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.
'Tell Bill I want him, Joe,' I said.
'Can't leave guard nohow,' says the true grit old hunter, pointing to his revolver, and dodging up and down with his lame leg, a crooked arm, and a seam in his face like a terrible wound there some time or other. 'I darsn't leave guard. You'll find him in that centre tent, with the red flag on it.'
I lifted the canvas flap of the door and went in. Bill raised himself in the bed and looked at me quite coolly.
'I was to your location a while since,' he said. 'Met some friends of yours there too. I didn't cotton to 'em muchly. Something has eventuated. Is that so?'
'Yes. I want your help.' I told him shortly all I could tell him in the time.
He listened quietly, and made no remark for a time.
'So ye hev' bin a road agent. You and Jim, that darned innocent old cuss, robbing mails and cattle ranches. It is a real scoop up for me, you bet. I'd heern of bush-ranging in Australia, but I never reckoned on their bein' men like you and Jim. So the muchacha went back on yer -- snakes alive! I kinder expected it. I reckon you're bound to git.'
'Yes, Bill, sharp's the word. I want you to draw my money and Jim's out of the bank; it's all in my name. There's the deposit receipt. I'll back it over to you. You give Jeanie what she wants, and send the rest when I tell you. Will you do that for me, Bill? I've always been on the square with you and your mates.'
'You hev', boy, that I'll not deny, and I'll corral the dollars for you. It's an all-fired muss that men like you and Jim should have a black mark agin your record. A spry hunter Jim would have made. I'd laid out to have had him to Arizona yet -- and you're a going to dust out right away, you say?'
'I'm off now. Jim's waited too long, I expect. One other thing; let Mr. Haughton, across the creek, have this before daylight.'
'What, the Honourable!!! Lawful heart! Wal, I hope ye may strike a better trail yet. Yer young, you and Jim, poor old Jim. Hold on. Hev' ye nary shootin' iron?'
'No time,' I said. 'I haven't been to the camp.'
'Go slow, then. Wait here; you'll want suthin, may be, on the peraira. If ye do, boy! Jim made good shootin' with this, ye mind. Take it and welcome; it'll mind ye of old Arizona Bill.'
He handed me a beautifully finished little repeating rifle, hardly heavier than a navy revolver, and a small bag of cartridges.
'Thar, that'll be company for ye, in case ye hev to draw a bead on the -- any one -- just temp'ry like. Our horses is hobbled in Bates's clearing. Take my old sorrel if ye can catch him.' He stopped for a second and put his hand in a listening fashion. His hunter's ear was quicker than mine. 'Thar's a war party on the trail, I reckon. It's a roughish crossing at Slatey Bar,' and he pointed towards the river, which we could plainly hear rushing over a rocky bed. We shook hands, and as I turned down the steep river bank I saw him walk slowly into his tent and close the canvas after him.
The line he pointed to was the one I fixed in my own mind to take long before our talk was over. The Turon, always steep-banked, rocky in places, ran here under an awful high bluff of slate rock. The rushing water in its narrow channel had worn away the rock a good deal, and left ledges or bars under which a deal of gold had been found. Easy enough to cross here on a kind of natural ford. We had many a time walked over on Sundays and holidays for a little kangaroo-shooting now and then. It was here Jim one day, when we were all together for a ramble, surprised the Americans by his shooting with the little Ballard rifle.
As I crossed there was just moon enough to show the deep pools and the hurrying, tearing waters of the wild river, foaming betwixt the big boulders and jags of rock which the bar was strewed with. In front the bank rose 300 feet like the roof of a house, with great overhanging crags of slate rock, and a narrow track in and out between. If I had light enough to find this and get to the top -- the country was terribly rough for a few miles, with the darkness coming on -- I should be pretty well out of reach by daylight.
I had just struck the track when I heard voices and a horse's tramp on the other side of the river. They seemed not to be sure whether I'd crossed or not, and were tracking up and down on each side of the bar. I breasted the hill track faster than I had done for many a day, and when I got to the top stopped to listen, but could hear nothing. The moon had dropped suddenly; the forest was as black as pitch. You couldn't see your hand before you.
I knew that I was safe now, if a hundred men were at my heels, till daybreak at any rate. I had the two sides of the gully to guide me. I could manage to make to the farm where the sorrel was at grass with a lot of other diggers' horses. If I could get a saddle and catch the old horse I could put many a mile between me and them before sundown. I stood still when I reached the top of the bluff, partly to get breath and partly to take a last look at old Turon.
Below lay the goldfield clearly marked out by hundreds of camp-fires that were still red and showed bright in the darkened sky. The course of the river was marked by them, in and out, as most of the shallow diggings had followed the river flats. Far back the fires glowed against the black forest, and just before the moon fell I could catch the shine of the water in the deeper reaches of the river.
It was the very picture of what I'd read about an army in camp -- lines of tents and a crowd of men all spread out over a bit of land hardly big enough for a flock of sheep. Now and then a dog would bark -- now a revolver would go off. It was never quiet on Turon diggings, day or night.
Well, there they all were, tents and diggers, claims and windlasses, pumps and water-wheels. I had been happy enough there, God knows; and perhaps I was looking at it all for the last time. As I turned and made down the hill into the black forest that spread below me like the sea, I felt as if I was leaving everything that was any good in life behind with the Turon lights, and being hunted once more, in spite of myself, into a desert of darkness and despair.