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.
We didn't go straight ahead along any main track to the Lower Murray and Adelaide exactly. That would have been a little too open and barefaced. No; we divided the mob into three, and settled where to meet in about a fortnight. Three men to each mob. Father and Warrigal took one lot; they had the dog, old Crib, to help them. He was worth about two men and a boy. Starlight, Jim, and I had another; and the three stranger chaps another. We'd had a couple of knockabouts to help with the cooking and stockyard work. They were paid by the job. They were to stay at the camp for a week, to burn the gunyahs, knock down the yard, and blind the track as much as they could.
Some of the cattle we'd left behind they drove back and forward across the track every day for a week. If rain came they were to drop it, and make their way into the frontage by another road. If they heard about the job being blown or the police set on our track, they were to wire to one of the border townships we had to pass. Weren't we afraid of their selling us? No, not much; they were well paid, and had often given father and Starlight information before, though they took care never to show out in the cattle or horse-stealing way themselves. As long as chaps in our line have money to spend, they can always get good information and other things, too. It is when the money runs short that the danger comes in. I don't know whether cattle-duffing was ever done in New South Wales before on such a large scale, or whether it will ever be done again. Perhaps not. These wire fences stop a deal of cross-work; but it was done then, you take my word for it -- a man's word as hasn't that long to live that it's worth while to lie -- and it all came out right; that is as far as our getting safe over, selling the cattle, and having the money in our pockets.
We kept on working by all sorts of outside tracks on the main line of road -- a good deal by night, too -- for the first two or three hundred miles. After we crossed the Adelaide border we followed the Darling down to the Murray. We thought we were all right, and got bolder. Starlight had changed his clothes, and was dressed like a swell -- away on a roughish trip, but still like a swell.
'They were his cattle; he had brought them from one of his stations on the Narran. He was going to take up country in the Northern Territory. He expected a friend out from England with a lot more capital.'
Jim and I used to hear him talking like this to some of the squatters whose runs we passed through, as grave as you please. They used to ask him to stay all night, but he always said 'he didn't like to leave his men. He made it a practice on the road.' When we got within a fortnight's drive of Adelaide, he rode in and lived at one of the best hotels. He gave out that he expected a lot of cattle to arrive, and got a friend that he'd met in the billiard-room (and couldn't he play surprisin'?) to introduce him to one of the leading stock agents there. So he had it all cut and dry, when one day Warrigal and I rode in, and the boy handed him a letter, touching his hat respectfully, as he had been learned to do, before a lot of young squatters and other swells that he was going out to a picnic with.
'My confounded cattle come at last,' he says. 'Excuse me for mentioning business. I began to hope they'd never come; 'pon my soul I did. The time passes so deuced pleasantly here. Well, they'll all be at the yards tomorrow. You fellows had all better come and see them sold. There'll be a little lunch, and perhaps some fizz. You go to the stock agents, Runnimall and Co.; here's their address, Jack,' he says to me, looking me straight in the eyes. 'They'll send a man to pilot you to the yards; and now off with you, and don't let me see your face till tomorrow.'
How he carried it off! He cantered away with the rest of the party, as if he hadn't a thought in the world except about pleasure and honest business. Nobody couldn't have told that he wasn't just like them other young gentlemen with only their stock and station to think about, and a little fun at the races now and then. And what a risk he was running every minute of his life, he and all the rest of us. I wasn't sorry to be out of the town again. There were lots of police, too. Suppose one of them was to say, 'Richard Marston, I arrest you for ----' It hardly mattered what. I felt as if I should have tumbled down with sheer fright and cowardliness. It's a queer thing you feel like that off and on. Other times a man has as much pluck in him as if his life was worth fighting for -- which it isn't.
The agent knew all about us (or thought he did), and sent a chap to show Mr. Carisforth's cattle (Charles Carisforth, Esq., of Sturton, Yorkshire and Banda, Waroona, and Ebor Downs, New South Wales; that was the name he went by) the way to the yards. We were to draft them all next morning into separate pens -- cows and bullocks, steers and heifers, and so on. He expected to sell them all to a lot of farmers and small settlers that had taken up a new district lately and were very short of stock.
'You couldn't have come into a better market, young fellow,' says the agent's man to me. 'Our boss he's advertised 'em that well as there'll be smart bidding between the farmers and some of the squatters. Good store cattle's been scarce, and these is in such rattling condition. That's what'll sell 'em. Your master seems a regular free-handed sort of chap. He's the jolliest squatter there's been in town these years, I hear folk say. Puts 'em in mind of Hawdon and Evelyn Sturt in the old overlander days.'
Next day we were at the yards early, you bet. We wanted to have time to draft them into pens of twenty to fifty each, so that the farmers and small settlers might have a chance to buy. Besides, it was the last day of our work. Driving all day and watching half the night is pretty stiffish work, good weather and bad, when you've got to keep it up for months at a time, and we'd been three months and a week on the road.