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.
What a different feel from prison air the fresh night breeze had as we swept along a lonely outside track! The stars were out, though the sky was cloudy now and then, and the big forest trees looked strange in the broken light. It was so long since I'd seen any. I felt as if I was going to a new world. None of us spoke for a bit. Jim pulled up at a small hut by the roadside; it looked like a farm, but there was not much show of crops or anything about the place. There was a tumble-down old barn, with a strong door to it, and a padlock; it seemed the only building that there was any care taken about. A man opened the door of the hut and looked out.
'Look sharp,' says Jim. 'Is the horse all right and fit?'
'Fit enough to go for the Hawkesbury Guineas. I was up and fed him three hours ago. He's ----'
'Bring him out, and be hanged to you,' says Jim; 'we've no time for chat.'
The man went straight to the barn, and after a minute or two brought out a horse -- the same I'd ridden from Gippsland, saddled and bridled, and ready to jump out of his skin. Jim leaned forward and put something into his hand, which pleased him, for he held my rein and stirrup, and then said --
'Good luck and a long reign to you,' as we rode away.
All this time Starlight had sat on his horse in the shade of a tree a good bit away. When we started he rode alongside of us. We were soon in a pretty fair hand-gallop, and we kept it up. All our horses were good, and we bowled along as if we were going to ride for a week without stopping.
What a ride it was! It was a grand night, anyway I thought so. I blessed the stars, I know. Mile after mile, and still the horses seemed to go all the fresher the farther they went. I felt I could ride on that way for ever. As the horses pulled and snorted and snatched at their bridles I felt as happy as ever I did in my life. Mile after mile it was all the same; we could hear Rainbow snorting from time to time and see his star move as he tossed up his head. We had many a night ride after together, but that was the best. We had laid it out to make for a place we knew not so far from home. We dursn't go there straight, of course, but nigh enough to make a dart to it whenever we had word that the coast was clear.
We knew directly we were missed the whole countryside would be turned out looking for us, and that every trooper within a hundred miles would be hoping for promotion in case he was lucky enough to drop on either of the Marstons or the notorious Starlight. His name had been pretty well in every one's mouth before, and would be a little more before they were done with him.
It was too far to ride to the Hollow in a day, but Jim had got a place ready for us to keep dark in for a bit, in case we got clear off. There's never any great trouble in us chaps finding a home for a week or two, and somebody to help us on our way as long as we've the notes to chuck about. All the worse in the long run. We rode hardish (some people would have called it a hand-gallop) most of the way; up hill and down, across the rocky creeks, through thick timber. More than one river we had to swim. It was mountain water, and Starlight cursed and swore, and said he would catch his death of cold. Then we all laughed; it was the first time we'd done that since we were out. My heart was too full to talk, much less laugh, with the thought of being out of that cursed prison and on my own horse again, with the free bush breeze filling my breast, and the free forest I'd lived in all my life once more around me. I felt like a king, and as for what might come afterwards I had no more thought than a schoolboy has of his next year's lessons at the beginning of his holidays. It might come now. As I took the old horse by the head and raced him down the mountain side, I felt I was living again and might call myself a man once more.
The sun was just rising, the morning was misty and drizzling; the long sour-grass, the branches of the scrubby trees, everything we touched and saw was dripping with the night dew, as we rode up a 'gap' between two stiffish hills. We had been riding all night from track to track, sometimes steering by guesswork. Jim seemed to know the country in a general way, and he told us father and he had been about there a good deal lately, cattle-dealing and so on. For the last hour or so we had been on a pretty fair beaten road, though there wasn't much traffic on it. It was one of the old mail tracks once, but new coach lines had knocked away all the traffic. Some of the old inns had been good big houses, well kept and looked after then. Now lots of them were empty, with broken windows and everything in ruins; others were just good enough to let to people who would live in them, and make a living by cultivating a bit and selling grog on the sly. Where we pulled up was one of these places, and the people were just what you might expect.
First of all there was the man of the house, Jonathan Barnes, a tall, slouching, flash-looking native; he'd been a little in the horse-racing line, a little in the prize-fighting line -- enough to have his nose broken, and was fond of talking about 'pugs' as he'd known intimate -- a little in the farming and carrying line, a little in every line that meant a good deal of gassing, drinking, and idling, and mighty little hard work. He'd a decent, industrious little wife, about forty times too good for him, and the girls, Bella and Maddie, worked well, or else he'd have been walking about the country with a swag on his back. They kept him and the house too, like many another man, and he took all the credit of it, and ordered them about as if he'd been the best and straightest man in the land. If he made a few pounds now and then he'd drop it on a horse-race before he'd had it a week. They were glad enough to see us, anyhow, and made us comfortable, after a fashion. Jim had brought fresh clothes, and both of us had stopped on the road and rigged ourselves out, so that we didn't look so queer as men just out of the jug mostly do, with their close-shaved faces, cropped heads, and prison clothes. Starlight had brought a false moustache with him, which he stuck on, so that he looked as much like a swell as ever. Warrigal had handed him a small parcel, which he brought with him, just as we started; and, with a ring on his finger, some notes and gold in his pocket, he ate his breakfast, and chatted away with the girls as if he'd only ridden out for a day to have a look at the country.