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.
I didn't find out all about her nature at once -- trust a woman for that. Vain and fond of pleasure I could see she was; and from having been always poor, in a worrying, miserable, ill-contented way, she had got to be hungry for money and jewels and fine clothes; just like a person that's been starved and shivering with cold longs for a fire and a full meal and a warm bed. Some people like these things when they can get them; but others never seem to think about anything else, and would sell their souls or do anything in the whole world to get what their hearts are set on. When men are like this they're dangerous, but they hardly hurt anybody, only themselves. When women are born with hearts of this sort it's a bad look-out for everybody they come near. Kate Morrison could see that I had money. She thought I was rich, and she made up her mind to attract me, and go shares in my property, whatever it might be. She won over her younger sister, Jeanie, to her plans, and our acquaintance was part of a regular put-up scheme. Jeanie was a soft, good-tempered, good-hearted girl, with beautiful fair hair, blue eyes, and the prettiest mouth in the world. She was as good as she was pretty, and would have worked away without grumbling in that dismal little shop from that day to this, if she'd been let alone. She was only just turned seventeen. She soon got to like Jim a deal too well for her own good, and used to listen to his talk about the country across the border, and such simple yarns as he could tell her, poor old Jim! until she said she'd go and live with him under a salt-bush if he'd come back and marry her after Christmas. And of course he did promise. He didn't see any harm in that. He intended to come back if he could, and so did I for that matter. Well, the long and short of it was that we were both regularly engaged and had made all kinds of plans to be married at Christmas and go over to Tasmania or New Zealand, when this terrible blow fell upon us like a shell. I did see one explode at a review in Melbourne -- and, my word! what a scatteration it made.
Well, we had to let Kate and Jeanie know the best way we could that our business required us to leave Melbourne at once, and that we shouldn't be back till after Christmas, if then.
It was terrible hard work to make out any kind of a story that would do. Kate questioned and cross-questioned me about the particular kind of business that called us away like a lawyer (I've seen plenty of that since) until at last I was obliged to get a bit cross and refuse to answer any more questions.
Jeanie took it easier, and was that down-hearted and miserable at parting with Jim that she hadn't the heart to ask any questions of any one, and Jim looked about as dismal as she did. They sat with their hands in each other's till it was nearly twelve o'clock, when the old mother came and carried the girls off to bed. We had to start at daylight next morning; but we made up our minds to leave them a hundred pounds apiece to keep for us until we came back, and promised if we were alive to be at St. Kilda next January, which they had to be contented with.
Jeanie did not want to take the money; but Jim said he'd very likely lose it, and so persuaded her.
We were miserable and low-spirited enough ourselves at the idea of going away all in a hurry. We had come to like Melbourne, and had bit by bit cheated ourselves into thinking that we might live comfortably and settle down in Victoria, out of reach of our enemies, and perhaps live and die unsuspected.
From this dream we were roused up by the confounded advertisement. Detectives and constables would be seen to be pretty thick in all the colonies, and we could not reasonably expect not to be taken some time or other, most likely before another week.
We thought it over and over again, in every way. The more we thought over it the more dangerous it seemed to stop in Melbourne. There was only one thing for it, that was to go straight out of the country. The Gippsland men were the only bushmen we knew at all well, and perhaps that door might shut soon.
So we paid our bill. They thought us a pair of quiet, respectable chaps at that hotel, and never would believe otherwise. People may say what they like, but it's a great thing to have some friends that can say of you --
'Well, I never knew no harm of him; a better tempered chap couldn't be; and all the time we knowed him he was that particular about his bills and money matters that a banker couldn't have been more regular. He may have had his faults, but we never seen 'em. I believe a deal that was said of him wasn't true, and nothing won't ever make me believe it.'
These kind of people will stand up for you all the days of your life, and stick to you till the very last moment, no matter what you turn out to be. Well, there's something pleasant in it; and it makes you think human nature ain't quite such a low and paltry thing as some people tries to make out. Anyhow, when we went away our good little landlady and her sister was that sorry to lose us, as you'd have thought they was our blood relations. As for Jim, every one in the house was fit to cry when he went off, from the dogs and cats upwards. Jim never was in no house where everybody didn't seem to take naturally to him. Poor old Jim!
We bought a couple of horses, and rode away down to Sale with these chaps that had sold their cattle in Melbourne and was going home. It rained all the way, and it was the worst road by chalks we'd ever seen in our lives; but the soil was wonderful, and the grass was something to talk about; we'd hardly ever seen anything like it. A few thousand acres there would keep more stock than half the country we'd been used to.
We didn't stay more than a day or so in Sale. Every morning at breakfast some one was sure to turn up the paper and begin jabbering about the same old infernal business, Hood's cattle, and what a lot were taken, and whether they'll catch Starlight and the other men, and so on.
We heard of a job at Omeo while we were in Sale, which we thought would just about suit us. All the cattle on a run there were to be mustered and delivered to a firm of stock agents that had bought them; they wanted people to do it by contract at so much a head. Anybody who took it must have money enough to buy stock horses. The price per head was pretty fair, what would pay well, and we made up our minds to go in for it.
So we made a bargain; bought two more horses each, and started away for Omeo. It was near 200 miles from where we were. We got up there all right, and found a great rich country with a big lake, I don't know how many feet above the sea. The cattle were as wild as hares, but the country was pretty good to ride over. We were able to keep our horses in good condition in the paddocks, and when we had mustered the whole lot we found we had a handsome cheque to get.
It was a little bit strange buckling to after the easy life we'd led for the last few months; but after a day or two we found ourselves as good men as ever, and could spin over the limestone boulders and through the thick mountain timber as well as ever we did. A man soon gets right again in the fresh air of the bush; and as it used to snow there every now and then the air was pretty fresh, you bet, particularly in the mornings and evenings.
After we'd settled up we made up our minds to get as far as Monaro, and wait there for a month or two. After that we might go in for the shearing till Christmas, and then whatever happened we would both make a strike back for home, and have one happy week, at any rate, with mother and Aileen.
We tried as well as we could to keep away from the large towns and the regular mail coach road. We worked on runs where the snow came down every now and then in such a way as to make us think that we might be snowed up alive some fine morning. It was very slow and tedious work, but the newspapers seldom came there, and we were not worried day after day with telegrams about our Adelaide stroke, and descriptions of Starlight's own look and way of speaking. We got into the old way of working hard all day and sleeping well at night. We could eat and drink well; the corned beef and the damper were good, and Jim, like when we were at the back of Boree when Warrigal came, wished that we could stick to this kind of thing always, and never have any fret or crooked dealings again as long as we lived.
But it couldn't be done. We had to leave and go shearing when the spring came on. We did go, and went from one big station to the other when the spring was regularly on and shearers were scarce. By and by the weather gets warmer, and we had cut our last shed before the first week in December.
Then we couldn't stand it any longer.
'I don't care,' says Jim, 'if there's a policeman standing at every corner of the street, I must make a start for home. They may catch us, but our chance is a pretty good one; and I'd just as soon be lagged outright as have to hide and keep dark and moulder away life in some of these God-forsaken spots.'
So we made up to start for home and chance it. We worked our way by degrees up the Snowy River, by Buchan and Galantapee, and gradually made towards Balooka and Buckley's Crossing. On the way we crossed some of the roughest country we had ever seen or ridden over.
'My word, Dick,' said Jim one day, as we were walking along and leading our horses, 'we could find a place here if we were hard pushed near as good for hiding in as the Hollow. Look at that bit of tableland that runs up towards Black Mountain, any man that could find a track up to it might live there for a year and all the police of the country be after him.'
'What would he get to eat if he was there?'
'That long chap we stayed with at Wargulmerang told us that there were wild cattle on all those tablelands. Often they get snowed up in winter and die, making a circle in the snow. Then fish in all the creeks, besides the old Snowy, and there are places on the south side of him that people didn't see once in five years. I believe I shall make a camp for myself on the way, and live in it till they've forgot all about these cursed cattle. Rot their hides, I wish we'd never have set eyes on one of them.'
'So do I; but like many things in the world it's too late -- too late, Jim!'