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.
Then all kinds of thoughts came into my head. Would Kate, when her burst of rage was over, go in for revenge in cold blood? She could hardly strike me without at the same time hurting Jeanie through Jim. Should I trust her? Would she come right, kiss, and make friends, and call herself a madwoman -- a reckless fool -- as she'd often done before? No; she was in bitter earnest this time. It did not pay to be slack in making off. Once we had been caught napping, and once was enough.
The first thing to do was to warn Jim -- poor old Jim, snoring away, most like, and dreaming of taking the box-seat for himself and Jeanie at the agent's next morning. It seemed cruel to wake him, but it would have been crueller not to do so.
I walked up the narrow track that led up to the little gully with the moon shining down upon the white quartz rock. The pathway wound through a 'blow' of it. I threw a pebble at the door and waited till Jim came out.
'Who's there? Oh! it's you, old man, is it? It's rather late for a call; but if you've come to spend the evening I'll get up, and we'll have a smoke, anyhow.'
'You dress yourself, Jim,' I said, 'as quick as you can. Put on your hat and come with me; there's something up.'
'My God!' says Jim, 'what is it? I'm a rank coward now I've got Jeanie. Don't go and tell me we've got to cut and run again.'
'Something like it,' I said. 'If it hasn't come to that yet, it's not far off.'
We walked up the gully together. Jim lit his pipe while I told him shortly what had happened to me with Kate.
'May the devil fly away with her!' said Jim savagely, 'for a bad-minded, bad-hearted jade; and then he'd wish he'd left her where she was. She'd be no chop-down there even. I think sometimes she can't be Jeanie's sister at all. They must have changed her, and mothered the wrong child on the old woman. My word! but it's no laughing matter. What's to be done?'
'There's no going away by the coach tomorrow, I'm afraid. She's just the woman to tear straight up the camp and let it all out before her temper cooled. It would take a week to do that. The sergeant or Sir Ferdinand knows all about it now. They'll lose no time, you may be certain.'
'And must I leave without saying good-night to Jeanie?' says Jim. 'No, by ----! If I have half-a-dozen bullets through me, I'll go back and hold her in my arms once more before I'm hunted off and through the country like a wild dog once more. If that infernal Kate has given us away, by George, I could go and kill her with my own hand! The cruel, murdering, selfish brute, I believe she'd poison her mother for a ten-pound note!'
'No use swearing at Kate, Jim,' I said; 'that won't mend matters. It's not the first time by a thousand that I've wished I'd never set eyes on her; but if I'd never seen her that day on St. Kilda beach you'd never known Jeanie. So there's evens as well as odds. The thing is, what are we to do now?'
'Dashed if I know. I feel stupid about tackling the bush again; and what can I do with Jeanie? I wish I was dead. I've half a mind to go and shoot that brute of a woman and then myself. But then, poor Jeanie! poor little Jeanie! I can't stand it, Dick; I shall go mad!'
I thought Jim was going to break out crying just as he used when he was a boy. His heart was a big soft one; and though he could face anything in the way of work or fighting that a man dare do, and do two men's share very like, yet his tears, mother said, laid very near his eyes, and till he was a grown man they used to pump up on all sorts of occasions.
'Come, be a man, Jim,' I said, 'we've got to look the thing in the face; there's no two ways about it. I shall go to Arizona Bill's claim and see what he says. Anyhow I'll leave word with him what to do when we're gone. I'd advise you not to try to see Jeanie; but if you will you must, I suppose. Good-bye, old man. I shall make my way over to Jonathan's, borrow a horse from him, and make tracks for the Hollow as soon as I can. You'd better leave Jeanie here and do the same.'
Jim groaned, but said nothing. He wrung my hands till the bones seemed to crack, and walked away without a word. We knew it was a chance whether we should meet again.
I walked on pretty quick till I came to the flat where Arizona Bill and his mates had their sluicing claim. There were six of them altogether, tall wiry men all of them; they'd mostly been hunters and trappers in the Rocky Mountains before the gold was struck at Suttor's Mill, in the Sacramento Valley. They had been digging in '49 in California, but had come over when they heard from an old mate of a placer diggings at Turon, richer than anything they had ever tried in America.
This camp was half a mile from ours, and there was a bit of broken ground between, so that I thought I was safe in having a word with them before I cleared for Barnes's place, though I took care not to go near our own camp hut. I walked over, and was making straight for the smallest hut, when a rough voice hailed me.
'Hello! stranger, ye came darned near going to h--l with your boots on. What did yer want agin that thar cabin?'
I saw then that in my hurry I had gone stumbling against a small hut where they generally put their gold when the party had been washing up and had more than was safe to start from camp with. In this they always put a grizzled old hunter, about whom the yarn was that he never went to sleep, and could shoot anything a mile off. It was thought a very unlikely thing that any gold he watched would ever go crooked. Most people considered him a deal safer caretaker than the escort.
'Oh! it's you, is it?' drawled Sacramento Joe. 'Why, what's doin' at yer old camp?'
'What about?' said I.
'Wal, Bill and I seen three or four half-baked vigilantes that call themselves police; they was a setting round the hut and looked as if they was awaiting for somebody.'