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.
'Anyhow, we'd made it up to come home at Christmas,' says Jim; 'but it's all one. It would have saved us a deal of trouble in our minds all the same if we'd known there was no warrants out after us two. I wonder if they'll nail Starlight.'
'They can't be well off it,' says father. 'He's gone off his head, and stopped in some swell town in New Zealand -- Canterbury, I think it's called -- livin' tiptop among a lot of young English swells, instead of makin' off for the Islands, as he laid out to do.'
'How do you know he's there?' I said.
'I know, and that's enough,' snarls father. 'I hear a lot in many ways about things and people that no one guesses on, and I know this -- that he's pretty well marked down by old Stillbrook the detective as went down there a month ago.'
'But didn't you warn him?'
'Yes, of course, as soon as I heard tell; but it's too late, I'm thinking. He has the devil's luck as well as his own, but I always used to tell him it would fail him yet.'
'I believe you're the smartest man of the crowd, dad,' says Jim, laying his hand on father's shoulder. He could pretty nigh get round the old chap once in a way, could Jim, surly as he was. 'What do you think we'd better do? What's our best dart?'
Father shook off his hand, but not roughly, and his voice wasn't so hard when he said --
'Why, stop at home quiet, of course, and sleep in your beds at night. Don't go planting in the gully, or some one 'll think you're wanted, and let on to the police. Ride about the country till I give you the office. Never fear but I'll have word quick enough. Go about and see the neighbours round just as usual.'
Jim and I was quite stunned by this bit of news; no doubt we was pretty sorry as ever we left Melbourne, but there was nothing for it now but to follow it out. After all, we were at home, and it was pleasant to think we wouldn't be hunted for a bit and might ride about the old place and enjoy ourselves a bit. Aileen was as happy as the day was long, and poor mother used to lay her head on Jim's neck and cry for joy to have him with her. Even father used to sit in the front, under the quinces, and smoke his pipe, with old Crib at his feet, most as if he thought he was happy. I wonder if he ever looked back to the days when he was a farmin' boy and hadn't took to poaching? He must have been a smart, handy kind of lad, and what a different look his face must have had then!
We had our own horses in pretty good trim, so we foraged up Aileen's mare, and made it up to ride over to George Storefield's, and gave him a look-up. He'd been away when we came, and now we heard he was home.
'George has been doing well all this time, of course,' I said. 'I expect he'll turn squatter some day and be made a magistrate.'
'Like enough,' says Jim. 'More than one we could pick began lower down than him, and sits on the Bench and gives coves like us a turn when we're brought up before 'em. Fancy old George sayin', "Is anything known, constable, of this prisoner's anterseedents?" as I heard old Higgler say one day at Bargo.'
'Why do you make fun of these things, Jim, dear?' says Aileen, looking so solemn and mournful like. 'Oughtn't a steady worker to rise in life, and isn't it sad to see cleverer men and better workers -- if they liked -- kept down by their own fault?'
'Why wasn't your roan mare born black or chestnut?' says Jim, laughing, and pretending to touch her up. 'Come along, and let's see if she can trot as well as she used to do?'
'Poor Lowan,' says she, patting the mare's smooth neck (she was a wonderful neat, well-bred, dark roan, with black points -- one of dad's, perhaps, that he'd brought her home one time he was in special good humour about something. Where she was bred or how, nobody ever knew); 'she was born pretty and good. How little trouble her life gives her. It's a pity we can't all say as much, or have as little on our minds.'
'Whose fault's that?' says Jim. 'The dingo must live as well as the collie or the sheep either. One's been made just the same as the other. I've often watched a dingo turn round twice, and then pitch himself down in the long grass like as if he was dead. He's not a bad sort, old dingo, and has a good time of it as long as it lasts.'
'Yes, till he's trapped or shot or poisoned some day, which he always is,' said Aileen bitterly. 'I wonder any man should be content with a wicked life and a shameful death.' And she struck Lowan with a switch, and spun down the slope of the hill between the trees like a forester-doe with the hunter-hound behind her.
When we came up with her she was all right again, and tried to smile. Whatever put her out for the time she always worked things by kindness, and would lead us straight if she could. Driven, she knew we couldn't be; and I believe she did us about ten times as much good that way as if she had scolded and raged, or even sneered at us.
When we rode up to Mr. Storefield's farm we were quite agreeable and pleasant again, Jim makin' believe his horse could walk fastest, and saying that her mare's pace was only a double shuffle of an amble like Bilbah's, and she declaring that the mare's was a true walk -- and so it was. The mare could do pretty well everything but talk, and all her paces were first-class.
Old Mrs. Storefield was pottering about in the garden with a big sun-bonnet on. She was a great woman for flowers.
'Come along in, Aileen, my dear,' she said. 'Gracey's in the dairy; she'll be out directly. George only came home yesterday. Who be these you've got with ye? Why, Dick!' she says, lookin' again with her sharp, old, gray eyes, 'it's you, boy, is it? Well, you've changed a deal too; and Jim too. Is he as full of mischief as ever? Well, God bless you, boys, I wish you well! I wish you well. Come in out of the sun, Aileen; and one of you take the horses up to the stable. You'll find George there somewhere.'
Aileen had jumped down by this time, and had thrown her rein to Jim, so we rode up to the stable, and a very good one it was, not long put up, that we could see. How the place had changed, and how different it was from ours! We remembered the time when their hut wasn't a patch on ours, when old Isaac Storefield, that had been gardener at Mulgoa to some of the big gentlemen in the old days, had saved a bit of money and taken up a farm; but bit by bit their place had been getting better and bigger every year, while ours had stood still and now was going back.