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.
'We'll get down here now,' I said, when we came near the dividing fence; 'it ain't far to walk. That's your road.'
'I'll run you up to the door,' says he, 'it isn't far; you ain't used to walking much.'
He let out his horse and we trotted through the paddock up to the old hut.
'The garden don't look bad,' says he. 'Them peaches always used to bear well in the old man's time, and the apples and quinces too. Some one's had it took care on and tidied up a bit. There, you've got a friend or two left, old man. And I'm one, too,' says he, putting out his hand and giving mine a shake. 'There ain't any one in these parts as 'll cast it up to you as long as you keep straight. You can look 'em all in the face now, and bygones 'll be bygones.'
Then he touched up his horse and rattled off before I could so much as say 'Thank ye.'
I walked through the garden and sat down in the verandah on one of the old benches. There was the old place, mighty little altered considering. The hut had been mended up from time to time -- now a slab and then a sheet of bark -- else it would have been down long enough ago. The garden had been dug up, and the trees trimmed year by year. A hinge had been put on the old gate, and a couple of slip-rails at the paddock. The potato patch at the bottom of the garden was sown, and there were vegetables coming on in the old beds. Some one had looked after the place; of course, I knew who it was.
It began to get coldish, and I pulled the latch -- it was there just the same -- and went into the old room. I almost expected to see mother in her chair, and father on the stool near the fireplace, where he used to sit and smoke his pipe. Aileen's was a little low chair near mother's. Jim and I used to be mostly in the verandah, unless it was very cold, and then we used to lie down in front of the fire -- that is, if dad was away, as he mostly was.
The room felt cold and dark as I looked in. So dreadful lonely, too. I almost wished I was back in the gaol.
When I looked round again I could see things had been left ready for me, so as I wasn't to find myself bad off the first night. The fire was all made up ready to light, and matches on the table ready. The kettle was filled, and a basket close handy with a leg of mutton, and bread, butter, eggs, and a lot of things -- enough to last me a week. The bedroom had been settled up too, and there was a good, comfortable bed ready for any tired man to turn into. Better than all, there was a letter, signed 'Your own Gracey,' that made me think I might have some life left worth living yet.
I lit the fire, and after a bit made shift to boil some tea; and after I'd finished what little I could eat I felt better, and sat down before the fire to consider over things. It was late enough -- midnight -- before I turned in. I couldn't sleep then; but at last I must have dropped off, because the sun was shining into the room, through the old window with the broken shutter, when I awoke.
At first I didn't think of getting up. Then I knew, all of a sudden, that I could open the door and go out. I was in the garden in three seconds, listening to the birds and watching the clouds rising over Nulla Mountain.
That morning, after breakfast, I saw two people, a man and a woman, come riding up to the garden gate. I knew who it was as far as I could see 'em -- George Storefield and Gracey. He lifted her down, and they walked up through the garden. I went a step or two to meet them. She ran forward and threw herself into my arms. George turned away for a bit. Then I put her by, and told her to sit down on the verandah while I had a talk with George. He shook hands with me, and said he was glad to see me a free man again. 'I've worked a bit, and got others to work too,' says he; 'mostly for her, and partly for your own sake, Dick. I can't forget old times. Now you're your own man again, and I won't insult you by saying I hope you'll keep so; I know it, as sure as we stand here.'
'Look here, George,' I said, 'as there's a God in heaven, no man shall ever be able to say a word against me again. I think more of what you've done for me almost than of poor Gracey's holding fast. It came natural to her. Once a woman takes to a man, it don't matter to her what he is. But if you'd thrown me off I'd have not blamed you. What's left of Dick Marston's life belongs to her and you.'
That day week Gracey and I were married, very quiet and private. We thought we'd have no one at the little church at Bargo but George and his wife, the old woman, and the chap as drove me home. Just as we were going into the church who should come rattling up on horseback but Maddie Barnes and her husband -- Mrs. Moreton, as she was now, with a bright-looking boy of ten or eleven on a pony. She jumps off and gives the bridle to him. She looked just the same as ever, a trifle stouter, but the same saucy look about the eyes. 'Well, Dick Marston,' says she, 'how are you? Glad to see you, old man. You've got him safe at last, Gracey, and I wish you joy. You came to Bella's wedding, Dick, and so I thought I'd come to yours, though you kept it so awful quiet. How d'ye think the old horse looks?'
'Why, it's never Rainbow?' says I. 'It's twelve years and over since I saw him last.'
'I didn't care if it was twenty,' said she. 'Here he is, and goes as sound as a bell. His poor old teeth are getting done, but he ain't the only one that way, is he, Joe? He'll never die if I can keep him alive. I have to give him corn-meal, though, so as he can grind it easy.'
'I believe she thinks more of that old moke than me and the children all put together,' says Joe Moreton.
'And why shouldn't I?' says Maddie, facing round at him just the old way. 'Isn't he the finest horse that ever stood on legs, and didn't he belong to the finest gentleman that you or any one else looked at? Don't say a word against him, for I can't stand it. I believe if you was to lay a whip across that old horse in anger I'd go away and leave you, Joe Moreton, just as if you was a regular black stranger. Poor Rainbow! Isn't he a darling?' Here she stroked the old horse's neck. He was rolling fat, and had a coat like satin. His legs were just as clean as ever, and he stood there as if he heard everything, moving his old head up and down the way he always did -- never still a moment. It brought back old times, and I felt soft enough, I tell you. Maddie's lips were trembling again, too, and her eyes like two coals of fire. As for Joe, he said nothing more, and the best thing too. The boy led Rainbow over to the fence, and old George walked us all into the church, and that settled things.
After the words were said we all went back to George's together, and Maddie and her husband drank a glass of wine to our health, and wished us luck. They rode as far as the turn off to Rocky Flat with us, and then took the Turon road.
'Good-bye, Dick,' says Maddie, bending down over the old horse's neck. 'You've got a stunning good wife now, if ever any man had in the whole world. Mind you're an A1 husband, or we'll all round on you, and your life won't be worth having; and I've got the best horse in the country, haven't I? See where the bullet went through his poor neck. There's no lady in the land got one that's a patch on him. Steady, now, Rainbow, we'll be off in a minute. You shall see my little Jim there take him over a hurdle yard. He can ride a bit, as young as he is. Pity poor old Jim ain't here to-day, isn't it, Dick? Think of him being cold in his grave now, and we here. Well, it's no use crying, is it?'
And off went Maddie at a pace that gave Joe and the boy all they knew to catch her.
We're to live here for a month or two till I get used to outdoor work and the regular old bush life again. There's no life like it, to my fancy. Then we start, bag and baggage, for one of George's Queensland stations, right away up on the Barcoo, that I'm to manage and have a share in.
It freshens me up to think of making a start in a new country. It's a long way from where we were born and brought up; but all the better for that. Of course they'll know about me; but in any part of Australia, once a chap shows that he's given up cross doings and means to go straight for the future, the people of the country will always lend him a helping hand, particularly if he's married to such a wife as Gracey. I'm not afraid of any of my troubles in the old days being cast up to me; and men are so scarce and hard to get west of the Barcoo that no one that once had Dick Marston's help at a muster is likely to remind him of such an old story as that of 'Robbery Under Arms'.