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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE MAN IN THE BARN

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As published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 12 December 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-01
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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THERE was silver grass in the paddock, and the saplings grew in the unfilled hollows, where the giant gums had been fallen many years before. Beneath the pine-clad spur, within reach of the river, stood the homestead, where the bullock-proof fences flanked the Nyngan-road.

From Regan's Crossing to Woolombi, people wondered how Jane Alliday lived alone with her young daughter. The little cottage, known as the Gray Homestead, had been their home for thirteen years. There were no relations in the district, no sons or nephews to replace their broken fences, or drive out the longhorned cattle that came like ghosts from the ranges beyond the Castlereagh. Few people could remember how long it was since Jane Alliday's husband had deserted her.

One report said, that he had got into trouble with Queensland blacks, and had not been seen afterwards. Others believed that Jane's nimble tongue and acidulous temper had driven him to the west, where the henpecked husbands go.

No one denied that Jane Alliday had a sharp tongue, but the district admired her pluck and her honesty. She had managed to keep out of debt, and her daughter Nellie was the prettiest and best-dressed girl on the river. Despite Jane's acidulous temper it was well known that her love for her only daughter bordered on the fanatical. And when Nellie reached her eighteenth year the district began to wonder whether she would marry the red-haired bank clerk at Woolombi, or succumb to the glitter of Squatter Hastings' money-bags. Hastings was a bachelor, and whenever she passed him on her pony he would pull up his four-in-hand and inquire after her mother's health.

"A lot he cared about Jane Alliday's health," said everyone.


IN some country places a pretty girl is of more importance than a golf committee or a Tattersall's sweep. And Woolombi was noted for its well-to-do young men, sons of pastoralists and cattle kings, who found small time to look beyond the Castlereagh for the woman of their heart. Nellie's chances in life were alive with possibilities.

One day a deputation of enthusiastic young men asked her to sign an affidavit that she would abstain from marrying a man over thirty. Nellie refused to sign the document. It flattered her a little, but she told the deputation, with a laugh, that there was many a bright and kindly eye shining on the other side of the thirties.

It was whispered later that Frank Doyle, a young trooper, at Woolombi, had put handcuffs on her affections. The rumour fell flat, however, when it was heard that she had never spoken to the young fellow in her life.

It was young Doyle who had tracked the Henty children across the sandstone ranges during one terrible summer of drought and fire. They had wandered from their homestead, and for three days no sight or trace of them was seen. When all hope seemed dead, and the distracted mother ran moaning along the river bank, Frank Doyle appeared suddenly on the crest of the ridge, carrying two travel-numbed children across his saddle. He had found them at the bottom of a gully asleep in each other's arms; a crowd of strong-beaked crows hovering near. He never spoke of his experience afterwards, but day after day he visited the little bush hospital, cap in hand, peering into the cots where the feverish little hands plucked at the coverings, and their thirst-bitten voices cried through the hot room. And so... when the children grew strong again the district forgot the incident, and Trooper Frank Doyle's name was scarcely ever mentioned.


ANOTHER summer passed, bush fires devastated the country-side; and then came the floods, heaping despair on disaster's head. Big men spoke in pitiful voices of sheep and horses perishing in thousands. What the fires had overlooked the flood took in hand. Dozens of small settlers were ruined. Jane Alliday and her daughter fought hard to pull through the bitter winter. And people still wondered how they kept clear of the mortgagee.

The river was running a banker, and the bellying rain-clouds drifted up and up from the relentless east. Dead cattle and sheep were borne under the flood-wrapped bridge piles; here and there a derelict homestead swirled madly in mid-stream to break, like matchwood, in the grinding chaos of logs and down-rushing timber. A couple of troopers rode into Woolombi, accompanied by a black-tracker.

The news had spread through the township that the bank at Tringanbar had bean stuck up by a single bushranger, whose name was as yet unknown. The troopers were silent as they rode through the crowd standing near the lock-up. A dozen voices asked if the bank manager had been hurt. 'Shot through the heart, where he sat at his desk.'

Young Trooper Doyle handed his horse to the tracker, and followed the sergeant into the lockup.


JANE ALLIDAY was driving home from the store at Woolombi; her face was white and drawn; her eyes moved restlessly up and down the swollen river as she entered the homestead gate. It was almost dark. A light burned in the front room. The door opened suddenly, and in the lamp-glow she beheld her daughter staring, dry-lipped, across the yard. Mrs. Alliday slammed the gate, and glanced sharply about her.

"What's the matter child? Speak out," she half-whispered. Nellie Alliday made lightning signals with her hand, and, without speaking, drew her mother into the house, closing the door swiftly.

"There's a man in the barn, mother. I saw him slip in half-an-hour ago. He doesn't look like a swagman. I've been afraid to move or breathe since he crept in," gasped the young girl.

Mrs. Alliday was a hard-featured woman, courageous as a man, and not given to hysterics when the unexpected happened. She threw off her rain-soaked coat, her lips slightly indrawn. The long drive home seemed to have numbed her intelligence.

"What—what kind of a man was he?" Her voice was flat and dull as a sick woman's. "Did you see his face, child?"

"Only his big black beard," whispered Nellie, "and his sorrowful eyes. Oh, mother!" she cried, "he looked like a hunted animal. I wanted to scream when he crawled into the barn. But I remembered that women and girls had been strangled for calling out too soon. I kept quiet, mother!"

The girl wrung her hands despairingly. "What does he want?"

Mrs. Alliday stamped her foot angrily on the hearth; then she took a lantern from a shelf and lit it slowly. Nellie caught her arm suddenly.

"Mother, don't go in yet. Wait until morning. He will go away then. The rain has driven him here. It's only rest he wants."

"Wait, wait, wait!" snapped Jane Alliday. "That's the cry of the young people, even though disgrace and the gallows are at the end. T'sh!"

She picked up the lantern and strode towards the barn. It was a dark, windowless place, packed with empty wheat sacks and farming tools. The wind and rain roared about the shingle roof as she opened the door, the water ran in streams about her feet. There was no sound inside the barn as her eyes moved from corner to corner, but through the loud hammering of her heart she caught the sound of heavy breathing; then a pair of eyes looked at her steadily over the pile of wheat sacks.

"Come out!" She spoke sharply; there was no heart-flutter in her voice, she stood her ground like one who had fought her battle in life single-handed. Her dark eyes glittered strangely.

"Come out," she repealed steadily.

Something moved heavily behind the sacks, then a big black beard seemed to fill the near perspective, a pair of large, sorrowful eyes looked into hers.

"Jim!" she said without moving. "Jim Alliday!"

"It's me, Jane; all the way from Nevertire." He heaved himself with baresark strength into the centre of the barn, and there was rain in his hair and mud on his clothes. A sharp silence followed as though speech had fallen dead; the distant mutter of the flood-wrapped river reached them; a cattle-bell wandered through the bush, and the faint clanging seemed to beat time with the woman's heart. The big eyes and the black beard regarded her sadly; his hands hung limply at his side; then he moistened his lips with his tongue like one about to speak. A thought nimble as pointed steel flashed through the woman's mind. She caught his arm fiercely, and dragged him across the dripping yard into the house. "Nellie," she addressed the white-faced girl like one appealing to a comrade.

"Get your scissors and the old razor from my drawer. Quick, for your life!"

Once inside the house Jim Alliday seemed to collapse; he stared in dumb astonishment and submission as though he were under arrest. Her sharp voice failed to rouse him.

"Do you hear, Jim? We'll cut off that beard. You understand?"

Thrusting his huge form into a chair, she snatched the scissors from her daughter's hand and sliced the big wet beard in four-inch lengths from his face. He made no protest as she cut and cut closer and closer; then his damp hair began to fall in heaps around the chair. A kettle simmered on the fire.

In a flash a big white lather spread itself over his blinking, bewildered face; it grew and grew until it heaved in billows at his lightest breath.

"Remember when I used to shave you, Jim?" she said, bitterly. "D'ye remember?"

And the razor moved down his left cheek with unerring precision.

"Y' never cut me, either, Jane," he gurgled through the lather. "Y' never wanted the tar, my lass."

Her hand seemed to grow steady as she shaved him, for behind her thoughts loomed a high-walled prison and the shadow of a scaffold. She did not speak again, but deep, deep in her withered heart the past was crying like a little child. Through her blinding tears she saw no comedy in her actions—only a tragedy, black and sinister, stalking into her life. In a few breathless minutes he sat back in the chair, clean-faced as a boy, somewhat hollow-checked, but grinning feebly.

A faint hoof beat reached them, then the unmistakable jingle of bridle and bit as two troopers ambled towards the homestead in the wake of a sleuth-like black tracker.

"Nellie," again she spoke to her daughter. "Get that clean white shirt from the box in my room. Hurry, oh hurry!"

Nellie Alliday asked no questions; she flew to her mother's room and tore back the lid of the box. She began to understand that this wild-eyed man was her father.

What were the troopers coming to the house for? She dared not allow herself to think further. Slipping the shirt over his head and shoulders half fiercely, Jane Alliday assisted him to pull himself together, and in a fraction of time had the tablecloth laid and the tea-pot at hand as the knock happened at the door.

She opened it leisurely and glanced at the waiting horses, the two silent troopers nodding in the rain.

"Good-night, Mrs. Alliday." The sergeant touched his cap respectfully and shook the water from his cape briskly. "Sorry to trouble you, but the fact is we've tracked a man to your barn and we want him badly. Very glad if you'll allow us to go in," he said quietly.

Jane Alliday lit the lantern carefully and handed it to him silently. With a cry the tracker was inside the barn like a hound off the leash. The lantern glare followed him as his alert eyes flashed here and there. Grunting savagely he returned to the yard scrutinising the wet pools and rivulets with a bewildered face.

"Him gone alonga bit more, mine think it," he said thickly.

A shade of annoyance crossed the sergeant's eyes. Behind him, in the shadow of the barn, stood Trooper Frank Doyle, motionless and thoughtful. The door of the homestead opened suddenly; Jim Alliday appeared framed in the lamp glow, his big eyes watching the troopers.

"What's the matter?" he demanded huskily. "Y' seem to be havin' the run o' my place, sergeant."

The elder trooper drew back sharply as though a rifle-barrel had peeped at him from the shade. The tracker grinned silently.

Mrs. Alliday turned quickly. "It's my husband, James Alliday." She looked into the sergeant's eyes steadily and then at the big, shambling figure in the doorway. "He's just returned from Melbourne, sergeant."

Her voice was as steady as a child's. Then with a laugh that had a savage touch in it she added, "He always comes home in wet weather."

Frank Doyle moved in the deep shadow until his eye caught a glance from the young girl standing behind her father. He did not speak. Walking to his horse he went and tightened the saddle-girth, mechanically. He glanced over the sergeant's shoulders casually, and again the young girl's eyes caught his. Returning to his post near the barn, he seemed to bury himself in the shadows.

The sergeant scratched his head dubiously as he regarded the figure in the doorway.

"Come home in wet weather, eh?" His glances wandered in and out the room, and, during that moment of sharp scrutiny, Jane Alliday felt glad that she had burned the tell-tale heaps of hair. A fresh gust of wind drove the rain in their faces; the horses stamped, and their bits jangled harshly in the silence. The sergeant fingered his grizzled beard as he again measured the figure in the doorway.

"Suppose you found business pretty slow in Melbourne, Mr. Alliday. Did you come by steamer or train?" he asked.

"Came just how it durned well suited me," answered Jim Alliday briefly. "If there'd been a balloon excursion, I'd have come through the air, but there wasn't so I simply arrived."

The sergeant felt his chin and looked around the yard undecidedly. Then slowly, very slowly, he made a sign to the young trooper in the shadow and they rode away towards the track loading to the river.

Mrs. Alliday entered the house and flung herself into a chair, covering her face. Nellie stooped over her tenderly.

"Mother," she whispered, "is—is that my father?"

"Yes." Jane Alliday answered through her shut teeth, and the bitterness of years lay in the single word. The girl drew back and looked into the man's white face. Then something in his big soft eyes seemed to call her. She stole towards him softly, and caught his hand.

"Father, why did the troopers come here tonight?"

James Alliday straightened himself like a lashed steer, his face glowed strangely as he gripped her small hand. "Troopers!" he said, hoarsely. "I couldn't tell my girl why they came."

"Jim!" Jane Alliday was on her feet, fury in her eyes. "Don't lie, don't lie to your child. Be honest. It was you they were after.... bushranging, robbing the bank at Tringanbar," she broke out disjointedly. "You might have spared us the final scene," she added, bitterly. "Bushranging!"

He headed his bulk nearer and caught her clenched hand, while his eyes grew luminous with anger.

"Me a bushranger, Jane; me?" There was a note of passion in his voice that she had not heard before. She had heckled and bullied him not a little in the past, and his present defiant attitude sharpened her astonishment.

"Aren't you the man that broke into the bank at Tringanbar?"

"No!" His voice thundered in her ear. "I'm not the man, Jane Alliday."

Turning to his daughter, he spoke with sudden dignity and kindling eyes. "I came here to-night to look at the old place, thinkin' I'd get a peep at you both afore I ventured in. So I slipped into the barn an' waited. Was there anything wrong in that, Jane Alliday?"

There was no answer.

"I came here," he continued, "because I'm homesick, an' want to be a good husband and father for the rest of my life. I let you haul me out o' the barn," he went on, "I allowed you to spile me beard an' monkey shave me, thinkin' you'd soften a bit towards me. But when those troopers came I dropped to the game. They're after somebody, an', woman like, you thought it was me. No!"

Again, he shouted the word until it rang through the homestead.

"Never took a penny from man or woman in my life."

"You have been sending us money for the last eight years," broke in his wife. "I never asked myself how you were earning it."

"Earning it, Jane? My pockets are full of stock receipts from the best Sydney and Melbourne buyers. I've been overlanding the last six years. Just passed my last mob from Queensland to a drover at Nyngan. My dogs are at Shelly's Hotel, Woolombi. I don't know what all the fuss is about."

He paused, feeling his chin, sorrowfully.

"You might have left a bit of me whiskers; Jane, just to keep the wind off me waistcoat," he said, finally.

The township was in an excited state next day. Sergeant Thompson and Trooper Frank Doyle had arrested the real bushranger at the back of the sawmills near Conroy's Flat. He was a dark, evil-eyed outcast, and had fired on the troopers the moment they approached his hiding-place. They carried him to the lock-up at Woolombi.

>NELLIE did not marry a squatter or a bank clerk. She was always away from home when the young men rode over to chat with her father on the verandah. The mystery of her aloofness was explained one wintry night when the rain was thrashing the window and the river raced and sobbed under the bridge piles.

Young Trooper Doyle rode up to the sliprail and found his way to the verandah, when a white shape seemed to steal from the darkness as he came forward.

"Have you come to arrest me, Frank Doyle?"

Nellie Alliday touched his dripping waterproof as he stepped to the verandah.

"I would like to imprison your affections for life, dear," he said, earnestly. "Will you let me?"

They sat for a while sheltered from the driving rain until she broke the silence. "Do you remember the night you came to arrest the bushranger?" she asked, suddenly.

He nodded without smiling.

"You thought then that it was father who shot the bank manager."

"I was almost certain," he answered, slowly.

"You didn't suggest it to the sergeant?"

The young trooper grew crimson at the temples. "I looked into your eyes," he said, nervously, "and then into your father's, and somehow I thought it would be better to postpone the arrest."

At that moment the big shape of Jim Alliday appeared in the doorway, feeling his chin disconsolately.

"Next time I hide in a barn," he said dismally, "I'll hire a trooper to look after my whiskers."

The following month Nellie Alliday became Mrs. Frank Doyle—his prisoner for life, as the young trooper put it.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.