The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 12 (March 1, 1938.)
The Sheep Stealer — Chapter III
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 three homesteads lay on the west side of a small valley which divided the road from a low range of hills covered with scrub and light bush. The three pioneers had agreed to run a fence parallel with the valley, leaving plenty of room for a frontage road out to the main highway some three miles distant, knowing that these hills, which the road cut off, were of very little use. The main highway, which was scarcely more than a track in places, was very narrow especially where cuttings had been made to protect stock from going over cliffs into the sea below. Sometimes when the wind and tide were suitable, the drovers divided the flock and drove half of them along the beach, thus easing the congestion in the narrow places on the main highway.
One day when it was decided that all hands should go for a picnic to the beach (the valley road was always used on such occasions) Monty was late, so he decided to take a short cut over the hill. To his surprise he found that in several places there had been landslips, leaving perpendicular walls of about six feet high at the edge of the road. These walls were hidden from the road by ti tree, the tops of which stood about three feet above the ridge, and served to confine stock to the road. The congestion in the narrow parts forced the sheep to the edge of the slip and serrations on the edge showed Monty that many had been perilously near falling into the scrub below. How easy it would be, he thought, to stand concealed and pull the sheep over as they passed! The idea became an obsession; the obsession became a determination to try it out. What an opportunity to obtain something back from the man who had swindled his father out of some thousands of pounds!
Monty knew that most of the sheep coming north were owned by one Pete Lowney, the man who had left his, Monty's father, with barely sufficient to keep his promise with Jeffreys and Chadwick to take up the land in Valley Road. The worry and anxiety had certainly shortened Mr. Carden's life, and Monty had never forgotten or forgiven the one who had been the cause of it.
His thoughts ran on. The sheep could be left to find their way about and collected as soon as the drovers were well away. He argued that up to 200 would not be missed out of large mobs numbering 5,000 and upwards until they were tallied, which may not be until they reached their destination.
During the summer months large droves came through from Gisborne— and even further south—within two or three weeks of each other. This would give him ample time to dispose of the sheep between droves. His method of disposal was carried out in accordance with the plans already shown.
He did not forget that when shortages became known the drovers in the future would check up, perhaps five or six times on the journey, until they narrowed down to the area where the shortages occurred. However, he decided to go on while the going was good —small lots at first and gradually increasing—always allowing a mob now and again to go through without molestation.
He calculated that if one drove got through and answered the tally, there would be less outcry and vigilance with the next, but occasionally it would be varied.
Monty's first year's operations were successful, and now he had started again. Although suspicion might be aroused and eventually he might have to give the whole thing up, he was quite confident that his methods and planning were such that there was little fear of actual detection. No one ever saw him dragging the sheep over the cliff and it was done so quickly that there was practically no disturbance among the sheep.
With the right hand he manipulated the ti-tree with the bushy top, bending it outwards as he dragged the sheep down, and immediately putting it back so that no gap appeared. He collected page 45 the animals himself at dawn, putting them in one of the front paddocks. He then went through them alone, earmarked those he could with safety—turned them in the run, and then ochred the remaining ones and put them into the decoy paddock. To this point he worked alone.
Early one morning Monty noticed someone riding along the road towards Chadwicks. Unable to make out who it was, he brought his telescope to bear on the rider. It did not take him long to decide that it was a mounted policeman.
“I wonder what is up?” he said to himself. “I think I'd better have a look around and see that everything is shipshape. He may give me a call on his way back. Well, we have got to meet inquiries some time or other, and this visit, if it's anything to do with sheep, may be the means of pointing out any of the weak spots in my deceptions. I think first I'll divide up the sheep in the decoy paddock as I don't want to lose the lot by having to explain that I found them scattered about and brought them in to save them from straying. Anyhow,” he chided himself, “I may be all wrong and this mounted gentleman may be on an entirely different mission.”
* * *
Sergeant Kelly met Mr. Chadwick at the gate, and was cordially invited in for a cup of tea.
“Anything important, sergeant? You don't often pay us a visit, so I suppose it is important,” and Mr. Chadwick looked inquiringly at the sergeant.
“It's not too pleasant, but I haven't called on you as suspect,” Kelly said, laughingly. “The fact is there are some exceptionally heavy shortages in the Valley from some of the mobs passing here to the north. It has been going on some time, and naturally the drovers have been doing their best to find out where the losses occur. It seems that numerous tallys on the road have checked down to about fifteen miles either side of the hill road. The Auckland people seem to think that the drovers, for the sake of easier going, have taken to the beach and the sheep have been drowned. The drovers, who are absolutely reliable, emphatically declare that only when the wind is blowing off the land and the tide is going out, do they ever use the beach. I have combed twenty or thirty miles of the beach and have found only one sheep that must have been there for months. The captain of the scow trading here says that you, Jeffreys and Carden, ship fat lambs in the season and, occasionally, fat sheep. I've gone through the manifest, and it appears this is only a replica of what you all have been doing for ever so long, with one exception which I will not mention. You three old pioneers came out here, built your homes, turned a wilderness into some of the finest farms in the province, and have left nothing but respect for your names and families. As the latter are carrying on the good work, it is terribly difficult for me to come here on such business. It is not usual for me to enter into lengthy details, and as far as you are concerned—for that matter, Jeffreys, too—it would be unwarrantable for me to cause you a moment's unpleasantness; but I thought you, with your knowledge of the country, might give me some valuable ideas which might lead ultimately to the apprehension of the culprit or culprits.”
“In the first place, sergeant, I thank you for your consideration, but living as we do at the end of the valley, we don't see anything beyond our own boundaries. Of course, the ladies go out riding a good deal, as do also the cadet and Sam Wilcox, our farm hand. They occasionally ride to Te Oko, and if anything out of the ordinary had been seen, they would have told us at once. However, it is only fair that you question the hands, and that we muster the sheep immediately so that you may go through them.”
“That is exactly what I expected, but it is not necessary. With your knowledge of the country, Mr. Chadwick, is there any place within the distance mentioned that large numbers of sheep could break away without being noticed?”
“Yes. At the junction of the Valley Road and the Main Road, but if sheep did break away there, it would be in such numbers that they would be noticed by the drovers, and even so, they would wander down the valley road to find a mouthful and be noticed by some of us. Possibly they might be held until the next mob came along and the drover notified, but so far, to my knowledge, this has not happened. I'm afraid that is all I can suggest. Our front boundary fences are sheep proof right along the road and sheep couldn't get in unless they were deliberately put in. I'm afraid my information won't help you much, although it may eliminate some unnecessary cl.annels of investigation.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chadwick,” said the sergeant, rising as he spoke, “I'll be getting along then; and thanks also for the tea.” With a warm handshake Sergeant Kelly took his departure, promising that he would let Mr. Chadwick know how things were going.
Jim Jeffreys was taking a refractory stump out of his front paddock when the sergeant rode up.
“Mr. Jeffreys, I believe?” said the sergeant.
“That's so,” replied Jim. “What can I do for you?”
“Join the Force,” laughed the sergeant, as he took in Jim's splendid physique.
“I'm afraid I've expended all my strength in trying to get this stump out,” said Jim ruefully.
“Mr. Jeffreys, I am sorry to say I'm on very serious business,” the sergeant went on. “Some hundreds of sheep have disappeared within fifteen miles of here, and I'm trying to find where they've gone to.”
“You don't mean to say that any of us valley people would know anything about them without notifying the owners or drovers? This is a staggerer.page 46 page 47
Since our father came here nothing has ever happened to disturb the feeling of absolute trust we have in one another. A dishonourable action of any kind is unthinkable, and I'm afraid you'll have to look farther afield.” Then with a keen look at the sergeant: “You couldn't have paid this visit though without having had some suspicion?”
“You're quite wrong, Mr. Jeffreys. I've only come to try and get some information that might lead up to a discovery,” replied the sergeant. “You are so much above suspicion that I won't even ask you to muster. Have you seen any stray sheep on the valley road?”
“If any had been seen they would have been rounded up and paddocked until the owner was found,” said Jim.
“Mr. Jeffreys, what sort of a man is Mr. Carden?” asked the sergeant suddenly.
“As fine a man as you would wish to meet.”
“Do you see much of him?”
“Mostly in the evenings—we very often all go up to Chadwick's.”
“What does Mr. Carden go in for mostly?”
“Sheep and pigs,” Jim replied “When he seems short of pig feed he buys any culls from Mr. Chadwick.” The sergeant wrote busily in his notebook.
“Do they always keep him going?” “Why yes, but Monty is too good a farmer to be without swedes or turnips at any time of the year.”
“He has a bone mill and boiling - down shed?” asked the sergeant looking keenly at Jim.
“Yes, but why the question?” asked Jim. “You can see Monty himself, and you'll come back agreeing with me that he's one of the best.”
“Of course, I'm in duty bound to call on him also,” said the sergeant snapping his notebook together as he spoke, “and as it is so late I had better get along.”
“You can have a bed here—you will be welcome and can continue your visit in the morning. It's 5.30 now. Tea at six, then we can have some music and cards.” The sergeant gratefully accepted.
“Have a wander round, or would you prefer to come inside until tea time?” asked Jim, then: “Mumsy, here is Sergeant Kelly of the Mounted Police. He is going to stay the night. Where's Phil? I know! Let's send Bill up to ask Mabel, Hilda and Fred, down, and we'll make a jolly evening of it.”
Mrs. Jeffreys came forward smiling at Jim's exuberance, and gave the sergeant a warm welcome.
Jim was worried. He had a premonition of evil, yet if he were asked he could not tell why, but it seemed to him that Monty must be involved, in some way. Was it possible that he was the cause of this visit from the sergeant? Did he know that tomorrow he would receive a visit from this guardian of the law, and if so, would it matter? Monty was above any kind of suspicion, yet little incidents of late showed some difference from the past frank friendship. There had been restraint. After all this was natural, he told himself. Monty was also in love with Mabel. No! that was not it, there was something else. He remembered the last loading of the scow. There was not the usual interest taken in his friend's consignments. They had always chaffed each other and speculated as to who would get the best prices. Jim could not fail to notice two bales of pelts of Monty's that day: “By Jove, Monty,” he had said. “You must have been a long time getting that lot together?”
“I have been,” Monty had replied, “and as you see I'm trying the English market direct.” Jim had never given it another thought until now. I must send word to Monty that the sergeant is here, he thought, and that he will visit him in the morning. Perhaps, though, it would be better to ask Monty to come over this evening. He straight away sat down and wrote a note which read:—
Come over and spend the evening. Sergeant Kelly of the Mounted Police is staying to-night. I have asked Mabel and Hilda to come, and I thought we would have a jolly evening. The sergeant has called on the Chadwicks also, and is looking in on you in the morning.
“Tom! Please take this note over to Mr. Carden. Either take the pony or go across the paddocks whichever you think easiest.”
Jim returned to the sitting room. He and the sergeant were alone.
“Excuse me, Mr. Jeffreys, but I overheard you asking one of your men to take a note to Mr. Carden. A policeman has many nasty things to do, but the acceptance of hospitality and even friendship must never prevent him from doing his duty, however unpleasant that duty may be. It's my duty now to ask you what you put in that letter?”
In a moment Jim's misgivings came to him afresh—otherwise he would have informed the sergeant in very plain words whaé he thought of him. Instead he said: “I'm afraid you're not rewarding my attempt to give you a pleasant evening by demanding to know what was in a private note. However, I asked Mr. Carden to come over and spend the evening—that the Chadwicks were coming and that he would have the pleasure of meeting you. Since you have asked me what was in the note it's only fair to ask you why did you want to know its contents?”
“Because you can easily have made my investigations much harder,” said the sergeant.
The advent of tea precluded any further conversation on the subject.
(To be continued.)page 48