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.
'But why don't you take your own advice?' said Aileen, looking over at Starlight as he sat there quite careless and comfortable-looking, as if he'd no call to trouble his head about anything. 'Isn't your life worth mending or saving? Why keep on this reckless miserable career which you yourself expect to end ill?'
'If you ask me, Miss Marston,' he said, 'whether my life -- what is left of it -- is worth saving, I must distinctly answer that it is not. It is like the last coin or two in the gambler's purse, not worth troubling one's head about. It must be flung on the board with the rest. It might land a reasonable stake. But as to economising and arranging details that would surely be the greatest folly of all.'
I heard Aileen sigh to herself. She said nothing for a while; and then old Crib began to growl. He got up and walked along the track that led up the hill. Father stood up, too, and listened. We all did except Starlight, who appeared to think it was too much trouble, and never moved or seemed to notice.
Presently the dog came walking slowly back, and coiled himself up again close to Starlight, as if he had made up his mind it didn't matter. We could hear a horse coming along at a pretty good bat over the hard, rocky, gravelly road. We could tell it was a single horse, and more than that, a barefooted one, coming at a hand-gallop up hill and down dale in a careless kind of manner. This wasn't likely to be a police trooper. One man wouldn't come by himself to a place like ours at night; and no trooper, if he did come, would clatter along a hard track, making row enough to be heard more than a mile off on a quiet night.
'It's all right,' says father. 'The old dog knowed him; it's Billy the Boy. There's something up.'
Just as he spoke we saw a horseman come in sight; and he rattled down the stony track as hard as he could lick. He pulled up just opposite the house, close by where we were standing. It was a boy about fifteen, dressed in a ragged pair of moleskin trousers, a good deal too large for him, but kept straight by a leather strap round the waist. An old cabbage-tree hat and a blue serge shirt made up the rest of his rig. Boots he had on, but they didn't seem to be fellows, and one rusty spur. His hair was like a hay-coloured mop, half-hanging over his eyes, which looked sharp enough to see through a gum tree and out at the other side.
He jumped down and stood before us, while his horse's flanks heaved up and down like a pair of bellows.
'Well, what's up?' says father.
'My word, governor, you was all in great luck as I come home last night, after bein' away with them cattle to pound. Bobby, he don't know a p'leeceman from a wood-an'-water joey; he'd never have dropped they was comin' here unless they'd pasted up a notice on the door.'
'How did you find out, Billy?' says father, 'and when'll they be here?'
'Fust thing in the morning,' says the young wit, grinning all over his face. 'Won't they be jolly well sold when they rides up and plants by the yard, same as they did last time, when they took Dick.'
'Which ones was they?' asks father, fillin' his pipe quite business-like, just as if he'd got days to spare.
'Them two fellers from Bargo; one of 'em's a new chum -- got his hair cut short, just like Dick's. My word, I thought he'd been waggin' it from some o' them Gov'ment institoosh'ns. I did raly, Dick, old man.'
'You're precious free and easy, my young friend,' says Starlight, walking over. 'I rather like you. You have a keen sense of humour, evidently; but can't you say how you found out that the men were her Majesty's police officers in pursuit of us?'
'You're Cap'n Starlight, I suppose,' says the youngster, looking straight and square at him, and not a bit put out. 'Well, I've been pretty quick coming; thirty mile inside of three hours, I'll be bound. I heard them talking about you. It was Starlight this and Starlight that all the time I was going in and out of the room, pretending to look for something, and mother scolding me.'
'Had they their uniform on?' I asked.
'No fear. They thought we didn't tumble, I expect; but I seen their horses hung up outside, both shod all round; bits and irons bright. Stabled horses, too, I could swear. Then the youngest chap -- him with the old felt hat -- walked like this.'
Here he squared his shoulders, put his hands by his side, and marched up and down, looking for all the world like one of them chaps that played at soldiering in Bargo.
'There's no hiding the military air, you think, Billy?' said Starlight. 'That fellow was a recruit, and had been drilled lately.'
'I d'no. Mother got 'em to stay, and began to talk quite innocent-like of the bad characters there was in the country. Ha! ha! It was as good as a play. Then they began to talk almost right out about Sergeant Goring having been away on a wrong scent, and how wild he was, and how he would be after Starlight's mob tomorrow morning at daylight, and some p'leece was to meet him near Rocky Flat. They didn't say they was the p'leece; that was about four o'clock, and getting dark.'
'How did you get the horse?' says Jim. 'He's not one of yours, is he?'
'Not he,' says the boy; 'I wish I had him or the likes of him. He belongs to old Driver. I was just workin' it how I'd get out and catch our old moke without these chaps being fly as I was going to talligrarph, when mother says to me --
'"Have you fetched in the black cow?"
'We ain't got no black cow, but I knowed what she meant. I says --
'"No, I couldn't find her."
'"You catch old Johnny Smoker and look for her till you do find her, if it's ten o'clock to-night," says mother, very fierce. "Your father'll give you a fine larrupin' if he comes home and there's that cow lost."
'So off I goes and mans old Johnny, and clears out straight for here. When I came to Driver's I runs his horses up into a yard nigh the angle of his outside paddock and collars this little 'oss, and lets old Johnny go in hobbles. My word, this cove can scratch!'