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Title: Dan Kelly Outlaw Author: Ambrose Pratt * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1305481h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2013 Date most recently updated: September 2013 Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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No man now living can either authenticate or authoritatively dispute the claim put forward in these memoirs. Did Daniel Kelly survive the Glenrowan tragedy, and was he actually saved, as is related by his brother? It is not my place to venture an opinion. Curious readers must answer the question for themselves, bearing advisedly in mind four established facts, which may be here enumerated:—
(I.) At a moment during the Glenrowan fight, which has never been determined, Ned Kelly disappeared from the hotel, made his way, unseen and unsuspected, through the police cordon into the outer forest, and was absent for an indefinite period. It is unknown what he did in that interval, where he went, whom he met. He returned, and was captured as the narrative describes.
(2.) There is not a shred of trustworthy evidence in existence to show that Daniel Kelly remained in the hotel after his brother's disappearance, or that he was in the building when the fire broke out.
(3.) There is not a shred of evidence in existence to show that the charred bone dust, found among the ashes of the hotel after the conflagration, had ever belonged to Daniel Kelly.
(4.) Ned Kelly must be presumed to have had some strong motive for deserting his post in the thick of the combat. That he was no coward is proved by his subsequent return, calmly, and in cold blood, to share the fate of his mates, notwithstanding that, had he chosen, he could have escaped with ease, there being none to stay him. His motive, whatever it may have been, remains to this hour a mystery.
CHAPTER II.—THE CLAN.
CHAPTER III.—THE ROAD TO RUIN.
CHAPTER IV.—"THE FIRST STEP WHICH COSTS."
CHAPTER V.—THE DUTY OF THE STATE.
CHAPTER VI.—APPRENTICED TO CRIME.
CHAPTER VII.—THE CATTLE-DUFFING BUSINESS.
CHAPTER VIII.—MY PORTRAIT.
CHAPTER IX.—THE FINAL BREAK.
CHAPTER X.—FALSE WITNESS.
CHAPTER XII.—GETTING GOLD.
CHAPTER XIII.—THE DEVIL'S NUMBER.
CHAPTER XIV.—DEVIL'S BUSINESS.
CHAPTER XV.—THE LORD'S DAY.
CHAPTER XVI.—"DEAD OR ALIVE."
CHAPTER XVIII.—ON THE MOVE.
CHAPTER XXI.—THE STEALING OF A TOWN.
CHAPTER XXII.—AN INTERLUDE.
CHAPTER XXIII.—NORAH'S WARNING.
CHAPTER XXVII.—THE LAST OF THE BUSHRANGERS.
THE cruellest of the many wrongs that England inflicted on Ireland is embalmed from oblivion in the historical enactment which proscribed the blessings of education from that sad and stricken country. Schools were abolished; school-masters were driven from the land, and no gentleman might have his children instructed in the arts and graces of life, except under heavy penalties and forfeitures. It was Britain's purpose to plunge the people she had conquered into a profound abyss of ignorance, in order that she might more readily master their rebellious instincts, suppress their turbulent patriotism, and ravish them of their possessions. Think of it! Universal compulsory education has always been the fixed ideal of enlightened statesmanship. England cynically reversed this salutary principle and covered Ireland with a decree enjoining universal compulsory ignorance and constituting the training of intelligence a felony. While the children of Britain were being whipped for playing truant, the fathers of Ireland were being menaced with gaol and the hangman for thinking of sending their children to school. The tree of this infamous design bore an abundant harvest of bitter fruit. Centuries have passed. England in the meanwhile has done and attempted much in the way of reparation, yet she has not succeeded, and never can succeed in blotting out that shameful page from Ireland's memory.
The educational prohibition, of which I speak, produced as its immediate consequence the effect of a great pall stretched over the entire face of the land, shutting out the blessed light of the sun. The poor people insensibly relapsed into semi-savagery; the richer classes sent their children abroad to receive on the continent of Europe the learning denied to them at home, and a process of national emigration began which by degrees acquired an irresistible momentum, and ultimately drained Ireland of her best blood to her own great harm, and no less to the detriment of her oppressor.
The family from which I sprang was amongst those hardest hit by England's accursed policy. The Kellys of———were at that time landed gentry of some importance, but of no great money capital, and their estates had been heavily encumbered as the result of risings and rebellions in which they had played their part, fighting always in the cause of the Stuarts, whom they held to be Ireland's rightful kings. When peace fell at length, to be maintained thereafter by the iron law of arms and ignorance, the head of the house was a woman—her husband had been slain at Loughrin—and she was bankrupt of means to send her infant sons across the water to a French academy. They grew up like the beasts of the field, and, like beasts of the field they lived and died. Within two generations the last acre of the ancestral holdings had become the property of an English money-lender, and the Kellys had sunk into the condition of helots, working like peasants on the land over which their ancestors had ruled as lords. They were in like case with scores of families in all parts of Ireland.
These people had their traditions. They lived on potatoes and butter milk, and acrid memories. Their hearts were filled with a flaming sense of injury. They hated England with religious fervour, and they hated the particular Englishmen who had supplanted them in their homes and holdings, with a bitterness surpassing that of death. The ursurpers went always in fear of their lives. Every town held a garrison of English troops to maintain order and "justice," otherwise there would have been continual uprisings of the peasantry, who stubbornly persisted in regarding their English landlords as tyrannical intruders, and who would not pay rent or fealty voluntarily to any except the impoverished peasant scions of the old regime. The English soldiers prevented serious rebellions, but they could not suppress the more secret forms and expressions of revolt. The downtrodden Irish gradually adopted the worst vices and habits of subject persecuted races. They developed into liars and hypocrites, and the practice of shooting at landlords from behind hedges became something closely resembling a national pastime. The custom was damnable in every sense of the term. It has an appalling significance in that it shows how deeply into the abyss of dishonour a naturally brave, candid and honourable people can decline at the instance of oppression and misrule.
But we must not blame its votaries too much. The major fault belongs to England. England had deliberately endeavoured to mitigate the difficulties of government by reducing the people of Ireland to the mental status of brutes, the social status of slaves. She had succeeded so well in her detestable aim that, in the process, she had shattered and stamped out of recognition the native standards and traditions of honourably conduct. Having nothing left at last to guide them, save dark, unlettered sentiments of hatred and revenge, we can hardly wonder that the decivilized and degenerate Irish peasants struck back at their oppressors in the manner that civilized murderers employ.
I have recounted these facts not to excuse, nor even to palliate, but to explain my father's crime. In the year 1840, a chance was offered him to destroy one of the descendants of the man who had pauperised the Kellys, and who was at that moment legal owner of the land which countless generations of Kellys had undisputedly enjoyed. At the sight of his landlord—to quote my father's word—"All the wrongs of my country, all the sufferings of my forbears burned and boggled in my throat." It was his evil fate that he carried a gun in his hand. Obeying a blind, over-mastering impulse he snatched it to his shoulder and his finger pressed the trigger. His victim dropped to earth, dangerously, but not fatally wounded. Early in the following year, my father was transported to Van Diemen's Land.
Would to God that his judges had been more just, less merciful, and hanged him on the spot! Thus he would have escaped the greater infamy that befell him in Australia; to beget such a man-child as the writer of these notes.
MY FATHER has been frequently described by fanciful scribes, who have dipped into the history of the Kellys with a view to the manufacture of sensational fiction, as a man of violent temper, much given to quarrels and brawls. The only ground for this fallacious deduction is that he was dubbed with the sobriquet "Red Kelly." The nickname, however, originated not from the quality of his temper, but from the colour of his hair. "Red Kelly" was, in fact, a man of quiet habit who, in his latter years at all events, rarely gave way to anger even when bitterly provoked. In his youth he may have deserved the description coined for him after his death, but the iron discipline of a convict prison had taught him the folly of turbulent manners, and he took the lesson to heart. His gaol record is almost destitute of black marks. Hoping to regain his liberty—not to return to Ireland (that was impossible), but to roam the convict colony free from the gall of chains—he submitted unmurmuringly to the exactions of his task-masters, and became an exemplar of subservient humility. His naturally passionate disposition was, in this fashion, brought into complete control. He hated his gaolers one and all, but he concealed his feelings with so much craft that before many years had passed he was considered a reformed character, and he was finally permitted to quit Van Diemen's Land and essay his fortune in the new settlement of Port Phillip—afterwards the colony of Victoria.
For a while he remained in the city of Melbourne, earning his living at various laborious employments; but town life was not suitable to one who had been born and bred on a farm, and at the first favourable opportunity he wandered into the country. There his knowledge of cattle and horses served him well. He became a stockman and secured good wages. Early in the "fifties," destiny guided his steps to the township of Wallan, then looked upon as an outback settlement, where he lodged with the family of a well-to-do selector named James Quinn. "Red Kelly" promptly fell in love with his host's third daughter, Ellen, who as promptly returned his affection. He proposed marriage and was accepted. James Quinn had no idea of entering into any sort of alliance with a convict, and he sternly forbade the match. The lovers, however scorned his prohibition, eluded his vigilance, and eloped. After the marriage my grandfather, who was much attached to his daughter, put aside his anger and accepted the inevitable. Thenceforth the Quinns and the Kellys lived on terms of increasing amity. Within a year or two they moved north in a body to Glenmore where they took up considerable selections and settle down to the life of farmers and graziers.
At this juncture the future held none but the fairest prospects for the allied families. Each member was comfortably situated. Each held a competency of land and stock, and it only needed a reasonable course of patient effort to found substantial fortunes for one and all and their descendants. Nevertheless, a leaven was at work, from the earliest moment of the settlement, bound at last to produce contrary effects. The elder Quinns and Kellys, if left to themselves might possibly have led humdrum respectable lives to the end of the chapter; yet not their offspring, for, although "Red Kelly" had conformed to the laws and habits of decent society, he was not a proper person to entrust with the education of young children. The truth is, that his ideas of right and wrong were essentially primitive and his code of morality might be defined in a sentence: "Crime consists not in breaking the law, but in being discovered breaking the law." In any circumstances, therefore, "Red Kelly's" children must have run a great risk of being brought up with dangerously loose notions; for schools in that district were few and far between, and the school teachers of the period considered their duty discharged when they had initiated their pupils into the mysteries of the three R's. But apart from these considerations events transpired which shaped the fortunes of the rising generation incurably for ill.
The two families had hardly settled down in their new homes when emigrant friends and relations arrived from the old country, who flocked to the neighbourhood and surrounded the first comers with a swarm of selections and farms. These people were mostly Irish peasants of reckless and impatient mood, who had grown disgusted with the restrictive home conditions, and were intent upon bettering their fortunes in their awn way. They had been so long accustomed to resisting established authority in Ireland, that they were not inclined to bow their necks in Victoria. They brought with them some of the worst traditions of heir class—the traditions which had grown up during he dark period of compulsory national ignorance, enjoined by English persecution. Several were accomplished in the art of cattle "driving." Most of them considered it a mere venial sin to "pot at" a landlord from behind a hedge; and few indeed that had not been concerned as actors or sympathizers in the agrarian outrages of the period.
It was natural that my father, John Kelly, should appear something of a hero to those wild spirits. He had done a thing and suffered for it, which many of them had wished, perhaps, or even tried to do. He had passed through strange experiences which they were anxious to hear of from his lips, and above all he had that romantic cachet of distinction, ancient lineage, which always makes a powerful appeal to the Irish blood. Before long my father was tacitly installed as a sort of leader to the formidable clan which had taken possession of the countryside. For a time the Quinns, whose notions were staid and law-abiding, held themselves aloof from the clan and its proceedings, but eventually they were unable to resist the pressure of general opinion, and soon became infected with the prevailing disease.
It is not altogether easy to give the evil a name. Its first stages were not alarming, but it was always dangerous. Cattle and horses that had strayed from the neighbouring districts into the Kelly country acquired the trick of staying there. The Kellys, Lloyds, Clancys, Sherrits, Skillians and others of the clan had a plausible excuse to offer. Their country, they said, contained better feed, and it was so essentially wild, rugged and mountainous that they were always under a great difficulty to keep their own stock in bounds. They ostentatiously offered their assistance to the owners of the strays to unearth the lost stock, and sometimes the strays were discovered and returned. But all such good deeds went unregarded, whereas much talk was raised whenever lost steers could not be found. Gradually the Kelly country began to have a bad name. The neighbouring squatters shook their heads when it was mentioned, and at length a story was bruited abroad to the effect that a settler named Bryce, when attempting to recover some young stock from one of the Lloyds' selections had been violently abused and warned off. Thenceforth squatters who sought for lost stock in the ill-famed country made the excursion by twos and threes, and occasionally in company with the police.
That was quite enough to inflame the more ardent spirits to resentment. They declared it was hard to be ill-named without deserving it, and "Red Kelly" was the more inclined to agree with them because the term "ex-convict" had been flung in his teeth more than once by visiting constables. It is only the first step that costs. "Red Kelly" led the way. He mustered a number of cattle that did not belong to any of the clan, and caused them to be driven across the border into New South Wales, where a purchaser was soon found for them. Within six months of this feat cattle stealing was in general vogue, and an extensive illicit traffic was established between the two colonies.
James Quinn's homestead, strange to say, became the head-quarters and stronghold of the thieves. My grandfather had been slow to join his relations in their lawless pursuits, but once having crossed the Rubicon he never looked back. His homestead was located near the junction of the right and left branches of the King River, and directly in the track which was principally used by the cattle "duffers" between Mansfield and the Murray. The district was extremely wild and inhospitable, and offered ideal conditions for the operations of the thieves. The risk of detection in carrying off and disposing of their plunder was almost nil, and they could "collect" stock from all sides with the greatest ease.
Several years elapsed before the police made any serious efforts to cope with the clan; and, by that time, horse-stealing and "cattle duffing" had come to be regarded by every member as quite an orderly custom—a business indeed. Confidence and long immunity from punishment engendered general carelessness. My grandfather alone was not careless. He had probably profited more from the "duffing" traffic than any two families of the clan combined, but he was a very canny old man, and looking far ahead, he always kept on good terms with the police. Not so my father. He knew that he was marked down for a victim, but he refused to be warned; and at length, in the year 1865, he was caught red-handed, tried, convicted and sentenced to a long period of imprisonment in Kilmore gaol.
The police supplemented their triumph by establishing a depot near my grandfather's homestead, so as to command the track by which the stolen cattle were habitually transported into New South Wales. The Quinns and their associates made strenuous efforts to dislodge the intruders. They burnt the depot more than once, and they harried the constables in every conceivable way; but their trouble was in vain. The police had come to stay, and the more they were harassed the more determined became the authorities to maintain the establishment.
Perceiving that the game was up, my grandfather sold his station, and very wisely retired from the neighbourhood to spend his last days in peace and quiet elsewhere. The more reckless and enterprising members of the clan, however, treated the elder Quinn's sober example with contempt. Prevented by the close supervision of the police from carrying on the "duffing" trade in Glenmore, they "pulled out" of their selections and moved north to the still more wild and mountainous district of Greta, where police were still unknown and where every man might be a law unto himself. There arrived, they took up new selections, built new homesteads, and resumed their unlawful occupations.
I WAS born in the year 1861, and was little more than a babe when the family moved to Greta. My earliest recollections are but confused impressions of places and personalities. We lived in a roughly-built slab hut, which had been constructed by my mother's brothers, cousins and friends. It was perched near the brow of a hill in the midst of a clearing, and it commanded an extensive prospect on three sides. The surrounding country was densely timbered, full of wild mystery and charm, being broken at frequent intervals with dark gorges, steep crags, precipices and frowning spurs. Behind our clearing a taller mountain struck up sharply into the blue—the outmost sentinel of a double chain of pathless hills that rolled away in an interminable succession of majestic giant shapes beyond the reach of sight. The landscape was sternly impressive and grandly beautiful. The country was a fit mise-en-scene for tragic deeds, a fit nurse for the upbringing of a hard and lawless breed. For a considerable time after my father's arrest and imprisonment, my mother and her brood were almost completely dependent on the charity of the clan. But we wanted for nothing. The warm-hearted Irishmen responded liberally to the call on their resources. They gave as a mere matter of course to the extent of their ability, and their gifts were accepted as of right. They kept our hut constantly furnished with all the necessaries, and many of the luxuries of life; they cleared and farmed our selection, tended our stock and generally managed our affairs—treating us in all things with a prodigality and disinterestedness of purpose beyond praise.
It is possible that my mother felt grateful for these good offices, but she did not show it. She was in many respects a peculiar woman, and for some unexplained reason she always held herself a degree above her relatives and associates. Her assumed superiority was humorously noted by the clan, who often jested in private (especially the female members) of "Ellen Kelly's airs and graces"; but they nevertheless yielded tacit recognition of it in her presence. To her children, my mother was ever a tender enigma. She lavished affection on us all, but her love was invariably tinged with a complexion of such melancholy yet passionate reserve that I have often wondered, in remembering her ways, if she had not an instinctive prescience of the disasters that were to befall us. Ned was her favourite child. I recall him in those days as a sturdy lad of twelve or thirteen, full of fun and frolic; daring beyond his years, already aping the man in his talk and habits, yet continually revealing the boy in his readiness to play senseless pranks on his elders, and to lead the younger children into graceless escapades. We were brought up from our very birth in an atmosphere of license. Our education was considered complete when we learned to read and write, moral instruction was imparted to us with the precepts of the religion in which we were sedulously grounded, but such seeds withered in daily communication with bad companions who were mostly older than ourselves, and therefore objects of our admiration and imitation.
My mother was a sincerely religious woman, but her mind was thoroughly unlettered and unformed. Her ideas of right and wrong were nebulous in the extreme. She taught us that it would be terribly wicked to steal so much as a pin from our neighbours, or to do any other injury, but we soon divined that her ban had a narrow ambit, and embraced few people not included in the clan. We made this discovery by listening unrebuked to conversations among our elders which concerned cattle duffing operations. Thus we learned that while it would be an unpardonable crime to take sixpence out of Will Skillian's candle-box, it would not be really wrong—although it might be very dangerous—to steal one of Squatter Dryson's steers.
Ned was the first to test the value of these deductions. One evening a Southern carrier happened to pitch his camp not far from our selection on his way towards the Murray. In the middle of the night when the rest of the family were asleep, Ned arose fully dressed from his bed, and noiselessly departed from the hut. Making his way to the carrier's camp, he selected two of the horses that were feeding in the vicinity, quietly removed their hobbles, and led them off to a distant gorge where he securely secreted them. He returned just as day was breaking and succeeded, without disturbing anybody, in regaining his bed, where he instantly fell asleep, so weary was he from his nocturnal work. Next morning the carrier visited our hut and proclaimed his loss. The man suspected foul play and was exceedingly annoyed, for his waggon load was heavy and he could not proceed upon his journey without a full team.
Nobody was louder than Ned in protesting innocence and making offers of help. Presently horses were saddled and Ned and the carrier set off to scour the neighbourhood. They returned late in the evening empty-handed, tired and bad-tempered. The carrier supped with us that night, and the next morning, unable for lack of saddle hacks to continue his search—our stable had been mysteriously depleted during the night—he offered a substantial reward for the recovery of his vanished draught horses. Ned had been waiting for that very thing. He strolled over to Skillian's farm, borrowed a mount and rode forthwith to his "plant," leading back the carrier's horses at dusk. The carrier was perfectly sensible of the trick that had been played upon him, but as Ned had taken the precaution to prepare a public presentation of the abstracted stock—Jim Lloyd and the two Clancys, all strapping fellows—the carrier swallowed his rage, paid Ned the reward, and departed with his waggon, cursing under his breath.
Ned ran in instantly to our mother with this money. He thrust the sovereigns into her hand and eagerly recounted his exploit. I shall never forget my mother's face. She looked at Ned with an extraordinary blending of affection and chagrin. "Why, Ned," she said, "it was very wrong of you. Really you should not have done it." The Clancys who had followed Ned into the hut, greeted her rebuke with roars of laughter. They clapped the boy on the back and told him that he had done a downright smart thing, and that he was bound to get on in the world.
My mother was visibly mollified by such outspoken praise of her darling, but she still regarded the money doubtfully, holding it as though it burned her fingers. Ned perceived her hesitation and promptly sidled up to her. "Look here, Mummy," he whispered in her ear, "I only did it because you are 'short,' and I know how you hate asking uncle for anything. I'd rather die than let you beg if I could help it."
This proof of Ned's affection and his sensitive appreciation of her dependent position and her pride melted the poor woman completely. "Oh, you dear boy!" she cried, and flung her arms about his neck. That moment was the ruin of us all.
NED soon tired of the comparatively unexciting pursuit of hiding and keeping horses for reward. He did a good deal of that sort of business after the incident I have related, but he yearned for a more full-grown occupation. My Mother's entreaties restrained him from the more candid forms of criminality for a few months, but the next step was inevitable. One day he disappeared and was absent for more than a week. He returned with his pockets full of money, and a wonderful story of a wild ride across the border with half a dozen stolen horses, which he had sold in New South Wales. My mother stormed and wept, and threatened to have no more to do with him. Ned shared his plunder amongst my sisters, and rode away to Quinn's, being very angry with my mother for chiding him. My sisters bought themselves new dresses, and gave a dance to which all the neighbours were invited. My mother took no part in the merry-making, but she did not attempt to prevent it, and when Ned next made his appearance she welcomed him sadly, yet with open arms. Poor soul, she saw the way that her children were going, but she was at the same time too weak and loving to withstand them. There was none to help her in her duty and of her own strength she was unable to perform it.
Thenceforward we travelled towards perdition at a gait which, though curiously slow, considering the circumstances, was as sure and steadfast as the movements of the sun. Ned held the reins and set the pace. There is little wonder that we all idolised him. He was the sweetest-tempered fellow I have ever known, full of gaiety and enthusiasm and kind to a fault. When he first took definitely to his elected calling, he was a tall, strong lad of between fourteen and fifteen, I a child of seven. I was his particular pet and protege. He loved to have me with him and he would talk to me by the hour about his plans. I looked upon him as a marvellous hero of romance and followed him about like his shadow. As time passed, Ned was more and more frequently absent from home. His returns from his various expeditions always gave the signal for feasting and jollification. He invariably brought back plenty of money, and he distributed largesse like a prince. When my eldest sister married, he made her a present of a hundred pounds. Our household, thanks to his lawless operations, was made extremely comfortable. Our stables were kept well-stocked with fine horses, and we had abundance of everything we needed or desired. Those years have blurred and shadowy edges in my memory, but a few incidents stand out in bold relief.
Towards the middle of 1876, Ned became associated with the notorious bushranger Harry Power, and committed several crimes in his company. I heard very little at first-hand of his doings, for Ned was now nearly always away; but I remember that there was much talk about the pair throughout the district, and my mother fretted so much that she fell ill. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, came news that Ned had been arrested. My mother was like to die at the disaster, and the whole family was grievously stricken and upset. But although Ned had been caught virtually red-handed, and was tried as an accomplice of the outlaw, his captors were unable to secure sufficient proof of identification to convict him, and he was quickly set free. Thus it was that we had barely heard of his capture when he dropped down among us to relate the story of his release. My mother was cured as by a miracle. Ned loomed larger than ever in the estimation of us all, and I was so proud of him that I registered a childish vow to follow in his footsteps.
Next year Power was cleverly captured by Superintendents Nicholson and Hare and Sergeant Montfort near the Quinns' place on the King River, and, in consequence, most of the clan removed to Greta. Some time before this happening my father had been released from Kilmore gaol. He returned to us broken down in health and spirits and marked surely for the grave. My mother nursed him with the most passionate devotion; for weeks she took no rest and hardly any food, and she was scarcely a moment absent from my father's couch, but her efforts were in vain. He sank before our eyes, and, at length, even my mother recognised that he must die. Her despair was terrible. Whatever his faults, "Red Kelly" had always been a kind and tender husband, and he was the one love of Ellen Kelly's life. In her first abandon of grief my mother sought to destroy herself, and we were obliged to restrain her by force.
I think that during his illness my father must have complained to my mother of the treatment he had received at the hands of the police, for ever after his death she held the force in shuddering abhorrence. But he died like a man, without fear and making no reproaches. As the end approached he rallied somewhat and took heed of the future of his children, putting selfish thoughts aside. The last sad scene is indelibly impressed upon my memory, although I was the merest child when it occurred. We stood about the bed, a solemn, heartsore group, gazing in mute sorrow at the frail and wasted figure which had been our fixed ideal of manly strength and unbounding energy; and my father, one hand resting lightly on my kneeling mother's head (her face, poor woman, was buried in the clothes), addressing us in weak and tremulous accents, uttered his farewell. The spirit of some gallant ancestor possessed him. The convict and cattle duffer had absolutely disappeared. The man upon the truckle bed was a gay and smiling cavalier of long, long ago. His words were brave and wise. He besought us to obey the laws of the land and to lead better lives than he had led. He confessed that he had made great mistakes. He declared, with a faint laugh, that he had paid for them, and he begged us not to mourn his death. My heart seemed to break in pieces as I listened. Suddenly the room began to swing and a vast, black shadow leaped from wall to wall. My sister, Ellen, carried me into the open air and restored me to consciousness; but for long afterwards I was very ill and knew nothing of the things that passed. The first news I learned on convalescence was that my brother Ned had been taken cattle-duffing, and was even then in gaol.
FROM the day of my father's death until the end of the chapter Ned ruled our family as its unquestioned head. His first sentence was of short duration, and he soon returned to us. Several times subsequently he was arrested, and he was more than once convicted, but these incidents had less significance in the Kelly country the oftener they were repeated. Their chief effect was upon Ned himself. His acquaintance with prison life hardened his nature and made him more resourceful and daringly astute. With each additional experience he became more difficult to apprehend, and still more difficult to convict when captured. The one lesson that the police did not teach him was the folly of breaking the law and outraging the conventions of civilised society. It can hardly be questioned that the police authorities and the Government hopelessly failed in their duty on this head. Ned was officially regarded as a bad character and a confirmed criminal. His influence in the district, too, was thoroughly appreciated. Yet no effort was made either to check his demoralisation, to wean him from his lawless ways, or to prevent him from demoralising his associates.
The proper function of a penal system is to protect society. Here was a lad still in his teens, who had declared war upon a section of society. The law should have seized him and either have held him a close prisoner until he had reformed, or have expelled him from the country. What the law actually did was to treat this mere boy as an incorrigible ruffian, without making any attempt to regenerate him, and, at the same time, it dealt with him as though he were a necessary evil that had to be endured in the intervals of its noxious activities. The impotence of the authorities to protect continuously the interests they were employed to safeguard was emphasized afresh on each occasion they permitted Ned to return to Greta after serving a short sentence in prison. How stupid we should consider a husbandman whose flocks were habitually ravaged by a wolf, if every now and then he caught the wolf, gave it a beating, and promptly set it free to ravage his flocks again! Yet that is exactly how the law treated Ned Kelly. Every time that he was arrested and imprisoned he was given fresh cause to detest the law by reason of the brutal usage meted out to him in gaol; and every time he was released he carried off a vengeful incentive to repeat his wicked courses.
And all this while he was growing up. The boy was merging into the youth, the youth into the man. His boldness, his lavish generosity of temperament, his widespread and ever-increasing popularity were signal-posts of social danger. But the authorities would not be warned. The Kelly country was filled with settlers of a vigorous and lawless breed—men of primitive instincts, wholly illiterate, and only semi-civilized. The risk entailed in suffering a young man like my brother to run riot through such a generation, and to be regarded by them, as he could not fail to be regarded, as a shining example of a criminal who could set the law at defiance and prosper in evil despite the law, should have been apparent to the meanest intelligence. Nevertheless, nobody in authority appears to have perceived it. If we search in history for the reason of this singular blindness our wonder will not be lessened, although our understanding may be enlarged.
The Victorian Government of that era had long been fighting the battle of the masses against the classes. The young colony had been first settled on the "squatting" system, and a mere handful of men had been permitted to obtain possession of the greater part of the lands of the State. The squatters put their immense holdings to none save grazing uses. In a sense they were kings—sheep kings and cattle kings—and they ruled over their estates with the crass and unenlightened selfishness of nomad oriental potentates. They employed a minimum of ill-paid labourers on their stations, and nothing could induce them to curtail their vast landed interests, or to admit population to the soil. In consequence of their obstructive tactics, agricultural development was held in abeyence. Farmers were few and far between. There was no cultivation worthy of the name in any district, and the masses of the people, for lack of opportunities to settle on the land, were kept immured in the towns and cities.
Not unnaturally, the people looked upon the squatters as public enemies, and this sentiment increased in bitterness as the struggle between vested rights and the moneyless democracy proceeded. The squatters, truth to tell, always had the best of the fight. The Constitution, although democratic in tone, was vitiated as an instrument to effect the popular will by the anachronistic absurdity of an Upper House limited almost exclusively to the representation of money, power and privilege. Again and again the popular chamber carried sweeping reforms in land legislation, but the Upper House, tenaciously intent upon preserving the squatters in their old-time rights, either rejected such measures outright or rendered them innocuous by emendation. Thus for year after year, lustrum after lustrum, the cause of the masses was defeated, and the country was stubbornly guarded from occupation and development. The people, of course, were bound to triumph eventually, and, as a matter of fact, from time to time they won several victories, the greatest being a partial reform of the Upper House, which they forced by the strong hand down the throats of their Tory antagonists. But their will was never granted full expression; the public estate was never freely opened up to them, and the successes they gained were seldom of really signal moment, and always loaded with conservative restrictions.
The protracted contest engendered feelings of deep-seated and passionate ill-will. The people were intensely impatient of the injustices under which they laboured, yet they were compelled to be patient, or, at least, to appear patient by their innate fear of revolutionary processes and their inherent racial love of law and order. It was, however, essential if order was to be preserved, that they should find a safety valve for their angry emotions. Strong passions must have an outlet if an explosion is to be averted. The people were fortunately enabled to expend their eruptive discontent in frequent changes of Government, and electioneering campaigns. These devices prevented a revolution by supplying the masses with a tongue. They voiced their rage, but otherwise suffered passively—almost contentedly, indeed—because of the satisfaction they periodically experienced in railing at their oppressors. With public opinion flowing constantly in one channel of indignation, and ceaselessly directed against the stone wall of "squatterdom," we need not be greatly astonished to learn that the people came to look upon crimes committed against individual squatters with a large amount of lenity. No doubt they were foolish to do so, but their conduct was perfectly explicable and very human. It is always extremely difficult to sympathize with the misfortunes of those we detest. The Victorian people hated the squatters very thoroughly. Cattle duffing was a serious crime, but it did not injuriously affect the masses. The cattle-duffers preyed only on the squatters, and the squatters were "public enemies."
Herein we see the genesis, not of crime itself, but of the tolerant attitude of the public towards the crime. The cattle-reiver of Scotland and North Britain occupies a romantic place in history, an honourable place in fiction. The British mind has sometimes regarded this particular crime with anger, but never with the smallest shade of horror. There are many noble Britons, indeed, who boast of ancestors hanged for cattle-lifting over the Scottish Border; and we must remember that the Victorian people were of British blood. By insensible degrees public opinion ceased to exercise any restraining influence on the operations of the cattle-thieves. Farmers and small selectors throughout the country ostentatiously refrained from assisting the police to capture such offenders, and, on the other hand, they often helped the thieves to escape with their booty by supplying them with information as to the movements of the police. The people in the cities watched the evil grow with a sort of amused indifference. It was only the squatters who were hurt. Why then should they interfere? The squatters, meanwhile, were not idle. Through their representatives in the Upper House and in the columns of the Tory Press they aired their grievances and bombarded the Government with complaints. The Government responded to the pressure by increasing the ranks of the constabulary and ordering active patrols through the more disaffected districts.
But the police might almost as well have stayed at home. In the first instance, they were, for the most part, crude and inexperienced recruits, to whom the back country was a sealed book; and, in the next place, they were always met wherever they went with the covert but effective opposition of the local residents. There was something more than a suspicion, too, that the Government was half-hearted in its attempt to suppress cattle-duffing. Certain it is, at any rate, that one member of the Ministry in power at that period was popularly regarded as a sympathizer with the thieves, and had made a considerable fortune, rumour said, by cattle-duffing. He was more than once publicly accused by his political adversaries, and he never succeeded in refuting the imputation. He may have been unjustly blamed, but the fact that he was blamed and did not clear himself, yet remained in office—indeed, at a later date he became Premier of the colony—shows very clearly the devitalized state of public opinion in regard to this species of offence. I do not think I can be gainsaid when I declare that, had public opinion not lent a sneaking sort of sanction to the cattle-duffers, the crime would have been stamped out in its infancy.
In the final analysis of social problems we always find that the efficacy of penal laws depends almost exclusively on the popular estimate of the practices against which they are directed. It is not the police that protect us from the depredations of evildoers half as much as our own detestation of the wrongs the evildoers contemplate. The police are merely instruments to translate our purpose into effect. If our purpose is strong, the law ipso facto is a living force, and the police become invincible. If our purpose is weak the law is a dead letter, and the police are as helpless as little children. These are maxims of universal acceptance among all thoughtful students of society, and they will sound tritely to the ears of political economists. It is necessary, however, to re-state them in order to elucidate in an appropriately just and thorough fashion the history of my ill-fated family. Too often it has been said and written of the Kellys, that we were ruffians born and bred—that is to say, monsters, foredoomed by a freakish nature which had implanted in our hearts and brains an abnormal instinct for crime, to walk through ways of crime into the hangman's arms.
This idea is a fabrication of unscientific reasoning, and of lamentably imperfect knowledge of my people and their times. Few men are born wicked. Normal man is the creature of his environment. As a child he is clay in the hands of that accomplished potter—Circumstance. He grows to man's estate in a constant process of moulding and re-moulding, the malleable stuff of which he is constituted faithfully reflecting every successive impress stamped upon it. Adolescence is the fire which bakes the clay and conforms it in its final shape; and what that final shape will be depends relatively little upon the man himself, but infinitely much upon his education, his companions, the conditions of society, and the customs and opinions of the period.
I assert with calm and deliberate conviction that the children of "Red Kelly" were all of normal tendencies. Not one of us but was born sound in body sane in mind. No abnormal pre-natal disposition towards criminality disfigured us, and our hearts were naturally complete and kind. That we were spoiled, and that many of us became wicked and sinned unpardonably is true. But the blame does not wholly belong to us. A multiplicity of causes was responsible, some of which I have sought to indicate—not in excuse, but in explication. The saddest feature of my narrative is this: My brother Ned was the best among us all. Nature intended him to be a good man and a useful citizen. Destiny drove him to the gallows. For that cruel twisting of Nature's sweet intention I definitely charge society with the lion's share of culpability—that society which saw him launched a mere child upon a criminal career, which knew the circumstances and the evil influences which surrounded him, and yet callously neglected to save him from his doom.
Cattle-duffing is now almost unknown in Victoria; bushranging is a mere memory. Why is this? Is it not because the doings of the Kellys aroused the public conscience to a proper appreciation of the great evil which its laxity of opinion and moral purpose had fostered? Assuredly so. And because the public conscience was thus aroused, and in consequence thereof a healthy public opinion was created, such crimes as the Kellys committed became for all time impossible. It was the misfortune of the Kellys that they were chosen the blind instruments of an inscrutable Providence to awaken society to its duty. Had society not required to be so aroused and instructed, many lives had been spared, much suffering had been avoided, and Ned Kelly had played a nobler part on the stage of his little world.
MY criminal education began in the year 1870, I was then nine years old. For my age I was somewhat undersized, but very strong and wiry, and as active as a cat. Having been brought up from babyhood amongst horses I could ride well, and was not afraid to mount the wildest colt. My most important accomplishment in the eyes of the cattle-duffers, however, was that I knew by heart every road, lane, and mountain gully in the district, and could find my way anywhere on the darkest night. On that account I was chosen from a number of aspirants as the chief spy for the gang in the Greta neighbourhood. My function was to prowl about the bush by day and by night, mounting guard over the various routes by which the police might be expected to arrive on a surprise visit; and, if I detected the slightest reason to suspect their advent, to give prompt warning to the thieves. Officially I was known as "Bush Telegraph No. 3," and the territory under my control extended from Greta across the intervening ranges to the vicinity of Wangaratta.
No soldier of fortune ever received a marshal's baton with greater pride than possessed me when I was selected for this post. Ned presented me with a big raw-boned filly which I had long coveted for her fleetness of foot, and carefully instructed me in my new duties. My sole thought was to justify his choice of me. This ambition, ere long, led me into danger. For a time I was content to patrol the nearer ranges, but as the weeks passed and I discovered nothing to report, I broke bounds and wandered far afield. One evening I found myself so far from home that I sought refuge for the night at the hut of a selector unknown to me, a newcomer in the district and a stranger to the Kelly clan. The man's wife was absent, and he was quite alone. He received me hospitably, but was so extremely curious as to my business that my suspicions were excited. I had much ado to fence with his questions, but I told him a story which seemed to satisfy him, and at last he suffered me to turn in.
Being very weary, I soon fell asleep in spite of my anxiety; but I did not sleep long. Soon a gruff voice aroused me, and I was ordered to get up. The hut was filled with troopers. I arose trembling in every limb. The officer in charge forthwith demanded an account of me. I had told the selector that my name was Jack Sedley. The officer gave me my right name and called me "Liar" besides. I began to cry, the police to laugh. The sergeant removed his belt and threatened to give me something worth crying for. Fear sharpened my wits. On the spur of the moment I blurted out a fresh falsehood. I pretended that my brother Ned had ill-treated me, and that I was running away from home to stay with the Harts at Wangaratta. This story was accepted. The police consulted together for a while, then departed, leaving me in charge of the selector, with strict instructions not to set me at liberty until noon of the following day. I knew then that they contemplated a raid on Greta, hoping to recover a drover's team which had been stolen a few days earlier by the gang, and which had not yet been taken across the border. I was in despair. Already, in fancy, I saw my brother caught red-handed, and all through my fault in quitting my post and leaving the roads unguarded. However, I did my best to appear unconcerned, and, returning to bed, I lay down and affected to sleep. The selector watched me for a while, but he was tired himself, and within half an hour he kicked off his boots and lay down beside me. I heard him muttering under-breath curses on the cattle-duffers for quite a time. He had evidently suffered at their hands. Of a sudden he arose on his elbow and bent over me. I nearly shrieked out in my affright, expecting every instant that he would discover my pretence at sleep, and either beat or kill me for attempting to deceive him. But he was a dull fellow, and his suspicions, if any, soon departed.
Presently he put out the candle and turned over on his side. I counted the minutes until he slumbered. Every second seemed an hour, every moment a century. But at length he was unconscious and breathing heavily. Only waiting to be assured that he had not laid a trap for me, I crept to the foot of the bed and slipped to the floor. Where I had put my coat boots, and hat I had quite forgotten. I dared not look for them. I stole like a shadow to the door, lifted the latch, and glided out into the night. My filly was feeding peacefully in the stock-yard. She whinnied when I approached her, and I suffered a new agony of terror; but the noise did not disturb my gaoler. In a few seconds she was bridled and saddled. I flung myself on her back and set off helter-skelter towards the hills. Two hours later three signal fires were burning from one high peak behind me, and I was racing at break-neck speed along to the high-road to Greta. The police were before me, but I was charged with the courage of despair. I dared not think of myself. I had to pass them. The safety of the gang and of my brother depended on me, and I had failed in my trust.
If I had known more of the police and their feckless ways, and their utter inexperience of the bush, I should have saved myself a lot of misery that night. I overtook them at Tin Man's Gully, about nine miles from Greta. They had halted and gone into camp. Incredible as it may appear, they had lighted a big fire, and were sitting around it waiting for their billies to boil. I drew rein about six hundred yards off at the crest of a rise, and regarded them for many minutes, simply spellbound in amazement at their folly, for right well I knew that the Kellys must already have been warned of their advent by their own fire. When I recovered from my astonishment I turned into the bush and rode across country—very leisurely now—to the homestead. I arrived just as dawn was breaking. The house was astir and breakfast was being served by the girls to Ned, Joe Byrne, and Dave Skillian. When I entered—coatless, hatless, and in bare feet—there was an outcry of surprise, and the three cattle-duffers sprang afoot, believing that danger was imminent. But when I related my adventures alarm was converted into rapturous amusement, and whisky was promptly produced to toast further confusion to the silly constables.
Soon after sunrise a start was made for the "plant," and, long before the police arrived, the valley was deserted by all save women folk. On this venture I accompanied the gang, being taken partly for my own safety and partly as a reward for the enterprise and devotion I had shown in difficult circumstances, for which I was very warmly praised. The "plant" consisted of a rude stockade perched on a small table-land in the heart of the ranges. It contained a fair-sized mob of stolen stock. These we drove by easy stages along a narrow and wildly precipitous track to another "plant" to the north-east, where we picked up a second lot, and then, quitting the mountains, we proceeded to the Murray; without let or hindrance we reached the border, crossed the stream, and delivered our charges into the hands of drovers who had been apprized of our arrival by an advance agent of the gang. The expedition from first to last occupied nineteen days. When we returned to Greta everything was quiet, and the clan had almost forgotten that such persons as constables existed, so slight was the impression made by the last futile demonstration of the police.
TO give a detailed account of the next seven years of my life would be a work of tedious iteration. The period was crammed with adventures, but all were of the same character, and only differed one from another in unimportant particulars. My days were spent roving through the country, watching the roads and passes, and exploring the remote hills and ranges. In the course of time I learned to know the shape of every hill and rock by heart, every gully from its source to its term, and almost every tree. And the district over which we operated was a big one, too. It extended in a straight line north and south from Mansfield to the Murray, and, branching out east and west, it spread from Beechworth past Wangaratta and the Warby Ranges to the fringes of Lake Rowan. This area comprised within the limits I have indicated measured about 15,000 square miles, yet I became at length almost as familiar with its wildly-diversified territory as though it were a kitchen garden.
The process, of course, was gradual, and it led to many notable discoveries. I discovered, for example, a big rock cavern in the heart of the ranges at the back of Greta, which had two paths of approach, each wonderfully shielded from observation by the contour of the country and the density of the scrub. This cavern had been formed by volcanic action, and was really a cleft between two huge walls of country rock. In places it was open at the roof, but it possessed many nicely-sheltered spots, and it seemed to have been designed by Nature as a stronghold for mountain bandits. It could be defended with ease by half-a-dozen men again an army, and it was well supplied with water, containing several soakage and catchment pools that were replenished and refreshed by every passing shower, and it overlooked at each outlet a different fold of country, commanding in either direction an extensive view.
In the Warby Ranges I found two small, blind caverns that would afford secure hiding at a pinch, and at least half-a-dozen first-rate "plants" for the temporary storage of stolen cattle. In the Stringy Bark Ranges I discovered three useful "plants," two of which were well grassed and watered; and, finally, in the Wombat Ranges I found a secluded table-land, perched high up in the hills and watered by several permanently flowing creeks, and which, although difficult of access, was obviously capable of being secretly and prosperously farmed.
My discoveries were hailed with acclamation by the gang, and promptly turned to account in their duffing operations. I was induced by the praises of my elder associates to put forth redoubled efforts in my exploration work, but though I searched the district foot by foot, I failed to do more than discover a few fresh "plants" and one or two dangerous passes which might serve us in such an hour of stress as would force all thoughts of risk to life and limb into the background. With so many scattered storage "plants" at our disposal the business of the gang proceeded like clockwork. It became more effectively systematized every year, and at last Ned parcelled out the country into definite areas, and assigned to each area a chief. Joe Byrne had charge of the Woolshed area, Steve Hart reigned over the Wangaratta section, Aaron Sherritt presided at Greta, and Jack Lloyd was made responsible for the Wombat country. Ned himself held aloof from any sectional command. As the accepted ruler of the gang, he watched over the various members and wandered from place to place as the mood seized him, superintending the work of all. The plan of operations was simplicity itself. As word would come in from the young "bush telegraphs" (or from older members of the clan who were not themselves active cattle duffers) that stock had been seen here or there, or that a drover was expected with a mob, the informed member of the gang would issue forth and prowl through the bush until presented with a chance of lifting a horse or two or a few steers—the more the merrier. He would thereupon snatch his prey and drive it to the nearest "plant," sending the news of his success to my brother Ned. Ned, of course, kept a tally of the contents of all the "plants." When his tally showed him a decent bulk, he would call the gang together, and they would proceed from "plant" to "plant" collecting the stolen stock into a single mob, which would then be hurried north across the border, and sold to the "fence" drovers of New South Wales.
It was at such times that the "bush telegraphs" were called upon to exert themselves in an extraordinary degree, for the safety of the gang depended upon our alertness and activity. We rode to duty armed with hatchets and carrying bags of wet straw at our saddle bows. Each lad had a pass or road to guard. By day we would each take our stand at the top of some commanding peak, sweeping the horizon with a steady, searching stare, watching in tense expectation for the police. By night we would descend to the plains and valleys and patrol the roads, dismounting every few minutes to press an ear to the ground, the better to catch the sounds of distant hoof beats. On the least occasion for alarm by day, columns of signal smoke would be instantly sent up by igniting the wet straw that we carried at our saddle bows; and, if danger threatened by night, it was our business to gallop away to some safe eminence and there erect an immense bonfire, a signal that would be repeated with two fires by the first distant "bush telegraph" who perceived it, repeated again with three fires by the next, and so on until an intelligent warning message reached the gang. By dint of these measures the risks taken by the "duffers" were reduced to a minimum; nevertheless, in spite of all precautions, some of them occasionally fell foul of the police, and before I was seventeen years of age there was hardly a member of the gang who had not seen the inside of a gaol. Their sentences, however, were invariably short and of trifling moment, for, they never failed to get rid of their plunder in anticipation of arrest, and reliable testimony could not easily be produced against them. Their convictions, in fact, were nearly always founded very largely on suspicion. Every soul in the country was perfectly aware that they were cattle thieves in a big way of business, but to prove it was another matter altogether.
To show how extensive were the operations of the gang, it is sufficient to remark that my brother Ned credited himself in his tally-book with two hundred and twenty horses and seven hundred steers. That was in the year 1878. Those figures remain clearly in my memory because Ned often boasted of them subsequently. To assess precisely the collective achievements of the gang is now beyond my power, but I should be well within the mark in estimating that during the seven years I acted as "bush telegraph" the Kelly duffers stole between them one thousand horses and more than six thousand horned stock.
SUPERINTENDENT HARE says of me in his book, "The Last of the Bushrangers": "Dan Kelly was always known to be a cunning, low little sneak, who prowled about half the night seeing what he could pick up." The description is not flattering, but it is fairly accurate. At seventeen I was a slim stripling, not tall like my brothers, and, although strong as a steel spring, my physique was insignificant. Cunning undoubtedly I was, although in those days my conceit employed another term, and a sneak!—every thief is a sneak. I had stolen scores of horses and cattle during my eight years apprenticeship to crime, and I had successfully evaded detection. Clearly I was a sneak. And yet vanity survives, and assures me that I had a few good points. I was at least loyal to my friends, and unselfish, too. They loved me passing well. Ned was fonder of me always than of any living thing. My sisters idolized me. Steve Hart and Joe Byrne would, at any moment of the year, by night or day, have gone through fire and water to serve me. The whole clan petted and made much of me.
The secret of the affection in which I was held lay in my own capacity for affectionate service. My native disposition was singularly soft and biddable. I passionately desired to be thought well of by everybody, and I laboured to be liked. If I saw one doing an unpleasant task I forthwith volunteered as substitute. This readiness to oblige was not merely physical; it was mental, too. I deferred of habit to my neighbour's opinions, giving up my own to support his. I had no pride. I was conscious of a superior intelligence to that of any member of my family or gang; but, in my intense and constant anxiety to please, I was always willing to be convinced by stupid reasoning or to assign the credit of my original suggestions, whenever adopted, to others. Furthermore, I was personable. My face was smooth, well-featured, and almost girlishly pretty, and my manners were caressing. I wished so to be liked that I was bound to do and say the thing that would cause me to be tenderly regarded by those I loved. And I loved all the clan; my friends were their friends, and those they held in enmity I abhorred. There is my portrait as nearly as I can reproduce the truth. It is a portrait of a lad who might, perhaps, if his lot had been cast in—ah! but that fateful "if"——If—If—If. It is the very saddest word in the vocabulary of human life. It mocks me as I write it down with a sound of demon laughter, and there comes a savour of salt tears to my mouth.
IT was probably inevitable, considering our habits and upbringing and the low standard of morality with which we had become infected, that the Kellys should ultimately commit some particularly flagrant crime, take to the bush to avoid capture, and be outlawed by the State. Indeed, there could hardly have been another ending to the criminal careers on which we had embarked. But we were unable to appreciate the perils of our course. We could see no rocks ahead, therefore no rocks existed. It seemed to us that we should always be suffered to steal horses and cattle for our living, and that there would always be horses and cattle for us to steal, because such conditions had obtained for year after year without sensible alteration. And it further seemed to us that we should always—barring an occasional accident—find it easy to elude and circumvent the police, because—barring accidents—it always had been easy to do so as far back as we could remember. The notion never occurred to us that, with the spread of settlement and the march of population, our lawless calling would become increasingly difficult to pursue, and that society eventually would arm itself efficiently against us. The truth is, we were very ignorant, very blind, and very stupid lads. Like the sparrows, we lived from day to day, and we took no heed of the morrow. Our philosophy was miserably futile and inept. What had been would always be! There it is in a sentence. We could neither perceive the possibility of a change in our environment nor comprehend the need of a change in ourselves. Reckless of the present, careless of the future, and utterly improvident in all our thoughts and deeds, we were the predestined victims of a phenomenon of which we had never heard and of which we had no understanding—Progress.
At length we had a rude awakening. Early in the month of March in the year 1878 a certain squatter missed some horses and gave information to the police, who promptly jumped to the conclusion that some of the Kellys were the culprits. They made inquiries, and learned that two strange men had been seen driving the stolen horses through the township of Chiltern. The description given of these men was extremely vague, but it tallied with the preconceived convictions of the constables. I believe that any description would have served at that time, and in that district to have convinced any local constable of the Kellys' guilt. We were the bugbears of the entire police force, and how to arrest and lay us by the heels was the constant preoccupation of every policeman's life.
On this occasion the police made up their mind that I, Dan Kelly, and my cousin, Jack Lloyd, were the immediate thieves, and a warrant "on suspicion of horse-stealing" was forthwith issued for our arrest. In point of fact neither Jack Lloyd nor I had had anything to do with this particular outrage. It was not a "Kelly crime" at all, but had been committed by men residing in another district who were not even members or connections of the Kelly clan. The proof of my statement is contained in the departmental records of the State. Months later Jack Lloyd was arrested and charged with the crime. He demonstrated his innocence with ease, and was discharged. Subsequently the real culprits were caught, convicted, at sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. When news reached me of the issue of the warrant for my arrest I was paying a visit to Steve Hart, at Wangaratta. We were all greatly amused at the error into which the police had fallen, but before long we forgot all about it. I only recalled it to mind when, my holiday over, I set out on my return journey to Greta. I was saying good-bye to Steve, when it suddenly recurred to my memory.
"By Jingo, Steve!" I cried out, "perhaps I won't be able to meet you at Beechworth after all; I may be arrested. There is that warrant, you know."
Steve laughed heartily. "Give them leg-bail," he counselled. "Joe Byrne expects us on the seventeenth, and we mustn't disappoint him. He had something good on."
I nodded gaily and rode away, not a care in my heart, and soon I was singing at the top of my voice for the very joy of living. I reached Greta next day and was blithely welcomed by my mother and sisters. Two days later Ned arrived, fresh from an expedition to the border, and with his pockets full of money. We had a feast and a dance, and were as happy as happy could be.
The next day was the 15th of April—the Kellys' day of doom, had we but known it. Early in the morning Ned and Jim rode away into the ranges to water some stolen cattle that were penned up in a neighbouring "plant," and my brother-in-law, Skillian, soon afterwards followed to assist them. I had intended to be of the party, but I awoke with a headache—the effect of a carouse on the previous evening—and my sisters insisted on keeping me at home to be nursed. The day passed very pleasantly for me. I was petted and coddled to the top of my bent, and Kate drove my sickness away by stroking my forehead for hours with her soft fingers, while Nelly read aloud to us all a pretty and touching story from a book which Skillian had bought from a travelling hawker. Just as the story was finished and we were preparing to discuss it, the figure of a constable appeared at the open door. The girls exclaimed noisily; my mother was so startled that she dropped a saucepan (she was at work getting the dinner ready) and screamed aloud. I sprang to my feet (I had been lying on the sofa) and angrily confronted the intruder. I knew him well by sight and better by reputation—his name was Fitzpatrick. He was one of the two constables stationed at Benalla, and he was generally regarded, even amongst his fellows in the force, as a loose fish and a very poor specimen of a man.
"What do you want here, Fitzpatrick?" I demanded.
"I want you," he replied. "You are charged with horse-stealing along with your cousin, Jack Lloyd—the Chiltern affair; and I have come to arrest you. Now, no nonsense, Dan. You can't get away from me, and if you try I'll shoot you." He produced a revolver as he spoke and advanced threateningly upon me.
My sisters cried out upon him for a coward, but I saw the game was up. I silenced them, and submitted myself to arrest. He handcuffed me and led me to the stable, where he saddled a horse for me to ride.
"Where are you going to take me?" I asked.
"To Benalla," he replied.
"Not without his dinner, surely," cried Kate, who had followed us.
"Come, sergeant," she said, ingratiatingly, "you'll not be cruel to the boy. He's not at all well, or you wouldn't have found him at home this minute, and he's not had a bite to eat the live-long day. And maybe you'd like a bite yourself—it's a long ride to Benalla."
Fitzpatrick leered at the girl, and attempted to slip his arm round her waist, but she eluded him.
"Come, come," he grumbled, "you want me to do you a favour and you won't pay me for it."
Kate was equal to him. "It's a fool that pays in advance," she cried, and pouted out her lips.
Fitzpatrick laughed. "But will you pay me afterwards, my pretty dear?" he asked, ogling her atrociously.
"You wait and see," said Kate.
Fitzpatrick thought a moment, glancing all round the countryside the while, but as if assured by its desolate appearance, he grunted something about being hungry and "no danger," and led the way indoors.
He took the head of the table, and made me sit beside him. After some argument I induced him to remove my handcuffs. While dinner was being prepared we discussed the crime of which I had been accused. I assured him I was innocent, and told him I could prove that I was staying in Wangaratta, sixty miles away from the scene of the theft, when it was committed. Fitzpatrick laughed my tale to scorn, and declared there was enough evidence against me to hang a bishop. Then he took some trouble to prove how witless is the policy of the authorities to employ men as constables who are fools, and who cannot properly behave themselves. He did this by offering Kate to let me go if she would kiss him. I confess freely that Fitzpatrick did not venture on the more insulting and unpardonable proposition that was afterwards maliciously attributed to him by the gang, but he said quite enough to annoy Kate and to make my blood boil. I spoke to him very sharply, and succeeded in reducing him to angry silence. The situation so continued until the food was put upon the table. Fitzpatrick at once fell to and began to eat heartily. I was not in the least hungry, being greatly upset and disturbed in mind, but I got a sign from my mother which raised my spirits and I also began to eat in order to keep the constable's mind at rest.
The sign told me that friends were approaching. Having no desire to be carried away and imprisoned, even temporarily, on a false charge, I began to think of escape. Why should I go to gaol and be tried for a crime of which I was perfectly innocent? The idea was intolerable. Truth it was that I was a thief; that I had stolen scores of horses; that at that very moment there were cattle "planted" in the ranges which I had "lifted" from the lowlands. True it was that I deserved the severest punishment the law could inflict upon me, deserved it richly. Rut the fact remained that Fitzpatrick had arrested me—not for any of the crimes I had committed, but for a crime I had not. Absurd as it may seem, indignation got hold of me. I felt that I had been monstrously ill-used, and I determined on the spot to snatch back my freedom if I could.
Suddenly my brother Ned stalked into the room. I greeted him with a cry of joy, the constable with a startled oath. Never had I been more pleased to see my brother; never had I so gloried in his towering form and splendid virile strength. Ned carried a pitchfork. He set the handle on the floor and rested his hands upon the prongs, his body swaying slightly to and fro. Big, bearded, and burly, massive as a bear, yet lithe as a panther, he looked the very embodiment of force and energy. He bent his frowning gaze on Fitzpatrick and spoke in the voice of a master.
"Show me your warrant!"
Fitzpatrick got afoot, pale and flustered. "You mind your own business, Edward Kelly!" he cried. "Don't you try to bully me; I won't stand it."
Ned stood as still as a rock, and gravely repeated his demand. "Show me your warrant."
Fitzpatrick was silent.
"You cannot legally arrest Dan without a warrant," said Ned, quietly. "Produce your warrant and nobody will interfere with you."
"I haven't a warrant," said the constable. "I don't need one; I am obeying the orders of my superior officer, and I won't allow you or anyone else to browbeat me." With that he drew his revolver and pointed it at Ned. "Take yourself off or you'll get hurt," he said.
Ned made no reply in words, but his hands went up, the pitchfork twirled around, and the revolver went flying from Fitzpatrick's grasp. It exploded in the air. The constable uttered a shriek of pain and held up one of his hands already covered with blood. The bullet had struck him in the wrist. All this happened in the fraction of a second, and nobody except the two chief actors had moved a muscle. We were all, as a matter of fact, spellbound by the suddenness of the crisis; and the threat and the attack had come upon our understanding like a thunderclap.
For a full minute we stood like statues, mutely at gaze—even Fitzpatrick was perfectly motionless, despite his wound, so utterly surprised was he at the event. The noise of footsteps and voices without the house recalled us to our senses. Ned and I stepped back and the girls crowded round the bleeding constable. My mother rushed to secure bandages, I went to fetch some hot water. Ned hurried to the cupboard to get some whisky. A second later Skillian (my brother-in-law) and a man named Williamson entered the room. They had heard the pistol shot, and had hastened to inquire its meaning. We explained to the new-comers even as we worked. All thought of hostility had vanished. The sole concern in everybody's mind was to do everything possible for Fitzpatrick. Ned, of course, took charge. He sat the constable in a chair, made him drink a stiff glass of spirit, and then washed the wounded wrist in a basin of hot water with the skill and carefulness of an accomplished nurse. During this latter business every tongue was still, and we waited in breathless silence for the verdict. Presently Ned spoke.
"It's not serious," he announced. "It's only a trifling flesh wound, and the bullet is just under the skin. Can you bear a little pain, Fitzpatrick?"
"Give me some more whisky," said the constable.
Ned did so, holding the glass to Fitzpatrick's lips, "Just set your teeth and I'll have the bullet out in a twinkling," he said.
The constable nodded and shut his eyes tight.
Ned squeezed the man's wrist and the bullet fell with a sharp ting into the basin. Ned called for some balsam, and within five minutes he had bound up Fitzpatrick's injured member as well as a surgeon could have done it.
Fitzpatrick thanked him cordially, and immediately rose to his feet. "I'll better be getting back to Benalla," he said.
"You're not thinking of making trouble about this affair of your wrist?" demanded Ned.
Fitzpatrick indignantly resented the imputation, "Do you take me for a cur?" he cried. "Not much. You people have treated me kindly, and I won't forget it. It was an accident, and I got shot, and nothing else. You didn't shoot me."
"But what about me?" I struck in.
"Yes, what about Dan?" demanded Ned.
Fitzpatrick shook his head. "If Dan takes my advice he'll come along with me," he replied. "If he doesn't we're bound to get him some time, and it will be worse for him in the end."
"I'll take my chance of that," I cried. "I had nought to do with that stealing, and I'll be d——— if I go with you."
"Just as you like," said Fitzpatrick. "I'd take you if I could, legal or not legal, warrant or no warrant, but I can't now. I guess I'm due for a holiday, and this wrist (he laughed) will help me to get it."
"How will you explain it?" asked Ned.
Fitzpatrick thought for a bit, then cried gaily, "I've got it. I'll say I was stuck up by a masked gang, that there was a scrimmage, and I escaped. That'll fetch 'em. It ought to earn me a pension."
We all laughed heartily and loudly applauded the constable's cleverness. Oh! the fools that we were—the poor, pathetic, silly fools we were! We were treading on a volcano, and had not the vaguest notion of our danger. We helped the constable to mount his horse, gave him a stirrup-cup, and sent him on his way, with noisy good wishes, waving our hands to him until he was out of sight. Then we sent for the neighbours and had a glorious feast to celebrate the occasion.
Thirty-six hours later Dave Clancy stumbled up to our door on a horse that reeked with sweat, and was in the last stages of fatigue. He slithered out of the saddle and staggered towards us, sheer spent. We gave him a cup of spirits before he could impart his fateful tidings. "I've come fifty miles in four hours. Up and away with you, Ned. Fitzpatrick has betrayed you. He has accused you of resisting arrest under arms and of attempting to murder him. A warrant has been sworn out against you for shooting with intent, and a strong force of police is already on the road!"
Our consternation may be more easily imagined than described. We held a hurried council of war, but could decide on nothing. Ned was minded to stay and face the matter out; my mother and the girls were of the same opinion, but Dave Clancy, Skillian, and Quinn insisted that it would be madness to think of such a thing, and they strongly urged him to take to the bush. I said nothing; I acted. I slipped out of the room where everybody was disputing, and, running to the stables, I saddled the two best horses we possessed. When they were ready I tethered them near the sliprails and tip-toed to my room, where I quickly donned my stouter riding suit and leggings. Presently my name was called. I went into the council chamber and found Ned bidding good-bye to the gathering. The women were all weeping, the men dour and glum. My mother called out when I appeared, "Go and saddle Ned's horse."
"I have," I answered, shortly, "and my own, too. Good-bye, mother."
She stood gazing at me as though she did not understand. "What!" she exclaimed at length. "Not the pair of you! But yes, it will be company for Ned." She embraced me and then broke down utterly. "When shall I see my boys again?" she wailed.
"Why, mum," shouted Ned, "you're behaving like a baby; you'll have us back as soon as the police have gone—within a week or two, I promise you."
But my mother would not be comforted; she was wiser than we. Some mysterious prescience of approaching fate had warned her, and she felt instinctively that the parting of our ways had come. Her instinct was a true one. Only once more did she see Ned—just before his death, and her farewell to me—though I little recked it then—was eternal. I never looked upon my poor mother's face again. She has long been dead. May God have mercy or her soul!
FULLY an hour passed before Ned and I exchanged a word. We rode south, and we rode slowly, for the way was steep and rough. We were both very miserable, but Ned was too old and too manly to cry. My weakness irritated him. He told me roughly to stop snivelling, whereat I lost all self-restraint and roared like a child that has been beaten. Ned swore roundly and threatened to lay his whip across my shoulders, but in the end it was his arm that went around me, and in a fashion so comforting and kind that I drew his hand to my lips and smirched it with my tears. Thereafter we talked in low voices, as though we feared to be overheard, of my mother, of the police and of the life that lay before us. Gradually our spirits rose—young grief is an evanescent thing—and we began to lay gay plans for the future. We gave free rein to fancy and dreamed our dreams aloud. We resolved to lie hid for a while till the first hue-and-cry should die down, and then try our fortunes in some distant gold-diggings where we should be unknown. Luck would be certain to befriend us. We would dig up big stores of precious metal, change our names, and travel the world, dazzling everybody with our wealth and behaving like a pair of Monte Cristos. Finally when weary of travelling we would purchase a big estate in New South Wales or Queensland, send for our people and settle down to the lives of gentlefolk and country magnates. We commenced by talking in thousands, but our speech soon moved to the music of millions, and our fabulous riches bought peoples and governments, and lavish pardon for our old misdeeds. We became marvellously respectable in the course of a few hours, and when we camped that night, we looked back on our cattle stealing days as to a remote past dimly recognised through a mist of years, a veil of shadowy regret.
We slept like the dead, but dawn found us on the move again; and, making better speed that day, we crossed the Strathbogie Ranges and reached by even-fall the valley of the Upper Goulburn—our immediate journey's end. Thereabouts we lingered for a space of four weeks and four days, deriving our sustenance from a settler, a near connection of the Kellys, who had a farm in the vicinity, but whose name may not be known, for he was a good man and a law-abiding and, at a later period in another place, he founded a family now of moment to the State. This man yielded us ungrudgingly whatever stores and food we demanded, but we rendered him little gratitude, for he soured all his gifts with harsh counsel, and he stood in such dread of the police discovering his relationship with us that he would never let us bide in the comfort of his household even for an hour on the blackest and stormiest of nights.
As the autumn merged into winter our conditions became increasingly uncomfortable. Our camp was pitched in a gap near the Devil's Jawbone and, although its situation afforded us a reasonable measure of security it gave us little shelter from the elements. Our chief trouble lay in the necessity we were under to build none save smokeless fires. Of course it is easy enough to build such fires, and we had been practised in the art since infancy. But smokeless fires disseminate little heat. They do very well to bake a damper or to boil a billy, but they have kept no man from shivering yet. By the middle of May the temperature in those high altitudes had grown extremely chill; more than once snow-storms had threatened us, and the weather was moist and unpleasantly capricious. Inured as Ned and I both were to the hardships of "sleeping out" with the ground for a bed, a saddle for a pillow, and the sky for canopy and coverlid, we felt the approach of winter keenly. I had never found it impossible to sleep soundly, however damp and unpleasant my surroundings, provided I could present the soles of my feet to the gracious beams of a good log fire; but it is another matter altogether to seek rest when one is wet to the skin, when the air is cold and humid, and one's sole comfort is a fire that yields hardly any warmth. Night after night we had sat huddled before the carefully banked coals, listening to the chattering of one another's teeth. At length Ned's patience gave out. One cold wet evening as we crouched by chance near the summit of Mount Cathedral, he suddenly arose and attacked the fire as though it were an enemy. Joyfully I hurried to assist him, and in a few minutes we had built a blaze that could be seen from Lilydale were anyone minded to look.
"We'll have to clear out at dawn," said Ned, "or we'll have the police on us like a ton of bricks. But hang the odds! I'm sick to death of loafing around these slimy hills, and, by jingo, our last night shall be comfortable, or I'll know the reason why."
"Where shall we go?" I asked. "To Alexandra diggings? Do let us, Ned."
He nodded and lit his pipe with a coal, turning the bowl downwards to keep out the rain.
"One diggings is as good as another," he remark presently. "We'll give Alexandra the first say, Dan, since you seem to want it."
I was greatly excited and at once fell to my old pastime of building castles in the air. Ned listen dreamily, his back against a rock, his feet extended to the blaze. The rain splashed down steadily upon us, but we were perfectly happy because we had vanquished our old enemy the cold. We talked till near midnight, then replenished the fire, and despite the ceaseless rain we both contrived to sleep. The morning broke clear and dry, though bitterly cold. The sky seemed to have emptied itself of its moist constituents, and not a cloud was to be seen. Only pausing to snatch a mouthful of breakfast we descended to the gap, where our camp was pitched, caught our horses, packed up our few belongings and set off towards the east. An hour's march brought us out of the more difficult country, and we then travelled rapidly along the borders of the uplands, making a circuit of the north till we reached, by a long and steep descent the vale of the Goulburn.
Taking our way along the south bank of that stream we proceeded to the Howgna junction, and were just about to effect a crossing when a solitary horseman rode out of the bush some five hundred yards on our right.
"Ware hawks, Dan!" muttered Ned, and by main force he wrenched his horse's head in the opposite direction and set off at reckless gallop for the scrub. I followed him pell-mell, and a few moments later we were deep in cover. Suddenly Ned, who was far in the lead, disappeared from view, having rounded a corner of the gorge. I drove the spurs into my horse and urged him to his top, seized with the panic fear of capture. Conceive my astonishment to find Ned just behind the spur, dismounted and seated on a rock, staring at the ground! His horse stood beside him blowing like a grampus.
"What's the matter?" I shouted, as I pulled up.
"Matter enough," Ned growled. "At the first sign of a stranger we needs must bolt like a couple of cowardly dingoes. Shame on us, Dan, shame on us!"
"Better bolt than be caught," I retorted warmly.
"Bolt from one man?" cried Ned, "Dan, I could kick myself for very shame!"
"You started it," I protested.
"You needn't remind me," he replied. He mounted and without another word took the back track. Within a minute we heard the sounds of galloping hoofs.
"Ned," I cried, "he's after us. Don't be foolhardy, Ned! Remember, we have no arms."
Ned muttered a curse and turned off the path among the trees. I followed closely, but presently we were halted of necessity by the density of the scrub. I was nearly mad with rage and terror. I called Ned all the bad names that occurred to me, and by turns entreated and commanded him to try to escape on foot. He answered never a syllable, but sat his horse like a figure of stone, gazing in the direction of the approaching horseman. I thought him a maniac, but the idea of deserting him never occurred to me. There seemed no other recourse than to wait capture like rats in a trap. Suddenly the man appeared, spurring along the track some seventy yards away. He could hardly fail to perceive us unless he were no bushman or blind. In despair I looked at Ned.
He was smiling as at an excellent joke. Swinging round I perceived that our pursuer had pulled up and was facing us. Ned's voice rang past me.
"Hallo Ned," came the response.
Only then I recognised the stranger. He was Joe Byrne. I was ready to cry with commingled relief and self-contempt. But for the panic into which I had fallen so swiftly and completely I must assuredly have recognised him in the first instance; ay, and Ned too. Certainly Byrne had recognised us. He came forward, puzzled and not a little indignant.
"Nice sort of game to put up on a pal," he grumbled, "leading me all that dance. Didn't you see who it was?"
"No," said Ned.
"Where were your eyes then? You usen't to be so infernally shortsighted."
Ned shook his head. "You forget, Joe, that we are wanted by the police," he replied. "We merely saw a man. That was enough. We bolted. It was dashed silly, but when a chap is 'wanted,' every second tree is a man, and every man is a constable. We'll do better with more experience, but we're raw to the game just yet. I take the blame. I led the flight."
We dismounted and shook hands all round.
"Guess you're not armed," said Joe.
"Nothing better than a knife between us," said Ned. "If we had you would not have seen our backs, my lad."
Joe nodded. "I'm that way myself," he confessed. "I feel a sheep unarmed, but give me a gun and I'll go where I please and when. Boys, I've been looking for you these five days."
"What," I cried, "didn't you know where we were?"
"No, we heard that you had left the Dandenongs a fortnight back and had gone to the Alexandra diggings. I went there, but, of course, could not find you."
"We are on our way there now."
"I guess not," said Joe, "that is if you don't want to be arrested. The police got the same yarn as we did and are watching."
"Then good-bye to the diggings," said Ned decisively. "We'll have to change our plans. But that can wait. What news have you Joe? We haven't had a word from Greta since we cleared out. All well at home, I hope."
"Mrs. Skillian and Mrs. Quinn and Kate and Jim are all right," answered Joe—then he paused.
"Mother sick?" cried Ned. "Out with it, man!"
Byrne looked from Ned to me very strangely. "Are you serious or is it gammon?" he demanded, "haven't you really heard?"
"Good God," I gasped, "is mother ill—is she——"
"No, no," cried Joe, "she's well enough. But, well, this beats all—I made sure——"
Ned's patience was exhausted. His hand fell heavily on Byrne's shoulder and, splendid strapping fellow though the latter was, his body shook like a reed in my brother's iron grasp.
"Damn you, Joe," grated Ned between his teeth. "Give me your news, and quickly, or I'll break you in two. Can't you see that we are on a rack. We've been living with the bell-birds for five weeks and haven't seen a soul nor heard a word. What has happened to my mother?"
"She is in gaol!"
Ned released Joe and staggered back against a tree, pale as a sheet. I was frozen speechless where I stood.
"In gaol," gasped Ned.
Byrne nodded. "The morning after you boys left Greta the police came and arrested Mrs. Kelly and Skillian and Williamson, and took the whole lot off to Benalla. They were tried for aiding and abetting in the shooting of Fitzpatrick, and they were convicted on Fitzpatrick's unsupported evidence. They all swore that Fitzpatrick was lying, but the Bench would not believe them. The Court took that dirty scoundrel's word and would not listen to anyone else. Your mother was sent up for five years. The two men got six years' hard labour apiece."
For several minutes we were all silent. Ned and I were too dazed by the unexpectedness of Byrne's shocking news to feel any curiosity as to details or to be immediately indignant at the gross miscarriage of justice of which our mother had been the victim. Our stunned minds refused to work, and we did nought but stare at each other with vague and stupid looks. Joe Byrne took out his knife and whittled at a stick, affecting to be absorbed in his occupation so that he might not witness our distress. But he grew oppressed by the silence at last, and he broke it by jerking out, unasked, stray scraps of information to explain and complete the crude story of his first relation.
"Fitzpatrick," said he, "is the cruellest perjurer unhung. He swore your people into prison without a blush. He swore that they got him into the house by a trick and then set upon him in a crowd. He said Mrs. Kelly attacked him with a great bar of wood, that Skillian and Williamson had knives, and that you, Ned, let go at him with a revolver and shot him in the wrist. To hear his tale of the scrimmage you'd take him for a Knight of the Round Table. He swore he fought the lot of you for ever so long, and that he'd have beaten you all off only for getting weak through loss of blood. And that wasn't all. The Court asked him why you people didn't kill him when you'd got him down, if murder was your game. You see he'd been talking murder all along. I thought that question would have fixed him. But not a bit of it. Fitzpatrick never turned a hair. He up and swore that you were on the very point of killing him when he begged for his life, and offered to take an oath that he'd be dumb if you'd spare him. That's the way, according to him, that he got off. He said you made him swear on the Bible never to say a word of what had happened, and that when he'd sworn the most awful oath a man could think of you let him go. It was the weakest, silliest yarn I ever listened to, and it hadn't the faintest shadow of corroboration. On the other hand, your mother, Skillian and Williamson, and Kate and Young Jim all denied it point blank. I'd stake my life the Court didn't believe what Fitzpatrick said and did believe the other side. But it was no go. The word had passed for your people to be jugged and the Court wouldn't miss the chance. So Fitzpatrick was voted a true man and the Kellys a pack of murderous liars."
Another silence fell, when Ned suddenly demanded: "What did my mother say when she was sentenced, Joe? Did she break down?"
"Break down!" cried Byrne. "Not Ellen Kelly lad." She shook her fist at the grinning constables and told them to look out, for they'd have to reckon with her Ned yet, and——
"And, by the Lord, they shall!" shouted Ned. "It's war to the knife now between me and them. War to the knife and no quarter asked or given."
For a moment he stood before us, his face transfigured with passion, his arms upraised and his whole body shaking like a leaf in a gale; then a loud groan burst from his mouth. But Ned did not break down. With a sharp and sudden effort he recovered his self control, and, swinging on his heel, he hurried to his horse. "Mount and away!" he cried.
Galvanised by his example and the thrilling tone of his voice we rushed to obey.
"Where away?" asked Byrne.
"To Greta," said Ned, and he spurred towards the track.
"Hold hard!" shouted Byrne, "there's a price on your head my lad—one hundred pounds! And every road is guarded."
Ned gave a dreadful laugh. It was his only answer. Next moment he was flying down the pass at break-neck speed, and we thundered in his wake.
NED headed away from the Goulburn, and led us direct to the nearest main road to Mansfield. Byrne and I frequently entreated him to turn aside and keep to the bush, but he would not listen to us. He took the middle of the highway and pounded along, looking neither to the right nor to the left. Byrne soon made an excuse to part company and I could not blame him. I felt that Ned was deliberately going out of the way to court arrest, and I regarded his conduct as insane, but I could not bring myself to leave him. Ned, however, either through rage or reason, had chosen the safest course, for he was doing the last thing expected of him by the police. We passed many travellers that day, but none whom we recognised or who paid us any marked attention. We reached Mansfield by midnight and passed through the town at a walk. We saw no sign of a policeman and no man challenged us. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was not dreaming. The thing seemed utterly impossible. Yet it was true.
In the small hours our horses knocked up and we were forced to camp. Even then Ned disdained to take precautions. He would go no further than a rod from the road, and he lit a roaring fire in a big open patch. I was too tired to eat. I threw myself down before the blaze and fell soundly asleep. Ned did not sleep at all. When he roused me the sun was high in a cloud-heaped sky and breakfast was prepared. Ned looked a dozen years older. His cheeks were grey. His eyes were flecked with scarlet lines, and his lips dripped blood upon his beard from the continual gnawing of his teeth. I tried to make him talk, but not a word could I extract from him. I soon found, however, that he was determined to reach Greta as soon as possible.
We resumed our journey immediately my hunger was satisfied. Ned had eaten nothing. I began to be greatly afraid of him, believing that he might break down or go mad, and I exerted myself to the utmost to distract his attention from the thoughts that were consuming him. But I wasted all my effort! He rode like a mute and took no more notice of me than of the magpies warbling in the trees. Ah! the horror of that hag-ridden day! Before noon the sky gloomed over with black clouds, and the landscape blurred into one vast streaming shade. The wind howled, the thunder pealed and cracked, the cold rain beat against our faces, a whipping sheet of misery.
Ned seemed oblivious of everything. He loomed before me a dark mysterious shape, sometimes framed in a black shining glow by lightning flashes, with red drops reeking from his spurs. Our horses plunged and splashed and snorted through the mire, Ned's driven forward by the cruelty of a ruthless purpose, mine by the cruelty of a nameless fear. Night found us still plodding inexorably on, but now at a pace little better than a snail's. I seemed to have been riding for years and years through the murk and cold. I had lost my bearings. I had been crying miserably for hours. I ached in every limb. Then suddenly came a pink flush in the sky, the rain stopped, and I heard the calls of birds. I saw trees and hills that were familiar, and knew that I had been sleeping in the saddle. The Eleven Mile Creek lay before me. The light increased. A horse whinnied shrilly. Greta! Home! Where was Ned? He stood before the fallen sliprails staring at the sleeping house.
"Ned, Ned!" I cried.
He turned to me with a look on his face that made my blood run hot, then chill. "God help Joe Byrne if he has lied to me!" he said, and strode across the grass plot to the door. "Kate!" he shouted, "Kate!"
The door opened, and not Kate, but my eldest sister appeared. "Oh! Ned," she cried.
"Where is mother, Nell?" demanded Ned.
"Oh, Ned, haven't you heard? She is—Oh! my poor lad, how can I tell you?—She is in gaol!"
Ned dropped to the ground as though he had been shot.
Only then I understood. He had been unable to believe Joe's story, and our wild ride had been taken to make certain of the truth.
AGAINST my expectation Ned's recovery was rapid. A few hours sleep and a little food made him his own man again. While we rested several of the clan gathered to protect us from surprise, and when by even-fall, we were ready to depart, we found three fresh horses awaiting us—two splendid saddle hacks and a stout pack horse which our friends had loaded with provisions and bushmen's tools. Little time was wasted in leave-taking, for a signal fire was burning in the valley warning us of the approach of hostile visitors. My last act before leaving was to spell out the meaning of a Government proclamation pasted on a tree near the gate, which offered £200 reward to any person or persons who would give information "that might lead to the apprehension of Edward and Daniel Kelly." Kate stood beside me as I read, a veritable fury of scorn and indignation burning in her eyes. "That's to tempt your friends and kinsmen to betray you!" she explained, and the bitter words called forth a storm of hisses from the clansmen clustered near. Ned climbed on his horse and then quietly addressed the crowd.
"You all know me," he said, "I've grown up among you, so no need to waste words saying what I intend to do. My mother is in gaol—her freedom sworn away by a cursed liar of a policeman. It's my business to get her out if I can, to revenge her if I can't. I can't get her out. That's impossible. But I can do the other thing and I will. You'll not set eyes on me again till I've done it. Good-bye, boys. Look after my sisters, won't you?"
A roar of plaudits and promises answered him. We waved our hands and set off slowly to the east among the hills. Travelling all that night we made fair progress despite the darkness, and by sun-up we had reached an outlier of the Wombat Ranges. Our destination was the secluded cup-like valley, which I had discovered some years before when acting as a "Bush Telegraph" for the cattle-duffers.
Ned had selected this place for our immediate head-quarters because it lay near one of the favourite secret routes of the cattle-duffers, and because it had been partially cleared and cultivated by the gang as a big storage plant for stolen cattle. I should have preferred to seek refuge in the cave at the back of Greta, but Ned had promptly vetoed the proposal. He pointed out that it was important for us to lie quiet for some time so as to make the police believe that we had left the district, and it was clear that if we took up our quarters in the cave we should always be receiving visits from our sisters, and thus run a great risk of having our best stronghold discovered by police spies who might follow the girls on their excursions. Another consideration that influenced his decision was the vantage afforded by the Wombat Valley for raids on strange settlers known to be unfriendly to the Kellys in the north-east; and still another, the fact that we should never be lonely in the valley or want long for news from the outer world, because of the frequent passing to and fro of our friends the cattle-lifters.
We arrived at our journey's end without mishap and a little before noon on the second day. I had not been there for nearly three years, and was in consequence greatly impressed by its appearance. Even as a young child I had appreciated its value as a cattle-duffing stronghold, but added years enabled me to realise more fully its extraordinary advantages. Picture a triangular patch of table land girt with three flowing mountain streams, enclosed on all sides with towering hill tops, and accessible by two narrow passes. If it had been expressly made for cattle-duffers by cattle duffers it could not have more admirably served the purpose. The valley itself was absolutely screened from external observation and the passes were defended by impenetrable scrub, or scrub that seemed to be impenetrable until narrowly examined and attacked. Within six miles of the place numerous scattered settlers had resided for years, and yet not one of them had the remotest idea of its existence.
The valley wore on our arrival an aspect of gentle home-like beauty. Several stolen steers were browsing quietly in a paddock that was rudely fenced with a dog-legged barricade, a couple of horses cropped the herbage in another field, and beyond the pastures lay a stretch of ploughed land, newly fringed and shot with green. The three circumscribing brooks flashed and sparkled in the sunlight, making pleasant murmurs as their waters babbled through the shingles and tumbled here and there down smooth-worn rapids and over tiny musical cascades. I cried out at the loveliness of the scene, and felt glad and comforted, although I knew not why. Ned watched me with a solemn smile that both comprehended and reproached me. He could think of nought but my mother's evil state, and he made no effort to escape from his obsession. All that day he talked of her and brooded on revenge. The next day he was taciturn and would not speak at all. I spent two hours exploring our domain and making friends with stolen horses, while Ned killed and butchered a steer.
The third morning saw us on the move again. Ned was determined to procure arms, and with a bare intimation of his resolves he directed me to follow him. Issuing from the valley we rode a dozen miles along the foothills and then descended upon a forest-covered plain. A distant smoke haze guided us unerringly to the hut of a selector, a league to the south-west. We found the place deserted and the door locked—but that mattered little. We burst open the door and knew ourselves at once the friends of chance, for a rifle was hanging on the wall over the owner's cot, and search revealed an abundant store of ammunition. Retreating with our plunder we set off swiftly further east, and, in the early afternoon, we came upon another settler's house similarly untenanted. The owner was ploughing a neighbouring field. He saw us, and enraged by our ruthless attack upon his domicile he made towards us at top speed. But long before he could reach to defend his possessions we were off and away the richer for a bran new axe, a revolver and a plentiful store of cartridges. Our third and last victim was a hawker whom we bailed up in his van on the main road to Mansfield a little short of dusk. This man yielded us two revolvers, a thousand cartridges and a fowling piece. Ned paid him a fair price in gold and extracted from him an oath of silence concerning the transaction, vowing to be his death if the hawker broke faith. Thereupon we made back to the valley by a devious route, taking pains to conceal our tracks, and going far afield in order to throw any possible pursuers off the scent. All night long we rode, and another day dawned before we reached the stronghold. We were dog-tired and our horses in the same case; but so monstrous pleased were we with the success of our adventure, and so anxious to try our prowess with our new arms that we spent an hour blazing away at a stump, and fired off a full hundred cartridges before we thought of food or rest.
The ensuing week slipped by, a long, lazy dream. Looking back on those times brings a vague wonder that we could have been content to be so listlessly reposeful. All day long we idled in the sunlight or lay by the fire; rarely stirring except to satisfy our appetites, seldom speaking, and slothful even in our thoughts. I can remember myself staring up into the sky for hours at a stretch, my mind as vacant as an empty flask, as motionless as wood. And Ned was as indolent and dull as I—as stupidly bestilled. The life would have driven to distraction an educated intellect. But our brains were not much better stored nor tutored than the brains of cows. We had memories, but they depended on the excitements of external stimulus to be galvanized to action, and in that happy valley all was peace. Lacking mental resources of our own, and destitute of spurs to thought, our conversation soared to the heights of meats and drink, and fluttered away into depths of silence when our animal wants were filled. Such was our confidence in the security of our concealment that fear of discovery never reared a head. We drifted quickly into a state of bovine calm. Because there was nothing to remind us of our mother, our sisters and our friends, we ceased to think of them; and because the outer world of men and women made no noise that reached us, we forgot the world. We were saved immune from discontent or ennui just as the horses and cattle about us were saved—by an abundant presence of the wherewithal to satisfy our creature needs, and by the absence of any beings who could prick our sleeping minds to care or sow our vacant consciences with thought. Experience has taught me this: It is only a cultured mind that is capable of being bored. The uneducated intellect never, of its own volition, thinks; and, unless it is compelled by an external agent to bestir itself, its fixed condition is one of painless immobility, of petrous blank repose.
We were aroused on the eighth day by the advent of a gang of cattle-duffers, Dave Clancy, one of the Lloyds, Paddy Quinn and Will Sharpness. They were in charge of a fair-sized herd, to which they added the beasts in our valley; and they were in such haste to press on to the border that they barely spent with us an hour. News they had none, but their coming was in itself sufficient to shatter our repose, and they had no sooner departed than Ned began to worry and lay plans for avenging our mother's evil fate. His desire was to make a sudden descent upon Benalla, and either seize Constable Fitzpatrick and carry him off a prisoner into the bush or shoot him in his tracks.
I opposed this project with all my power, because I felt convinced that Fitzpatrick must be apprehending an attempt on our part to punish him for his perfidy, and that he would in consequence have taken adequate precautions for his safety. And such indeed was the case. The Benalla police force had been trebled in strength, and Fitzpatrick was the special care of the authorities.
It might be as well here to remark that this scoundrelly constable always went unpunished by the Kellys. Yet his sin found him out. Ere long he was haled before the inspector and charged with several grave offences. It was alleged against him by his immediate superiors that he constantly consorted with the lowest people in the township; that he could never be trusted out of sight; that he never did his duty, and that his word was utterly unreliable. Each of these charges was sustained against him, and he was thereupon expelled from the police service in disgrace. He left the district and soon afterwards was kicking his heels in gaol.
Such was the man upon whose unsupported word my mother, my brother-in-law and Williamson, our servant, were convicted for an offence which he had invented, and sentenced to six years' penal servitude! The records of the Police Department of Victoria demonstrate conclusively that Fitzpatrick was an undutiful officer, a low ruffian, and a liar; and that his character was known to the authorities long prior to his ignominious expulsion from the force. Yet when my mother and her fellow victims were tried in the Court they were sternly forbidden to cast discredit on Fitzpatrick's testimony; and his oath—the oath of a man well known to be completely untrustworthy—was treated as Holy Writ.
It is probable that I should have failed to persuade Ned from his reckless purpose had not a lucky circumstance befriended me. When going to the creek that afternoon for a billy of water I well nigh stumbled over a wombat. The startled creature scurried into some thick underbrush that bordered the stream and I gave chase. Next moment I slipped and fell into a sort of drain that ran parallel with the creek, and which had been defended from observation by a mass of creepers. Although up to my ankles in flowing water I made no immediate effort to climb out of the drain, for a glance at the banks showed them of human construction. Greatly surprised and excited by my discovery, I broke a line through the creepers and, after a floundering march of some fifty yards, I came out into the main stream where the traces of an old dam were plainly discernable. A shout brought Ned to the spot, "What's the matter!" he demanded.
"Matter!" I cried. "Why, matter enough. We are not the first tenants of this place, Ned. Look for yourself. It has been a gold diggings. There is a dam and here is the channel into which they diverted the water while they washed the creek bed!"
Ned was at first scornfully incredulous, but he was presently obliged to admit that I was right. Beyond all doubt many years had elapsed since the diggers had departed, but that they had been there was certain. The question occurred to us: Why had they left? for it was clear that they had done very little work; indeed, the creek bed showed no traces of disturbances anywhere. Had they been disappointed, or had they been suddenly drawn away by better prospects elsewhere? We discussed the problem at length, but were unable to resolve it.
"If we only had a spade," said I at last.
"And a cradle," said Ned.
We eyed each other, nodded, and immediately proceeded to catch our horses. Seven hours later we returned to the valley with a pick, two spades, an iron dish, and the material and tools to make a cradle; having raided a selector's house half a dozen miles away. This raid cost us dearly in the end, for it lead to the location of our whereabouts by the police. But the future was happily veiled to our eyes, and we had seen nobody at the place that we had raided; the terrified selector had lain perdu while we rifled his belongings—we felt quite secure. Next morning we commenced digging, all thoughts of revenge driven out of mind by the thirst for gold.
The work of our predecessors, although partially obliterated by time, had been so well founded that we experienced very little difficulty in restoring it to efficiency. A few hours' labour sufficed to re-erect the dam. By nightfall the bed of the creek for a stretch of three hundred yards was fairly dry, and we were in possession of a workmanlike race that could be tapped for immediate use at any point. The two succeeding days saw us toiling like negroes, digging and raising dirt. On the third day we built a rude cradle. On the fourth we washed. On the fifth we cleaned up. For the six days' work we were the richer by some two ounces of pure fine gold. Even after all the years that have passed between, I am still responsive to the thrill of that marvellous event. You see the gold was so fine that dish washing had given us poor prospects, and so we had not expected to get anything like as handsome a result. Yet there it was, to be felt, to be seen, to be spent. We set the yellow treasure in the dish, placed the dish upon the ground and danced around it, shouting, singing and behaving like lunatics, in a very delirium of joy.
In the midst of our ecstacy a stern voice accosted us, "Bail up! I arrest you in the Queen's name."
HAPPILY it was not a policeman who had surprised us in our transports, but our friend, Joe Byrne, who had been inspired to a practical joke by our insanely careless preoccupation. The effect, however, was hardly one whit less convulsive. From capering and joyous schoolboys we were instantaneously converted into scowling, terror-stricken masks of men.
"Curse you! Curse you!" panted Ned. "For two pins I would tear you into bits."
Byrne shrugged his shoulders. "It was a poor sort of joke," he responded, coolly, "but, by Jove, you fellows deserved it. Anyone would think you were in China or America, instead of a bare ten leagues from fifty hungry troopers, who are scouring the country night and day to try and earn £200."
Ned flung out his hands with an imperious gesture. "We were fools. Granted. But no more of your preaching, or we'll quarrel. What is your business here?"
Byrne slipped off his horse. "I've come to join you fellows," he answered, lightly. "I was seen and recognised at Yackandandah with two of McCallum's best blood nags. Not caring to be cotched, and having got my fill of skilly last spell at Her Majesty's non-paying guest—she treats her free hoarders damned inhospitably, Ned—why, I'm hey for the bush. A short life and a merry. Will you take me as a recruit, captain?"
He saluted Ned as a soldier would his officer, and he looked so gay and reckless, such a handsome manly fellow from head to heel, that Ned forthwith melted, and held out his hand, and I shouted for delight to see the bargain ratified.
"Now we'll have lots of labour for our mine," I cried.
"Mine!" echoed Byrne.
"Our gold mine," said Ned, and pointed to the dish.
Byrne was overcome with surprise. "So that's what you were rejoicing over; and no wonder!" he exclaimed. He poured the gold through his fingers and stared from it to us with flushed face and flashing eyes. We pointed out the creek bed, and eagerly explained how we had discovered the old workings, and what we had done since. We were once more like children with a new toy. But Byrne was very thoughtful, and he did nought but frown and shake his head. At length Ned sobered down, and demanded the reason of our friend's silence and his disturbed looks.
"Why," responded Byrne, "how can I help but be disturbed? Here I find you boys in possession of what seems to be a real rich claim, and you are gloating over it like a pair of kids at the moment when you ought to be working like niggers to defend it."
"To defend it!" I responded.
"Ay, to defend it."
"How can we defend it?" asked Ned. "Its only possible defence is that the existence of this place is unknown."
Byrne laughed contemptuously. "Unknown to day, but what about to-morrow?"
"What would you do?" asked Ned.
"Me?" said Byrne. "Well, I'll tell you. I'd build a bullet-proof log hut right there to stow the gold in and to sleep in, so that nobody could ever rob us or surprise us; and I'd stake the horses every night in that timber patch across the creek by the pass, so that if the police came we'd be able to keep them off till we were ready, and then get clear away with the gold. See the sense of it, Ned?"
Ned nodded. "Well, we've two hours left before tea," he said, quietly. "Unsaddle, Joe, and we'll set to work right away. Cut off and fetch the axes, Dan. We're house-builders from the moment."
"Hurray!" shouted Byrne. "Ned, you're a born leader, and I'm proud to follow you."
Five minutes later we were all hard at work felling trees, digging holes, and carrying, shaping and splitting logs. Before dark the uprights of the hut were firmly planted, and one side was rudely logged to a height of four feet from the ground. All told, it took us ten days to complete and fortify the hut. The finished structure was a monument to our bush craftsmanship, and we were all very proud of it. Picture a spacious one-roomed house constructed of huge poles, some twenty-four inches in diameter, placed horizontally one on top of another and crossed at the ends in the manner of a chock and log fence. The door stood six feet high. It was on the north side of the house, and confronted the creek. We fashioned it out of stout slabs and plated it on the inside with iron. Both door and walls were pierced here and there with long holes through which to fire upon possible besiegers. We roofed the hut with stiff slabs and bark, and we built a strong bullet-proof chimney into the west end. The house was nothing short of a fortress, and impregnable to anything but artillery. Our next care was to fit it up to withstand a siege. With this idea in view Ned despatched Joe Byrne with a pack-horse to Mansfield to buy provisions, and while he was away we built a clay water tank inside the hut, and made storage cupboards for the necessaries of life. Having time on our hands, Ned and I scoured the ranges for live meat, and returned with one fat bullock and three "scrubbers." We placed the "scrubbers" in the cultivation paddock to fatten against our future needs, and we slaughtered the bullock for present requirements.
Joe Byrne re-appeared just before dusk on the third day after his departure, the pack-horse loaded to the hocks with stores, and his own "mount" almost as heavily caparisoned. His coming, however, was not hailed with rapture, at least by Ned; for he brought with him a companion—Steve Hart. Now, Steve and I had always been chums; yet I confess that my heart sank a little when I saw him. It was partly because I knew Ned did not like him, and partly because I knew Steve to be both reckless and unreliable. He had often led me into wild scrapes, and he had rarely been on hand to help when the question arose of getting out of them. Added to that although he had been for years a member of the Kelly gang of cattle-duffers and was our blood kinsman, he was generally distrusted, and regarded as both selfish and unsafe.
Ned witnessed his approach with undisguised dissatisfaction. "Dan," he said to me, while the pair were still out of earshot, "here is trouble coming. Joe Byrne should have had better sense than to bring that young desperado. You mark my words, he'll land us all in a hole yet."
"Don't quarrel with him, Ned," I begged. "Now he has come, let us make the best of him. He's not a bad sort, all in all."
Ned shook his head. "Steve Hart has a black drop in him, Dan, and you'll live to find it out. I'd give all I own if he were a thousand miles away."
A moment later the pair had arrived, and Steve was making his own welcome. "Well, boys, glad to see you," he cried, as he dismounted. "Count me in the gang from this on. I've just come out from gaol, and, by hell and blazes, I'll not go back there while the living breath is in me. I had to light out quick, for I'm wanted on another charge. Say—you don't exactly rush me, boys?"
Ned stepped forward and held out his hand. Steve and I had already shaken. "You are very welcome, Steve," said Ned, "and, provided you are ready to swear on for duty, we'll take you into the gang this very night."
"Swear on!" repeated Steve, looking very much surprised.
"That's what I said," replied Ned, giving Joe Byrne a meaning look.
Byrne promptly took the cue. "Certainly," said. "Swear on for duty to the Captain and duty to the gang."
"And who the devil is the Captain?"
"I," said Ned.
Steve laughed rather scornfully. "Sort of playing at story-book outlaws, eh?" he sneered.
Ned's face darkened, but he kept his temper under control. "You'll soon find there's not much play about it, Steve," he answered, quietly. "But we'll talk no further now; there's work to do. The word is unload. Come, boys."
We immediately attacked the stores and carried them into the hut. They were of admirable sufficiency and variety. My memory records a 100lb. bag of flour, a chest of tea, a large supply of sugar, a bag of potatoes, three bags of oatmeal, and a great assortment of canned goods, such as sardines, red herrings, jams, and pickles. Byrne had also bought several gunpowder flasks and cap boxes, a muzzle-loading rifle, and a brace of revolvers, with a store of cartridges to match, and several cooking utensils. He had done so well, in fact, that Ned loaded him with praises, and appointed him lieutenant on the spot.
When all the goods were safely stored it was time to prepare the evening meal. This duty fell on me, but as Ned and Byrne wandered off, evidently intent on private conversation, Steve was obliged to put up with my company. Apparently he was nothing loth. Having satisfied his curiosity as to the construction of our fortress, he plied me with questions on our gold-digging operations. I showed him the gold we had won and the place we had designed as a treasury in the floor of the hut. The sight the gold so greatly excited him that he proclaimed us a pack of fools to have wasted time building a house that we might have spent in digging. But he was shrewder than he seemed, and he made this plain as I began to lay the dining table—our table, be it remarked, was a rough smoothed stump.
"Say, Dan," said he, "your brother does not like me for chipping in here. He wishes I had kept away. No, don't deny it, Dan; I know."
"He'll like you better when he knows you better," I suggested.
Steve was not sure. "I hope so," he said, but his tone was doubtful. "I suppose," he went on, "Ned is mad with having to share the gold between four instead of three. I don't blame him for that. I'd be mad at it myself."
"Nonsense!" I protested. "The creek is full of gold; there's plenty in it for twenty, let alone four."
Steve shook his head. "A man can't get enough gold," he commented, sagely. "But, besides that, Ned distrusts me. What is this business about 'swearing in'?"
I knew no more than Steve, but I did not care to admit ignorance, so I affected a mysterious air, and said, "You'll have to wait, Steve; my lips are sealed."
Steve became angry at that, and cursed my reticence, but I was not to be drawn, and finally he fell into silent thought, evidently impressed with the enigma and disturbed in mind. Soon afterwards, supper being ready, I went to the door and coo-eed. Ned and Joe promptly appeared. As Ned seemed in much better spirits, I guessed that he had come to some satisfactory understanding with Byrne in regard to Steve Hart, and I felt more cheerful myself in consequence. We had a capital meal, and then gathered round the fire to smoke and chat in comfort. For a full hour all went merry as a marriage bell, then the spell was broken by a question put by Steve Hart. His restrained curiosity had grown to a head, and he could no longer support it.
"What is this business about swearing in?" he suddenly demanded.
I knew on the instant that Ned and Joe had been waiting for that very thing to happen. They exchanged a significant glance, and Ned rose to his feet, stood with his back to the fire, and leisurely surveyed us. His eyes fastened on Steve Hart's drawn face, and there became fixed. Tapping his chest with one hand, and removing his pipe from his mouth with other, he began to speak, carefully and slowly choosing his words.
"It's this way, Steve. Dan and I are under the ban of the law. There's £200 offered for us. As we don't intend to give ourselves up, living or dead, now or ever, we'll pretty soon be outlawed, and the police reward will reach over our liberties and touch our lives. The same thing will happen to anybody else who consorts with us. You understand that, I expect?"
Steve nodded, staring at Ned like one fascinated.
"It follows," Ned proceeded, "that we've got to choose our company. We can't afford to run with any chaps who aren't in it as deep as we are; and we are in it pretty deep—up to our necks. Savvy that?"
"Up to your necks!" echoed Steve. "But you haven't killed anybody, Ned?"
"Not yet, my lad; but we may any time, because we are sworn not to be caught, and to fight anyone to the death who tries to take us."
"Ah!" cried Steve.
"You've time to draw out," said Ned quietly. "It's for you to say. I don't want any living soul to risk hanging on my account."
"But I don't want to draw out," Steve exclaimed. "I want to join you; I want to—to—to——"
"To get your grip of some of the gold in the creek yonder," put in Joe Byrne.
Steve Hart turned scarlet, but he did not deny the charge. On the contrary, he swung round on Byrne with a sharp retort: "We're of a piece there, mate!"
Ned held up his hand. "My troubles for your motives," he said, with a curling lip. "All I care for is that you go into the thing with your eyes open to the risks, and stay in when you are in—to the very end. Are you prepared for that, my lad?"
"Yes," said Steve.
"Then listen while I read you the oath." He took a paper from his shirt and read the following aloud: "We, Joseph Byrne, Daniel Kelly, and Steve Hart, hereby swear to take Edward Kelly for our captain, and to obey his orders rigidly, and to keep by him while we live or he lives. I, Edward Kelly, swear to take the abovenamed for my gang, and to keep by them and protect them while I live. We all jointly and severally swear to stick together, to keep faith with each other, and to fight to the death against arrest."
Ned paused. "Are you prepared to take this oath and sign this paper, Steve?"
Steve laughed gaily. "Produce your Bible!" he challenged.
Ned smiled queerly. "I haven't a Bible," he said. "I have a knife. Joe, are you ready?"
Byrne nodded and arose. In his hand a naked knife and a little metal cup.
Ned stretched out his bare right arm. "Cut!" said he.
Byrne drew the blade across the flesh and a long red streak instantly appeared. The wound was no pretence. It bled like a fountain. Byrne very coolly caught the blood in his cup. I felt quite sick and fell a-trembling. Steve was no whit less discomposed. All his bounce had evaporated, and he looked horrified.
Presently Byrne nodded and drew the cup away. Ned rapidly bound up his wound and took the knife and the cup from Byrne.
Byrne as promptly bared his arm to Ned. He was brave, but he could not repress a little cry of pain as the blade flashed and fell. Ned smiled silently and caught Byrne's blood, as Byrne had caught his. We were all as mute as mummies. Suddenly my name was called. I stretched out my arm, closed my eyes, and dug my teeth into my lip. Not for worlds would I have confessed the effort it cost me, but in good truth I was as much afraid as if the hangman were leaning over me. Yet the pain was, after all, a little thing—a scald, a prickle, and it was gone. And I had screamed!
Steve did not scream. I was furious at that, though it consoled me to see him flinch and shudder and turn fishy pale.
The last operation complete, Ned stirred the contents of the cup with a wooden splinter, then, stooping over the table, he scrawled his signature in blood upon the oath paper. "I swear!" with great solemnity he said, "and may God strike me dead if, break my vow."
Similarly we signed our names and swore. I thought then that the ghastly mummery was at an end. But not so. Ned made us stand in a circle facing each other before the fire. Then he lifted the blood-filled metal cup on high and said, "Long life to the gang. Death and confusion to our enemies!" He set the cup to his lips and drank—and drank!
Byrne took the cup from Ned, repeated the toast, and drank.
I did the same.
Steve took the cup from me and spoke and drank.
For a long moment afterwards we stared at each other silently; then Byrne broke the stillness with a harsh sardonic laugh.
"What fool named thirteen for the Devil's number?" he demanded. "It is four, I tell you—Four!"
A queer noise made us look at Steve. He was on the point of swooning.
An hour later we were all hideously drunk. Byrne had brought a keg of whisky with him from the town.
FOR the next four months we thought of nothing save gold digging. From dawn till dusk, from one week's end to another, we toiled in the bed of the creek, sluicing and cradling. On whole our labour was fairly well rewarded, although we failed to earn the princely fortune of our dreams. We made on an average about two and three-quarter ounces per week per man, and at the end of the period I have named each of us owned a parcel gold to the value of £160. It must not be supposed, however, that we took no recreation. One day a week we "spelled," and amused ourselves with rifle and revolver practice. In this occupation we used a great deal of ammunition, but we became expert marksmen, and we reduced the waste to a minimum by always firing at soft-wood trees, from which we could chop out the bullets to be melted and remoulded for use a second time. This economy was necessary, because we possessed more powder than lead, and news had come to us by "bush telegraphs" which painted the folly of attempting to replenish our stores from any of the neighbouring towns. The police, it seemed, were extending their activities, and, under the spur of newspaper criticism, they had established patrols along the foothills.
Snugly hidden away in our valley, however, we passed the winter in great contentment, and not until the warm spring weather came and the bush began to don her splendid summer clothes did we permit a thought of peril to disturb us. With startling suddenness we discovered one day that our stronghold was menaced. Aaron Sherritt was our instructor. An hour before sunset on the evening of October 24th he galloped up to our door on a reeking thoroughbred and called loudly for Joe Byrne. Joe was resting at the moment after a hard day's work, while Hart prepared dinner. Ned and I were still sluicing. We hurried over to the hut just as Byrne came out, rubbing his eyes. Aaron and Joe were schoolmates and chums of long standing.
"Hullo, Aaron!" cried Joe. "What brings you here?"
"Your mother," replied Aaron laconically. He nodded to us and addressed Ned. "Mrs. Byrne wants Joe—wants him at once," he declared.
"Why?" asked Ned. "Is she ill?"
"No, but she wants to save Joe from gaol. She does not want him to be arrested in your company. He's deep enough in it as it is."
"The police are out," said Ned at once, "and they know where we are."
"Well guessed," said Aaron. "You've been put away by a selector down there (he pointed towards Mansfield) whose house you robbed a bit ago. He saw you and followed your tracks. He's been spying on you lately, and the police know all about the gold and everything. The only thing they don't know is that Joe and Steve are here, because the selector did not recognise them. My advice is, part company and get out all of you at once."
"Why so much hurry, Aaron?" said Byrne.
"Two strong police parties are after the gang, one from Greta, one from Mansfield. They start at daylight to-morrow, and unless you fellows promptly skedaddle you'll be caught between two fires. Better come right back with me, Joe."
"And let us shift for ourselves!" cried Ned, indignantly.
Aaron laughed and showed his white teeth. He was a big, handsome fellow, and well educated. But I had never liked him. I had always thought him shifty, and he would never meet one's eyes.
"You Kellys don't need coddling," he respond carelessly.
"You think Joe Byrne does, then?" I retorted.
Aaron swept me with a scornful glance. "Joe is my chum, and Joe's sister is to be my wife," he said. "You Kellys can do what you like, but I'll not stand by and see Joe run his neck into a noose on your account. Everybody knows that Ned has sworn to avenge his mother. That means blood-spilling. I don't want my future brother-in-law to be hanged."
"You've a d—— nasty tongue in your head," said Ned. "I'd advise you to curb it while you're hereabouts."
"Thank you kindly, Ned. I'll say what I please, however, despite your advice, both where I like and when."
"And what exactly do you mean by that?"
"That I'll be obliged if you'll mind your own business. I'm here to talk with Joe Byrne, not with you."
"Are you as ready with your fists as with your tongue?"
Aaron Sherritt was a plucky fellow. No doubt about that. He was off his horse in an instant and in a posture of defence. But he had no chance at all with Ned. The fight, if such it could be called, only lasted a few seconds, at the end of which time Aaron was lying on the broad of his back with a black eye and a broken lip.
"Do you want any more?" Ned asked.
Aaron laughed ruefully, and said he was not a pig. Ned, thereupon, assisted him to get up, and offered his hand. Aaron, however, refused the olive branch, and, turning sullen, he remounted and rode away, disdainfully ignoring our invitation to stay and have supper. We held a council of war as soon as he had disappeared, but arrived at no definite decision. The fact was, we were all greatly averse to the idea of leaving the valley, for we had just struck an unusually rich patch of alluvial, and we were by no means terrified of the police. We felt strong enough, indeed, to cope with our assailants, and, despite Aaron Sherritt's warning, we doubted if the police really knew of the location of the valley. Next morning, therefore, saw us busily at work sluicing and cradling, just as though nothing had happened. It was our strange fate that day to discover several small nuggets, and we washed up in the evening for twenty-seven ounces of good, shotty gold. This circumstance doomed three lives to destruction.
After dinner that evening, at a second council of war, we voted that it would be madness to run away when we were on the verge of what looked like a fortune, and we unanimously resolved to remain until we were driven out. We had hardly come to this momentous determination when my cousin, Jack Lloyd, put in an appearance. His news was startling. He informed us that Sergeant Kennedy had set out from Mansfield that morning, accompanied by Constables Lonerigan, Scanlan, and McIntyre, and that the party was then camped only a few miles away on the bank of Stringy Bark Creek, near a deserted gold diggings, a spot well known to us all, and close by one of our favourite lookouts. But this was not all. Jack also brought us a message from my mother, which had been communicated through a discharged prisoner. It was this: "I am well. I am waiting."
Waiting! Waiting for what? Ned's face grew very gloomy when he heard it, and I, too, was deeply moved. Jack Lloyd did not stay long. As soon as he knew that we were resolved to "see the thing out," as Ned had phrased it, he took his departure, promising however, to return on the following day to see how we fared.
Once more a council of war was held, and Ned advocated a bold course. "In my opinion," said he said, "we'd be fools to wait here for the police. I don't believe they know our exact whereabouts, but sooner or later they'll be bound to find out. Now, we can't work while we are threatened in this way, so the best thing to do is to hunt the hunters, for we know where they are. It will be quite easy to surprise them. We'll take them prisoners, bring them here and tie them up. Then we'll be safe, and we'll have time on our hands to work out the rich patch before we are interrupted. We only need about a week. When that is over we'll up stick and away with our gold, releasing our prisoners just before we depart. Well, boys, what do you think?"
"It's a good plan," said Byrne, "and I vote we adopt it."
"But suppose the police show fight?" asked Steve Hart.
Ned laughed derisively. "I said we'll surprise them," he declared. "I mean by that to crawl up and surround them when they least expect it, and cover them with our rifles. Believe me, they'll surrender quick and lively when I give the word."
"Of course they will," said Byrne. "They are policemen."
We debated the pros and cons for a couple of hours, and we liked the plan the better the more we discussed it. Finally, we were all agreed. Ned gave the signal, and we started on our feet. Twenty minutes later we rode out of the valley, each member armed to the teeth. Going slowly and carefully we reached our destination about three o'clock in the morning. Dismounting in the scrub at a spot some two miles distant from the deserted diggings, where the police were camped, we tethered our horses and took a little rest. At the first sign of dawn we started on foot to stalk our quarry, proceeding in single file, Ned in the lead. The country was so rough, the timber so dense, that we made tardy progress, and we did not sight the camp fire smoke until nearly six. At that point we halted, and Ned went on alone to reconnoitre. He returned quickly, and in a very bad temper.
"Sergeant Kennedy and one trooper have gone down the creek to explore," he announced. "D—— the luck! This means that we'll have to wait till they come back, and they may be all day, for they took rations."
So, in fact, it turned out. All day long we kicked our heels in idleness, our anxiety and impatience constantly increasing. Meanwhile the two constables looked around the camp, now and then shooing parrots to amuse themselves. Thus till about five o'clock in the afternoon. Then Ned, having just returned from his twentieth reconnaissance, announced a change of plan.
"McIntyre and Lonerigan," said he, "are making themselves some afternoon tea, and there is no sign of the sergeant. Come along, boys; we'll bag these two now and catch the others when they come up later. Perhaps, after all, it will be easier to surprise them in pairs."
Delighted at the idea of action, we were after Ned in a moment. It was a matter of superlative ease for such practised bushmen as we were to surround the camp without giving any alarm. Constable McIntyre bent over the fire, raking the coals beneath a steaming billy with a short piece of green wood, Constable Lonerigan stood a pace or two away idly observing the methods of his companion. We watched them for a few moments behind the cover of the trees and rushes that sheltered us, and then Ned stepped quietly into the open. Soundlessly Byrne, Hart and I followed suit, and levelled our guns at the unconscious constables.
Suddenly Ned's voice sang out, "Bail up! Throw up your arms!" he shouted.
The troopers started violently and turned to regard us. McIntyre at once raised his arms into the air. Lonerigan, however, sprang towards the tree and drew his revolver as he ran. Ned's rifle flashed and cracked, and Lonerigan pitched over on his side at full length on the ground.
"O Christ, I'm shot!" he cried; then lay very still.
Ned pointed to McIntyre. "Search that man," he said, and, for his own part, he walked over to Lonerigan and took possession of the dead man's pistol.
"Dear, dear!" he muttered. "What a pity the fool showed fight. It has cost him his life."
"Is he really dead?" I asked, tremulously.
"Dead as a stone, poor wretch," responded Ned.
I glanced at the corpse and then at the living prisoner. McIntyre was chalk-white and shaking like a leaf. I could bear no more. I walked into the bush, and for some time I was violently sick. When I had partially recovered, Ned came and spoke to me very sharply. He bade me remember my mother's fate; he reproached me most bitterly for my weakness and for the bad example I—a Kelly—was showing to Steve Hart; and finally he swore he would shoot me if I did not forthwith play the man.
Strung up to a high pitch by these admonishments, I strode over to the camp and sat down on a log beside Constable McIntyre. He offered me some tobacco and I took it. Joe Byrne and Steve Hart were drinking tea. They looked at me with meaning smiles. Conscious of their contempt, I burned to do something to remove their bad opinions. To prove how unconcerned I was, I began to converse with McIntyre, and to berate him for daring to come out against us. It is marvellous how the spectacle of one man's cowardice will rack another coward's heart. McIntyre was an abject creature. He pleaded for his life as a worm might plead, and he vowed by many holy names that if we spared him he would leave the police force at once and never again go hunting bushrangers. He cursed Fitzpatrick for having lied away my mother's liberty, and he even went so far as to vindicate the murder of Lonerigan as a piece of justifiable revenge.
I began to pity McIntyre extremely, and to wonder how his life might be saved. It was obvious that my companions were of one mind concerning him. They were like tigers that had tasted blood, and they had postponed the execution from no sentiment of mercy or compunction. I proved this by offering to handcuff the prisoner. My hope was that, seeing him absolutely incapable of either resistance or flight, the gang would revert to the original plan of holding the captured police as prisoners. But I had no sooner produced the handcuffs than I was sternly upbraided and ordered to desist. Even Steve Hart cried out against me, and Ned, tapping his rifle, said, "I have something better here than handcuffs."
Coward that I was, I abandoned the man to his evident fate, fearing that if I interfered further I, too should be shot.
"Kennedy and Scanlan will soon be here," he cried. "For God's sake, promise not to shoot me, and I get them to surrender peaceably."
The proposal led to a discussion, and finally Ned engaged on his own part not to do any more shooting if McIntyre induced his mates to surrender; but Byrne and Hart refused to bind themselves, and Ned would not coerce them. Suddenly the sound of horses' hoofs approaching through the scrub were heard. Byre and Hart promptly slipped behind trees. McIntyre excitedly arose from the log on which he had been sitting, but Ned seized him by the shoulder and thrust him back again.
"Sit down there!" he whispered sternly, "or I'll put a hole through you." Then he turned to me. "In there with you!" he commanded, pointing as he spoke to the police tent.
I slunk in like a whipped dog, and he followed me. His eyes were blazing. "Dan," he muttered, "you have tried me to the limit; your life is hanging by a straw. I'll not warn you again."
With that he turned his back on me and stood by the tent flap, peering out. I heard McIntyre shout these words: "Sergeant, for God's sake dismount and surrender! You are surrounded!"
Then Ned stepped into the open, calling out, "Put up your hands!" Trembling in every limb, I crept to the door. Sergeant Kennedy and Constable Scanlan were staring at Ned as though unable to believe their eyes.
The sergeant was smiling. He put his hand on his revolver case, and on the instant a bullet, fired by Steve Hart, whistled past his ear. Only then he realised his position.
"It's all right. I surrender. Stop it, boys, stop it!" he cried, and he slipped from his horse.
Scanlan also dismounted, but as he reached the ground he unslung his rifle and sprang towards a tree. Ned's rifle flashed, and Scanlan fell dead in his tracks. Sergeant Kennedy fired his revolver point-blank at Ned, but missed. Next second he had dropped, wounded, to his knees. His horse swerved aside and made towards the scrub. McIntyre, quick as thought, snatched at and caught the bridle, and flung himself upon the snorting creature's back.
"Dan," shouted Ned, "shoot that blighter—shoot him."
I raised my rifle and fired into the air. Again I fired, and yet again, even though McIntyre had disappeared. I could have hit any one of his buttons had I wished. Deliberately I allowed him to escape. It is the one act of my early life of which I am not utterly ashamed. Meanwhile Sergeant Kennedy was fighting bravely against overwhelming odds. Although wounded he had contrived to take cover, and, retiring from tree to tree, firing at his pursuers as he ran, he got fully a quarter of a mile from the creek before he was killed.
I stood in the death camp, mute and horror-struck, listening to the fusillade, and wishing that I, too, was dead or had never been born. At length all was still. I sat down on a log and wondered what must happen to me when the others returned. Would they kill me for permitting McIntyre to escape? I came near to hoping that they would. After a long stillness I heard voices.
"Sheer waste of a good cloak," said Steve Hart.
Ned replied: "It is my cloak, Steve, and I'll never regret giving it up to form the winding sheet of the bravest man I've ever seen."
"I should think not!" cried Byrne. "Kennedy was all that, and it was up to Ned, who shot him, to cover his body from the crows. A gallant act, I call it."
A moment later they stood before me. "Where is McIntyre?" demanded Ned.
"He got off," I answered.
"You missed him?"
I glanced up and met looks as black as midnight. The courage of downright despair possessed me. "Shoot me if you like," I said, staring Ned defiantly in the face. "You've shot Kennedy and Scanlan and Lonerigan. You might as well do for your brother, too."
Ned started violently. "By the Lord!" he cried, "that's true. I shot them all."
"What's the matter, Ned?" demanded Byrne. "Your're looking ghastly."
"Matter!" cried Ned. "The matter is that I'm the only murderer. Come to think of it, all you fellows missed. Why did you miss?"
"We didn't try to," protested Hart.
"Didn't you?" Ned stepped back a pace and drew his revolver. "Boys," he said, in a truly awful tone, and with an expression on his face surely coined in Hades, "I've to thank Dan for reminding me that it's bad for any man to stand alone. Yonder lie Scanlan and Lonerigan. Go right over and fire your guns into their bodies!" His voice cracked into a yell. "No back talk!" he shrieked. "Up and do it, or I'll shoot you down like dogs!"
There was no gainsaying his horrible command. His revolver covered us all, and the hungry spirit of murder flared out of his bloodshot eyes. Like sheep we stumbled before him and carried out his dreadful bidding. As the echoes of the last shot died away Ned laughed. "We are all equally implicated now," he said, and he put up his revolver.
"What next?" asked Byrne. "Shall we follow McIntyre and track him down?"
"No; he's got too long a start, and, besides, it is near dark. The word is, back to the valley. But first we must rifle the camp."
Twenty minutes later all the arms and accoutrements and provisions of the police had been loaded on one of the captured horses, and we were making at full speed for the stronghold. We left the camp in flames.
TRUE to his promise, we found Jack Lloyd awaiting us at the fortified hut. Even now I marvel at the coolness with which the young man received the red news we carried.
"I knew you'd never take Kennedy alive," was his tranquil comment; and when he had heard all the details, "It's a pity McIntyre got away. When he tells his story the sky will rain policemen across the Kelly country. However, there's no use crying about spilt milk. What are you boys going to do? That's the question."
We all looked at Ned. He stood facing us, his back to the fire, his hands clasped behind him—a characteristic attitude. "We are going to Greta to-morrow," he answered, "and afterwards to New South Wales."
"And what will you do in New South Wales?" demanded Lloyd.
Ned shrugged his shoulders. "We're not known there. We might make up north to Sydney and take ship for America. We have enough gold to pay our fares and to start afresh at the other side of the water. What do you say, boys?"
Joe Byrne thought it a good idea. Steve Hart said he'd rather stay in Victoria and face the music, even if he were to be hanged, than cross the sea. I was silent. I really did not care, then, what we did or what became of us. Ned did not press the point. He abandoned it to make game of me.
"Look at Dan," he exclaimed. "Would you take such a white-livered wretch for a brother of mine! Pale as a girl, and flabby with faint-heartedness. Ask him to stand up, and watch his knees give way!"
Byrne looked me over scornfully, but said nothing. Steve Hart was more actively unkind. "Stand up, Dan!" he cried—"stand up, and let me see you shiver;" and, speaking, he plucked me by the sleeve. I was too sick of mind to resent their mockery. Meekly enough I stood up. Ned's hand fell heavily upon my shoulder. "Pull yourself together, man!" he ordered, sternly.
"Oh! let the lad alone," cried Lloyd. "He's the kid of the party."
"And a coward!" glared Ned. "Look!"
I had been staring at the floor. I felt something cold and sharp pressing on my temple. Slowly I glanced up and saw the under-carriage of a revolver, Ned's finger on the trigger. Strange to say, I was not in the least afraid. I gazed past the weapon into Ned's eyes and said, "Why don't you shoot? I'll say what Lonerigan said: 'O Christ, I'm shot!' Then I'll go to sleep. I am awfully tired, Ned."
My brother flung his pistol on the ground, and, with a sort of groan, he caught me in his arms. "The poor kid's done up. The day has been too much for him," he said. I was lifted bodily and carried over to my bunk. A moment later Ned's voice rang in furious challenge through the hut:
"Dan is no more a coward than I am, and if any man says so he's got to reckon with me." Nobody answered him, and a long silence fell. It seemed to me that hours passed before anyone spoke again. Then I heard Jack Lloyd's voice: "You boys had better turn in. A few hours' rest will do you all good. I'll keep watch."
"Very well," rejoined Ned. "But take care to arouse us before daylight. I want to fetch Greta by breakfast time."
"Right oh," said Jack.
"Do you want some tobacco, Jack?" asked Byrne.
"No, thanks, Joe; my pouch is nearly full."
"Where will you mount guard?"
"Wherever you say, Ned."
"Outside the hut, I think, Jack."
"I'm agreeable. Good-night, all."
"Good-night. Good-night. Good-night." Jack left the hut and the others sought their berths. Good-night! The mockery of that salutation smote me like a lash. Three dead men lying in the ranges, and three murderers quietly exchanging soft wishes for repose. Of what were my companions thinking? I, the fourth murderer, pondered miserably on this problem when the silence fell. It was soon solved—solved by the heavy, placid breathing of those I lay beside. Within five minutes all three were sleeping as tranquilly as little children. Softly I arose and surveyed them in the ember glow, a great wonder singing through my mind, and in its train a question full of mortal pain. Surely, I thought, if Ned and Joe and Steve had any real consciousness of the hideous crime we had that day committed, they could not sleep. No sense of guilt oppressed them, it was evident. What then? I was oppressed with an appalling consciousness of guilt. I could not sleep. I had but to close my eyes to see Scanlan falling dead, to hear Lonerigan's final cry of agony. And something in me kept whispering, "Unfit to live! unfit to live!" Slowly my knowledge widened, and a dim conviction came that I, because I felt these things, carried a greater burden than my guilty partners, and was more to blame than they. I had wished to urge them to spare Scanlan and Kennedy, but I had not dared. Lonerigan's death was, to some extent, accidental and not deliberately premeditated. The murders of Kennedy and Scanlan had been practically planned. I, at least, had foreseen them to be inevitable from the moment Lonerigan fell. My partners had not reasoned out the consequences of endeavouring to enforce our original plan, I had failed to warn them of my reasoning, therefore I was the most responsible murderer of all the gang. My scheme of analysis was crude and partially intuitive; but it was sufficient. Myself judged and ruthlessly condemned myself. The condemnation was just. Within the hour I thoroughly believed myself unfit to live—yet equally unfit to die. I was a superstitious lad. I fancied that the ghosts of Scanlan, Lonerigan, and Kennedy looked and leered at me, gibbering out from the darkened corners of the hut. I fancied that I saw them. I fancied that I heard their voices summoning my will to suicide, my soul to judgment. I dreamed awake, and made near acquaintance with many of the nicest torments of the damned. I could have prayed for death to end the torture; nevertheless, out of the fear of what might lie beyond death, there gradually arose in me a most fierce and ardent wish to live. Thus, while my companions slumbered, and in their placid sleep reverted into blameless infancy, I watched, and in my terror-haunted wakefulness I passed forever from the reach of childhood and became a desperado and a man. In the course of time, measured out in painful aeons, Jack Lloyd re-entered the hut. With his coming the ghosts fled. He struck a light and held it aloft.
"Good God!" he gasped when he had seen my face. The outcry most effectually aroused the sleepers. They sprang afoot, eager, excited, and full of anxious fears. "It's nothing," Jack explained. "No alarm—time to start. That's all."
"But you cried out?"
"Dan startled me. He was awake."
I stretched out my arms and yawned. "I'm a light sleeper," I said quietly. "I thought Jack might be a constable. He saw the look I keep for constables and it knocked him over, eh Jack?"
Jack, for answer, held the lantern he had just lit right up to my face and gazed at me with a very searching scrutiny.
"Well," I demanded, coolly; "are you satisfied?"
He nodded. "I must have been dreaming," he muttered to himself. "I could have sworn that your face was all over blood."
"You must have been thinking of my hands," I said, and I laughed madly at the ghastly jest. The others laughed, too. We were quite a merry party—merry with the sort of merriment that belongs to Hell. Jack Lloyd alone was not mirthful; but then he was not a murderer, and our laughter was in a sense at his expense. He rudely reminded us that every minute lost shortened the rope on which we roved; and he spurred us to activity with a galling dissertation on the gallows. We breakfasted on sardines, working as we ate. Before the first streak of dawn all was prepared for our departure. We used the captured police horses as pack animals, loading one with food and stores, another with our tools, spare arms and ammunition, and a third with the gold we had dug out of the creek, and the captured police harness. In the deep darkness we set out, as grim and reckless a cavalcade as ever crossed country in Australia. When the sun rose we were in the heart of an uninhabited mountain waste. We halted for a moment to greet the orb of day, saluting him with lifted hats. Then Ned asked, "Isn't this Saturday?"
Jack Lloyd replied, "Not Saturday, Ned—Sunday."
"Sunday!" The word was dragged from the lips of the four murderers by a power beyond our will.
"The Lord's Day," muttered Jack Lloyd.
We rode on in a heavy silence, looking neither right nor left, afraid of we knew not what. And always we gazed upon the ground. The sky had eyes we could not meet.
WE reached Greta at about nine o'clock. As we had sent Jack Lloyd at greater speed before us to announce our approach, and, incidentally, to scout for police, we were not surprised to find a large crowd of friends and relatives awaiting us. We were, however, quite unprepared for the demonstration that greeted us as we rode up to the Kelly homestead. The men gave us three ringing cheers, the women waved their kerchiefs, clapped their hands, and broke into a wild Irish chant of triumph over fallen foes. Ned was treated as a hero and a king. He had hardly dismounted when he was surrounded by my sisters and their female friends, and rapturously embraced. Byrne, Hart and I were no less warmly welcomed, and no effort was spared by both the men and women to convince us that we were regarded with unlimited affection and esteem.
Escorted into the house, we found a feast spread for our entertainment. In a moment every person present was provided with a cup of spirit, and Isaiah Wright called loudly for silence. Thereupon a speech was delivered of the most wild and reckless character. The speaker assured us that the clan had waited for six months in the daily hope and expectation of hearing that the Kelly boys had done their duty to their unjustly imprisoned mother. We had delayed somewhat over long to strike the blow, but at length it had fallen, and with such strength and severity that every clansman's heart was filled with deep rejoicing. The speaker fervently acclaimed us gallant and dutiful instruments of justice. He declared our bloody deed both right and glorious. He lauded Byrne and Hart for having cast in their fortunes with the Kellys, and he wound up with a furious denunciation of the police. The women sobbed hysterically, the men shook the walls with cheers.
"A toast," shouted someone.
Ned raised his cup on high and thundered out: "I drink to Ellen Kelly, murdered of her liberty by a perjured constable, backed up by a damned, one-sided law—lying at this moment in gloomy Melbourne gaol My dear, unhappy mother!"
Such a roar ensued as might have been heard for miles. The men drank and hurled their cups and glasses into the fire. The women drank and pressed a weeping flock, around my brother to kiss his hands. Then for an hour or more there was feasting and drinking and clamour without ceasing; till in sheer weariness at last we came to talking quietly and discussing future plans.
We held council until far into the afternoon. The general opinion was that we ought to quit the district at once and cross the border into New South Wales and thence, if possible, make our escape to some other land. Many voices, it is true, urged us to remain and fight the law in the Kelly fastnesses; but they were over-ruled by the more sober spirits, and, finally, flight was resolved upon. With his usual generosity, Ned signalised his departure with princely gifts. He divided nearly his whole store of gold between our sisters, and levying toll upon my share, he distributed largesse amongst the clan. Joe Byrne and Steve Hart watched these dispositions most uneasily—afraid, perhaps, that they might be called on to contribute too. But Ned left their shares of the treasure untouched, and passed their questioning glances mutely by. At first shade of dusk we bade farewell to our friends, drank a stirrup cup and set out upon our journey to the music of enthusiastic cheers. After two silent miles had been traversed, Joe Byrne spoke.
"Say, Ned, wasn't it a fool's trick on your part to give away so much of the swag?" he asked. "We'll need all that is left to pay our fares; and we'll land in America a pack of paupers."
Ned shrugged his shoulders. "Try and look a yard or two beyond your nose, Joe. Our chances of getting to America are mighty small I'm thinking. What if we can't get out of Victoria? The Murray is in flood, remember. We'll do our best, of course, but suppose we have to come back to Greta. What then?"
"Well, if we must come back, we must. What about it?"
"Just this. If we have to return our lives will depend from day to day on the faithfulness of our friends. They will be offered big rewards to betray us, and they won't have the same temptation to take those rewards if we treat them liberally from the start."
"By Jove, Ned, you are right," exclaimed Joe. "I never dreamed you were such a politician. I thought you were just acting on impulse. No doubt about it you spent the money well."
"It was an investment," declared Ned. "I hope we'll never have to draw upon it, but if we do we'll all be glad that it was made."
"If you'd told us what was in your mind," said Steve, "you could have had some of my share and welcome."
"Mine too," said Joe.
Ned laughed gleefully. "Pooh!" said he, "I'm saving yours; first for America if we can get there, and secondly—if we have to return—to gild the fidelity of our friends at Beechworth and Wangaratta. You see we'd not always be able to loaf round Greta, boys!"
Byrne slapped his hand upon his thigh. "You're a born leader, Ned," he cried. "You think of everything. From this out I'll never question what you do and you can treat my share of the gold as if it were your own."
"Ditto for me," said Steve.
Ned nodded his thanks and turned to me. "Not feeling so bad to-night about the Wombat Range business, Dan?" he asked.
"No," I answered shortly. "I'm still sorry we did it, but it's done."
"And what's done can't be helped. That's sound philosophy," said Byrne. "It's all a question of the point of view," he went on presently. "Outsiders would call us accursed murderers, but the Greta people don't. Bless their hearts. Now, how exactly do you feel about it, Ned?"
"Not a hero," said Ned, "but no outcast, either. The police came to take us alive or dead. I didn't know one of them. But I hate all police, and as long as I live I'll show no mercy to any policeman who tries to take me."
"We're all in the same boat there," said Steve.
"Catching means certain hanging. If we want to live we'll have to stay uncaught, which means that we'll have to kill or be killed every time we strike the police," said Ned decisively.
"There's no other way about it, boys," declared Byrne "Self preservation is the first law of nature, and I for one intend to live as long as I can, even though for every week I live I have to shoot a constable."
"What does Dan say?" demanded Steve.
Thus directly appealed to, I put my inmost thoughts to words. "We are murderers whether we like the name or not. There is no pardon for us on earth or in heaven. While we live we'll be hunted and chased about like dogs, and when we die we shall go to Hell. I hate the thought of killing any man, even such a low blackguard as Fitzpatrick. But, if a policeman were to try to take me, I would shoot, and shoot to kill. Knowing that I'll burn in Hell when I die, I want to live as long as possible. I'd murder twenty if it would lengthen my life even by an hour."
Involuntarily my companions reined in and stared at me. I halted too, and turning, gave them look for look.
"Make no mistake about it," I said bitterly. "Our souls are damned, whatever we do now or leave undone. We are outside the pale of justice. We are no longer men; we are dingoes—things to be destroyed. We've nothing left to hope for, to work for or to fight for, but to put off as long as we can the dreadful moment when we'll be hurled into the lake of burning fire that Father Crispin told us of when we were kids. You boys have been talking about fighting or not fighting as if there was a choice. I say we have no choice. We've got to fight, and if the need comes, we've got to murder and murder and keep on murdering."
"My God!" groaned Ned, "It's true, it's true!" and clapping spurs to his horse he set off at a gallop, as if hoping to fly from the thoughts which my words had conjured to his brain.
No further halt was made until we reached Moon's "Pioneer Hotel," a public-house perched on the bank of the Ovens River, about twenty miles from our starting point. There we purchased some rum and provisions and presently retired into the bush to camp, the richer also by a piece of startling information. A rumour had come through that the Government had offered a reward of £500 a head for our apprehension, dead or alive.
We drank deeply that night, seeking solace and courage in the can, yet finding nothing but ill-humour and black imaginings. Morning broke, raining cats and dogs. Wet and unspeakably miserable, we breakfasted on rum and lunched on sardines. Resuming our journey in the early afternoon, we passed that evening through the townships of Oxley and Everton, and, travelling all night, we brought up at the Murray soon after dawn. It was apparent at a glance that we should experience great difficulty in crossing. At most seasons of the year the Murray in that district is readily fordable, a mere thread of a stream running lazily between its wide, low-lying banks. But now it was in flood. It had overflowed its banks and the whole countryside was under water, presenting the aspect of a vast lake spangled here and there with islands.
Driven by our fears we made many fierce attempts to get across, but we never even succeeded in reaching the main stream, so deep and wide were the intervening lagoons, and so treacherous the currents we were forced to encounter. Not until we had fruitlessly risked death a dozen times did we abandon the vain attempt. We then pushed on along the edge of the water to Bungowannah, where we knew that a punt was kept for the convenience of travellers. Once more an evil fate attended us. The punt had disappeared, overwhelmed by the flood.
Two whole days had been wasted in trying to cross the border. It was now November the 3rd. Half a score or more of people had seen us, some friends, some strangers. Clearly we must remove. Taking breakfast at the house of a sympathetic settler, we were told that the telegraph wires had been at work, and that the northern bank of the Murray was at that moment being patrolled by scores of New South Wales mounted police. We were also informed that the Victorian police had learned of our efforts to ford the river, and were hurrying northwards toward the border in the hope of taking us between two fires.
There seemed nothing left but to return to our native haunts. Mounting in haste, we turned our horses' heads southward through the blinding rain, and rode as though pursued by furies. By dusk we had covered forty miles and were in the neighbourhood of Wangaratta. Resting in the scrub until nearly midnight, we mounted once more and passed through Wangaratta at a gallop, making for Joe Byrne's home in the Woolshed Ranges near Beechworth. Before morning our horses were very nearly knocked up, and we were forced to abandon them and take to the packs. But it was neck or nothing, and we pressed on without a pause until we got to the shelter of the hills. Hardly less exhausted than our horses, we were now compelled to take a lengthy rest. There was no thought of defence or of guard. We threw ourselves upon the ground and slept like the dead. Had the police followed us they could have captured us with absolute ease; in fact they could have handcuffed us without awaking us. But although the officer in charge of Wangaratta knew of our passage, and could, if he chose, have tracked us without difficulty owing to the muddy ground, he did not move to attack us until too late.
Early next morning we set out across the ranges to Sebastopol, and made Aaron Sherritt's hut by midday. Aaron was at home and he gave us a most cordial welcome, offering to serve as a bush telegraph and to carry out any plan we might suggest for putting the police off the trail. Ned was greatly affected by Aaron's generous demeanour, and the pair made up their old quarrel with many handsome exchanges of apology and confidence, shaking hands at least a dozen times.
Poor Ned, he was chumming with a villain who even then had begun to plot his ruin. Aaron Sherritt was a man who never forgave an indignity, and I believe he had made up his mind to bring Ned to the gallows from the moment of his downfall at Ned's hands in the rough and tumble at the valley.
After making a hearty meal at Aaron's hut we proceeded to Mrs. Byrne's house, where we were received with open arms by the whole family. There followed a repetition of the happenings at Greta. Within an hour or two the Kelly sympathisers and connections in the district assembled to pay their respects to the bushrangers. The evening passed in feasting and speech-making. We danced the hours of darkness away, and when morning broke and we saddled up to leave, Ned glorified the "Doch and Dorris" by distributing all that remained of our gold among the clansmen, their daughters and their wives. We quitted the place with beggared pockets, but with enough provisions to last for many weeks; and we left behind us a company of sympathisers who—saving one exception—could not have been purchased to betray us with all the wealth in the public treasury.
Two days after our departure a large police battalion led by Captain Sadlier and Superintendent Nicholson raided the spot, having got belated news of our visit through Aaron Sherritt. But the birds had flown. While the police were making themselves ridiculous at Sebastopol we were lying in our cavern stronghold in the Warby Ranges. There on November 14th Aaron came to us bearing much news. The Government had passed a special Act of Parliament to make us outlaws. The Supreme Court of the Colony had issued a warrant in pursuance of the Act, calling upon us to surrender ourselves to the law on or before the 12th of November; and on the preceding day a proclamation had been promulgated declaring us beyond the pale of the law, empowering Her Majesty's lawful subjects to shoot us on sight without previous "demand of surrender"; and calling upon the Queen's lieges, whether police or civilian, to apprehend or take us—"dead or alive."
THE news, of course, was no more dreadful than we had expected, but it was not possible to read the flaring proclamation (Aaron had brought copies for our entertainment) without a deep thrill. It contained proof positive that we were now set apart from the rest of humanity and regarded by all save our relatives and clansmen as deadly pirates—wolves to be hunted down and exterminated in the best interests of the public weal. The document, however, which most disturbed us was the Government notice offering £500 reward for each of our heads, and £2000 reward for such information as would lead to the capture or destruction of the gang. Confident as we felt in the good faith and affection of our friends, we could not but realize that these great rewards would excite the cupidity of the more distant and lukewarm of our associates, and tempt many to endeavour, either openly or covertly to betray us.
Aaron Sherritt, when asked his opinion on the matter, emphatically agreed with this view, and he forthwith named several men as likely traitors. He was so anxious to infect us with doubts of the integrity of certain persons—in particular Isaiah Wright, a man I trusted absolutely—that my old suspicions of his own good faith re-awakened. From that moment I watched him narrowly and carefully weighed his words and deeds.
One thing struck me as peculiar. He strongly counselled us not on any account to quit the shelter of our present hiding, and he reiterated the strategical advantages of our position so long and so earnestly that Ned, Joe and Steve finally gave him a sort of promise to take his advice, and definitely agreed to remain in the cavern at least until his next visit.
Aaron was so evidently pleased at this decision, although he strove to appear indifferent, that I felt certain that he had an undisclosed motive. As soon, therefore, as he had departed I communicated my suspicions to my companions, and begged leave to follow in his tracks and see where he went. My fears, however, were laughed to scorn, and Ned refused to sanction my proposed expedition. Nevertheless before another twelve hours had elapsed we were all in a fever of restlessness. Ned and Joe still trusted Aaron, but I had made a convert of Steve Hart; and Ned's trust had began to waver. Seeing the state of affairs, and being genuinely alarmed lest Aaron intended to set the police on our trail, I came forward with another proposition. It was that we should make a tour of the district through the ranges, visiting as many outlying selectors, publichouse-keepers and storekeepers as possible, and that everywhere we went we should proclaim death to traitors—as a counterblast to the Government proclamations. This plan appealed instantly to all, and within an hour we were mounted and away.
The expedition lasted four days. During that time we rode more than a hundred and fifty miles, and we visited about thirty huts and stores and inn houses. At each place we visited we made a noisy demonstration, firing off our revolvers and loudly swearing dreadful oaths to track down and kill any man who dared to assist the police against us. So grim and desperately determined an appearance did we present that we carried mortal terror into every place we touched at, and beyond all doubt that wild ride did more to establish our sovereignty in the Kelly country and defend us from the machinations of informers than any other course we could have taken.
As we learned afterwards, moreover, it temporarily checked Aaron Sherritt's contemplated treachery. He had ridden straight from our cavern stronghold to Beechworth, intending to supply Superintendent Nicholson with all the details necessary to procure our apprehension; but hearing from a bush telegraph that we were out and what we were doing, he turned aside and made all speed to his own house at Sebastopol.
On our return journey to our stronghold in the Warby Ranges, we sighted no fewer than four different police parties, and we passed quite close to two armed camps. On each occasion we avoided our would-be captors with the utmost ease and passed them unperceived, our superior bushcraft enabling us more than once to steal close enough to listen to the policemen's conversation without permitting them to suspect our presence in the neighbourhood.
These experiences showed us plainly that from the police themselves we had little to fear, and that our only real danger lay in being betrayed by those who knew our haunts and habits. "Our reign," said Ned, as we left the police camp, "must be a reign of terror commingled with bribery. We must make those we cannot fully trust afraid to betray us, and we must make those we do trust and must trust so confident of our bounty that they will have no great inclination to betray us."
"An excellent idea," commented Byrne, "but how are we to bribe and be bounteous without money?"
"We must get money," said Ned.
"Ah! And how?"
"Hurrah for Dick Turpin!" cried Steve.
But Ned smiled contemptuously. "There are no fat bishops and aldermen to pistol of their purses in these ranges," he declared. "No, my friend, the Dick Turpin act won't do for us. We'd starve on it in a week."
"What do you propose then?"
Ned drew up his horse on the crest of a spur and pointed over the hills. "Down there," said he, "are several thriving little towns. Each town has a bank. Each bank has a strongroom full of gold and silver. In a little while we are going to ride down upon one of those towns—stick it up—seize the bank and take away every copper we can lay our hands upon. Well?"
The daring of the idea left us all breathless for a moment. House's we had "stuck up" before, one at a time—but a town! Presently an excited discussion was raging, but it did not last long. Ned curtly informed us that he had made up his mind and rode on. Joe Byrne and Steve Hart loudly protested against such autocratic treatment, but when I reminded them that Ned was the captain and that we had all vowed to obey him, they swallowed their resentment and the journey was resumed.
For the rest of that day we were a silent party. Ned held himself aloof from us, always keeping far in the lead, and he set a pace that did not suit with conversation. We reached the cave at dusk and found my married sister, Mrs. Skillian, awaiting our arrival with a large bag of fresh baked bread which she had brought on horseback. She told us that she had paid two visits to the cave while we had been away, and that she had been dreadfully afraid lest we had been captured. She remained to take tea with us, and imparted a considerable budget of news. All over the Kelly country the police had been doubled, and in some places trebled in strength. Superintendent Nicholson had taken supreme control of the operations, and every day fresh constables arrived by train from Melbourne. Not a member of the Kelly clan but was held under strict surveillance. There was a police camp near our home at Greta; and police parties led by black trackers were scouring the district in all directions both night and day. She said that the publichouses and provision stores were driving a roaring trade owing to the large police requirements, and that even such small storekeepers as were disaffected towards the Kellys hoped for nothing so much as that we should continue to evade arrest for ever in order that they might continue doing such excellent business. She further told us that there was very little danger of the police venturing far into the mountains in pursuit of us. The fate of Sergeant Kennedy had instilled into their hearts such a fear of being ambushed that they were not likely to leave the foothills, and their policy was to wait until we should be driven by impatience or starvation into the open country. In other words they aspired to besiege us. The idea of a force, no more, at the outside, than three hundred strong hoping effectively to besiege and guard all the countless outlets of the wild chain of ranges which we occupied appeared so ridiculous that we were all moved to mirth.
Before my sister departed Ned carefully instructed her in several matters of concern to the gang. He wished the idea to be fostered throughout the district that Sergeant Kennedy and his party had been killed in fair fight. He directed her, however, to let all the more distant farmers and settlers know that as long as they kept still tongues about the Kellys, and refrained from giving information to the police, their cattle and crops would be respected and held under the protection of the gang; and he also told her to set all the bush telegraphs in the clan at work warning the countryside that Ned Kelly had sworn to be the death of any civilian who might try, however secretly, to assist in our arrest for the sake of the Government reward. His final mandate made us all stare. "Tell everyone you meet, my girl," he said, "that the Kellys are the friends of the poor, and that any man in sore need of money who takes the trouble to let Kate or yourself know of his condition will have his wants relieved before one month from date." My sister was the only person who did not seem surprised. She nodded gaily and declared it was the best message of all, and that she knew it was a promise Ned would keep.
"And how do you expect him to keep it?" demanded Byrne.
"By sticking up a bank, of course," she flashed, and a moment later she was gone.
Ned turned to us with a smile. "You see, even the women expect us to do something big," he said drily. We had nothing to reply. We turned in. Ned sat before the fire smoking and thinking. About the middle of the night some noise woke me. It was the howling of a dingo. Sitting up I saw that Ned had not shifted his position. His pipe was still alight, but I could not see his face. "Ned," I whispered, "aren't you going to rest at all to-night?" He beckoned me over the fire. I got up softly and approached him, but he rose and retreated into the darkness, still beckoning.
"What is it, Ned?" I whispered, when he at length stopped.
"It's you," he muttered huskily. "I've led you into this. I'm responsible for it all, and you're only a kid. You're hardly seventeen."
"Ned," I gasped, "you are crying, Oh! Ned!"
He broke down completely. "I've made a murderer of you," he sobbed. "I've set the hangman's rope around your neck—me that nursed you as a baby. Oh, God! oh, God!"
It is a pain to recollect the ghastly little tragic farce that followed—the long vain struggle to excuse by self-accusing; the agony of remorse that racked us both, our futile attempts at consolation, our final despair, and our resolve to die in order to avoid further crimes. We drew lots and Ned lost. We kissed each other solemnly and he put the muzzle of his pistol to my brow. "God forgive us both," he said, and pulled the trigger. The cap flashed and I thought myself dead, but the cartridge had failed to explode.
I sank back half swooning against a rock. Once more Ned raised the pistol, but my courage had gone. "No, no," I gasped. "Let us live—I can't, I'm not fit to die." And Ned was for once a coward too. He found a sign from Heaven in the ill-made cartridge, and with a hand that trembled he flung pistol and cartridge down the gorge.
Then we realised the dawn had come and were ashamed; and we crept back to the sleeping camp, afraid to look upon each other, for we knew that we had shrunk from a task we should have carried through.
DURING the next fortnight Ned largely devoted himself to the task of keeping the police on the move. Calling in the two nearest bush telegraphs by signal fires, he sent both lads on distant missions—one to Quinn's, at Mansfield, and the other to Wright's, at Beechworth. Joe Byrne wrote the messages at Ned's dictation. I ought to say that he was the only member of the gang who could write at all legibly. We others were so far from being penmen, that if obliged to write, we had to scrawl our letters in the shape of print. Longhand was unknown to us. The Quinns were directed to do their utmost to gain the confidence of the police with a view to assisting "contemplated operations," and the Wrights were asked to set the clansmen at work in all parts of the district, spreading false reports of the Kellys' doings and whereabouts. When these messages were despatched we left the cave, and moved easterly to the head of a creek about fourteen miles away, where we expected to find better feed for our horses. This place had long been known to the cattle-duffing confraternity as Number 7. There were two fat strays on the table-land when we arrived, and we lost no time in converting them to the uses of our appetites.
Ned and Joe Byrne went down that night to Greta to do some scouting, and to talk matters over with the family. I wanted to go too; but Ned refused to take more than one companion because of the risks involved in breaking through the police cordon, and so I had to remain in camp with Steve. We played "stag-knife" for an hour, "knuckle-stones" for another, and then we talked. It was the most stupid sort of conversation that can be imagined. We bragged to each other like a pair of ale-house bravos. We discovered a fearful joy in the fact that for the head of each the State had offered a large reward; and we discussed the subject of our outlawry with as much pride as a knighted alderman would take in expounding the King's ribbon. Our deepest pleasure was in measuring in thought the feelings of admiration and envy with which we must be regarded by boys and youths of our own age in the clan, and by silly youngsters in all parts of the country. Outlaws at eighteen and seventeen respectively! and £1,000 offered for our heads! We gazed at one another, puffed out with pride, and swollen with conceit. Two nights earlier I had sought to die in sheer remorse. To-night I said: "Everybody would be a murderer if he dared, for everyone hates somebody, and you cannot hate without wishing to destroy the one you hate. The difference between us and other folk is that we ain't cowards! We dared, and we did."
"I am as brave as a lion," said Steve, "there's nothing I daren't do. I love killing. I'd kill a man every day in the week if I had my way."
I thought Steve just bragging, and was disgusted enough to break up the party and turn in. But Steve had spoken from his heart when he said that he loved killing, and I was one day to find it out.
Next morning Ned and Joe returned to the camp accompanied by quite a little crowd of men and boys. The men were nearly all of kin with us, but the loafers and black sheep of the clan—the "poor cousin" type. They hated work like poison, and those who were married lived on the labour of their wives. The reason they attended Ned on this occasion was that they had heard the Kelly gang had invented a scheme for raising money, and they wished to make certain of their share.
We gave them breakfast at the camp, and afterwards Ned made them a speech. He said he felt very glad to see his friends so anxious to help him, because it encouraged him to ask big services at their hands.
It was most amusing to watch their faces while they listened. They had not come to help at all, only to cadge whatever they could get, and the thought of having to do some work made them ready to faint. But Ned artfully led them on by hinting of "great rewards," and talking vaguely of "swag, plunder and bullion"; so that instead of stampeding as I had expected, they lingered, and their cupidity became so excited that they wound up by volunteering to do anything Ned wanted. Ned promptly struck the iron he had heated, and sent the loafers off in three separate detachments of four, to impersonate the Kelly gang in different parts of the country. The idea was not merely to keep the police moving, but to confuse and distress them with a multitude of false scents.
These sham gangs carried out their orders most effectively. Each committed a minor outrage. One beat a woolshed storekeeper who had refused to give credit to a friend of the Kellys; another burned some huts, and set fire to a hay-rick on the station of a squatter, living on the Wangaratta side; and the third raided a farmer's house near Mansfield. As each of these outrages was committed by arrangement on the same day, at places fifty and sixty miles apart, and as the victims swore in every instance that Ned Kelly was the culprit, the mental condition of the police may be readily imagined. They knew not whom to believe or which clue to follow.
Headquarters was thrown into even worse discord. Commands were issued and countermanded as soon as they had begun to be enforced. Detachments were hurried here and there and back again. A general massing of the force was ordered at three different places in as many hours. And finally, after much mental travail, three separate detachments were sent into the field to pursue the three sham gangs. All this while we lay in our camp, rejoicing at the turmoil into which we had thrown the unfortunate police. We had there a good view of a wide extent of their operations, and we observed quite a number of their forays, marches and counter marches.
Looking back I feel bound to confess that the police were much to be pitied. They were badly armed, and badly led. They were quartered in a district inhabited chiefly by Kellys and Kelly sympathisers. Two-thirds of the population regarded their presence as an unpardonable trespass, and were always prepared to set them astray by lies and false reports; and, added to that, most of the police were town bred, and quite innocent of bushcraft.
At that time, Ned and Joe, and Steve and I (indeed, the whole countryside) considered the police were lamentable cowards because they shrunk back from the ordeal of following us into the ranges. But I know better now. The police, poor fellows, had many sound excuses for their apparent timorousness. They were brave enough as men go, but many of them had wives and families, and there is no doubt that the opinion almost universally prevailed that the Kellys could not be caught in the mountains, and that to seek us in our fastnesses meant courting death. Nevertheless, on two or three occasions, strong bodies of troopers actually did attempt an invasion of the ranges, and led by guides in our pay, they accomplished a lot of barren exploration work.
We always prepared in advance for these demonstrations, and we used to fix the route that the police should take in conclave, and determine, also, what houses and huts they should visit, the discoveries they should make, and the very people they should meet and talk with. In a word, the police were the creatures of our will, and although quite unconscious of the fact, they continually danced to Ned's piping.
This would not have been possible had an intelligent officer and an experienced bushman been in command. But of all the police chiefs who fought us then, and till the end of the chapter, not one was really worthy of his post. Captain Sadlier was, perhaps, the most efficient, but because a local, he was treated lightly by the city superintendents who had superseded his authority, and I fancy that he retaliated by allowing the latter to work out their own salvation. Certainly, he could have saved them from many humiliations and from some of their silliest blunders, had he chosen.
Superintendent Nicholson was a good officer and a brave, hard-working man, but he was over sixty years of age, and physically unfitted to endure the strain of the campaign. As for Superintendent Hare, he was a pompous, fussy old fool, with no courage to spare, but vain as a court beauty, and ready to be led by the nose by anyone who would flatter him.
We were very fortunate in having such men opposed to us. By turns they wasted the energies of the troopers, damped their courage, impaired their discipline, and made them fractious, irritable and apprehensive. Every little enterprise and excursion was undertaken with as much trepidation and ceremony as though it were the storming of Badajos; every molehill was turned into a mountain by the nervous cares of the benevolent old gentleman for the time being in command; and every trifling incident that occurred was made a great song about, and discussed with portentous anxiety from camp to camp, from town to town.
Since every police excursion resulted absurdly and since almost every incident that disturbed the force had a ridiculous termination, it is not wonderful that the troopers did their work increasingly badly as time proceeded. Girded at by the press, harried by their officers, and openly despised by the people among whom they moved, my surprise is that they stuck to their jobs at all. Truth to tell they were better men and more courageous than their reputations, and I make the acknowledgment in all sincerity, for I saw them from behind the scenes. This I know—the police repeatedly petitioned their officers for leave to track us to our dens, and to bring us to bay in the mountains. They were always refused.
We received daily news of all their dispositions. Our spies were everywhere. They listened to the troopers' conversations. They heard much even of the officers' private talk. They continually carried false information to the police; and they carried to us just as continually the truth. The advantages were wholly on our side. We had the best of every deal, and that, in a nutshell, was the secret of our success, and our protracted immunity from punishment.
About the first of December, Ned felt so satisfied with the result of his machinations against the peace of mind of the police, that he declared for a week's holiday, and virtually disbanded the gang. Steve Hart alone remained in camp, having to keep an appointment with one of his cousins to whose sister he had offered marriage. Joe Byrne rode over to Sebastopol to spend a few days with Aaron Sherritt. Ned went to visit his sweetheart in the Strathbogie country, and I slipped down to Greta to stay with my sister Kate.
I experienced no trouble whatever in making my destination. There was a police patrol camped within about half a mile from our house, but it only consisted of two men, and they were gabies. Watching my chance, I rode up to the house under their very noses; stalled and fed my horse, and even did some sorely-needed work on the neglected farm. The troopers passed our gate twice in the course of the afternoon and saw me at work, but did not bother to hail me. It never entered their heads that Dan Kelly would risk his neck for the sake of doing a little honest work; and so they passed on, taking me, probably, for a hired hand. I stayed at home for three days, toiling like a nigger to get the farm into order and generally fixing up the place. Kate meanwhile got ready for a big baking, and my married sister, Mrs. Skillian, came over on the third day to superintend. The baking was chiefly for the gang. The police seemed to know it by instinct. They got fearfully uneasy, and at length mustered up courage to interfere. I was in the house when they appeared. I listened to their talk from under Kate's bed. They demanded to be informed of the reason for such a big bake, and they threatened to destroy the oven if a satisfactory answer was not forthcoming. Kate was equal to the occasion.
"Sure," said she, "why should I make any secret of the bake? It is for my brothers out there in the bush, poor lads; and I've got to learn it's any crime for a woman to supply her own flesh and blood with bread."
The troopers were nonplussed by her candour, and had not a word to say. They retired to their camp and held a long discussion. I wormed my way up among the reeds and grass and listened to some of it. Their trouble was rather ludicrous. They cordially agreed that a great chance was before them of coming on the outlawed Kellys through Kate's bread bake. They both felt it was incumbent on them to make as much as possible out of the chance, and they felt it was their duty to get help immediately. But, and here was the rub, they could not agree as to which of them should stay on guard, and which should go to Benalla for reinforcements. They drew lots and quarrelled, and drew lots and again and quarrelled again. Then they spun a coin several times, and whoever lost always quarrelled and accused the other of cheating, just as with the lots. After both had won and lost about twenty times they gave up tossing. Each loudly insisted that he had won, and that the other had lost. Each then declared that he would make the journey to Benalla, and went to saddle up. The saddling match resulted in a dead heat. They mounted and talked some more, making nasty, abusive remarks, and threatening to report each other. Then the senior ordered the junior to dismount, and got sworn at for his pains. This was the last straw.
"I'll report you, by G—— I will," cried the senior.
"I'll report you first or I'll eat my hat," yelled the junior.
Then they set out, spurring and whipping their horses and racing helter-skelter down the road like a pair of lunatics, each intent solely on getting the better of his companion, and neither having a thought to spare for his duty. The silly constables having thus relieved us of espionage, my sisters went gaily ahead with their baking, and I seized the opportunity to visit some of our neighbours. I had a pleasant day. I lunched with the Quinns, and took tea with the Clancys, and was so heartily welcomed at both places that I was nearly happy.
I should have been quite happy were it not that Norah Clancy did not exhibit as much cordiality as her brothers and sisters, and was not to be found when I was taking leave. That circumstance spoilt my evening, and turned the cream of my pleasure sour. I could not understand why Norah should behave so. We had always been good friends, and she owed me many little favours and services which I had always been glad enough to do for her, but which few, if any, of the lads in the neighbourhood would have done. My opinion was that she had perhaps fallen in love with some outsider, who had forbidden her to speak to me, knowing the friends we had been, and therefore she had avoided my eyes and my company.
The idea made me so miserable that I galloped over to Riordan's and found a mate for a drinking bout. And here you see me as I was—the naked stuff of me—a cattle thief, a murderer, an outlaw, a boy in love. And the stuff was so poor that no sooner did the thought arise—"your mistress slights you"—than I needs must fly to the pot for comfort, and persuade a perfectly decent farm hand to drink with me cup for cup, until hands faltered to the mouth, and every light was haloed in mist. Kate roused me at dawn, and packed me off to the ranges with two string horses loaded with hot bread. I was so fuddled and bemused from my debauch that not even the sight of three signal smokes conveyed any terrifying warning. All I wanted was to be let alone. Mrs. Skillian, having failed to render me properly alert whether by shaking or sousing, herself accompanied me for ten miles, by which time I was sober; and riding back she came into the arms of six troopers, who were after us at the heels of a black tracker.
Thinking the bare truth the one story she could tell least likely to be credited, my sister made full confession.
"Dan Kelly," said she, "is not two miles ahead of you with a great load of bread that I baked yesterday. Follow him and you'll catch him as easily as you would a calf, for he's quite alone, he's three parts drunk, the camp he makes for is deserted, and there's not another of the Kelly gang nearer than a hundred miles."
The sergeant in charge of the posse was far too old a bird to be caught by such chaff. He cocked his eye at the informer, who was my sister, and laughed heartily. "Two pack horse loads of bread for a deserted camp!" he jeered, "and a Kelly woman willing to put the police in the way of earning £1,000 by selling the youngest of her flesh and blood—her pet brother, young Dan."
The troopers shook their heads and looked sourly at the steep, densely-timbered gully that was the road I had taken. The fear of an ambush was in every heart.
"Two armed men," said the sergeant, "could hold any one of those gorges against a regiment."
"Not a doubt of it," chorussed the others.
Enough had been said. The expedition wheeled about and returned to Greta to be chaffed unmercifully every step of the way by my nimble-witted, sharp-tongued sister.
I, meanwhile, in stupid unconsciousness of what was happening behind me, pursued my road to the camp. I found it quite deserted. Steve Hart had vanished and left no word to explain. This filled the cup of my unhappiness. I planted the bread and bestowed the horses from sheer force of perfunctory habit. But I was grizzling all the while, and when there was nothing left to do, I threw myself down in a bed of maiden hair ferns and howled my misery into the sod as a wounded dingo might conversely howl his sorrow to the stars. All day long I was lonely. All day long I lamented, and was sick of body and sore in heart. Nor bite nor cup passed my lips. At last for very exhaustion I fell asleep and dreamed.
THE tramp of steel-shod hoofs awakened me. "The police," I thought, and, scrambling afoot, I hurried to the edge of the pass, where I had left my gun. But I did not run all the way, because a count of beats proved that I had a single visitor. He must, therefore, be a friend. He turned out to be Paddy Clancy, Norah's brother. I was surprised to see him, not merely because I had so recently visited his house, but because he was a weak, sickly lad, and unused to such excursions. Doubtless he had bad news. The police had at length made up their minds to invade the mountains, and were on the point of marching against us in overwhelming force. But why should our friends send me such a messenger as this poor misshapen weed?
"Why, Paddy!" I cried, "what brings you here?"
He answered from the saddle, "They've sworn out a warrant against Tom for duffing, and mother wants to see you about it. She wants to know if you'll ride down to-night. The police are camped at Greta, so there won't be any trouble."
"Where is Tom?" I demanded.
"Over at the Woolshed."
"Then they've not caught him?"
Paddy shook his head. "Not yet."
"What does your mother want to see me for?"
Again Paddy shook his head. I asked him many further questions, but without avail. The boy's head had no room for more than two ideas at once, and just then it was fully occupied. Paddy's elder brother was in danger of arrest, and his mother wanted me.
Finding that I could not extract anything more explanatory from him, I desisted from the attempt and saddled up. The pressure on Paddy's mind was thereby so greatly relieved that he gave me some more news unasked. "Tom wants to join your gang," he said. "He has gone over to the Woolshed to see Aaron Sherritt."
This piece of information gave me as much food for thought as I needed and to spare. Tom Clancy was a bushman of the type known as "flash." A sharp, clever fellow in most directions, his defect was that he loved notoriety with immoderate affection, and was always prepared to sacrifice scruples in order to be talked about. He had been twice or thrice convicted of horse-stealing, like so many of the younger members of the Kelly clan; but he was not a thief from necessity or from inclination, and I believe that he would never have thieved at all could he, in some other way, have achieved an equally scandalous popularity in the district.
It was not difficult to conceive of such a man being anxious to join our gang of outlawed murderers. He would run the risk of hanging (if caught in our company), but the risk was small, as our career had already demonstrated, and, as a set-off against it, he would be accredited with just the sort of reputation he most keenly envied. All through the Kelly country he would be a hero, and quite a special sort of hero, too; for it is one thing to throw dice with the criminal law for one's liberty, and another and very different thing to make one's neck the stake—and all for the sake of a sentiment.
I had no great love for Tom, because I had long since detected his weakness, and I despised him for it. But I confess that I felt pleased to know he wished to join us. It was so flattering to learn that our notoriety seemed genuinely admirable to anybody that I felt greatly consoled, and my drooping vanity began to rear its crest again. Norah had given me the cold shoulder truly enough; but her brother! It is wonderful how swift resentment is to sustain impaired self-love, and still more strange it is to contemplate the unguents that it fashions. Norah had avoided me. Very well. Tom should pay for it. To avenge myself on Norah I determined to prevent Tom from entering the gang. I had no thought of saving Tom from a folly. My idea was to hurt him by refusing his request in the blind wish that his hurt would in some way reach Norah.
I suppose I was in love with Norah Clancy. Perhaps I had been for a considerable period; but I was not aware of it. I often had thought of her as a possible sweetheart, and once or twice, when twitted by friends that I was afraid of girls, I had made up my mind to ask Norah to be "on with" me just to show the other lads that I was as brave a ruffler as they. To be "on with," it should be explained, was the local phrase for "engaged," or "courting," or "keeping company." Nobody seems to use it anywhere nowadays, but in 1878, in the Kelly country, it was the universal, common term applying to the relations of unwedded lovers. However, I had never contrived to amass sufficient courage to put the question, and so Norah had never been "on with" me nor I with her. Friends only we had been, with secret mutual leanings towards a closer intimacy in glances now and then, reluctantly or unguardedly confessed, to be forth with, in further glances, more or less indignantly denied and scornfully repudiated. We were hobbledehoys, and because she was a year older than me she felt ashamed of her inclination, and I felt afraid of her.
Four hours and more we rode through the starlit darkness, and then, most unexpectedly to me, so far off from the moment were my thoughts, a light struck at us from an opened door, and Mrs. Clancy's voice bade me welcome. She was a woman with a great flow of talk. It took twenty minutes and a thousand words to apologise for the trouble she had caused me. Supper was over before she had finished deploring the occasion, and midnight was on us when at last I began to catch the drift of her intention.
We were quite alone. In order to give full play to her diplomacy, the old lady had sent her whole family to spend the evening with the Quinns, three miles away, and thus there was not anyone to oversee her wheedling arts or interrupt her. She had a great reputation as a coaxer, had Mother Clancy. She coaxed and flattered me so much, and she laboured so hard to convey the impression that she considered me a very fine man, that I became positively suspicious of her good faith, and began to listen for hoof-beats. But therein I did her an injustice. She had a favour to ask me, and she feared to ask it, lest the asking should be taken for an insult, and the insult inspire a definite resolve to destroy her hopes. Here was her favour. Her husband was at that moment in Benalla gaol, serving a sentence for an aggravated assault on a constable. Her second son was in the Beechworth gaol for cattle-duffing. Tom, her eldest boy, was wanted by the police for horse-stealing. "You see," said the old lady, with a plain twang of pride in her tone, "we are true Kellys, Dan!"
But Mrs. Clancy, although proud of her Kelly associations, proud also of the criminal record of her husband and sons, was desperately unwilling to let the hangman into the house. Tom's boast that he intended to join the outlawed gang had reached her ears that afternoon, and it had flung her immediately into a state of terrified dismay. Why could not Tom be content to steal? Why must he stick his nose into the "murderin' business"? Her mind was filled with horrid visions of fights and ambushes and butchery, ending always with the noose and the drop. And she was afraid, too, that if Tom joined the Kelly gang, so also would her husband and her second son on liberation from prison. Thus, after a while, all her men folk would be snatched from her and hanged—and the "girls would be disgraced." Not a sentence did the poor old creature utter as she pleaded with me that was not replete with unconscious irony, and that did not plant little daggers in my heart.
"As everybody says," "as everybody knows," were the phrases she employed to excuse the picture she drew of Tom's fate—"av yer let the silly spalpeen join yer, Dan, acushla. But sure, ye'll know better than that, glory be to God."
What stung me to the quick was the self-evident fact that Mrs. Clancy looked upon me and the rest of the gang as good as dead already. We were pre-doomed to the rope. We might not be caught this year or next year, but some day, inevitably, we must be caught and hanged! hanged! hanged! "as everybody says; as everybody knows."
Either the whole countryside shared Mrs. Clancy's views or the old lady was a romancer. Which was true? I looked at her sardonically, and decided to infuse her prayer and to drag Tom in.
Confound the old witch. Why should I move a hand to thrust back her son from the gallows to which she believed me marching as steadily as though I were in chains. If I were really bound for the gallows then the more company I had the better.
It is always sad to be alone, but when standing on the trap-door it is terrible. Mrs. Clancy read something of my thoughts, and, realising that she had bungled in her diplomacy, she tried new tactics, and made new prayers in Norah's name. Would I not save Tom from Tom's black, foolish self for Norah's sake? It had once been her fond dream that Norah and I would marry. That, of course, was now no longer possible; still she felt sure that I must still be fond of Norah, and would not like to see the girl disgraced with a hanged brother.
Of course, the old lady was no more than a nervous, blundering old fool—a clucky hen filled with terror for the safety of her brood, yet forced by the sheer quality of her cluckiness to imperil while attempting to protect them. Yet her folly irritated me nearly to the point of madness.
"So," I cried, "I see now why Norah avoided me to-day. That's it. Like you, she believes I'm certain to be hanged. Well, I'll likely hang; but Tom will hang too. Is Norah better than my sisters? Disgraced with a hanged brother! Ha! Ha! I hope she'll be disgraced. Persuade Ned and Byrne and Hart to refuse Tom a place in the gang! Not much! I'll work the other way. Norah's too good for me, eh? Well, I hope that Tom will be hanged, and pretty soon. Good-night to you, Mrs. Clancy, and thank you kindly for a pleasant evening."
She would have kept me still, and in truth she made a last appeal with tears, but I was stark with rage and past consideration of even grey-haired misery. I burst from her detaining hold and strode out into the night, breathing short and tasting blood. Mounting my tired horse, I set out homewards as slowly and as unhappily as an evil spirit might when returning to his den in Hades after some damned mission to the world.
It was a bad ride and a haunted ride. At the end of an hour my bushman's instinct taught me I was followed. I chilled with fear, and made shift to face the worst. For a few miles I rode like a fag from the Furies, then my horse made signs to give out, and so I was forced to stake my last bid on bushcraft.
I stopped and dismounted, but the ground had no message to my earth-pressed ear. I remounted and rode at a shaky gallop for a rod, halting sharply like a banged door. Hoof-beats reached me—stilled suddenly.
I repeated the trick, cantering, trotting, walking. At length I was sure. I was pursued by one only. My attendant kept always a hundred yards or so behind me, and was not anxious to come to closer quarters. Twice I turned to confront him. Each time he hastily retired. And so deep was his caution, so excellent his skill, that, strive as I would, I could not lure him to an ambush, and neither could I reach him by the suddenest return.
My final artifice was well designed, but as futile as the first. I tied up my horse and slipped back through the scrub on foot. Not a sound did I make, and I must have been quite invisible. Nevertheless, I had not gone half the requisite distance when I heard faint sounds to tell me that my pursuer had taken alarm, and was gently retreating.
The hangman seemed very close to me that moment. It was clear that the police had at length enrolled an expert bushman in their service, and a man who could match our cards, trump our tricks, and keep his own game unrevealed. Only a little while and this accursed spy would mark out all our haunts and hiding places and track us to our doom.
But stay! It might be a ghost! Shivering with superstitious dread, I crept back to my horse and pushed on towards the camp. Quite suddenly a bleak wind arose and rain began to fall. Soon I was wet to the skin, and by dawn I was so utterly wretched that I lost every fear, whether physical or supernatural. I felt it would be just as well to die at once as to keep on with such a life.
Then came home—that is to say, the camp. Picture it: a sodden piece of canvas pitched under a ledge of overhanging rock, with a trickle of cold water flowing through the door. The rain had put out my banked fire; the rock was dripping, the sky reeked moisture. Gaunt, grey gums sheered up on each side of the pass, their tops shrouded with mist. The mountain crags and summits were steeped in yellow fog. The landscape was cabined and confined with masses of bleary cloud, and everything was dank and chill, grey and cheerless.
The loneliness of the place caught me by the throat. I groaned aloud. My horse, poor creature, frantic for food and rest, whinnied loudly to his comrades, and was answered with loud, welcoming neighs. The incident made me feel my isolation still more acutely. I tore off the saddle and bridle, and slapped my horse free. He scampered joyously away. I thought of the spy who had tracked me so persistently from Clancy's house, and wondered what to do. Should I take a fresh horse and ride to warn Ned, or?—I felt strongly inclined towards the unexpressed alternative. Why not?
I strode to the mouth of the pass and coo-eed. A faint coo-ee answered me, but my trained hearing knew its distance simulated. Probably my pursuer was not fifty yards away. Perhaps he had me covered at that moment. Well, thought I, let him shoot. Who cares? But I put on a brave show, none the less, and shouted, "Come out of your hiding, whoever you are, you cowardly spy, and fight me man to man!"
I was answered by a girl's clear voice. "I'm not a spy, Dan," and Norah Clancy came towards me, riding slowly through the rain, a vaguely-outlined shape, a veritable daughter of the mists.
"You are one big, wet, frozen image of wonder," she said, reining up and eyeing me with a look of weary amusement. "You want to know why I have followed you, why I did not speak to you on the road, why I stopped when you stopped, and why I drew back when you turned. Isn't that so, Dan?"
"Yes, of course, it is. And I also want to know why you are here to-day, my speaking visitor, whereas yesterday, when I was your visitor, you had no word, good or bad, to give me."
"You'll know all in time," she replied. "But I'm not caring to talk this moment, Dan. I'm too tired and wet and thirsty—and, oh, I do so want a cup of tea. Is this your camp? What a wet and miserable place! Oh! you poor boy. Is it like this you have been living?"
She slipped from her horse and waded over to the tent. Peering through the flap, she shuddered and turned about, murmuring something of a dog. My cheeks went hot with shame. Evading her glance, I hurried the saddle from her horse and turned the beast to graze. Then I sprang at the forest like a panther, and returned as soon as might be with a load of half-dry sticks and some hard knots of dead weed reft from sheltered spots. It was not easy to raise the blaze that our condition needed, even then, the rain poured down so drenchingly. But I had done the trick before, merely to warm and dry my own skin, and now the girl I loved was watching me.
Immediately the fire got strength enough to fling back spitting steam puffs at the weltering sky, I made shift to dismantle the sodden tent and re-erect it in the open near and before the fire. Then I built a second fire within the tent—the sort that does not smoke—and a third behind it. By the time the billy had begun to boil a ring of fires encompassed the reconstructed camp, and cold was no longer our chief trouble. That was now the rain. Very seldom had I seen a steadier or heavier downpour, a blacker, deadlier sky, a more dreary prospect.
We did not talk. I worked. Norah leaned listlessly against a tree, now and then wringing the water from her draggled hair, but for the most part keeping as still as she was silent. That she was knocked up one could see from one glance at her wax cheeks and the great black rings under her big, grey, Irish eyes, Norah's mouth was small and rather prim. In form she was as slender as a white gum seedling, and very near as graceful. Most people thought her uncommonly pretty. On the morning about which now I write I thought her distinctly ugly, but I adored the chance of working for her, and I was so grateful deep in my heart because she or Fate had given it to me, that I felt ready to surrender the utmost of my holding, present or future, in exchange.
At last I had tea for her and a dry piece of bread (happily my sisters' bake had been properly stored), and a roughly-grilled rasher of bacon. By then the interior of the tent was fairly dry. I hastened its conversion by tramping red hot embers on the floor and stamping ashes over all. There was smoke to pay, but I had the knowledge to console me—I had done my best. Norah seemed to be adream. I spoke to her, and she did not reply. I took her hand, and she laughed in a thrilling eerie way that daunted me. But I was alarmed alone for her, and the fear gave me courage to put an arm about her and force her to the tent.
There I sat her down upon my saddle bags and fed her with the bread and scalding tea and the meat that I had cooked for her. She ate and drank as a baby might, and did all that I requested, staring at me the while with measuring, mournful, and sadly-wondering eyes. When she would eat no more I bade her dry her clothes, and I gave her the tent to herself for a space of an hour, which I spent building another fire at the mouth of a small cavern some three hundred yards away—a cave that we rarely used, because it did not overlook the pass.
The rain still pelted down in torrents, and no sign of clearing was apparent when I went back to Norah's tent. She was sitting where I had left her. She had not tried to dry her clothes, and she had not even cared for the fire, although I had placed fuel in reach of her hand. I drew her afoot, and, taking up her saddle and my own, set out for the cave. She did not follow. When I returned, it was to find her standing in the rain, crying as though her heart would break. Such a wisp of a thing she was! She seemed to have no weight at all. I carried her off with never a sense of effort, but all my strength was wanted to prevent the crushing of her in my arms.
It was the first time in my life that I had held a woman so. When I set her down she was breathless and scarlet in the cheeks. She had ceased to cry, and her eyes were burning. I was shaking like a leaf. She was awake from her daze, and angry, too, "You didn't ought," she said, accusingly, and of a sudden she fell again to crying.
Beside myself with grief because she grieved, and rage because I did not know the reason, I besought her to speak. I plucked her hands from her face and kneeled before her, telling her over and over that I loved her. It only made her cry the more. Not knowing what to do, and wholly desperate, I shook her to and fro and threatened her with violent punishment; then at a look I melted in an instant into abject shame, and fired as quickly into passionate boldness, and, hardly knowing what I did, I kissed her. My lips on hers, she stiffened in my arms and drew away, a look of such deathly horror in her eyes that I let her go—all my passion withered.
"What is it? What is it?" I demanded.
"You are a murderer!" she said.
It is beyond my little powers to describe my feelings when that word was spoken. Others had applied it to me. I had applied it to myself; yet not until Norah Clancy's lips pronounced it did I fully realise its present ghastly meaning, its damnable, ultimate significance. Here was a girl of my clan, a kinswoman, brought up from infancy among lawless men and women, and educated to regard the wildest doings of the Kelly crowd with leniency; yet she had such a deep, instinctive loathing of the things I had done that from liking—maybe loving—me she had grown to consider me a monster, and to shudder at my touch.
For a long and most miserable moment I was stricken dumb, and it came into my mind to slink away like a dog and look upon no human face again. But a great sorrow for my own loneliness of a sudden seized me, and an irrepressible desire arose in my heart to hurt Norah Clancy before quitting her forever. Those feelings bred thoughts and brought words to express them; and thoughts and words combined to stir me to a frenzy. So I stood apart and railed at the girl, and called her by mean terms and reproachful names, such as "fair-weather sweetheart" and "bushman's jade." And I washed my hands of her. I vowed I despised her, and had never really loved her, and, to crown all, I bade her begone from the camp, pretending a sudden fear that she had come to betray me, and was followed by the troopers, into whose hands she had, perhaps, promised to deliver me.
Through all this fierce tirade she stood with bent head, staring downward at her long, white fingers, which she writhed together and strained and intertwined. At length I was done. Then she turned to me and brought me near to tears with a single look, and said, "You do not understand me, Dan. I am older than you; I wonder that I care."
Everything save love I instantly forgot. "But you do—you do!" I cried.
Her eyes hardened and her body seemed to grow rigid. Even her voice was harsh. "Ay!" she said, "I care. Would I be here unless?"
I went towards her tremblingly, but she held me off. "We'll talk," she said, commandingly.
I stopped still and waited, my mind awhirl, my heart too full and hot.
"I'd fixed in my mind to be on with you this Christmas," said Norah, "and for us to marry in two years. You'll be surprised for a girl to think so bold, maybe, and before being asked after by the boy, but I felt you liked me, Dan, and I liked you well."
"Norah! Norah!" I cried.
Her face went as white as death. "Ah! it's Norah, Norah! and love and a kiss to-day, my lad—but it's too late. You killed our sweethearting when you and your brother killed Sergeant Kennedy. You art going to the gallows, Dan, and I'll not go with you."
"I'd not take you such a road if you begged it on your knees!" I exclaimed, indignantly.
"Because I was born a man, and not a dog, Norah Clancy; and because, if you want another reason, I like you too well to drag you into the sort of life I have to lead."
Quick as a flash she turned on me, "Why don't you leave it then? You can escape easily enough. Go over to South Australia or New South Wales, change your name and lead a new life. Make a fresh start in the world, live honestly and be a decent man. Do it, Dan. Do it, oh, do it, Dan." Suddenly she flung herself upon my breast and twined her arms around my neck. "Do it and I'll love you, Dan. I'll follow when you call. I'll be your slave and sweetheart all my days. I'll make you glad and happy always, Dan. I'll love you so. I'll love you so."
I do not know what I answered, yet I must have contrived somehow to make her understand the hopelessness of expecting me to desert my brother Ned, for she was soon tearfully admitting the impossibility of such a course. Her next plea was that I should persuade my companions of the gang to disband, and quit Victoria for ever; yet she herself gave it over, saying, half under breath, that she knew Ned would never leave his girl even to save his neck, and she supposed it was the same with Byrne and Steve Hart.
All this said and done, Norah fell to mocking me for my poor bushcraft, saying that she had tracked me from her mother's house not less to do an errand for her mother than to teach me the folly of carelessness in going to and fro from our mountain fastnesses.
"See," she cried, "I, a girl, tracked you with ease, and could have got you at a disadvantage twenty times. Dan, you are free this moment, you and your gang, merely because there are no real bushmen in the police. But take care. Presently, constables who are bushmen will be put on, and then your lives will depend on your constant watchful care. Oh, Dan, promise me to be careful always."
Again and again she returned to this subject, emphasizing her warning with increasingly anxious entreaties. I promised and promised, and dimly comprehended that she was anxious because she wished me to live.
But there was no happiness for us that day. The shadow of the gallows frowned over all our world. We sat side by side before the fire and faced the future with a miserable sort of courage. We were too young, and our ideas were too narrow to recognise anything inscrutable in the destiny that we discussed. The problem was too transparently simple to be worthy of the name. Unless something promptly occurred to persuade Ned to quit Victoria, he would remain and I with him, and, after a while, short or long, we should infallibly be caught and hanged.
Norah declared for the darker view, and I could not contradict her. She asked me one last time to desert the gang, and, when I would not, she caught and kissed my hand before I could stay her. Thereupon she arose and demanded her horse, as haughtily as a lord's wife might put the order to a servant.
Once more I was the murderer, a thing apart, an outcast pariah. All my pride had gone, had been drowned in wretchedness. I cringed to her bitter mood, and went to do her bidding as though compelled. Still it rained, though more lightly than before, and the sky in parts showed blue. Leading her horse to the cave I saddled it in silence and waited for her to mount.
"Have you anything to say to me?" she asked.
I shook my head; I could not trust myself to speak. She took the bridle from my hand and climbed upon the saddle like a boy, disdaining my assistance. Then she looked down upon me with a cruel smile in her eyes that seemed to scorn me.
"It's the last chance," she declared. "The very last chance you will ever have."
"To do what, Norah?" I contrived to ask.
"To make me your girl," she said. "Oh, Dan, what a fool you are. Can't you see that I'd rather die with you than live without you. But you've got to make me sure you care; you haven't yet."
I did not understand her then, I do not yet. I remember that my blood boiled at her words, and the glance she threw at me, the look a woman gives once only to a man—that man her chosen mate. All on fire I sprang forward and would have snatched her from her horse, but her whip fell across my face and her scalding speech across my ears.
So, after all I would drag her to my level, and take her on the gallows road. That was how I loved her. All selfishness and impulse, like an animal! And like an animal, indeed—most like, perhaps, a baited bear—was I as I stood glowering at her, angry, dejected and more than incipiently dangerous.
"I have a mind"—I growled—then paused, arrested by her blazing glance.
"To pay me back blow for blow, eh?" Norah jeered, "No, Dan, you won't do that, for I'm a girl, but pay it back on Tom, my brother. You can, you know. He wants to join your gang. Smooth his path for him. Take him with you to the gallows. Then I shall know for certain that you love me."
"You followed me here," I cried out loudly, "your mother sent you after me to—to——"
Norah interrupted me with a mordant laugh, "Silly Dan," she sneered, "have you only now discovered it. At all costs I was to make you promise me to refuse Tom a place in the gang. Mother dreamed the other night she saw him hanging. She has been half crazy about it ever since. She ordered me not to come back home without your promise. Well, Dan?"
"At all costs," I repeated.
"Ay," said she, staring deep into my eyes.
"Then give me a kiss, and take the promise home," I muttered hoarsely. "I'll never ask you for another. One kiss, Nora—for good-bye."
Her eyes narrowed her lip curled, and her expression grew savage to the point of cruelty. "I'd as lief kiss a blackfellow," she answered, cuttingly.
"I'm that bad?" I asked, and as I spoke I seemed all turned to softness and self-contempt and pain.
"You are as bad as God made you, Dan—but I'd hoped you wouldn't be a bargainer and ask me to sell what I'd only give."
"You wouldn't give it," I answered dully. "But it doesn't matter, Norah. I'll do what you want about Tom."
"And for nothing?"
"Oh! I've been paid," said I, and I pointed to my face where she had cut me with the whip.
"That's a clever speech," she said slowly, speaking through her teeth. "It ought to make me feel humble and sorry and ashamed. Isn't that what you want?"
"Perhaps," said I.
"You don't love me," she declared decisively.
"Good-bye," said I. "Good-bye, Norah. I never want to see you again. I hope I never shall. I wish I had never seen you. There, that's all—good-bye."
"I'll shake hands with you if you want."
"I don't want. I don't want to touch you. I'll hurt you if I do."
"Go!" I cried. "Go quickly. Better for you if you do."
Then I saw she was afraid, for she quailed and whitened, and reined her horse to turn. "Oh, Dan!" she said.
"Better go," I repeated.
But she held out her arms and was mine for the taking.
I thought of the gallows, and wondered what the life of a hanged outlaw's wife would be. Then I found that I loved Norah really, for I saw it was my duty to save her, and I did it. Nor was it hard. Nothing is really hard which is done or suffered for the thing one loves. I led her horse to the pass and pointed down the way and left her—all without a word to her, without a look at her. And I climbed to a place where she could not follow even had she wished, so steep it was and slippery and rough. It was a "look out" on a crag of a most giddy height and insecurity. From that vantage I watched Norah ride away and marked her progress mile by mile among the gullies, trees and hills. Often she looked back at the first, but later she grew still, and her shoulders bowed across the saddle. When she disappeared, I cried to heaven that I had done a good deed. God help me, I had never repented any of my ill deeds half as sorely.
IT was fortunate for me that Steve Hart returned to camp that evening, having been obliged to curtail his visit owing to an unexpected police movement. His temper was at its worst, for he was very tired from his long ride, and not a little sick. He would scarcely deign to speak to me, and he turned in as soon as he had eaten. But all that mattered nothing. I had a companion.
All my life I have feared and hated to be solitary. If there be work to do, a journey to go, a task to perform, I would as lief be alone; but idleness, plus loneliness, to this moment gives me misery. From a child I had been inclined to brood. Recent events had contributed real worries to revolve in thought instead of fancied images of grief, and it only needed an interval of uncompanioned solitude to set my brain building hideous visions of the future, and painting ghastly pictures of the past.
Murderers are not meant to live at all—it may be said. It is the law. But certainly it is not possible for them to live alone. Put any murderer in solitary confinement for a few days, then slip a knife beneath his door. The result may be predicted with certainty. If he is a dull and unimaginative man the apparition will be treated as a puzzle and cause him much surprise. If, however, the murderer owns a fancy, he will own nothing long, because his imagination will answer every question concerning the knife by the use of it, and other questions too—notably those touching the roots of life and death.
How well I remember that evening. Steve slept to snore. I listened to the horrid noise and liked it more than music, because Steve was my friend, my fellow-murderer; and his living presence near me gave me strength and the will to thrust my dark and devilish thoughts aside. Twice before I slept a dingo howled, and often through the night the mountain curlews awakened me with their thin and piercingly-protracted cries. There is something in a curlew's call that irresistibly suggests the thought of spirit pain. So might lost souls wail and sob their anguish in the dungeons of the damned. Had I been alone that night I think I might have lost my reason: but Steve was there to save me with his snores.
Next day we had many visitors. In the forenoon came my uncle, Patrick Quinn, with two of his nephews, my cousins, each bringing a led horse for the use of the gang. These horses were big, upstanding bays, well bred and in excellent condition. Uncle Pat explained that he had received a message from Ned directing him to take the horses to our camp, and he claimed great credit for his prompt obedience. He had conceived a notion that we contemplated some greatly profitable crime and he was as anxious to deserve a share in the plunder as he was to discover what exactly was the plan or purpose we had in view. He did his best to pump Steve and me, but as we knew nothing we could not tell him anything; and not caring to confess our ignorance, we hinted at dark oaths, and at mysteries that could not be revealed.
Uncle Pat was very angry because we would not confide in him. He promised to return and complain of us to Ned, and he went off grumbling heavily. He had hardly disappeared than my two elder sisters arrived from the Greta side with packs of tinned goods and dainties which they had obtained on Ned's credit from a Greta storekeeper. They also had had a message from Ned, and its terms had much excited them: "Get everyone you can to believe that we intend to quit Victoria immediately by the Murray."
We chatted over this short letter for a couple of hours, but even then we failed to mark down Ned's game. Evidently he had decided on some local movement, the success of which required that the police should become infected with an opinion that we were on the eve of making another attempt to escape into New South Wales. Yet nothing else was clear. We all complained of Ned and his secretive methods, and were deeply offended with him, but we resolved to do his bidding. We were aided in that by the advent of two young cattle-duffers, the brothers O'Keefe, one of whom was making up to my sister Kate. When consulted, their counsel was to spread out in all directions and pass the word round as a secret so that the police spies and any double dealers might more effectively be fooled. No sooner said than done.
Mounting in haste, we separated, and rode east, west, north and south, ten miles per man and woman. But we did not all separate, for looking down from the crest of a hill that I was crossing some half hour later, I saw Mick O'Keefe and Kate Kelly riding southwards with their hands together and more slowly than their errand warranted. The sight brought Norah Clancy's image to my heart's eyes, and a black flood of envious thought. Every Kelly might have a sweetheart save only me, and I wanted one—I wanted one.
I found three men in my journey, and all were lukewarm friends. I spoke them with a lying tongue and won congratulations. They approved the scheme of evasion very warmly. They expatiated on the largeness of New South Wales, praised the country to the skies, and protested that once across the border safely we should experience no difficulty in submerging our identities and starting life afresh. They were extremely curious to learn the precise spot of our contemplated crossing, and plied me with eager questions on that head. I answered cautiously that we proposed to try the Murray near where it is joined by the Indigo Creek at Howlong, but that it was possible that we might be forced by circumstances to try some other point between Albury and Bungowannah.
As surely as though they had openly confessed it, I knew that these men were police paid, and that as soon as we parted they would carry the news to Superintendent Nicholson. However, in order to make assurance doubly certain, I asked them as a great favour to the Kellys to spread about a rumour that we had taken refuge in the Strathbogie Hills, and that Ned had fallen sick and was too ill to ride. They promised to do so most readily, and swore in blood-curdling fashion that they were true sympathisers of the gang, and that they would a thousand times rather be cut to pieces than betray us. After good-byes, I made as though to return to camp, and planted in the scrub. They had said that they were going to Beechworth. They took the Beechworth track. I followed secretly and watched them stop within a mile, confabulate a moment or two, then set out towards Benalla. At this proof of my suspicions I felt glad, but angry too; almost angry enough to have tested my rifle shooting on their bodies. But a little reflection and anger was marooned in mirth. What odds that these men were traitors to the clan? They were playing our game. I had fooled them, and unwittingly they would do the gang a service of greater consequence than could easily be performed by the nearest and dearest of our true friends.
To my delight, Ned and Joe Byrne welcomed me as I rode up to Number Seven. They looked well and were both in remarkably high spirits. As was natural, Steve and I expected Ned to inform us voluntarily and fully of his plans and intentions that evening when at leisure. But nothing of the kind occurred. Ned questioned us very closely on our doings, and exacted a full report of our conversations with all the outsiders we had met since his departure. He did not give us anything in exchange except careless praise. We waited, and waited vainly for his confidence. At length Steve Hart made bold to demand more generous treatment, urging our rights to be consulted before any momentous project should be embarked upon. It was the old argument—"two heads are better than one, if only sheep's heads"—that Steve employed. Ned retorted with—"too many cooks."
He was good humoured enough at first, and explained at some length that he had thought the matter out during his holiday, and had come to the conclusion that he would be a bad and weak leader if he did not show himself independent of the judgment of those he led. He declared that our safety required a policy of deep secretiveness and cunning. "Best for all," said he, "that until the very last moment, only one of us should know what the gang will be doing on a given day, for one tongue is easier to guard than four, and my tongue guards itself."
Joe Byrne backed Ned up with an almost slavish devotion. Steve, on the contrary, was indignant and outspoken, and I was not much better satisfied, though I contrived to keep my tongue between my teeth. As though deliberately bent upon irritating Steve, Ned answered him scoffingly and lightly; but he was ill-advised, for Steve had the sharper tongue. Soon both were angry, and Ned was the angrier, if more the master of his passion. So when Steve struck him and I darted forward to intervene, as he sent me headlong, he merely looked at Steve, then swung on his heel and walked silently away.
We youngsters were all bluster at the moment and spoke big things. It was natural, perhaps, but we were frightened in our hearts, and Joe Byrne's cool sarcasms found the weakness out. Joe was a master hand at sneering. He had read many books, and he knew more of Ned than either of us. He loved Ned, he despised Steve Hart, he tolerated me. He read up a cynical lecture for the better part of an hour, and he wound up with a savage admonition to remember our oaths of allegiance, and the fact that we had a captain. Suddenly Ned re-appeared. He was still dour and stern, but his anger had evaporated.
"This much I shall tell you," he announced. "In a day or two we shall stick up a town. The name of the town you will hear when I am ready. There will be no discussion, no council of war. Such things are foolish. You will all do exactly as I bid you, and we shall succeed. The whole responsibility is mine, and I must be fully trusted. I have formed a plan. Each of you will do your part under my direction. My orders must he carried out to the letter. Who objects?"
We were silent.
"You, Dan?" asked Ned.
I shook my head. "I'd like to know more, but I trust you Ned," I answered.
Steve glowered at him. "If you won't, you won't," he growled.
"You struck me," observed Ned. "I've taken your blow and not returned it. D'ye think it's because I am afraid of you?"
"I don't know what to think," replied Steve.
Ned touched his forehead with his finger. "It was to give us two a lesson in self-control," he said, gravely. "As for you, Steve Hart, it was to teach you by example—and as for me, to teach me by practice. They say a man must govern himself before he can govern others, and I think it's a true word. Will you shake hands with me, Steve?"
Steve stared, and stared, his mouth agape and blowing his breath like a fish out of water. "It's a game you're putting up on me," he said at last.
"No, no! Steve," cried Ned, "I leave games to you and Dan. You're the age for it, but you must play no more at my expense." And once more he touched the little bruise on his forehead which Steve's fist had caused.
Steve at that turned as red as a beet, and held forth his hand, mumbling what might have been an apology, though the sense escaped us all. Ned, however, was satisfied, and he clinched his mastery with a wonderful display of rollicking good humour; telling us so many jokes, and playing so many boyish pranks, that we spent a riotously merry evening and turned in completely reconciled with our subjection. That is indeed the right word—subjection—for thence onward Ned was not so much our captain as our tyrant.
In his holiday of one week he had developed an iron-cast policy and an autocratic method superior to our joint and several wills. Joe Byrne was an even greater mystery. There was Ned with no education and bankrupt of the graces, and Joe, educated, clever and full of politeness and fancy; yet Joe, who seemed cut out for leadership, was more than willing to be dominated, and he appeared to regard Ned as a being in every way above him.
Some are born to order, some to serve. That is evident; and I believe education does not affect the root issue very greatly. Strength of purpose is the essential quality, and that is born, not made in men. Not one of our gang, save Ned, could have taken a blow without returning it, if for very shame's sake. Ned had flung the shame thought contemptuously aside, trampled down his pride, and in a friendly manner wrung the hand that had hurt him. His ascendancy was never afterwards disputed by Steve or me. It was so obviously a living thing, he was so clearly the origin and cause of it, and he was so manifestly able to maintain it, that to accept the fact of it was our only recourse, and as gracefully as possible. To be ruled and to submit unquestioningly became our fixed condition. We did not love the discipline, but we could not resist it, and, perhaps, after all, Ned had chosen the harder part. He had to rule—therefore to stand alone.
DURING the succeeding three days our occupation consisted in gathering reports. Ned stayed in camp, but Joe, Steve and I were continually in the saddle, riding to and fro between the various "lookouts" and bush telegraph stations, asking set questions of our friends and helpers, and carrying the answers to Ned. On one point Ned's curiosity was insatiable—what did the police actually believe to be the intentions of the gang? As far as we could learn, the police expected us to make another attempt to cross the border almost immediately. Their spies had fed them so sedulously with this idea that they had become imbued with it, and were making dispositions in accord. We heard, for example, that Superintendent Nicholson was merely waiting for a lead to entrain most of his forces for the Murray, to guard the approaches to the river; that he had sent orders to many of the small outlying detachments to hold themselves in readiness for a rapid move, and that he had already drawn in several others to towns on the railway line, where they might be entrained at a moment's notice. Ned listened to these accounts with much apparent reluctance to believe them true, and he insisted on testing their accuracy by every means at our command. At length, however, they had received such a wealth of corroboration that he could no longer affect to doubt; and then his satisfaction peeped out.
On the morning of the 7th day of December he announced a date, the 10th of the same month, and he directed our bush telegraphs to whisper this date far and wide. That same evening I rode to Greta and found the place deserted of police: The medicine had already begun to work. News came from a dozen sources of police excitement at Benalla and Mansfield, and a whisper also of special trains held secretly in readiness for an armed rush to the border. When I told Ned he remarked that the time was almost ripe, and he sent Steve Hart (for I was tired) flying to find my uncle, Patrick Quinn. Uncle Patrick arrived on the following afternoon, and received a command that astonished him. "Go straight into Benalla," said Ned, "and see Superintendent Nicholson. You will find him at the barracks, just returned from an expedition in the Mansfield district. He will be tired, and probably short tempered. Tell him you have most important information, and make, at first, a great mystery of it. Insist that you shall receive a big share of the Government reward. By so doing you will arouse his interest and command his attention. You understand me?"
"Sure, that's easy, Ned. And what information shall I give him?"
"Tell him that the Kellys are living in the hill basin, on the King River, beyond Glenmore."
"What! But that basin is sixty miles from here."
"More, uncle, seventy miles if a single yard, and that's why it pleases me. Tell Mr. Nicholson that I'm lying there sick, and that you are ready to guide him to the spot."
My uncle was aghast.
"What!" he cried, "Lead the police seventy miles on a wild goose chase? Ned, Ned, they'd lag me."
Ned laughed. "Not they, Uncle, for they'll not believe you, and never a foot will they follow you."
"Then why should I go for to try and fool them, if fool them I can't. Is it a joke you'd be after playin' on me, Ned?"
"Not a joke," Ned replied contemptuously, "at all events, on you. Look at the matter for a minute and you will understand. The police are expecting us to go to the border, and they are arranging at this moment to catch us near the Murray. Well, won't they also be expecting us—us that they think so cunning—to try and put them off the track before we move?"
"Aha!" cried Joe Byrne, "I see daylight."
"Then it's more than I can," grunted my uncle.
Ned pointed at the old man with his pipe—speaking to us meanwhile with a look so droll upon his face that we were all agrin. "Those naughty police," said he, "they think some cruel, unkind things of Uncle Paddy. They suspect him for a Kelly sympathiser. They fancy him a bit of a rogue, and, bad luck to them, not a word he'd say would they believe. Now, mark what I tell you, no sooner will Uncle Paddy have told Mr. Nicholson that we are hiding in the King River basin, than the Superintendent will say to himself: 'Here it is—this is the blind;' and if I know my man, he'll waste never a minute in collecting his troops and running them helter skelter, not to the King, but to the Murray, in his special trains. Between ourselves, boys, that's exactly what I want him to do."
It seemed so very likely that Mr. Nicholson would be sealed in his preconceptions by Ned's trick, that we took the end for granted, and Uncle Paddy rode off on his mission with never a qualm. Afterwards we knew that he had played his part with excellent address, and that he had completely persuaded the Superintendent of the need to look for the Kellys on the Murray banks by his furious anxiety that they should be sought for on the King. Ah, well, if he earned his commission he was paid for it, and many another besides.
The day of December 8th was spent in what Ned called "finishing touches." We cleaned our saddles, and made sure of the soundness of our girths and bridles, furbished up our arms and accoutrements, and washed and groomed our spare horses—the three bays which Uncle had brought a week earlier and a fine upstanding grey (a thoroughbred) which Ned had led back from his sweetheart's farm in the Strathbogie ranges. We might have been going to a bridal.
That night we gambled freely on our chances, playing euchre for high stakes, which were to be paid if we succeeded. We were all greatly excited; for there was no longer any secret of the nature of Ned's enterprise, and the only fact we sorely wished to know was the name of the town we were to raid. But we did not tease our Captain for it, and we bided his pleasure as patiently as impatience could contrive.
My thought, that night, was that excitement and happiness cannot be divided. They do not always mean the same thing, but forgetfulness lies in each, and their conjunction is inevitable. I won ten pounds sterling worth of promises, and slept with my head pillowed on a cloud.
Next morning, at the earliest peep of day, we were astir, breaking camp and packing, storing or concealing our belongings. We breakfasted at five, and at half-past began to move slowly through the ranges, riding our standbys and leading our fresh mounts on the halter. Four hours later we debouched upon the foothills, near the old main road to Sydney, and not far from the railway line, about nine miles below the thriving township of Euroa. Ned placed himself in the van, and promptly struck off across country to the farm of a man I shall not name. He has been punished, and is dead. His children live and know.
We reached the place on the stroke of ten and rested for an hour to bait our cattle. We then changed saddles to our led horses, and leaving the others in the care of our friend, we moved slowly towards the railway line, nursing our mounts for all their spirit and vigour as carefully as though they were babies. It was an absolutely silent ride. Joe, Steve and I all felt in the same way. We were like soldiers marching towards the fighting line, and the location of the battle front was rising from the mists almost too clearly upon our vision. Excitement kept us tongue-tied, and Ned was dumb beneath the weight of his responsibilities.
But at length the moment came to speak. Of a sudden we came in view of Faithfull's Creek Station homestead, an imposing, but picturesque house, situated in full sight and within a trifling distance of the Melbourne-Albury railway line, and only a few rods from the Sydney road. Obeying an imperious gesture, we halted, and fixed our eyes on Ned.
"You'll have guessed that Euroa is our quarry, boys," said he.
Euroa! We had guessed it indeed, but, none the less now that we were sure, our wonder at Ned's daring flashed to the very limits of surprise.
"The town has a population of nearly five hundred," said Joe Byrne, and more soberly than I had heard him speak for some time.
"A regular police force too. It's a central station," muttered Steve Hart.
Ned looked quizzically at me: "And you Dan?"
"Oh it's great. It's a real adventure taken out of dreams," I cried.
He struck me gently across the shoulders with his whip. "A Kelly," he said, and laughed.
I had never loved him better, and I would have cheerfully died to serve him at that moment, but Joe Byrne bit his lip and Steve turned as red as fire. "I am game," and "I am game," they declared in unison. Ned's compliment to me had flecked them on the raw. He had tact. He said: "Of course you are, my lads, but you will have your say, confound you!"
Their faces lifted at once, and eager questions poured. But Ned waved one and all aside, tapping his forehead and pointing to his lips. "You'll do best doing just what I tell you, neither more nor less," he said, "and you'll do your parts the better for knowing little of the whole. Yet, this much you will grip at once—four men cannot ride up to five hundred and tell them offhand 'bail up!' Towns are not to be taken quite so simply; they must be attacked on scientific principles. We need a jumping-off place at the right distance, and one that we can hold secure for a bit if necessity compels. That is why I've brought you here: Faithfull's Creek homestead will suit my purpose to a charm. Euroa is four miles down that road. The homestead will be our refuge and jumping-off spot; but we must take it first."
"How?" demanded Steve.
"Easily. Follow me at a walk—to be a gallop if a whistle, fire or call. But there'll be no trouble. Don't fear for that. Keep your guns covered and pretend to be honest travellers looking for work, if any person hails you. We'll soon have the station. An easy walk, mind; so long!" He smiled, waved his hand, and trotted gently up the drive. It was a little after midday by then, and some of the station servants were at dinner in the kitchen.
Ned rode up to the side of the house, dismounted, hitched up his horse, and strolled quietly to the open door of the kitchen. George Stephens, a groom, and Fitzgerald, a rouseabout, were seated at the table eating. They were being waited upon by Fitzgerald's wife, who was the station housekeeper. Ned took off his hat and very politely enquired if Mr. McAuley, the manager of the station, was at home. Mrs. Fitzgerald glanced at the bearded stranger standing in the doorway and shook her head. "Mr. McAuley is not at home," she said, a moment later, "Will anyone else do?"
"I'm afraid not," answered Ned, "I want to see the boss. Do you think he'll be long?"
"About three hours," Stephens called out from the table.
"Oh, well, I think I can wait that long," said Ned.
"Would you like some dinner?" asked Mrs. Fitzgerald.
Ned thanked her politely for the offer, but declined, saying he had already dined. He then strolled away and joined us, for by that time we had reached the house and were on the point of dismounting. While we conversed, Stephens, the groom, left the kitchen and made his way to one of the more distant outbuildings. As though this little incident were an awaited signal Ned nodded to us and we walked over in a body to the kitchen door. Fitzgerald was still seated at the table. He was filling his pipe. Mrs. Fitzgerald was collecting the plates and dishes on a tray.
Ned pulled off his hat and made the housekeeper a low bow: "I'm most awfully sorry, Madam," he began, "but I'm afraid I must tell you something that will startle you."
She stared at him a few seconds, then cried: "Has someone been hurt?"
"Nobody," replied Ned. "And there's no reason why anyone should get hurt, if you people will only behave sensibly. The Kellys are out, Madam. That's what I've come to tell you."
"The Kellys," she repeated, "Oh, I'm not afraid of the Kellys."
"Why should you be, indeed?" laughed Ned. "They do not war with women," then he made her a flourishing bow. "I am Ned Kelly, Ma'am," said he, "and these are my followers. We intend to hold this station for a few days, but we'll call on you for no more than food and shelter for ourselves and our horses, and I give you my word, Madam, that you have no cause whatever for alarm."
"I'm not afraid," Mrs. Fitzgerald repeated. Nevertheless she had changed colour, and quite suddenly she flopped down upon a chair. The reason was that Steve Hart had produced a revolver. "Don't let him shoot," she cried. "Tell him to put it away."
Ned gave Steve one look and the pistol disappeared.
"You see!" said he.
Then he beckoned to Fitzgerald and we all stepped outside. From the first moment Fitzgerald was our very humble servant—an obsequious, ingratiating coward. He was most useful to us. He posted us on all the household arrangements of the station; pointed out the whereabouts of the stores, sleeping quarters and stables; named and numbered the station hands, and, in various other ways, he sacrificed his duty to his measureless terror of a perforated skin. Giving him our horses to lead, we strolled to the stable, where we found Stephens chatting with a stockman. They were so interested in their own affairs that they hardly bestowed on us a glance. We waited at the door for a moment or two, then Ned grew impatient. He strode across and tapped Stephens on the shoulder: "Do you know who I am?" he demanded.
Stephens was annoyed at the interruption and showed it. "No," he retorted, "I don't. You may be Ned Kelly for all I care."
Ned laughed grimly. "You're a mighty good guesser, Mr. Stephens. I am Ned Kelly!" and with that he clapped a pistol to the groom's head.
Stephens was petrified with fear, and his mate, the stockman, was not less disconcerted. But the comedy was not prolonged. Satisfied that the mention of the name of Kelly, plus the show of force that had already been displayed, had sufficiently achieved his purpose, Ned put away his revolver and took some trouble to reassure the men who, presently, at his direction, watered, fed and stabled our horses as well as we desired.
There followed some braggart conversation, intended to convince all hands of the remorseless ferocity of our dispositions when offended, and then we escorted our three prisoners to the store-room. This was a square outhouse, built of heavy slabs, standing some thirty yards from the house. Its location, size, and fashion of its construction—it had but a single door and window set close together—rendered it an ideal prison from our point of view, since it only required watching from the one side, and could be guarded easily by one man. Into this place we turned the three, and for our part lounged about outside the door chatting with our prisoners and with one another, and smoking station tobacco.
A few minutes after two o'clock distraction arrived in the shape of a boundary-rider, with a message for the manager. He was bagged without the slightest difficulty. He rode up to where we stood, and said "Good-day," and dismounted to find himself covered by three rifles. Ned's address on this occasion afterwards became his stereotyped method of effecting an arrest: "Bail up! I am Ned Kelly, and a better man never stepped in two shoes."
This quaint conceit, many times subsequently repeated, earned for him in certain parts the name of "Captain Two-Shoes." The boundary-rider entered the store-room as meekly as a lamb. There, in the course of the next two hours, he was joined in ones and twos by the rest of the station employees, as they filtered back to the homestead from their occupations. Not one gave us the least trouble either to capture or to guard.
At half-past five the station manager, Mr. McAuley appeared, tired from a day's hard work and a long ride. On his approach, Fitzgerald at Ned's request, called out, and advised him to surrender. His surprise was ludicrous, and he was extremely angry at having been snared so simply. But Ned's pistol taught him philosophy, and after a very short colloquy he submitted to be made prisoner. It was then his unpleasant task to lead "Captain Two-Shoes" over the homestead, and to yield all the weapons and ammunition he possessed to the control of the gang.
Mr. McAuley felt the indignity most acutely, but after a time he suppressed his irritation and assumed an appearance of good fellowship, suggesting that the woman should prepare tea, and that we might as well all sup together. Ned adopted the idea with enthusiasm, but, conceiving a purpose in the manager's sudden amiability, he directed us to be very careful of what we ate, and to force one or the other of our prisoners to test beforehand everything of which we might be inclined to partake. It was a rather weird meal. We assembled the prisoners, now a considerable crowd, in the big dining room, and Ned took the head of the table; Joe Byrne the foot; Steve Hart and I stood at either door, armed to the teeth, mounting guard. Ned impressed Mr. McAuley into his service as food taster and Joe Byrne employed Fitzgerald. Neither Ned nor Joe would eat of any dish or drink from any cup that had not been so tested, and, when our turn came, Steve and I carried out the same precaution. It is quite possible that nobody had dreamed of attempting to drug or poison us, but we were afraid to take any risks that seemed avoidable, and thence onward the custom never was relaxed.
Just before dark a hawker named Gloster drove up to the homestead in a waggon filled with stores. Ned and I forced him to surrender at the pistol point—he was for showing fight at first, but thought better of it to save his life—and him too we locked up, after giving him some supper, in the store. He was our last visitor and victim that night, and most valuable of all, for his cart was handsomely stocked with draperies, fancy goods, and slop-made suits of men's clothing.
From its abundance we promptly replenished our worn and seedy wardrobes. Very soon each of the gang was dressed in a brand new suit—there were clothes to fit us all—and we crowned our satisfaction at the change by drenching ourselves with eau-de-cologne, many bottles of which scent we discovered in the waggon. The hawker was infuriated to see his possessions thus disposed of, and he stormed at us with the wildest curses, but we declined to be offended. We felt overjoyed to be clad so finely, and to smell so sweet, and we strutted about like peacocks, demanding that our prisoners should admire us, a request which most of them granted very readily for reasons that need no name.
The evening was spent in amusing conversation. We talked freely with the prisoners, and told them frankly of our plans against the town, asking their opinions and advice. Some prophesied disaster; others success. One or two begged us to be satisfied with what we had done already, offering us the money they carried on their persons if we would consent to abandon a design which, they felt sure, would end in the spilling of innocent blood. Steve and I would very willingly have added to our plunder by relieving these confiding counsellors of their cash, but Ned declared that he never robbed poor men, and he forbade us to touch them; he also prevented us from taking the watches and jewellery of our other hostages, much to their content.
Before going to bed Ned allowed the prisoners to stroll under guard in the open for a while, so that they might enjoy some fresh air, and he was gratefully applauded for the kindness. The night passed without alarms, and we each contrived to get a good rest. Early in the morning, a shooting party of three Melbourne gentlemen (who had been hunting in the Strathbogie ranges) approached the station in a spring cart. They would have passed along the road without stopping, save that Ned wanted the cart. He stopped them near the homestead, and told them, in a mysterious undertone, that the station was "stuck-up" by bushrangers. The gentlemen immediately descended, unarmed, and demanded to know the details. It was exactly what Ned had wanted. With a laugh he stepped suddenly between them and the cart which contained all their firearms, and, presenting his revolver, ordered them to surrender. The gentlemen were very angry at having been so easily outwitted, but they soon appreciated the folly of attempting resistance, and were persuaded to swell the company in the storeroom.
During the forenoon, three of us worked by turns, while one kept guard upon the prisoners. Four trains passed the house in that period, but the prisoners dared not give the alarm, and no person in any of the trains suspected that the men who waved handkerchiefs, and to whom they waved, were outlaws. By one o'clock our preparations were complete. At that hour we obtained lunch from the women for all hands, and, immediately it was over, Ned, Steve and I went on the railway line, and with tools which we had improvised, tore down and cut and destroyed some rods of the telegraph wires communicating between Euroa and Melbourne. That done we dressed and scented ourselves elaborately, and harnessed up, putting horses in the hawker's hooded waggon and in the cart which we had taken from the shooting party.
When all was ready Ned obliged Mr. McAuley to write a cheque for a small amount for presentation at the Euroa Bank, and, thus furnished, we set out for the town, leaving Joe Byrne (a perfect walking arsenal) in charge of the prisoners. Ned drove Gloster's waggon; I drove the shooting party's cart, while Steve rode one of the station horses. The journey to town was quite eventless. Very soon we reached the National Bank, a building which lay, very conveniently to our purpose, on the side of the town next to the station homestead that we had so recently quitted. The street was very quiet and had a remarkably deserted appearance, largely owing to the circumstance of a funeral, of which Ned had learned beforehand, that had taken many of the citizens to a distant cemetery.
We drove up to the bank without attracting anybody's attention, and all quietly descended to the ground. The bank was shut, as it was after office hours, but the door speedily opened to Ned's confident knock. The clerk who opened it, however, would not allow his visitor to enter at once, and Ned was forced to spin a story, and plead strenuously that Mr. McAuley's cheque should be cashed, before he was admitted. Finally the clerk reluctantly consented to convenience the insistent stranger. Ned promptly stepped inside and Hart followed, banging the door behind him.
Following my pre-arranged instructions, I slipped round to the back of the building and entered by a private door at the rear. The whole trouble was over in a minute. No sooner had Ned and Steve secured entrance than they whipped out a brace of revolvers apiece, proclaimed their names and business, and drove the two clerks who were present into the manager's room, where Mr. Scott, the manager, was seated at his desk. Mr. Scott, taken completely by surprise, was promptly arrested and disarmed. Threatened with instant death if he refused, he was easily induced to give up the keys of the safe, and to summon his family and servants into the room.
When these orders were obeyed we had many prisoners. Terrifying them into silence and submission, we penned them all into a narrow passage, where I mounted guard over them with two cocked revolvers, while Ned and Steve looted the tills and strong room of the bank. This task was speedily effected, and presently Ned re-appeared in a very angry mood. He had fully expected a haul of at least £10,000, and he had only got about £2,000 in cash, and a few ounces of gold dust. He was so disgusted that he determined to revenge himself on the niggardliness of the bank by burning all the books and bills and securities he had found in the strong room. On hearing this Mr. Scott was in despair, and begged Ned very earnestly to alter his mind.
It was entirely owing to Mrs. Scott's intervention, however, that the manager's prayer was granted. She was a handsome, merry-eyed woman, and no whit afraid of the outlaws—or her looks and words belied her. Indeed, she seemed to regard the adventure as a very pleasant and exciting interlude in a monotonous existence. Engaging Ned in conversation, she smilingly informed him that she found his unconventional visit extremely entertaining, but declared that she was greatly disappointed at his appearance. Taken off his guard by an address so unexpected, and by a challenge so obviously inspired by a coquettish impulse, assumed or natural, Ned fell into the trap and asked why she should have been disappointed.
"Why," repeated Mrs. Scott—and her roguish glance swept him from head to foot—"need you ask me that?" Then she smiled again most bewitchingly, and said: "They told me that Edward Kelly was an ogre, ugly, ill-dressed and hideous—and I find——" She broke off most artistically.
"What?" demanded Ned.
"Well," replied the lady, "Most certainly not the ferocious ruffian I had fancied; but what you are, Sir, a well-dressed, handsome man—a gentleman indeed!"
Mrs. Scott was the mother of seven children, but, within limits, Ned was her slave from that moment. He abandoned his intention of burning the bank's books and papers; and, at a smiling look from the lady, he played the groom himself when Mr. Scott refused to put the horses in his buggy.
Soon we were all ready to start. Bestowing Mr. Scott's household in the buggy and among the carts, we set off in procession to Faithfull's Creek. Ned had the plunder and the bank manager in his waggon; I led the way with some children and servants in my cart; and Mrs. Scott drove the bank buggy between us, filled with the rest of the children. Half a mile from the bank we met a large number of the citizens of Euroa returning from the funeral. As we approached them Ned issued a stern warning to the prisoners.
"Make the least sign to your friends," he cried, "and we'll spatter your brains on the road."
Our prisoners were perfectly docile. Not one made a sign or uttered a word. The mourners passed us unsuspectingly, merely exchanging bows with the Scotts, and in a few moments the road was clear again. Mrs. Scott was both amazed and enraptured at the incident, and she paid Ned some compliments that made him turn scarlet. It was probably due to her flattery that he drove badly and suffered one of his horses to stumble and fall. That, however, was the only untoward event on the route, and within the hour we arrived at the station homestead, where we found all as we had left it. Byrne hailed us with delight. He had a story to tell of another man captured during our absence—a line repairer—but little else exciting, and the mob of prisoners under his control was still as obedient as a flock of sheep.
Ned, rather cruelly, I thought, locked up Mr. Scott and the bank clerks in the now badly over-crowded store-room, but he was much kinder to the women and children. He allowed them the free run of the house, and he told Mrs. Scott that she might have or do anything that pleased her. Flattery is a great art. Ned always thought tenderly of Mrs. Scott to the last hours of his life. He was so bent upon entertaining her and adding to her (probably affected) astonishment at his accomplishments, that forthwith he called in our horses from the paddock and ordered an exhibition of riding feats. Of course, as he was much the cleverest horseman of our gang, and by far the most skilful and daring rider I have ever known, it was easy for Ned to take the honours. Indeed, our skill seemed clumsy by comparison with his, and he took such risks, galloping about in such dangerous and seemingly impossible attitudes, that we gazed at him in astonishment. He was "showing off" for Mrs. Scott's benefit. She applauded him to his heart's desire—laughing up her sleeve, perhaps, and wishing that he might fall and break his neck maybe. One cannot tell what may be in any woman's mind. But Ned did not fall; and the approach of a train terminated the show. The train stopped only a very short distance from the homestead, and a man got down from the engine to examine the telegraph wires which we had torn. It was an anxious moment for the gang, and for a time we thought that there were police on the train, and feared that there would be a fight. But it was a false alarm. Presently the train resumed its journey, no man aboard of it having thought it worth while to approach the homestead. Later still we had a great tea-party, the prisoners being our guests at the feast. Ned made an oration, and did some bragging which annoyed the men; but he said so many nice things to and about the women that they clapped their hands.
At about nine o'clock we saddled up and made ready to depart. The bag with the plunder was strapped to Ned's saddle; we others loaded up with the firearms and ammunition we had captured. Just as we were going Ned asked Mr. McDougall for his watch, but on being told that it was a present from McDougall's mother, he returned it with a theatrical little speech, and robbed Mr. McAuley instead. We took nothing from the Scotts, and to all the servants Ned made gifts of money. Finally we mounted, and Ned addressed the prisoners from his horse, commanding them on pain of death to remain quietly at the station for three full hours beyond our disappearance. Thereupon we bade everyone a loud good-bye and rode leisurely away—Ned bareheaded, waving his hat to Mrs. Scott and bowing to his saddle bow. Long afterwards he confessed to me that he would have liked to have kissed her hand.
OWING to the masterly fashion in which Ned had deluded Superintendent Nicholson and Mr. Sadlier, we were enabled to decamp from Euroa at our ease; for most of the police under the command of those officers were watching for us on the banks of the Murray, and the few left in the district were loth to move without their leaders. In these circumstances we did not bother to conceal ourselves immediately, but rode as boldly across the foothills as though the land belonged to us and no danger menaced. Arrived at Greta, we rested for two days in a camp near my mother's cottage, and spent the whole of that time feasting and merry-making. Every few hours our spies and sympathisers would come in with news of the police doings.
The poor police! They seem to have been thrown into a state of the utmost confusion. First they would mass at Faithfull's Creek, then they would march to Euroa and have a look for our tracks; then back again to Faithfull's Creek. Next they would go in force to Murchisson and once more execute a counter-march to Euroa. And all the while the leaders were quarrelling. Presently Mr. Nicholson fell sick, resigned his command, and went to Melbourne. Captain Standish took over his duties and Mr. Hare hurried to the scene of action from the metropolis, making Benalla his head-quarters. We were glad to hear that Mr. Hare was to direct the operations against us, because we liked his methods, which wore out the police and did not hurt us. His favourite plan was to rush detachments all over the country in search parties, ceaselessly and continuously, hoping thereby to keep the Kellys always on the run, and thus to sicken us of a miserable, hunted existence. All he succeeded in doing, however, by this device was to break down the strength of the troopers and their horses, and to make the police a laughing-stock. In faith he never harassed or worried us in the least. Our sources of information, concealment and supply were so abundant that we seldom needed to hurry in order to evade his parties, and the spectacle of his furious but aimless pursuit afforded us constant amusement.
We heard on the second day that the Government of Victoria had increased the reward for our apprehension from £500 to £1,000 per head, and had sent garrison troops (soldiers) from Melbourne to strengthen many of the towns which feared (in the light of the Euroa robbery) to be raided by the Kellys. At another time this news might have filled us with alarm lest we should be betrayed for the blood-money. But for a while, at least, we knew that we were safe. Our pockets were full of notes and gold, and all our poor relations were within reach of our hands.
Surely never before in history were four criminals more flatteringly wooed and courted. In two days we distributed some £1,600 in largesse, and by assuring each recipient of our bounty that we should ultimately give thousands where we now scattered hundreds, we attached scores of waverers, body and soul, to our service. To our nearest relatives, and those friends we had best reason to trust, we were not so generous, because we could not be; but we left none unsupplied with money, and my sisters each received £100, while a similar sum went to Joe Byrne's mother and the Harts.
The effect of all this lavishness was to leave the gang speedily short of cash, and within a week we began to discuss the expediency of another raid. But we wanted for nothing else. Our friends, unasked, stocked our every hiding place with provisions, and our appearance at any farm, however unexpected, was the signal for a feast. Until the end of the year we wandered idly about the country, living like fighting-cocks, treated like heroes, and enjoying ourselves passing well. During that time we visited many people at outlying parts of the district whom we had not met before, and we were always welcome guests. The fact is that nearly everybody had grown to believe our story—that Kennedy had been killed by us in fair fight—and we had done nothing else calculated to shock the average bush-farmer's conscience. Such men, especially the poorer amongst them, were inclined to look upon banks as their enemies and fair game for anybody clever or daring enough to get the better of them, so they regarded the Euroa robbery with secret or open approbation. Moreover, as we had never stolen any poor farmer's stock, there was no reason for this class to help the police against us; whence even those that disapproved of us were passive and kept their knowledge of our movements to themselves. Thus it chanced that the police searched for us in vain, and wasted their energies in a hundred fruitless expeditions while we eluded them with the absurdest facility, and lived upon the fat of the land.
With the advent of the new year the police chiefs became so desperate at their impotence to capture us, that they committed a grave blunder. They arrested some two score or more Kelly sympathisers on suspicion of assisting us, and without a shred of evidence against them, clapped them into gaol. They could not have done anything more surely calculated to engage popular sympathy in our cause. On instant the whole countryside was inflamed, and, where the police had formerly been laughed at, they were now fiercely disliked. We felt the result immediately. Persons who had hitherto held aloof from the outlawed gang, sought us out with information and eagerly proffered promises of further service, and no fewer than fifteen fairly reputable men (who had never openly broken the law) volunteered to join in any raid we might care to plan and lead. Steve Hart and I were keen to take advantage of the swinging pendulum and attempt some great coup against one of the larger towns. Ned and Joe Byrne, however, had formed other designs. They were bent upon a trip to Melbourne. They wanted to visit the theatre and to "do the block." They were tired of the bush and sighed for a civilised frolic. We thought they had taken leave of their senses and said so very frankly, but they only laughed. They had their way.
One fine morning early in January the Kelly gang disappeared from the Kelly country and flitted south. Travelling through the ranges, and keeping always to the scrub-covered highlands, we made our way across the Strathbogie into the mountains above Healesville, and then struck downwards to the lower Dandenongs and through the forest to the coast. It was a long, hard ride, but we took it in easy stages, and at length, with no other accident than the laming of a pack horse, we reached our destination—the house of a relative, a farmer, situated in the ti-tree scrub beyond Brighton, near where the township of Sandringham now stands. We were not very cordially received at first, but blood, after all, is thicker than water, and we were not turned away. There we rested a full week.
On four successive days we went—dressed up to the nines—into the metropolis and made acquaintance with the sights of the great city. To me there was little pleasure, although intense excitement in the experience, for I was always in sharp terror of detection and arrest. Every policeman I saw, even though he did not glance in my direction, had the quality lurking in his uniform of sending pangs of cold fear quivering down my spine. Every civilian who wasted a look at us I took for a detective.
Of course we were all disguised in such fashion as we could contrive. Ned wore a frock coat and a stove-pipe hat, and his beard was neatly clipped to a point; Joe Byrne shaved clean and wore a black sac suit; Steve Hart and I wore Norfolk jackets and straw hats—all of which fine garments had come out of Gloster's cart at Faithfull's Creek. But I doubt much now, if we should have been recognised even had we ridden through the streets in our bushranging attire. Our safety resided in the circumstance that neither the citizens nor the authorities dreamed of our proximity. The daily papers which Byrne read aloud to us each morning, were filled with all manner of distracting reports. Shouting with laughter we read that we had been seen here, there and everywhere through the Kelly country; that at such a spot the police had very nearly come in touch with us; and that Mr. Hare was extremely sanguine of laying us presently by the heels by virtue of a new and secret disposition of his forces.
I verily believe that we might have lived for a year in Melbourne in the most perfect security could we have managed to procure the sordid essentials. But, unhappily for us, our cash resources magically dwindled and very quickly came to an end. We signalised our first visit to town by drinking champagne at a cafe in Collins Street. It is a most expensive beverage, and it made Steve Hart sick. We spent the second day roaming through the crowded streets and drinking whisky at a public house in Swanston Street. On the third day we visited the Museum, the Art Gallery and the Botanical Gardens, winding up with a moderate drinking bout at a wayside inn on our road home. Our fourth and last visit to the city found us penniless street walkers, and yet I liked that best of all, because, although the dullest, it was the last.
I hated the seas of faces, the wastes of houses and shops and offices, and with all my heart I wanted to hie back to the bush. None of us, in the event, had seen the inside of a theatre. We said it was because we had not had money to spare, but the truth was, we were afraid to venture into a place where we should have to sit down for a long time, our faces exposed to the eyes of the curious. Even in the streets we were often stared at, piercingly and rudely, and frequently terror whispered to me that we had been nearly recognised. It was with a fervent sigh of thanksgiving that I mounted at the week's end and set forth with the others in the dusk of a hot and murky evening for across the Dandenongs and home. Five days later we drew reign at Number Seven, and I, for one, was made happy with Kate's loving greetings—she having arrived there just before us with a fine bake of new, sweet-smelling bread. I had had the thought to buy and bring her a little present from the city—a mere trifle it was, but it overjoyed her, and called forth her deepest heart in kisses and in tender names.
ON the last day of January Ned sent me from a cave in the southern slope of the Strathbogie (where the gang was temporarily camped) to Greta with a message for Aaron Sherritt. Aaron had been communicating with us at intervals for nearly a fortnight, urging us to pay him a visit, and giving stray bits of information concerning the doings and plans of the police. Strange to say, both Ned and Byrne still trusted him completely. We all knew that he was "hand in glove" with Mr. Hare, and in receipt of police pay; nevertheless Joe and Ned blindly continued to believe in his good faith. Steve Hart and I were not so confiding. We felt instinctively convinced that Aaron was "playing the double," and we often tried to bring the others to our view. But it was of no use. We could produce no evidence pointing conclusively to treachery, and that being so, Ned and Joe ridiculed our suspicions as often as we adverted to the subject.
Now that a chance was offered to observe Aaron closely, I determined to employ it to the full, and I set out on my solitary journey with alacrity. My message was a simple thing, but it would help my purpose with a little luck. It was to ask Aaron to tell Mr. Hare that the Kellys were contemplating the robbery of a bank in the Mansfield district; and I was directed to inform Aaron privately that we really proposed to cross the border, and wanted the police put off the scent so that they might not place obstacles in our path. My idea was to cause Aaron to be spied upon by some thoroughly trusted persons after delivering Ned's message, and thus discover, if possible, the exact story he would give to the police.
Our rendezvous was a hill-top overlooking Gunn's selection, and the hour of meeting was fixed for sunrise on February 9th. My plans, however, demanded an earlier arrival in the neighbourhood, and I never spared a beast less than the horse which carried me that journey. Shortly after sunset on the 8th, I drew up on the bank of a creek in the scrub about a mile from Skillian's cottage (my horse was too knocked up to carry me further), and I tramped the rest of the way, the saddle balanced on my head.
No police were in Greta at the moment, as far as I knew; but it was Aaron Sherritt's vigilance that I desired to elude, and so I took extreme precautions immediately I came in sight of habitations. Aaron, you see, was a bushman of the top-notch brand. He had the sight of a hawk, the scent of a hound, the hearing of a wallaby. He could tell precisely from the tone of a dog barking a greeting to an unseen person in the dark, whether the visitor was a friend, an acquaintance, or an enemy. He could tell at a single glance the colour of a man's hair half a mile away; he could smell a camp fire as far off as a clerk could see the smoke; every slightest bush noise conveyed a definite meaning through his ears, to his brain, and he was as quick to form opinions as a starving carpet snake to strike a bandicoot.
Mindful of his accomplishments, I hid my saddle under a creeper-covered rock, and sneaked up to Skillian's house against the wind, lest the dogs should sniff me and give Aaron warning if he should chance to be within. He was there right enough; but he did not see me. I waited for a good hour, hoping either that he would depart for a stroll or that one of the boys would do the same thing. However, nobody moved. They were all either smoking or dozing between nips at a big whisky flagon on the table, and my sister had fallen fast asleep in an armchair. Tired out at last, I crept away as carefully as I had come, and hurried across to the Gunn's. The house was deserted. There seemed no help but to go to the Clancy's, since I was quite too tired to make the town, and Kate's cottage was further still away.
I knew myself in rank bad odour there, and I hated the notion of asking a favour of any of that name. I had offended all the boys by getting Ned to refuse Tom admission to our gang. I had offended Mrs. Clancy by doing for Norah what I would not do for her. And finally, I had made Norah my enemy, first by being a murderer, and next by continuing to tread the mill of crime. But it was either try the Clancys or give up hope of bringing Aaron's true character to light, so I went and knocked, bold as brass, upon their door. It seemed I must needs wake them, for the house was dark. But soon I found that it was empty too. When that was plain, I gave up my purpose and sat down on the edge of the verandah. I was too tired even to curse at my ill-fortune. I was thirsty, but the tank was a dozen yards away, so I let it be. About a hundred years afterwards I heard a noise, and I looked about me in a lifting maze of sleep. A cloaked figure was over by the stable saddling a horse, or so it seemed, for the darkness was too thick for certainty. What! a thief? The thought aroused me to a chuckling interest in affairs. I slipped softly to the fence and stealthily approached the robber.
"Not to-night, some other night, brother!" I said suddenly, and clapped the muzzle of my pistol to his ear. A deep sigh answered my prankish challenge. The figure swayed back a pace, then stood very still and rigid, facing me like a ghost in the gloom. The horse snorted, swerved aside and clattered down the paddock, free as air.
"Norah!" I cried, "Norah! God knows I didn't dream to frighten you!" And I threw the pistol violently upon the ground. Another quivering sigh, and then to my relief she laughed, though brokenly.
"Oh! but it is too wonderful!" she exclaimed when more composed. "I was saddling up to go to you."
"To me," I repeated, dully, all at sea.
"To Dan Kelly," she said, and put her hand upon my arm. "Will you be minding to meet Aaron Sherritt at dawn to-morrow on the hill ayont Gunn's dairy?"
"I will that," I answered, sharply.
"Then," cried Norah, "you'll like be going to your death."
"You'll be after telling me why, my girl?"
"It's my intent," she said, and started walking towards the stile that led the path to Skillian's farm. At the stile she rested, and her voice was firm and tranquil when she spoke. "I have just come from your own mother's house beyond," she said, "and my mother is here, and your Kate, and our boys, and Joe Byrne's sister to the bargain."
"Her that is going to marry Aaron Sherritt?" I put in.
"No other," said Norah. "Though it's 'was,' Dan 'was'; she will never wed him now."
"You've got a capful of surprising news," I observed, for the wanting of a better thing to say.
"You'll be the better judge, if you'll hold your whisht awhile," she said; then went on in a whirl: "Dan, my lad, he's a traitor to you all is Aaron Sherritt. His heart has the black drop, and Mr. Hare has reached it fine with his dirty promises of money red with blood. Listen while I tell you, dear. He's broke with Miss Byrne because she's read his mind, and he has taken up with a red-haired slip from t'other side the Woolshed. And it's blood gold they'll be starting home with if Aaron has his way. How do I know? By my eyes and ears, Dan. Miss Byrne told me some, and I got the rest myself. Tom has a grudge agen you, and Aaron knows it. Not an hour ago he came and called Tom out, and if I hadn't followed them and listened to their talk, it's as good as a dead lad you'd be to-morrow, Dan."
"Maybe," said I; "but I'm lively to-night, Norah, and mighty curious to hear the rest. Is Tom a traitor too?"
She took and squeezed my hand. "He is my brother, so you'll need not ask me that, Dan—will you dear?"
I found I could be foolishly trusting too—as bad as Ned, or worse. I put her fingers on my mouth, and when her breath caught sobbing in her throat at the unexpected touch, the blood run through my veins like wine.
But she made me listen, and this is what I heard: "Aaron's very words I'm not remembering, Dan, they were so much and plausible. But I know their meaning fine. He wanted Tom to help him with the carriage of a word to Mr. Hare to-night, learning him of your meeting at the hill at dawn to-morrow. He put it very cleverly, I'm not denying that; bidding Tom delay until it would be overlate for the police to intercept you, and pleading that all he wished was to gain the confidence of Mr. Hare with a story which could be proved as true as Gospel to the hilt."
"Ah! but that's not inconsistent with his keeping faith with us," I interrupted.
Norah tossed her head. "Indeed," she said, contemptuously. "And yes to you, if that was all. But you should have heard the rest yourself. It was the wickedest devilry, and made me bite my fingers hard to save from stepping in and putting him on guard. Yet nought to take hold of, he's that cunning, Dan. He kept telling Tom of the reward, £1,000 for the taking of a boy like you, and so easy as it could be fixed, you not suspecting—and the country open for him to run clear away from under police protection with the gold—and no real love lost between you and him, and between you and Tom. And if they did the job together £500 apiece, and no one else with a right to share. And when Tom cried out in disgust, quick as lightning Aaron took the other tack and demanded Tom to bear witness for him as he would for Tom, that although they knew and had fully counted what there was to win, both were true as steel. And oh! Dan, his voice! There was a dreadful question in it all the time, and not Eve in the garden was tempted more artfully than my brother was by Aaron Sherritt in that hour."
"The accursed snake," I muttered. "And Tom—Norah—Tom?"
"Is on his way to Mr. Hare this minute."
"Then he did not eat the apple? God bless him for that same. When Ned knows of this, he'll never rest till Tom is paid in some way for his honesty. I'll——"
"Easy Dan," said Norah. "Tom hardly knew how he was being handled. He is no match for Aaron, and if he kept true to his breed he but followed his nature. Don't talk of keeping that appointment, Dan?"
I shook my head. "Not to-morrow, Norah, but to-night. When I leave you I go straight to Skillian's and meet Aaron in a company he will be afraid to spoil with any of his capers. The Williamsons are there, and biding for the night. I saw them as I came along."
"To see me? Did you come to see me, Dan?" and her voice fell to a whisper at the words.
I was silent.
She waited a little, then laughed harshly. "Ah, well—it doesn't matter," she declared, and stepped away from me. "What will the Kellys do with Aaron Sherritt?" she demanded, "when they are sure. I suppose you will wait until you all are sure."
"Ned will be like to kill him," I replied.
The girl came close to me again. "How calmly you said that. Sure you've travelled a long way since I knew you, Dan. The awful has got commonplace with you. Killing is a business, and robbing banks a pleasant recreation. Where will you end?"
"You know," I answered, "you have told me afore."
"I'm going in," she said, and I knew that she was shuddering.
"Without a kind word for me to whisper over in my solitude?" I asked. "I'm lonely even when I'm with my mates, because of you, my dear."
"I'd like you fine if your hands were anything but red," she answered, bitterly, and moved off through the darkness towards the house.
I let her go because I was too sad to stay her, and her words had cut so deeply in my spirit that I scarcely had the wish. Hot at heart, though slow of foot, I went to Skillian's and called Aaron Sherritt from his bed, and all the others at that house as well. Our interview was of the briefest. Thinking the matter over on my stroll, I had thought it best to conceal my knowledge of Aaron's treachery and leave him to be dealt with later by my elders in the gang. For that reason, when he faced me agape and dull with sleep—the hour was late—I told him a cock-and-bull story of a bolting horse, made some fanciful excuse which I now forget for the appointment I was breaking by anticipating, and deliberately ignoring Ned's message that I carried, I cited him to meet the gang at Number Seven on the 6th of the month. Five minutes later, mounted on a fresh horse, and using a borrowed saddle, I was riding briskly back to the Strathbogie, my brain as busy as my heart was sore. Aaron Sherritt had so far corroborated Norah's story—quite unwittingly—by swearing like a trooper at the mischance which had altered our plans and his secret arrangements; and beyond that, his eyes had watched me slip through his fingers with the angry glare of a miser bereft of a money bag.
ALTHOUGH I did my utmost I failed to shake the confidence of Ned and Joe in Sherritt's integrity. They could not be brought to credit that one so near them in kinship, habits and associations would or could be guilty of "Judasing" his friends. They did not exactly laugh at Norah's story, but they wrung a meaning from it that clashed apart from hers and mine, and they would have had me hold my peace. But I was not to be silenced on a matter that so narrowly concerned my own neck, and, as Steve Hart was of my mind, and even more vociferous, Ned at length consented that Sherritt should be put to a sort of test. On the third of the month, our preparations for a raid on some town, to be afterwards selected, being well advanced, we broke camp and rode north by different routes in two parties of two. Byrne came with me; Steve Hart went with Ned.
It was Joe's business to put Aaron Sherritt to the test. He managed it like a veritable bungler, because, I suppose, he was ashamed of the job. We met Aaron on the morning of February 5th, midway between his father's house and Mrs. Byrne's selection. Aaron had not expected to see any of us until the morrow, and he did not conceal his vexation. Joe seized upon this annoyance as an occasion for silly chaff. "Easy does it, Aaron," he jeered, "don't be so angry, lad, or you will strengthen Dan's suspicions. Dan takes you for a double-dyed traitor, let me tell you. He believes you've been selling us to Mr. Hare."
Naturally, Sherritt was immediately on guard. He affected to treat the affair as a joke, and laughed heartily, but the glance he shot at me was less than kind, and I returned it quite as grimly.
Joe's next effort was equally stupid. He told Aaron that we were on our way over the border to visit some relatives at Goulburn, and he begged Sherritt to accompany us, saying that we all wanted him to join the gang. Sherritt treated the suggestion in all seriousness, and pleaded, as excuse for refusing it, that he would be far more useful to us as a spy and a deluder of the police than as a member of the band; and he wound up by volunteering to make Hare believe that we intended to attempt another raid upon Euroa. This offer Byrne accepted, and after a little desultory chat we left the traitor and rode away.
Byrne was very angry with me for having declined to shake hands or speak with Aaron, but I paid no heed to his complaints beyond bidding him wait and see who should be right. We had not long to wait.
Next morning, while we lay hid in the scrub beyond the King, waiting for Ned and Steve to join us, Paddy Quinn came up with news to burn the ear. It seemed that after we left him Aaron had ridden post haste into Benalla, and had told Mr. Hare all about the meeting, my suspicions of him, our stated intentions—everything. Indeed, he had even gone to the length of describing the horses we rode and the brand they bore. Telegrams had been sent, in consequence, to the border police and to the sergeant in charge of Goulburn, and a strong police party had been ordered out to guard all the crossings on the Murray immediately south of that town.
Ned and Steve arrived while we were still conversing, and Quinn's story was repeated. Steve and I made some bitter comments, but Ned and Joe said never a word—the iron had struck too deep. I had expected that Ned would order a retreat, but I did not hold that notion long. Within ten minutes we were pushing northwards for a crossing on the Murray distant enough from the straight line to Goulburn to be beyond the fear of Hare's police. Those gentry missed us because they watched the mountains—and we took the plains.
Crossing the river without let or hindrance, we rode quietly together, not towards Goulburn, but Jerilderie, a town containing a population of four hundred souls, about sixty miles from the border. The country was strange to us, being level as a table, with never a hill, and sparsely timbered. But it was the easier to traverse on that account, and we got over the journey unobserved, arriving at our destination late on the night of February 8th.
Ned, who had visited Jerilderie before, led us straight to the police station, which was situated at a little distance from the town, and there we all dismounted. Ned strode to the door and thundered on the panels. The two policemen in charge were abed, and it was some time before they answered, demanding to know who knocked.
Ned immediately replied: "Get up, you lazy blackguards. While you've been sleeping and neglecting your duty a drunken man has murdered his mate a Davidson's hotel."
Both constables immediately got afoot and hurried to the door, unarmed, dressed only in their night-shirts, so anxious were they to hear the details of the imaginary crime. Ned kept them talking long enough to be convinced that there were only two of them, whereupon he whipped out his revolver and ordered them to "Bail up!"
I have never seen men more completely startled and astonished. They made no resistance. They were absolutely overcome and as dumb as stones. Pushing into the station we shut the door, and drove the two unfortunate constables before us into their own cells, where we put them under lock and key.
Mrs. Devine, wife of one of them, came out of her bedroom in her nightdress, while we were so engaged, and some children too. She was mortally frightened, but Ned contrived to reassure her, and, after she had shown us over the place and given us the keys, we sent her back to her own room, sealing her mind against thought of outcry or escape with a stern threat to kill her husband instantly should she make any such attempt. We then went forth and housed and fed our horses in the police stables, whereafter we re-entered the station and made ourselves comfortable for the remainder of the night.
When morning came Ned and Joe donned the policemen's uniforms, which fitted them fairly well, and thus accoutred they paraded about the yard and barracks, so that passing wayfarers might not find anything unusual in the aspect of the place, and make enquiries in consequence which might bring about a premature alarm. Mrs. Devine cooked us our early breakfast, and, while we ate, she told us it was her habit every Sunday morning to sweep out the Court House and prepare it for church service, the place being used by the Roman Catholics for hearing mass. She was so fearful that the priest would send for her—finding the Court House unprepared—and thus cause an alarm which might imperil Devine's life, that she begged us to allow her to perform her usual task. Ned agreed at once. He said that he was in no hurry to rob the town, and that we might as well rest for a day or two where we were so comfortable, and let our horses rest too. But he was as careful as he was facetious, and he sent Joe Byrne, in uniform, to escort Mrs. Devine and see that she did not communicate with anyone. That Sunday was one of the merriest and most exciting days I can recall. We were all vastly pleased with our cleverness and the success we had met with. The Police Station was well supplied with good food and liquor, and Mrs. Devine was an excellent cook. We dined like lords and cracked jokes until our sides ached with laughing.
But the best jest of all belongs to Byrne. At his suggestion we took Devine's mate, Constable Richards, from the cell and made him accompany Joe and me (dressed in uniform) through the town for a stroll, and introduce us to at least half a dozen residents (every man we met, in fact) as new constables whom the authorities had just sent to Jerilderie to give the place extra protection against "those murdering rascals, the Kellys." That the unfortunate policeman hated the job may be readily imagined, but, under fear of being shot through the head, he played his part like an accomplished comedian—which is more than can be said of either Joe or me, for truth to tell the humour of the piece was too much for us, and we greeted many of our new acquaintances to whom Richards presented us with outbursts of ill-mannered mirth.
Fortunately this occasioned no remark save once, when a man hinted that he'd like to try the brand. No doubt everyone supposed us hipped with wine. When the prank grew stale we returned to the station and restored the indignant Richards to his cell. Our idea of humour did not appeal to him at all.
We had a grand rest that night, with not a single interruption, big or small. Next morning, bright and early, Joe Byrne and I, clad in uniform, took our horses to the police farrier and got him to shoe them all round. They were such splendid animals, and so strikingly superior to the average trooper's mounts, that the man plied us with questions and took a note of the brand. But I do not think he suspected us, and he did his work well, being an enthusiastic lover of fine horseflesh and glad to have such beasts to tend.
We spent the rest of the morning perfecting our plan of campaign, and just before noon had all ready for its execution. Ned and I, attired as constables, marched into town with Constable Richards between us, and Steve and Joe on horseback at our heels. Proceeding direct to the Royal Hotel, which place adjoined the Bank of New South Wales, we entered and made Richards introduce us to the proprietor, a man named Cox. Mr. Cox, having obsequiously shown us over the building (he gave us no trouble whatever), was imprisoned with Richards in the dining room, with Steve Hart on guard. Ned, Joe and I then entered the bar, took every soul there prisoner and, calling in the hotel servants, drove the entire mob into the dining room, bidding them choose between the alternatives, silent obedience and sudden death. They were as docile as sheep, as silent as the grave.
We next turned our attention to the bank. Joe Byrne went to the rear and decoyed out the accountant, by a trick, whom he arrested. By a similar artifice he secured the person of another clerk, and forced the pair to surrender to him the keys and all the firearms in the bank—all this without noise and without giving any alarm to the manager, who was in his bath washing off the dust of a long ride, from which he had just returned.
At Joe's request I bailed up the manager, and forced him to dress and accompany me to the hotel, where I turned him over to Steve. Returning to the bank I found Ned and Joe busily at work looting the place and counting the plunder. We got £700 from the till and £1450 from the safe, a somewhat disappointing haul. And the task had incidents. Three men entered while we were at work, and two of them bolted after we had bailed them up. We were obliged to run them down and use them roughly when we caught them; indeed, to threaten them with death, for their rebellion had made some of the imprisoned mob restive and rebellious too. But, of course, we had no real thought of murder, though we vowed the contrary, and our sole object was achieved when the prisoners were terrified again into an abject mood.
It brings a sour taste to my mouth to recall the rest of this experience. Instead of riding off with our swag like decent highwaymen (may the Lord forgive me the term) we lingered in the bar of the hotel, "shouting," drinking and bragging. Ned produced a great roll of manuscript, which Joe Byrne had compiled, relating the tale of the Wombat murders in a lying guise, and he recited the dreadful story to our prisoners, assuring them with many oaths that it was literally true, and inviting them to sympathise with our wrongs and misfortunes and believe us the heroes which Byrne's lively fancy had depicted. Naturally, the crowd eagerly obeyed our leader's bidding, for our revolvers were cocked and under poor control, so freely had we broached the landlord's spirits.
Ned, against his custom, indulged so foolishly that what with whisky and vanity he took French leave of his usual iron-bound common sense. His madness assumed the weirdest shape conceivable. He craved suddenly for the widest sort of fame. He wanted the whole world to hear the story which Byrne had written, being persuaded that it lacked a flaw, and only needed a sufficient audience to noise his glory to the furthest confines of the globe.
But he must find a publisher. Was there a paper in the town and a printing press? A dozen prisoners cried "yes." Ned promptly sallied forth, a crowd of volunteer guides surrounding him, and sought the editor at his office. The man had disappeared.
Ned went to the editor's house, but with no fairer fortune. He saw the man's wife, however, and entreated her to accept the manuscript and procure its publication. The woman indignantly refused. Vastly enraged, Ned returned to the hotel, and was soon a dangerous, blood, thirsty lunatic. He quarrelled violently with Steve Hart for depriving a clergyman (one of the prisoners) of his watch, and made him return it; then robbed another man himself. He called me a "thing," and he slapped Byrne in the face.
We saw plainly that Ned was not responsible, and we held ourselves tightly in hand, but we had not the wit to divert him; and there would infallibly have been a tragic end to the adventure save for the tact of the bank teller, Mr. Living, who very cleverly soothed Ned's rage by taking the manuscript from him and promising to see personally to its publication—a pledge which at a later date he faithfully redeemed.
The prisoners, who were aghast at the turn the affairs had taken (for in good truth Ned was evidently on the verge of running amok), had now the satisfaction of seeing the storm subside. Charmed with Mr. Living's guarantee, Ned was presently all smiles, and he worked off the worst of his intoxication in a long-winded harangue. That business finished, he and Joe went to the telegraph office and compelled the operators to sever the wires and cut down a number of posts. Next he visited another hotel and took a blood-mare from the stables. Meanwhile Steve led Constable Richards back to the station and locked him in the cell again, while I mounted sentry over the imprisoned mob.
When at length the gang re-assembled, Ned made another speech, and sent Byrne off on horseback with the plunder. Night being hard upon us, and he being very drunk, he bade Steve and me remain to cover his retreat, and, mounting, rode away. Steve and I were far from sober, and, our leader gone, we promptly said farewell to all restraint. Climbing on our horses we rode at full gallop up and down the street, before the hotel, firing off our pistols, yelling like wild Indians, and singing wilder songs to praise our gang.
Had there been one man of courage or resource in the town we could have been captured with the most trifling trouble, but destiny ruled that there was none. The people cowered in their houses for fear of our flying bullets, and the prisoners, although set at liberty, durst not show their noses on the road. Finally, wearied of our senseless frollicking, we gave over, and, with one last blood-curdling yell, we galloped from the town, making helter-skelter for the Murray. We had not gone many hours before all Australia knew what we had done, and the wires were flashing telegraphic messages to the border police, ordering them to line the river banks for our arrest.
Many stories have been related concerning the manner we crossed the Murray, and returned to our strongholds in Victoria. One says that we made the passage at different places widely separated, in the night time, one by one. Another that we forded the stream under cover of a blinding thunderstorm. Another still that Ned and Joe, wearing police uniforms, and guarding Steve Hart and me (in handcuffs), went impudently to a ferry and "bluffed" the ferryman to row us across, under the pretence that the supposed prisoners were "duffers" wanted on the other side. But these yarns are all falsehoods that were invented to excuse the police, and to explain a feat which seemed incredible.
Here is the truth: When we reached the Murray we found the river guarded strongly. The police, in fact, were scattered everywhere on either bank, and there were enough of them out to garrison a fortress, if collected. But they were wretched bushmen and easy to elude. When we came in touch with them, moreover, the gang had fully recovered from its orgie, and Ned, in particular, was his old, daring and resourceful self.
In five minutes he had formed his plan. Approaching a densely wooded stretch of bank that he had selected from a distant tree-top, and which the police had not thought fit to guard because it lay between two fords, he and Byrne separated and rode boldly through the more open forest to either flank of the clump, trusting to their stolen uniforms to deceive the minds of any real police who might observe them.
This disposition left a middle path for Steve and me. We promptly seized the opportunity, slipped through the patch of scrub, spurred into the river, and swam across. Ned and Joe as quickly closed in and followed suit; and a few minutes later the four of us foregathered in a scrub on the Victorian side, having penetrated scathless and unseen through as strong a cordon as was ever stretched across that country side. The police of both colonies, poor fools, had never expected us to try a crossing anywhere save at a ford, and they rested long in utter ignorance of our escape. They were still watching for us, indeed, when we had lain for a night at Number Seven, and had already distributed more than £1000 among our relatives and friends.
AN immediate result of the Jerilderie affair was another raising of the Government reward. The authorities of New South Wales and Victoria combined their resources, and issued a proclamation offering £2,000 for each of our heads, or for information that would lead to our capture, alive or dead. They might have spared themselves the trouble at that time. Our friends were faithful. Our pockets bulged with money. Aaron Sherritt seemed, just then, our only danger. Ned was for shooting him on sight, but Byrne begged so hard for his old school-fellow's life that he was at length permitted to see Aaron and give him a chance of redeeming himself.
The idea was scarcely sane, but it was kindly conceived, and it lengthened Aaron's days. On being confronted with proofs of his attempted treachery, he affected sincere repentance, and swore, if we would forgive him, to have no more to do with the police. Joe, Steve and Ned freely pardoned him, but I could not, and I never spoke to him from that day to the end, because I felt in my very bones that the man was built on crooked lines, and soon or late would try to work our ruin.
What shall I say of the next fifteen months that is not matter of history? Every Australian knows that from March, 1879, until June, 1880, the entire police force of Victoria strove to capture us in vain. The authorities brought troops of black trackers from Queensland to help them in their quest; every few months fresh commanders were appointed—fresh plans of campaign were invented and fresh methods essayed. But it was all one. The records frankly confess that in all that long period the police were never once even reasonably certain of our whereabouts, never once came in sight of us, and never once succeeded in putting us to the necessity of a gallop to evade arrest.
Their sole triumph was that their ceaseless, furious activity and the tremendous precautions which they took for the protection of the bank towns in the district, prevented us from making further raids on the Euroa and Jerilderie model. It has to be admitted, nevertheless, that the triumph in question, although of barren seeming at the moment, carried consequences in its train most serious to us. Obliged to be idle and to refrain from robberies, our money gradually dwindled. We were as safe in our mountain fastnesses as we should have been dwelling in another planet, for aught the police could do to lay their hands upon us; but we soon became poor, and, with our growing poverty, came misery unspeakable.
Our increasing inability to reward the services of our friends bred in us distrust and suspicion of our friends. We began to watch them for signs of treachery and to spy in secret upon their goings and comings. By turns we all fell sick. We recovered, but not from the anxieties which sickness had intensified. Before the year ended we were four gaunt, wild-eyed wolves. Life was the only treasure left to us. We had worn out the patience of the majority of our intimates. Only our nearest relatives retained our confidence or cared to come near us. Yet we craved most hungrily for the society of our fellows, even of those we feared and distrusted most, and, driven by this craving, we spent our days hanging about the confines of the settlement, our nights in paying risky visits to houses we dared not venture near by day.
It was our deepest punishment to realize little by little that even our mothers, brothers and sisters, splendidly loyal as they were, felt the strain we put upon their loyalty, and secretly appraised the end.
One sad day Joe Byrne's mother advised him to surrender to the police, even though he should be hanged. Better death, she said, than the evil life he led and the dog's life to which he had dragged his flesh and blood. On another day I found Kate weeping, and her reason broke my heart—a gallows dream with Ned upon the drop. On still another day Steve Hart's brother entreated him to save his neck by turning Queen's evidence against the gang. Fifty times a week we assured each other that at all hazards we must make another raid immediately or we should be most certainly betrayed by one or more amongst our old-time dearest friends.
The reward was there—£8,000—and any one of some three or four hundred persons could have earned it with trouble, any one of three or four score without. It was clearly only a question of time for inaction to generate defeat, or so it appeared to us. Yet we delayed! Why? I cannot tell. We were under a sort of spell. We were harassed and anxious, most wretched, and horribly afraid. We wished, but dared not move. We made a dozen score of plans, and, when the times arrived to put them into execution, one by one we gave them up. At whiles we procured spirit from various of our relatives and tried to drown our sorrows thus. But never were there gloomier carousals.
Ned's girl upbraided him constantly by letter and by word, calling him a coward more than once. Joe Byrne's sweetheart fled the district to marry a man on the Gippsland side. Steve Hart's sweetheart died. I went twice by night in peril of my life to try and get a word with Norah Clancy. Her mother drove me on each occasion with curses from the door.
Days there were when we climbed high peaks, and surveyed the country with a counterfeited shadow of determination; but we would mark the smoke of the patrol fires and despondently descend. We were hemmed in on every side. The mountains alone were free to us, yet not entirely, long. Police parties invaded the passes as of daily habit, once the new year broke, carrying their operations from the Warby to the limits of Strathbogie. Near Mrs. Byrne's house a strong camp was established from April onwards in order to cut off the visits of her unhappy son; and Greta became the home of a considerable detachment of mounted troopers. Our closest friends and relatives were kept under the strictest espionage, and, in the fullest sense, we were besieged. My sisters were angels of mercy, and their kindness and courage knew no bounds. But clever as they were, they could not always deceive and elude the vigilance of the police to carry us provisions, and at times we wanted food for nights and days.
It would be impossible to exaggerate, yet it is difficult to describe, the sufferings that we endured. The policy of the police was to isolate, starve us, and make us so desperate that we might be driven to commit some act of suicidal folly that would place us in their power. Not content with shutting us up in the mountains and standing sentinel over our near relations, they wooed our friends to their side and circulated reports in every direction that their success on this head was greater than the truth. Our old time dependents and hangers-on, and "bush telegraphs" disappeared completely from our ken. We came to regard most of them as traitors and police agents, and it is doubtful if we erred. Certainly my sisters thoroughly believed them false. It is true that we contrived continually, in spite of all the police could do, to visit our old homes and snatch occasional interviews with our families; but we had to make these excursions singly, in disguise, and unarmed, save for concealed revolvers. And such visits were rather a torture than a pleasure. They taught us the anguish of the wolf hiding in a den begirt with hounds. They brought us to a bitter knowledge of our true estate—hunted murderers—execrated by the world, for whose blood a whole race thirsted. At every little unwonted sound we started to our feet prepared to fight like wild beasts for our lives; and the distant echo of a hoof-beat would send us slinking into covert like terror-stricken shades.
It was not until the closing toils pressed hard upon our flesh that we awakened from our nervous sloth. The Queensland aboriginals aroused us. These black trackers for several months had served the police but ill. The reason was, they feared us, being cowards, and they had never dared to lead the constables within reach of our rifles. But our long abstention from crimes of violence gradually destroyed our dreadful reputations in their eyes. They became emboldened, and began to harry us, bringing the police closer and closer to our strongholds, and sometimes forcing us to flit before their coming. Death stared us in the face. We mocked the spectre, taking courage from despair.
A council was called, the first time for many days, and four men took part in it. We determined on a deed to startle all Australia. The police must be taught to hold us in respect. They had sought our heads too long without retaliation. We must hunt them in our turn. We left that conference, our minds relentlessly resolved on wholesale murder, and with a plan to execute our mission in absolute personal security. We would make us suits of armour, bullet proof. Two days later we stole several plough shears and mould-boards from certain farms in the Oxley neighbourhood, and carried the parts to a smith and engineer, one of the few friends left whom we were sure that we could trust. This man (who shall be nameless for his children's sake), made us, in the course of twelve days, four heavy suits of quarter inch plate mail, weighing 100lbs. apiece, to cover our heads and bodies, and capable of defying a rifle bullet fired at point blank range.
Our next need was a confederate. To such mean proportions had our list of helpers dwindled, that we were forced to have recourse to Aaron Sherritt. Some time earlier he had married his Beechworth sweetheart (after revenging himself on Miss Byrne for jilting him by stealing her best horse), and he was then living at Woolshed. An appointment was made and a rendezvous fixed at his house. Somehow or another Kate Kelly (my sister) heard of it (we did not tell her), and so deeply did she distrust Aaron that she spied upon and shadowed him. Her suspicions were justified. He went to Mr. Hare with the whole story, and on the evening of the rendezvous an inner room of his house was filled with police. We watched them enter from our hiding in the scrub, and there and then we sentenced the traitor to death. Joe Byrne demanded to be his executioner. The request was granted, Ned only stipulating that the killing of Aaron should be part and parcel of his larger design against the police.
And now to describe his design, as it was perfected on that spot. Here it is in a few plain words. Some forty miles from Woolshed is the small village of Glenrowan, situated right abreast of the railway line. On the Wangaratta side of Glenrowan the railway takes a curve so sharp that the line beyond is quite hidden from an approaching engine. It was proposed that the gang should separate on a fixed day. Ned and Steve should go to Glenrowan, seize and hold the town; Joe and I should go to Woolshed and kill Aaron Sherritt, then ride across country to join our companions at Glenrowan. The news of the murder would, of course, be telegraphed immediately to the police head-quarters at Benalla. Equally, of course, a big body of troopers would be immediately entrained and despatched to the scene of the murder. That train would have to pass through Glenrowan. We would prepare for it by tearing up the rails beyond the sharp curve I have already mentioned. The train would be wrecked and many of the troopers killed. Those who escaped would fall before our pistols, and we, firing upon them as they struggled from the wreckage, would run no risk of hurt because protected by our armour. Such in brief was the desperate and diabolical scheme by means of which we hoped to strike such terror through the country, that we might win for ourselves a period of peace.
I must now relate the history of its prosecution, and those who read these lines will for the first time be presented with the truth unvarnished by the speculations and inventions of the many current chroniclers of the event whose writings have passed hitherto unchallenged. On the morning of June 25th, 1880, Ned Kelly, Joe Byrne, Steve Hart and I mounted our horses on the ledge of Number Seven, and after shaking hands all round, we set out in two parties in nearly opposite directions.
Byrne and I rode north. At nightfall we camped beside a tiny waterfall and rested there until the following afternoon, when we mounted again and pursued our journey. We reached the environs of Woolshed by dusk, and reconnoitred the place on foot. Aaron Sherritt's little house was, of course, the chief object of our scrutiny. He had for company that evening, his wife's mother, Mrs. Barry and four constables. Forty would scarcely have saved him from our vengeance. When we grasped the odds we had to face a stratagem seemed essential. The devil befriended us. Hardly had we returned to our horses when we saw a German miner named Anton Wickes coming along the road. We knew the man well, and he was no friend. We promptly resolved to use him as a decoy and shield. In a moment he was our handcuffed prisoner. Menaced with instant death for disobedience, he served us well. We forced him to proceed before us to Sherritt's house and knock upon the door. The dark had fallen, those within were having tea. Aaron's voice shouted: "Who is there?"
Joe Byrne, standing flat against the wall, pressed the muzzle of his rifle against the German's cheek. Wickes replied: "It's me, I've lost my way."
Mrs. Sherritt thereupon opened the door and said: "It's Anton Wickes. He has lost his way," and she drew back.
A second or two afterwards Aaron stepped to the threshold, saying: "Lost your way, what nonsense, man!"
They were his last words. Byrne's rifle spoke, and Aaron staggered back into the house, falling mortally wounded to the floor.
The women screamed and rushed to his aid. The four constables darted panic-stricken into the bedroom.
Byrne crossed the threshold of the outer door and fired again into the body of the dying man. Then he called upon the police to come out and fight him, and I hurried to his side. The police for answer crept under the beds in the chamber, where they skulked, and when a moment later Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Sherritt, who were aimlessly running about and screaming distractedly, went into the room, the miserable cowards actually pulled the women under the beds as shields to save their own wretched skins. We peered into the room and could hardly believe the evidence of our senses. For a while we stood and taunted the poltroons, increasing their terror by firing off our pieces and threatening to burn the house; but at length, overmastered with disgust, we departed from the house of death, and set off at top speed for Glenrowan. We arrived there in the early afternoon of the next day, and reported to Ned, who was in full possession of the village.
WE found that Ned had made Mrs. Jones's hotel his head-quarters. It was a small weather-board building with a verandah in front, facing the railway platform and about two hundred yards distant from the line. The bar opened upon the verandah. The house contained no more than half a dozen other rooms, with a passage running from front to back. It stood alone, and was surrounded with tall, well-grown gum trees.
Before Joe and I appeared on the scene, Ned and Steve had already done most of the essential work. They had compelled some plate-layers to tear up the railway line beyond the curve, and they had collected nearly all the townspeople to the number of sixty, and imprisoned them in the hotel. The prisoners seemed happy enough, despite their incarceration. The bar was open, and everybody was either dancing or drinking, or playing cards. Byrne and I took what rest we could during the afternoon. Steve got drunk and sober again.
Ned spent most of the time talking with a prisoner, Mr. Curnow, the State school teacher, to whom he had taken a great fancy, and who professed to have a great admiration for him. This man was an excellent actor, and so well did he play on his captor's vanity that Ned was completely deceived, and permitted him to go at liberty before the night was over, and to take his wife and children home. It was a fatal error that, and it brought about the ruin of the gang. Mr. Curnow, once clear of us, stealthily made his way down the line, and when the special train filled with troopers came along, he brought it to a halt by burning some matches behind a red scarf. It was a plucky and a gallant act, for he risked his life twice over in performing it. But it cost us and many others dear. Mr. Hare was on the train, and to him Curnow revealed our doings and our plans.
We outlaws were at that moment gathered on the verandah of the hotel talking with the crowd. The night was waning fast. Everybody was tired out. We had almost given over expecting the train and were inclined to throw up our murderous design as hopeless. Suddenly, in the distance, we heard the thunder of the wheels. The call to arms had come. Quick as a flash we drove the prisoners inside and began to don our armour. We were not long left in doubt that something was wrong. The train stopped more than a quarter mile away, waited for a little while, then came on slowly and drew up at the station. No need to tell us that our plan had been betrayed. We saw the troopers pour out of the carriages and immediately proceed to detrain their horses.
That sight decided us to stop and fight the matter to a finish where we were, for our horses were poor and tired; the police horses fresh and strong. Very quietly we four shook hands, and, having cocked our rifles, waited grimly for the attack. Constable Bracken, one of our prisoners, directed it. He had escaped unnoticed from the hotel during the confusion of the first alarm, and we now heard his voice crying out to Mr. Hare to rush the hotel.
Mr. Hare did not hesitate an instant. Some quick, sharp orders were rapped out, then a dark line of figures dashed towards us at the double. We met them with a volley from the dark verandah. They stopped and returned our fire.
Ned shouted, "Fire away, you dogs, you can't hurt us," and then pandemonium reigned supreme.
The troopers fired in straggling volleys, shouting and cheering madly. We followed suit. The women and children in the house behind us filled the night with piteous screams. Then at last came a lull, and Ned seized the chance to address the police:
"Damn you for a pack of blood-thirsty curs," he yelled. "Don't you know the house is full of women and kiddies? Hold your fire till we let them go, for God's sake. If you don't you'll be killing a lot of innocents, for the walls are just paper to your bullets."
Nobody answered; but as the lull continued, Ned opened the door of the hotel and called on the prisoners to clear out. They promptly appeared and streamed towards the police, crying loudly as they ran, that no one should shoot them for the love of God.
Incredible as it may appear, when half-way to the trees, the unfortunates were greeted with a hail of lead. The idiotic police had taken these poor creatures (most of them women), for bushrangers. Some few escaped, but most were driven back to the hotel. The police thereupon surrounded the building and poured in a riddling hail of bullets from all directions. Within five minutes, one of Mrs. Jones's daughters and an old man were shot dead, and a little boy was fatally wounded.
I did my utmost to save the rest by entreating all the non-combatants to lie down at full length on the floor; but even so, the bullets rang through the walls every instant, and carried blood and suffering in their train. I was often hit, but my armour protected me from wounds, though the bullets bruised me sorely, and more than once I was almost overset by the concussion.
It was a Hades of a night. The police seemed to have gone entirely lunatic. They fired steadily, and with a senseless ferocity and indifference to the lives of our prisoners and their own friends, which showed that they had been wrought to such a state of frenzy that they did not know what they were doing. In our pity for the distracted women, we outlaws gave up firing altogether and did our best to shield the helpless ones. Such pity led me to the only action of my early life which I can dare recall with decent pride. To still a miserable, screaming mother's fears for the safety of her little child, I removed my armour and placed it round the boy.
My reward was swift and sure. As I was rising to my feet again a red hot dagger seemed to quiver through my side, and I knew that I was shot. There was only the one sharp thrust of pain. After that I felt no great bother except a trouble in my breathing; but I was very weak and tired, and I quickly fell asleep. They awakened me with whisky. Ned and Joe were kneeling by my side.
Ned's helmet was off, and he was crying like a baby. "My Dan—my little brother, Dan. Oh, what will mother say?" he groaned.
I thought we were little boys again, and I smiled at him.
The next I knew I was in the open air. Guns were thundering all around me; women were screaming; men were shouting. Blinding flashes of light were stabbing at the dark. Strong arms carried me rapidly and safely through that hellish turmoil, far among the trees. The horrid sounds grew faint and fainter every moment. Dawn came flushing through the forest.
At length I was set down. I heard Ned's voice speaking, and I knew that he had done a thing for me which beggared all the exploits of his days. Men stood by—I recognised the voices of Jamie Quinn and one of the Lloyds, but their words carried no meaning to my mind.
Ned said twice: "No, boys, I must go back. I'd be no man to leave my mates in such a hole. They've stuck to me. I'll stick by them."
A little later he stooped and kissed me on the forehead, and then he put his helmet on again. He groaned as he did so, just as though a raw wound had been grazed. No doubt one had. I tried to speak to him, but the effort was not merely vain, it exhausted me and plunged my senses in oblivion.
While I slept in the deep valley of unconsciousness, that happened which all the world well knows. Ned strode back in the gloaming to the fight, knowing well he went to death, but disdaining to escape alone. As was inevitable, numbers and bullets over-matched him, and the police had at length their will. The leader of the Kellys was their prisoner.
Joe Byrne was shot dead. Steve Hart was injured mortally, and the house burned over his dead body. Some charred pieces of bone were afterwards found amid the ashes of that holocaust, and out of that dust and their willing fancy the police constructed a corpse for me as well as for Steve. Ned was taken to Melbourne, tried for his life, and hanged. He died courageously—repenting of his sins. May the Omnipotent have mercy on his soul.
IT is not my purpose to dilate on what I only know by hearsay, and only learned when the happenings themselves had passed into history. Those who desire to read the story of Ned's trial, his last hours, his last words and his lamentable end, must go to the official records. In all those published evidences there is but one sentence which pertains to this plain tale; it was spoken by Ned near the close of his trial in the Melbourne Court, when the Judge, before passing sentence, pierced his patience with the jibe that all his mates of the gang had been slain in fight and had died a death that Ned ought to envy.
Ned retorted hotly: "I don't think there is much proof that they did die that death!"
Those words are transcribed verbatim from the reports. They signify much, but not that which followed or the thoughts which they provoked. Ned confessed, in his last interview with my sister, that it had been on his angry tongue to say—"There is one still living will cause you trouble yet." But he crushed the reckless impulse, and all our friends who saw him start and clench his hands knew why. And he left me no legacy of hate or vengeance. The message that he left for me was sadder than the grave:
"If Dan lives," said he, "tell him I do not want to welcome him in Hell."
On the very day that Ned was sentenced my life was despaired of. I lay in a cavern of the Warby Ranges—number nineteen stronghold of the vanished gang—and as ill as any man may be and live. Norah Clancy was my nurse, with Kate to help at intervals. For weeks I had been hovering between light and darkness, the shadow of death bending over me with a constant terrible attention. The bullet had been extracted, but my wound had mortified. Fever racked my body. I was nearly always in delirium. My brain was a blank to everything save pain.
Could a surgeon have attended me at the outset I should never have sunk so low, never indeed have entered the Valley of the Shadow; for my wound, though bad, was of no fatal character if treated with essential skill. But my friends dared trust no surgeon near or far, and they knew even less of antiseptic drugs and nursing than the name. Yet their services, for the very love inspiring them, at last availed. Strange to say when the final crisis came and passed, and left me victor over Death, was the moment that they chose to whisper to themselves my requiem. I became of a sudden fully conscious, and looked at them with recognising eyes. They returned my stares with tears, believing the final flicker of the lamp at hand. They made me think so too. A gentle priest was there—the kindest, bravest, truest soul alive. He confessed my sins for me, my red and hideous crimes, and, at his bidding, I repented them—repent them still. He shrived me and administered the blessed sacrament—then I received, in deep humility, the Extreme Unction of the Church.
Sleep fell upon my tortured spirit like a benison. Norah washed my face with tears, yet could not charm away that lethal slumber. It was night when I awoke—night with the curtains drawn. There were lighted tapers at my head and feet. Norah Clancy kneeled in the cavern dust, keeping solitary watch beside the sweetheart she thought dead, praying softly to the Queen of Heaven to intercede and plead for mercy on his soul.
"Norah," I whispered, "I'm so thirsty, dear."
The cry she gave, the look she cast upon me—they are memories to outlast death itself. Then only did I gain my first dim lesson of appreciation of a woman's love, and its tremendous meaning to the woman who does love—not every woman can. My story hurries, stumbling to its close. I have no more dangerous adventures, no more hair-breadth escapes or violent troubles to relate. I recovered, slowly at first, rapidly full soon.
The question presently arose—what to do with me, when I should be strong enough to quit the cave? there was only one difficulty, however, in settling this, to overcome. It was plain that I must leave the country, but for that I must have money. My friends were poor, my sisters almost penniless.
Kate solved the problem. A lucrative offer had come to her from Melbourne, shortly before Ned's execution, from a theatrical manager—to show herself upon the stage. The idea revolted us all, and none loathed it more than Kate. But when the time came, that ghastliest of days in the Kelly history, the day of Ned's death, without saying aught of her intentions to any of her people, she repaired to the city and made herself a degrading exhibition for my sake. For that act Kate was condemned and reviled throughout Victoria, and painted by a hundred critics as a vulgar, soulless harridan. Little knew the minds behind those cruel tongues that the unhappy heart-broken girl had dragged herself by sheer force of will and powerful affection, from one brother's bier to earn money needed for the salvation of another, by a work that gave her nought but anguish and abiding shame. I need no other justification for this book than that, by its publication, Kate's memory may be cleared of that old slander.
Katie's so-sorely earned money once in my pocket, the way of flight lay open, the path sure to tread. Does that statement seem incredible? It is true and may be demonstrated.
Many people knew me living, including some police to whom the secret had been breathed by traitorous friends. What then? The whole country believed and wished me, and every other Kelly, dead. The desire of the police to have me dead, fathering their thought, insistently proclaimed me dead. Certain traitors, who (in their greed to share in a reward which had, to their unhappiness, already been distributed) had whispered me alive to the police, were told bluntly they had best hold their tongues in their own interest, and their tale was contumeliously ignored.
It is easy to disguise a dead man; easy for him to wander unnoticed through a countryside. He only requires to acquiesce in the public belief that he is dead, and to travel in decent unobtrusiveness by a decent alias. It is true that I adopted a vast number of precautions against surprise or recognition, but, on my soul, I think now they were perfectly superfluous.
What remains to tell? On a certain date I journeyed in a carefully-designed disguise quietly to Melbourne. There I rested for a day, and then took passage in a sailing ship to a port in the United States. I reached my destination safely, and, under the name which now belongs to me, I faced life and braved the world anew. I found work. I contrived to educate myself, to save money. Within two years I became an employer of labour at my selected trade. My undertakings prospered. At the end of the third year I sent for Norah Clancy, whose mother, in the interim, had gone to the majority. Norah came to me and we were wed. Our married life had its cares, its trials and its sorrows, but it was lighted always with a tried affection, and, when Norah died last year, my heart died with her. I am waiting now for the summons to meet her and our two loved children across the Great Divide. I am an old man; a sick one and a sad one. I shall not need, I think, to await that summons long. Then the last of the Bushrangers, indeed, shall be no more.
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