|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 VI.— (Continued).
We stayed for about ten days, while the stranger's arm got well. With care and rest, it soon healed. He was pleasant enough, too, when the pain went away. He had been in other countries, and told us all kinds of stories about them. He said nothing, though, about his own former ways, and we often wondered whatever could have made him take to such a life. Unknown to father, too, he gave us good advice, warned us that what we were in was the road to
imprisonment or death in due course, and not to flatter ourselves that any other ending was possible. "I have my own reasons for leading the life l do," he said, "and must run my own course, of which I foresee the end as plainly as if it was written in a book before me. Your father had a long account to square with society, and he has a right to settle it his own way. That yellow whelp was never intended for anything better. But for you lads" — and here he looked kindly in poor old Jim's honest face (and an honest face and heart Jim's was, and that I'll live and die on)— "my advice to you is, to clear off home, when we go, and never come back here again. Tell your father you won't come ; cut loose from him, once and for all. You'd better drown yourselves comfortably at once than take to this cursed trade. Now mind what I tell you— and keep your own counsel." By-and-bye the day came when the horses were run in for Father, and Mr. Starlight and Warrigal, who packed up to be off for some other part. When they were in the yard we had a good look at his own horse—a good look—and if I'd been a fellow that painted pictures, and that kind of thing, I could draw a middlin good likekness of him now. By George ! how fond I am of a good horse— a real well bred clinker. I'd never have been here if it hadn't been for that, I do believe; and many another Currency chap can say the same—a horse or a woman—that's about the size of it, one or t'other generally fetches us. I shall never put foot in stirrup again, but I'll try and scratch out a sort of likeness of Rainbow. He was a dark bay horse, nearly brown, without a white hair on him. He wasn't above 15 hands and an inch high, but looked a deal bigger than he was, for the way he held his head up and carried himself. He was deep and thick through behind the shoulders, and girthed ever so much more than you'd think. He had a short back, and his ribs went out like a cask, a long quarter, great thighs and hocks, wonderful legs and feet of course, to do the work he did. His head was plainish, but clean and bony, and his eye was big and well opened, with no white showing. His shoulder was sloped back that much that he couldn't fall, no matter what happened his fore legs. All his paces were good too. I believe he could jump — jump anything he was ridden at, and very few horses could get the better of him for one mile or three. Where he'd come from, of course, we were not to know then. We had a small private sort of brand that didn't belong to any of the big studs; but he was never bred by a poor man. I afterwards found out that he was stolen before he was foaled, like many another plum, and his dam killed as soon as she had weaned him. So, of course, no one could swear to him, and Starlight could have ridden past the Supreme Court, at the Assizes, and never been stopped, as far as this horse was concerned. Before we went away, Father and Starlight had some terrible long talks, and one evening Jim came to me, and says he, "What do you think they're up to now ?" "How should I know, sticking up a bank or boning a flock of maiden ewes, to take up a run with. They seem to be game for anything. There'll be a hanging match in the family, if us boys don't look out." "There's no knowin,' says Jim, with a roguish look in his eye (I didn't think then how near the truth I was), "but it's about a horse this time." "Oh ! a horse, that alters the matter— but what's one horse, to make such a shine about ?" "Ah, that's the point," says poor old Jim, "it's a horse worth talking about. Don't you remember the imported entire that they had his picture in the papers— him that Mr. Windhall gave £2000 for?" "What, the Marquis of Lorne? Why you don't mean to say they 're going for him ?" "By George, I do," says Jim, "and they 'll have him here, and 20 blood mares to put to him, before September." "They're all gone mad— they'll raise the country on us. Every police trooper in the colony 'll be after us like a pack of dingoes after an old man kangaroo when the ground 's boggy, and they'll run us down too. They can't be off it. Whatever made 'em think of such a big touch as that ?" "That Starlight's the devil I think," said Jim, slowly. "Father didn't seem to like it at first, but he brought him round bit by bit. Said he knew a squatter in Queensland, he could pass him on to, that they'd keep him there for a year and get a crop of foals by him, and when the 'derry' was off, he'd take nun over himself." "But how's he going to nail him ? People say Windhall keeps him locked up at night, and his box is close to his house." "Starlight," says he, "has a friend handy, he seems to have one or two everywhere. It's wonderful, as Father told him, where he got his information." "By George ! it would be a touch and no mistake. And if we could get a few colts by him out of thoroughbred mares we might win half the races every year on our side and no one a bit the wiser." It did seem a grand sort of thing—young fools that we were—to get hold of this wonderful stallion that we'd heard so much of—a thoroughbred by Eclipse, and as good as anything England could turn out. I say again, if it weren't for the horseflesh part of it, the fun and hard riding and tracking and all the rest of it, there wouldn't be anything like the cross-work that there is in Australia. It
lies partly between that and the dry weather. There's the long spells of drought when nothing can be done, by young or old. Sometimes, for months at a time, you can't work in the garden, nor plough, nor sow, nor do anything useful to keep the devil out of your heart. Only sit at home and do nothing, or else go out and watch the grass witherin' and the water dryin' up, and the stock dyin' by inches before your eyes. And no change maybe for months. The ground like iron and the sky like brass, as the parson said, and very true too, laet Sunday. Then the youngsters, havin' so much idle time on their hands, take to gaffin' and flash talk; and money muet be got to sport and pay up if they lose. And the stock all ramblin' about and mixed up, and there's a temptation to collar somebody's calves or foals, like we did that first red heifer. I shall remember her to my dying day. It seems as if I had put that brand on my own heart, when I jammed it down on her soft skin. Anyhow, I never forgot it, and there's many another like me, I'll be bound. The next morning Jim and I started off home. Father said he should stay in the Hollow till Starlight got round a bit. He told us not to tell mother or Ailie a word about where we'd been. Of course they couldn't be off knowin' that we'd been with him— but we were to stall them off by saying we'd been helping him with a bit of bush work or anything we could think of. "It 'll do no good, and your mother's quite miserable enough as it is, boys," he said. "She'll know time enough. And maybe break her heart over it, too." Poor Norah ! Dashed if I ever heard Father say a soft thing before. I couldn't a' believed it. I always thought he was ironbark outside and in. But he seemed real sorry for once. And I was near savin' "Why don't ye cut the whole blessed lot, then, and come home and work steady and make us all comfortable and happy ? " But when I looked again his face was all changed, and hard-like. " Off you go," he says with his old voice. "Next time I want either of you I'll send Warrigal for you." And with that he walked off from the yard where we had been catching our horses, and never looked nigh us again. We rode away to the low end of the gully, and then we led the horses up, foot by foot, and hard work it was—like climbing up the roof of a house. We were almost done when we got to the tableland at the top. We made our way to the yard, where there were the tracks of the cows ail round about it, but nothing but the wild horses had ever been there since. "What a scrubby hole it is ! " said Jim; "I wonder how in the world they ever found out the way to the Hollow." "Some runaway Government men I believe, so that half- caste chap told me, and a gin showed 'em the track down, and where to get water and everything. They lived on kangaroo at first. Then, by degrees, they used to crawl out by moonlight, and collar a horse or two or a few cattle. They managed to live there years and years ; one died, one was killed by the blacks ; the last man showed it to the chaps that passed it on to Starlight. Warrigal's mother, or aunt or something, was the gin that showed it to the first white men." Chapter VII. It was pretty late that night when we got home, and poor Mother and Aileen were that glad to see us that they didn't ask too many questions. Mother would sit and look at the pair of us for ever so long without speaking, and then the tears would come into her eyes, and she'd turn away her head. The old place looked very snug, clean, and comfortable, too, after all the camping out, and it was first rate to have our own beds again. Then the milk and fresh butter, and the eggs and bacon—my word ! how Jim did lay in ; you'd have thought he was goin' on all night. "By George! home's a jolly place after all," he said. "I am going to stay ever so long this time, and work like an old near-side poler, see if I don't. Lets look at your hands, Aileen ; my word, you've been doin' your share." "Indeed, has she," said Mother. "It's a shame, so it is, and her with two big brothers too." "Poor Ailie!" said Jim, "she had to take an axe, had she, in her pretty little hands; but she didn't cut all that wood that's outside the door and I nearly broke my neck over, I'll go bail." "How do you know," says she, smiling roguish-like. "All the world might have been here for what you'd be the wiser— going away, nobody knows where and coming home at night like— like—" "Bushrangers," says I, — "say it out--but we havn't turned out yet, if that's what you mean, Miss Marston." "I didn't mean anything but what's kind and loving, you naughty boy," says she, throwing her arms round my neck, "but why will you break our hearts—poor mother's end mine—by going off in such a wild way and staying away, as if you were doing something that you were ashamed of ?" "Women shouldn't aek questions," I said, roughly, "you'll know time enough, and if you never know, perhaps it's all the better." Jim was alongside of Mother by this time, lying down like a child on the old native dogskin rug that we tanned ourselves with wattle bark. She had her land on his hair —thick and curly it was always from a child. She didn't say anything. But I could see the tears drip-drip down from her face; her head was on Jim's shoulder, and by and-bye he put his arm round her neck. I went off to bed, I remember, and left them to it. Next morning Jim and I were up at sunrise and got in the milkers, as we always did when we were at home. Aileen was up too. She had done all the dairying lately by herself. There were about a dozen cows to milk, and she had managed it all herself every day that we were away ; put up the calves every afternoon, drive up the cows in the cold mornings, made the butter, which she used to salt and put into a keg, and feed the pigs with the skim milk. It was rather hard work for her, but I never saw her equal for farm work—rough or smooth. And she used to manage to dress neat and look pretty all the time, not like some small settlers' daughters that I've seen slouching about with a pair of Blucher boots on, no bonnet, a dirty frock, and a petticoat like a blanket rag — not bad looking girls either — and their hair like a dry mop. No, Aileen was always neat and tidy, with a good pair of thick boots outside and a thin pair for the house when she'd done her work. She could frighten a wildish cow and bail up anything that would stay in a yard with her. She could ride like a bird and drive bullocks on a pinch in a dray or at plough, chop wood too, as well as here and there a one. But when she was in the house and regularly set down to her sewing she'd look that quiet and steady-going you'd think she was only fit to teach in a school or sell laces and gloves. And so she was when she was let work in her own way, but if she was crossed or put upon, or saw anything going wrong she'd hold up her head and talk as straight as any man I ever saw. She'd a look just like Father when he'd make up his mind, only her way was always the right way. What a difference it makes, doesn't it ? And she was so handsome with it. I've seen a goodish lot of women since I left the old place, let alone her that helped to put me where I am, but I don't think I ever saw a girl that was a patch on Aileen for looks. She had a wonderful fair skin, and her eyes were large and soft like poor mother's. When she was a little raised like, you'd see a pink flush come on her cheeks like a peach blossom in September, and her eyes had a bright startled look like a doe kangaroo when ehe jumps up and looks round. Her teeth were as white and even as a black gin's. The month was something like Father's, and when she shut it up we boys always knew she'd made up her mind, and wasn't going to be turned from it. But her heart was that good that she was always thinking of others and not of her- self. I believe—I know—she'd have died for any one she loved. She had more sense than all the rest of us put toge- ther. I've often thought if she'd been the oldest boy instead of me she'd have kept Jim straight, and managed to drive father out of his cross ways—that is, if any one living could have done it. As for riding, I never seen any one that could sit a horse or handle him through rough thick country like her. She could ride barebacked, or next to it, sitting sideways on nothing but a gunny bag, and send a young horse flying through scrub and rocks, or down ranges where you'd think a horse could hardly keep his feet. We could all ride a bit out of the common, if it comes to that. Better if we'd learned nothing but how to walk behind a plough, year in year out, like some of the folks in Father's village in England, as he used to tell me about when he was in a good humour. But that's all as people are reared, I suppose. We'd been used to the outside of a horse ever since we could walk almost, and it
came natural to us. Anyhow, I think Aileen was about the best of the lot of us at that, as in everything else. Well, for a bit all went on pretty well at home. Jim and I worked away steady, got in a tidy bit of crop, and did everything that lay in our way right and regular. We milked the cows in the morning, and brought in a big stack of firewood and chopped as much as would last for a month or two. We mended up the paddock fence, and tidied the garden. The old place hadn't looked so smart for many a day. When we came in at night, old mother used to look that pleased and happy we couldn't help feeling better in our hearts. Aileen used to read something out of the paper that she thought might amuse us. I could read pretty fair, and so could Jim ; but we were both lazy at it, and after working pretty hard all day didn't so much care about spelling out the long words in the farming news or the stories they put in. All the same, it would have paid us better if we'd read a little more and put the "bullocking" on one side, at odd times. A man can learn as much out of a book or a paper sometimes in an hour, as will save his work for a week, or put him up to working to better purpose. I can see that now— too late, and more's the pity. Anyhow, Aileen could read pretty near as fast as any one I ever saw, and she used to reel it out for us as we sat smoking over the fire, in a way that kept us jolly and laugh- ing till it was nearly turning-in time. Now and then George Storefield would come and stay an hour or two. He could read well; nearly as well as she could. Then he had always something to show her that she'd been asking about. His place was eight miles off, but he'd always get his horse and go home, whatever the night was like. "I must be at my work in the morning," he'd say, "it's more than half a day gone if you lose that, and I've no half- day to spare, or quarter-days either." • • • • • • So we all got on first-rate, and any body would have thought that there wasn't a more steady-going hardwork- ing happy family, in the colony. No more there wasn't — while it lasted. After all, what is there that's half as good as being all right and square, working hard for the food you eat, and the sleep you enjoy, able to look all the world in the face, and afraid of nothing and nobody ! We were so quiet and comfortable till the winter was over and the spring coming on, till about September, that I almost began to believe we'd never done anything in our lives we could be made to suffer for. Now and then, of course, I used to wake up in the night, and my thoughts would go back to Terrible Hollow, that wonderful place ; and one night with the unbranded cattle, and Starlight, with the blood dripping on to his horse's shoulder, and the half-caste with his hawk's eye and glit- tering teeth—Father, with his gloomy face and dark words. I wondered whether it was all a dream? Whether I and Jim had been in at all ? Whether any of the "cross- work" had been found out; and, if so, what would be done to me and Jim ? Most of all though whether Father and Starlight were away after some "big touch ;" and, if so, where and what it was, and how soon we should hear of it? As for Jim, he was one of those happy-go-lucky fellows that didn't bother himself about anything that he didn't see or run against. I don't think it ever troubled him. It was the only bad thing he'd ever been in. He'd been drawn in against his will, and I think he had made up his mind — pretty nearly — not to go in for any more. I often seen Aileen talking to him, and they'd walk along in the evening when the work was done— he with his arm round her waist, and she looking at him with that quiet, pleased face of his, seeming so proud and fond of him, as if he'd been the little chap she used to lead about and put on the old pony, and bring into the calfpen when she was milking. I remember he had a fight with a little bull calf, about a week old, that came in with a wild heifer, and Aileen made as much of his pluck as if it had been a mallee scrubber. The calf ba-aed and butted at Jim, as even the youngest of them will, if they've the wild blood in 'em, and nearly upset him ; he was only a bit of a toddler. But Jim picked up a loose leg of a milking stool, and the two went at it hammer and tongs. I could hardly stand for laughing, till the calf gave him best and walked. Aileen pulled him, and carried him into mother, telling her that he was the bravest little chap in the world ; and I remember I got scolded for not going to help him. How these little things come back ! "I'm beginning to be afraid," says George, one evening, "that it's going to be a dry season." "There's plenty of time yet," says Jim, who always took the bright side of things. "It might rain towards the end of the month." "I was thinking the same thing," I said. "We havn't had any rain to speak of for a couple of months, and that bit of wheat of ours is beginning to go back. The oats look better." "Now I think of it," put in Jim, "Dick Dawson came in from outside, and he said things are shocking bad, all the frontage bare already, and the water drying up." " It's always the way," I said, bitter like. "As soon as a poor man's got a chance of a decent crop, the season turns against him or prices go down, so that he never gets a chance." "It's as bad for the rich man, isn't it?" said George. "It's God's will, and we can't make or mend things by complaining." "I don't know so much about that." I said, sullenly. "But it's not as bad for the rich man. Even if the squatters suffer by a drought and lose their stock, they've more stock and money in the bank, or else credit to fall back on. While the like of us lose all we have in the world, and no one would lend us a pound afterward? to save our lives." "It's not quite so bad as that," said George. "I shall lose my year's work unless rain comes, and most of the cattle and horses besides ; but I shall be able to get a few pounds to go on with, however the season goes." "Oh! if you like to bow and scrape to rich people, well and good," I said, "but that's not my way. We have as good a right to our share of the land and some other good things as they have, and why should we be done out of it?" "If we pay for the land as they do, certainly," said George. "But why should we pay? God Almighty, I suppose, made the land and the people too, one to live on the other. Why should we pay for what is our own ? I believe in getting my share somehow." "That's a sort of argument that doesn't come out right," said George. "How would you like another man to come and want to halve the farm with you ?" "I shouldn't mind; I should go halves with some one else who had a bigger one," I said. " More money too, more horses, more sheep, a bigger house! Why should he have it and not me ?" "That's a lazy man's argument, and a —— well, not an honest man's," said George, getting up and putting on his cabbage-tree. "I can't sit and hear you talk such rot. Nobody can work better than you and Jim, when you like. I wonder you don't leave such talk to fellows like Frowser, that's always spouting at the Shearers' Arms." "Nonsense or not, if a dry season comes and knocks all our work over, I shall help myself to some one's stuff that has more than he knows what to do with." "Why can't we all go shearing, and make as much as will keep us for six months ?" said George. "I don't know what we'll do without the squatters." "Nor I either ; more ways than one ; but Jim and I are going cheering next week. So perhaps there won't be any need for 'duffing' after all." "Oh, Dick !" said Aileen ; "I can't bear to hear you make a joke of that kind of thing. Don't we all know what it leads to! Wouldn't it be better to live on dry bread and be honest, than to be full of money and never know the day when you'd be dragged to gaol?" "I've heard all that before; but aint there lots of people that have made their money by all sorts of villainy, that look as well as the best, and never see a gaol." "They're always caught some day," says poor Aileen, sobbing, "and what a dreadful life of anxietv they must lead!" "Not at all," I said. " Look at Lucksly, Squeezer, and Frying-pan Jack. Everybody knows how they got their stock and their money. See how they live. They've got stations, and public-house, and town property, and they get richer every year. I don't think it pays to be too honest in a dry conntry." "You're a naughty boy, Dick ; isn't he, Jim ?" she said, smiling through her tears. "But he doesn't mean half what he says, does he?" "Not he," says Jim ; "and very likely we'll have lots of rain after all."