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The Crooked Stick or Pollies's Probation   By: (1826-1915)

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The time, the close of a lurid sultry February day, towards the end of a long, dry summer succeeding a rainless winter, in the arid region of West Logan. A blood red sun sinking all too slowly, yet angrily, into a crimson ocean; suddenly disappearing, as if in despotic defiance of all future rainfall. A fiery portent receding into the inferno of a vast conflagration, was the image chiefly presented to the dwellers in that pastoral desert, long heartsick with hope deferred.

The scene, a limitless stretch of plain its wearisome monotony feebly broken by belts of timber or an infrequent pine ridge. The earth adust. A hopeless, steel blue sky. The atmosphere stagnated, breezeless. The forest tribes all dumb. The Wannonbah mail coach toiling over the furrows of a sandhill, walled in by a pine thicket.

'Thank God! the sun is down at last; we must sight Hyland's within the hour,' exclaimed the passenger on the box seat, a tall, handsome man, with 'formerly in the army' legibly impressed on form and feature. 'How glad I shall be to see the river; and what a luxury a swim will be!'

'Been as hot a day as ever I know'd, Captain,' affirmed the sun bronzed driver, with slow decision; 'but' and here he double thonged the off wheeler, as if in accentuation of his statement 'heat, and flies, and muskeeters, dust and sand and bad water, ain't the wust of this road not by a long chalk!'

'What the deuce can be worse?' demanded the ex militaire, with pardonable acerbity. 'Surely no ruffians have taken to the bush lately in this part of the world?'

'Well, I did hear accidental like as "The Doctor" and two other cross chaps, whose names I won't say, had laid it out to stick us up to day. They'd heard that Mr. Tracknell was going up to Orange, and they have it in for him along o' the last Bandamah cattle racket.'

'Stop the coach, the infernal scoundrels! What do they expect to do next? The country won't be fit for decent people to live in if this sort of thing is not put a stop to.'

'Well, Captain Devereux,' replied the driver, a tall, sinewy, slow speaking son of the soil, 'if I was you I wouldn't trouble my head about them no more than I could help. It ain't your business, as one might say, if they've a down on Tracknell. He nearly got the Doctor shopped over them Bandamah cattle, an' he wasn't in it at all, only them Clarkson boys. My notion is that Tracknell got wind of it yesterday, and forgot to come a purpose.'

'So, if a gang of rascally cattle stealers choose to stop the coach that I travel in, I am to sit still because I'm not the man they want, who did his duty in hunting them down.'

'Now hear reason, Captain! There ain't a chap in the district, square or cross, that would touch you, or any one from Corindah no, not from here to Baringun. The place has got such a name for being liberal like to gentle and simple. If we meet those chaps and we've got the Wild Horse plain to cross yet you take my tip and say nothing to them if they don't interfere with you.'

The man to whom he spoke raised his head and gazed full in the speaker's face. The expression of his features had changed, and there was a hard set look, altogether different from his usually frank and familiar air, as he said, 'Are you aware that I've held Her Majesty's commission?'

The driver took his horses in hand, and sent them along at a pace to which for many miles they had been strangers, as they left the heavy sand of the pine hill and entered upon the baked red soil of the plain.

'I'm dashed sorry to hear it now,' he said slowly. 'Some people's mighty fond of having their own way... Continue reading book >>

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