|I can’t tell ye what it was like to wake up
and see Joe’s face on the pillow next to mine, and I was in
no hurry to wake him. I just curled meself up and laid there watching
the rise of his chest and the little stirrings in his muscles, but
mostly watching his face…Jesus, any lines of trouble and
anger were smoothed away, and I could see that lad who jumped in the
creek with Aaron Sherritt. I stretched out me hand, just hovering like
one of them bright blue dragonflies over the still pond water in summer.
“I don’t think they made it illegal to touch an outlaw as yet Evie,” his eyes was still closed.
I couldn’t help but smile. “No, I don’t suppose they did. Old Queen Victoria might have a revolution on her hands if she outlawed that now, eh?”
I could see the crease of smiles around his eyes. Nothing is ever simple with Joe, well nothing ever was. “I guess you will just have to be the one leading the charge then, lass. As for the Queen, she better watch her step.”
He eventually opened his dark brown eyes to look full square at me, the inches between us begging to be filled. Joe took to kissing me gentle, moving closer to me so as could almost feel the heat from his skin, and then he took me hand, his mouth was hardly off mine when he says, “Like I said, there’s no law against touching.”
With me hand under his, he carried me fingers down over his chest, and over those hips I had felt so close, and then well, I expect I took the sort of deep breath I am taking now….Ah now, you know what it was he wanted and I did too. He was just beautiful, every bit of Joe Byrne was beautiful, smooth and precious and all I wanted and when he let go of me so as I could just touch him, I was shivering with the power of it all. He kept right on kissing me, but I got to feel what he liked by the way he pressed into me mouth when I moved me hand.
There was something about Joe, whatever it was he took from you, whatever you did for him, it came back a hundred times stronger. So here I was, well how to say it now- making his cock harder- ah well we all know what it’s like, and yet the feel of him pressing into me hands, the look on his face, Christ I can still see it now, those eyes flashing at me and the way he would bite his lip, the sound of breathing hard, and that way he said “Oh Jesus...Evie...” well it made ME feel like I was gonna burst into flames too. I could almost feel his heartbeat fast and strong when his hand came over mine and he closed his eyes to catch his breath.
“Evie, I have to go this morning, you know that, lass. So will ye let me love yer again before I do?”
I think I swallowed the sob that came into me mouth and did me best to smile. “Anyone ever say ‘No’ to that Joe?”
A grin on his face, “None that springs to mind, lass, but then I’ve not much else on me mind but doing this...”
It was faster and more than the night before, something about it being light and the world definitely outside that door waiting to come in. Well that and he were about ready to spill all that stuff before we even did it. Makes me smile even now, I wouldn't have cared if he had in me hand- he was all I wanted.
Any how when we was all done, I don’t know who was holding on tighter. Of course I knew we couldn’t stay in this bed, Mr. Tarleton was sure to want his lodgings back sooner or later. But all the same I just wanted to keep Joe there beside me in the bed, like if I did then he would be safe, no more lying on the cold ground, nor coppers with undertakers, and no more wanting for a soft body to lie with. As it was, I knew as soon as we let them sheets go cold that nothing was certain.
I guess he must have been thinking the same because he pulled me all up close. “The troopers are gonna start arriving in town when they realise the wires was cut.” He wiped the tears from me cheeks with his thumbs and kissed me hair. “Evie, I will come back for you, you know that I will. Lass, I’ll tell you what, do you know the sound of a curlew?”
It was a rather watery shake of the head I don’t doubt, but I managed to pull me thoughts up anyhow.
“Ah well, I need you listen out for this then,” and he put his hands to his mouth—a ‘kerloo’ all soft and quiet in the morning air. “It lays little blue eggs, the night curlew, you might have seen one.” He picked me chin up with his fingers, searching me face to see if I got it now, and gave that smile when I nodded me head.
“Ned and the boys, we already have a place in mind to hole up in. We plan on riding out of town in different directions, not that those coppers could follow a trail if it had arrows on it and a big sign saying ‘Kelly Gang This Way’, but once they hear of the bank hold up, they might have some of those black trackers with them.”
He must have seen the panic in me eyes,“Ah sure now, let me worry about that. Many’s the time we have had dinner at me Ma’s right under their noses. Christ, we even went to the races at Mansfield!” Joe was stretched out, calm as you like, all tanned against them white sheets, the lines of his body just perfect and the cockiest grin you ever saw. “Ned was stood right in front of one of their troopers when he picked up the winnings.”
I didn’t want to get dressed and him to pull that door to. I knew we would never in our whole lives be back there, we would never lie in that fancy iron bed again. What I really wanted was to start yesterday over again so I could feel him touch me for the first time, but of course I couldn’t, and as we stepped out into the bustle and the light of the street, all I could do was grip hard on his hand.
Mr. Cox was already behind the bar when I walked into the Royal Mail, and from the looks of the place it had been a long night there too, bottles and sleeping bodies all jumbled up over the place, two of them being Dan Kelly and Steve Hart, just starting to rouse themselves. Ned though was upright and serious, relieved to see Joe, I think he was. “We should go. We’ve no way of knowing how far Gill got. Them troopers could be here soon.”
Joe kissed me cheek at that and whispered in me ear, “Listen out for the curlew,” and then, well I just watched him be somebody else, an outlaw as well as my lover, as he walked out of the bar and off to God knows where.
The whole town was full of it all that day, conversations about who had bought Ned Kelly a drink, how Dan Kelly didn’t have the evil face that the papers claimed, and how the coppers were raving mad at having been locked up in their own cells, which to be truthful, seemed to be the cause of mirth rather than anything approaching fear. Seemed there wasn’t a person in town who hadn’t helped them, claimed to have done, or wished they had. Charlie Naw spent a good hour boasting about how he had cut down the telegraph poles with Ned, done them proud he said. The girls in the bar were nudging me arm and asking about Joe too, saying he’d winked at them and all, which just made me smile because just maybe he had at that.
I walked around mostly with the biggest grin and me knees going weak every time I thought of him, as if every bit of my body had its own memories of Joe, well a big grin and maybe some bruises where I kicked meself for letting him ride off alone.
It were late afternoon when the troopers arrived, throwing up dust into the streets with their horses and changing the smiles to sour. There were questions and demands, Richardson even pointed me out to them, but well I guess they was used to looking down their noses at what they called one of “Byrne’s whores.” There were nothing I could do except keep me mouth from saying what I thought of them and tell a different truth—I really didn’t know where they was headed.
The news though, which I am guessing they told us so as we would might actually show something like the respect they at least thought they deserved, made me stomach turn. Those Kelly bastards would soon be hanged, they said, on account of a Superintendent Hare fresh arrived from South Africa, wherever that was, on the invitation of the government of Victoria and New South Wales. He, so they reckoned, was gonna capture the Kelly Gang and bring them to justice. I can hear them laughing still now, “Bail up, Kelly—you’ll swing anyhow!”
The troopers didn’t stay long, seeing as no one seemed of a mind to talk to them. They rode off into the bush, and whilst I were glad to see the back of them, I couldn’t help but wish there were more hours separating Joe, Ned, Steve, and Dan from these men who were hunting them.
By the time the bar shut that night I was fair exhausted, pulling meself up the stairs to me room and lying flat on the bed so I could think and straining to listen. Sleep did not cross me mind for a second, I didn’t rightly know whether to hope he would come that night, but all the same I heard every little noise outside me window.
Truthfully I don’t know how many hours later I woke with a start and freezing cold. Nothin’, I could hear nothing, except the rustle of the grass and the discontented shuffling of the horses in the stable. There was no “kerloo,” no Joe, and if I thought I missed him before, me whole body was aching now. It were one of many nights in those next months that I spent half asleep and half awake clutching me pillow and fearing for his life. I might have said that it would get easier, but it didn’t, and I don’t know if I ever had a good night sleep away from him again.
The next day I had no idea what to do with meself. I must have looked a sight and no mistake cos Mr Cox sent me back upstairs, he reckoned I was sickening for something and that no one wanted to buy a beer from a sickly looking barmaid. So I just sat in me room reading Joe’s letter over and over and praying to whoever might be listening for him to come get me.
It were just dusk, that time when you can’t see so well on account of yer eyes not being sure if its night or day, the sun was low in the sky, and in truth I wasn’t sure what I could hear anymore, me head aching with listening. But then it came through the air, sharp and clear, and you would have thought I had slept a week from the speed at which I was off me bed and at the window. I was peering into the gloom, no chance of seeing him at all, but I was already out onto the balcony when I heard that “kerloo” again.
I was practically falling down the stairs at the back of the bar and half running into the trees, too scared to say his name in case someone heard me, when I heard hooves behind me, and before I had turned round properly, I felt Joe’s hand slip under me arm. You’d have thought I was as light as a dingo pup from the way that he scooped me up and lifted me onto the saddle in front of him, the biggest smile on his face at me surprise. “Not giving yer a chance to say no this time,” before he kicked his larrikin heels and we was gone.
How we never fell off that horse, only the saints could tell you. We was racing along the bank of Billabong Creek, him leaning down to kiss me face still with the reins held tight and me turning round so as he could do it all the more, I wouldn’t have cared if we had fallen in the creek and drowned right then as long as he was that close to me. In between kisses and catches of breath he was telling me how they’d all met up in Wannamurra, how they’d watched the troopers sail past them, but I couldn’t do anything much but grin and well, put me hands on those thighs that were tight either side of mine, flashes of the feeling of him between me legs making me head spin.
All of a sudden we took a sharp turn south and up an old cattle track I reckon it was, and it was only when we had passed over the ridge that I saw the smoke from a fire. Joe pulled the horse up a bit, I think the poor thing was breathing about as heavy as me in truth. Joe’s arms was all round me and he just whispered in me ear, “I missed you lass. It’ll not be as soft as old Tarleton’s bed, but I reckon this bush man can make yer comfy, what do you say?”
Well maybe the growing dark or the press of his body against me back mixed up with all the years now I’d spent working in bars, I can’t say what it was, but out here in the bush with the Kelly Gang, £8000 on their heads and the whole of the forces of the law out looking for them, well it didn’t seem like the time to worry about what was right and proper, so I came right out with what was on me mind. “Are yer telling me, Joe Byrne, that I have to sleep under the stars with nothing but an outlaw to cover me?”
Which made him laugh out loud, well that and push a little further in the saddle so I could feel just what me words did to him.
Jesus, I was so happy right then.
The shapes around the fire became clear as we neared the warmth of it. Ned, Steve, and Dan and another who I recognised as soon as he turned—Aaron Sherritt—were passing round a bottle or two of brandy, courtesy of Mr. Cox’s hospitality, though there weren’t much of a smile from Ned, like as if we’d missed the beginning of the story somehow. Aaron though was laughing like a kookaburra when he saw us. “Ah now Joe, when Ned here told me you’d gone to town to pick something up, I am sure I didn’t expect you to turn up with Evie Mc Bride, and looking quite flushed already, me old bush mate. What do you say we share like we always did?” and he moved for me to sit down next to him. Aaron…well he had that way of talking like as if you could take his words either way and both would be right. He were prepared to take anything that might turn up.
In the second it took for Joe to draw breath to speak, I jumped in feet first, “If it’s all the same to you, Aaron, he’s fair worn me out already, so I’ll pass up on that chance,” with a smile on me face he could take whatever way he liked too and I opted to sit meself down next to Steve instead. It may have been the light, but I thought I saw Ned’s shoulders shake a little and Joe, well he just grinned into the brandy bottle.
Anyhow it seemed like Aaron and me had heard the same news, and he returned to telling Ned about Superintendent Hare, how Hare was gonna be organising the search and all.
“Ah sure we’ve nothing to worry about, Ned.” Steve all flushed with brandy and always with that confidence he had that nothing was ever gonna go wrong. “They’ve tried all sorts of things to catch us. Not one of our mates has taken the reward, the biggest one ever offered mind, and there’s plenty who could do with the money.”
“They’ll never fuckin’ catch us, Ned.” Dan was laughing now, his eyes watering as his mind cast back. “Remember that plan they had to trap us with them coppers pretending to be horse thieves? Aye and that was something they didn’t rightly need to pretend at neither!”
Steve was chuckling too, “And those coppers dressed up as priests—detectives my arse, they couldn’t detect a wombat from a wallaby—supposed to be offering to hear confession, we would have sooner been convinced by the devil himself!” Dan was near to rolling around.
“Ah no, but you’re forgetting the best one now, those women on horses.” Steve barely able to get the words out for laughing. “Listen to this, Evie. We was in Avenal when this whole troop of the prettiest women we ever saw comes riding in, well they was police spies and meant to be like the honey that catches the bear, but all the same the Royal Melbourne dressage champion, don’t yer know, takes such a liking to Joe she stretches herself out on the green baize of the billiard table for him…”
Well I suppose he must have seen something in me eyes, maybe even the reflection of Joe in them staring at him with a look that could stop anything in its tracks—“snake eyes” some of the papers called him—and I think Steve suddenly got sober again. In the moment it took for me to look at his face and study the mixture of sorry and “Christ, will you let the earth open up right now, Joe is gonna kill me for sure,” I could hear the shuffle of feet and Ned clearing his throat, but most of all I could hear Joe breathing.
I could feel it starting in me belly, travelling up to me chest and into me throat, the biggest choke of laughter I ever had, and I don’t think Steve could believe his eyes, like as if he’d been cut down from the hangman’s noose at the last moment. I couldn’t stop laughing, Christ I still can’t! I think I managed to splutter something about how she must have had known which side of the bread had butter on it, and the next thing I knew I was in Joe’s lap, him holding so tight to me I thought I might stop breathing.
It were a wonder all the coppers in New South Wales didn’t hear us laughing and talking all the night, ah listen to me now, ‘us’ like I joined the Kelly Gang. Well just maybe I would have if anyone had asked.
(many thanks to Robert Drewe for this fantastic scene which made me laugh so hard)