Chapter 161926443

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Chapter NumberXXIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161926443
Full Date1882-11-18
Page Number879
Corrections0
Word Count5338
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 Kolf Boldrewood.]

CUAl'TEK XXIII.

' I go wilh you, Slick,' says Starlight, and he looked hard at all of us — one by one. 'I can't, and I won't, do anything else now J but don't let me shut tho door against Jim, or the old man's going back, if they like. You and I are the two the police and the jublic have the most down on. It hardly matters what we do, we're in for years and years if they catch us ; and we may as well have a short life and a merry one. We'll fight it out to the end. But its different with your father and Jim here. They can only

be brought in as accessory. If they gave themselves up they'll most likely get a lightish sentence, and they can go home in a year or two and take care of the family. It's worth thinking of. There's your sister and your mother, you know. Talk it over among you. What you agree to I'll stand by ; and then drop the whole thing for ever.' He got up and walked out, with his head up, j ust as if he had been Mr. Falkland himself. We looked at each other for a bit, and then Jim begins : — ' I'd say what Dick says; nothing would content me better,' saysJim. ' I'd never think twiceabout it, only for mother and Aileen. That's were the pity comes in. Mother 's djing fast, and Aileen's breaking her heart. We ought to do anything in the world il' we want to call our selves men, rather than bring more shame and sorrow on them. Its hard to knuckle under now that we've gone so f8r and done so much. But I believe Starlieht's in the right of it. The shortest way is to lake our punishment. Dad and I, or me alone, and have a c'.ean slate afterwards, 1 here' 11 be one to keep the old place straight. Then, after after a year or two, I'd leam myself a trade, or something, while I was shopped. Anyhow, it wouldn't last for ever, 1 » J r of linmodoc onfl rntrTit.

cJliU lUtU X U auutuuiu cioj v- j ? , if all Ihe policc men in the country was riding by. The way we;ie going now drags us in deeper and deeper. There's a re pe or a bullet at the other end. What do you say, Father 'r' Father had been smoking hard all the time while Jim had been talking. When he'd done he got up and flung his pipe down, so that it smashed all to bits. When I saw that 1 knew what was coming. 'Look here, Jim Marston,' he said, and his face grew that black and savage that it curdlcd my blood to look at. ' if you go and sell yourself to a lagging, because a couple of women cry and whine over what can't be helped, and what other women have to stand and make the best of, jou'ie no son of mine. You may go and make yourself a plaee wherever you like, but into mine you don't set foot while 1 live. I mean to fight it out, this thing. If I'm taken into a gaol it '11 be feet foremost. I swore an oath when I left England that I'd make it hot for the cursed gentlefolk that hunted me down— to my dying day — and that oath I'll keep. If you're too soft to backup me and jour brother, ycu'd better turn school teacher and leave horses and aims to men.' roor old Jim never said a word, but stood looking at father straight in the face. Oncc he began, then he stopped as if the words wouldn't come. ' You know, Father, as well as I do, that Jim's afraid of nothing,1' I burst out. 'It ain't that he's thinking of. Why shouldn't he tiy and save a part of our miserable family that's going to the bad. What with one thing and another, as fast as the devil can trundle us. Why should'nt ore be spared out of the lot 5r' ' Because it's too late,' growled Father ; ' too late by years. It's sink or swim with all of us. If we work together wc may make ten thousand pounds or more in the ne xt four or five years. Enough to clear out with altogether, if we've luck. If ony of us goes snivelling in now, and giving himself up, they'll know there's something crooked with the lot of us, and they'll run us down somehow. I'll see 'em all in the pit of h— 1 before J give in, and if Jim dees, he opens the door and sells the pass on us. You can loth do what you like.' And here the old man walked bang away and left' us. 'No use, Dick,' says Jim. 'If he won't, it's no use my giving in. I can't stand being thought a coward. Besides if you were nabbed afterwards people might say it was through me. I'd sooner be killed and buried a dozen times over than that. Its no use talking — it isn't to be — we had better make up our minds once for all, and then let the matter drop.' Poor old Jim. He had gone into it innocent from the very first. He was regular led in because he did'nt like to desert his own flesh and blood, even if it was wrong. Bit by bit he had gone on. not liking or caring for the thing one bit, but following the lead of others, till he reached his present pitch. How many men and women, too, there are in the world who seem boin to lollow the lead of others for gocd or evil. They g»-r drawn in somehow, and end by paying the same penalty as those that meant nothing else from the start. The finish of thewhole thing was this, that we made up oar minds to turn out in the bushranging line. It might seem foolish enough to outsiders, but when you come to think of it we couldn't better ourselves much. We could do no worse than we have done, nor run any greater risk to speak of. 'We were ' long sentence men' as it was, sure of years and years in prison: and besides, we were cerlain of something extra for breaking gaol. Jim and Warrigal were ' wanted,' ana mipht be arrested by any chance trooper who could recollect their descriptions in the Police Gazette. Father might be arrested on suspicion and remanded again and again until they could get evidence against him for lots of things that he'd been in besides the Momberah cattle. When it was all boiled down if came to this, that we could make more money in one night by sticking up a coach or a bank than in any other way in a year. That when we had done it, we were no worse off than we were now, as far as being outlaws, and there was a chance— not a very grand one, but still a chance — that we might find a way to clear out of New South Wales altogether. So we settled it at that. We had plenty of good horses — what wilh the young ones coming on, that Warrigal could break, and what we had already. There was no fear of running short of horseflesh. Firearms we had enough for a dozen men. They were easy enough to come by. We knew that by every mail-coach that travelled on the Southern or Western line there^was always a pretty fair sprinkling of notes sent in the letters, besides what the passengers might carry with them, watcheB, rings, and other valuables. It wasn't the habit of people to carry arms, and if they did, there isn't one in ten that uses 'em. It's all very well to talk over a dinner-table, but any one who's been stuck op himself knows that there's .not much chance of doing much in the resisting line. Suppose you're in a coach, or riding along a road. Well, you're expected and waited for, and the road party knows the very moment you'll turn up, 1 hey see you a-coming. Yon don't see them till it's too late. There's a log or some thins across this road, if it's a coach, oi else the driver's walking his horses up a steepish hill. Just at the worst pinch, or at a turn, some one sings out ' Bail up.' The coachman sees a strange man in front, or close alongside of him, with a revolver pointed straight at him. He naturally don't like to be shot, and he pullB up. There'6 another man covering the passengers in the body of the coach, and he says, if any man stirs or lifts a finger, he'll give him no second chance. Just behind on the other side, there's another man— perhaps two. Well, what '6 any one, if he's ever so game, to do ? If he tries to draw a weapon, or move ever 60 little, he's rapped at that second. He can only shoot one man, even if his aim's good, which it's not likely to be. What's more, the other pas sengers don't thank him— quite the contrary — for drawing the fire on than. I've known men take away a fellow's revolver lest he should get them all into trouble. That was a queer start, wasn't it V Actually preventing a man from resisting. They were quite right though; he could only have done mischief and made it harder for himself and every tne else. If all the passengers were armed, and all steady and game to Etand a flutter, something might Jje done, but

you don't get a coachload like that very often. So if s found better in a general way to give op what they have quietly and make no fuss about it. I've known cases where a single luthranger wbb rnelicd by a couple of determined men, but that was because the chap was careless, and they were very active and smart. He let them etand too near him. They had him, simple enough, and he was hanged for hie careless ness ; but when there's three or four men, all armed and steady, it's no use trying the rush dodge with them. Of course there were other things to think about : what wc were to do with the trinkets and bank-notes and things when we got them — how to pass them, and so on. There was no great bother about that. Besides Jonathan Barnes and chaps of his sort, dad knew a few 'fences' that had worked for him before. Of course we had to suffer a bit in value. These sort of men make you pay through the nose for everything they do for you. But we could stand that out ot our profits, and we could stick to whatever was easy to pass and some of the smaller things that were light to carry about. Men that make £300 or £400 of a night earn afloid to pay for accommodation. '1 he big houses in the bush, too. Nothing's easier than to slick up one of them —lots of valuable things, besides money, often kept there, and it's 10 to 1 against anyone being on the look-out when the boys come. A man hears they're in the neighbourhood, and keeps a watch for a week or two. But he can't be always waiting at home all day long with double-bai relied guns, and all his young fellows and the overseer that ought to be at their work among their cattle or sheep on the run idling their time away. No, he soon gets sick of that, and cither sends his family away to town till tlie danger's past, or he 'chances it,' as people do about a good many things in the country. Then some fine day, about 11 or 12 o'clock, or just before tea, or before they've gone to bed, the dogs bark, and three or four chaps seem to have got into the place without anybody noticing 'em, the muster of the house finds all the revolvers looking his way, and the thing's done. The house is cleared out of everything valuuble, though nobody's harmed or frightened— in a general way, that is— a couple of the best horses are taken out of the stable, and ihe next morning there's another flaring article in tic local paper. A good many men tried all they knew to be prepared and have a show for it, but there was only one that ever managed to come out right. We didn't mean to turn out all in a minute. We'd had a rough time of it lately, and we wanted to wait and take it easy in the Hollow and close about for a month or so, before we began business. Starlight and I wanted to let ourteard grow. People without any hair on their faces are hardly ever seen in the countiy now, cxcept they've been in gaol very lately, and of course we should have been marked men. We saw no reason why we shouldn't take it easy. Star light was none too strong, though he wouldn't own it. He wouldn't have fainted as he did if he had. lie wanted good keep and rest for a month, and so did I. Now that it was all over, I felt different fiom what I used to do, only half the man I once was. If we stayed in the Hollow for a month, the police might think we'd gone straight out of the countiy, and slack off a bit. Anyhow, as long as they didn't hit the (rail off to the entrance] we couldn't be in a safer place, and though there didn't seem much to do we thought we'd manage to hang it out somehow. One day ?wc were riding all together in the afternoon, when we hap pened to come near the gully where Jim and I had gone up and Eeen the Hermit's Hut, as we had christened it. Often wc talked about it since ; wondered about the man who had lived in it, and what his life had been. This time we'd had all the horses in and were doing a tit of colt-breaking:. Warrigal and Jim were both on young .horses that had only been ridden once before, and we had cerne out to give them a hand. ' Do you know anything about that hut in the gully ? ' I iitkcd Starlight. ' Oh, yes, all there is (o know about it, and that's not much. Warrigal told me that, while the first gang that dis covered this desirable country residence were in possession, a sti anger accidentally found out the way in. At first they were for putting him to death, but on his explaining that he only wanted a solitary home, and should neither trouble nor betiay them, they agreed to let him stay. He was ' a big one gentleman,' Warrigal said, but he built the hut him self, with occasional help from the men. He was liberal wilh his gold, of which he had a small store, while it lasted. He lived here many years, and wasburied under a big peach tiee that he bad planted himself.' ? ' A queer start, to come and live and die here ; and about tho strangest place to pick for a home I ever saw.' ' 'I here's a good many strange people in the colony, Dick, my boy,' says Starlight, 'and the longer you live tne more you'll find of them. Someday when we've got quiet horses we'll come up and have a regular overhauling of the spot. It's years since I've been there.' 'Suppose he turned out some big swell from the old country r Dad says there used to be a few in the old days, in the' colony. He might have left papers and things Li bind him that might turn to good account.' ' Whatever he did leave was hidden away. Warrigal say 0 be was a little chap when he died, but he says he remembers men making a great corroboree over him when he died, and they could 'find nothing. They always thought he had money, and he showed them one or two small lumps of gold, and what he said was golddust washed out from the creek bed. Ae we had no call to work now, we went in for a bit of sport everj' day. Lord ! how long it seemed since Jim and 1 bad put the guns on our shoulders and walked out in the beautiful fiesh part of the morning to have a day's shooting. It made ub feel like boys again; when I said so, the tears came into Jim's eyes antl he turned his head away. Father come one day ; he and old Cribb were a 6tunning pair for pot phooting, and he was a dead game shot, though we could beat him with the rifie and revolver. There was a Ipretty fair 6how of game too. The lowan (Mallee hen they're mostly called) and tallagatta (brush turkey) were ttiick enough 'in some of the scrubby corners. 'Warrigal used to get the lowan eggs— beautiful pink thin shelled ones they are, first-rate to eat, and one of 'em a man's breakfast. Then there were pigeons, wild ducks, quail, snipe now and then, besides wallaby and other kan gaioos. There was no fear of starving, even if we hadn't a. tidy herd of cattle to come upon. Ihe fishing wasn't bad either. The creeks ran towards tlie north-west watershed and were full of codfish, bream, and peich. Even the jewfish wasn't bad with their skins off. ? They all tasted pretty good, I tell you, after a quick broil, let alone the fun of catching them. Warrigal used to make nets out of cooramin bark, and put little weirs across the shallow places, so as we could go in and drive the fish in. Many a fine ce-d we took that way. He knew all the blacks' ways as well aB a good many of ours. The worst of him was that except in hunting, fishing, and riding, he'd picked up the wrong end of the habits of both sides. Father used to set snares for the brush kangaroo and the bandicoots, like he'd been used to do for the hares in the old country. We could alwayB manage to have some kind of game hanging up. It kept us amused too. 'But I don't know whatever we should have done, that month we stayed there at the first — we were never so long idle again — without the horses. We used to muster them twice a week, run 'em up into the big receiving yard, and have a regular good look over 'em till we knew every one of 'cm like a book. Seme of 'tm was worth looking at, my wovd ! ' D'ye ece that big upstanding three-year-old dark bay filly, with a crooked streak down her face 'r' Starlight would say, ? ?'and no brand but your father's on. Do you know her came 'i That's young Termagant, a daughter of Mr. Ecuncival's racing mare of the same name, that was stolen a week before she was born, and her dam was never seen alive again. Pity to kill a mare like that, wasn't it ? Her eire was Bepeater, the horse that ran the two three-mile heats with Mack worth, in grand time, too.' Then again, * * That chc-Btnut colt with the white legs would be worth five hnndred all out it we could sell him with his right name and breeding, instead rof having to do without a_ pedigree. We elinll be lucky if we get a hundred clear for him. The black filly with the star — yes, she's thoroughbred too, and couldn't have been bought forj money. Only a month old and un brandc-d. of course, when your* father and Warrigal managed to bone the old mare. Mr. Gibson offered £50 reward, or £100 on conviction. Wasn't he wild!' That big bay horse, Wairior. was in training for a steeplechase when I took him out of Mr. King's stable. I rode him 120 miles before 1'2 next day. Those two browns are Mr. White' 6 famous buggy Jiorees. He thought no man could get the better of him. But your old father was too clever. I believe he could 6hake thed'evil's own four-in-hand — (coal black, with manes and tails touching the ground, and eyes of lire— some German fellow says they are), and the Prince of Darkness never be tUe wiser. The pull of it i& that once they're in here they're

never heard of again, till it's time to shift them to another colony, or clear them out and let the buyer take his chance.' 41 You've some plums here,' I say, ' even the cattle look pretty well-bred.' 'Always go for pedigree stock, Fifteenth Duke not withstanding. They take no more keep than rough ones, and they're always salable. That red short horn heifer belongs to the Butterfly Red Rose tribe, she was carried 30 miles, in front of a man's saddle, the day she was calved. 'We suckled her on an old brindle cow, she doesn't look _anv the worse of it. Isn't she a beauty ? We ought to go in for an annual sale here. How do you think it would pay V '* All this was pleasant enough, but it couldn't last for ever. After the first week'6 rest which was real pleasure aud enjoyment, we began to find the life too dull and dozy. We'd hed quite enough of a quiet life, and began to long for a bit of work and danger again. Chaps that have got something on their minds can't stand idleness, it plays the bear with tbem. I've always found, they get thinking and thinking till they get a low fit like, and then if there's any grog haudy (hey try to screw themselves up with that. It gives tbem a lift for a time, but afterwards they have to pay for it over and over again. That's where the drinking pabit romps in— they can't help it — they must drink— if you'll take the trouble to watch men (and women too) that have been 'in trouble' you'll find that 1£) out of every 20 drink like fishes when they get ihe chance. It ain't the love of the liquor, as teetotallers and those kind of goody people always are ramming down your throat— it's the love of nothing' But It's the fear of their own thoughts — the dreadful misery — the anxiety about what's to come, that's always hanging like a black cloud over their heads. That's what they can't Etand; and liquor, for a bit, mind you — say a few hours or bo— takes all that kind of feeling clean away. ? Of course ' it returns, harder than before, but that says nothing. It can be driven away. All the heavy-heartedness which a man feels, but never puts into words, flies awav with the j first or second glass of grog. If a man was suffering pains of any kind, or was being stretched on the rack (I never J knew what a rack was till I'd time for reading in gaol, except a horse-rack), or was being flogged, and a glass of anything he could swallow would make him think he was on a feather bed enjoying a pleasant doze, wouldn't he Bwig it oil, do you think V And suppose there are times when a nmn feels as if bell couldn't bo much worse than what he's feeling all the long day through— and 1 1 ell you there are — I, who have often stood ithour after hour — won't he drink then, and why shouldn't he '- We began to find that towards the end of the day we all of us found the way to father's brandy keg — that bv night fall the whole lot of us had quite as much as we could stagger under. 1 don't say we rcprularly went in for drinking; but we began to want it by 12 o'clock every day, and to keep things going after that till bedtime. In the morning we felt nervous and miserable ; on the whole we weren' t very gay till the sun was over the fore-yard. Anyhow we made it up to clear out, and have the first go in for a touch on the Southern line the next Week as evor was. Father was as eager for it as anybody. He couldn't content himself with this sort of Robinson Crusoe life any longer, and said ho must have a run atid a bit of work of some sort or he'd go mad. This was on the Saturday night. 'Well, on Sunday we sent Warrigal out to meet one of our telegraphs at a place about 20 miles oif, and to bring us any Information he could pick up, and a newspaper. He came Lack about sundown that evening, and told us that the police had been all over the country after us, and that Government had offered £200 reward for our apprehension — mine and Starlight's — with £50 each for Warrigal and Jim. They had an idea ws'd all shipped for America. He sent us a newspaper. There was some news; that is, news worth talking about. Here was what was printed in large letters on the outside : — ' WONDERFUL DISCOVERY OE GOLD AT THE TURON' ! ' We have much pleasure in informing our numerous constituents that gold, similar in character and value to that o JSan Francisco, has been discovered on the Turon River by those energetic and experienced practical miners, Messrs. Hargraves and party. The method of cradling is the same, the appliances required are simple and inexpensive, and the proportional yield of gold highly reassuring. It is impossible to forecast the results of this most momentous discovery. It will revolutionise the new world. It will liberate the old. It will precipitate Australia into a nation. ' Meanwhile numberless inconveniences, even privations, will arise— to be endured unflinchingly — to be borne in silence. But courage, England, we have hitherto achieved victory.' This news about the gold breaking out in such a place as the Turon made a great difference in our notions. -Ve hardly knew what to think at first. The whole country seemed upside down. Warrigal used to sneak out from time to time, and come back open-mouthed, bringing us all 6orts of news. Everybody, he said, was coming up from Sydney. There would be nobody left there but the Gover nor. What a queer start— the Governor sitting lonely in a silent Government House, in the middle of a deserted city ! 'We found out that it was true after we'd made one or two short rides out ourselves. Afterward the police had a deal too much to do to think of us. We didn't run half the chance of being dropped on to that we used to do, The whole countiy was full of absconders and deserters, ser vants, shepherds, shopmen, soldiers, and sailors — all running away from their work, and making, in a blind sort of way, for the diggings, like a lot of caterpillars on the march. We had more than half a notion about going there our selves, but we turned it over in our minds, and thought it wouldn't do. We should be sure to be spotted anywhere in JS'ew South Wales. All the police stations had our descrip tion pasted up, with a reward, in big letters on the door. Even if we were pretty lucky at the start, we should always tie expecting them to drop on us. As it was, we should have twenty times the chance among the coaches, that were sure to bo loaded full up with men that all carried cash , more or less ; you couldn't travel then in the country with out it. We 'had twice the pull now, because so many strangers, that couldn't possibly be known to the police, were straggling over all the roads. There was no end of bustle and rush in every line of work and labour. Money was that plentiful that everybody seemed to be full of it. Gold began to be sent down in big lots, by the Escort, as it was called — sometimes ten thousand ounces at a time. That was money if you like— fony thousand pounds ! — enough to snake one's mouth water — to inake one think dad's prophecy P. about the ten thousand pounds wasn't so far out after all. Just at the start most people had a kind of notion that »? the gold would only last a short time, and that things would he worse than before. But it lasted a deal longer than any of us expected. It was 1850 that I'm talking about. It's getting on for 18G0 now, and there stems more of it about than ever there was. Most of our lives we'd been used to the Southern road, and we kept to it still. It wasn't right in the line of the gold diggings, but it wasn't so far off. It was a queer start when the news got round about to the other colonies, after that to England, and I suppose all the other old world places, but they must have come by shiploads. The roads was that full of new chums— we could tell 'em easy by their dress, their fresh faces, their way of talk, their thick sticks and new guns and pistols. Some of them you'd see dragging a handcart with another chap, and they having all their goods, tools, and clothes on it. Then there'd be a dozen men, with a horse and cart, and all their swags in it. If the horse jibbed at all, or stuck in the deep ruts— and wasn't it a wet season V — they'd give a shout and a rush, and tear out cart and horse and eveiything else. They told Us that there were rows of ships in Sydney harbour without a. soul to take care of them. That the soldiers were running away to the diggings just as much as the Bailors. Clergymen and doctors, old hands and new chums, merchants and lawyers. They all eeemed as if they couldn't keep away from the diggings that first year, for their lives. All stock went up double and treble what they were before. Cattle and sheep we didn't mind about. We could do with out them now ; but the horse market rose wonderful, and that made a deal of odds to as, you may be sure. It was this way. Every man that had a few pounds wanted a horse to ride or drive ; every miner wanted a washdirt cart and a horse to dzaw it. The farmer wanted working horses ; for wasn't hay sixty or seventy pounds a ton and corn what yon liked to ask for it. Every kind of harness horse was worth forty, fifty, a hundred pounds apiece— and only to ask it ; some of 'em weedy and bad enough, heaven knows. So between the horse trade and the road trade we could see a fortune sticking out, ready for as to catch hold of whenever we were ready to collar.