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.
'So it seems,' says Starlight; 'here's a sovereign for you, youngster. Keep your ears and eyes open; you'll always find that good information brings a good price. I'd advise you to keep away from Mr. Marston, sen., and people of his sort, and stick to your work, if I thought there was the least earthly chance of your doing so; but I see plainly that you're not cut out for the industrious, steady-going line.'
'Not if I know it,' said the boy; 'I want to see life before I die. I'm not going to keep on milling and slaving day after day all the year round. I'll cut it next year as sure as a gun. I say, won't you let me ride a bit of the way with ye?'
'Not a yard,' says father, who was pretty cranky by this time; 'you go home again and put that horse where you got him. We don't want old Driver tracking and swearing after us because you ride his horses; and keep off the road as you go back.'
Billy the Boy nodded his head, and jumping into his saddle, rode off again at much about the same pace he'd come at. He was a regular reckless young devil, as bold as a two-year-old colt in a branding-yard, that's ready to jump at anything and knock his brains out against a stockyard post, just because he's never known any real regular hurt or danger, and can't realise it. He was terrible cruel to horses, and would ruin a horse in less time than any man or boy I ever seen. I always thought from the first that he'd come to a bad end. Howsoever, he was a wonderful chap to track and ride; none could beat him at that; he was nearly as good as Warrigal in the bush. He was as cunning as a pet dingo, and would look as stupid before any one he didn't know, or thought was too respectable, as if he was half an idiot. But no one ever stirred within twenty or thirty miles of where he lived without our hearing about it. Father fished him out, having paid him pretty well for some small service, and ever after that he said he could sleep in peace.
We had the horses up, ready saddled and fed, by sundown, and as soon as the moon rose we made a start of it. I had time for a bit of a talk with Aileen about the Storefields, though I couldn't bring myself to say their names at first. I was right in thinking that Gracey had seen me led away a prisoner by the police. She came into the hut afterwards with Aileen, as soon as mother was better, and the two girls sat down beside one another and cried their eyes out, Aileen said.
George Storefield had been very good, and told Aileen that, whatever happened to us or the old man, it would make no difference to him or to his feelings towards her. She thanked him, but said she could never consent to let him disgrace himself by marrying into a family like ours. He had come over every now and then, and had seen they wanted for nothing when father and Jim were away; but she always felt her heart growing colder towards him and his prosperity while we were so low down in every way. As for Gracey, she (Aileen) believed that she was in love with me in a quiet, steady way of her own, without showing it much, but that she would be true to me, if I asked her, to the end of the world, and she was sure that she could never marry any one else as long as I lived. She was that sort of girl. So didn't I think I ought to do everything I could to get a better character, and try and be good enough for such a girl? She knew girls pretty well. She didn't think there was such another girl in the whole colony, and so on.
And when we went away where were we going to hide? I could not say about particular distances, but I told her generally that we'd keep out of harm's way, and be careful not to be caught. We might see her and mother now and then, and by bush-telegraphs and other people we could trust should be able to send news about ourselves.
'What's the Captain going to do?' she said suddenly. 'He doesn't look able to bear up against hardship like the rest of you. What beautiful small hands he has, and his eyes are like sleeping fires.'
'Oh, he's a good deal stronger than he looks,' I said; 'he's the smartest of the lot of us, except it is dad, and I've heard the old man say he must knock under to him. But don't you bother your head about him; he's quite able to take care of himself, and the less a girl like you thinks about a man like him the better for her.'
'Oh, nonsense,' she said, at the same time looking down in a half-confused sort of way. 'I'm not likely to think about him or any one else just now; but it seems such a dreadful thing to think a man like him, so clever and daring, and so handsome and gentle in his ways, should be obliged to lead such a life, hunted from place to place like -- like ----'
'Like a bush-ranger, Ailie,' I said, 'for that'll be the long and short of it. You may as well know it now, we're going to "turn out".'
'You don't say that, Dick,' she said. 'Oh! surely you will never be so mad. Do you want to kill mother and me right out? If you do, why not take a knife or an axe and do it at once? Her you've been killing all along. As for me, I feel so miserable and degraded and despairing at times that but for her I could go and drown myself in the creek when I think of what the family is coming to.'
'What's the use of going on like that, Aileen?' I said roughly. 'If we're caught now, whatever we do, great or small, we're safe for years and years in gaol. Mayn't we as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb? What odds can it make? We'll only have bolder work than duffing cattle and faking horse-brands like a lot of miserable crawlers that are not game for anything more sporting.'
'I hear, I hear,' says sister, sitting down and putting her head in her hands. 'Surely the devil has power for a season to possess himself of the souls of men, and do with them what he will. I know how obstinate you are, Dick. Pray God you may not have poor Jim's blood to answer for as well as your own before all is done. Good-bye. I can't say God bless you, knowing what I do; but may He turn your heart from all wicked ways, and keep you from worse and deadlier evil than you have committed! Good-night. Why, oh why, didn't we all die when we were little children!'