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 wasn't married like Jim, and it not being very lively in the tent at night, Arizona Bill and I mostly used to stroll up to the Prospectors' Arms. We'd got used to sitting at the little table, drinking our beer or what not, smoking our pipes and listening to all the fun that was going on. Not that we always sat in the big hall. There was a snug little parlour beside the bar that we found more comfortable, and Kate used to run in herself when business was slack enough to leave the barmaid; then she'd sit down and have a good solid yarn with us.
She made a regular old friend of me, and, as she was a handsome woman, always well dressed, with lots to say and plenty of admirers, I wasn't above being singled out and made much of. It was partly policy, of course. She knew our secret, and it wouldn't have done to have let her let it out or be bad friends, so that we should be always going in dread of it. So Jim and I were always mighty civil to her, and I really thought she'd improved a lot lately and turned out a much nicer woman than I thought she could be.
We used to talk away about old times, regular confidential, and though she'd great spirits generally, she used to change quite sudden sometimes and say she was a miserable woman, and wished she hadn't been in such a hurry and married as she had. Then she'd crack up Jeanie, and say how true and constant she'd been, and how she was rewarded for it by marrying the only man she ever loved. She used to blame her temper; she'd always had it, she said, and couldn't get rid of it; but she really believed, if things had turned out different, she'd have been a different woman, and any man she really loved would never have had no call to complain. Of course I knew what all this meant, but thought I could steer clear of coming to grief over it.
That was where I made the mistake. But I didn't think so then, or how much hung upon careless words and looks.
Well, somehow or other she wormed it out of me that we were off somewhere at Christmas. Then she never rested till she'd found out that we were going to Melbourne. After that she seemed as if she'd changed right away into somebody else. She was that fair and soft-speaking and humble-minded that Jeanie couldn't have been more gentle in her ways; and she used to look at me from time to time as if her heart was breaking. I didn't believe that, for I didn't think she'd any heart to break.
One night, after we'd left about twelve o'clock, just as the house shut up, Arizona Bill says to me --
'Say, pard, have yer fixed it up to take that young woman along when you pull up stakes?'
'No,' I said; 'isn't she a married woman? and, besides, I haven't such a fancy for her as all that comes to.'
'Ye heven't?' he said, speaking very low, as he always did, and taking the cigar out of his mouth -- Bill always smoked cigars when he could get them, and not very cheap ones either; 'well, then, I surmise you're lettin' her think quite contrairy, and there's bound to be a muss if you don't hide your tracks and strike a trail she can't foller on.'
'I begin to think I've been two ends of a dashed fool; but what's a man to do?'
'See here, now,' he said; 'you hev two cl'ar weeks afore ye. You slack off and go slow; that'll let her see you didn't sorter cotton to her more'n's in the regulations.'
'And have a row with her?'
'Sartin,' says Bill, 'and hev the shootin' over right away. It's a plaguey sight safer than letting her carry it in her mind, and then laying for yer some day when ye heven't nary thought of Injuns in your head. That's the very time a woman like her's bound to close on yer and lift yer ha'r if she can.'
'Why, how do you know what she's likely to do?'
'I've been smokin', pard, while you hev bin talkin', sorter careless like. I've had my eyes open and seen Injun sign mor'n once or twice either. I've hunted with her tribe afore, I guess, and old Bill ain't forgot all the totems and the war paint.'
After this Bill fresh lit his cigar, and wouldn't say any more. But I could see what he was driving at, and I settled to try all I knew to keep everything right and square till the time came for us to make our dart.
I managed to have a quiet talk with Starlight. He thought that by taking care, being very friendly, but not too much so, we might get clean off, without Kate or any one else being much the wiser.
Next week everything seemed to go on wheels -- smooth and fast, no hitches anywhere. Jim reckoned the best of our claim would be worked out by the 20th of the month, and we'd as good as agreed to sell our shares to Arizona Bill and his mate, who were ready, as Bill said, 'to plank down considerable dollars' for what remained of it. If they got nothing worth while, it was the fortune of war, which a digger never growls at, no matter how hard hit he may be. If they did well, they were such up and down good fellows, and such real friends to us, that we should have grudged them nothing.
As for Jeanie, she was almost out of her mind with eagerness to get back to Melbourne and away from the diggings. She was afraid of many of the people she saw, and didn't like others. She was terrified all the time Jim was away from her, but she would not hear of living at the Prospectors' Arms with her sister.
'I know where that sort of thing leads to,' she said; 'let us have our own home, however rough.'
Kate went out to Specimen Gully to see her sister pretty often, and they sat and talked and laughed, just as they did in old times, Jeanie said. She was a simple little thing, and her heart was as pure as quartz crystal. I do really believe she was no match for Kate in any way. So the days went on. I didn't dare stay away from the Prospectors' Arms, for fear she'd think I wanted to break with her altogether, and yet I was never altogether comfortable in her company. It wasn't her fault, for she laid herself out to get round us all, even old Arizona Bill, who used to sit solemnly smoking, looking like an Indian chief or a graven image, until at last his brick-coloured, grizzled old face would break up all of a sudden, and he'd laugh like a youngster. As the days drew nigh Christmas I could see a restless expression in her face that I never saw before. Her eyes began to shine in a strange way, and sometimes she'd break off short in her talk and run out of the room. Then she'd pretend to wish we were gone, and that she'd never seen us again. I could hardly tell what to make of her, and many a time I wished we were on blue water and clear away from all chance of delay and drawback.