Fragments from an Outlaw’s Journal

Darkness folds around Joe, memories flickering, painfully, to the surface, while he waits for the train that Ned promises will come… I pour another glass full of whiskey and reach into my pocket, the small packet of opium powder ruffles beneath my fingers. I think this is my third dose, but I cannot be sure. Nothing will be strong enough to blur the vision of Aaron, lying dead at my feet. I have long been haunted by the blood that was spilled at Stringybark Creek, but nothing could have prepared me for the blood that leeched out of Aaron. Christ. The way it spurted between his fingers in a wild arc of crimson, as he clutched at his throat and staggered backwards. But I aimed again and pulled the trigger, the shot shredded through his shirt and skin, instantly shattering his ribs, which exploded out from underneath his favourite cotton shirt. Aaron gargled and spluttered, falling backwards, he smashed his head against an old potato box. Then came the screaming and wailing of Belle, piercing my ears worse than the blast of the bloody shotgun. I looked down at what I had caused, my eyesight blurred, the bashing of Dan’s fist on the door seemed a hundred miles away.

The Whispers of Beechworth

The autumn wind tugs at Joe’s tweed jacket as he stands on the ledge of rock, gazing down over the sprawling plain below, his fingers furling and unfurling around the Tranter revolver clasped in his hand. Joe paces along the rocky expanse, his eyes scanning across the yellow paddocks and distant homesteads. The unfinished letter to Aaron rustles, noisily, in his breast pocket, a weighty reminder of what he cannot ignore. Removing the paper, Joe unfolds it, his eyes drifting over the red inked copperplate, ‘Moses the game is surely up. You think yourself very brave for all your blowing about what you will do to me. This is only foolishness on your part. For you, Ward, and Mullane are now wanted men…’ Joe’s knuckles whiten as he holds the letter in his hands, which quiver with the anger of a friendship long since betrayed…

Grief

The armour had weighed heavily on Joe's mind, the clouded uncertainty it brought made him feel uneasy. “This bloody armour” Joe had warned, “it'll bring us nothing but grief and nuisance.” Ned's armour had been the forerunner for the other three suits, and the long days of bone jarring work that followed, had left Joe deep with bitterness and aching limbs. He had sworn that if he was going to be made, make, and wear, this “God forsaken thing”, then it'd be undertaken properly. For this, Joe had entrusted blacksmith Tom Straughair, who was a close friend of both he and Patsy, to construct his suit and had guided Tom, meticulously, on its design. After watching Dan struggle into the saddle while wearing his apron plate, Joe had instructed Tom to shape his so it slanted slightly. However, this chiselled slant did nothing to aid in his mounting, and instead, Music had become flighty at the resounding scrape of iron, as the armoured weight constricted his movement into the saddle. To counter this, Joe had Tom place two bolts, where a leather cord could be wound around the bolts, and, through the slits in the apron, for easier detachment. The helmet had also been an issue, as it cut, uncomfortably, into his shoulders. In angry haste, Joe had removed it, and flared the bottom of it with a hammer, so it would rest softer on his shoulders. For Ned's suit, shin plates had been constructed, but given their weight, they kept sliding down his legs. This left both Joe and Dan smirking, “Ned ain’t as clever as he thinks” Dan had whispered....

An Outlaw’s Burden

The dull rattle of chains catch on the spring breeze, as the hobbled horses pick at what grass they can find amongst the formation of rock that lines the ridge. Joe rests his back against the trunk of a gumtree, sucking on his pipe. He lets the sweet tobacco fill his mouth, before exhaling, his eyes following the curls of smoke as they drift upwards. Joe looks over to Dan and Steve, who doze next to him, their heads resting on rolled up oilskins, catching what sleep they can.

Memories of Cornwall

Joe tugs, playfully, at the drawstring of Maggie’s apron as she tends to the fire, rekindling the flames, which crackle and flicker, with an armful of dry twigs. Maggie straightens, brushing away the woodlice which cling to the grey sleeves of her dress, and turns toward him. Her blue eyes flash in the firelight, “you are a devil, aren’t you Mr Byrne?” “Aye”, Joe replies with a wink, pulling her onto his lap, “not even six months in her majesty’s prison could flog the devil out of me.”