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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 11 (February 1, 1938)

The Sheep Stealer

page 44

The Sheep Stealer

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.

“While the brothers worked, Rex had been chewing things over in his mind.”

“While the brothers worked, Rex had been chewing things over in his mind.”

Monty Carden leaned over a rail of the sheep pen attached to the woolshed. He was thinking deeply, and evidently his thoughts were not particularly pleasant, judging from the frequency of change of position and the deep scowl which had settled on his face. There were about 170 sheep in the pens—ewes, hoggets and weathers—in various grades of condition.

Monty Carden was a fine stamp of young man—clean-limbed, with broad shoulders and of medium height; he was clad only in a pair of dungarees and a low-cut, blue flannel singlet, exposing a well-developed chest deeply tanned by constant exposure. Suddenly he straightened himself.

“Rex,” he called.

“Righto—coming,” and a young man vaulted the rails of the outside yards as he spoke, and joined his brother.

“I think we'll go through this mob to-night, Rex. Get the red ochre handy. I'll mark all the ones we can't cover with our earmark and they can go into No. I paddock for a week or so. If any trouble comes of it, I can simply say that they were held awaiting a claimant.”

“I don't like this business, Monty. As sure as one thing we'll be nabbed some day. Besides, it's pretty rotten on the drovers to be too or so short every trip, and they have always been very decent to us. We are quite well enough off without sheep-stealing.”

“Dry up, Rex. You are too soft for this game. You catch, and I'll ochre and use the ear-mark where I can. It may run out about 50/50. As a rule our mark is just sufficiently large enough to cut out the average single ear-mark which young sheep usually carry—the old beggars which have changed hands so often, one dare not touch—so the red ochre goes on them.

“Thanks for your instructions, Monty,” said Rex, somewhat stiffly, “but you seem to forget I helped you with last year's unholy catch and I swore it would be the last—yet here I am helping you again. If poor old dad was alive he would shoot the pair of us, and if mother knew it would break her heart. Monty! let's chuck it before it's too late. What would the Jeffreys and Chadwicks think of us?”

“Never mind the Jeffreys and Chadwicks,” exploded Monty.

“Is Mabel included in that remark?” asked Rex, carefully indifferent.

“No, she isn't, but in any case I'll have her as well,” Monty flung back.

“Anyhow, that's enough of that; let's get this lot finished and talk after.”

When the drafting was over 75 young sheep were sent over to the Run with the general flock and the balance, 52, put into a front paddock.

While the brothers worked Rex had been chewing things over in his mind. Suddenly he burst out: “Now, look here, Monty, you have got to let me out of this. I'd hate to have a breach with you and I know that so far I have committed myself and that we're both equally liable, but I shall go no further. If you want to carry on with this nefarious traffic you must carry on without me. That's final!”

“Have you calculated what that means, Rex? You couldn't carry on the farm here and know what was going on without becoming an accessory to the fact, and you can't leave, as it would kill mother.”

“Then, Monty, for old times’ sake, chuck it,” pleaded Rex. “Forget all about this mad idea of making extra money in this way. We have a good farm and it's only a matter of time when we can sell and retire.”

Monty's face hardened, but there was a curious, unfathomable glint in his eyes. “I'm afraid I must carry on alone,” he said. “You must do as you think best. If it means a break I'll find the cash for your share of the farm.”

“But what about mother, Monty?”

“Well, you'll have enough money to settle somewhere else and take mother with you. However, you can settle all that. I don't want to discuss it any more. You find the way out—you can have the money when you have decided.” There was finality in his tone.

* * *

With furrowed brow Rex whistled page 45 his dogs and returned to the homestead.

Rex decided to take his mother to Auckland for a change, to which she readily consented, and the disagreement between the two sons was not mentioned.

Monty Carden was a likeable enough young man. He had a pleasant word for all with whom he came in contact. He had a dignified manner and to all outward appearance was a gentleman. It was hard to understand his obsession for sheep-stealing which he carried out with all the cunning and forethought of a clever criminal. Last year's haul amounted to roughly 500 sheep. Three hundred of these went into the general run and 200 were killed. The pelts were dried, trimmed and baled for export direct, and the fat was rendered down, while the carcases were boiled. Anything fat was sold to neighbours and the Maoris.

The success of last year's operations urged him to try and double the haul, and to deal with the extra killings, he had bought over 100 pigs. Fern country —right at the back of the farm was fenced into two, 25 acre runs. Some of the carcases were fed out raw, and all bones dry enough, were put through a small bone mill which provided considerably more than enough manure for the farm. To cover any inquiries that might be made he bought every bone the Maoris would sell him. He was thus able to sell any surplus without suspicion.

Culled sheep of his own flocks he killed also, and these shortages he supplemented by entering into his tally book a percentage of lamb over and above the actual against any normal increase of his flock, so that in the event of a muster, the tally was not far out. Monty recognised that one man could not handle the business, and he was obliged to call in the assistance of one of the three Maoris he employed. He knew there was a danger in this proceeding, but he minimised it by doing the skinning himself and immediately burning the part with the ears on. He never attempted to handle more than could be finished by 3 o'clock and by tea-time, everything was disposed of, fed out to the pigs, burned, or in the boiler.

He was careful always to keep a few fresh skins with his own ear-mark hanging about. Monty had installed an elderly housekeeper—a week's batching was quite sufficient—and things in that direction assumed more or less a comfortable and orderly state.

* * *

Chapter II.

The more lonely Monty Carden became through the absence of his mother and Rex, the more he wanted Mabel, so he often saddled his horse and rode to the Chadwicks, some two miles from his own homestead.

The Chadwicks, Jeffreys, and Cardens took up adjoining sections in a valley in the earlier days. Jeffries and Carden, senior, were dead, and the respective farms were now carried on by the sons. Mr. Chadwick was still alive, but although hale and hearty, he was getting past the age of strenuous farm work. His wife and two daughters, Mabel and Hilda, with the assistance of a cadet and farm hand carried on the work of their farm. Both Mabel and Hilda could do anything on the ranch as well as a man, but with all the work they had not lost their refinement. Any useful knowledge the cadet acquired was taught him by the girls.

One evening Monty rode up to the Chadwicks’ gate, slid off his horse and threw the reins over a post.

“Hello, Mabel, finished tea yet?” he called.

“Just in time, Monty, come right in,” greeted Mabel. “Why, you're quite a stranger. I thought that now Rex and your mother were away you would increase your visits tenfold, as you know you're always welcome.” “Might wear it out, Mabel, and you know absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“Here's Monty come to tea. Set him a place, Hilda.” She stepped off the verandah into her garden and picked a white rosebud. “Come here, stranger, and I'll adorn you,” and she placed it in his button - hole. “White for purity,” as she patted down the lapel.

“I'm afraid that won't apply to me, for I feel very tempted to kiss you.” She drew back with a pained look on her sweet face.

“That would spoil everything, Monty.”

“One minute, Mabel. I did not come here for tea only. I came expressly to speak to you and for the life of me I can't help it. I am a sorry lovemaker, but I love you and if you don't love me I'm going on trying to make you till the cows come home.”

“I'm sorry, Monty, old boy, but it's impossible. You know quite well that I have given my love for what it is worth to Jim, but that doesn't prevent my being a loyal friend to you in every way.” A tear glistened on her eyelashes.

“Hey, Mabel! Monty! come to tea else you won't have any.”

“Coming, Hilda. We've just been watching the lovely sunset,” answered Monty.

Hilda laughed as they came in.

“When did the sun start to set in the East?” she asked.

“There was a change this evening. The sun was set in the East and it wasn't at all pretty,” Monty whispered to Hilda as he passed to take his seat at the table.

“Well, how are things going at the farm, Monty? Plenty of work, I'll bet,” said Mr. Chadwick. “By the way,” he added, “the scow will be in to-night. High tide at eleven. So we'll all have to be quick and busy tomorrow for the skipper will want to get away just before the full.”

“By Jove! Mr. Chadwick, I'd for-
“She drew back with a pained look on her face.”

“She drew back with a pained look on her face.”

page 46 page 47 gotten all about the blarmed boat. We've got about twenty fat pigs to go and thirty fat lambs and other stuff. If Jim doesn't drop in to-night I'd better call in and tell him on my way home.”

The meal proceeded with much merriment and banter although Mabel seemed strangely silent. It was late when Monty took his leave and there was no opportunity for further conversation with Mabel.

The Jeffreys' farm was between Cardens' and Chadwicks' and about a mile from either. Jim was just going to bed when Monty called.

“Hello, Monty,” called Jim from his window, in answer to Monty's whistle. “What's wrong wandering about this time of night?”

“Well, I thought I'd better let you know the boat will be leaving about eleven tomorrow morning. Old man Chadwick told me. I've just left there and am on my way home.”

“Won't you come inside, Monty?” asked Jim.

“Too late, but I did want to have a little chat. There is something as man to man I ought to tell you, considering that the Cardens, Jeffreys and Chadwicks have spent most of their lives within cooey of each other and have always joined together in all their recreations and bits of fun.”

“I'm listening,” said Jim, “but I can't get what you're driving at.”

“Well, Jim, it is this. I have known for quite a while that you and Mabel were fond of each other and I've known for quite as long that I was fond of her also and I can't see for the life of me why I should surrender while there is a fighting chance. I asked her this evening and was turned down.”

“If you knew, Monty, that Mabel and I were as good as engaged, do you think it was playing the game?”

“Playing the game! I'm letting you know now that I'll do everything in my power to win her,” replied Monty. “Good night, Jim. I've given you something to think about.”

“Good night, Monty, I know how I should feel if it were the other way about, and as long as your intentions are not distasteful and Mabel changes her mind, which I don't think she will, I can say nothing.”

“My intentions be what they may, have nothing to do with you, Jim.”

“Oh, yes, they have, quite a lot at present. Mabel is my care, and I trust she always will be, and I don't think, nor do you, that I would stand by and see her distressed by your actions, Monty.”

“What could you do, anyhow?”

“Oh, I don't know,” Jim replied. “I'll just give you a fair warning. Behave like a gentleman towards her and what could I say or do? Be otherwise, and I will thrash you. Anyhow, Monty Carden, play the game and I will always be your friend.”

Monty's eyes blazed. “Thrash me, you great clumsy yokel,” he yelled. “Not on your sweet life!”

The two glared at each other, then Jim pulled himself together. “Go home, Monty. You are not yourself tonight.”

In the dim light Jim watched Monty ride away and stood for sometime at his window wondering why they had not come to blows. He knew Monty was no coward and could only surmise that his restraint was due to his not wishing to make a final break in their long friendship. He started as he became aware that his mother was calling him. The sound of their voices had awakened her.

“Coming, mother. There's nothing wrong. It was just Monty who called in to tell me the scow was leaving tomorrow at eleven and then we had a talk about other things.”

Jim's mother was a dear and she lived only for her son and daughter. No mother could have had a son more gentle and thoughtful than Jim—six feet in his stocking feet, clean, athletic limbs, broad shoulders and a smiling, handsome face with a crown of fair curly hair.

(Rly Publicity photo.) Interior of one of the new 56 ft. Second-class cars, seating 56 passengers, recently introduced on the Main Trunk Line, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly Publicity photo.)
Interior of one of the new 56 ft. Second-class cars, seating 56 passengers, recently introduced on the Main Trunk Line, North Island, New Zealand.

None of the three pioneer neighbours neglected their children's education. When they were too old for a governess they were sent to Auckland to the best schools available. They made the most of their time and when they came home their parents supplied them with plenty of good books—the best money could buy.

Here, then, could be found three families, away in the backblocks, 25 miles from the nearest store and served with a mail only once a week. Communication was by scow, once a fortnight—weather permitting. (The landing was three miles away). Pioneers in the truest sense of the word, yet with grown-up sons and daughters who would be at home in the highest social gatherings. Thus proving that, however hard, work on the farm may be, even when combined with many distasteful duties, gentleness, sympathy and refinement can still be retained.

Phil, Jim's sister, was a young lady that all liked and many admired. She enters little into this narrative beyond her association with the Chadwick girls and her friendship for Monty and Rex. The latter she liked very much and they exchanged letters frequently. Rex would have asked her to marry him had it not been for his complicity with Monty over the sheep stealing. Some day he promised himself he would tell her all about it, but it was impossible while his brother continued in his present ways. Although Rex handled sheep for his brother which he knew were stolen, he never actually knew how Monty procured them, nor did he ever assist in the stealing.

(To be continued.)