|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Robbery Under Arms|
Robbery Under Arms.
By Rolf Boldrewood.
Chapter III— (Continued.)
Jim, poor Jim, was inclined to take George's offer. He was that goodhearted that a kind word would turn him any time. But I was put out at his laying it down so about the Dalys, and as shantying and gaffing, and I do think now that some folks are born so as they can't do without a taste of some sort of fun once in a way. I can't put it out clear,
but it ought to be fixed somehow for us chaps that haven't got the gift of working all day and every day, but I can do two days' work in one when we like, that we should have our allowance of reasonable fun and pleasure—that is, what we called pleasure, not what somebody thinks we ought to take pleasure in. Anyway, I turned on George rather rough, and I says, "We're not good enough for the likes of you, Mr. Storefield. It's very kind of you to think of us, but we'll take our own line and you take yours." "I'm sorry for it, Dick, and more sorry that you take huff at an old friend. All I want is to do you good, and act a friend's part. Good bye—some day you'll see it." "You're hard on George," says Jim. "There's no pleas- ing you to-day; one would think there were lots of chaps fighting how to give us a lift. Good bye, George, old man; I'm sorry we can't wire in with you—we'd soon knock out those posts and rails on the ironbark range." "You'd better stop, Jim, and take a hand in the deal," says I (or, rather, the devil, for I believe he gets inside a chap at times), "and then you and George can take a turn at local-preaching when you're cut out. I'm off." So without another word I jumped on to my horse and went off down the hill, across the creek, and over the boulders the other side, without much caring where I was going. The fact was, I felt I had acted meanly in sneering at a man who only said what he did for my good ; and I was'nt at all sure that I hadn't made a breach between Gracey and myself, and, though I had such a temper when it was roused that all the world wouldn't have stopped me, every time I thought of not seeing that girl again made my heart ache as if it would burst. I was nearly home before I heard the clatter of a horse's feet, and Jim rode up alongside of me. He was just the same as ever, with a smile on his face. You didn't often see it without one. I knew he had come after me, and had given up his own fancy for mine. "I thought you were going to stay and turn good," I said. "Why didn't you ?" "It might have been better for me if I had," he said, "but you know very well, Dick, that whatever turns up, whether it's for good or evil, you and I go together." We looked at one another for a moment. Our eyes met. We didn't cay anything ; but we understood one another as well as if we had talked for a week. We rode up to the door of our cottage without speaking. The sun had set, and some of the stars had come out, early as it was, for it was late autumn. Aileen was sitting on a bench in the verandah reading, mother was working away as usual at something in the house. Mother couldn't read or write, but you never caught her sitting with her hands before her. Except when she was asleep, I don't think she ever was quite still. Aileen ran out to us, and stood while we let go our
horses, and brought the saddles and bridles under the verandah. "I'm glad you've come home for one thing," she said. "There is a message from father. He wants you to meet him." "Who brought it ?" I said. "One of the Dalys—Patsey, I think." " All right," said Jim, kissing her as he lifted her up in his great, strong arms. "I must go in and have a gossip with the old woman. Aileen can tell me after tea. I dare say it's not so good that it won't keep." Mother was that fond of both of us that I believe, as sure as I sit here, she'd have put her head on the block or died in any other way for either of her boys, not because it was her duty, but glad and cheerful like, to have saved us from death or disgrace. I think she was fonder of us two than she was of Aileen. Mothers are generally fonder of their sons. Why I never could see; and if she thought more of one than the other it was Jim. He was the youngest, and he had that kind of big, frolicsome, loving way with him—like a Newfoundland pup, about half grown. I always used to think, somehow, nobody ever seemed to be able to get into a pelter with Jim, not even father, and that was a thing as some people couldn't be got to believe. As for mother and Aileen, they were as fond of him as if he'd been a big baby. So while he went in to sit down on the stretcher, and let mother put her arms round his neck and hug him and cry over him, as she always did if he'd been away more than a day or two, I took a walk down the creek with Aileen in the starlight, to hear all about this message from father. Besides, I could see that she was very serious over it, and I thought there might be something in it more than common. "First of all, did you make any agreement with George Storefield ?" she said. "No; why should I ? Has he been talking to you about me ? "What right has he to meddle with my business ?" "Oh, Dick, don't talk like that. Anything that he said was only to do you a kindness and Jim." "Hang him and his kindness too," I said. "Let him keep it for those that want it. But what did he tell you ?" "He said, first of all," answered poor Aileen, with the tears in her eyes, and trying to take hold of my hand, "that he had a contract for fencing timber, which he had taken at good prices, which he would share with you and Jim; that he knew you two and himself could finish it in a few weeks, and that he expected to get the contract for the timber for the new bridge at Dargo, which he would let you go shares in too. He didn't like to speak about that because it wasn't certain ; but he had calculated all the quantities and prices, and he was sure you would make £70 or £80 each before Christmas. Now, was there any harm in that ; and don't you think it was very good of him to think of it?" "Well, he's not a bad fellow, old George," I said, "but he's a little too fond of interfering with other people's busi- ness. Jim and I are quite able to manage our own affairs, as I told him this evening, when I refused to have anything to do with his fencing arrangement." "Oh, Dick, did you ?" she said. "What a pity! I made sure Jim would have liked it so, for only last week he said he was sick and tired of having nothing to do—that he should soon lose all his knack at using tools that he used to be so proud of. Didn't he say he'd like to join George ?" "He would, I dare say, and I told him to do as he liked. I came away by myself, and only saw him just before we crossed the range. He's big enough and old enough to take his own line." "But you know he thinks so much of you," she groaned out, "that he'd follow you to destruction. That will be the end of it, depend upon it, Dick. I tell you so now; you're taking to bad ways, and you'll have his blood on your head yet." "Jim's old enough and big enough to take care of him- self," I said, sulkily. "If he likes to come my way I won't hinder him; I won't try to persuade him one way or the other. Let him take his own line ; I don't believe in preaching and old women's talk. Let a man act and think for himself." "You'll break my heart and poor mother's too," said Aileen, suddenly taking both my hands in hers. "What has she done but love us ever since we were born, and what does she live for? You know she has no pleasure of any kind; you know she's afraid every morning she wakes that the police will get father for some of his cross doings, and now you and Jim are going the same wild way, and what- ever—whatever—will be the end of it ?" Here she let go my hands and sobbed and cried, as if she was a child again, much as I remember her doing one day when my kangaroo dog killed her favourite cat. And Aileen was a girl that didn't cry much generally, and never about anything that happened to herself; it was always about somebody else and their misfortunes,. She was a quiet girl, too, very determined, and not much given to talking about what she was going to do, but when she made up her mind she was sure to stick to it. I used to think she was more like father than any of us. She had his coloured hair and eyes, and his way of standing and looking, as if the whole world wouldn't shift him. But she'd mother's soft heart for all that, and I took the more notice of her crying and whimpering this time because it was so strange for her. If any one could have seen straight into my heart just then I was regularly knocked over, and had two minds to go inside to Jim and tell him we'd take George's splitting job, and start to tackle it first thing to-morrow morning. But just then one of those confounded nighthawks flitted on to a dead tree before us, and began with its dreary "hoo- ho," as if it was laughing at me. I can see the place now —the mountain, black and dismal, the moon low and strange looking, the little waterhole glittering in the half light, and this dark bird hooting away in the night. An odd feeling seemed to come over my mind, and if it had been the devil himself standing on the dead limb it could not have had a worse effect on me as I stopped there, uncertain whether to turn to the right or the left. We don't often know in this world sometimes whether we are turning off along a road where we shall never come back from, or whether we can go just a little way and look at the far-off hills and new rivers, and come home safe. I remember the whole lot of bad-meaning thoughts coming with a rush over my heart, and I laughed at myself for being so soft as to choose a hardworking, pokey kind of life at the word of a slow fellow like George when I might be riding about the country on a fine horse, eating and drinking of the best, and only doing what people said half the old settlers had made their money by. Poor Aileen told me afterwards that if she'd thought for a moment I could be turned she'd have gone down on her knees and never got up till I promised to keep straight and begin to work at honest daily labour like a man—like a man who hoped to end his days in a good house, on a good farm with a good wife and nice children round him, and not in a prison cell. Some people would call the first, after years of honest work, and being always able to look everyone in the face, being more of a man than the other. But people have different ways and different ideas. "Come, Ailie" I said, "are you going to whim and cry all night? I shall be afraid to come home if you're going to be like this. What's the message from father?" She wiped away her tears, and, putting her hand on my shoulder, looked steadily into my face. "Poor boy—poor dear Dick," she said, "I feel as if I should see that fresh face of yours looking very different some day or other. Something tells me that there's bad luck before you. But, never mind, you'll never lose your sister, if the luck's ever so bad. Father sent word you and Jim were to meet him at Broken Creek, and to bring your whips with you. "What in the world's that for?" I said, half speaking to myself. "It looks as if there was a big mob to drive, and where's he to get a big mob there, in that mountain- ous, beastly place, where the cattle all bolt like wallabies, and where I never saw 20 head together." "He's got some reason for it," said Aileen, sorrowfully. "If I were you I wouldn't go. It's no good, and father's trying now to drag you and Jim into the bad ways he's been following these years." "How do you know it's so bad?" said I. "How can a giri like you know ?" "I know very well," she said; "do you think I've lived here all these years and don't know things. What makes him always come home after dark, and be that nervous every time he sees a stranger coming up. You'd think he was
come out of gaol. Why has he always got money, and why does mother look so miserable when he's at home, and cheer up when he goes away ?" "He may get jobs of droving or something," I said. "You have no right to say that he's robbing, or something of that sort, because he doesn't care about tying himself to mother's apron string." Aileen laughed, but it was more like crying. "You told me just now," she said—oh, so sorrowfully— "that you and Jim were old enough to take a line of your own. Why don't you do it now ?" "And tell father we'll have nothing more to do with him !" "Why not ?" she said, standing up straight before me, and facing me just as I saw father face the big bullock- driver before he knocked him down. "Why not? You need never ask him for another meal — you can earn an easy living in half-a-dozen ways, you and Jim — why should you let him spoil your life and ruin your soul for evermore?" "The priest put that into your head, I said, sneeringly ; 'Father Doyle—of course he knows what they'll do with a fellow after he's dead." "No!" she said; "Father Doyle never said a word about you that wasn't good and kind. He says mother's a good Catholic, and he takes an interest in you boys and me because of her." "He can persuade you women to do anything," I said (not that I had any grudge against poor old Father Doyle, who used to come riding up the rough mountain track on his white horse—and tiring his old bones, just "to look after his flock," as he said, and nice lambs some of them were), but I wanted to tease her and make her break off with this fancy of hers. "He never does and couldn't persuade me, except for my good," said she, getting more and more roused, and her black eyes glowed again, "and I'll tell you what I'll do to prove it. It's a sin—but if it is I'll stand by it, and now I'll swear it,—here she knelt down—as Almighty God shall help me at the last day, if you and Jim will promise me to start straight off up the country and take bushwork till shearing comes on, and never to have any truck with cross chaps and their ways, I'll turn Protestant. I'll go to church with you and keep to it till I die. "Wasn't she a trump? I've known women that would give up a lot for a man they were sweet on, and wives that would follow their husbands about like spaniels, and women that would lie and deceive and all but rob and murder for men they were fond of, and sometimes do nearly as much to spite other women. But I don't think I ever knew a woman that would give up her religion for any one before, and it's not as if she wasn't staunch to her own faith. She was as regular in her prayers and crossings and beads and all the rest of it as mother herself, and if there ever was a good girl in the whole world she was one. She turned faint as she said this, and I thought she was going to drop down. If anything conld have turned me then it would have been this. It was almost like giving her life for ours. And I don't think she'd have valued her's two straws if it could have saved us. There's a great deal said about different kinds of love in this world, but I can't help thinking that the love between brothers and sisters that have been brought up together, and have had very few other people to care about is a higher better sort than any other in the world. There's less selfishness about it—no thought but for the other's good. If that can be made safe, death and pain and poverty and misery are all little things. And was'nt I fond of Aileen, in spite of all my hardness ? and cross-grained obstinacy ? — so fond that I was just go- ing to hug her to me, and say, "Take it all your own way, Ailie dear," when Jim came tearing out ot the hut, bare headed, and stood listening to a far-off sound that caught all our ears at once. We made out the source of it too well— far too well. What was the noise at that hour of the night ? It was a hollow, faint, distant roaring that gradually kept getting louder. It was the strange, mournful bellowing that comes from a drove of cattle forced along an unknown track. As we listened the sound came clearly on the night wind, faint, yet still clearly coming nearer. "Cattle being driven," Jim cried out; "and a big mob too. It's father—for a note. Let's get our horses and meet him."