Well, dust and hot winds aren’t the nicest things going, but I’m blest if I don’t think they’re better for old people and poor people—for everybody—than the bitter days and terrible long nights of the old country.
Anyhow, people enjoy themselves in the Christmas week in Australia if they never do at any other time. It’s not too hot for fun and frolic, and to see the girls and boys skylarking about together, you’d think heat agreed with ’em, and that a hundred in the shade was quite the proper warmth.
Mr. Burdock and I were sitting at breakfast one morning when we saw, through the French window that opened on to the verandah, four horsemen coming along the plain. Riding at a walk they were, and making straight for the house.
‘There’s a police trooper with them. I see his boots,’ says Burdock, whose far sight was as good as ever. ‘The man on the off-side has got a horse like Roper’s Quondong. You don’t often see one walk like that. The trooper’s horse has to jog to keep up with him. There’s a black-boy behind, and a gentleman. He rides like one, anyhow.’
‘There’s something queer about Roper,’ says I, ‘if it is him. Yes, it’s him, safe enough, and, by George! he’s handcuffed. That’s what’s the matter. What in the world has he been up to?’
‘We’ll find out directly. I don’t know the other man. He’s a broad-shouldered chap, and looks deuced resolute. They’re at the gate now. We’d as well go and meet ’em.’
They rode into the stable-yard as we got there. I could hardly believe my eyes. There was old Roper on his famous hackney, but the trooper had hold of the bridlerein, and his rider’s wrists were handcuffed together.
The gentleman behind rode forward, and I had a good look at him. He was a tall, well-built, very powerful man, I thought—with a stern and determined expression of countenance.
He spoke first: ‘My name is Harrington Dorsett, and I am the manager of Westburn Station. You are Mr. Burdock, I believe, and a magistrate of the territory?’
‘The same,’ says Burdock, with a kind of a bow. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘I desire to bring this prisoner before you on a charge of cattle-stealing. I have my own evidence, and that of the trooper, that we found him in possession of cattle belonging to the Westburn Station, both branded and unbranded. I wish to apply for a remand warrant to the Bench at Wardell, where he can be further dealt with.’
‘If you’ll come into my office,’ says Burdock, very solemn, ‘I’ll see what I can do. Mr. Roper, I’m dashed sorry to see you in this position—’pon my soul, I am.’
‘It’s all a mistake,’ says Roper; but his lips seemed dry, and his voice sounded different from what it did generally. ‘Mr. Dorsett’s just come to this side of the country, and he don’t understand the way we give and take here.’
‘You’ll understand me before I’ve done with you,’ Mr. Dorsett says, between his teeth. ‘Wando, hang up yarraman—man ’em this one, two fellow!’
The trooper got down first and helped Roper to alight. It ain’t so easy to get down with no bridle to hold on by. I’ve watched prisoners trying to do it—active chaps, too—and they couldn’t manage it well. Then he took him by the arm and followed Burdock into the little room in the verandah. The boss sat down with a book before him at the table, and the case began.
First the trooper gave his evidence.
‘My name is James Brent, police mounted constable, stationed at Cobran. On the night of the 12th instant, from information received, I proceeded to Yugildah station, which I reached before daylight. I camped near the stock-yard in company with Mr. Dorsett, now present. I have reason to believe that he is the manager of Westburn Station. The aboriginal tracker, Wando, now present, had accompanied me from the police barracks. We remained behind a brush fence; we had put our horses into a disused hut, and fastened the door. Just before sunrise I saw two men come from the prisoner’s house to the stock-yard. There were about a hundred head of cattle, I should say, chiefly cows and calves, in the stock-yard. The men made a fire, and having drafted off the calves, some of which were large, commenced to brand them. When they had finished, we walked down to the yard.
‘Mr. Dorsett said to prisoner; “What do you mean by branding my calves, you infernal scoundrel?”
‘Prisoner seemed taken aback and said: “These were some cattle that had got mixed up with an outlying mob which belonged to the Yugildah herd. He would give calf for calf, as had been the custom with the station before.”
‘“You lie,” says Mr. Dorsett. “These cows and calves have been tracked every foot of the way from our Sandy Camp. It’s not the first haul you’ve had of the Westburn cattle. But I’ve caught you red-handed now, and by — you shall suffer for it! Constable, inspect the brands of these cattle, and make a note of them.”
‘I did so accordingly. I counted fifty-four cows in the big yard, seven steers, and five heifers. They were all branded WWD.
‘In the small yard, which was used as a branding pen, I counted forty-eight calves, from two months to twelve. They were fresh branded with the Yugildah station brand, BY, except ten of the best heifer calves, which were branded JR over 2—which I believe to be prisoner’s private brand. When the calves were turned into the yard with the grown cattle, most of them began to suck the cows with the WWD brand.’
‘Did the—did Mr. Roper say anything when you drafted ’em?’ says Burdock.
‘No—unless “it was all a mistake.” He kept on saying that.’
‘What was done then?’
‘Mr. Dorsett—he says: “I give this man in charge for cattle-stealing. I am prepared to give evidence before the nearest magistrate.”
‘I arrested prisoner, and charged him with stealing certain calves, the property of the Messrs. Drummond, of Westburn Station, He answered that he had no intention of stealing them. I then conveyed him before the nearest magistrate.’
If we had waited till Mr. Burdock took all this down we should have waited a long time. He asked me at the first if I’d mind doing it; and as I could write a good plain hand, and had improved a bit keeping the station’s accounts, I set to work and did it.
‘You read it out, Mr. Claythorpe,’ says Burdock, as solemn as a judge, and I did.
‘James Roper,’ says he, more solemn still, ‘have you any questions to put to this witness?’
‘Yes I have,’ says Roper. ‘When you put them cattle together, will you swear as the calves belonged to the cows in the big yard?
‘Well; I didn’t ask ’em,’ says the trooper; ‘but I saw three-fourths of the calves start sucking the cows, which looked very like it.’
‘Did I offer to prevent Mr. Dorsett and you from going through the cattle?’
‘No; and it wouldn’t have been much use if you had.’
‘Are them cattle in my yard now?’
‘No. Two of the Westburn stock-riders came up before we left and took them off home.’
‘Did I offer to resist you in any way?’
‘You made a boggle about being handcuffed, but when Mr. Dorsett put his revolver to your head, you gave in.’
‘That will do,’ says Roper. ‘I see it’s no use me asking any more questions.’
All this was taken down. It’s a curious thing people in trouble always want to ask questions, and very seldom do themselves any good by it.
Then Mr. Dorsett was sworn, and gave his evidence.
‘My name is Harrington Dorsett, and I am the manager of the Westburn Station. On the morning of the 12th instant I was at the Sandy Camp on the said run, in company with the aboriginal Wando now before the Bench. A large number of cattle were on the Camp. They appeared excited, as if recently disturbed. There had been rain in the night, and the ground was moist. My attention was directed by the aboriginal to some tracks of cattle leading in the direction of Yugildah Station. They appeared to have been going very fast or to have been driven. The aboriginal—by name Wando—then said: “That one likit cow and calf—all about! Yan along Yugildah, I believe.”
‘“You look out yarraman” (horses), I said.
‘“Me seeum two feller track, Mahmee,” he made answer. “This one likit belonger to Roper Quondong—fore foot turn in likit parrot.”
‘As it appeared that station cattle had been driven in the direction of Yugildah, I despatched the stock-rider to the police station for the last witness. He was then to return and bring another man to Yugildah. With the aid of the black-boy, I followed the tracks to Yugildah, a distance of fifteen miles, and found that a mob of cattle (including forty to fifty unbranded calves) had just been yarded. It was then dusk. I concealed myself until next morning, when the last witness arrived. I fully corroborate his statement as to the branding of the calves by prisoner. I gave him in charge for cattle-stealing. I now pray that the prisoner be remanded on warrant to the Court of Petty Sessions at Wardell, when further evidence will be forthcoming.’
‘All right,’ says Mr. Burdock, and then appearing to recollect himself, he frowned, and began to read and turn over the leaves of a big book which I afterwards found was Judge Wilkinson’s Australian Magistrate.
Then he begins: ‘Prisoner at the bar, have you anything to say for yourself. Anything you say will be taken down in writing—’
‘That ain’t it, your worship,’ says the trooper, who was a smart young fellow and used to act as Acting Clerk of Petty Sessions at the small township he was stationed at. ‘It’s not a committal yet.’
‘Oh!’ says Mr. Burdock, ‘here it is. You stand committed—no! I mean remanded to the Bench of Magistrates at Wardell for this day week, there to stand your trial—no, that’s not it!—when fresh evidence will be brought agin you, and the Lord have mercy upon—no, that’s not it! I mean, bail will not be allowed on no account. Constable, you’ll find all the forms in that pigeon-hole. If you fish out a remand warrant and fill it up, I’ll sign it. This Court stands adjourned till next time. You and Roper had better go into the kitchen and get a jolly good feed; you’ll both want one before you get to Curbin. Mr. Dorsett, sir, perhaps you’ll come inside and take some refreshment, as you’ve been a-campin’ out all night, it seems.’