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 I don't know whatever we should have done, that month we stayed there, at the first -- we were never so long idle again -- without the horses. We used to muster them twice a week, run 'em up into the big receiving yard, and have a regular good look over 'em till we knew every one of 'em like a book.
Some of 'em was worth looking at, my word! 'D'ye see that big upstanding three-year-old dark bay filly, with a crooked streak down her face,' Starlight would say, 'and no brand but your father's on. Do you know her name? That's young Termagant, a daughter of Mr. Rouncival's racing mare of the same name that was stolen a week before she was born, and her dam was never seen alive again. Pity to kill a mare like that, wasn't it? Her sire was Repeater, the horse that ran the two three-mile heats with Mackworth, in grand time, too.' Then, again, 'That chestnut colt with the white legs would be worth five hundred all out if we could sell him with his right name and breeding, instead of having to do without a pedigree. We shall be lucky if we get a hundred clear for him. The black filly with the star -- yes, she's thoroughbred too, and couldn't have been bought for money. Only a month old and unbranded, of course, when your father and Warrigal managed to bone the old mare. Mr. Gibson offered 50 Pounds reward, or 100 Pounds on conviction. Wasn't he wild! That big bay horse, Warrior, was in training for a steeplechase when I took him out of Mr. King's stable. I rode him 120 miles before twelve next day. Those two browns are Mr. White's famous buggy horses. He thought no man could get the better of him. But your old father was too clever. I believe he could shake the devil's own four-in-hand -- (coal black, with manes and tails touching the ground, and eyes of fire, some German fellow says they are) -- and the Prince of Darkness never be the wiser. The pull of it is that once they're in here they're never heard of again till it's time to shift them to another colony, or clear them out and let the buyer take his chance.'
'You've some plums here,' I said. 'Even the cattle look pretty well bred.'
'Always go for pedigree stock, Fifteenth Duke notwithstanding. They take no more keep than rough ones, and they're always saleable. That red short-horn heifer belongs to the Butterfly Red Rose tribe; she was carried thirty miles in front of a man's saddle the day she was calved. We suckled her on an old brindle cow; she doesn't look the worse for it. Isn't she a beauty? We ought to go in for an annual sale here. How do you think it would pay?'
All this was pleasant enough, but it couldn't last for ever. After the first week's rest, which was real pleasure and enjoyment, we began to find the life too dull and dozy. We'd had quite enough of a quiet life, and began to long for a bit of work and danger again. Chaps that have got something on their minds can't stand idleness, it plays the bear with them. I've always found they get thinking and thinking till they get a low fit like, and then if there's any grog handy they try to screw themselves up with that. It gives them a lift for a time, but afterwards they have to pay for it over and over again. That's where the drinking habit comes in -- they can't help it -- they must drink. If you'll take the trouble to watch men (and women too) that have been 'in trouble' you'll find that nineteen out of every twenty drink like fishes when they get the chance. It ain't the love of the liquor, as teetotalers and those kind of goody people always are ramming down your throat -- it's the love of nothing. But it's the fear of their own thoughts -- the dreadful misery -- the anxiety about what's to come, that's always hanging like a black cloud over their heads. That's what they can't stand; and liquor, for a bit, mind you -- say a few hours or so -- takes all that kind of feeling clean away. Of course it returns, harder than before, but that says nothing. It CAN be driven away. All the heavy-heartedness which a man feels, but never puts into words, flies away with the first or second glass of grog. If a man was suffering pains of any kind, or was being stretched on the rack (I never knew what a rack was till I'd time for reading in gaol, except a horse-rack), or was being flogged, and a glass of anything he could swallow would make him think he was on a feather bed enjoying a pleasant doze, wouldn't he swig it off, do you think? And suppose there are times when a man feels as if hell couldn't be much worse than what he's feeling all the long day through -- and I tell you there are -- I, who have often stood it hour after hour -- won't he drink then? And why shouldn't he?
We began to find that towards the end of the day we all of us found the way to father's brandy keg -- that by nightfall the whole lot of us had quite as much as we could stagger under. I don't say we regularly went in for drinking; but we began to want it by twelve o'clock every day, and to keep things going after that till bedtime. In the morning we felt nervous and miserable; on the whole we weren't very gay till the sun was over the foreyard.
Anyhow, we made it up to clear out and have the first go-in for a touch on the southern line the next week as ever was. Father was as eager for it as anybody. He couldn't content himself with this sort of Robinson Crusoe life any longer, and said he must have a run and a bit of work of some sort or he'd go mad. This was on the Saturday night. Well, on Sunday we sent Warrigal out to meet one of our telegraphs at a place about twenty miles off, and to bring us any information he could pick up and a newspaper. He came back about sundown that evening, and told us that the police had been all over the country after us, and that Government had offered 200 Pounds reward for our apprehension -- mine and Starlight's -- with 50 Pounds each for Warrigal and Jim. They had an idea we'd all shipped for America. He sent us a newspaper. There was some news; that is, news worth talking about. Here was what was printed in large letters on the outside: --