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.
'If you leave it to me,' says Jim, 'I say, don't go. It's only some other cross cattle or horse racket. We're bound to be nobbled some day. Why not cut it now, and stick to the square thing? We couldn't do better than we're doing now. It's rather slow, but we'll have a good cheque by Christmas.'
'I'm half a mind to tell Warrigal to go back and say we're not on,' I said. 'Lots of other chaps would join without making any bones about it.'
'Hoo -- hoo -- hoo -- hoo,' sounded once more the night-bird from the black tree outside.
'D---- the bird! I believe he's the devil in the shape of a mopoke! And yet I don't like Starlight to think we're afraid. He and the old man might be in a fix and want help. Suppose we toss up?'
'All right,' says Jim, speaking rather slowly.
You couldn't tell from his face or voice how he felt about it; but I believe now -- more than that, he let on once to me -- that he was awfully cut up about my changing, and thought we were just in for a spell of straightforward work, and would stash the other thing for good and all.
We put the fire together. It burnt up bright for a bit. I pulled out a shilling.
'If it's head we go, Jim; if it's woman, we stay here.'
I sent up the coin; we both bent over near the fire to look at it.
The head was uppermost.
'Hoo -- hoo -- hoo -- hoo,' came the night-bird's harsh croak.
There was a heavyish stake on that throw, if we'd only known. Only ruin -- only death. Four men's lives lost, and three women made miserable for life.
Jim and I looked at one another. He smiled and opened the door.
'It's all the fault of that cursed owl, I believe,' he said; 'I'll have his life if he waits till it's daylight. We must be off early and get up our horses. I know what a long day for Warrigal and that ambling three-cornered devil of his means -- seventy or eighty miles, if it's a yard.'
We slept sound enough till daybreak, and COULD SLEEP then, whatever was on the card. As for Jim, he slept like a baby always once he turned in. When I woke I got up at once. It was half dark; there was a little light in the east. But Warrigal had been out before me, and was leading his horse up to the hut with the hobbles in his hand.
Our horses were not far off; one of them had a bell on. Jim had his old brown, and I had a chestnut that I thought nearly as good. We weren't likely to have anything to ride that wasn't middlin' fast and plucky. Them that overhauled us would have to ride for it. We saddled up and took our blankets and what few things we couldn't do without. The rest stopped in the hut for any one that came after us. We left our wages, too, and never asked for 'em from that day to this. A trifle like that didn't matter after what we were going in for. More's the pity.
As we moved off my horse propped once or twice, and Warrigal looked at us in a queer side sort of way and showed his teeth a bit -- smile nor laugh it wasn't, only a way he had when he thought he knew more than we did.
'My word! your horse's been where the feed's good. We're goin' a good way to-day. I wonder if they'll be as flash as they are now.'
'They'll carry us wherever that three-cornered mule of yours will shuffle to to-night,' said Jim. 'Never you mind about them. You ride straight, and don't get up to any monkey tricks, or, by George, I'll straighten you, so as you'll know better next time.'
'You know a lot, Jim Marston,' said the half-caste, looking at him with his long dark sleepy eyes which I always thought were like a half-roused snake's. 'Never mind, you'll know more one of these days. We'd better push on.'
He went off at a hand-gallop, and then pulled back into a long darting kind of canter, which Bilbah thought was quite the thing for a journey -- anyhow, he never seemed to think of stopping it -- went on mile after mile as if he was not going to pull up this side of sundown. A wiry brute, always in condition, was this said Bilbah, and just at this time as hard as nails. Our horses had been doing nothing lately, and being on good young feed had, of course, got fat, and were rather soft.
After four or five miles they began to blow. We couldn't well pull up; the ground was hard in places and bad for tracking. If we went on at the pace we should cook our horses. As soon as we got into a bit of open I raced up to him.
'Now, look here, Warrigal,' I said, 'you know why you're doing this, and so do I. Our horses are not up to galloping fifty or sixty miles on end just off a spell and with no work for months. If you don't pull up and go our pace I'll knock you off your horse.'
'Oh! you're riled!' he said, looking as impudent as he dared, but slackening all the same. 'Pulled up before if I knowed your horses were getting baked. Thought they were up to anything, same as you and Jim.'
'So they are. You'll find that one of these days. If there's work ahead you ought to have sense enough not to knock smoke out of fresh horses before we begin.'
'All right. Plenty of work to do, my word. And Starlight said, "Tell 'em to be here to-day if they can." I know he's afraid of some one follerin' up our tracks, as it is.'
'That's all right, Warrigal; but you ride steady all the same, and don't be tearing away through thick timber, like a mallee scrubber that's got into the open and sees the devil behind him until he can get cover again. We shall be there to-night if it's not a hundred miles, and that's time enough.'
We did drop in for a long day, and no mistake. We only pulled up for a short halt in the middle, and Warrigal's cast-iron pony was off again, as if he was bound right away for the other side of the continent. However, though we were not going slow either, but kept up a reasonable fast pace, it must have been past midnight when we rode into Starlight's camp; very glad Jim and I were to see the fire -- not a big one either. We had been taking it pretty easy, you see, for a month or two, and were not quite so ready for an eighty-mile ride as if we had been in something like training. The horses had had enough of it, too, though neither of them would give in, not if we'd ridden 'em twenty mile farther. As for Warrigal's Bilbah he was near as fresh as when he started, and kept tossin' his head an' amblin' and pacin' away as if he was walkin' for a wager round a ring in a show-yard.