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.
So the years went on -- slow enough they seemed to us sometimes -- the green winters, pretty cold, I tell you, with frost and hail-storms, and the long hot summers. We were not called boys any longer, except by mother and Aileen, but took our places among the men of the district. We lived mostly at home, in the old way; sometimes working pretty hard, sometimes doing very little. When the cows were milked and the wood chopped, there was nothing to do for the rest of the day. The creek was that close that mother used to go and dip the bucket into it herself, when she wanted one, from a little wooden step above the clear reedy waterhole.
Now and then we used to dig in the garden. There was reaping and corn-pulling and husking for part of the year; but often, for weeks at a time, there was next to nothing to do. No hunting worth much -- we were sick of kangarooing, like the dogs themselves, that as they grew old would run a little way and then pull up if a mob came, jump, jump, past them. No shooting, except a few ducks and pigeons. Father used to laugh at the shooting in this country, and say they'd never have poachers here -- the game wasn't worth it. No fishing, except an odd codfish, in the deepest waterholes; and you might sit half a day without a bite.
Now this was very bad for us boys. Lads want plenty of work, and a little play now and then to keep them straight. If there's none, they'll make it; and you can't tell how far they'll go when they once start.
Well, Jim and I used to get our horses and ride off quietly in the afternoon, as if we were going after cattle; but, in reality, as soon as we were out of sight of mother, to ride over to that old villain, Grimes, the shanty-keeper, where we met the young Dalys, and others of the same sort -- talked a good deal of nonsense and gossip; what was worse played at all-fours and euchre, which we had learned from an American harvest hand, at one of the large farms.
Besides playing for money, which put us rather into trouble sometimes, as we couldn't always find a half-crown if we lost it, we learned another bad habit, and that was to drink spirits. What burning nasty stuff I thought it at first; and so did we all! But every one wanted to be thought a man, and up to all kinds of wickedness, so we used to make it a point of drinking our nobbler, and sometimes treating the others twice, if we had cash.
There was another family that lived a couple of miles off, higher up the creek, and we had always been good friends with them, though they never came to our house, and only we boys went to theirs. They were the parents of the little girl that went to school with us, and a boy who was a year older than me.
Their father had been a gardener at home, and he married a native girl who was born somewhere about the Hawkesbury, near Windsor. Her father had been a farmer, and many a time she told us how sorry she was to go away from the old place, and what fine corn and pumpkins they grew; and how they had a church at Windsor, and used to take their hay and fruit and potatoes to Sydney, and what a grand place Sydney was, with stone buildings called markets for people to sell fruit and vegetables and poultry in; and how you could walk down into Lower George Street and see Sydney Harbour, a great shining salt-water plain, a thousand times as big as the biggest waterhole, with ships and boats and sailors, and every kind of strange thing upon it.
Mrs. Storefield was pretty fond of talking, and she was always fond of me, because once when she was out after the cows, and her man was away, and she had left Grace at home, the little thing crawled down to the waterhole and tumbled in. I happened to be riding up with a message for mother, to borrow some soap, when I heard a little cry like a lamb's, and there was poor little Gracey struggling in the water like a drowning kitten, with her face under. Another minute or two would have finished her, but I was off the old pony and into the water like a teal flapper. I had her out in a second or two, and she gasped and cried a bit, but soon came to, and when Mrs. Storefield came home she first cried over her as if she would break her heart, and kissed her, and then she kissed me, and said, 'Now, Dick Marston, you look here. Your mother's a good woman, though simple; your father I don't like, and I hear many stories about him that makes me think the less we ought to see of the lot of you the better. But you've saved my child's life to-day, and I'll be a friend and a mother to you as long as I live, even if you turn out bad, and I'm rather afraid you will -- you and Jim both -- but it won't be my fault for want of trying to keep you straight; and John and I will be your kind and loving friends as long as we live, no matter what happens.'
After that -- it was strange enough -- but I always took to the little toddling thing that I'd pulled out of the water. I wasn't very big myself, if it comes to that, and she seemed to have a feeling about it, for she'd come to me every time I went there, and sit on my knee and look at me with her big brown serious eyes -- they were just the same after she grew up -- and talk to me in her little childish lingo. I believe she knew all about it, for she used to say, 'Dick pull Gracey out of water;' and then she'd throw her arms round my neck and kiss me, and walk off to her mother. If I'd let her drown then, and tied a stone round my neck and dropped through the reeds to the bottom of the big waterhole, it would have been better for both of us.
When John came home he was nearly as bad as the old woman, and wanted to give me a filly, but I wouldn't have it, boy as I was. I never cared for money nor money's worth, and I was not going to be paid for picking a kid out of the water.
George Storefield, Gracey's brother, was about my own age. He thought a lot of what I'd done for her, and years afterwards I threatened to punch his head if he said anything more about it. He laughed, and held out his hand.