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.
As we rode up we could see a gunyah made out of boughs, and a longish wing of dogleg fence, made light but well put together. As soon as we got near enough a dog ran out and looked as if he was going to worry us; didn't bark either, but turned round and waited for us to get off.
'It's old Crib,' said Jim, with a big laugh; 'blest if it ain't. Father's somewhere handy. They're going to take up a back block and do the thing regular: Marston, Starlight, and Company -- that's the fakement. They want us out to make dams or put up a woolshed or something. I don't see why they shouldn't, as well as Crossman and Fakesley. It's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other, as far as being on the square goes. Depend upon it, dad's turned over a new leaf.'
'Do you fellows want anything to eat?' said a voice that I knew to be Starlight's. 'If you do there's tea near the fire, and some grub in that flour bag. Help yourselves and hobble out your horses. We'll settle matters a bit in the morning. Your respected parent's abed in his own camp, and it's just as well not to wake him, unless you want his blessing ere you sleep.'
We went with Starlight to his gunyah. A path led through a clump of pines, so thick that a man might ride round it and never dream there was anything but more pines inside. A clear place had been made in the sandhill, and a snug crib enough rigged with saplings and a few sheets of bark. It was neat and tidy, like everything he had to do with. 'I was at sea when I was young,' he once said to Jim, when he was a bit 'on', 'and a man learns to be neat there.' There was a big chimney outside, and a lot of leaves and rushes out of a swamp which he had made Warrigal gather.
'Put your blankets down there, boys, and turn in. You'll see how the land lies in the morning.' We didn't want asking twice, Jim's eyes were nigh shut as it was. The sun was up when we woke.
Outside the first thing we saw was father and Starlight talking. Both of these seemed a bit cranky. 'It's a d---- shame,' we heard Starlight say, as he turned and walked off. 'We could have done it well enough by ourselves.'
'I know what I'm about,' says father, 'it's all or none. What's the use of crying after being in it up to our neck?'
'Some day you'll think different,' says Starlight, looking back at him.
I often remembered it afterwards.
'Well, lads,' says father, looking straight at us, 'I wasn't sure as you'd come. Starlight has been barneying with me about sending for you. But we've got a big thing on now, and I thought you'd like to be in it.'
'We have come,' says I, pretty short. 'Now we're here what's the play called, and when does the curtain rise? We're on.' I was riled, vexed at Starlight talking as if we were children, and thought I'd show as we were men, like a young fool as I was.
'All right,' says father, and he sat down on a log, and began to tell us how there was any quantity of cattle running at the back where they were camped -- a good lot strayed and mixed up, from the last dry season, and had never been mustered for years. The stockmen hardly ever came out till the autumn musters. One of the chaps that was in it knew all this side and had told them. They were going to muster for a month or so, and drive the mob right through to Adelaide. Store cattle were dear then, and we could get them off easy there and come back by sea. No one was to know we were not regular overlanders; and when we'd got the notes in our pockets it would be a hard matter to trace the cattle or prove that we were the men that sold 'em.
'How many head do you expect to get?' says Jim.
'A thousand or twelve hundred; half of 'em fat, and two-thirds of them young cattle.'
'By George! that's something like a haul; but you can't muster such a lot as that without a yard.'
'I know that,' says father. 'We're putting up a yard on a little plain about a mile from here. When they find it, it'll be an old nest, and the birds flown.'
'Well, if that ain't the cheekiest thing I ever heard tell of,' says I laughingly. 'To put up a yard at the back of a man's run, and muster his cattle for him! I never heard the like before, nor any one else. But suppose the cove or his men come across it?'
''Tain't no ways likely,' says father. 'They're the sleepiest lot of chaps in this frontage I ever saw. It's hardly worth while "touching" them. There's no fun in it. It's like shooting pheasants when they ain't preserved. There's no risk, and when there's no risk there's no pleasure. Anyway that's my notion.'
'Talking about risks, why didn't you work that Marquis of Lorne racket better? We saw in the papers that the troopers hunted you so close you had to kill him in the ranges.'
Father looked over at us and then began to laugh -- not long, and he broke off short. Laughing wasn't much in his line.
'Killed him, did we? And a horse worth nigh on to two thousand pounds. You ought to have known your old father better than that. We did kill A chestnut horse, one we picked out a purpose; white legs, white knee, short under lip, everything quite regular. We even fed him for a week on prairie grass, just like the Marquis had been eating. Bless you, we knew how to work all that. We deceived Windhall his own self, and he thinks he's pretty smart. No! the Marquis is all safe -- you know where.'
I opened my eyes and stared at father.
'You've some call to crow if you can work things like that. How you ever got him away beats me; but not more than how you managed to keep him hid with a ring of troopers all round you from every side of the district.'
'We had friends,' father said. 'Me and Warrigal done all the travelling by night. No one but him could have gone afoot, I believe, much less led a blood horse through the beastly scrub and ranges he showed us. But the devil himself could not beat him and that little brute Bilbah in rough country.'