The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 1 (April 1, 1938.)
TheSheep Stealer — Chapter IV
The names used in this story are entirely fictitious. The incident described, however, and the method used for stealing sheep from the large mobs which were driven via the East Coast of the North Island, in the early days, may, perhaps, be recalled by many of the older generation.
The evening went rapidly with much mirth and song, although Jim could not rid himself of his misgivings. Many times he looked searchingly at Monty across the table seeking to read his inmost thoughts. Neither Jim nor any of them were prepared for the bomb which exploded on the morrow.
Jim walked home with Mabel, while Fred, the cadet, some distance in front, took charge of Hilda.
“Jim,” said Mabel, “tell me what Sergeant Kelly has come about. I couldn't get a word out of Dad.”
“And I'm afraid you won't get much out of me, simply because I have nothing certain to tell.”
“But you have an idea, Jim, and you shouldn't keep anything from me.”
“Yes, I have an idea. You are a sweet, charming, inquisitive young person,” he said, laughing down at her. Then his face grew grave. “But whatever I think, or what ideas I may have, you'll agree that the best thing to do is to keep dumb. Now have you nothing to tell me, Mabel?”
“Oh, I could tell you lots, but I know I should not.” Mabel looked rather distressed.
“Very well, old girl, we are quits,” and they proceeded to talk of things that concerned themselves only.
Monty had a feeling that a crisis was pending. He surmised from the presence of the sergeant that he was going to have a gruelling next day, but to all appearances he was just the same old Monty. He had chatted away to Sergeant Kelly and had joined in the games and music just as ever. When parting with the sergeant he said he expected him over in the morning. “You know it wouldn't be quite fair to leave me out,” he added.
“I'll be there, Mr. Carden,” answered the sergeant. “Good-night!” The sergeant's unspoken thoughts were: “I wish the beggar would clear out so I could never find him. He is too fine a chap to spend eight or ten years in jail. Why is he mixed up in this sort of business? It's not because he's hard up. There isn't enough evidence to arrest him and if I don't get hold of something else to-morrow, I'm afraid it will be a washout for the present.”
* * *
Monty saw Sergeant Kelly coming in the front gate, so he rode down to meet him.
“Morning Mr. Carden, another fine day. I must congratulate you young farmers on the splendid condition of your farms. You all must work hard— not much time for other activities, eh?”
“Yes,” agreed Monty. “We work hard, but yet find time for plenty of enjoyment. Come up to the house, I'm due for a cup of tea and I'm sure you can do with one, too.”
“Let us forego the tea awhile, I'm not here for a pleasure visit. I have a search warrant in my pocket, although I feel sure you'll render me all the assistance I want without my presenting it. You must know that I've heard that several hundred sheep have been stolen while passing from the south and the drovers have thinned it down, by checking tallys, to within a few miles of here. The Maoris have not taken them and they've not been drowned, so it really confines itself to this Valley.”
“Go on, sergeant, I'm listening, although I can't see why you have settled on me as a suspect. However, you are welcome to currycomb this old farm of mine from end to end.”page 21
“I know you'll not put any obstacles in my way, but I warn you anything you say or do may be used against you,” the sergeant answered.
“That I'm surprised and hurt you can well understand, but why you've picked on me as a possible delinquent I can't imagine. Surely,” continued Monty, “I'm entitled to know what has led you to concentrate your attentions on me.”
The sergeant began to realise that he was fencing with a man quite out of the ordinary—that nothing Carden said, although he gave apparently straight and clear answers—would be of any help towards the solution of his difficulties.
“You asked me, Mr. Carden, why suspicion was directed towards you. First, because you've been shipping bales of pelts far beyond the usual, and beyond the carrying capacity of your farm. Account for the extra bales of pelts satisfactorily and I will beg your pardon and depart.”
“You've laid your charge then on the supposition that these extra bales contained the pelts of stolen animals. Such being the case, sergeant, the onus is on you to prove the pelts came off stolen sheep. Don't forget, though, that I buy quite a number of sheep the receipts for which can be forthcoming when necessary. There is a bale of pelts in the shed, also a number of fresh skins awaiting to be dried and trimmed; perhaps you would like to open them up? Another thing I would like to ask you. Has anyone seen me stealing sheep or with stolen sheep in my possession? No, I'm sure, and when we've mustered and gone through the 2,000 odd flock, you'll find the number within very few of the right run tally. And now I'm going to show you fifty or sixty of the lost sheep which have been in my paddock for about two weeks awaiting an owner. They are marked with red ochre on the head so that if they got mixed up with the flock they could be easily picked out. We'll yard them up and you can identify the earmarks by your drawings. You'll have at least the credit of finding some of the missing sheep. This is all I can tell you or help you, except that these sheep must have broken away at the junction of the Valley road and found their way down here to save their lives. I put them into a paddock where they would do all right until they were claimed.”
“That'll not account for four or five hundred,” said Kelly. “Anyhow we'll get them in. There is little doubt that they are part of the missing sheep, Mr. Carden, but why did you not notify Te Ako?”
“I think if you make inquiries the storekeeper will tell you I sent word. Anyhow,” continued Monty, “I can't see that I can help you any more. You'd better come now and have lunch. I'm not the least alarmed about the final result of these investigations, and I think you must see that you are on the wrong track and making the whole position damnably unpleasant to me. A nice thing for me if my neighbours hear that I'm suspected of sheep stealing!”
“I'm afraid it is a bit more than a suspicion and you must consider yourself under detention, Mr. Carden. I'm trusting you this far, that you'll make no attempt to escape while I go to Te Ako and bring the Chief Inspector back. I shall be back to-morrow night.”
Monty said nothing. He realised that he had a day and a half to put things in order. He realised also that it was the end of happy relations between himself, the Jeffreys and Chadwicks. Well, he had had a fair run. He would take his gruelling, but he would be the first to let his friends know. It would be a test of their friendship, but Mabel—! As he thought of what he had done, the frightfulness of it began to dawn on him. He, Monty Carden, loved by his neighbours, trusted and honoured, had fallen so low as to be arrested on suspicion of sheep stealing. “I would have brought dear old Rex down with me, also,” he thought.
It was a grey-faced and haggard Monty that sought Jim Jeffreys that afternoon.
“Jim! I have to go away for a couple of weeks. Will you keep an eye on things for me?”
“Monty! Monty, old chap, of course I will. I won't ask you why, but I thought Kelly was up to no good.”
“No, Jim. Kelly is only doing his duty. He has a good reason to be suspicious and though I'll have to go to the city to clear the matter up and am not afraid of the ultimate result, yet the damage is done. It'll never be the same here. I shall not be able to look them all in the face again, and yet I can't go away and not see the Chadwick's, Jim. What a mess of things I've made, Jim. What a fool I've been! Just for an obsession—to prove that I could steal sheep and cover my tracks so no one would know. Believe me, Jim, it was not for gain—beyond paying back an old score. I did not even think that suspicion could fall on me, but there it is. The only one of us that has done a dishonourable thing and yet I didn't think it dishonourable. I set out to prove I could take sheep—I won't say steal, because it didn't occur to me in that light—in fairly big numbers so that no one could find out. Say good-bye to Phil and your mother. I know you'll make it as light for me as you can. I'm going to the Chadwick's now.”
“Monty, old man, I'm sorry, but in the face of all you have told me I shall still be your friend.”
“I can't see how you can be, Jim. I have taken sheep that didn't legally belong to me. I also tried to take Mabel from you, but to love a girl like her is an honour, although sometimes I have thought Hilda was your favourite.”
“I'm still very fond of Hilda, Monty, but I never thought she cared a rap for me and somehow Mabel's friendship seemed to grow into affection, and finally I asked her to marry me. However, it's not a time to be talking of this, but rather to see the best way to get you out of the mess.”
No one can get me out of the moral side of it, Jim. There is no evidence page 22 page 23 to convict, but I shall have to submit to be arrested on suspicion. Do you know what Kelly said when I showed him some sheep that I said were awaiting a claimant? ‘Carden, if you had not shown me the sheep I could not have detained you. The bales of pelts were not sufficient.’ If you just keep an eye on things, Jim, until I come back I'll be everlastingly grateful. I shall then sell out, or Rex and mother may come back. I'm glad he is out of all this. He refused absolutely to stay on the place if I went on with the business. I refused to stop, so he went and that was the worst blow I ever had. He has not written me, but I expect Phil has heard from him pretty often.”
“Never fear, Monty, I'll look after things for you and will count the days until you come back to us.”
* * *
Monty went to the Chadwicks and found the old man in the workshop.
“Mr. Chadwick, I've come to say good-bye. I'm going away to-morrow for a few days,” he said.
“Anything to do with Sergeant Kelly's visit, Monty?”
“Im afraid it is. Kelly has only done his duty, and I'm going away with him to answer a charge of sheep stealing.”
“Good Lord, Monty! Is it as bad as that?”
“Yes, but whatever the punishment it will be nothing compared with my sorrow and shame for having to lose the goodwill and kindly regard of my Valley friends.”
“You'll not lose that, my boy. Why, boy, whatever you've done, you are your father's son, and your father, with Jeffreys, were my sincerest friends and companions in hardship and toil from the time you were a little kiddie.”
“Anyhow I must get it over—where is Mabel?”
“She is somewhere up the bush track with Hilda building a summer-house,” said Mr. Chadwick.
Monty found them happily engaged in putting a nikau roof on a summer-house.
“Here! catch me, Monty,” cried Mabel as she slid from the eaves.
She was dexterously caught and held until she wriggled free.
“Mabel!” said Monty, “I've something very serious to tell you, if Hilda will be good enough to run away and cut some more nikaus.”
“Better than that, Monty,” said Hilda. “I will go and fetch the billy and something to eat. You have a fire going and we'll have a picnic.”
“Dear Hilda, what a darling she is. Now, Monty what is it you have come to tell me. You look pretty blue, anyhow—and on a day like this!”
Monty told her everything, nor did he spare himself.
“What can you all think of me, Mabel! but please believe this, I didn't commit this theft for mere personal gain. I had an uncontrollable desire to prove that I could steal sheep without anyone finding out.”
“Monty! Monty, what can I say? What can I do to help you? I have thought such a lot about you of late—ever since that evening that I had to say ‘No'—and now you are going away.”
“I'm not worth thinking about, but if I can still retain your goodwill and kindly thoughts, the knowledge will be something to help me lead a life you could respect.”
“Monty, nothing will make me ever believe you other than a gentleman—nothing will alter my respect for you and I'm going to kiss you good-bye now with a wish that things will go right with you.”
“Mabel, don't dear! if you did it would be wrong to Jim. I love you, girl, and I could not stand it. Thank God! here is Jim and Hilda,” and Monty Carden wiped a brow wet with the perspiration engendered by intense feeling.
“No fire for the billy! Where is the fire, Monty? You are a bright one, isn't he Jim? Here get to work at once. You've been a long time telling Mabel this secret,” said Hilda, with bright mischievous eyes.
Jim guessed what it was. “Never mind, Hilda,” he said. “See if I can't find a secret to tell you.”
Hilda bowed her head and only Monty saw the scarlet flush that spread from her soft cheeks to her throat.
(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Auckland—Wellington Limited crossing the Walkanae Bridge, North Island, New Zealand.
“You never tell me anything, Jim—except about your horses and sheep, and you never bring me a horse to ride.”
“They would buck you off,” Jim answered, teasingly.
“Oh! you wretch! you know I can ride anything you can.”
By this time Monty had made a fire, the billy was put on and in due time was boiling. They all gathered round and tea cakes and scones were handed round. Somehow it was not a happy picnic and before the meal was over, Monty got up to go.
“Good-bye all of you. I'm awfully sorry, but I must go. Will see you to-morrow, Jim,” and with a wave of his hand and a long look at Mabel, he was gone.
“What's the matter with Monty?” asked Hilda. “I've not seen him like that before. I'm sure it is about something he told Mabel. What is it, Jim? You look like a Sphinx and Mabel has the blues. Tell me at once,” and she looked questionably from one to the other.
“Can't Hilda,” said Jim, laconically.
“Well then I'll worm it out of Mabel, won't I dear? There's a kiss to drive away the blues,” suiting the action to
(Continued on page 44.)page 24