Said he 'No cake shall go to the prisoner without me inspecting it 1st', and he waved his big soft white hand thus indicating my mother should place her basket on his desk. He untied the muslin his fingernails so clean they looked like they was washed in lye, and to this day I can see them livid instruments as they broke my mother's cake apart.
Tis not poverty I hate the most nor the eternal grovelling, but the insults which grow on it,which not even leeches can cure
I will lay a quid that you have already been told the story of how your grandma won her case in court against Bill Frost and then led wild gallops up and down the main street of Benalla. You will know she were never a coward but on this occasion she understood she must hold her tongue and so she wrapped the warm crumbs in the cloth and walked out into the rain. I cried out to her but she did not hear, so I followed her skirts across the muddy yard. At 1st I thought it an outhouse on whose door I found her hammering, it come as a shock to realise my young uncle were locked inside. For the great offence of duffing a bullock with cancer of the eye he were interred in this earth floored slab hut which could not have measured more than 6 ft. 3 6 ft., and here my mother were forced to kneel in the mud and push the broken cake under the door the gap - v. narrow perhaps 2 in. - not sufficient for the purpose.
She cried 'God help us Jimmy, what did we ever do to them that they should torture us like this?'
My mother never wept but weep she did and I rushed and clung to her and kissed her, but still she could not feel that I were there. Tears poured down her handsome face as she forced the muddy mess of cake and muslin underneath the door.
She cried I would kill the b.....ds if I were a man God help me. She used many rough expressions I will not write them here. It were eff this and ess that and she would blow their adjectival brains out.
These was frightening sentiments for a boy to hear his mamma speak but I did not know how set she were until 2 nights later when my father returned home and she said the exact same things again to him.
You don't know what you're talking about said he.
You are a coward she cried. I blocked my ears and buried my face into my floursack pillow but she would not give up and neither would my father turn against the law. I wish I had known my parents when they truly loved each other.
You will see in time your grandfather were a man of secrets and what he said and done was different things, though for now it is enough to know my mother had one idea about my father, and the police the opposite. She thought him Michael Meek. They knew him as a graduate of Van Diemen's Land and a criminal by birth and trade and marriage - they was constantly examining the brands on our stock or sifting through our flour for signs of larceny, but they never found nothing except mouse manure - they must have had a mighty craving for the taste.
Nor was your grandmother as unfriendly towards the police as you would expect; if solely instructed by her testimony she might of wished to murder them, but would not mind a little drink and joke before she done the deed. There was one Sergeant, his name O'Neil, my mother seemed to like him better than the rest. I am talking now of a later time, I must have been 9 yr. of age for our sister Kate had just been born. Our father were away contracting and our small hut were more crowded than ever now there was 6 children all sleeping between the maze of patchwork curtains Mother hung to make up for the lack of walls. It were like living in a cupboard full of dresses.
Into this shadowy world Sgt O'Neil did come with queer white hair which he were always combing like a girl before a dance, he were v. friendly to us children and on the night in question he brung me the gift of a pencil. At school we used the slates but I never touched a pencil and was most excited to smell the sweet pine and graphite as the Sergeant sharpened his gift, he were very fatherly towards me and set me at one end of the table with a sheet of paper. My sister Annie were 1 yr. older, she got nothing from O'Neil but that's another story.
Excerpted from True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey . Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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