This section is from the book "Robbery Under Arms; A Story Of Life And Adventure In The Bush And In The Australian Goldfields", by Rolf Boldrewood. Also available from Amazon: Robbery under Arms; a story of life and adventure in the bush and in the Australian goldfields.
Now Jim and I had had many a long talk together about what we should do in case we wanted to signal to each other very pressing. We thought the time might come some day when we might be near enough to sign, but not to speak. So we hit upon one or two things a little out of the common.
The first idea was, in case of one wanting to give the other the office that he was to look out his very brightest for danger, and not to trust to what appeared to be the state of affairs, the sign was to hold up your hat or cap straight over your head. If the danger threatened on the left, to shift to that side. If it was very pressing and on the jump, as it were, quite unexpected, and as bad as bad could be, the signalman was to get up on the saddle with his knees and turn half round.
We could do this easy enough and a lot of circus tricks besides. How had we learned them? Why, in the long days we had spent in the saddle tailing the milkers and searching after lost horses for many a night.
As luck would have it Jim looked round to see how we were getting on, and up went my cap. I could see him turn his head and keep watching me when I put on the whole box and dice of the telegraph business. He 'dropped', I could see. He took up the brown horse, and made such a rush to collar the mare that showed he intended to see for himself what the danger was. The cross-grained jade! She was a well-bred wretch, and be hanged to her! Went as if she wanted to win the Derby and gave Jim all he knew to challenge her. We could see a line of timber just ahead of her, and that Jim was riding for his life.
'By ----! they'll both be over it,' said the young shearer. 'They can't stop themselves at that pace, and they must be close up now.'
'He's neck and neck,' I said. 'Stick to her, Jim, old man!'
We were all close together now. Several of the men knew the place, and the word had been passed round.
No one spoke for a few seconds. We saw the two horses rush up at top speed to the very edge of the timber.
'By Jove! they're over. No! he's reaching for her rein. It's no use. Now -- now! She's saved! Oh, my God! they're both right. By the Lord, well done! Hurrah! One cheer more for Jim Marston!'
It was all right. We saw Jim suddenly reach over as the horses were going stride and stride; saw him lift Miss Falkland from her saddle as if she had been a child and place her before him; saw the brown horse prop, and swing round on his haunches in a way that showed he had not been called the crack 'cutting-out' horse on a big cattle run for nothing. We saw Jim jump to the ground and lift the young lady down. We saw only one horse.
Three minutes after Mr. Falkland overtook us, and we rode up together. His face was white, and his dry lips couldn't find words at first. But he managed to say to Jim, when we got up --
'You have saved my child's life, James Marston, and if I forget the service may God in that hour forget me. You are a noble fellow. You must allow me to show my gratitude in some way.'
'You needn't thank me so out and out as all that, Mr. Falkland,' said Jim, standing up very straight and looking at the father first, and then at Miss Falkland, who was pale and trembling, not altogether from fear, but excitement, and trying to choke back the sobs that would come out now and then. 'I'd risk life and limb any day before Miss Falkland's finger should be scratched, let alone see her killed before my eyes. I wonder if there's anything left of the mare, poor thing; not that she don't deserve it all, and more.'
Here we all walked forward to the deep creek bank. A yard or two farther and the brown horse and his burden must have gone over the terrible drop, as straight as a plumb-line, on to the awful rocks below. We could see where the brown had torn up the turf as he struck all four hoofs deep into it at once. Indeed, he had been newly shod, a freak of Jim's about a bet with a travelling blacksmith. Then the other tracks, the long score on the brink -- over the brink -- where the frightened, maddened animal had made an attempt to alter her speed, all in vain, and had plunged over the bank and the hundred feet of fall.
We peered over, and saw a bright-coloured mass among the rocks below -- very still. Just at the time one of the ration-carriers came by with a spring cart. Mr. Falkland lifted his daughter in and took the reins, leaving his horse to be ridden home by the ration-carrier. As for us we rode back to the shearers' hut, not quite so fast as we came, with Jim in the middle. He did not seem inclined to talk much.
'It's lucky I turned round when I did, Dick,' he said at last, 'and saw you making the "danger-look-out-sharp" signal. I couldn't think what the dickens it was. I was so cocksure of catching the mare in half-a-mile farther that I couldn't help wondering what it was all about. Anyhow, I knew we agreed it was never to be worked for nothing, so thought the best thing I could do was to call in the mare, and see if I could find out anything then. When I got alongside, I could see that Miss Falkland's face was that white that something must be up. It weren't the mare she was afraid of. She was coming back to her. It took something to frighten her, I knew. So it must be something I did not know, or didn't see.
'"What is it, Miss Falkland?" I said.
'"Oh!" she cried out, "don't you know? Another fifty yards and we'll be over the downfall where the trooper was killed. Oh, my poor father!"
'"Don't be afraid," I said. "We'll not go over if I can help it."
'So I reached over and got hold of the reins. I pulled and jerked. She said her hands were cramped, and no wonder. Pulling double for a four-mile heat is no joke, even if a man's in training. Fancy a woman, a young girl, having to sit still and drag at a runaway horse all the time. I couldn't stop the brute; she was boring like a wild bull. So just as we came pretty close I lifted Miss Falkland off the saddle and yelled at old Brownie as if I had been on a cattle camp, swinging round to the near side at the same time. Round he came like one o'clock. I could see the mare make one prop to stop herself, and then go flying right through the air, till I heard a beastly "thud" at the bottom.