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.
I wasn't in the humour for talking, but sometimes anything's better than one's own thoughts. Goring threw in a word from time to time. He'd only lately come into our district, and was sure to be promoted, everybody said. Like Starlight himself, he'd seen better days at home in England; but when he got pinched he'd taken the right turn and not the wrong one, which makes all the difference. He was earning his bread honest, anyway, and he was a chap as liked the fun and dash of a mounted policeman's life. As for the risk -- and there is some danger, more than people thinks, now and then -- he liked that the best of it. He was put out at losing Jim; but he believed he couldn't escape, and told me so in a friendly way. 'He's inside a circle and he can't get away, you mark my words,' he said, two or three times. 'We have every police-station warned by wire, within a hundred miles of here, three days ago. There's not a man in the colony sharper looked after than Master Jim is this minute.'
'Then you only heard about us three days ago?' I said.
'That's as it may be,' he answered, biting his lip. 'Anyhow, there isn't a shepherd's hut within miles that he can get to without our knowing it. The country's rough, but there's word gone for a black tracker to go down. You'll see him in Bargo before the week's out.'
I had a good guess where Jim would make for, and he knew enough to hide his tracks for the last few miles if there was a whole tribe of trackers after him.
That night we rode into Bargo. A long day too we'd had -- we were all tired enough when we got in. I was locked up, of course, and as soon as we were in the cell Goring said, 'Listen to me,' and put on his official face -- devilish stern and hard-looking he was then, in spite of all the talking and nonsense we'd had coming along.
'Richard Marston, I charge you with unlawfully taking, stealing, and carrying away, in company with others, one thousand head of mixed cattle, more or less the property of one Walter Hood, of Outer Back, Momberah, in or about the month of June last.'
'All right; why don't you make it a few more while you're about it?'
'That'll do,' he said, nodding his head, 'you decline to say anything. Well, I can't exactly wish you a merry Christmas -- fancy this being Christmas Eve, by Jove! -- but you'll be cool enough this deuced hot weather till the sessions in February, which is more than some of us can say. Good-night.' He went out and locked the door. I sat down on my blanket on the floor and hid my head in my hands. I wonder it didn't burst with what I felt then. Strange that I shouldn't have felt half as bad when the judge, the other day, sentenced me to be a dead man in a couple of months. But I was young then.
Christmas Day! Christmas Day! So this is how I was to spend it after all, I thought, as I woke up at dawn, and saw the gray light just beginning to get through the bars of the window of the cell.
Here was I locked up, caged, ironed, disgraced, a felon and an outcast for the rest of my life. Jim, flying for his life, hiding from every honest man, every policeman in the country looking after him, and authorised to catch him or shoot him down like a sheep-killing dog. Father living in the Hollow, like a blackfellow in a cave, afraid to spend the blessed Christmas with his wife and daughter, like the poorest man in the land could do if he was only honest. Mother half dead with grief, and Aileen ashamed to speak to the man that loved and respected her from her childhood. Gracey Storefield not daring to think of me or say my name, after seeing me carried off a prisoner before her eyes. Here was a load of misery and disgrace heaped up together, to be borne by the whole family, now and for the time to come -- by the innocent as well as the guilty. And for what? Because we had been too idle and careless to work regularly and save our money, though well able to do it, like honest men. Because, little by little, we had let bad dishonest ways and flash manners grow upon us, all running up an account that had to be paid some day.
And now the day of reckoning had come -- sharp and sudden with a vengeance! Well, what call had we to look for anything else? We had been working for it; now we had got it, and had to bear it. Not for want of warning, neither. What had mother and Aileen been saying ever since we could remember? Warning upon warning. Now the end had come just as they said. Of course I knew in a general way that I couldn't be punished or be done anything to right off. I knew law enough for that. The next thing would be that I should have to be brought up before the magistrates and committed for trial as soon as they could get any evidence.
After breakfast, flour and water or hominy, I forget which, the warder told me that there wasn't much chance of my being brought up before Christmas was over. The police magistrate was away on a month's leave, and the other magistrates would not be likely to attend before the end of the week, anyway. So I must make myself comfortable where I was. Comfortable!
'Had they caught Jim?'
'Well, not that he'd heard of; but Goring said it was impossible for him to get away. At twelve he'd bring me some dinner.'
I was pretty certain they wouldn't catch Jim, in spite of Goring being so cocksure about it. If he wasn't knocked off the first mile or so, he'd find ways of stopping or steadying his horse, and facing him up to where we had gone to join father at the tableland of the Nulla Mountain. Once he got near there he could let go his horse. They'd be following his track, while he made the best of his way on foot to the path that led to the Hollow. If he had five miles start of them there, as was most likely, all the blacks in the country would never track where he got to. He and father could live there for a month or so, and take it easy until they could slip out and do a bit of father's old trade. That was about what I expected Jim to do, and as it turned out I was as nearly right as could be. They ran his track for ten miles. Then they followed his horse-tracks till late the second day, and found that the horse had slued round and was making for home again with nobody on him. Jim was nowhere to be seen, and they'd lost all that time, never expecting that he was going to dismount and leave the horse to go his own way.