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.
Father was one of those people that gets shut of a deal of trouble in this world by always sticking to one thing. If he said he'd do this or that he always did it and nothing else. As for turning him, a wild bull half-way down a range was a likelier try-on. So nobody ever bothered him after he'd once opened his mouth. They knew it was so much lost labour. I sometimes thought Aileen was a bit like him in her way of sticking to things. But then she was always right, you see.
So that clinched it. Mother gave in like a wise woman, as she was. The clergyman from Bargo came one day and christened me and Jim -- made one job of it. But mother took Aileen herself in the spring cart all the way to the township and had her christened in the chapel, in the middle of the service all right and regular, by Father Roche.
There's good and bad of every sort, and I've met plenty that were no chop of all churches; but if Father Roche, or Father anybody else, had any hand in making mother and Aileen half as good as they were, I'd turn tomorrow, if I ever got out again. I don't suppose it was the religion that made much difference in our case, for Patsey Daly and his three brothers, that lived on the creek higher up, were as much on the cross as men could be, and many a time I've seen them ride to chapel and attend mass, and look as if they'd never seen a 'clearskin' in their lives. Patsey was hanged afterwards for bush-ranging and gold robbery, and he had more than one man's blood to answer for. Now we weren't like that; we never troubled the church one way or the other. We knew we were doing what we oughtn't to do, and scorned to look pious and keep two faces under one hood.
By degrees we all grew older, began to be active and able to do half a man's work. We learned to ride pretty well -- at least, that is we could ride a bare-backed horse at full gallop through timber or down a range; could back a colt just caught and have him as quiet as an old cow in a week. We could use the axe and the cross-cut saw, for father dropped that sort of work himself, and made Jim and I do all the rough jobs of mending the fences, getting firewood, milking the cows, and, after a bit, ploughing the bit of flat we kept in cultivation.
Jim and I, when we were fifteen and thirteen -- he was bigger for his age than I was, and so near my own strength that I didn't care about touching him -- were the smartest lads on the creek, father said -- he didn't often praise us, either. We had often ridden over to help at the muster of the large cattle stations that were on the side of the range, and not more than twenty or thirty miles from us.
Some of our young stock used to stray among the squatters' cattle, and we liked attending the muster because there was plenty of galloping about and cutting out, and fun in the men's hut at night, and often a half-crown or so for helping some one away with a big mob of cattle or a lot for the pound. Father didn't go himself, and I used to notice that whenever we came up and said we were Ben Marston's boys both master and super looked rather glum, and then appeared not to think any more about it. I heard the owner of one of these stations say to his managing man, 'Pity, isn't it? fine boys, too.' I didn't understand what they meant. I do now.
We could do a few things besides riding, because, as I told you before, we had been to a bit of a school kept by an old chap that had once seen better days, that lived three miles off, near a little bush township. This village, like most of these places, had a public-house and a blacksmith's shop. That was about all. The publican kept the store, and managed pretty well to get hold of all the money that was made by the people round about, that is of those that were 'good drinking men'. He had half-a-dozen children, and, though he was not up to much, he wasn't that bad that he didn't want his children to have the chance of being better than himself. I've seen a good many crooked people in my day, but very few that, though they'd given themselves up as a bad job, didn't hope a bit that their youngsters mightn't take after them. Curious, isn't it? But it is true, I can tell you. So Lammerby, the publican, though he was a greedy, sly sort of fellow, that bought things he knew were stolen, and lent out money and charged everybody two prices for the things he sold 'em, didn't like the thought of his children growing up like Myall cattle, as he said himself, and so he fished out this old Mr. Howard, that had been a friend or a victim or some kind of pal of his in old times, near Sydney, and got him to come and keep school.
He was a curious man, this Mr. Howard. What he had been or done none of us ever knew, but he spoke up to one of the squatters that said something sharp to him one day in a way that showed us boys that he thought himself as good as he was. And he stood up straight and looked him in the face, till we hardly could think he was the same man that was so bent and shambling and broken-down-looking most times. He used to live in a little hut in the township all by himself. It was just big enough to hold him and us at our lessons. He had his dinner at the inn, along with Mr. and Mrs. Lammerby. She was always kind to him, and made him puddings and things when he was ill. He was pretty often ill, and then he'd hear us our lessons at the bedside, and make a short day of it.
Mostly he drank nothing but tea. He used to smoke a good deal out of a big meerschaum pipe with figures on it that he used to show us when he was in a good humour. But two or three times a year he used to set-to and drink for a week, and then school was left off till he was right. We didn't think much of that. Everybody, almost, that we knew did the same -- all the men -- nearly all, that is -- and some of the women -- not mother, though; she wouldn't have touched a drop of wine or spirits to save her life, and never did to her dying day. We just thought of it as if they'd got a touch of fever or sunstroke, or broke a rib or something. They'd get over it in a week or two, and be all right again.