Red Jack and the Ragged Thirteen

#48. Red Jack and the Mare

When a Cantonese syndicate moved in on the old claim at Rosie’s Flat, most of the gang pretended not to care. But it was generally agreed that such an act wasn’t ‘right.’

‘It’s not that I bloody liked the place,’ spat Sandy Myrtle, ‘but I don’t like the idea of them just walking in and taking that mine we worked so hard to build.’ He glared at Carmody and Tommy the Rag. ‘This would never have happened if you two had just done what you was asked to and stayed put.’

‘Why didn’t you stay, if you liked the damn place so much?’ glowered Carmody.

This ill-feeling was compounded by the slow but steady drying up of gold in the new claims. By the second month they were scarcely winning five ounces a week. Just enough for tucker and tools.

Larrikin and Jack Woods were soon riding out in the late evenings, dodging Durack cattle, holding them in that secret niche that Tom had found, and butchering them in a bough-shed slaughterhouse. The sly meat business not only fed the gang, as well as Jake and the girls, but brought in some much-needed coin at the same time.

Larrikin’s mare, now some eight months pregnant, was one thing that the gang was still excited about, but there was concern in this direction also. Fitz was the first to notice that she seemed to have bagged up way too early, and then, a week or two later, started discharging. Not much, but enough to spark some worry.

‘Maybe it’s just the poor grass here,’ said Tommy the Rag. The dry season was underway, the rains now just a memory.

‘Grass aren’t the problem,’ said Larrikin. ‘Someone should go fetch Red Jack. It’ll be her foal after all, and they say that what she doesn’t know about horses isn’t worth knowing.’

‘I’ll ride fer Red Jack,’ said Scotty, beaming at the chance. He had a horse saddled in record time, and was back not long after nightfall, with Red Jack beside him on her black stallion.

Red Jack started by running her hand slowly along the mare’s flanks, then stopped and turned to the bystanders. ‘I can’t do this with you bastards ogling me.’ Then, at Larrikin. ‘She’s yours aren’t she? Just hold her head and keep her calm.’

The examination took around thirty minutes, after which time Red Jack washed her hands from a steel bucket, then joined the gang around the camp fire.

‘Bad news,’ she said. ‘The poor old girl’s carrying twins. Most times a mare will absorb the extra foetus. This one hain’t done that.’

The more experienced horsemen shook their heads sadly at the news. They knew what this meant. Sandy had even suggested twins as a possibility. But they all wanted to hear the verdict from Red Jack’s lips.

‘Two things will happen from here,’ she said. ‘Either she’ll miscarry both foals, or they’ll go full term and be born weak and sickly. Both will probably die.’

‘Jesus, that’s rough,’ said Tommy the Rag, and none of them looked at Larrikin’s face.

The Township of Wyndham, WA. Engraving by Samuel Calvert. State Library of Victoria

A couple of hundred miles to the north, Northern Territory trooper Alfred Searcy, stood at the rail of the schooner Levuka. He was full of nervous excitement as they rounded Adolphus Island, took the Western Channel, tacked carefully around a series of shallow sandbars, then finally anchored in seven fathoms off the bustling township of Wyndham.

The landing here was of tidal mud, planked all the way to deeper water, several teams on hand for the unloading. Another two-master, the Simla, had just finished discharging horses, and they were being yarded up from the landing, many of them caked in mud to the flanks.

Searcy did not look for a porter, but carried his own swag and portmanteau. He was impressed by the activity all around – carpenters building shops or houses and travellers hammering in tent pegs. There were at least three stores, and some jerry-built grog shops along with the impressive Wyndham Hotel.

Despite a hefty thirst, inspired by a fast steamer trip to Darwin, then a berth on the first available ship heading for Wyndham, Searcy ignored the hotel, walking straight to the police station. The place seemed deserted, but a solid rap on the door brought a tired looking sergeant to the door, seeming somewhat surprised at Alfred’s uniform.

‘We weren’t expecting a visit from the NT police?’ he said, stifling a yawn. ‘To what do we owe the honour?’

‘My name is Alf Searcy. I’m here on a mission of some urgency …’

‘Alfred?’ came a booming voice from inside. ‘Is that you?’

A ramrod straight figure appeared in the passage. Alfred recognised Sub-Inspector Lawrence, who he had met on the Resident’s lawns in Palmerston.

‘Why hello, it’s good to see you here!’

Five minutes later Alfred was sipping tea in a cool stone room, exchanging pleasantries about his journey and the situation in the Kimberley. Finally, on the second cup, he cut to the chase.

‘Now I know you’ll be wondering about the purpose of my visit. I’m here with fresh new charges against Tom Nugent. I take it that he’s still in custody?’

The two WA cops looked at each other, then Lawrence answered. ‘We had to release the man, unfortunately. The manager and head stockman of Alexandria Station backed him up on the horse story. And since the grey’s real owner, Fisher, is currently in London, the prosecution case couldn’t proceed. We know Nugent changed the brand but just can’t prove it.’

Alfred shook his head as if in silent condemnation of their inability to do their job. ‘Well, please oblige me by arresting him again. I have evidence, and witnesses.’ He unbuttoned a document from his top pocket. ‘This here is an extradition order for Thomas Nugent to be returned to the Northern Territory in chains, there to face charges of robbery, assault, and malicious damage at Abraham’s Billabong and the Katherine River.

‘You have eyewitnesses?’ Lawrence inquired.

‘Yes,’ said Alfred. ‘The case is watertight, I can assure you.’ He frowned, ‘You haven’t allowed this criminal to leave Wyndham, I hope?’

Lawrence shook his head quickly. ‘No, not yet. He’s still here, chasing after the young school teacher from what I understand.’

‘Then let us strike now,’ said Alfred, ‘before he hears that I’m in town.’ He puffed out his chest. ‘Every criminal has his nemesis, and I am Tom Nugent’s.’


Continues next Sunday …


©2019 Greg Barron

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