Chapter 169146765

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Chapter NumberXIX
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttps://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169146765
Full Date1927-04-27
Page Number29
Corrections1
Word Count2707
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2019-04-27
Newspaper TitleSydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938)
Trove TitleSons of the Seven Mile
article text

Sons of the Seven Mile An Australian Novel of Country and City Life

By Zora Cross

CHAPTER XIX.

'And if they have racing hereafter (And who is to say they wilt not?) When 1he cheers and the shouting and laughter Proclaim that the battle grows hot. As they come down the racecourse a steering.

He'll rush to the front. I believe; And you'll hear the great multitude cheering For Pardon, .the son of Reprieve.' — A. B. Paterson. EIGHTEEN is the saddest of all ages, and Bonny was eighteen. Though eighteen was nol allowed lo bel., eighteen could say it was 'twenty-one, ami eighteen was at the racecourse on Saturday afternoon with Macpherson. Ronny's friends and the friends of his parents and of Mary, and those who knew him well, never frequented the racecourse-. He felt very big in his best suit. He had told his mother he was working back at his studies witli Mr. Hedge, the head master. She bad given him the five pounds for 'the books, and he said be was going to send for them Io Brisbane at once. He knew bis mother Ihat afternoon was too busy to be thinking of him. She was making sweet baskets for the bazaar, which was to be held shortly. He did not, care who saw him. The racecourse bred its own evil. Ronny was prepared to lie if anyone told on him. He was a little bewildered, truth to tell, by the proceedings, for. though he bad given Mac small sums to bet for him, he had never accompanied his friend to the course. Macpherson was podgy and fat, and bags bung under his eyes. 'You can't go wrong if you follow Mac,' he assured Ronny. Ronny put ten shillings on Golden Cap, and Golden Cap ran third. 'Well,' Mac said, 'your luck's in, Ronny. You might have put the five on.' Ronny swallowed hard and went white. 'Mac,' he said feebly, 'I think I'd better cut home. You put a little. on Flying Boy for me.' 'All right,' Mac chuckled fatly. 'But don't go. Have five shillings on him.' Ronny did, and Flying Boy came home. Ronny almost went mad with excitement. 'What did I tell you?' Mac said. 'Why didn't you put the whole four pounds ten on? You would have -gone home -with ten odd pounds in your pocket,' as he handed Ronny his winnings. Ronny wet his lips again, and stamped about for a minute like a young colt. '1 was a fool,' he said.

'But now I'm a bil to the good perhaps I'd better go.' He gave a quick, wild, excited glance at the people about him — the -flushed-featured, fashionably - dressed women, the sleek, well-groomed men, and others who did not seem to cave how they were dressed. - 'It's tony in the grandstand, isn't it?' Mac said. 'Look here, have a real lip. I tell you Kitchener can't, go wrong.' 'Can'1 lie?'' ? 'No.' 'What are you having on him?' 'l'ni having a fifty shilling.' 'Well. I'll have one, loo.'' Kitchener ran fourth. Ronny fell as if a stone had rolled down his throat. 'Umph! Bad luck,' Mac said, gelling irritable. 'Thai horse must have been pulled.' Mac looked reckless; 'Listen, Mac,' Ronny said. 'I've got Io go home with five pounds — Hie samp as I brought in, if. I can't gel more.' Mac shrugged a shoulder. 'Lucky if you leave with five shillings. Better go now, if that's all the thanks you give me, youngster. I told you Io put your money on Flying Boy, didn't I?' Ronny thrust out an aggressive jaw. 'Yes, and you also told me Io back Kitchener.' 'Well, go and back what you like.' Ronny did, and was reduced in no time to a single half-sovereign, which he put on a coal-black horse called Runaway. He backed it because it was going out at ten to one. It was the last race, and his last chance. He tried not to care as he saw Macpherson laughing and pocketing a bundle of notes. Macpherson edged up to him. 'Well, sonny, how doing?' Ronny said : 'AH right, thanks.' 'Have you backed The Bird? He's sure for tills, 1 tell you.' Ronny felt his hands and feet going cold as the horses formed up, and Runaway, with her rider, was close to The Bird— a brown horse, whose rider was in white. Ronny grew dizzy from the moment the crowd yelled 'They're off!' More than one onlooker had staked all on the last race. Ronny pressed forward with the solid mass of people, who were looking out on the lovely flying ribbon of beautiful horses like strange. i7iad creatures. They did not look like human beings; every face seemed to twitch, and the eyes stared wildly on the horses and the

waving colours of the jockeys as. they allr seemed mixed in the distance. Ronny, could see the red of his rider's jacket like a distant, splash of blood against the blackness cf flit? horse. Then he breathed swiftly and cluiched the palings of the fence. 'Runaway! Runaway! Runaway!' the crowd was yelling. The black horse was out in front, coming mag nificently on. The crowd on the grandstand were standing now, straining to sec the horse take the curve of the wide course. Others were pressing forward, pushing and straining below. Then a white flickering streak appeared to Ronny's tortured eyes, and the crowd yelled: 'The Bird! The Bird!' The brown and the black horses were side-by-side —the brown was going — the black had caught up ? No other horses were in Ihe race. 'Runaway! Runaway! Runaway!' they, yelled. Macpherson' himself led Ihe yell of 'The Bird] The Bird!' The horses seemed swimming to Ronny. Their magnificent limbs glowed in the golden light,. .and the sound of swishing whips and the beat of hoofs mixed with the now demented yells of the crowd. Ronny turned, Io squeeze his way towards the horses, maddened now w'ith excitement. 'Runaway! Runaway!' he almost, sobbed. But the great horses were, neck to neck — and the crowd for a moment, forgetting bets and everything else, saw that the race was really a magnificent one — both horses were trying, both jockeys were honest, and try ing, too. Sammy Bane, who was riding the Runaway for old Peter Law, knew that the old man had made a heavy bet and expected Sammy to win. Bert Little, who was The Bird's rider, only knew that the horse's owner, Captain Hastings, had said The Bird had to win, or he'd blow his own brains out. Bent, forward, he could hear the click of a pistol at every inch The Bird made, for it was only by inches Jie would win, Bert knew. The Captain was a young fool, but The Bird could do it. ... . , 'My God!' Bert thought, 'we're not going to do it!' The Runaway's great bulk seemed to press like a black cloud on the boy. 'Bird, my Bird! Brave Bird! Fly for it! Fly tor it!'' he felt himself crying to the horse he had grown to love. It was favourite, and had been favourite in many a race. The Runaway was a newcomer.

'Runaway, run! Run!' Sammy Bane was thinking, for his teeth were tightly clenched as they came up the straight with a hoarse roar of voices swelling about them like, waves of a great sea. 'The Bird! The Bird! The Bird!' 'Runaway! Runaway! Run ? '' 'The Bird I ' 'Runaway!' 'The Bird! The Bird!' A third horse was now creeping- up. and the anxious jockeys of The Bird and Runaway heard another cry of 'White Star! White Star!' But neck to neck The Bird and Runaway ran. as if determined to run a dead-heat. Ronny, speechless, never dreaming a race could he so close a thing as this, suddenly thrust his fingers in his mouth and said: 'Runaway! Runaway! Runaway!' But Ronny fell hack, and felt something like a pistol click in his brain. The Bird had won by a head. Staggered at the enormity and horror of what had happened, he did not see, nor care to see, the enraged owner of Runaway shake his fist and say, 'My horse— my horse — my horse was pulled!' nor the owner of The Bird choke and catch the bridle, of the horse, nor yet did he hear Macpherson laughing in his ear as he shook a bundle of notes. ? 'What did I tell you?'1 Ronny fled from the place, and, running, hardly rea lised what he was doing until he reached the shire hall. Then he stole into the bush and sat on a log and rocked himself, and started up when he thought he saw himself sitting at the end of the log — himself, who said: 'What are you going to do now, Ronny?' 'I can say I bought the hooks; they are at school,' Ronny said. One lie seemed to beget another. 'I can say I was robbed.' But Ronnie had a conscience, and it tormented him. It set his brain on fire till he thought, evil and bad things. Mr. Markham had wanted money. Couldn't he run home now and tell his mother Dave Markham robbed him? Youth cannot think; youth knows no pause. Reck less as eager ever it flies to do the hasty thing. Pate, whom he had no power to stop, acted sud denly for him. Dusk had come, and out of the dusk towards the shire hall Dave Markham came, with a bridle over his arm. Ronny crouched down behind the log, and he saw Dave catch his horse that had been grazing in the shire hall paddock. Ronny was beaten by his own despair. He seemed to have been changed from a rather weak young man into a scheming devil. He waited until Dave had caught his horse. When his back was turned he ran forward in the direction of his home, and, turning, came walking back eagerly towards the hall. 'Hello,' Dave said as Ronny appeared. 'Whcre'd you spring from?' Ronny was panting as if he had been running. 'I've just lost five pounds out of my pocket, Mr.

Markham,' he said. 'I had it. I know, when I left the road. I must have dropped it at the hall.' 'Oh, I hope you find it. Can I help you? It's getting dark,' Dave said. He went back with Ronny, and, though he said nothing, he observed that there were no footmarks on the track running from the hall to the hush. They could not find the money. 'Thanks for helping me.' Ronny said. 'It was to buy books. I'll have to tell them at homo ] lost it.' Dave, who had made up his mind to ride to Bris bane to Rulh, since he could get there no other way, thought no more of the incident, nor did ho dream that Ronny was running home with a tale' throwing1 suspicion on Dave. Dave had told his girls that lie was going up into into the scrub for a moonlight ride, and was actually on his way to Brisbane when Ronny reached home with his slory. He did not accuse Mr. Markham. he said; but he was sure he had the money on the road. It was gone a little later, and when he went hack to the hall, where be thought he'd dropped it, Mr. Markham was there. Both Maggie and Sandy were careful people, and they listened silently to Ronny's story. But when the boy had gone to bed, to toss all night restlessly, Maggie said, 'Take him quietly, Sandy. But go over in the morning.' She folded her arms. 'Tut. wumman,' Sandy said. 'I'd as soon believe Ronny was lying about the money as accuse Dave Mark bam of picking it up.' 'If a man loves a woman there's nothing he'll stop at,' said Maggie, who, though she had never been jealous as a girl of Ruth, felt hurt still that Ruth had gone off When she promised to help her with the bazaar. 'It's only the matter of five pounds,' Sandy said genially, as it was Saturday and he had eaten and drunken well. 'It'll turn up. I'll put Polly and the children looking for it in the morning. It'll turn up, I dare say.' CHAPTER XX. 'Arid of dreams a man is wove alwaj/. And of dreams Ms life is spun; Bui Ms soul shall find itself one day, When his body's work is done.' — P. E. Quinn. IT did not turn up, and when Sandy rode over to Orange Park Grace told him her father had gone to the scrub. This roused the first suspicion in Sandy. 'Did you want Dad, Mr. McPhie?' Jane asked. 'Anything 1 can do?' 'No ; oh, no.' Sandy was worried now as he rode away again. Grace joined Jane on the verandah, looking after him. 'What's the matter?' Grace asked. Jane did not know: she was expecting Bob Mitchell to tea, and had a day's baking before her. 'Where's Dad?' Johnny asked, coming up from

the stockyard. 'I'm not going to do all this work myself.' 'Oh, father's sulking about mother,' Grace said. 'Jane, I'm going over to the Mitchells' this afternoon.' 'Come 'and help me with the cows,'' Johnny said. He had his father's love for the bush, and wanted to go and get some birds' eggs for his collection that after noon. A clear-eyed lad, he missed his mother more than he liked to say. There had always been a bond between them, because he was her only son. Grace climbed through the fence and went to do her father's share of the work. What a lovely day it was! Would-Paddy Regan be at the Mitchells'? She could have him to herself unless Mabel were spending Sun day with the Wilsons. Her face clouded. Grace knew that Mabel and Paddy often met in Maidenhair Gully without her Uncle Andy and Auntie Jeanie knowing. 'I saw Mabel Blake driving home from town with the Wilsons last night.' Johnny said as they reached the bail s.- Grace, instead of frowning, felt a curious little thrill. That would be a sure sign that. Paddy Regan would be at Mitchell's. She would wear her white silk dress. Thank goodness she had plaited her hair. It would be frizzy, at least. She would damp a red flower from her old hat and redden her cheeks, and powder them. Looking off, she could see McPhie a mere speck in the distance. She was used to her father's sulking, and he often rode away into the bush to save angry scenes. Dave Markham had carried on few customs from his aboriginal playmates, but going into the bush when he was angry was one he often employed.' Johnny had the habit to some degree, too. The bush was like a great kind mother when a boy was bad-tempered. She drew you in softly, and healed the hurt with a bath of green leaves cool as dew. Johnny had promised his schoolmate, Arthur Farney, that he might go over to Wilson's that day. Arthur and Johnny were studying for a scholarship, as Minnie and Hattie were. The boys had Riverstone Grammar School in Brisbane as their objective. The girls, the Ipswich Grammar School, white on its lime stone hill. They had a busy morning without their father, and Were all somewhat worried when li€ did not appear for luneh. ; 'Just like him,' Jane said, who at moments could be very like her Aunt Jeanie, save that she would always be prettier. 'I'll have to put. his dinner aside, and he'll spoil the look of the tea-table for Bob by eat ing his hot dinner while we're having cold.' Arthur Farney whistled Johnny from the fence, and Grace saw the two boys linked arm-in-arm wandering off through the fields together as she cleared the table for Jane. Her eyes softened. Arthur Farney, slight, boyish, grey-eyed, and a true mate in book as well as bush things to Johnny, brought the shadow* of tragedy with him. {To be Continued.)