|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Robbery Under Arms|
Robbery Under Arms,
[By Rolf Boldrewood/J
One blazing hot day In the Christmas week Jim and 1 rode up the 'gap' that led from the Southern road towards Rocky Creek and the little flat near the water, where our hut stood. The horses were tired, for we'd ridden a long way, and not very slow either, to get to the old place. How small and queer the old homestead looked and everything about it, after all we had seen. The trees in the garden were in full leaf, and we could see that it was not let
go to waste. Mother was Bitting in the verandah sewing, pretty near the same as we went away, and a girl was walk ing slowly np from the creek carrying a bucket of water. It was Aileen. We knew her at once. She was always as straight as a rush, and held her head high, as she used to do. But she walked very slow, and looked as if she was dull and weary of everything. All of a sudden Jim jumped off, dropped his horse's bridle on the ground, and started to run towards her. She didn't see him till he was pretty close. Then she looked np astonished like, and put her bucket down. She gave a sudden cry, and rushed over to him ; the next minute 6he was in his arms sobbing as if her heart would break. I came along quiet. I knew Bhe'd be glad to see me — but, bless you, she and mother cared more for Jim's little finger than for my whole body. Some people have a way of gettin' the biggest share of everybody's liking that comes next or anigh 'em. 1 don't know how it's done, or what works it. But so it is; and Jim could always count on every man, woman, and child, wherever he lived, wearing his colours and backing him right out, through thick and thin. 'When I came up Aileen was saying, ' Oh, Jim, my dear old Jim ! now I'll die happy ; mother and I were only talk ing ot you to-day, and wondering whether we should see you at Christmas — and now you have come. Oh. Dick ! and you too. But we shall be frightened every. time we hear a horse's tread or dog's bark.' ' Well, we're here now, Aileen, and that's something. I had a great notion of clearing out for San Francisco and turning Yankee. 'What would you have done then ? ' We walked up to the house, leading our horses, Jim and Aileen hand in hand. Mother looked up and gave a scream ; she nearly fell down ; when we got in her face was as white as a sheet. ' Mother of Mercy ! I vowed to ye for this,' she said ; ' sure she hears our prayers. I wanted to see ye both before 1 died, and I didn't think you'd come. I was afraid ye'd be dreadin' the police, and maybe stay away for good and all. The Lord be thanked for all his mercies ! ' We went in and enjoyed our tea. We had had nothing to eat that day since breakfast ; but better than all was Aileen's pleasant, clever tongue, though she said it was getting stiff for want of exercise. She wanted to know all about our travels and was never tired of listening to Jim's stories of the wonders we had seen in tho great cities, and the strange places we had been to. *' Oh ! how happy you must have been ! ' she would say, ' while we have been pining and wearying here, all through la6t spring and summer, and then winter again — cold and miserable it was last year; and now Christmas has come again. Don't go away again for a good while, or mother and I'll die straight out.' Well, what could we say ? Tell her we'd never go away at all if we could help it — only she must be a good girl and make the best of things, for mother's sake. When had she seen father last? ! ' Oh ! be was away a good while once ; that time you and Jim were at Mr. Falkland's back country. Tou must have had a long job then; no wonder youve got such good clothes and look so smartened up like, fie comes every now and then— just like ho used. We never know what's become of him.' «? When was he here last? ' ' Oh ! about a month ago. He said he might be here at out Christmas ; but he wasn't sure. And so you saved SlisB Falkland from being killed off her horse, Jim? Tell me all about it, like a good boy, and what sort of a looking young lady is she ?' 'All right,' says Jim. 'I'll unload the story bag before we get through ; there's a lot in there yet ; but I want to look at you and hear you talk just now. How's George Storefield ?' 'Oh! he's just the same good, kind, steady-going fellow he always was,' says she. ' I don't know what we should do without him when you're away. He comes and helps with the cows, now ana then. Two of the horses got into Bargo pound, and he went and released them for ub. Then a storm blew off best part of the root ot the barn, and the bit of wheat would nave been spoiled only for him. He's the best friend we have.' ?« You'd better make sure of him for good and all,' I said. ' I suppose he's pretty well to do now, with that new farm he bought the other day.' ' Oh 1 you saw that,' she said. ' Tes ; he bought out the Cumberers. They never did any good with Honey suckle Flat, though the land was so good. He's going to ley it all down in lucerne,' he says. 'And then he'll smarten np the cottage, and sister Aileen '11 go over, and live in it,' Bays Jim; 'and a better thing she couldn't do.' 'I don't know,' she said. 'Poor George,' I wish I was fonder of him. There never was a better man, I believe ; but I cannot leave mother yet, so it's no nse talking.' Then she got up and wept in. 'That's the way of the world,' says Jim. 'George worships the ground she treads on, and she can't make herself care two straws about him. Perhaps she-will in time. She'll have the best home and the brat chap in the whole district if she does.' ' There's a deal of ' if' in this world,' I said ; ' and * if ' we're 'copped' on accovnt of that last job, I'd like to rtiinlr she and mother had some one to look after them, good weather and bad.' ' We might have done that, and not killed ourselves with work either,' said Jim, rather sulkily for him ; and he Jit hiB pipe and walked off into the bush without saying another word. I thought, too, how we might have been tax times, twenty times aB happy if we'd only kept on steady ding-dong work, like George Storefield, having patience and seeing ourselves get better off — even a little— year by year. What had he come to F And what lay before us r And though we were that fond of poor mother and Aileen that we would have done anything in the world for them— that is, we would have given our lives for them any day — yet we had left them — father, Jim, and I — to lead this miserable, lonesome life, looked down upon by a lot of people not half good enough to tie their snoe6, and obliged to a neighbour for help in every little distress. -Tim and I thought we'd chance a few days at home, no matter what risk we ran; but still we knew that, if war rants were out, the old home would be well watched, and that it was the first place the police would come to. So we made up our minds not to sleep at home, but to go away every night to an old deserted shepherd's hut, a couple of miles up the gully, that we need to play in when we were boyB. It had been strongly built at first ; time was not much, matter then, and there were no wages^to speak of ; so that it was a good shelter. The weather was that hot, too, it was just as pleasant Bleeping under a tree as anywhere eke. So we didn't show at home more than one at a time, and took care to be ready for a bolt at any time, day or night, when police might show themselves. Our place was middling dear all round now, and it was hard for any one on horseback to get near it without warning ; and if we could once reach the gully we knew we could run faster than any man could ride. _ , One night, latieh. jnst as we were walking off to our ^ hut there was a scratching at the door ; when we opened it there was old Cribb ! He ran up to both of ub and smelt
round our legs for a minute, to satisfy himself; then jumped np once to each of us as if he thought he ought to do the civil thing; wagged his stump of a tail and laid himself down. He was tired, and had come a long way. We could see that, and that he was footsore too. We knew that father wasn't so very far off, and would soon be in. If there 'd been anybody strange there Cribb would have ran back fast enough ; then father 'd have dropped there was something np and not shown. No fear of the dog not knowing who was right and who wasn't. He could tell every sert of man a mile off 1 believe. He knew the very walk of the police troopers' horses, and would growl, father said, if he heard their hoofs rattle on the stones of the road. About a quarter of an hour after father walks in,, quiet as usual. Nothing never made no difference to him, except he thought it was worth while. He was middlin' glad to see us, and behaved kind enough to mother, so the poor soul looked quite happy for her. It was little enough of that she had for her share. By and by father walks out side with us, and we had a long private talk. It was a brightish kind of starlight night. As we walked down to the creek I thought how often Jim and I had come out on just such a night 'possum hunting, and came home so tired that we were hardly able to pull our boots off. Then we had nothing to think about when we woke in the morning but to get in the cows ; and didn't we enjoy the fresh butter and the damper and bacon and eggs at breakfast time. It seems to me the older people get the more miserable they get in this world. If they don't make misery for themselves other people do it for 'em. Or jnst when everything's going straight and their doing their duty first-rate and all that, some accident happens 'em just as if they was the worst people in the world. I can't make it out at all. ' Well, boys,' says dad, ' Youv'e been lucky so far ; suppose you had a pretty good spree in Melbourne. You seen the game was up by the papers, didn't you ? But why didn't you stay where you were ' Why, of course, that brought us away,' says Jim ; ' we didn't want to be fetched back in irons, and thought, there was more show for it in the bush here.' 'But even if they'd grabbed Starlight,' say s the old man, ' yon had no call to be afeaid. Not much chance of his peaching, if it had been a hanging matter.' ' You don't mean to say there ain't warrants against us and tbe rest of the lot r'' I said. ' There's never a warrant out agin any one but Star light,' said the old man. ' I've hod the papers read to me regular, and I rode over to Bargo and saw the reward of £200 (a chap alongside of mo read it) as is offered for a man generally known as Starlight, supposed to have left the country ; but not a word about you two or me, or the boy, or them other coves.' ' So we might as well have stayed where we were, Jim.' Jim gave a kind of a groan. 'Still, when you look at it, isn't it queer,' I went on — 'that they should only spot Starlight and leave us out. It looks as if they was keepin' dark for fear of frightening us out of the country, but watching all the same.' ' It's this way I worked it,' says father, rubbing his tobacco in his hands the old way, and bringing out his pipe. ' They couldn' be off marking down Starlight alongjof his carryin' on so. Of course he drawed notice to himself all road's. But the rest of us only come in with the mob, and soon as they was sold stashed the camp and cleared out dif ferent wayB. Them three fellers is in Queensland long ago, and nobody was to know them from any other road hands. I was back with the old man and Bilbah in mighty short time. I rode 'em night and day turn about, and they can both travel. You kept pretty quiet, as luck had it, and was off to Melbourne quick.' ' I don't really believe they dropped to any of us, bar Starlight ; and if they den't nab him we might get shut of it altogether. I've known worse things as never turned up in this world, and never will now.' Here the old man ehowed his teeth as if he were going to laugh, but thought better of it. ' Anyhow we'd made it up to come home at Christmas,' says Jim, ' but it's all one. It would have saved us a deal of trouble in our minds all the same if we'd known there was no warrants out after us two. I wonder if they'll nail Starlight.' ' They can't well be off it,' says father. ' He's gone off his head, and stopped in some swell town in New Zea land— Canterbury, I think, its called — livin' tiptop among a lot of young English swells, instead of makin' off for the Islands as he laid out to do.' ' How do you know he's there ? ' I said. ' I know— and that's enough,' Bnarls father. ' I hear a lot in many ways about things and people that no one guesses on, and I know this — that he's pretty well marked down by old Stillbrook the detective as went down there a month ago.' ' But didn't you warn him f ' ' Yes, of course, as soon as I heard tell — but it's too late, I'm thinking. He has the devil's luck as well as his own, but, I always U6ed to tell him it wonld fail him yet.' ' I believe you're the smartest man of the crowd, dad,' says Jim, laying his hand on father's shoulder. He could pretty nigh get round the old chap, once in a way, could Jim, surly as he was. ' What do you think we'd better do ? What's our best dart P' Father Bhook off his hand, but not roughly, and his voice wacn't so hard when he said — ' Why, stop at home quiet of course, and sleep in your beds at night. Don't go planting in the gully, or some one '11 think you're wanted and let on to the police. Ride about the country till I give you the office. Never fear but I'll have word quick enough. Go about and see the neighbour s round j ust as usual.' ' Jim and I was quite stunned by this bit of news; no doubt we was fullv sorry as ever we left Melbourne, but there was nothing for it now but to follow it out. After all, we were at home, and it was pleasant to think we wouldn't be hunted for a bit, and might ride about the old place and enjoy ourselves a bit. Aileen was as happy as the day was long, and poor mother used to laye her head on Jim's neck and cry for joy to have him with her. Even father used to sit in the front under the quinces and smoke his pipe, with old Cribb at his feet moet as if he thought he was happy. I wonder if he ever looked back to the days when he was a farmin' boy and hadn't took to poaching. He must have been a smart, handy kind'of lad, and what a different look his face must have had then. Wehad our own horses in pretty good trim, so we foraged up Ailcen's mare, and madeitup to ride over to George Store field's and give him a look-up. He'd been away when we came, and now we heard he was home. ' George has been doing well all this time, of course,' I said. ' 1 expect he'll turn squatter some day and be made a magistrate. ' ' like enough.' says Jim. ' More than one we could pick began lower down than him, and sits on the bench and gives coves like us a turn when we're brought up before 'em. Fancy old George sayin', * Is anything known, constable, of this prisoner's antereeedenter' as I heard old Higgler say one day at Bargo.' 'Why do you make fun of these things, Jim, dear?' cays Aileen, looking so solemn and mournful like. ' Oughtn't a steady worker to rise in life, and isn't it sad to see cleverer men and better workers — if they liked — kept down by their own fault F' ' Why wasn't your roan mare born black or chestnut ? ' says Jim, laughing, and pretending to touch her up.' Come along and let's see if she can trot as well as she used todoi'' 'Poor Lowan,' says Bhe, patting the mare's smooth neck. ' She was a wonderful neat, well-bred, dark roan, with black points (one of dad'B, perhaps, that he'd brought her home one time he was in special good humour about something. Where she was bred or how, nobody ever knew); she was born pretty and goop. How little trouble her life gives her.' It's a pity we can't all say as much, or have as little on our minds.' 'Whose fault's that?' says Jim. 'The dingo must live as well as the collie or the sheep either. One's been made just the same as the other. I've often watched a dingo turn round twice, and thai pitch himself down in the long grass like as if he was dead. He's not a bad sort, old dingo, and has a good turn ot it as long as it lasts.' ' Yes, till he's trapped or shot or poisoned soma day, which he always is,' said Aileen, bitterly. ' I wonder any i man should be content with a wicked life and a shameful death.' And she strnck Lowan with her switch, and spun down the slope of the hill between the trees like a forester doe with the hunter-bound bdiind her. When we came up with her she was all right again and tried to emile. Whatever put her out for a time she always
worked things by kindness, and would lead us straight if she could. Driven, she knew we couldn't be. And I believe she did us about ten times aB much good that way as if she had scolded and raged, or even sneered, at us. ' When we rode up to Mr. Storefield's farm, we were quite agreeable and pleasant again, Jim makin' believe his horse could walk fastest, and saying that her mare's pace was only a double shuffle of an amble like Bilbah's, and she declaring that the mare's was a true walk — and so it was. The mare could do pretty well everything but talk, and all her paces were first class. j Old Mrs. Storefield was pottering about in the garden, with a big sunbonnet on. She was a great woman for flowers. 'Come along in, Aileen, my dear,' she said. Gracey's in the dairy ; she'll be out directly. George only came home yesterday. Who be these you've got with ye? Why, Dick f' she says, lookin' again with her sharp, old, gray eyes, 'it's you, boy, is it ? Well, you've changed a deal too ; and Jim too. Is he as full of mischief as ever ? Well, God bless you, boys, I wish you well ! I wish you well. Come in out of the sun, Aileen ; and one of you take the horses up to the stable. You'll find George there somewhere.' Aileen had jumped down by this time, and had thrown her rein to Jim, so we rode up to the stable, and a very good one it was, not long put up, that we could see. How the place had changed and now different it was from ours. We remembered the time when their hut wasn't a patch on ours, when old Isaac Storefield, that had been gardener at Mul goa to some of the big gentlemen in the old days, had saved a bit of money and taken up a farm. But bit by bit their place had been getting better and bigger every year, while ours had stood still and now was going back.