Nat Gould

His life and books

Bless Me


By Nat Gould.

"Bless me! but that's a first-rate yarn," said Jim O'Hara as Ted Blake, one of the hands on Nanango Station, finished the story he had been urged to relate.

Jim O'Hara was a well-known character about Nanango in Queensland. He had been employed on Nanango Station for many years. He possessed a nickname, conferred upon him by young Harry Belmont. Jim O'Hara was generally known as Bless Me," from a habit he had of constantly using that expression either at the commencement or end of a sentence, just where it happened to fit in best.

“It's not a bad yarn at all," said Harry Belmont, son of the owner of Nanango; "can't you spin us one, Bless Me, just to kill time."

The three men were seated in a boundary rider's hut about thirty miles from the homestead. It was a desolate spot. A few scraggy gum trees, gaunt and white, with some fluttering leaves on the half-naked branches were the sole objects in the monotonous stretch of country around them.

"I dare say I can manage one for you. Ted thinks no one can spin a yarn as well as himself. I've had some queer adventures in my time, bless me! said Jim O' Hara.

It was generally supposed that Jim O'Hara in the old days was given to bushranging and other unlawful pursuits in New South Wales; and that when the colony became too hot for him, he came over the border into Queensland and found a haven of rest and safety at Nanango. It is not the fashion to inquire too closely into the characters of such men as Jim O'Hara in Australia. They are generally good workers, and this satisfies their employers.

"Tell us something about your exploits in the old days," said Harry Belmont. "How you dodged the mounted police, or something of that sort," he added with a roguish smile.

“The mounted police, is it?” said Jim O'Hara. “You'd be hearing about them, would you? They were a rum lot in the seventies, bless me."

“Had you many encounters with them?” asked Harry.

“I don't often speak about those days," said Jim O'Hara; but I'll tell yon how my mate and me beat the mounted police bad one day."

“Fire away," said Harry. “It will be worth hearing."

"I hope so. Bless me," said Jim O'Hara, and commenced his story.

It was in the western district of New South Wales. There were races at Bathurst of some importance then. Bathurst is a fine city now, I believe, with a bishop of its own, and some big public buildings. It was a decent-sized place at the time of which I am speaking. The gold diggings were not far from there, and many a merry time I've had at Bathurst with Meg Money of the Digger's Rest and Bridget Flanigan of the Blue Moon. Meg was the daughter of old Haik Money, and a bonnie lass she was. Bless me!

"Contemplated matrimony in that quarter?” said Harry.
"If it hadn't been for other things I should have married Meg for a certainty. But I would not bring her into trouble along of me. No, bless me if I would."

"Quite right," said Harry, "but what about the mounted police, and the races, and so on?” He did not care to hear much about Jim O'Hara's love adventures. "I'm coming to that," said Jim O'Hara. "Meg was the real cause of our race with the mounted police, hut of course she was innocent of any wrong towards us. Mic Denton was my mate in those days. We had been doing a bit of business between Dubbo and Orange, and we came on to Bathurst for the races. We didn't mind running a little risk; in fact, we rather liked it. Most of the mounted police round there knew us, but had nothing certain to go upon, as we were clever at concealing our doings. Mic knew I had my eye on Meg Money, and he didn't like it. He said women always got a man into trouble. At the Digger's Rest there was good stabling, and three or four racehorses generally put up there. On this occasion Zeno, the favourite for the Cup, was stabled there, and we found out all about his chance through Meg, who wheedled the truth out of the stable lad. Zeno, we heard from her, could not very well lose. We were fairly flush of money, and as there were bookmakers up from Sydney we determined to back the horse. Sergeant Flynn, who would have given a month's pay to get a case against us. was in charge of the Bathurst district. He knew what our little games were, and had almost caught us red- handed on more than one occasion. We little thought he had obtained sufficient evidence against us, and that he had a warrant in his pocket for us. He fancied he could take us better at night, no doubt, when we were in bed at the Digger's Rest. Anyway he did not interfere, with us on the racecourse. We backed Zeno for the Cup, and he won easily; and we were in great spirits, shouting for all hands at the booth, and fooling our money away as only such men do. At night we went back to our quarters, little suspecting what was to happen.

“Mic was for going right away at once. He had keen eyes for the movements of the mounted police, and he fancied Sergeant Flynn had been looking after us during the day. I wanted to have a talk with Meg Money, so persuaded him much against his will to remain at old Money's for the night. It was through my love for Meg we had to ride for liberty that night. We were chatting to Meg and sitting up late. It must have been after midnight when a knock came to the door, which had been barred for the night.

“Who can this be?” said Meg. I'll look.'

"She cautiously peeped through a chink in the shutter, and saw Sergeant Flynn and two officers of the mounted police. She came back and told us, and I could see by Mic's face he knew they were on our track.

“'They've waited to catch us napping,'”said Mic, 'but we'll be even with 'em. Barney with them at the door, girl, while we get a chance at the back'

"The stables were at the rear of the house, and our horses were safely there, as we thought. Judge of our amazement and consternation when we found the stalls empty.

“'That's Flynn's doings,' said Mic. 'He's taken our horses while we have been talking to that girl of yours. Women will be the ruin of you, Jim O'Hara.'

"That's what he said to me, bless me," went on Jim O'Hara.

“An idea struck me. 'We've no time to lose,' I said to Mic. 'Meg can't keep them parleying there long. She'll have to open the door, and when they find we are not in bed they'll be after us. Flynn thinks he has us safe because he's got our horses. I'm going to ride the Cup winner, you can ride his stable mate, Paddy.'

“I could see by Mic's face he liked the idea. We soon had the stable doors open, and looked about for saddles. There were three or four saddles hanging up that were used for exercising the horses, and the bridles were close to them on the wall. Zeno lashed out a bit, and Mic had some trouble with Paddy. Just as we led the horses out I saw a light in our bedroom, and a few seconds later the window was opened.

“'They've found out we're gone,' I said to Mic. 'Hurry up, or we shall be too late.'

"Racehorses are not always as quiet as mice, and we had some trouble in mounting. Zeno plunged and bit at me, but I held on and scrambled into the saddle somehow- bless me! The police were hurrying down stairs, and the back door opened just as Mic got into the saddle. We made for the gate. It was chained, and we could not get through. There was a low stone wall at the back of the yard, and I shouted to Mic, 'Over the wall. We must jump it.'

"Sergeant Flynn caught my horse by the bridle, and I gave him a cut over the hand with the knife I had in my belt. It didn't hurt him much, but enough to make him leave go. I set Zeno at the wall. Most horses will jump when put to it, and he was no exception. He flew it like a bird, and Mic was after me on Paddy. 'Kelso way,' I shouted, 'and then we'll make for the rough country.'

“The police were well mounted in those days, and when they could not go fast enough they sent bullets whistling after people. Zeno and Paddy were too fleet for their horses. It is not often a man can find such a chance mount as a Bathurst Cup winner, and I gloried in the ride. Paddy was not as good as Zeno, and I had to ease my mount, so that Mic could keep up with me. Sergeant Flynn was well mounted on a thoroughbred mare. He soon left his two men in the rear, and we could hear him galloping after us at top speed. We could have done for him, but we never shot at the police when we could avoid it, which is more than can be said on their side. He knew the way we were going, and wanted to come up with us before we reached the bush.

“Over Kelso bridge we galloped as though we never meant to stop. I wondered what Zeno thought of it after his race in the Bathurst Cup that day. He was a thundering good horse, or he would never have carried me so well. The saddle troubled me a bit; it was not what I had been used to, and I fancied every moment it was slipping round. When we had gone four or five miles, Mic called out to me that Paddy was going lame. This was a bad look-out for us, for I was determined to stick to Mic at all hazards. I sang out to know if he thought Paddy would last another four or five miles, and he said 'No.' I knew then there was only one chance for us, and that was to throw Sergeant Flynn off the scent. It was a difficult matter to do this, as he was up to all the tricks of our trade.

“'We shall have to double back on Flynn,' I said to Mic, 'or there will not be much chance for us.'

"'Go on and save yourself,' said Mic 'I can manage all right. I'll blow his brains out before I'm taken.'

"It always went against me to shed blood, or see it shed when there was a chance of preventing it. I have never killed a man in my life, and I'm thankful for it - bless me if I ain't. We were nearing rocky, hilly land, and some parts of it were thickly wooded. 'We can manage to give Flynn the slip a bit further on,' I thought, and I encouraged Mic to do all he could with Paddy. We neared a gully I knew well and here it was I determined to try and beat the sergeant. I asked Mic to dismount, and leave Paddy where he was in the road. It was dark, and I knew when Flynn came across Paddy he would think I had taken Mic up behind me on Zeno and ridden straight ahead.

“'If we can only keep Zeno still,' I said to Mic, 'we are safe. Flynn is sure to push on after seeing Paddy, and the constables will follow him.'

"We hid ourselves and Zeno in the dense brushwood, not far from the track we had left. We hadn't time to move farther away, because the noise might attract the sergeant. We stood stock still and waited. Zeno was almost dead beat or he would have been restless. Presently we heard Flynn gallop up, and almost run full tilt into Paddy, who was standing on the track, where we had left him. The sergeant pulled up, and we could hear him dismount, and knew he was examining the horse. In a few moments he mounted again, and we heard him gallop off in pursuit of us. My plan, so far, had succeeded admirably. We waited until the two mounted constables had gone past after the sergeant, and then crept out of our hiding place. We meant to return by the way we had come, and thought there was no hurry.'

"Would you believe it? That fellow Flynn had done us after all. He had evidently surmised what we meant to do, and had merely galloped on and then waited for the constables to catch up with him. Then all three returned to where we had left Paddy.

"'There's some one behind us,' I said to Mic, as we were walking along the track. Surely Flynn cannot have turned back.'

“'That's just what he has done,' said Mic, and he's bringing the constables with him. They are three to one, and we shall be caught.'

“'Never,' I said. 'Get on to Zeno, and I'll get up behind. We'll make a run for it anyhow. The horse was well-nigh done, but he had a spurt or two left in him, and struggled on. We heard the constables riding behind us, and they were evidently in pursuit. A bullet whistled past us. A shot had been fired in the dark.

“' That did not come from behind," said Mic. “Pull up."

“It was risky to pull up, but we did so, and I sang out 'Who fired?'

“I heard a voice, I knew well, reply 'Why, it's Jim!'

"In an instant I had slipped off and rushed into the brushwood, not far from the track, and found Meg Money there, standing by a horse and with a pistol in her hand. It was almost too dark to discern her figure, but I was used to seeing in the dark.

"'One moment,' I said to Meg Money, and I ran back to Mic. I could hear the constables' horses clattering down the hill.

“'Go on,' I said to Mic, 'Meg's here with a horse. I'm safe enough.' He took in the situation at a glance, and rode on. I went back to Meg, and we heard the police ride by.

“They never caught Mic, and I got clear away too.

“Meg had brought my horse that the constables had locked up in another stable, and had ridden out to see if she could be of use to us. She thought it was the constables going past when she fired.

“' I did not mean to hit any one,' she said, 'merely to attract attention so that it would put them off the scent.'

“'But you forgot the rise in the ground,' I said, 'and although you may have fired high, the bullet went close past my ear. I'd sooner be shot by the police than by you, Meg.'

“The poor lass cried when she saw how near she had gone to killing me. In the morning Meg Money walked back to Bathurst and I rode away on my own horse. Never saw her again," went on Jim O'Hara with a sigh, "and soon after that I found it better to come over the border into Queensland. Nanango was the first station I got work on, and I've been here ever since, and I expect I shall die here, bless me."

"And what became of Meg ?” asked Harry. “It is an interesting yarn."

"She married," said Jim O'Hara.

“Who was the happy man?” asked Harry.

"Sergeant Flynn, bless me!” said Jim O'Hara.

Bless Me by Nat Gould was published on 5 December 1896 in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.