Robbery Under Arms, by Rolph Boldrewood

Chapter 28

As everything looked so fair-weather-like, Jim and Jeanie made it up to be married as soon after she came up as he could get a house ready. She came up to Sydney, first by sea and after that to the diggings by the coach. She was always a quiet, hard-working, good little soul, awful timid, and prudent in everything but in taking a fancy to Jim. But that’s neither here nor there. Women will take fancies as long as the world lasts, and if they happen to fancy the wrong people the more obstinate they hold on to ’em. Jeanie was one of the prettiest girls I ever set eyes on in her way, very fair and clear coloured, with big, soft blue eyes, and hair like a cloud of spun silk. Nothing like her was ever seen on the field when she came up, so all the diggers said.

When they began to write to one another after we came to the Turon, Jim told her straight out that though we were doing well now it mightn’t last. He thought she was a great fool to leave Melbourne when she was safe and comfortable, and come to a wild place, in a way like the Turon. Of course he was ready and willing to marry her; but, speaking all for her own good, he advised her not. She’d better give him up and set her mind on somebody else. Girls that was anyway good-looking and kept themselves proper and decent were very scarce in Melbourne and Sydney now, considering the number of men that were making fortunes and were anxious to get a wife and settle down. A girl like her could marry anybody — most likely some one above her own rank in life. Of course she wouldn’t have no one but Jim, and if he was ready to marry her, and could get a little cottage, she was ready too. She would always be his own Jeanie, and was willing to run any kind of risk so as to be with him and near him, and so on.

Starlight and I both tried to keep Jim from it all we knew. It would make things twice as bad for him if he had to turn out again, and there was no knowing the moment when we might have to make a bolt for it; and where could Jeanie go then?

But Jim had got one of his obstinate fits. He said we were regularly mixed up with the diggers now. He never intended to follow any other life, and wouldn’t go back to the Hollow or take part in any fresh cross work, no matter how good it might be. Poor old Jim! I really believe he’d made up his mind to go straight from the very hour he was buckled to Jeanie; and if he’d only had common luck he’d have been as square and right as George Storefield to this very hour.

I was near forgetting about old George. My word! he was getting on faster than we were, though he hadn’t a golden hole. He was gold-finding in a different way, and no mistake. One day we saw a stoutish man drive up Main Street to the camp, with a well-groomed horse, in a dogcart, and a servant with him; and who was this but old George? He didn’t twig us. He drove close alongside of Jim, who was coming back from the creek, where he’d been puddling, with two shovels and a pick over his shoulder, and a pair of old yellow trousers on, and him splashed up to the eyes. George didn’t know him a bit. But we knew him and laughed to ourselves to see the big swell he had grown into. He stopped at the camp and left his dogcart outside with his man. Next thing we saw was the Commissioner walking about outside the camp with him, and talking to him just as if he was a regular intimate friend.

The Commissioner, that was so proud that he wouldn’t look at a digger or shake hands with him, not if he was a young marquis, as long as he was a digger. ‘No!’ he used to say, ‘I have to keep my authority over these thousands and tens of thousands of people, some of them very wild and lawless, principally by moral influence, though, of course, I have the Government to fall back upon. To do that I must keep up my position, and over-familiarity would be the destruction of it.’ When we saw him shaking hands with old George and inviting him to lunch we asked one of the miners next to our claim if he knew what that man’s name and occupation was there.

‘Oh!’ he says, ‘I thought everybody knew him. That’s Storefield, the great contractor. He has all the contracts for horse-feed for the camps and police stations; nearly every one between here and Kiandra. He’s took ’em lucky this year, and he’s making money hand over fist.’

Well done, steady old George! No wonder he could afford to drive a good horse and a swell dogcart. He was getting up in the world. We were a bit more astonished when we heard the Commissioner say —

‘I am just about to open court, Mr. Storefield. Would you mind taking a few cases with me this morning?’

We went into the courthouse just for a lark. There was old George sitting on the bench as grave as a judge, and a rattling good magistrate he made too. He disagreed from the Commissioner once or twice, and showed him where he was right, too, not in the law but in the facts of the case, where George’s knowing working men and their ways gave him the pull. He wasn’t over sharp and hard either, like some men directly they’re raised up a bit, just to show their power. But just seemed to do a fair thing, neither too much one way or the other. George stayed and had lunch at the camp with the Commissioner when the court was adjourned, and he drove away afterwards with his upstanding eighty-guinea horse — horses was horses in those days — just as good a gentleman to look at as anybody. Of course we knew there was a difference, and he’d never get over a few things he’d missed when he was young, in the way of education. But he was liked and respected for all that, and made welcome everywhere. He was a man as didn’t push himself one bit. There didn’t seem anything but his money and his good-natured honest face, and now and then a bit of a clumsy joke, to make him a place. But when the swells make up their minds to take a man in among themselves they’re not half as particular as commoner people; they do a thing well when they’re about it.

So George was hail-fellow-well-met with all the swells at the camp, and the bankers and big storekeepers, and the doctors and lawyers and clergymen, all the nobs there were at the Turon; and when the Governor himself and his lady came up on a visit to see what the place was like, why George was taken up and introduced as if he’d been a regular blessed curiosity in the way of contractors, and his Excellency hadn’t set eyes on one before.

‘My word! Dick,’ Jim says, ‘it’s a murder he and Aileen didn’t cotton to one another in the old days. She’d have been just the girl to have fancied all this sort of swell racket, with a silk gown and dressed up a bit. There isn’t a woman here that’s a patch on her for looks, is there now, except Jeanie, and she’s different in her ways.’

I didn’t believe there was. I began to think it over in my own mind, and wonder how it came about that she’d missed all her chances of rising in life, and if ever a woman was born for it she was. I couldn’t help seeing whose fault it was that she’d been kept back and was now obliged to work hard, and almost ashamed to show herself at Bargo and the other small towns; not that the people were ever shy of speaking to her, but she thought they might be, and wouldn’t give them a chance. In about a month up comes Jeanie Morrison from Melbourne, looking just the same as the very first evening we met Kate and her on the St. Kilda beach. Just as quiet and shy and modest-looking — only a bit sadder, and not quite so ready to smile as she’d been in the old days. She looked as if she’d had a grief to hide and fight down since then. A girl’s first sorrow when something happened to her love! They never look quite the same afterwards. I’ve seen a good many, and if it was real right down love, they were never the same in looks or feelings afterwards. They might ‘get over it’, as people call it; but that’s a sort of healing over a wound. It don’t always cure it, and the wound often breaks out again and bleeds afresh.

Jeanie didn’t look so bad, and she was that glad to see Jim again and to find him respected as a hard-working well-to-do miner that she forgot most of her disappointments and forgave him his share of any deceit that had been practised upon her and her sister. Women are like that. They’ll always make excuses for men they’re fond of and blame anybody else that can be blamed or that’s within reach. She thought Starlight and me had the most to do with it — perhaps we had; but Jim could have cut loose from us any time before the Momberah cattle racket much easier than he could now. I heard her say once that she thought other people were much more to blame than poor James — people who ought to have known better, and so on. By the time she had got to the end of her little explanation Jim was completely whitewashed of course. It had always happened to him, and I suppose always would. He was a man born to be helped and looked out for by every one he came near.

Seeing how good-looking Jeanie was thought, and how all the swells kept crowding round to get a look at her, if she was near the bar, Kate wanted to have a ball and show her off a bit. But she wouldn’t have it. She right down refused and close upon quarrelled with Kate about it. She didn’t take to the glare and noise and excitement of Turon at all. She was frightened at the strange-looking men that filled the streets by day and the hall at the Prospectors’ by night. The women she couldn’t abide. Anyhow she wouldn’t have nothing to say to them. All she wanted — and she kept at Jim day after day till she made him carry it out — was for him to build or buy a cottage, she didn’t care how small, where they could go and live quietly together. She would cook his meals and mend his clothes, and they would come into town on Saturday nights only and be as happy as kings and queens. She didn’t come up to dance or flirt, she said, in a place like Turon, and if Jim didn’t get a home for her she’d go back to her dressmaking at St. Kilda. This woke up Jim, so he bought out a miner who lived a bit out of the town. He had made money and wanted to sell his improvements and clear out for Sydney. It was a small four-roomed weatherboard cottage, with a bark roof, but very neatly put on. There was a little creek in front, and a small flower garden, with rose trees growing up the verandah posts. Most miners, when they’re doing well, make a garden. They take a pride in having a neat cottage and everything about it shipshape. The ground, of course, didn’t belong to him, but he held it by his miner’s right. The title was good enough, and he had a right to sell his goodwill and improvements.

Jim gave him his price and took everything, even to the bits of furniture. They weren’t much, but a place looks awful bare without them. The dog, and the cock and hens he bought too. He got some real nice things in Turon — tables, chairs, sofas, beds, and so on; and had the place lined and papered inside, quite swell. Then he told Jeanie the house was ready, and the next week they were married. They were married in the church — that is, the iron building that did duty for one. It had all been carted up from Melbourne — framework, roof, seats, and all — and put together at Turon. It didn’t look so bad after it was painted, though it was awful hot in summer.

Here they were married, all square and regular, by the Scotch clergyman. He was the first minister of any kind that came up to the diggings, and the men had all come to like him for his straightforward, earnest way of preaching. Not that we went often, but a good few of us diggers went every now and then just to show our respect for him; and so Jim said he’d be married by Mr. Mackenzie and no one else. Jeanie was a Presbyterian, so it suited her all to pieces.

Well, the church was chock-full. There never was such a congregation before. Lots of people had come to know Jim on the diggings, and more had heard of him as a straightgoing, good-looking digger, who was free with his money and pretty lucky. As for Jeanie, there was a report that she was the prettiest girl in Melbourne, and something of that sort, and so they all tried to get a look at her. Certainly, though there had been a good many marriages since we had come to the Turon, the church had never held a handsomer couple. Jeanie was quietly dressed in plain white silk. She had on a veil; no ornaments of any kind or sorts. It was a warmish day, and there was a sort of peach-blossom colour on her cheeks that looked as delicate as if a breath of air would blow it away. When she came in and saw the crowd of bronze bearded faces and hundreds of strange eyes bent on her, she turned quite pale. Then the flush came back on her face, and her eyes looked as bright as some of the sapphires we used to pick up now and then out of the river bed. Her hair was twisted up in a knot behind; but even that didn’t hide the lovely colour nor what a lot there was of it. As she came in with her slight figure and modest sweet face that turned up to Jim’s like a child’s, there was a sort of hum in the church that sounded very like breaking into a cheer.

Jim certainly was a big upstanding chap, strong built but active with it, and as fine a figure of a man as you’d see on the Turon or any other place. He stood about six feet and an inch, and was as straight as a rush. There was no stiffness about him either. He was broad-shouldered and light flanked, quick on his pins, and as good a man — all round — with his hands as you could pick out of the regular prize ring. He was as strong as a bullock, and just as good at the end of a day as at the start. With the work we’d had for the last five or six months we were all in top condition, as hard as a board and fit to work at any pace for twenty-four hours on end. He had an open, merry, laughing face, had Jim, with straight features and darkish hair and eyes. Nobody could ever keep angry with Jim. He was one of those kind of men that could fight to some purpose now and then, but that most people found it very hard to keep bad friends with.

Besides the miners, there were lots of other people in church who had heard of the wedding and come to see us. I saw Starlight and the two Honourables, dressed up as usual, besides the Commissioner and the camp officers; and more than that, the new Inspector of Police, who’d only arrived the day before. Sir Ferdinand Morringer, even he was there, dividing the people’s attention with the bride. Besides that, who should I see but Bella and Maddie Barnes and old Jonathan. They’d ridden into the Turon, for they’d got their riding habits on, and Bella had the watch and chain Starlight had given her. I saw her look over to where he and the other two were, but she didn’t know him again a bit in the world. He was sitting there looking as if he was bored and tired with the whole thing — hadn’t seen a soul in the church before, and didn’t want to see ’em again.

I saw Maddie Barnes looking with all her eyes at Jim, while her face grew paler. She hadn’t much colour at the best of times, but she was a fine-grown, lissom, good-looking girl for all that, and as full of fun and games as she could stick. Her eyes seemed to get bigger and darker as she looked, and when the parson began to read the service she turned away her head. I always thought she was rather soft on Jim, and now I saw it plain enough. He was one of those rattling, jolly kind of fellows that can’t help being friendly with every girl he meets, and very seldom cares much for any one in particular. He had been backward and forward a good deal with father before we got clear of Berrima, and that’s how poor Maddie had come to take the fancy so strong and set her heart upon him.

It must be hard lines for a woman to stand by, in a church or anywhere else, and see the man she loves given away, for good and all, buckled hard and fast to another woman. Nobody took much notice of poor Maddie, but I watched her pretty close, and saw the tears come into her eyes, though she let ’em run down her face before she’d pull out her handkerchief. Then she put up her veil and held up her head with a bit of a toss, and I saw her pride had helped her to bear it. I don’t suppose anybody else saw her, and if they did they’d only think she was cryin’ for company — as women often do at weddings and all kinds of things. But I knew better. She wouldn’t peach, poor thing! Still, I saw that more than one or two knew who we were and all about us that day.

We’d only just heard that the new Inspector of Police had come on to the field; so of course everybody began to talk about him and wanted to have a look at him. Next to the Commissioner and the P.M., the Inspector of Police is the biggest man in a country town or on a goldfield. He has a tremendous lot of power, and, inside of the law, can do pretty much what he pleases. He can arrest a man on suspicion and keep him in gaol for a month or two. He can have him remanded from time to time for further evidence, and make it pretty hot for him generally. He can let him out when he proves innocent, and nobody can do anything. All he has to say is: ‘There was a mistake in the man’s identity;’ or, ‘Not sufficient proof.’ Anything of that sort. He can walk up to any man he likes (or dislikes) and tell him to hold up his hands for the handcuffs, and shoot him if he resists. He has servants to wait on him, and orderly troopers to ride behind him; a handsome uniform like a cavalry officer; and if he’s a smart, soldierly, good-looking fellow, as he very often is, he’s run after a good deal and can hold his head as high as he pleases. There’s a bit of risk sometimes in apprehending desperate — ahem! — bad characters, and with bush-rangers and people of that sort, but nothing more than any young fellow of spirit would like mixed up with his work. Very often they’re men of good family in the old country that have found nothing to do in this, and have taken to the police. When it was known that this Ferdinand Morringer was a real baronet and had been an officer in the Guards, you may guess how the flood of goldfields’ talk rose and flowed and foamed all round him. It was Sir Ferdinand this and Sir Ferdinand that wherever you went. He was going to lodge at the Royal. No, of course he was going to stay at the camp! He was married and had three children. Not a bit of it; he was a bachelor, and he was going to be married to Miss Ingersoll, the daughter of the bank manager of the Bank of New Holland. They’d met abroad. He was a tall, fine-looking man. Not at all, only middle-sized; hadn’t old Major Trenck, the superintendent of police, when he came to enlist and said he had been in the Guards, growled out, ‘Too short for the Guards!’

‘But I was not a private,’ replied Sir Ferdinand.

‘Well, anyhow there’s a something about him. Nobody can deny he looks like a gentleman; my word, he’ll put some of these Weddin Mountain chaps thro’ their facin’s, you’ll see,’ says one miner.

‘Not he,’ says another; ‘not if he was ten baronites in one; all the same, he’s a manly-looking chap and shows blood.’

This was the sort of talk we used to hear all round us — from the miners, from the storekeepers, from the mixed mob at the Prospectors’ Arms, in the big room at night, and generally all about. We said nothing, and took care to keep quiet, and do and say nothing to be took hold of. All the same, we were glad to see Sir Ferdinand. We’d heard of him before from Goring and the other troopers; but he’d been on duty in another district, and hadn’t come in our way.

One evening we were all sitting smoking and yarning in the big room of the hotel, and Jim, for a wonder — we’d been washing up — when we saw one of the camp gentlemen come in, and a strange officer of police with him. A sort of whisper ran through the room, and everybody made up their minds it was Sir Ferdinand. Jim and I both looked at him.

‘Wa-al!’ said one of our Yankee friends, ‘what ‘yur twistin’ your necks at like a flock of geese in a corn patch? How d’ye fix it that a lord’s better’n any other man?’

‘He’s a bit different, somehow,’ I says. ‘We’re not goin’ to kneel down or knuckle under to him, but he don’t look like any one else in this room, does he?’

‘He’s no slouch, and he looks yer square and full in the eye, like a hunter,’ says Arizona Bill; ‘but durn my old buckskins if I can see why you Britishers sets up idols and such and worship ’em, in a colony, jest’s if yer was in that benighted old England again.’

We didn’t say any more. Jim lit his pipe and smoked away, thinking, perhaps, more whether Sir Ferdinand was anything of a revolver shot, and if he was likely to hit him (Jim) at forty or fifty yards, in case such a chance should turn up, than about the difference of rank and such things.

While we were talking we saw Starlight and one of the Honourables come in and sit down close by Sir Ferdinand, who was taking his grog at a small table, and smoking a big cigar. The Honourable and he jumps up at once and shook hands in such a hurry so as we knew they’d met before. Then the Honourable introduces Starlight to Sir Ferdinand. We felt too queer to laugh, Jim and I, else we should have dropped off our seats when Starlight bowed as grave as a judge, and Sir Ferdinand (we could hear) asked him how many months he’d been out in the colony, and how he liked it?

Starlight said it wasn’t at all a bad place when you got used to it, but he thought he should try and get away before the end of the year.

We couldn’t help sniggerin’ a bit at this, ‘specially when Arizona Bill said, ‘Thar’s another durned fool of a Britisher; look at his eyeglass! I wonder the field has not shaken some of that cussed foolishness out of him by this time.’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31