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.
When we got home it was pretty late, and the air was beginning to cool after the hot day. There was a low moon, and everything showed out clear, so that you could see the smallest branches of the trees on Nulla Mountain, where it stood like a dark cloud-bank against the western sky. There wasn't the smallest breeze. The air was that still and quiet you could have heard anything stir in the grass, or almost a 'possum digging his claws into the smooth bark of the white gum trees. The curlews set up a cry from time to time; but they didn't sound so queer and shrill as they mostly do at night. I don't know how it was, but everything seemed quiet and pleasant and homelike, as if a chap might live a hundred years, if it was all like this, and keep growing better and happier every day. I remember all this so particular because it was the only time I'd felt like it for years, and I never had the same feeling afterwards -- nor likely to.
'Oh! what a happy day I've had,' Aileen said, on a sudden. Jim and I and her had been riding a long spell without speaking. 'I don't know when I've enjoyed myself so much; I've got quite out of the way of being happy lately, and hardly know the taste of it. How lovely it would be if you and Jim could always stay at home like this, and we could do our work happy and comfortable together, without separating, and all this deadly fear of something terrible happening, that's never out of my mind. Oh! Dick, won't you promise me to stop quiet and work steady at home, if you -- if you and Jim haven't anything brought against you?'
She bent forward and looked into my face as she said this. I could see her eyes shine, and every word she said seemed to come straight from her heart. How sad and pitiful she looked, and we felt for a moment just as we did when we were boys, and she used to come and persuade us to go on with our work and not grieve mother, and run the risk of a licking from father when he came home.
Her mare, Lowan, was close alongside of my horse, stepping along at her fast tearing walk, throwing up her head and snorting every now and then, but Aileen sat in her saddle better than some people can sit in a chair; she held the rein and whip together and kept her hand on mine till I spoke.
'We'll do all we can, Aileen dear, for you and poor mother, won't we, Jim?' I felt soft and down-hearted then, if ever I did. 'But it's too late -- too late! You'll see us now and then; but we can't stop at home quiet, nor work about here all the time as we used to do. That day's gone. Jim knows it as well as me. There's no help for it now. We'll have to do like the rest -- enjoy ourselves a bit while we can, and stand up to our fight when the trouble comes.'
She took her hand away, and rode on with her rein loose and her head down. I could see the tears falling down her face, but after a bit she put herself to rights, and we rode quietly up to the door. Mother was working away in her chair, and father walking up and down before the door smoking.
When we were letting go the horses, father comes up and says --
'I've got a bit of news for you, boys; Starlight's been took, and the darkie with him.'
'Where?' I said. Somehow I felt struck all of a heap by hearing this. I'd got out of the way of thinking they'd drop on him. As for Jim, he heard it straight enough, but he went on whistling and patting the mare's neck, teasing her like, because she was so uneasy to get her head-stall off and run after the others.
'Why, in New Zealand, to be sure. The blamed fool stuck there all this time, just because he found himself comfortably situated among people as he liked. I wonder how he'll fancy Berrima after it all? Sarves him well right.'
'But how did you come to hear about it?' We knew father couldn't read nor write.
'I have a chap as is paid to read the papers reg'lar, and to put me on when there's anything in 'em as I want to know. He's bin over here to-day and give me the office. Here's the paper he left.'
Father pulls out a crumpled-up dirty-lookin' bit of newspaper. It wasn't much to look at; but there was enough to keep us in readin', and thinkin', too, for a good while, as soon as we made it out. In pretty big letters, too.
IMPORTANT CAPTURE BY DETECTIVE STILLBROOK, OF THE NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE.
That was atop of the page, then comes this: --
Our readers may remember the description given in this journal, some months since, of a cattle robbery on the largest scale, when upwards of a thousand head were stolen from one of Mr. Hood's stations, driven to Adelaide, and then sold, by a party of men whose names have not as yet transpired. It is satisfactory to find that the leader of the gang, who is well known to the police by the assumed name of 'Starlight', with a half-caste lad recognised as an accomplice, has been arrested by this active officer. It appears that, from information received, Detective Stillbrook went to New Zealand, and, after several months' patient search, took his passage in the boat which left that colony, in order to meet the mail steamer, outward bound, for San Francisco. As the passengers were landing he arrested a gentlemanlike and well-dressed personage, who, with his servant, was about to proceed to Menzies's Hotel. Considerable surprise was manifested by the other passengers, with whom the prisoner had become universally popular. He indignantly denied all knowledge of the charge; but we have reason to believe that there will be no difficulty as to identification. A large sum of money in gold and notes was found upon him. Other arrests are likely to follow.
This looked bad; for a bit we didn't know what to think. While Jim and I was makin' it all out, with the help of a bit of candle we smuggled out -- we dursn't take it inside -- father was smokin' his pipe -- in the old fashion -- and saying nothing. When we'd done he put up his pipe in his pouch and begins to talk.