|Well I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Christ! Joe looked good and that was despite the copper’s
uniform he wore, which now as I recall was a little tight, Sergeant
Devine, who I learnt after was locked up in the cells in his
underclothes, being a slighter man. Joe…well he was
thinner in the face than the last time I saw him and his curls straying
every which way for sure, but still those eyes that looked inside you.
And that smile, Holy Mary, that smile was enough to make you lie down
right there and then. But it weren’t just that- after reading
his letter I knew he needed me too, though I didn't know quite how much.
There was a moment or two when we just stood there looking, Joe reminding Ned of me name and Ned grinning at me. “Aye, I remember, lass, the one that saved us them horses in Greta. Sold them for a good price too, we did.”
But I was having the same trouble as Joe, not looking anywhere but straight ahead taking in the changes that three years had made. I don’t mind telling ye my heart was pounding against me chest- all the years of waiting for him was over. I couldn’t stop grinning and me fingers were aching to touch him, so I just stepped up brazen as you like, me hands on his shoulders and kissed him, right there in front of Constable Richardson and in the middle of the street, and nothing had ever felt better.
All that time without him was forgotten in an instant, he made me want him and I didn’t care if all the coppers in New South Wales nor every citizen of Jerilderie saw it. I could feel Joe smile as he kissed me back, his hand on me neck, just gentle and soft like he wanted to make sure I knew it was about more than them sort of relations. But all the time, well, he knew, he always seemed to know when you wanted him. I thought I might just burst into flames like one of them bushes in the desert that suddenly just get too hot. But it weren’t God speaking to me, it was Joe.
“Ah well now, Evie, I got me answer then,” Joe whispered in me hair and he pulled me into his chest, held me tight there, and just let the fall of his breath match mine. I could have stayed there all day, be like one of those statues you see in the big towns right in the middle of the main street. But I don’t think the authorities are ever gonna allow a statue of him, all them kings and queens and military folk taking up all the room, well that and I don’t suppose they would want to celebrate a man who stole their money, burnt their precious mortgages, and killed their coppers no matter what the reasons was. Oh but I am getting ahead of meself now.
“Joe, sure I am not one for breaking up a happy reunion, Christ knows we could do with some cheer, but in case it had slipped yer mind, mate, we are on our the way to rob the bank.” Ned was bending to speak to him. Makes me smile now, maybe Joe just did forget for a while.
“You’re robbing the bank?”
“Well lass, we haven’t joined the force if that’s what yer thinking. Constable Richardson here has been showing us round the town, while we got the measure of it all.”
I just stood back a bit, but Joe’s hands never left me, not for a second, just catching a curl at the back of me neck or touching me shoulder while Ned explained that they had come to Jerilderie because there was a press in town and they needed to print a letter to send to a judge, telling the truth, outlining their grievances, and so forth. Oh and another 500 hundred copies to distribute so that no one in the colony would be under any misapprehension about the lies of Constable Fitzpatrick and the injustice done to Ned’s mother.
A smile and then Ned finishes by saying, “But seeing as we are here and our friends and family have been blacklisted from their selections and locked up leaving crops to rot in the fields, well we thought we might just relieve the bank of some of its ill-gotten gains, what do you say to that now Evie?”
I grinned back, me eyes flitting to look at Constable Richardson who was getting more and more agitated but seeming unable to move a muscle apart from those on his face that made him frown. Joe and Ned didn’t seem to pay him any mind, sure they had guns but couldn’t give a damn anyhow, like it was natural as anything to kidnap a copper. Maybe after all these months they just lost any fear of men like him who never stood as tall as them, well that’s if they had any fear in the first place.
“Where are ye staying, Evie?” Joe’s eyes were dark and full of everything we was gonna do, so much that I could feel the ground shift under me, “So I know where to find ye?”
“Next to the bank. I work next to the bank in the Royal Mail.”
Ned shook his head, “Well now there’s a turn up eh? I’ll be needin you to serve the good people of Jerilderie some beer, Evie lass, and since the bank has a lot of our money anyhow we may as well let them buy us all a drink or two.” A hand on Constable Richardson’s shoulder and it was obviously time, Ned thought, to get gone.
Me fingers were in amoungst Joe’s and I couldn’t quite bring meself to let go. “Let me come too, just let me come with you,” I didn’t care if it sounded like begging. Little echoes of when he had asked me to come with him flashing through me mind, he had wanted me then and I wasn’t ready, not ready to throw everything into the fire, but with God as me witness I was ready now. I could see the silent discussion between him and Ned, those two so close that they didn’t need to speak, and then it was decided, just like that, where me place needed to be and at that one moment I knew too. As much as I wanted Joe, they was outlaws and there was no time right now for a stroll along the boards like I seen those ladies do. If Ned wanted beers served, he was gonna have them, and Joe…well me and Joe would be together before the dawning of the next day, of THAT I had made up me mind.
“While we are holding up the bank, lass, we need you to keep the hostages happy, well I don’t suppose they’ll be too upset anyhow. Will you do it for me, Evie?”
Well he and I knew that I could cut off me own arm if that was what he wanted.
“Will you do it for me, Evie?” Christ, I can still hear it clear in me head, but I didn’t need to do anything to make such a drama, just had to say “yes” and he smiled, a stroke of Joe’s fingers down me face and I could have cried with longing for him.
The next few hours I spent pulling many a pint and laughing, me smile so wide it nearly broke me jaw, all the while watching the door for Joe, but instead seeing Ned’s brother Dan turn up with more unwitting hostages. And Joe had been right—no one seemed to be too worried, customers of the bank nor the staff, well except for the school teacher, he’d been made to sign a notice giving all the kids the day off in honour of the Kelly Gang. Mr. Cox, the bar owner, once he got over the shock of it all, seemed to think the circumstances could do nothing but good for the Royal Mail, and he puffed up at the promise of being known as the bar where the Kelly Gang holed up.
I even saw Joe once when him and Ned arrived with the bank manager, Mr. Tarleton. He didn’t look quite so pleased as the rest of the customers we had now and that’s for sure, all red faced and sweating. Everyone else was hanging on Ned’s words, laughing as he threw a bag of sovereigns on the bar shouting, “Drink up boys!” like a holiday Sunday it were, except that we hadn’t just been to mass. Then they was gone again to go cut down the telegraph poles, Dan said.
At last Joe comes up to the bar, but he wasn’t smiling. “Evie, come with me lass, we need yer help.” Well I was out of there like a shot out of one of them pistols, not even a word to Mr. Cox, and Joe had me hand in his running across the street. “That bastard Gill the printer, he’s gone and run off, the bloody coward. Christ, we have the whole of Jerilderie contented and staying put, and the only man we need has effin’ run away!”
The print shop was empty apart from Ned and Mrs. Gill. Ned’s hands and his eyes were nervous even if the rest of him wasn’t, turning the papers in his hands over and over. Mrs. Gill was beside the printing press with her hands on her hips, an argument going on between her and Ned about the fact that nothing could be done, her husband couldn’t print the document if he weren’t there, then her attention turned to me. “Evie McBride! What are you doing here with these scoundrels?”
Joe, he just looked at me like it was alright to say that he had made me come, but I didn’t, I didn’t want to say that ‘cos it weren’t true, so I just looked her back in the eye, “ They are the Kelly Gang not scoundrels, Mrs. Gill. Ned here, his mother is locked up for nowt, and they have been hunted by the police intent on killing them. I’d say I am here because they need us folk to do what we can to help them.”
Well she just stared at me. “What can you expect from a barmaid?” kind of seeping out of her mouth with all the poison of one of them funnel-web spiders me Ma was always telling us to watch out for.
Without seeing him I could feel Joe step forward, the air all still, but she were nothing and I put me hand out to touch him. “What do you want me to do?”
Jesus, but it was hard work! Joe was off trying to track down Mr. Gill, and Ned was reading out words from his letter while I struggled with the type, little pieces of lead letters all upside down and placed back to front, and all the while Mrs. Gill bellyaching about how her husband wouldn’t like his type being messed up. Felt quite proud of meself when I at last got the first little bit done.
I wish to acquaint you with some of the occurrences of the present, past, and future.
Well it seemed to take hours already just that little bit, and there were still pages more to go that I could see in his hand. Me eyes were straining to see the letters, trying to put them in order and straight with all the dots and spaces in the right places, while the afternoon slipped into the evening and the lamps were lit. I tried hard to keep up with Ned reading, he was pacing around and leaning over me shoulder, but we had to keep stopping and going back, then sometimes I just couldn’t find the letter and would curse out loud, which no doubt only served to lower Mrs. Gill’s opinion of me still further.
It was a gloomy tale alright, and I had only got so far as when Ned was arrested after a fight with Constable Hall, all over a horse that Wild Wright had seen fit to relieve the post master of, when we both stopped to laugh, well maybe not laugh exactly but smile at each other at the sentiment of it. He said how them coppers had tied him up like a bullock and Hall had beat him around the head, leaving a trail of blood right across the street, his blood
which spoiled the lustre of the paint on the gate-post of the Barracks Hall.
I was taking a quick stretch when Joe comes back in, all breathless and effin this and cussing that. “I can’t find the bastard, Ned, I think he’s run off into the bush.” Joe glanced down to the type and seeing how little we had done, put his hand on Ned’s shoulder, “I am sorry, mate. I looked all over, he must be hiding like a jack rabbit in some hole.” Ned seemed to be engaged in some other thoughts and Joe came to sit next to me, on the bench in front of the press. Christ, he smelled good, all fresh night air and leather.
“Made yer mind up to change out of the Blue then?” I teased.
As I said it, I swear there was a little flush in his cheeks before he grinned, “Aye well, can’t say as it was me favourite look, thought ye might prefer me like I am.” I never had a clue what he would say next ever, but whatever it was, it usually made me whole body melt like the snow in spring. I was about to answer, well I may have been able to speak, when he picks up me hands, me fingers all red and sore and black from the type and holds them tight, his hands cold from riding round outside and making me jump. “Ah now, let me help yer.”
But he didn’t turn to pick up the type like I thought, instead he pulled me hand to his mouth and pressed his lips onto the tip of every finger. How I didn’t make a noise I will never know, I could feel just the touch of his tongue and it went right through me, right all the way down to me boots.
Well if I thought the typesetting was hard before, this was 20 times worse. I could feel Joe looking at me, feel his smile, and I was tingling every time his fingers brushed over mine reaching for an A or an H, imagining those fingers elsewhere, and then when he kissed me neck, Christ, I could hardly see straight never mind fit those little letters in.
“Joe, I’ve an idea.” Ned was looking as pleased as he could in the situation, it being evident that even if I didn’t have the distractions of Joe’s thigh against mine, it would still take us a month of Sundays to get to the end. “We will leave this manuscript here with the lovely Mrs. Gill and sufficient funds to cover the costs of printing. I am sure that her husband will return once we have gone, no doubt called away on important business,” the colour in his voice belying his words. Mrs. Gill looked none too impressed with the idea of any future dealings with the Kelly Gang, but all the same she wrote out a receipt all official like for the money and the manuscript he gave her. “We will be back, Mrs. Gill, if you would be so kind as to pass on that message to your husband.”
With that we stepped out into the street and I could feel every breath I took, Joe was inches away and I couldn’t hardly look at him except out the side of me eyes. Ned dug down into his pocket and with a wink at Joe he threw a key across the space between them. “I’ll do the watch…well me, Dan, and Steve.” Nodding to the key, “Tarleton’s living quarters up above the bank...make a change to have a bed, wouldn’t you say?” A pat on me shoulder and Ned was away, headed back to The Royal Mail.
It was finally here. Jesus, I can hardly catch me breath even now, he was fingering the key and stealing a look at me. “Ah come on now, Evie,” and his voice broke the spell, his arm round me waist and a grin as he leaned to kiss me, and well once he started, I dunno quite how we made it over the street and up the stairs, me legs moving of their own accord. All I could feel was his mouth and his hands, I never kissed anyone like that, almost like I was starving for lack of food and he was the only thing I could eat.
We was hardly in the door before I pulled him up against me body, well I don’t know how to say it exactly, but I could feel him hard against me belly. Even over the top of the cloth of me dress his hands were making me burn, I just wanted everything right then.
I think I still had a moan on me lips when he pulled back, “You missed me then, lass,” and his hands were all over the skin of me neck and me shoulders, slipping buttons through cloth so he could touch more, smiling at me.
As I recall it took me a minute to focus me eyes on his face. “You know that I did Joe, but I am done with waiting now,” I was still breathing hard.
“Aye me too, Evie, could ha’ taken you right there in the street,” And he laughed, well and me too, it was the bloody truth and all. “But we got all night, and I’ve a mind to use it all up, and you know what lass, I’ll still be here in the morning.”
With that he took me hand and led me through the parlour, straight on past the kitchen in the corner of which stood a huge iron bath still full of water from when Joe and Ned had burst in on Mr. Tarleton taking his ablutions in the middle of the day, and on to a room off the side, well it was dark but I could see the bed. I swallowed hard, for the first time since I saw him earlier that day I was nervous, like now it came to it. Joe Byrne was gonna have me body, me, and I was gonna have his. The enormity of it all hit me on the head. He was lighting a lamp, coaxing the flames with his hands to set it to a low glow, pulling back sheets, and me just frozen to the spot.
I watched a little line of worry flick over his eyes when he looked up at me standing there like an idjut. “Evie, are you alright?”
“I will be when you kiss me.”
He smiled one of those Joe smiles that could make yer knees give way and pulled me over to the bed, creak of the springs as we both sat on the edge of it, well on the edge of many a thing I would say.
“Better come here then.” His hands on me shoulders and his mouth on mine all the way down into the pillow at my back. I can’t ever think of the words, apart from looking up to see his face above mine, the glow from the lamp catching his eyes and his curls, the way he was looking at me and the taste of his mouth, apart from that, even if that wasn’t enough, it were something more about the earth. Well to put it plainly, like me body had decided that it wanted his. I could feel myself getting ready for him, I expect you know what I mean, and I know that he could sense it too, his kisses pressing into me mouth while his hands pulled up the edge of me dress, I was shivering underneath him when his fingers stroked over the skin on me thighs, me hands in his hair so I could kiss him harder.
Ah perhaps I shouldn’t be telling yer all this anyhow, you can tell me if ye want me to stop, but it were part of who he was, so I will just blush while I say, pay it no mind.
“Will ye let me take this off so as I can see you, my beauty?” That’s what he said. I can’t recall whether I answered in English, but I just shut me eyes and let him unbutton me dress, and even though he wasn’t even touching me skin, the pull of each one was like another step down. Me dress off, I felt him pull at the ribbons on me shift, intent he were on each and every one of them until it was all done and about to fall open.
He slipped the cloth off me shoulders before he looked down at me, and I know I heard him catch his breath. His fingers brushed over the outline of me skin, so gentle like he was tracing a picture he had held in his mind. “I’ve thought about you, lass, imagined what you would feel like, the curve of yer belly, the shape of yer breasts, sometimes, lying on that hard ground in the night, I could almost feel you. But it weren’t ever so soft, Christ, I never imagined you were so soft.”
“ Joe…” I know I said it and reached to pull his mouth to me breast, and Jesus, I thought I would just die right then, I kept glancing down to see his face and his mouth and his tongue before a swell of it all almost overtook me and I had to shut me eyes tight again. What happened next I will have to take a deep breath to tell ye.
His fingers reached down over me belly, he was so gentle and slow I swear I was about to push him down with me own hand, I was almost begging him to touch me, me hips lifting up from the bed, and then he did. I heard him mutter something about Jesus and the Holy Mary, he just found out how much I wanted him I guess. His mouth left me breast to kiss me, and I could feel him losing control too, his gasps as hard as mine.
His fingers just moved slow at first and then inside me body, and Jesus, when he touched that place with his thumb too, well I thought someone might fetch the police for the noise I made, and maybe they would had there been any to fetch I suppose.
It were said that Joe knew everything about how to please a woman, and well I can’t go into it all, but I thought before this night that I knew myself, Christ, I had enough practise. He made me wonder what I’d been doing all these years, how his fingers could feel better than me own. Mine could move as fast or slow or hard or soft as his were doing, but he just did it right.
I was shaking with the touch of him, whimpering against his mouth and clinging to him, me hands having pulled his shirt from his breeches so as I could feel all his skin. It helped to take me mind off what he was doing to me for a second so I didn’t just fall there and then, I never wanted him to stop, I swear I wanted him to promise never to stop doing it.
Not that I had a single thought in me head right then about those others I had been with, but well I suppose I expected him to move on top of me like they all did without too much of a wait neither But Joe, well, he was kissing all over me skin, whispering about how I was his and beautiful and how it would have been worth waiting 10 more years to see me under his hands, all soft and wet, and all the while his fingers moved. I just couldn’t stop meself...It was like falling down over a steep gully and rejoicing at the same time. A Hallelujah between me legs yer might say, though me perhaps be best not to print that bit eh? Christ! I was between breathless and worry that I shouldn't have, that he'd think bad of me. But he just slowed and let me catch me breath and kissed me and smiled at me like the cat that got the cream.
I can’t quite recall exactly how we got there but the next time I could think instead of just feel, we were completely naked in the lamplight, him lying between me legs so as I could feel the bone of his hips against the softness of me thighs and his cock right there, and I knew in that second that he would have it all. His hands were on me face looking right at me when he did.
Every bit of space and every breath I had he took it, took all me cries and shudders and curses and returned them all back to me, used up and grateful. He just knew how to do it, maybe he was just born like that. He knew how to press so deep that yer didn’t know where you were in the world except for around him. His hands was on me hips, tipping them that way he did to make it all feel like more, smooth and gentle, and I never thought I could feel so much in one go when he just stopped moving for a second.
“Evie, my beauty, look at me.”
I reached me fingers up to his mouth and for the second time that night he kissed them, closing his eyes so his lashes brushed his cheeks. And I did look at him, dark tanned muscles holding himself up over me, a layer of sweat on his body that was making his hair curl even more round his neck.
“Joe do it, I want you.”
He smiled, and oh Jesus, I tell ye think I nearly fainted when he did what I asked. Joe was so strong I think he could have pushed me into next week if he had wanted to, and well... if all relations with men were like this it would be a wonder anyone got out of bed on a morning.
We just lied together until we were cold, waves of feelings waking me from a doze to kiss his chest or his hand, and him the same, drifting off then hugging me tight and whispering me name. And well, I won’t describe the whole night for yer, but when I saw the light come through the window and he was still there next to me, his arm across me body, fast asleep and beautiful as the day I first saw him, I could hardly stop me heart from bursting.