|Newspaper Title||The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Ronald Walton: A Tale of Early Squatting Life in Moreton Bay|
A TALE OP EARLY 8QUATTING LIFE IN
Br inEAuTHOROF " AdventdresinQueensland."
[AU Rights Reserved.']
Murdering Skinner's Tragical End, and
How his Men Mourned.
Skinner felt instinctively that Ronald was not the sort of roan to submit tamely to insult from any tyrant, and as ho was not a wretched assigned servant over whom ho had almost un- limited control, his pluck evaporated as he saw Ronald's stern eye rivetted upon him. He tried to make Ronald answer his own question, and said humbly enough,
"I think, Mr. Walton, you will see that I ought to look to you for explanation. I believe I have not a bullock of yours in my possession."
" Very avell, Mr. Skinner ; if you aro either afraid or ashamed to explain your avords," said Ronald with undisguised contempt, "I will let that pass ; nnd for your information will state hoav the bullock carno amongst mine, and how it is that he was not delivered lost night. Ho was found amongst my bullocks tho morning after ave camped at Limestone Smasher knew the bullock belonged to Mr. McArthnr, and aftor an hour's detention and a groat doal of trouble in yoking him, and a good deal more on the road, he lias driven him this far with no other motive than to deliver him to yon safoly, thinking you would bo glad to get him back. Yesterday, after an unusually hard day's work, we got into camp so late that I ordered the men to leave the delivery of the bullock till morning, as the delny could make no possiblo difference to you. 1 went off at onco to soe my frie'id Harry Throsby, at Talmugga, nnd intended to send the bullock to you as soon as I returned. Are you satisfied with my explanation ?"
The latter sentenco was delivered in a delibe- rate end searching manner ; and Skinner, avho saw that ho had made a fool of himself, but with his usual disingenuoiisness was unwilling to acknowledge himself in the wrong, repliod,
" Yes, yes, perfectly satisfied, Mr. Walton ; but you «ill see that the circumstance was sus- picious, in the abseuco of any explanation."
" I do not see anything of tho tort," replied Ronald. " BeBidea, hoav is it that you could not obtain an explauation ?"
He hesitated, and Smasher blurted out,
" Because, sir, ho rodo into our camp ; called us thtice-convicted scoundrels, as had stolen his bullock; aud was going to hang in right off; and because we avonldn't answer his bully ques- tions ho was going to stock-avhip us, Wo knows what the lash is, sir, and would take it from you if wo doserved it, but wo ain't agoing to be lashed by an outsider liko him, as isn't no better
Pinchgut joined in, and said,
" I was lagged for taking a loaf out of a baker's curt, because I wasn't ablo to got work, and mother was ill abed, and hadn't no food. I had no cdication, and couldn't ionic, nor nothing."
This allusion to Skinner's antecedents went home, as Pinchgut intended, and the worthy at whom it was aimed ground his teeth and turned pale Ronald noticed tho change and gestnro, but was not at the timo aware of the reason, for he had never heard that Skinner had been sont out. Not wishing to prolong the interview, Ronald said,
"I never knew my mon to rofuso to answor a civil question, Mr. Skinner ;" then turning to Jupiter, "Here, Jupiter, yon bring all the
bullocks up. Mr. Skinner, avili you wait, or shall I send Magpie into the yard for you ?"
"Oh, send him, plc.vc, Mr. Walton. No doubt the fellows want some reward. I suppose they like rum better tban anything else ?"
He delivered tho obovo bitterly, and avith an insulting glanco at the men. Ronald re- plied,
" I havo nothing whatever to do with the fixing of any gratuity your generosity may suggest, as a reward to my men for the return of your long-lost and troublesome beast. At the same time, I shall not stand between them and your gift It is a matter of indifferonco to mo any way."
Smasher carno forward, and said :
" Look hore, sir ! If I ever drink a drain of rum that comes from his generosity, I hopo it '11 burn my liver and lights out on tho spot."
" Same here !" said Pinchgut.
Tho temper of the two men avos ruffled too much by the insult implied in Skinner's avords nnd manner, to admit of them receiving the smallest recognition of their services at his hands. Skinner withdrew a little from tho camp, dismounted, and sat on a log. The bul- locks were driven up to the drays, and Magpio was released from old Nugget, to thoir mutual satisfaction, no doubt. Skinnor mounted his horse, and avithout a word of parting civility, commenced to run the beast off. Magpio did not approve of being forced to leavo his mates, and repeatedly turned. Skinner, whoso bottled fury was bound to havo vent, becamo moro and more excited each timo the beast dodged him ; but being a good horscmnn, ho soon had the best of ii Magpie, furious with pain from the cuts he bad received on tho noso and other parts of his hido, and half-blinded by sundry cuts over the eyes from the cruel lash of his driver, dashed forward as hard as ho could go, with his tormentor close behind, plying the_ long heavy stock-whip avith groat rapidity, each stroke cutting through hair aud hide, laying bare the flesh. The beast's pace quickened till ho dashed on at a tremendous rate, bellowing avith fear and agony, accom- panied by the awful imprecations of the wretch who hunted him. Ronald and his men looked
on avith mixed feelings of pity and admiration pity for the poor beast, and admiration for the man's fine horsemanship and dexterity. The slip-panel was about half a mile off, but in sight of the drays. -Magpie was running along the fence towards it, and turned in very sud- denly. Skinner's horse did the samo, and at the tame instant the rider aros soen to fall off sideways, the horse continuing on his mud career, bucking delightedly at his sudden and unexpected release from Skinner's weight and strong hand. Ronald jumped on to his horso, and galloped off to see if Skinner was hurt, which he scarcely doubted. Jupiter followed. A sickening eight was there. The girths hal broken with the sudden prop and turn of the hone, and Skinner lay with the saddle still grasped between his knees. His head was smathed out of all shape, his brains bespattering the round post against which he had boou thrown. It was nearly a milo to the hoad Btation, and Ronald told Jupiter to stay avith tho body while lie went in to give information of the accident, and to bring assistance. Tho first man ho met was no other than Jim the Slogger.
" Mr. Skinner is lying dead at the slip-rails.
Come with some help nnd bring him in," said
Jim looked incredulous, but on the wholo not much put out, nnd said,
" I hope you're not taking arise outcf me,
" I never jest on such serious subjeots," said Ronald ; and in a sharp tone of command that left no room for doubt iri the mind of the Sloggor,, ho continued, "Look sharp, now ! Do what I toll you inisiwilly I" (
, Jim went off to a hut where some of Ms mates vere having thoir breakfast.
" How pleased you look, Sloggor. Has the cove let you off that flogging he promised you yesterday? Wish he was in a grave an deep as a coal mino I My back's not healed yet, and he siid I was to oarry in all them slabs as we split yesterday ; and-"
" He'll flog and work no more on us to death," <«d Jim, with a broad grin. " He's stiif."
" Thank God 1 " said one young fellow, who burst into tears of thankfulness and relief.
" Gammon 1 " said another.
"Hurrah ! Threoohoors for old Grim Death ! Tile divil's got his own 1 " shouted another, whirling his hat up to the rafters, for that class of men seldom took off thoir hats at moal-time, or, indeed, at any other time, and often slept in
" Hist, mo boy-houtd yev tonguo, or the cove'Jl be down on ye liko a knifo. It s poking bornck at yez, Jim is. He's not dead-no »ich luck,' I'll go bail," said a little sun-dried fellow,
who was the life and «oui of his mates when the dreaded Skinner waa'out of the way. "Be the Bloued Virgin it'« too good tobe tbiue, so It
" Cone on mitti, it1« t ut, Mr! Walton U
up at the house waiting for us to bring him
r They all started up and looked out Ronald
was just riding down to hurry the men nn, , wondering what could keep them so long.
"The Lord love him!" said Pat. "It's niesolf as would liko to be a man of his. I know him woll."
As soon as they knew that Ronald had brought in the news, and saw him riding towards ' the hut, they all rushed out and learnt the
particulars from lum. Then all hurried off, not out of respect to the dead, as may be supposed from avhat has already been said, but with a greedy curiosity to seo for themselves, and satisfy their minds beyond a doubt. The ghastly corpso was conveyed to tho bedroom it had so lately left, animatod with the once innocent spirit with which God had endowed it.
"Who, and where is your overseer?" asked Ronald, when the corpse was laid down,
" He wint to the Tin-mile Station last night to count the sheep, and the super' told him to sind in ara man as lost a sheep, an' he'd have him flogged an* put on short rations, and thoy're short enough at any time, be the same token. Why, Sam Simpson was sint to his flock with a Bore back tho other day, becase, poor devil ! he had to shepherd, and watch at night too, an' the dingoes got into tho sheop-yard whin he dhropped aslape as he was layin' agin the hurdles watclun' for 'em. Ile tho poworBl Barney Mul roonoy's wake was the beatitifullest spree iver I soen in awld Iroland, but it'll bo like a gill av bad rum to a gallon av raal mountain dew to the shine we'll have over him," pointing to the super's remains.
" For heaven's sake! karo off bringing the man's faults to light, and talk on somo other subject. Ho is post doing you any harm now, and you must recollect that ave shall all have enough to account for. Who is your overseer,
and when do you expect him back ? " ¡
" Bo japors ! y er honour's right. Wo have . onough and to spare to answer for, an' I've been
thinkin' I'd be afthor having him to answor for ' too. Flesh an' blood couldn't havo stood it a j
great whiles longer, at all at all. But we'll lot bygones bo bygones. Rest his s-. No, no, I can't say it, it sticks in mo throat. I don't rightly know when Mr. McArthnr '11 bo homo. When lie goes to town ho gets on tho bust, an'
whon he's on the bust no one knows whon he'll
lave off. Wish I was wid him now-he ain't a I bad sort when the fit's on him."
" You did not tell me avhen you expected tho overseer back, nor what is his namo."
" I beg ycr honour's pardon. May be ye'll excuso a man bein' a bit forgetful at a time of gineral rojoicin' i"
" You aro certainly very brutal," Baid Ronald,
with a frown.
" Ah I yer honour, yo wouldn't thiuk so an' ye knew all. Did yo see what a hide that poor owld magpio bullock Iibb on him ? I don't feel ' brutal' to him-mo heart bleeds for him. Oh ! that-" said Pat, pointing at the same time with his thumb over his shouldor in the direc- tion of the snpor's remains, with an expression of hato ; but with an effort chocking himself in the desire to giving expression to his feelings, ho continued repentantly, " I bog pardon, sir, but yo should see the boys stliripped for a bathe, so yo should, an' ye avouldn't wonder at avhat we says about him," chucking his head again towards the corpso. "Tho overseer's namo is Donald Ross, an' we may seo him back in an hour at
"Is there not a aroman about tho pla?o?" askod Ronald. "Tho last kind offices would bo better performed by one, than by men."
' " Divil an angol av one, sir. Sinco my ould avoman died, three years ngone-iest hor sowl !" and ho crossed himself. "And the good lady Mrs. Mc arthur- a year afthor, there hasn't been ono on the placo. Ah ! sir, them wns the times. We used to bo had up to prayers of tener than up for floggin'. She used to havo her way pretty much then, but since she wint-there's her grave fomiost the garden wall, the Virgin love her !-things has been gettin' worse and worse. No, sir, no women-I avish there was, b'.ciB 'em.
It's a hard lifo widout 'em !"
Pat's sigh, and tho expression of his coun- tenance sheaved that ho was sincere, and that his national lovo for tho sex waa not extin- guished by a life of hardship nnd sorrow, and fast-approaching age. Ho, however, suddenly brightenod, and exclaimed :
" There's Misther Ross comin'. I'll bo either telling him yer avantin' him."
Ho went, and Donald Ross shortly appeared. "Eh, sir ! it's mucklo bad nows I've hearn frae Pat. Hoo did it a' coom to happen ?"
Ronald explained, and the Scot lifted the sheet from the faco of tho corpse. As the ter- rible sight mot his gaze, ho turned pale and ox
"Eh ! By Sir Walter ! It's a awfn' sight !
Ho always swore by tho groat Scotch novolist, and, to his credit be it recorded, no greater oath over passed Mb lips. With his usual caution, he expressed no sorrow, no pleasure, but proceeded
" Wool, woel, he's *gone to that bourne frae which no traa-ellor returns,' as good Rabbio Burna says, an' it's my dooty to tak' tho reens o' government intil my own hands in the abaonce o' my employer. I'll send for him at once. Moyho the messenger 'li moot him on tho avay. I ex poo'ed him before this."
" I do not think I need delay my teams any longer, unless I can assist you in any way," said Ronald; "and as I am anxious to push on, I will »ay good bye, Mr. Ross."
" Thank you kindly, sir, for a' your trouble. Ye canna bring him to life again, an' there's plenty o' us to carry him to his long homo, an' that's nboot a'lhere is to do. But will ye no stay awhile for your own convenience-or is there onything I can gio yo, if ye'll no bide ? "
"No thank you, Mr. Ross, I have everything I requiro, and am anxious to proceed, or I shall not do able to get over the Big Range before dark, and it is not an inviting placo to camp on top of."
Ronald then started, and found his men and teams ready for the road. Three of the Curracurra men were with them, taking advantage of tho first slack time they had had for man/ months. They were discussing the late event, together avith their past life and future prospects. On the whole, they looked forward somewhat hopefully.
_" I suppose oldRoss'll bo super, now," said Jim the Slogger
"Hope he will," said the lad who was the first speaker in the hut avhen the Slogger told
" He ain't a bad sort," said the demonstrative j one who threw his hat up and hurrahed on the same occasion. " He's not so fond of the cat, and doesn't blow us up when we does a fair thing, Uko Murdering Skinner."
All tho men at Curracurra felt liko boys out of school, and did pretty much as they liked till after the funeral, which was of the simplest description ; mid though old Ross made all the men attend, yet was thoro not ono mourner. Ross loft the men to fill the grave in, and as soon as he was out of Bight they all jumped iii and stamped the earth down on the rough coflin till it was as hard as a rock. Then they threw in great atones and another layer of earth, stamping that in also, and so on till the grave was filled in, for, said they, " he shan't rise this «ide of 'ternity, if wo can stop him."