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.
Warrigal left his horse at the edge of the timber, for fear he might want him in a hurry, I suppose. He was pretty 'fly', and never threw away a chance as long as he was sober. He could drink a bit, like the rest of us, now and then -- not often -- but when he did it made a regular devil of him -- that is, it brought the devil out that lives low down in most people's hearts. He was a worse one than usual, Jim said. He saw him once in one of his break-outs, and heard him boast of something he'd done. Jim never liked him afterwards. For the matter of that he hated Jim and me too. The only living things he cared about were Starlight and the three-cornered weed he rode, that had been a 'brumbee', and wouldn't let any one touch him, much less ride him, but himself. How he used to snort if a stranger came near him! He could kick the eye out of a mosquito, and bite too, if he got the chance.
As for Warrigal, Starlight used to knock him down like a log if he didn't please him, but he never offered to turn upon him. He seemed to like it, and looked regular put out once when Starlight hurt his knuckles against his hard skull.
Us he didn't like, as I said before -- why, I don't know -- nor we him. Likes and dislikes are curious things. People hardly know the rights of them. But if you take a regular strong down upon a man or woman when you first see 'em it's ten to one that you'll find some day as you've good reason for it. We couldn't say what grounds we had for hating the sight of Warrigal neither, for he was as good a tracker as ever followed man or beasts. He could read all the signs of the bush like a printed book. He could ride any horse in the world, and find his way, day or night, to any place he'd ever once been to in his life.
Sometimes we should have been hard pushed when we were making across country at night only for him. Hour after hour he'd ride ahead through scrub or forest, up hill or down dale, with that brute of a horse of his -- he called him 'Bilbah' -- ambling away, till our horses, except Rainbow, used to shake the lives out of us jogging. I believe he did it on purpose.
He was a fine shot, and could catch fish and game in all sorts of ways that came in handy when we had to keep dark. He had pluck enough, and could fight a pretty sharp battle with his fists if he wasn't overweighted. There were white men that didn't at all find him a good thing if they went to bully him. He tried it on with Jim once, but he knocked the seven senses out of him inside of three rounds, and that satisfied him. He pretended to make up, but I was always expecting him to play us some dog's trick yet. Anyway, so far he was all right, and as long as Starlight and us were mixed up together, he couldn't hurt one without the other. He came gliding up to the old hut in the dull light by bits of moves, just as if he'd been a bush that had changed its place. We pretended to be asleep near the fire.
He peeped in through a chink. He could see us by the firelight, and didn't suppose we were watching him.
'Hullo, Warrigal!' sung out Jim suddenly, 'what's up now? Some devil's work, I suppose, or you wouldn't be in it. Why don't you knock at a gentleman's door when you come a visiting?'
'Wasn't sure it was you,' he answered, showing his teeth; 'it don't do to get sold. Might been troopers, for all I know.'
'Pity we wasn't,' said Jim; 'I'd have the hobbles on you by this time, and you'd have got "fitted" to rights. I wish I'd gone into the police sometimes. It isn't a bad game for a chap that can ride and track, and likes a bit of rough-and-tumble now and then.'
'If I'd been a police tracker I'd have had as good a chance of nailing you, Jim Marston,' spoke up Warrigal. 'Perhaps I will some day. Mr. Garton wanted me bad once, and said they'd never go agin me for old times. But that says nothin'. Starlight's out at the back and the old man, too. They want you to go to them -- sharp.'
'Dunno. I was to tell you, and show the camp; and now gimme some grub, for I've had nothing since sunrise but the leg of a 'possum.'
'All right,' said Jim, putting the billy on; 'here's some damper and mutton to go on with while the tea warms.'
'Wait till I hobble out Bilbah; he's as hungry as I am, and thirsty too, my word.'
'Take some out of the barrel; we shan't want it tomorrow,' said Jim.
Hungry as Warrigal was -- and when he began to eat I thought he never would stop -- he went and looked after his horse first, and got him a couple of buckets of water out of the cask they used to send us out every week. There was no surface water near the hut. Then he hobbled him out of a bit of old sheep-yard, and came in.
The more I know of men the more I see what curious lumps of good and bad they're made up of. People that won't stick at anything in some ways will be that soft and good-feeling in others -- ten times more so than your regular good people. Any one that thinks all mankind's divided into good, bad, and middlin', and that they can draft 'em like a lot of cattle -- some to one yard, some to another -- don't know much. There's a mob in most towns though, I think, that wants boilin' down bad. Some day they'll do it, maybe; they'll have to when all the good country's stocked up. After Warrigal had his supper he went out again to see his horse, and then coiled himself up before the fire and wouldn't hardly say another word.
'How far was it to where Starlight was?'
'Long way. Took me all day to come.'
'Had he been there long?'
'Yes; had a camp there.'
'Anybody else with him?'
'Three more men from this side.'
'Did the old man say we were to come at once?'
'Yes, or leave it alone -- which you liked.'
Then he shut his eyes, and his mouth too, and was soon as fast asleep as if he never intended to wake under a week.
'What shall we do, Jim?' I said; 'go or not?'