This section is from the book "Robbery Under Arms; A Story Of Life And Adventure In The Bush And In The Australian Goldfields", by Rolf Boldrewood. Also available from Amazon: Robbery under Arms; a story of life and adventure in the bush and in the Australian goldfields.
Going away was easy enough, in a manner of speaking; but we'd been a month in Melbourne, and when you mind that we were not bad-looking chaps, fairishly dressed, and with our pockets full of money, it was only what might be looked for if we had made another friend or two besides Mrs. Morrison, the landlady of our inn, and Gippsland drovers. When we had time to turn round a bit in Melbourne of course we began to make a few friends. Wherever a man goes, unless he keeps himself that close that he won't talk to any one or let any one talk to him, he's sure to find some one he likes to be with better than another. If he's old and done with most of his fancies, except smokin' and drinkin' it's a man. If he's young and got his life before him it's a woman. So Jim and I hadn't been a week in Melbourne before we fell across a couple of -- well, friends -- that we were hard set to leave. It was a way of mine to walk down to the beach every evening and have a look at the boats in the bay and the fishermen, if there were any -- anything that might be going on. Sometimes a big steamer would be coming in, churning the water under her paddles and tearing up the bay like a hundred bunyips. The first screw-boat Jim and I saw we couldn't make out for the life of us what she moved by. We thought all steamers had paddles. Then the sailing boats, flying before the breeze like seagulls, and the waves, if it was a rough day, rolling and beating and thundering on the beach. I generally stayed till the stars came out before I went back to the hotel. Everything was so strange and new to a man who'd seen so little else except green trees that I was never tired of watching, and wondering, and thinking what a little bit of a shabby world chaps like us lived in that never seen anything but a slab hut, maybe, all the year round, and a bush public on high days and holidays.
Sometimes I used to feel as if we hadn't done such a bad stroke in cutting loose from all this. But then the horrible feeling would come back of never being safe, even for a day, of being dragged off and put in the dock, and maybe shut up for years and years. Sometimes I used to throw myself down upon the sand and curse the day when I ever did anything that I had any call to be ashamed of and put myself in the power of everything bad and evil in all my life through.
Well, one day I was strolling along, thinking about these things, and wondering whether there was any other country where a man could go and feel himself safe from being hounded down for the rest of his life, when I saw a woman walking on the beach ahead of me. I came up with her before long, and as I passed her she turned her head and I saw she was one of two girls that we had seen in the landlady's parlour one afternoon. The landlady was a good, decent Scotch woman, and had taken a fancy to both of us (particularly to Jim -- as usual). She thought -- she was that simple -- that we were up-country squatters from some far-back place, or overseers. Something in the sheep or cattle line everybody could see that we were. There was no hiding that. But we didn't talk about ourselves overmuch, for very good reasons. The less people say the more others will wonder and guess about you. So we began to be looked upon as bosses of some sort, and to be treated with a lot of respect that we hadn't been used to much before. So we began to talk a bit -- natural enough -- this girl and I. She was a good-looking girl, with a wonderful fresh clear skin, full of life and spirits, and pretty well taught. She and her sister had not been a long time in the country; their father was dead, and they had to live by keeping a very small shop and by dressmaking. They were some kind of cousins of the landlady and the same name, so they used to come and see her of evenings and Sundays. Her name was Kate Morrison and her sister's was Jeanie. This and a lot more she told me before we got back to the hotel, where she said she was going to stay that night and keep Mrs. Morrison company.
After this we began to be a deal better acquainted. It all came easy enough. The landlady thought she was doing the girls a good turn by putting them in the way of a couple of hard-working well-to-do fellows like us; and as Jim and the younger one, Jeanie, seemed to take a fancy to each other, Mrs. Morrison used to make up boating parties, and we soon got to know each other well enough to be joked about falling in love and all the rest of it.
After a bit we got quite into the way of calling for Kate and Jeanie after their day's work was done, and taking them out for a walk. I don't know that I cared so much for Kate in those days anyhow, but by degrees we got to think that we were what people call in love with each other. It went deeper with her than me, I think. It mostly does with women. I never really cared for any woman in the world except Gracey Storefield, but she was far away, and I didn't see much likelihood of my being able to live in that part of the world, much less to settle down and marry there. So, though we'd broken a six-pence together and I had my half, I looked upon her as ever so much beyond me and out of my reach, and didn't see any harm in amusing myself with any woman that I might happen to fall across.
So, partly from idleness, partly from liking, and partly seeing that the girl had made up her mind to throw in her lot with me for good and all, I just took it as it came; but it meant a deal more than that, if I could have foreseen the end.
I hadn't seen a great many women, and had made up my mind that, except a few bad ones, they was mostly of one sort -- good to lead, not hard to drive, and, above all, easy to see through and understand.
I often wonder what there was about this Kate Morrison to make her so different from other women; but she was born unlike them, I expect. Anyway, I never met another woman like her. She wasn't out-and-out handsome, but there was something very taking about her. Her figure was pretty near as good as a woman's could be; her step was light and active; her feet and hands were small, and she took a pride in showing them. I never thought she had any temper different from other women; but if I'd noticed her eyes, surely I'd have seen it there. There was something very strange and out of the way about them. They hardly seemed so bright when you looked at them first; but by degrees, if she got roused and set up about anything, they'd begin to burn with a steady sort of glitter that got fiercer and brighter till you'd think they'd burn everything they looked at. The light in them didn't go out again in a hurry, either. It seemed as if those wonderful eyes would keep on shining, whether their owner wished it or not.