quiet enough and not bad to us when he was right. But the grog always spoiled him. He gave poor mother a shove which sent her reeling against the wall, where she fell down and hit her head against the stooI, and lay there,—Aileen sitting down in the corner, turned white, and began to cry, while father catches me a box on the ear which sends me kicking—picks. up the brand out of the corner and walks out—with me after him. I think if I'd been another year or so older I'd have struck back—I felt that savage about poor mother that I could have gone at him myseff—but we had been too long used to do everything he told us—and somehow, even if a chap's father's a bad one, he don't seem like other men to him. So, as Jim had lighted the fire, we branded the little red heifer calf first—a fine fat six months old nugget she was—and then three bull calves, all strangers; and then Polly's calf, I suppose just for a blind. Jim and I knew the four calves were all strangers—but we didn't know the brands of the mothers; they all seemed different. After this all was made right to kill a beast. The gallows was ready rigged in a corner of the yard; father brought his gun and shot the yellow steer. The calves were put into our calf pen, Polly's and all—and all the cows turned out to go where they liked. We helped father to skin and hangup the beast and pretty late it was when we finished. Mother had laid us out our tea and gone to bed with Aileen. We had ours and then went to bed. Father sat outside and smoked in the star- light. Hours after I woke up and heard mother crying. Before daylight we were up again, and the steer was cut up and salted and in the harness-cask soon after sunrise. His head and feet were all popped into a big pot where we used to make soup for the pigs, and by the time it had been boil- ing an hour or two there was no fear of any one swearing to the yellow steer by "head-mark." We had a hearty breakfast off the "skirt," but mother wouldn't touch a bit, nor let Aileen take any—she took nothing but a bit of bread and a cup of tea, and sat there looking miserable and downcast. Father said nothing but sat very dark-looking, and ate his food as if nothing was the matter. After breakfast he took his mare, the old dog followed; there was no need to whistle for him—it's my belief he knew more than many a Christian—and away they went. Father didn't come home for a week—he had got into the habit of staying away for days and days together. Then things went on the old way. Chapter III. So the years went on—slow enough, they seemed to us sometimes—the green winters, pretty cold, I tell you, with frost and hailstorms, and the long hot summers. We were not called boys any longer, except by mother and Aileen, but took our places among the men of the district. We lived mostly at home, in the old way ; sometimes working pretty hard, sometimes doing very little. When the cows were milked, and the wood chopped, there was nothing to do for the rest of the day. The creek was that close that mother used to go and dip the bucket into it herself when she wanted one, from a little wooden step above the cool reedy waterhole. Now and then, we used to dig in the garden. There was reaping and corn-pulling and husking for part of the year ; but often, for weeks at a time, there was next to nothing to do. No hunting worth much— we were sick of kangaroo- ing, like the dogs themselves, that as they grew old, would run a little way, and then pull up; if a mob came, jump, jump, past them. No shooting, except a few ducks and pigeons. Father used to laugh at the shooting in this country, and say they'd never have poachers here—the game wasn't worth it. No fishing, except an odd codfish, in the deepest waterholes ; and you might sit half a day without a bite. Now this was very bad for us boys. Lads want plenty of work, and a little play now and then, to keep them straight. If there's none, they'll make it ; and you can't tell how far they'll go when they once start. Well, Jim and I used to get our horses, and ride off quietly in the afternoon, as if we were going after cattle; but, in reality, as soon as we were out of sight of mother, to ride over to that old villain, Grimes, the shanty - keeper, where we met the young Dalys, and others of the same sort—talked a good deal of nonsense and gossip. What was worse played at was all-fours and euchre, which we had learned from an American harvest hand, at one of the large farms. Besides playing for money, which put us rather into trouble sometimes, as we couldn' always find a half-a-crown if we lost it, we learned another bad habit, and that was to drink spirits. What burning nasty staff I thought it at first; and so did we all ! But every one wanted to be thought a man, and up to all kinds of wickedness, so we used to make a point of drinking our nobbler, and some times treating the others twice, if we had cash. There was another family that lived a couple of miles off higher up the creek, and we had always been good friends with them, though they never came to our house and only we boys went to theirs. They were the parents of the little girl that came to school with us, and a boy who was a year older than me. their father had been a gardener at home, and he married a native girl who was bom somewhere about the Hawkesbury, near Windsor. Her father had been a farmer, and many a time she told us how sorry she was to go away from the old place, and what fine corn and pumpkins they grew; and how they had a church at Windsor, and used to take their hay and fruit and potatoes to Sydney, and what a grand place Sydney was, with stone buildings called markets for people to sell fruit and vegetables and poultry in; and how you could walk down into Lower George- street and see Sydney Harbour, a great, shining salt water plain, a thousand times as big as the biggest waterhole, with ships and boats and sailors, and every kind of strange thing upon it. Mrs. Storefield was pretty fond of talking, and she was always fond of me because once when she was out after the cows, and her man was away, and she had left Grace at home, the little thing crawled down to the waterhole and tumbled in. I happened to be riding up with a message for mother to borrow some soap when I heard a little cry like a lamb's, and there was poor little Gracey struggling in the water like a drowning kitten, with her face under. Another minute or two would have finished her, but I was off the old pony and into the water like a teal flapper. I had her out in a second or two, and she gasped and cried a bit, but soon came to, and when Mrs. Storefield came home she first cried over her as if she would break her heart and kissed her, and then she kissed me, and said, "Now, Dick Marston, you look here. Your mother's a good woman, though simple; your father I don't like, and I hear a many stories about him that makes me think the less we ought to see of the lot of you the better. But you've saved my child's life to-day, and I'll be a friend and a mother to you as long as I live, even if you turn out bad, and I'm rather afraid you will— you and Jim both,— but it won't be my fault for want of trying to keep you straight; and John and I'll be your kind and loving friends as long as we live, no matter what happens." After that—it was strange enough—but I always took to the little toddling thing that I'd pulled out of the water. I wasn't very big myself, if it comes to that, and she seemed to have a feeling about it, for she'd come to me every time I went there, and sit on my knee and look at me with her big brown serious eyes—they were just the same after she grew up— and talk to me in her little childish lingo. I believe she knew all about it, for she used to say, "Dick pull Gracey out of water"; and then she'd throw her arms round my neck and kiss me, and walk off to her mother. If I'd let her drown then, and tied a stone round my neck and dropped through the reeds to the bottom of the big waterhole, it would have been better for both of us. When John came home he was nearly as bad as the old woman, and wanted to give me a filly, but I wouldn't have it, boy as I was. I never cared for money nor moneys' worth, and I was not going to be paid for picking a kid out of the water. George Storefield, Gracey's brother, was about my own age. He thought a lot of what I'd done for her, and years afterwards I threatened to punch his head if he said any thing more about it. He laughed, and held out his hand. "You and I might have been better friends lately," says

he; "but don't you forget you've got another brother be- sides Jim—one that will stick to you, too, fair weather or foul." I always had a great belief in George, though we didn't get on over well, and often had fallings out. He was too steady and hardworking altogether for Jim and me. He worked all day and every day, and saved every penny he made. Catch him. gaffing! — no, not for a sixpence. He called the Dalys and Jacksons thieves and swindlers, who would be locked up, or even hanged, some day, unless they mended themselves. As for drinking a glass of grog, you might just as soon ask him to take a little laudanum or arsenic. "Why should I drink grog?" he used to say— "such stuff, too, as you get at that old villian Grimes's—with a good appetite and a good conscience? I'm afraid of no man ; the police may come and live on my ground for what I care. I work all day, have a read in the evening, and sleep like a top when I turn in. What do I want more ?" "Oh, but you never see any life," Jim said ; "you're just like an old working bullock that walks up to the yoke in the morning and never stops hauling till he's let go at night. This is a free country, and I don't think a fellow was born for that kind of thing and nothing else." "This country's like any other country, Jim," George would say, holding up his head, and looking straight at him with his steady grey eyes; "a man must work and save when he's young if he don't want to be a beggar or a slave when he's old. I believe in a man enjoying himself as well as you do, but my notion of that is to have a good farm, well stocked, and paid for, by and bye, and then to take it easy, perhaps when my back is a little stiffer than it is now." "But a man must have a little fun when be is young," I said. "What's the use of having money when you're old and rusty, and can't take pleasure in anything ?" "A man needn't be so very old at 40," he says then, "and 20 years' steady work will put all of us youngsters well up the'ladder. Besides, I don't call it fun, getting half drunk with a lot of blackguards at a low pothouse or a shanty, listening to the stupid talk and boasting lies of a pack of loafers and worse. They're fit for nothing better; but you and Jim are. Now, look here, I've got a small contract from Mr. Andrews for a lot of fencing stuff. It will pay us wages and something over. If you like to go in with me, we'll go share and share. I know what hands you both are at splitting and fencing. What do you say ?" (To be continued.)