Robbery Under Arms
Part 8 out of 11
We all pulled up at the side of the gully or dry creek, whatever it was,
and jumped off our horses, leaving Warrigal to look after them,
and ran down the rocky sides of it.
`Great God!' Starlight cries out, `what's that?' and he pointed to
a small sloping bit of grass just underneath the bank. `Who are they?
Can they be asleep?'
They were asleep, never to wake. As we stood side by side by the dead men,
for there were four of them, we shook so, Jim and I, that we leaned against
one another for support. We had never seen a sight before that like it.
I never want to do so again.
There they lay, four dead men. We didn't know them ourselves,
but guessed they were Hagan and his lot. How else did they come there?
and how could dad have shot them all by himself, and laid them out there?
Were Daly and Moran with him? This looked like Moran's damnable work.
We looked and looked. I rubbed my eyes. Could it be real?
The sky was dark, and the daylight going fast. The mountain hung over us
black and dreadful-looking. The wind whimpered up and down the hillside
with a sort of cry in it. Everything was dark and dismal
and almost unnatural-looking.
All four men were lying on their backs side by side, with their eyes
staring up to the sky -- staring -- staring! When we got close beside them
we could see they had all been shot -- one man through the head,
the rest through the body. The two nearest to me had had their hands tied;
the bit of rope was lying by one and his wrist was chafed.
One had been so close to the man that shot him that the powder
had burnt his shirt. It wasn't for anything they had either,
for every man's notes (and one had four fives and some ones)
were pinned to them outside of their pockets, as if to show every one
that those who killed them wanted their blood and not their money.
`This is a terrible affair, boys,' said Starlight; and his voice sounded
strange and hoarse. `I never thought we should be mixed up with
a deed like this. I see how it was done. They have been led into a trap.
Your father has made 'em think they could catch him; and had Daly and Moran
waiting for them -- one on each side of this hole here.
Warrigal' -- for he had tied up his horse and crept up -- `how many bin here?'
Warrigal held up three fingers.
`That one ran down here -- one after one. I see 'em boot. Moran stand here.
Patsey Daly lie down behind that ole log. All about boot-nail mark.
Old man Ben he stand here. Dog bite'm this one.'
Here he stooped and touched a dead man's ankle. Sure enough
there was the mark of Crib's teeth, with the front one missing,
that had been kicked down his throat by a wild mare.
`Two fellow tumble down fust-like; then two fellow bimeby.
One -- two -- three fellow track go along a flat that way.
Then that one get two horses and ridem likit Fish River.
Penty blood tumble down here.'
This was the ciphering up of the whole thing. It was clear enough now.
Moran and Daly had waited for them here, and had shot down the two first men.
Of the others, it was hard to say whether they died in fair fight
or had been taken prisoners and shot afterwards. Either way
it was bad enough. What a noise it would make! The idea of four men,
well known to the Government, and engaged in hunting down outlaws
on whose head a price was set, to be deliberately shot --
murdered in cold blood, as there was some ground for thinking to be the case.
What would be the end of it all?
We had done things that were bad enough, but a deliberate, cold-blooded,
shameful piece of bloodshed like this had never been heard of
in New South Wales before.
There was nothing more to be done. We couldn't stay any longer looking at
the dead men; it was no use burying them, even if we'd had the time.
We hadn't done it, though we should be sure to be mixed up with it somehow.
`We must be moving, lads,' said Starlight. `As soon as this gets wind
there'll be another rush out this way, and every policeman
and newspaper reporter in the country will be up at Black Gully.
When they're found everybody will see that they've been killed for vengeance
and not for plunder. But the sooner they're found the better.'
`Best send word to Billy the Boy,' I said; `he'll manage to lay them on
without hurting himself.'
`All right. Warrigal knows a way of communicating with him;
I'll send him off at once. And now the sooner we're at the Hollow
the better for everybody.'
We rode all night. Anything was better than stopping still
with such thoughts as we were likely to have for companions.
About daylight we got to the Hollow. Not far from the cave
we found father's old mare with the saddle on and the reins trailing
on the ground. There was a lot of blood on the saddle too,
and the reins were smeared all about with it; red they were to the buckles,
so was her mane.
We knew then something was wrong, and that the old man was hard hit,
or he'd never have let her go loose like that. When we got to the cave
the dog came out to meet us, and then walked back whining in a queer way
towards the log at the mouth, where we used to sit in the evenings.
There was father, sure enough, lying on his face in a pool of blood,
and to all appearances as dead as the men we'd just left.
We lifted him up, and Starlight looked close and careful at him
by the light of the dawn, that was just showing up over the tree tops
to the east.
`He's not dead; I can feel his heart beat,' he said. `Carry him in, boys,
and we'll soon see what's the matter with him.'
We took his waistcoat and shirt off -- a coat he never wore unless
it was raining. Hard work we had to do it, they was so stuck to his skin
when the blood had dried.
`By gum! he's been hit bad enough,' says Jim. `Look here, and here,
poor old dad!'
`There's not much "poor" about it, Jim,' says Starlight.
`Men that play at bowls must expect to get rubbers. They've come off
second best in this row, and I wish it had been different,
for several reasons.'
Dad was hit right through the top of the left shoulder.
The ball had gone through the muscle and lodged somewhere.
We couldn't see anything of it. Another bullet had gone right through him,
as far as we could make out, under the breast on the right-hand side.
`That looks like a good-bye shot,' says Starlight; `see how the blood
comes welling out still; but it hasn't touched the lungs.
There's no blood on his lips, and his breathing is all right.
What's this? Only through the muscle of the right arm. That's nothing;
and this graze on the ribs, a mere scratch. Dash more water in his face, Jim.
He's coming to.'
After a few minutes he did come to, sure enough, and looked round
when he found himself in bed.
`Where am I?' says he.
`You're at home,' I said, `in the Hollow.'
`Dashed if I ever thought I'd get here,' he says. `I was that bad
I nearly tumbled off the old mare miles away. She must have carried me in
while I was unsensible. I don't remember nothing after we began
to get down the track into the Hollow. Where is she?'
`Oh! we found her near the cave, with the saddle and bridle on.'
`That's all right. Bring me a taste of grog, will ye;
I'm a'most dead with thirst. Where did I come from last, I wonder?
Oh, I seem to know now. Settling accounts with that ---- dog
that insulted my gal. Moran got square with t'other. That'll learn 'em
to leave old Ben Marston alone when he's not meddling with them.'
`Never mind talking about that now,' I said. `You had a near shave of it,
and it will take you all your time to pull through now.'
`I wasn't hit bad till just as I was going to drop down into Black Gully,'
he said. `I stood one minute, and that cursed wretch Hagan
had a steady shot at me. I had one at him afterwards, though,
with his hands tied, too.'
`God forgive you!' says Jim, `for shooting men in cold blood.
I couldn't do it for all the gold in Turon, nor for no other reason.
It'll bring us bad luck, too; see if it don't.'
`You're too soft, Jim,' says the old man. `You ain't a bad chap;
but any young fellow of ten years old can buy and sell you.
Where's that brandy and water?'
`Here it is,' says Jim; `and then you lie down and take a sleep.
You'll have to be quiet and obey orders now -- that is
if a few more years' life's any good to you.'
The brandy and water fetched him to pretty well, but after that he began
to talk, and we couldn't stop him. Towards night he got worse and worse
and his head got hotter, and he kept on with all kinds of nonsense,
screeching out that he was going to be hung and they were waiting
to take him away, but if he could get the old mare he'd be all right;
besides a lot of mixed-up things about cattle and horses
that we didn't know the right of.
Starlight said he was delirious, and that if he hadn't some one to nurse him
he'd die as sure as fate. We couldn't be always staying with him,
and didn't understand what was to be done much. We didn't like
to let him lie there and die, so at long last we made up our minds
to see if we could get Aileen over to nurse him for a few weeks.
Well, we scribbled a bit of a letter and sent Warrigal off with it.
Wasn't it dangerous for him? Not a bit of it. He could go anywhere
all over the whole country, and no trooper of them all could manage
to put the bracelets on him. The way he'd work it would be
to leave his horse a good way the other side of George Storefield's,
and to make up as a regular blackfellow. He could do that first-rate,
and talk their lingo, too, just like one of themselves.
Gin or blackfellow, it was all the same to Warrigal.
He could make himself as black as soot, and go barefooted
with a blanket or a 'possum rug round him and beg for siccapence,
and nobody'd ever bowl him out. He took us in once at the diggings;
Jim chucked him a shilling, and told him to go away and not come bothering
So away Warrigal went, and we knew he'd get through somehow.
He was one of those chaps that always does what they're told,
and never comes back and says they can't do it, or they've lost their horse,
or can't find the way, or they'd changed their mind, or something.
No; once he'd started there was no fear of him not scoring somehow or other.
Whatever Starlight told him to do, day or night, foul weather or fair,
afoot or on horseback, that thing was done if Warrigal was alive to do it.
What we'd written to Aileen was telling her that father was that bad
we hardly thought he'd pull through, and that if she wanted to save his life
she must come to the Hollow and nurse him.
How to get her over was not the easiest thing in the world,
but she could ride away on her old pony without anybody thinking
but she was going to fetch up the cows, and then cut straight up the gully
to the old yard in the scrub on Nulla Mountain. One of us
would meet her there with a fresh horse and bring her safe into the Hollow.
If all went well she would be there in the afternoon on a certain day;
anyhow we'd be there to meet her, come or no come.
She wouldn't fail us, we were dead sure. She had suffered a lot
by him and us too; but, like most women, the very moment anything happened
to any of us, even to dad, everything flew out of her head,
except that we were sick or sorry and wanted her help. Help, of course;
wasn't she willing to give that, and her rest and comfort,
health, even life itself, to wear herself out, hand and foot,
for any one of her own family?
So poor Aileen made her way up all alone to the old scrub stockyard.
Jim and I had ridden up to it pretty early (he wouldn't stop behind)
with a nice, well-bred little horse that had shone a bit at country races
for her to ride on. We waited there a goodish while, we lying down
and our horses hung up not far off for fear we might be `jumped' by the police
at any time.
At last we sees the old pony's head coming bobbing along through the scrub
along the worn-out cattle track, grown up as it was, and sure enough
there was Aileen on him, with her gray riding skirt and an old felt hat on.
She'd nothing with her; she was afraid to bring a ha'porth of clothes
or anything for fear they should any of 'em tumble that she was going
a long way, and, perhaps, follow her up. So she had to hand that over
to Warrigal, and trust to him to bring it on some way or other.
We saw her before she saw us, and Jim gave a whistle just as he used to do
when he was coming home late at night. She knew it at once, and a smile
for a minute came over her pale face; such a sad sort of one it was too,
as if she was wondering at herself that she could feel that pleased
Whatever thoughts was in her mind, she roused up the old pony,
and came towards us quick as soon as she catches sight of us.
In two seconds Jim had lifted her down in his strong arms,
and was holding her off the ground and hugging her as if she'd been a child.
How the tears ran down her cheeks, though all the time she was kissing him
with her arms round his neck; and me too, when I came up,
just as if we were boys and girls again.
After a bit she wiped her eyes, and said --
`Very bad,' I said; `off his head, and raving. It'll be
a close thing with him. Here's your horse now, and a good one too.
We must let the old pony go; he'll make home fast enough.'
She patted his neck and we turned him loose. He slued round
and went away steady, picking a bit as he went. He'd be home next day
easy enough, and nobody the wiser where he'd been to.
We'd brought a bit to eat and a glass of wine for the girl
in case she was faint, but she wouldn't take anything
but a crust of bread and a drink of water. There was a spring
that ran all the year round near the cattle-yard; and off went we,
old Lieutenant holding up his head and showing himself off.
He didn't get such a rider on his back every day.
`What a dear horse,' she said, as she pulled him together a bit like
and settled herself fair and square in the saddle. `Oh, how I could
enjoy all this if -- if ---- O my God! shall we ever know
a moment's peace and happiness in this world again? Are we always to be sunk
in wretchedness and misery as long as we live?'
We didn't lose much time after that, you be sure. Up and down,
thick and open, rough or smooth, we made the pace good,
and Aileen gave us all we knew to keep ahead of her. We had a good light
when we got to the drop down into the Hollow. The sun was just setting,
and if we'd had time or thought to give to the looks of things,
no doubt it was a grand sight.
All the Hollow was lighted up, and looked like a green sea
with islands of trees in it. The rock towers on the other side of the range
were shining and glittering like as if they were made of crystallised
quartz or diamonds -- red and white. There was a sort of mist
creeping up the valley at the lower end under the mountain
that began to soften the fire colours, and mix them up like.
Even the mountain, that mostly looked black and dreary, frowning at our ways,
was of purple and gold, with pale shadows of green and gray.
Aileen pulled up as we did, and jumped off our horses.
`So this is the Hollow,' she said, half talking to herself,
`that I've heard and thought so much about. What a lovely, lovely place!
Surely it ought to have a different effect on the people that lived there.'
`Better come off, Ailie, and lead your horse down here,' says Jim,
`unless you want to ride down, like Starlight did, the first time we saw him.'
`Starlight! is he here?' she said, in a surprised sort of way.
`I never thought of that.'
`Of course he is; where else should he be? Why don't you lead on, Dick?'
`Won't you get off? It's not altogether safe,' I said,
`though Lieutenant's all right on his old pins.'
`Safe!' she said, with a bitter sort of laugh. `What does it matter
if a Marston girl does break her neck, or her heart either?'
She never said another word, but sat upright with a set face on her,
as the old horse picked his way down after ours, and except
when he put his foot on a rolling stone, never made a slip or a stumble
all the way down, though it was like going down the side of a house.
When we got to the valley we put on a spurt to the cave, and found Warrigal
sitting on the log in front of us. He'd got home first, of course,
and there was Aileen's bundle, a biggish one too, alongside of him.
We could hear father raving and screaming out inside dreadful.
Starlight wasn't nigh hand anywhere. He had walked off when Warrigal
came home, and left him to watch the old man.
`He been like that all the time, Warrigal?'
`No! Captain say big one sleep. Him give him medicine like;
then wake up and go on likit that. I believe him bad along a cobra.'
Aileen had jumped off her horse and gone in to the old man
the moment we came up and she heard his voice.
All that long night we could hear him talking to himself,
groaning, cursing, shouting, arguing. It was wonderful how a man
who talked so little as father could have had so many thoughts in his mind.
But then they all are boxed up together in every man's heart.
At a time like this they come racing and tumbling out
like a flock of sheep out of a yard when the hurdle's down.
What a dashed queer thing human nature is when you come to think of it.
That a man should be able to keep his tongue quiet, and shut the door on
all the sounds and images and wishes that goes racing about inside of his mind
like wild horses in a paddock!
One day he'll be smiling and sensible, looking so honest all the time.
Next day a knock on the head or a little vein goes crack in the brain
(as the doctor told me); then the rails are down, and everything comes out
with a rush into the light of day -- right and wrong, foul and fair,
station brands and clearskins, it don't make no difference.
Father was always one of the closest men that ever lived.
He never told us much about his old life at home or after he came out here.
Now he was letting drop things here and there that helped us to a few secrets
he'd never told to no man. They made poor Aileen a bit more miserable
than she'd been before, if that was possible; but it didn't matter much to us.
We were pretty tired ourselves that night, and so we got Aileen
all she wanted, and left her alone with him.
While we were away to meet her some one had taken the trouble
to put up a bit of a partition, separating that part of the cave
from the other; it was built up of stone -- there was plenty about --
and not so roughly done either. It made Aileen feel a lot more comfortable.
Of course there was only one man who could have done it;
and that was Starlight.
Towards morning father went into a heavy sleep; he didn't wake
till the afternoon. Poor Aileen was able to get a doze and change her dress.
After breakfast, while we were having a bit of a chat, in walks Starlight.
He bowed to Aileen quite respectful, as he always did to a woman,
and then shook hands with her.
`Welcome to the Hollow, Miss Marston,' he said. `I can't say how charmed I am
in one sense, though I regret the necessity which brought you here.'
`I'm glad to come, and only for poor father's being so bad
I could delight in the life here.'
`How do you find your father?'
`He is asleep now, and perhaps the rest will do him good.'
`He may awake free from fever,' says Starlight. `I took the risk
of giving him an opiate before you came, and I think the result
has been favourable.'
`Oh! I hope he will be better when he wakes,' says Aileen,
`and that I shall not have to watch through another dreadful night of raving.
I can hardly bear it.'
`You must make your brothers take their share; it's not fair to you.'
`Thank you; but I feel as if I couldn't leave him to anybody but myself.
He seems so weak now; a little neglect might kill him.'
`Pardon me, Miss Marston; you overrate the danger. Depend upon it,
your respected parent will be quite a different man in a week,
though it may be a month or more before he is fully recovered.
You don't know what a constitution he has.'
`You have given me fresh hope,' she said. `I feel quite cheered up --
that is' (and she sighed) `if I could be cheerful again about anything.'
Here she walked into the cave and sat down by father to watch till he awoke,
and we all went out about our daily work, whatever it was --
nothing very wonderful, I daresay, but it kept us from thinking.
Starlight was right. As luck would have it, father woke up a deal better
than when he laid down. The fever had gone away, his head was right again,
and he began to ask for something to eat -- leastways to drink, first.
But Aileen wouldn't give him any of that, and very little to eat.
Starlight had told her what to do in case he wanted what wasn't good for him,
and as she was pretty middling obstinate, like himself, she took her own ways.
After this he began to get right; it wasn't easy to kill old dad.
He seemed to be put together with wire and whip-cord;
not made of flesh and blood like other men. I don't wonder
old England's done so much and gone so far with her soldiers and sailors
if they was bred like him. It's my notion if they was caught young,
kept well under command, and led by men they respected,
a regiment or a man-of-war's crew like him would knock smoke
out of any other thousand men the world could put up. More's the pity
there ain't some better way of keeping 'em straight than there is.
He was weak for a bit -- very weak; he'd lost a deal of blood;
and, try how he would, he couldn't stand up long at a time,
and had to give in and lie down in spite of himself. It fretted him a deal,
of course; he'd never been on his back before, and he couldn't put up with it.
Then his temper began to show again, and Aileen had a deal
to bear and put up with.
We'd got a few books, and there was the papers, of course, so she used to
read to him by the hour together. He was very fond of hearing about things,
and, like a good many men that can't read and write, he was clever enough
in his own way. When she'd done all the newspapers -- they were old ones
(we took care not to get any fresh ones, for fear she'd see about
Hagan and the others) -- she used to read about battles and sea-fights to him;
he cared about them more than anything, and one night,
after her reading to him about the battle of Trafalgar, he turned round to her
and says, `I ought to have been in that packet, Ailie, my girl.
I was near going for a sailor once, on board a man-o'-war, too.
I tried twice to get away to sea, that was before I'd snared my first hare,
and something stopped me both times. Once I was fetched back and flogged,
and pretty nigh starved. I never did no good afterwards.
But it's came acrost me many and many a time that I'd been
a different sort o' chap if I'd had my will then. I was allays fond o' work,
and there couldn't be too much fightin' for me; so a man-o'-war in those days
would have been just the thing to straighten me. That was the best chance
I ever had. Well, I don't say as I haven't had others --
plenty in this country, and good ones too; but it was too late -- I'd got set.
When a man's young, that's the time he can be turned right way or wrong.
It's none so easy afterwards.'
He went to sleep then, and Aileen said that was the only time
he ever spoke to her in that way. We never heard him talk like that,
nor nobody else, I expect.
If we could have got some things out of our heads, that was
the pleasantest time ever we spent in the Hollow. After father
could be left by himself for a few hours we got out the horses,
and used to take Aileen out for long rides all over the place, from one end
to the other. It did her good, and we went to every hole and corner in it.
She was never tired of looking at the great rock towers,
as we used to call 'em, where the sandstone walls hung over,
just like the pictures of castles, till, Starlight said, in the evenings
you could fancy you saw flags waving and sentinels walking up and down
One afternoon we went out to the place where the old hermit
had lived and died. We walked over his old garden, and talked about
the box we'd dug up, and all the rest of it. Starlight came with us,
and he persuaded Aileen to ride Rainbow that day, and, my word,
they made a splendid pair.
She'd dressed herself up that afternoon just a little bit more than common,
poor thing, and put a bit of pink ribbon on and trimmed up her hat,
and looked as if she began to see a little more interest in things.
It didn't take much to make her look nice, particularly on horseback.
Her habit fitted her out and out, and she had the sort of figure that,
when a girl can ride well, and you see her swaying, graceful and easy-like,
to every motion of a spirited horse, makes you think her handsomer
than any woman can look on the ground. We rode pretty fast always,
and it brought a bit of colour to her face. The old horse
got pulling and prancing a bit, though he was that fine-tempered
he'd carry a child almost, and Jim and I thought we hadn't seen her
look like herself before this for years past.
It was a beautiful warm evening, though summer was over,
and we were getting into the cold nights and sharp mornings again,
just before the regular winter weather. There was going to be a change,
and there were a few clouds coming up from the north-west; but for all that
it had been quite like a spring day. The turf on all the flats in the Hollow
was splendid and sound. The grass had never been cut up
with too heavy stocking (which ruins half the country, I believe),
and there was a good thick undergrowth underneath. We had two or three
little creeks to cross, and they were pretty full, except at
the crossing places, and rippled over the stones and sparkled in the sun
like the brooks we'd heard tell of in the old country. Everything was
so quiet, and bright and happy-looking, that we could hardly fancy
we were the men we were; and that all this wild work had been going on
outside of the valley that looked so peaceful and innocent.
There was Starlight riding alongside of Aileen on his second-best horse,
and he was no commoner either (though he didn't come up to Rainbow,
nor no other horse I ever saw), talking away in his pleasant, easy-going way.
You'd think he hadn't got a thing to trouble him in the world.
She, for a wonder, was smiling, and seemed to be enjoying herself
for once in a way, with the old horse arching his neck,
and spinning along under her as light as a greyhound, and as smooth as oil.
It was something like a pleasant ride. I never forgot that evening,
and I never shall.
We rode up to the ruined hut of the solitary man who had lived there so long,
and watched the sun go down so often behind the rock towers
from his seat under the big peach tree.
`What a wonderful thing to think of!' Aileen says, as she slipped down
off her side-saddle.
We dismounted, too, and hung up our horses.
`Only to think that he was living here before we were born, or father came
to Rocky Flat. Oh! if we could have come here when we were little
how we should have enjoyed it! It would have seemed fairyland to us.'
`It always astonishes me,' said Starlight, `how any human being
can consent to live, year after year, the same life in the same place.
I should go mad half-a-dozen times over. Change and adventure
are the very breath of my nostrils.'
`He had the memory of his dead wife to keep him,' said Aileen.
`Her spirit soothed the restless heart that would have wandered
far into the wilds again.'
`It may be so,' said Starlight dreamily. `I have known no such influences.
An outlaw I, by forest laws, almost since the days of my boyhood,
I shall be so till the day of my death,' he added.
`If I were a man I should go everywhere,' said Aileen,
her eyes sparkling and her face regular lighted up.
`I have never been anywhere or seen anything, hardly so much as a church,
a soldier, a shop-window, or the sea, begging his pardon for putting him last.
But oh! what a splendid thing to be rich; no, not that altogether,
but to be able to go wherever you liked, and have enough not to be troubled
`To be free, and have a mind at ease; it doesn't seem so much,'
said Starlight, talking almost to himself; `and yet how we fools and madmen
shut ourselves out of it for ever, for ever, sometimes by
a single act of folly, hardly crime. That comes after.'
`The sun is going down behind the great rock tower,' Aileen says,
as if she hadn't heard him. Perhaps she didn't. When people have
a lot on their minds they're half their time thinking their own thoughts.
`How all the lovely colours are fading away. Life seems so much like that --
a little brightness, then gray twilight, night and darkness so soon after.'
`Now and then there's a star; you must admit that, Miss Marston,' says he,
cheerful and pleasant again; he was never down for long at a time.
`And there's that much-abused luminary, the moon; you'll see her
before we get home. We're her sworn votaries and worshippers, you know.'
We had to ride a bit to get home with any kind of light,
for we didn't want father to be growling or kicking up a row with Warrigal
that we left to look after him. But a few miles didn't matter much
on such a road, and with horses in such buckle as ours.
The stars came out after a while, and the sky was that clear, without a cloud
in it, that it was a better light to ride by than the moon throws.
Jim and I sometimes rode on one side and sometimes the other; but there was
old Rainbow always in the lead, playing with his bit and arching his neck,
and going with Aileen's light weight on him as if he could go on all night
at the same pace and think nothing of it; and I believe he could.
When we got home dad was grumpy, and wondered what we wanted
riding the horses about when there was nothing to do and nothing to see.
But Warrigal had made him a pot of tea, and he was able to smoke now;
so he wasn't so bad after all. We made ourselves pretty comfortable
-- Aileen said she'd got a good appetite, for a wonder --
and we sat chatting round the fire and talking away quite like old days
till the moon was pretty high.
Father didn't get well all at once. He went back twice because he would try
to do too much, and wouldn't be said by Starlight or Aileen either when
he took a thing into his head; then he'd have to be nursed and looked after
day and night again just the same as ever. So it took near a month
before he was regularly on his pins again, and going about as he did
before he was hit. His right arm was a bit stiff, too;
it used to pain and make him swear awful now and again.
Anyhow, Aileen made us that comfortable and happy while she was there,
we didn't care how long he took getting well.
Those were out and out the pleasantest days we ever spent in the Hollow --
the best time almost Jim and I had had since we were boys. Nearly every day
we rode out in the afternoon, and there wasn't a hole or corner,
a spring or a creek inside the walls of the old Hollow
that we didn't show Aileen. She was that sort of girl she took
an interest in everything; she began to know all the horses and cattle
as well as we did ourselves. Rainbow was regular given up to her,
and the old horse after a bit knew her as well as his master.
I never seen a decent horse that didn't like to have a woman on his back;
that is, if she was young and lissom and could ride a bit. They seem to know,
in a sort of way. I've seen horses that were no chop for a man to ride,
and that wouldn't be particular about bucking you off if the least thing
started them, but went as quiet as mice with a girl on their backs.
So Aileen used to make Rainbow walk and amble his best,
so that all the rest of us, when she did it for fun, had to jog.
Then she'd jump him over logs or the little trickling deep creeks
that ran down to the main water; or she'd pretend to have a race
and go off full gallop, riding him at his best for a quarter of a mile;
then he'd pull up as easy as if he'd never gone out of a walk.
`How strange all this is,' she said one day; `I feel as if I were living
on an island. It's quite like playing at "Robinson Crusoe",
only there's no sea. We don't seem to be able to get out all the same.
It's a happy, peaceful life, too. Why can't we keep on for ever like this,
and shut out the wicked, sorrowful world altogether?'
`Quite of your opinion, Miss Marston; why should we ever change?'
says Starlight, who was sitting down with the rest of us by the side
of our biggest river. We had been fishing all the afternoon and done well.
`Let us go home no more; I am quite contented. But what about poor Jim?
He looks sadder every day.'
`He is fretting for his wife, poor fellow, and I don't wonder.
You are one of those natures that never change, Jim; and if you don't
get away soon, or see some chance of rejoining her, you will die.
How you are to do it I don't know.'
`I am bound to make a try next month,' says Jim. `If I don't do
something towards it I shall go mad.'
`You could not do a wiser thing,' says Starlight, `in one way,
or more foolish thing in another. Meantime, why should we not make the best
of the pleasant surroundings with which Nature provides us here --
green turf, sparkling water, good sport, and how bright a day!
Could we be more favoured by Fortune, slippery dame that she is?
It is an Australian Decameron without the naughty stories.'
`Do you know, sometimes I really think I am enjoying myself,' said Aileen,
half to herself, `and then I feel that it must be a dream.
Such dreadful things are waiting for me -- for us all.'
Then she shuddered and trembled.
She did not know the most dreadful thing of all yet. We had carefully
kept it from her. We chanced its not reaching her ears until after she had
got home safe and had time to grieve over it all by herself.
We had a kind of feeling somehow that us four might never meet again
in the same way, or be able to enjoy one another's company for a month,
without fear of interruption, again, as long as we lived.
So we all made up our minds, in spite of the shadow of evil
that would crawl up now and then, to enjoy each other's company
while it lasted, and make the best of it.
Starlight for all that seemed altered like, and every now and then
he'd go off with Warrigal and stay away from daylight to dark.
When he did come he'd sit for hours with his hands before him and never say
a word to any one. I saw Aileen watch him when he looked like that,
not that she ever said anything, but pretended to take it
as a matter of course.
Other times he'd be just as much the other way. He'd read to her,
and he had a good many books, poetry, and all kinds of things stowed away
in the part of the cave he called his own. And he'd talk about
other countries that he'd been in, and the strange people he'd seen,
by the hour together, while she would sit listening and looking at him,
hardly saying a thing, and regular bound up in his words.
And he could talk once he was set agoing. I never saw a man
that could come up to him.
Aileen wasn't one of those sort of girls that took a fancy
to any good-looking sort of fellow that came across her. Quite the other way.
She seemed to think so little about it that Jim and I always used to say
she'd be an old maid, and never marry at all. And she used to say
she didn't think she ever would. She never seemed to trouble her head
about the thing at all, but I always knew that if ever she did set her fancy
upon a man, and take a liking to him, it would not be for a year or two,
but for ever. Though she'd mother's good heart and softness about her,
she'd a dash of dad's obstinacy in her blood, and once she made up her mind
about anything she wasn't easy turned.
Jim and I could see clear enough that she was taking to Starlight;
but then so many women had done that, had fallen in love with him
and had to fall out again -- as far as we could see.
He used to treat them all alike -- very kind and respectful,
but like a lot of children. What was the use of a wife to him?
`No,' he said, once or twice, `I can bear my fate, because my blood
does not run in the veins of a living soul in Australia. If it were otherwise
I could not bear my reflections. As it is, the revolver has more than once
nearly been asked to do me last service.'
Though both Aileen and he seemed to like each other, Jim and I never thought
there was anything in it, and let them talk and ride and walk together
just as they pleased. Aileen always had a good word for Starlight,
and seemed to pity him so for having to lead such a life,
and because he said he had no hope of ever getting free from it.
Then, of course, there was a mystery about him. Nobody knew who he'd been,
or almost where he had come from -- next to nothing about him
had ever come out. He was an Englishman -- that was certain --
but he must have come young to the colony. No one could
look at him for a moment and see his pale, proud face, his dark eyes
-- half-scornful, half-gloomy, except when he was set up a bit
(and then you didn't like to look at them at all) -- without seeing
that he was a gentleman to the tips of his delicate-looking fingers,
no matter what he'd done, or where he'd been.
He was rather over the middle size; because he was slight made,
he always looked rather tall than not. He was tremendous strong, too,
though he didn't look that, and as active as a cat, though he moved
as if walking was too much trouble altogether, and running
not to be thought of.
We didn't expect it would do either of 'em much good. How could it,
even if they did fall in love with one another and make it up to get married?
But they were both able to take care of themselves, and it was no use
interfering with 'em either. They weren't that sort.
Starlight had plenty of money, besides his share of the gold.
If we could ever get away from this confounded rock-walled prison,
good as it was in some ways; and if he and Aileen and the rest of us
could make a clean dart of it and get to America, we could live there
free and happy yet, in spite of all that had come and gone.
Aileen wasn't like to leave poor old mother as long as she wanted her,
so it couldn't come off for a year or two at earliest,
and many things were sure to happen in the meanwhile.
So we let all the talking and walking and riding out in the evening go on
as much as they pleased, and never said anything or seemed to take
any notice at all about it.
All this time mother was at George Storefield's. When Aileen
ran over that time, he said it wasn't fit for them to live at Rocky Flat
by themselves. So he went over that very day -- like a good fellow,
as he was -- and brought over the old woman, and made them both
stay at his house, safe and comfortable. When Aileen said
she had to go away to nurse dad he said he would take care of mother
till she came back, and so she'd been there all the time.
She knew Mrs. Storefield (George's mother) well in the old times;
so they used to sit by the kitchen fire when they wanted to be
extra comfortable, and knit stockings and talk over the good old times
to their hearts' content.
If it hadn't been for old Mrs. Storefield I don't expect mother
would have contented herself there -- the cottage was got so grand,
Aileen told us, and Gracey had to dress a bit now. George had kept on
making more money in every way he tried it, and of course he began,
bit by bit, to live according to his means.
He'd bought cattle-stations on the Lachlan just when the gold broke out first,
and everybody thought station property was never going
to be worth nothing again. Now, since cattle had risen and meat and all
to such a price, he was making money hand over fist. More than that,
as I said before, he'd been made a magistrate, and all the swells
began to take notice of him -- not altogether because he'd made money either;
what I call the real swells, as far as I see, won't do that.
If they don't care for a man -- no matter how much money he's made --
they hold shy of him. But if he's a straight-going good sort of fellow,
that has his head screwed on the right way, and don't push himself forward
too much, they'll meet him half-way, and a very good thing too.
We could see George was going upwards and out of our lot,
beginning to mix with different people and get different notions --
not but what he was always kind and friendly in his way to Aileen and mother,
and would have been to us if he'd ever seen us. But all his new friends
were different kind of people, and after a bit, Aileen said,
we'd only be remembered as people he'd known when he was young,
and soon, when the old lady died, we'd be asked into the kitchen
and not into the parlour. Aileen used to laugh when she talked like this,
and say she'd come and see George when he'd married a lady,
and what fun it would be to remind Gracey of the time
they threshed the oats out together at Rocky Flat. But still, laugh and all,
I could see, though she talked that way, it made her feel wretched
all the while, because she couldn't help thinking that we ought to have done
just as well as George, and might have been nigh-hand as far forward
if we'd kept straight. If we'd only kept straight! Ah, there was where
the whole mistake lay.
It often seems to me as if men and women ought to have two lives
-- an old one and a new one -- one to repent of the other;
the first one to show men what they ought to keep clear of in the second.
When you think how foolish-like and childish man or woman commits
their first fault, not so bad in itself, but enough often
to shut them out from nearly all their chances of good in this world,
it does seem hardish that one life should end all under the sun.
Of course, there's the other, and we don't know what's coming,
but there's so many different notions about that a chap like me gets puzzled,
and looks on it as out of his line altogether.
We weren't sorry to have a little excuse to stop quiet at home for this month.
We couldn't have done no good by mooching about, and ten to one,
while the chase was so hot after all that were supposed to have had a hand
in rubbing out Hagan and his lot, we should have been dropped upon.
The whole country was alive with scouting parties, as well as the regulars.
You'd have thought the end of the world was come. Father couldn't have done
a better thing for himself and all of us than get hit as he did.
It kept him and us out of harm's way, and put them off the scent,
while they hunted Moran and Burke and the rest of their lot for their lives.
They could hardly get a bit of damper out of a shepherd's hut
without it being known to the police, and many a time they got off
by the skin of their teeth.
At last father got well, and said he didn't see what good Aileen could do
stopping any longer in the Hollow, unless she meant to follow up bush-ranging
for a living. She'd better go back and stay along with her mother.
If George Storefield liked to have 'em there, well and good;
things looked as if it wasn't safe now for a man's wife and daughter,
and if he'd got into trouble, to live peaceable and quiet in their own house.
He didn't think they need be afraid of any one interfering with them
for the future, though. Here dad looked so dark that Aileen began to think
he was going to be ill again. We'd all start and go a bit of the way with her
next day -- to the old stockyard or a bit farther; she could ride from there,
and take the horse back with her and keep him if she liked.
`You've been a good gal to me,' he says to her; `you always was one;
and your mother's been a good woman and a good wife; tell her I said so.
I'd no call to have done the things I have, or left home
because it wasn't tidy and clean and a welcome always when I came back.
It's been rough on her, and on you too, my gal; and if it'll do her any good,
tell her I'm dashed sorry. You can take this trifle of money.
You needn't boggle at it; it's honest got and earned,
long before this other racket. Now you can go. Kiss your old dad;
like as not you won't see him again.'
We'd got the horses in. I lifted her up on to the saddle, and she rode out.
Her horse was all on the square, so there was no harm in her taking him
back with her, and off we went. Dad didn't go after all. We took it easy
out to the old stockyard. We meant to camp there for half-an-hour,
and then to send her on, with Warrigal to keep with her and show her
the way home.
We didn't want to make the time too short. What a lovely day it was!
The mountain sides were clogged up with mist for an hour after we started;
still, any one that knew the climate would have said it was going to be
a fine day. There wasn't a breath of air; everything was that still
that not a leaf on any of the trees so much as stirred.
When we came to the pass out of the valley, we none of us got off;
it was better going up than coming down, and it would have tired Aileen out
at the start to walk up. So the horses had to do their climbing.
It didn't matter much to them. We were all used to it, horses and riders.
Jim and I went first, then Warrigal, then Aileen and Starlight.
After we got up to the top we all stopped and halted a bit to look round.
Just then, as if he'd waited for us, the sun came out
from behind the mountain; the mists lifted and rolled away
as if they had been gray curtains. Everything showed clear out
like a playhouse, the same Jim and I used to see in Melbourne.
From where we stood you could see everything, the green valley flats
with the big old trees in clumps, some of 'em just the same
as they'd been planted. The two little river-like silver threads winding away
among the trees, and far on the opposite side the tall gray rock-towers
shining among the forest edges of the high green wall. Somehow the sun
wasn't risen enough to light up the mountain. It looked as black and dismal
as if it was nightfall coming on.
`Good-bye, old Hollow!' Aileen called out, waving her hand.
`Everything looks bright and beautiful except the mountain.
How gloomy it appears, as if it held some dreadful secret -- doesn't it?
Ah! what a pleasant time it has been for me. Am I the same Aileen Marston
that went in there a few weeks since? And now I suppose
there will be more misery and anxiety waiting for all of us when I get back.
Well, come what will, I have had a little happiness on this earth.
In heaven there must be rest.'
We all rode on, but none of us seemed to care to say much.
Every step we went seemed to be taking us away from the place
where we'd all been so happy together. The next change was sure to be
for the worse. What it would be, or when it would come,
we none of us could tell.
Starlight and Aileen rode together most of the way, and talked a good deal,
we could see. Before we got to the stockyard she rode over to Jim
and cheered him up as much as she could about Jeanie. She said she'd write
to her, and tell her all about him, and how happy we'd all been
together lately; and tell her that Jim would find some way to get down to her
this spring, if he could manage it any road.
`If I'm above ground, tell her I'll be with her,' says poor old Jim,
`before Christmas. If she don't see me then I'll be dead,
and she may put on black and make sure she's a widow.'
`Oh, come, you mustn't talk like that, Jim, and look to the bright side a bit.
There's a good chance yet, now the country's so full of diggers
and foreigners. You try your luck, and you'll see your wife yet.'
Then she came to me, and talked away just like old times.
`You're the eldest, Dick,' she said, `and so it's proper for me
to say what I'm going to say.' Then she told me all that was in her heart
about Starlight. He and she had made it up that if he could get away
to a foreign country she would join him there, and take mother with her.
There was to be no marrying or love-making unless they could carry out
that plan. Then she told me that she had always had the same sort of feeling
towards him. `When I saw him first I thought I had never seen a man before --
never one that I could care for or think of marrying. And now he has told me
that he loves me -- loves me, a poor ignorant girl that I am;
and I will wait for him all my life, and follow him all round the world.
I feel as if I could die for him, or wear out my life in trying
to make him happy. And yet, and yet,' she said, and all her face grew sad,
and put on the old look that I knew so well, so hopeless,
so full of quiet bearing of pain, `I have a kind of feeling at my heart
that it will never be. Something will happen to me or to him.
We are all doomed to sorrow and misfortune, and nothing can save us
from our fate.'
`Aileen, dear,' I said, `you are old enough to know what's best for yourself.
I didn't think Starlight was on for marrying any woman, but he's far and away
the best man we've ever known, so you can please yourself.
But you know what the chances are. If he gets clear off, or any of us,
after what's been done, you're right. But it's a hundred to one against it.'
`I'll take the odds,' says she, holding up her head. `I'm willing to put
my life and happiness, what little there's left of it, on the wager.
Things can't well be worse.'
`I don't know,' I said. `I ought to tell you -- I must tell you something
before we part, though I'd a deal rather not. But you'll bear it better now
than in a surprise.'
`Not more blood, more wickedness,' she said, in a half-whisper, and then
she looks up stern and angry-like. `When is this list of horrible things
`It was none of our doing. Moran and Daly were in it, and ----'
`And none of you? Swear that,' she said, so quick and pitiful-like.
`None of us,' I said again; `nor yet Warrigal.'
`Then who did it? Tell me all. I'm not a child. I will know.'
`You remember the man that was rude to you at Rocky Flat,
and father and he fired at one another?'
`Of course I do, cowardly wretch that he was. Then Moran was waiting for them
up the gully? I wondered that they did not come back next day.'
`They never came back,' I said.
`Why, you don't mean to tell me that they are all dead, all four? --
those strong men! Oh, surely not, Dick?' and she caught hold of my arm,
and looked up into my face.
`Yes, Aileen, all. We came after and followed up dad, when we got home;
it's a wonder he did it by himself. But we saw them all four
lying stretched out.'
She put down her head and never spoke more till we parted.
. . . . .
We turned back, miserable enough all of us, God knows.
After having Aileen to make the place bright and pleasant and cheer us all up
losing her was just as if all the little pleasure we had in our lives
was dropped out of them -- like the sun going out of the sky,
and the wind rising; like the moon clouding over, and a fog
burying up everything -- dark and damp, the same as we'd had it many a time
cattle-driving by night. We hardly spoke a word to one another
all the way home, and no wonder.
Next day we all sat about, looking more down on our luck, dad said,
than any day since we'd `turned out'. Then Starlight told him
about him and Aileen, how they'd made it up to be married some day or other.
Not yet, of course; but if he could get away by Melbourne
to some of these places -- the islands on the Pacific coast, where vessels
were always sailing for -- he didn't see why his luck shouldn't change.
`I have always thought your daughter,' he says to father,
`one of the grandest women I ever met, in any degree, gentle or simple.
She has had the imprudence to care for me; so, unless you have
some well-grounded objection -- and I don't say you haven't, mind you,
I should if I were in your place -- you may as well say you're contented,
and wish us luck!'
Father was a long time before he said anything. He sat there,
looking very sullen and set-like, while Starlight lit a cigar
and walked quietly up and down a few paces off.
Dad answers at last. `I don't say but what other lads
would have suited better if they'd come off, but most things goes contrary
in this world. The only thing as I'm doubtful of, Captain, is your luck.
If that's bad, all the trying and crying won't set it right.
And it's great odds as you'll be caught or shot afore the year's out.
For that matter, every one of us is working for Government on the same road.
But the gal's a good gal, and if she's set her fancy on you I won't block her.
You're a pair of dashed fools, that's all, botherin' your heads with the like
at a time like this, when you boys are all more likely to have
a rope round your necks than any gal's arms, good or bad. Have your own way.
You always managed to get it, somehow or other, ever since I knowed ye.'
After this father lit his pipe and went into the cave.
By and by he comes out again and catches the old mare.
`I ain't been out of this blessed hole,' he says, `for a month of Sundays.
I'm dead tired of seeing nothin' and doin' nothin'. I'll crawl over
to old Davy's for our letters and papers. We ain't heard nothing for a year,
seems to me.'
Dad was strong enough to get about in the saddle again, and we weren't sorry
to get shut of him for a bit. He was that cranky at times
there was no living with him. As for ourselves, we were regular wild
for some sort of get away for a bit of a change; so we hadn't talked it over
very long before we made up our minds to take a run over to Jonathan Barnes's
and have a bit of fun, just to take the taste out of our mouths
of Aileen's going away.
We had to dress ourselves very quiet and get fresh horses -- nags that had
nothing particular about them to make people look, at the same time
with a bit of go in them in case we were pushed at any time.
No sooner said than done. We went to work and got everything ready,
and by three o'clock we were off -- all three of us, and never in better heart
in our lives -- for a bit of fun or devilment; it didn't matter
which came first.
When we got to Jonathan's it was latish, but that didn't matter to us
or to the girls neither; they were always ready for a bit of fun,
night or day. However, just at first they pretended to be
rather high and mighty about this business of Hagan's.
`Oh! it's you, is it?' says Bella, after we walked in. `I don't know
as it's safe for us to be knowing such dangerous characters.
There's a new law against harbouring, father says. He's pretty frightened,
I can tell you, and for two pins we'd be told to shut the door in your faces.'
`You can do that if you like now,' says I; `we shan't want telling twice,
I daresay. But what makes you so stiff to-night?'
`Why, Hagan's business, of course,' says Maddie; `four men killed
in cold blood. Only I know you couldn't and wouldn't be in it
I'd not know any of ye from a crow. There now.'
`Quite right, most beauteous Madeline,' says Starlight; `it was
a very dreadful affair, though I believe there was some reason for old Ben
being angry. Of course, you know we weren't within miles of the place
when it was done. You remember the night we were here last?'
`Of course we do, Captain, quite well. Weren't you going
to dance at Bella's wedding and all? You'll have to do that
sooner than we expected, though.'
`Glad to hear it, but listen to me, my dear; I want you to know the truth.
We rode straight back to the -- to where we lived -- and, of course,
found the old man gone away from the place. We tracked him right enough,
but came up when it was all over. Daly and Moran were the chief actors
in that tragedy.'
`Oh, we said it was Moran's work from the first, didn't we, Bill?
It's just the line he's cut out for. I always think he ought to have
a bowl and dagger. He looks like the villain on the stage.'
`On or off the stage he can support the principal part in that line
most naturally,' says Starlight; `but I prophesy he will be cut off
in the midst of his glorious career. He's beastly cunning,
but he'll be trapped yet.'
`It's a pity Jim can't stay a few days with us,' says Maddie;
`I believe we'd find a way of passing him on to Victoria.
I've known more than one or two, or half-a-dozen either,
that has been put through the same way.'
`For God's sake, Mad, lay me on!' says poor Jim, `and I'll go on my knees
`Oh! I daresay,' says Maddie, looking saucy, `but I like a man
to be fond of some woman in a proper way, even if it isn't me;
so I'll do what I can to help you to your wife and pickaninny.'
`We must get you into the police force, Maddie,' says Starlight,
`or make you a sort of inspector, unattached, if you're so clever at managing
these little affairs. But what's the idea?'
`Well,' says she, settling herself in a chair, spreading out her dress,
and looking very knowing, `there's an old gentleman being driven
all the way overland in a sort of light Yankee trap, and the young fellow
that's driving has to find horses and feed 'em, and get so much for the trip.'
`Who is it?' says I.
`Oh! you know him,' says Maddie, looking down, `he's a great friend of mine,
a steady-going, good-conducted chap, and he's a little -- you understand --
well, shook on me. I could persuade him a bit, that is ----'
`I don't doubt that at all,' says I.
`Oh! you know him a little. He says he saw you at the Turon; he was working
with some Americans. His name's Joe Moreton.'
`I remember him well enough; he used to wear a moustache and a chin beard,
and talk Yankee. Only for that he was a good deal like Jim;
we always said so.'
`Do you see anything now, Dick, you that's so sharp?' says Maddie.
`Bless my soul,' says Starlight, `of course, it is as clear
as your beautiful eyes. Jim is to shave his beard, talk like a Yankee,
and go in Joe Moreton's place. I see it all. Maddie persuading Joe
to consent to the exchange of duties.'
`But what will his employer say?'
`Oh! he's as bad as bad can be with the sandy blight,' says Maddie,
`wears green goggles, poor old gentleman. He'll never know nothing,
and he'll be able to swear up for Jim if the police pull him anywhere
this side of the Murray.'
We'd told Maddie that money needn't stand in the way,
so she was to promise Joe the full sum that he was to get for his contract
would be paid to him in cash that night -- Jim to pay his own expenses
as he went, the same as he was to do himself. Of course she could get
the money from old Jonathan. A word from us then was worth a deal more
than that'd come to. Money wasn't the worst thing we had to care about.
They would have to change clothes, and he'd tell Jim about the horses,
the stages, and how to answer the old cove, and what to do to humour him
as they went along. If he'd had his full eyesight he might have noticed
some difference, but as it was, it was as much as the poor old chap,
she believed, could see there was a driver at all. His eyes was
bound up mostly; he had a big shade over 'em, and was half the night
swabbing and poulticing, and putting lotion into 'em. He'd got sandy blight
that bad it would take months to get right. Once you get a touch like that
it's a terror, I can tell you. I've had it that bad myself
I had to be led about.
After a lot of talking, that Jim was to try his luck
as the Rev. Mr. Watson's coachman, he was mad to get away somehow,
and such another chance might never turn up in a month of Sundays.
He would have plenty of time to shave his beard and make himself look
as like as ever he could to Joe Moreton. Maddie said she'd see after that,
and it would be as good as a play. Lucky for old Jim we'd all taken a fancy
at the Turon, for once in a way, to talk like Arizona Bill and his mates,
just for the fun of the thing. There were so many Americans there at first,
and they were such swells, with their silk sashes, bowie knives,
and broad-leafed `full-share' hats, that lots of the young native fellows
took a pride in copying them, and could walk and talk and guess and calculate
wonderful well considering. Besides, most of the natives
have a sort of slow, sleepy way of talking, so it partly came natural
to this chap, Joe Moreton, and Jim. There couldn't be a better chance,
so we thought we'd stay a day and give Jim a send off all square and regular.
It wasn't no ways too safe, but we wanted a bit of a jollification
and we thought we'd chance it.
That night we had a regular good ball. The girls got
some of the young fellows from round about to come over,
and a couple or two other girls, and we had no end of fun.
There was plenty of champagne, and even Jim picked up a bit;
and what with being grateful to Maddie for giving him this lift,
and better in spirits on the chance of seeing Jeanie again,
he was more like his own self. Maddie said he looked so handsome
she had half a mind to throw over Joe Moreton after all.
Joe came rather latish, and the old gentleman had a cup of tea and went to bed
at once, leaving word for Joe that he wanted to start almost before daylight,
or as soon as he could see to drive, so as to get half-way on their stage
before the sun was hot.
After Joe had seen to his horses and put the trap away he came into the house
and had a glass or two, and wired in with the rest of us like a good 'un.
After a bit we see Maddie corner him off and have a long talk,
very serious too. After that they went for a walk in the garden and was away
a good while. When she came back she looked over at Jim and nodded,
as much as to say, `It's all right,' and I saw poor old Jim's face brighten up
as if a light had passed over it.
By and by she came over and told us all about it. She'd had a hard matter to
manage it, for Joe was a square sort of fellow, that had a place of his own,
and at first didn't like the notion of being mixed up with our crowd at all.
But he was regular shook on Maddie, and she went at him as only a woman can,
and I daresay, though she didn't tell us, made it part of the bargain,
if she was to marry him, to help Jim in this particular way.
He was to be well paid for this journey by old Mr. Watson, and he wanted
a bit of money before harvest or he wouldn't have taken the job at all.
The end of it was that Jim and Joe sat up ever so late, pretty well on
to daylight, smoking and yarning, and Joe practising Jim in all the things
he was to do and say, giving him a kind of chart of the stages,
and telling him the sort of answers he was to give to the old chap.
It was just before daylight when they knocked off, and then Joe goes
and peels off his duds and hands 'em over to Jim, rough great-coat and all --
up to his chin and down to his toes.
Joe takes Jim's togs. They fitted him all to pieces,
and Jim hands him over his horse, saddle, revolver, and spurs,
and tells him the old horse is a real plum, and he hopes he'll be good to him.
Then Jim shakes hands with us all round. Blessed if the girls wasn't up too,
and had some coffee smoking hot for us. `We can sleep when you're all gone,'
says Maddie, `and perhaps we shan't see old Jim any more'
(this was said when Joe was out of the room), `so here's good luck;
and when you've got your wife and child again don't forget Maddie Barnes.'
Then she shook hands with him, and made a quick bolt to her own room.
Queer things women are, my word.
When old Jim drove round to the front with the pair of horses,
setting up square with his big coat and Joe's `full-share' hat on him,
we all bursted out laughing. He'd first of all gone
to the old gentleman's room and sung out, `All aboard, sir, time's up,'
just to liven him up a bit. Joe kept away down at the stable.
Well, presently out comes the old chap, with a veil on and his green goggles,
winkin' and blinkin' as if he couldn't see a door from a window.
He drinks off a cup of coffee and takes a munch of bread and butter,
makes a kind of bow to Bella, and shuffles into his carriage.
Jim touches up the horses and away they go. We rose a bit of a cheer.
Maddie waved her handkerchief out of the window. Jim looked round and raised
his whip. That was the last sight any of us had of him for many a day.
Poor old Jim!
We hadn't been long at home, just enough to get tired of doing nothing,
when we got a letter from Bella Barnes, telling us that she was going
to get married the day after the Turon races, and reminding Starlight
that he had promised to come to her wedding. If he didn't think
it was too risky, she hoped he'd come. There was going to be a race ball,
and it was sure to be good fun. It would be a good wind-up,
and Maddie was coming out a great swell. Sir Ferdinand would be there,
but there'd be such a crowd anybody would pass muster, and so on.
`P.S. -- There was a big handicap, with 500 added; hadn't we
a good horse enough?'
`Well done, Bella!' says Starlight. `I vote we go, Dick.
I never went to a hop with a price on my head before. A thousand pounds too!
Quite a new sensation. It settles the question. And we'll enter Rainbow
for the handicap. He ought to be good enough for anything
they're likely to have.'
`Captain Starlight's Rainbow, 9 st. 8 lb.,' I said, `with Dick Marston
to lead him up to the judge's box. How will that wash?
And what are the police going to be about all the time?
Bella's gone out of her senses about her marriage and thinks we are too.'
`You're a good fellow, Richard, and stanch, but you're like your father --
you haven't any imagination. I see half-a-dozen ways of doing
the whole thing. Besides, our honour's concerned. I never made
a promise yet, for good or for evil, that I didn't carry out,
and some have cost me dearly enough, God knows. Fancy running our horses
and going to the ball under the noses of the police -- the idea is delicious!'
`I daresay you're about tired of your life,' I said. `I'm pretty sure I am;
but why we should ride straight into the lion's mouth, to please a silly girl,
I can't see. I haven't over much sense, I know, or I shouldn't be here;
but I'm not such a dashed fool as all that comes to.'
`My mind is made up, Richard -- I have decided irrevocably.
Of course, you needn't come, if you see objections; but I'll bet you
my Dean and Adams revolver and the Navy Colt against your repeating rifle
that I do all I've said, and clear out safe.'
`Done!' I said. `I've no doubt you'll try; but you might as well try
to pull down the walls of Berrima Gaol with a hay-rake.
You'll make Sir Ferdinand's fortune, that's all. He always said
he'd die happy if he could only bag you and the Marstons.
He'll be made Inspector-General of Police.'
Starlight smiled in his queer, quiet way.
`If he doesn't rise to the top of the tree until he takes me
-- alive, I mean -- he'll die a sub-inspector. But we'd better sleep on it.
This is an enterprise of great pith and moment, and requires
no end of thought. We must get your sister to come over.
That will crown all.'
`Good-night,' I said, rather hasty. `We'd better turn the Hollow
into Tarban Creek, and advertise for boarders.'
Next morning I expected he'd think better of it -- we'd had
a glass or two of grog; but no, he was more set on it than ever,
and full of dodges to work it to rights. He certainly was wonderful clever
in all sorts of ways when there was any devilment to be carried out.
Half as much in the straight way would have made a man of him.
But that's the way of the world all over. He ain't the only one.
As for father, he was like me, and looked on the notion as rank foolishness.
He swore straight on end for about twenty minutes, and then said he expected
Starlight would have his own way as usual; but he'd play at that game
once too often. He supposed he'd be left in the Hollow all by himself,
with Warrigal and the dog for company.
`Warrigal goes with me -- might want him,' says Starlight.
`You're losing your nerve, governor. Perhaps you'd like
to go to the ball too?'
Father gave a sort of growl, and lit his pipe and wouldn't say no more.
Starlight and I regular talked it out, and, after I'd heard all he had to say,
it didn't look quite so impossible as it did at first. We were to work apart.
He was to get in with some of the betting men or sporting people
that always came to country races, and I was to find out
some of our old digger mates and box up with them. Warrigal would
shift for himself and look after the horses, and have them ready
in case we had to clear at short notice.
`And who was to enter Rainbow and look after him?'
`Couldn't we get old Jacob Benton; he's the best trainer I've seen
since I left home? Billy the Boy told us the other day he was out of a job,
and was groom at Jonathan's; had been sacked for getting drunk, and so on.
He'll be all the more likely to keep sober for a month.'
`The very man,' I said. `He can ride the weight, and train too.
But we can't have him here, surely!'
`No; but I can send the horse to him at Jonathan's, and he can get him fit
there as well as anywhere. There's nearly a month yet; he's pretty hard,
and he's been regularly exercised lately.'
Jacob Benton was a wizened, dried-up old Yorkshireman. He'd been head man
in a good racing stable, but drink had been the ruin of him --
lost him his place, and sent him out here. He could be trusted
to go right through with a job like ours, for all that. Like many men
that drink hard, he was as sober as a judge between one burst and another.
And once he took over a horse in training he touched nothing but water
till the race was run and the horse back in his box. Then he most times
went in an awful perisher -- took a month to it, and was never sober
day or night the whole time. When he'd spent all his money
he'd crawl out of the township and get away into the country
more dead than alive, and take the first job that offered.
But he was fonder of training a good horse than anything else in the world;
and if he'd got a regular flyer, and was treated liberal,
he'd hardly allow himself sleep or time to eat his meals till he'd got him
near the mark. He could ride, too, and was an out-and-out judge of pace.
When we'd regular chalked it out about entering Rainbow
for the Grand Turon Handicap, we sent Warrigal over to Billy the Boy,
and got him to look up old Jacob. He agreed to take the old horse,
the week before the races, and give him a last bit of French-polish
if we'd keep him in steady work till then. From what he was told of the horse
he expected he would carry any weight he was handicapped for
and pull it off easy. He was to enter him in his own name,
the proper time before the races. If he won he was to have
ten per cent on winnings; if he lost, a ten-pound note would do him.
He could ride the weight with some lead in his saddle,
and he'd never wet his lips with grog till the race was over.
So that part of the work was chalked out. The real risky business
was to come. I never expected we should get through all straight.
But the more I hung back the more shook on it Starlight seemed to be.
He was like a boy home from school sometimes -- mad for any kind of fun
with a spice of devilment in it.
About a week before the races we all cleared out, leaving father at home,
and pretty sulky too. Warrigal led Rainbow; he was to take him
to Jonathan Barnes's, and meet old Jacob there. He was to keep him
until it was time to go to Turon. We didn't show there ourselves this time;
we were afraid of drawing suspicion on the place.
We rode right into Turon, taking care to be well after dark.
A real pleasure it was to see the old place again. The crooked streets,
the lighted-up shops, the crowd of jolly diggers walking about smoking,
or crowding round the public-house bars, the row of the stampers
in the quartz-crushing machines going night and day.
It all reminded me of the pleasant year Jim and I had spent here.
I wished we'd never had to leave it. We parted just outside the township
for fear of accidents. I went to a little place I knew,
where I put up my horse -- could be quiet there, and asked no questions.
Starlight, as usual, went to the best hotel, where he ordered everybody about
and was as big a swell as ever. He had been out in the north-west country,
and was going to Sydney to close for a couple of stations
that had been offered to him.
That night he went to the barber, had his hair cut and his beard shaved,
only leaving his moustache and a bit of whisker like a ribbon.
He put on a suit of tweed, all one colour, and ordered a lot more clothes,
which he paid for, and were to be left at the hotel till he returned
Next day he starts for Sydney; what he was going to do there he didn't say,
and I didn't ask him. He'd be back the day before the races,
and in good time for all the fun, and Bella's wedding into the bargain.
I managed to find out that night that Kate Mullockson had left Turon.
She and her husband had sold their place and gone to another diggings
just opened. I was glad enough of this, for I knew that her eyes
were sharp enough to spy me out whatever disguise I had on;
and even if she didn't I should always have expected to find her eyes
fixed upon me. I breathed freer after I heard this bit of news.
The gold was better even than when we were there. A lot of men
who were poor enough when we were there had made fortunes. The field
never looked better, and the hard-driving, well-paid, jolly mining life
was going on just the same as ever; every one making money fast
-- spending it faster -- and no one troubling themselves about anything
except how much the washdirt went to the load, and whether the sinking
was through the false bottom or not.
When I first came I had a notion of mating in with some diggers,
but when I saw how quiet everybody took it, and what thousands of strangers
there were all over the place, I gave myself out for a speculator
in mining shares from Melbourne. So I shaved off most of my beard,
had my hair cut short, and put on a tall hat. I thought that would shift
any sort of likeness there might be to my old self, and, though it was
beastly uncomfortable, I stuck to it all the time.
I walked about among the stables and had a good look at all the horses
that were in training. Two or three good ones, as usual,
and a lot of duffers. If Rainbow wasn't beat on his condition,
he had pace and weight-carrying for the best of them.
I hardly thought he could lose it, or a bigger stake in better company.
I was that fond of the horse I thought he was good enough
for an English Derby.
Well, I kept dark, you be sure, and mooned about, buying a share
at a low price now and then just to let 'em see I had money
and meant something. My name was Mr. Bromford, and I lived at Petersham,
The day before the races there was a lot of excitement in the town.
Strangers kept pouring in from everywhere round about,
and all the hotels were crammed full. Just as I was wondering
whether Starlight was going to turn up till next day I saw a four-in-hand drag
rattle down the street to the principal inn, and a crowd gather round it
as three gentlemen got out and went into the inn.
`You'll see after all our luggage, will you, ostler?' says one of them
to the groom, `and whatever you do don't forget my umbwella!'
Some of the diggers laughed.
`Know those coves?' I said to a man that stopped at the same house as I did.
`Don't you know? Them's the two Mr. Dawsons, of Wideview, great sporting men,
natives, and ever so rich. They've some horses to run to-morrow.
That's a new chum from England that's come up with 'em.'
I hardly knew him at first. His own mother wouldn't, I believe.
He'd altered himself that wonderful as I could hardly even now
think it was Starlight; and yet he wasn't a bit like the young Englishman
he gammoned to be last year, or the Hon. Frank Haughton either.
He had an eyeglass this time, and was a swell from top to toe.
How and when he'd picked up with the Mr. Dawsons I couldn't tell;
but he'd got a knack of making people like him -- especially when
they didn't know him. Not that it was worse when they did.
It wasn't for that. He was always the same. The whitest man I ever knew,
or ever shall -- that I say and stick to -- but of course
people can't be expected to associate with men that have `done time'.
Well, next day was the races. I never saw such a turn-out
in the colony before. Every digger on the field had dropped work for the day;
all the farmers, and squatters, and country people had come in for miles round
on all sides. The Commissioner and all the police were out in full uniform,
and from the first moment the hotels were opened in the morning
till breakfast time all the bars were full, and the streets crowded
with miners and strangers and people that seemed to have come
from the ends of the earth. When I saw the mob there was I didn't see so much
to be jerran about, as it was fifty to one in favour of any one
that was wanted, in the middle of such a muster of queer cattle
as was going on at Turon that day.
About eleven o'clock every one went out to the course. It wasn't more
than a mile from town. The first race wasn't to be run till twelve;
but long before that time the road was covered with horsemen,
traps of every kind and sort, every horse and mare in the whole district.
Most of the miners went in four-horse coaches and 'buses
that were plying all day long from the town and back; very few walked.
The country people mostly drove in spring-carts, or rode on horseback.
Any young fellows that had a good horse liked to show him off, of course;
the girls in habits of their own make, perhaps, and now and then a top hat,
though they looked very well too. They could ride, some of them,
above a bit, and it made me think of the old days when Jim and I and Aileen
used to ride into Bargo races together, and how proud we were of her,
even when she was a little thing, and we used to groom up the old pony
till we nearly scrubbed the hide off him.
It was no use thinking of that kind of thing, and I began to wonder
how Starlight was getting on with his friends, when I saw the Dawsons' drag
come up the straight, with four upstanding ripping bay horses
in top condition, and well matched. There was Starlight on the box seat,
alongside of Jack Dawson, the eldest brother, who could handle the ribbons
in style, and was a man every inch of him, only a bit too fast; didn't care
about anything but horses and dogs, and lived every day of his life.
The other brother was standing up behind, leaning over and talking
to Starlight, who was `in great form', as he used to say himself,
and looked as if he'd just come out of a bandbox.
He had on a silk coat buttoned round him, a white top hat
with a blue silk veil. His eyeglass was stuck in his eye all the time,
and he had kid gloves on that fitted his hands like wax.
I really couldn't hardly take my oath he was the same man,
and no wonder nobody else couldn't. I was wondering why
Sir Ferdinand wasn't swelling about, bowing to all the ladies,
and making that thoroughbred of his dance and arch his neck,
when I heard some one say that he'd got news that Moran and the rest of 'em
had stuck up a place about forty miles off, towards Forbes,
and Sir Ferdinand had sworn at his luck for having to miss the races;
but started off just as he was, and taken all the troopers but two with him.
`Who brought the news?'
`Oh! a youngster called William Jones -- said he lived out there.
A black boy came with him that couldn't hardly speak English;
he went with 'em to show the way.'
`Well, but how did they know it was true?' says I. `It might have been
only a stall.'
`Oh, the young fellow brought a letter from the overseer,
saying they might hold out for a few hours, if the police came along quick.'
`It's a good thing they started at once,' says I. `Them boys
are very useful sometimes, and blackfellows too.'
I went off then, and had a laugh to myself. I was pretty middling certain
it was Billy the Boy and Warrigal. Starlight had wrote the note
before we started, only I didn't think they'd be game
to deliver it themselves.
Now the police was away, all but a couple of young fellows
-- I went and had a look to make sure -- that didn't know any of us by sight,
I thought we might enjoy ourselves for once in a way without watching
every one that came nigh us. And we did enjoy ourselves.
I did, I know; though you'd think, as we carried our lives in our hands,
in a manner of speaking, the fun couldn't have been much.
But it's a queer world! Men like us, that don't know what's to happen to them
from one day to another, if they can only see their way for a week ahead,
often have more real pleasure in the bit of time they have to themselves
than many a man has in a year that has no call to care about time or money
or be afraid of anybody.
As for Starlight, if he'd been going to be hung next week
it would have been all one to him. He'd have put off thinking about it
until about an hour before, and then would have made all his arrangements
and done the whole business quietly and respectably, without humbug,
but without any flashness either. You couldn't put him wrong,
or make him do or say anything that was out of place.
However, this time nobody was going to be hung or took or anything else.
We'd as good as got a free pardon for the time being, now the police was away;
no one else would have meddled with us if we'd had our names
printed on our hats. So we made the most of it, I expect.
Starlight carried on all sorts of high ropes. He was introduced
to all the nobs, and I saw him in the grand stand and the saddling-paddock,
taking the odds in tens and fifties from the ringmen -- he'd brought
a stiffish roll of notes with him -- and backing the Dawson stable right out.
It turned out afterwards that he'd met them at an inn on the mountains,
and helped them to doctor one of their leaders that had been griped.
So they took a fancy to him, and, being free-hearted sort of fellows,
asked him to keep them company in the drag, and let one of the grooms
ride his horse. Once he started he kept them alive, you may be sure,
and by the time they got to Turon they were ready to go
round the world with him, and swore they'd never met such a man
in their lives -- very likely they hadn't, either. He was introduced
to the judge and the stewards and the Commissioner and the police magistrate,
and as much fuss made over him as if he was the Governor's son.
It was as good as a play. I got up as near as I dared once or twice,
and I couldn't hardly keep from bursting out laughing when I saw how grave
he talked and drawled and put up his eyeglass, and every now and then
made 'em all laugh, or said something reminded him of India,
where he'd last come from.
Well, that was a regular fizzer of a spree, if we never had another.
The racing was very fair, and, as luck would have it, the Dawson horses
won all the big money, and, as they started at longish odds,
they must have made a pot of money, and Starlight too, as he'd gone in
a docker for their stable. This made them better friends than ever,
and it was Dawson here and Lascelles there all over the course.
Well, the day went over at last, and all of them that liked
a little fun and dancing better than heavy drinking made it up
to go to the race ball. It was a subscription affair -- guinea tickets,
just to keep out the regular roughs, and the proceeds to go
to the Turon Jockey Club Fund. All the swells had to go, of course,
and, though they knew it would be a crush and pretty mixed,
as I heard Starlight say, the room was large, the band was good,
and they expected to get a fair share of dancing after an hour or so.
Starlight and the Dawsons dined at the camp, and were made a good deal of
-- their health drunk and what not -- and Starlight told us afterwards
he returned thanks for the strangers and visitors; said he'd been told
Australia was a rough place, but he never expected to find
so much genuine kindness and hospitality and, he might add,
so much refinement and gentlemanly feeling. Speaking for himself,
he had never expected, considering his being a total stranger,
to be welcomed so cordially and entertained so handsomely,
more particularly at the mess of her Majesty's goldfields officials,
whose attention on this occasion they might be assured he would never forget.
He would repeat, the events of this particular day would never be effaced
from his memory. (Tremendous cheering.)
After dinner, and when the champagne had gone round pretty reasonable,
the Commissioner proposed they should all adjourn to the ball,
when, if Mr. Lascelles cared about dancing, he ventured to think
a partner or two could be found for him. So they all got up and went away
down to the hall of the Mechanics' Institute -- a tremendous big room
that had been built to use as a theatre, and to give lectures and concerts in.
These sort of things are very popular at diggings. Miners like to be amused,
and have plenty of money to spend when times are good.
There was hardly a week passed without some kind of show being on
when we went there.
I walked down quietly an hour or so before most of the people,
so as to be in the way to see if Aileen came. We'd asked her to come
on the chance of meeting us there, but we hadn't got any word,
and didn't know whether she could manage it nor whether George
would bring her. I had a sort of half-and-half notion that perhaps Gracey
might come, but I didn't like to think of it for fear of being disappointed,
and tried to make believe I didn't expect her.
I gave in my ticket and walked in about eight o'clock, and sat down
pretty close to the door so that I could see the people as they came in.
I didn't feel much up to dancing myself, but I'd have ridden a thousand miles
to have had the chance of seeing those two girls that night.
I waited and waited while one after another came in, till the big hall
was pretty near filled, and at nine o'clock or so the music struck up,
and the first dance began. That left the seats pretty bare,
and between listening to the music and looking at the people,
and thinking I was back again at the old claim and passing half-an-hour
at a dance-house, I didn't mind the door so much till I heard somebody
give a sort of sigh not very far off, and I looked towards the door
and saw two women sitting between me and it.
They were Aileen and Gracey sure enough. My head almost turned round,
and I felt my heart beat -- beat in a way it never did
when the bullets were singing and whistling all about.
It was the suddenness of it, I expect. I looked at them for a bit.
They didn't see me, and were just looking about them as I did.
They were dressed very quiet, but Gracey had a little more ornament on her,
and a necklace or something round her neck. Aileen was very pale,
but her beautiful dark hair was dressed up a bit with one rosebud in it,
and her eyes looked bigger and brighter than they used to do.
She looked sad enough, but every now and then Gracey said something
that made her smile a bit, and then I thought she was the handsomest girl
in the room. Gracey had just the same steady, serious, kind face as ever;
she'd hardly changed a bit, and seemed pleased, just like a child at the play,
with all that was going on round about.
There was hardly anybody near the corner where they were,
so I got up and went over. They both looked at me for a minute
as if they'd never seen me before, and then Aileen turned as pale as death,
and Gracey got altogether as red, and both held out their hands.
I sat down by the side of Aileen, and we all began to talk.
Not much at first, and very quiet, for fear notice might be taken,
but I managed to let them know that the police had all been called off
in another direction, and that we should be most likely safe
till to-morrow or next day.
`Oh dear!' says Gracey, `wasn't it awfully rash of you
to come here and run all this risk just to come to Bella Barnes's wedding?
I believe I ought to be jealous of that girl.'
`All Starlight's fault,' I said; `but anyhow, it's through him
we've had this meeting here. I was dead against coming all the time,
and I never expected things to turn out so lucky as they have done.'
`Will he be here to-night?' Aileen says, very soft and timid like.
`I almost wished I'd stayed away, but Gracey here would come.
Young Cyrus Williams brought us. He wanted to show his wife the races,
and take her to the ball. There they are, dancing together.
George is away at the races.'
`You will see Starlight about ten or eleven o'clock, I expect,' I said.
`He's dining with the Commissioner and the camp officers.
They'll all come together, most likely.'
`Dining at the camp!' says Aileen, looking regularly perished.
`You don't mean to say they've taken him?'
`I mean what I say. He's here with the Mr. Dawsons, of Wideview,
and has been hand-and-glove with all the swells. I hardly think
you'll know him. It's as much as I did.'
Poor Aileen gave another sigh.
`Do you think he'll know me?' she says. `Oh! what a foolish girl I was
to think for a moment that he could care about a girl like me.
Oh! I wish I had never come.'
`Nonsense,' says Gracey, who looked a deal brighter on it.
`Why, if he's the man you say he is, this will only bring him out a bit.
What do you think, Di-- I mean Mr. Jones?'
`That's right, Miss Storefield,' says I. `Keep to
the company manners to-night. We don't know who may be listening;
but I'm not much afraid of being bowled out this particular night.
Somehow I feel ready to chance everything for an hour's happiness like this.'
Gracey said nothing, but looked down, and Aileen kept turning towards the door
as if she half hoped and was half afraid of seeing him come in.
By and by we heard some one say, `Here comes the Commissioner;
all the camp will be here now,' and there was a bit of a move to look at them
as they came in.
A good many gentlemen and ladies that lived in the town and in the diggings,
or near it, had come before this and had been dancing away
and enjoying themselves, though the room was pretty full of diggers
and all sorts of people. But as everybody was quiet and well behaved,
it didn't make much odds who was there.
But, of course, the Commissioner was the great man of the whole place,
and the principal visitors, like the Mr. Dawsons and some others, were bound
to come along with him. Then there were the other Government officers,
the bankers and surveyors, lawyers and doctors, and so on.
All of them took care to come a little late with their wives and families
so as to be in the room at the same time as the swell lot.
Bella Barnes was going to marry a surveyor, a wildish young fellow,
but a good one to work as ever was. She was going to chance
his coming straight afterwards. He was a likely man to rise in his office,
and she thought she'd find a way to keep him out of debt and drinking
and gambling too.
Well, in comes the Commissioner and his friends, very grand indeed,
all dressed like swells always do in the evening, I believe, black all over,
white tie, shining boots, white kid gloves, flower in their buttonhole,
all regular. People may laugh, but they did look different from the others --
showed more blood like. I don't care what they say, there is such a thing.
Close by the Commissioner, laughing and talking, was the two Mr. Dawsons;
and -- I saw Aileen give a start -- who should come next,
cheek by jowl with the police magistrate, whom he'd been making laugh
with something he'd said as they came in, but Starlight himself,
looking like a regular prince -- their pictures anyhow --
and togged out to the nines like all the rest of 'em.
Aileen kept looking at him as he lounged up the ballroom,
and I thought she'd fall down in a faint or bring herself
to people's notice by the wild, earnest, sad way she looked at him.
However he'd got his clothes and the rest of it that fitted him
like as if they'd been grown for him, I couldn't think. But of course
he'd made all that right when he went to Sydney, and had 'em sent up
with his luggage in Mr. Dawson's drag.
Though he didn't seem to notice anything, I saw that he knew us.
He looked round for a moment, and smiled at Aileen.
`That's a pretty girl,' he said to one of the young fellows;
`evidently from the country. I must get introduced to her.'
`Oh, we'll introduce you,' says the other man. `They're not half bad fun,
these bush girls, some of them.'
Well, a new dance was struck up by the band just after
they'd got up to the top of the room, and we saw Starlight
taken up and introduced to a grand lady, the wife of the head banker.
The Commissioner and some of the other big wigs danced in the same quadrille.
We all moved a bit higher to get a good look at him.
His make-up was wonderful. We could hardly believe our eyes.
His hair was a deal shorter than he ever wore it (except in one place),
and he'd shaved nearly all but his moustache. That was dark brown and heavy.
You couldn't see his mouth except when he smiled, and then his teeth
were as white as Warrigal's nearly and as regular. There was a softness, too,
about his eyes when he was in a good temper and enjoying himself
that I hardly ever saw in a man's face. I could see Aileen watching him
when he talked to this lady and that, and sometimes she looked
as if she didn't enjoy it.
He was only waiting his chance, though, for after he'd had a dance or two
we saw him go up to one of the stewards. They had big rosettes on,
and presently they walked round to us, and the steward asked
the favour of Aileen's name, and then begged, by virtue of his office,
to present Lieutenant Lascelles, a gentleman lately from India,
who had expressed a wish to be introduced to her. Such a bow
Starlight made, too. We could hardly help staring. Poor Aileen hardly knew
whether to laugh or to cry when he sat down beside her and asked for
the pleasure of a dance.
She wouldn't do that. She only came there to see him, she said, and me;
but he persuaded her to walk round the room, and then they slipped into
one of the supper-rooms, where they were able to talk without being disturbed,
and say what they had in their hearts. I got Gracey to take a turn with me,
and we were able to have our little say. She was, like Aileen,
miserable enough and afraid to think of our ever having
the chance of getting married and living happy like other people,
but she told me she would wait and remain faithful to me
-- if it was to her life's end -- and that as soon as I could
get away from the country and promise her to leave our wild lives behind
she was ready to join us and follow me all over the world.
Over and over again she tried to persuade me to get away like Jim,
and said how happy he was now, and how much better it was than stopping
where we were, and running terrible risks every day and every hour.
It was the old story over again; but I felt better for it,
and really meant to try and cut loose from all this cross work.
We hadn't too much time. Aileen was fetched back to her seat,
and then Starlight went off to his friends at the other end of the room,
and was chaffed for flirting with a regular currency lass
by one of the Dawsons.
`I admire his taste,' says the Commissioner. `I really think
she's the prettiest girl in the room if she was well dressed and had
a little more animation. I wonder who she is? What's her name, Lascelles?
I suppose you know all about her by this time.'
`Her name is Martin, or Marston, or some such name,' answered Starlight,
quite cool and pleasant. `Deuced nice, sensible girl,
painfully quiet, though. Wouldn't dance, though, at all,
and talked very little.'
`By Jove! I know who she is,' says one of the young chaps.
`That's Aileen Marston, sister to Dick and Jim. No wonder
she isn't over lively. Why, she has two brothers bush-rangers,
regular out-and-outers. There's a thousand on each of their heads.'
`Good gad!' says Starlight, `you don't say so! Poor girl!
What a most extraordinary country! You meet with surpwises every day,
`It's a pity Sir Ferdinand isn't here,' said the Commissioner.
`I believe she's an acquaintance of his. I've always heard
she was a splendid girl, though, poor thing, frets to death about her family.
I think you seem to have cheered her up, though, Lascelles.
She doesn't look half so miserable as she did an hour ago.'
`Naturally, my dear fellow,' says Starlight, pulling his moustache;
`even in this savage country -- beg your pardon -- one's old form
seems to be appreciated. Pardon me, I must regain my partner;
I am engaged for this dance.'
`You seem disposed to make the most of your opportunities,'
says the Commissioner. `Dawson, you'll have to look after your friend.
Who's the enslaver now?'
`I didn't quite catch her name,' says Starlight lazily;
`but it's that tall girl near the pillar, with the pale face and dark eyes.'
`You're not a bad judge for a new chum,' says one of the goldfield subs.
`Why, that's Maddie Barnes. I think she's the pick of all
the down-the-river girls, and the best dancer here, out-and-out.
Her sister's to be married to-morrow, and we're all going
to see her turned off.'
`Really, now?' says Starlight, putting up his eyeglass.
`I begin to think I must write a book. I'm falling upon adventures hourly.
Oh, the "Morgen-blatter". What a treat! Can she valse, do you think?'
`You try her,' says the young fellow. `She's a regular stunner.'
It was a fine, large room, and the band, mostly Germans, struck up
some outlandish queer sort of tune that I'd never heard anything like before;
whatever it was it seemed to suit most of the dancing people,
for the floor was pretty soon full up, and everybody twisting
round and round as if they were never going to stop. But, to my mind,
there was not a couple there that was a patch on Maddie and Starlight.
He seemed to move round twice as light and easy as any one else;
he looked somehow different from all the others. As for Maddie,
wherever she picked it up she went like a bird, with a free,
springy sort of sliding step, and all in time to the music, anybody could see.
After a bit some of the people sat down, and I could hear them
passing their remarks and admiring both of 'em till the music stopped.
I couldn't make out whether Aileen altogether liked it or not;
anyhow she didn't say anything.
About an hour afterwards the camp party left the room,
and took Starlight with them. Some one said there was a little loo and hazard
at the Commissioner's rooms. Cyrus Williams was not in a hurry to go home,
or his young wife either, so I stayed and walked about with the two girls,
and we had ever so much talk together, and enjoyed ourselves for once
in a quiet way. A good crowd was sure to be at Bella Barnes's wedding
next day. It was fixed for two o'clock, so as not to interfere
with the races. The big handicap was to be run at three,
so we should be able to be at the church when Bella was turned off,
and see Rainbow go for the great race of the day afterwards.
When that was run we intended to clear. It would be time for us to go then.
Things were middling straight, but it mightn't last.
Next day was the great excitement of the meeting. The `big money'
was all in the handicap, and there was a big field, with two or three cracks
up from Sydney, and a very good local horse that all the diggers
were sweet on. It was an open race, and every man that had a note or a fiver
laid it out on one horse or another.
Rainbow had been entered in proper time and all regular by old Jacob,
under the name of Darkie, which suited in all ways. He was a dark horse,
sure enough; dark in colour, and dark enough as to his performances --
nobody knew much about them. We weren't going to enter him in his right name,
Old Jacob was a queer old fellow in all his ways and notions,
so we couldn't stable him in any of the stables in Turon,
for fear of his being `got at', or something. So when I wanted
to see him the day before, the old fellow grinned, and took me away
about a mile from the course; and there was old Rainbow,
snug enough -- in a tent, above all places! -- but as fine as a star,
and as fit as ever a horse was brought to the post.
`What's the fun of having him under canvas?' I said.
`Who ever heard of a horse being trained in a tent before? --
not but what he looks first-chop.'
`I've seen horses trained in more ways than one,' says he,
`and I can wind 'em up, in the stable and out of it, as mighty few
in this country can -- that is, when I put the muzzle on.
There's a deal in knowing the way horses is brought up.
Now this here's an excitable hoss in a crowd.'
`Is he?' I said. `Why, he's as cool and steady as an old trooper when ----'
`When powder's burning and bullets is flying,' says the old chap,
grinning again; `but this here's a different crowd.
When he's got a training saddle and seven or eight stone up,
and there's two or three hundred horses rattling about
this side on him and that, it brings out the old racehorse feeling
that's in his blood, and never had a chance to show itself afore.'
`I see, and so you want to keep him quiet till the last minute?'
`That's just it,' says he; `I've got the time to a second'
-- here he pulls out a big old turnip of a silver watch --
`and I'll have him up just ready to be weighed out last.
I never was late in my life.'
`All right,' I said, `but don't draw it too fine. Have you got your weight
`Right to a hounce,' says he, `nine stun four they've put on him,
and him an untried horse. I told 'em it was weighting him
out of the race, but they laughed at me. Never you mind, though,
he can carry weight and stay too. My ten per cent's as safe as the bank.
He'll put the stuns on all them nobs, too, that think a racehorse
must always come out of one of their training stables.'
`Well, good-bye, old man,' says I, `and good luck. One of us
will come and lead you into the weighing yard, if you pull it off,
and chance the odds, if Sir Ferdinand himself was at the gate.'
`All right,' says he, `I'll look out for you,' and off he goes.
I went back and told Aileen and Gracey, and we settled
that they were to drive out to the course with Cyrus Williams and his wife.
I rode, thinking myself safer on horseback, for fear of accidents.
Starlight, of course, went in the Dawsons' drag, and was going
to enjoy himself to the last minute. He had his horse ready
at a moment's notice, and Warrigal was not far off to give warning,
or to bring up his horse if we had to ride for it.
Well, the first part of the day went well enough, and then
about half-past one we all went down to the church. The young fellow
that was to marry Bella Barnes was known on the field and well liked
by the miners, so a good many of them made it up to go and see the wedding.
They'd heard of Bella and Maddie, and wanted to see what they looked like.
The church was on the side of the town next the racecourse,
so they hadn't far to go. By and by, as the crowd moved that way,
Starlight says to the Commissioner --
`Where are all these good folks making for?'
`Why, the fact is there's to be a wedding,' he says,
`and it excites a good deal of attention as the young people
are well known on the field and popular. Bella Barnes and her sister
are very fine girls in their way. Suppose we go and look on too!
There won't be anything now before the big race.'
`By Jove! a first-rate ideah,' says Starlight. `I should like to see
an Australian wedding above all things.'
`This will be the real thing, then,' says Mr. Jack Dawson. `Let's drive up
to our hotel, put up the horses, have a devil and a glass of champagne,
and we can be back easy in time for the race.' So away they went.
Cyrus drove the girls and his wife in his dogcart, so we were there
all ready to see the bride come up.
It looked a regular grand affair, my word. The church was that crammed
there was hardly a place to sit or stand in. Every woman, young and old,
in the countryside was there, besides hundreds of diggers
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