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.
Not a pleasant letter, by no manner of means. I was glad I didn't get it while I was eating my heart out under the stifling low roof of the cell at Nomah, or when I was bearing my load at Berrima. A few pounds more when the weight was all I could bear and live would have crushed the heart out of me. I didn't want anything to cross me when I was looking at mother and Aileen and thinking how, between us, we'd done everything our worst enemy could have wished us to do. But here, when there was plenty of time to think over old days and plan for the future, I could bear the savage, spiteful sound of the whole letter and laugh at the way she had got out of her troubles by taking up with a rough old fellow whose cheque-book was the only decent thing about him. I wasn't sorry to be rid of her either. Since I'd seen Gracey Storefield again every other woman seemed disagreeable to me. I tore up the letter and threw it away, hoping I had done for ever with a woman that no man living would ever have been the better for.
'Glad you take it so quiet,' Jim says, after holding his tongue longer than he did mostly. 'She's a bad, cold-hearted jade, though she is Jeanie's sister. If I thought my girl was like her she'd never have another thought from me, but she isn't, and never was. The worse luck I've had the closer she's stuck to me, like a little brick as she is. I'd give all I ever had in the world if I could go to her and say, "Here I am, Jim Marston, without a penny in the world, but I can look every man in the face, and we'll work our way along the road of life cheerful and loving together." But I CAN'T say it, Dick, that's the devil of it, and it makes me so wild sometimes that I could knock my brains out against the first ironbark tree I come across.'
I didn't say anything, but I took hold of Jim's hand and shook it. We looked in each other's eyes for a minute; there was no call to say anything. We always understood one another, Jim and I.
As we were safe to stop in the Hollow for long spells at a time we took a good look over it, as far as we could do on foot. We found a rum sort of place at the end of a long gully that went easterly from the main flat. In one way you'd think the whole valley had been an arm of the sea some time or other. It was a bit like Sydney Harbour in shape, with one principal valley and no end of small cover and gullies running off from it, and winding about in all directions. Even the sandstone walls, by which the whole affair, great and small, was hemmed in, were just like the cliff about South Head; there were lines, too, on the face of them, Jim and I made out, just like where the waves had washed marks and levels on the sea-rock. We didn't trouble ourselves much about that part of it. Whatever might have been there once, it grew stunning fine grass now, and there was beautiful clear fresh water in all the creeks that ran through it.
Well, we rambled up the long, crooked gully that I was talking about till about half-way up it got that narrow that it seemed stopped by a big rock that had tumbled down from the top and blocked the path. It was pretty well grown over with wild raspberries and climbers.
'No use going farther,' says Jim; 'there's nothing to see.'
'I don't know that. Been a track here some time. Let's get round and see.'
When we got round the rock the track was plain again; it had been well worn once, though neither foot nor hoof much had been along it for many a year. It takes a good while to wear out a track in a dry country.
The gully widened out bit by bit, till at last we came to a little round green flat, right under the rock walls which rose up a couple of thousand feet above it on two sides. On the flat was an old hut -- very old it seemed to be, but not in bad trim for all that. The roof was of shingles, split, thick, and wedge shaped; the walls of heavy ironbark slabs, and there was a stone chimney.
Outside had been a garden; a few rose trees were standing yet, ragged and stunted. The wallabies had trimmed them pretty well, but we knew what they were. Been a corn-patch too -- the marks where it had been hoed up were there, same as they used to do in old times when there were more hoes than ploughs and more convicts than horses and working bullocks in the country.
'Well, this is a rum start,' says Jim, as we sat down on a log outside that looked as if it had been used for a seat before. 'Who the deuce ever built this gunyah and lived in it by himself for years and years? You can see it was no two or three months' time he done here. There's the spring coming out of the rock he dipped his water from. The track's reg'lar worn smooth over the stones leading to it. There was a fence round this garden, some of the rails lying there rotten enough, but it takes time for sound hard wood to rot. He'd a stool and table too, not bad ones either, this Robinson Crusoe cove. No end of manavilins either. I wonder whether he come here before them first -- Government men -- chaps we heard of. Likely he did and died here too. He might have chummed in with them, of course, or he might not. Perhaps Starlight knows something about him, or Warrigal. We'll ask them.'
We fossicked about for a while to see if the man who lived so long by himself in this lonely place had left anything behind him to help us make out what sort he was. We didn't find much. There was writing on the walls here and there, and things cut on the fireplace posts. Jim couldn't make head or tail of them, nor me either.
'The old cove may have left something worth having behind him,' he said, after staring at the cold hearth ever so long. 'Men like him often leave gold pieces and jewels and things behind them, locked up in brass-bound boxes; leastways the story-books say so. I've half a mind to root up the old hearthstone; it's a thundering heavy one, ain't it? I wonder how he got it here all by himself.'
'It IS pretty heavy,' I said. 'For all we know he may have had help to bring it in. We've no time now to see into it; we'd better make tracks and see if Starlight has made back. We shall have to shape after a bit, and we may as well see how he stands affected.'
'He'll be back safe enough. There's no pull in being outside now with all the world chevying after you and only half rations of food and sleep.'
Jim was right. As we got up to the cave we saw Starlight talking to the old man and Warrigal letting go the horse. They'd taken their time to come in, but Warrigal knew some hole or other where they'd hid before very likely, so they could take it easier than we did the night we left Rocky Creek.
'Well, boys!' says Starlight, coming forward quite heartily, 'glad to see you again; been taking a walk and engaging yourselves this fine weather? Rather nice country residence of ours, isn't it? Wonder how long we shall remain in possession! What a charm there is in home! No place like home, is there, governor?'
Dad didn't smile, he very seldom did that, but I always thought he never looked so glum at Starlight as he did at most people.
'The place is well enough,' he growled, 'if we don't smother it all by letting our tracks be followed up. We've been dashed lucky so far, but it'll take us all we know to come in and out, if we've any roadwork on hand, and no one the wiser.'
'It can be managed well enough,' says Starlight. 'Is that dinner ever going to be ready? Jim, make the tea, there's a good fellow; I'm absolutely starving. The main thing is never to be seen together except on great occasions. Two men, or three at the outside, can stick up any coach or travellers that are worth while. We can get home one by one without half the risk there would be if we were all together. Hand me the corned beef, if you please, Dick. We must hold a council of war by and by.'
We were smoking our pipes and lying about on the dry floor of the cave, with the sun coming in just enough to make it pleasant, when I started the ball.
'We may as well have it out now what lay we're going upon and whether we're all agreed in our minds TO TURN OUT, and do the thing in the regular good old-fashioned Sydney-side style. It's risky, of course, and we're sure to have a smart brush or two; but I'm not going to be jugged again, not if I know it, and I don't see but what bush-ranging -- yes, BUSH-RANGING, it's no use saying one thing and meaning another -- ain't as safe a game, let alone the profits of it, as mooching about cattle-duffing and being lagged in the long run all the same.'