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.
Jim propped up the poor chap, whose life-blood was flowing red through the bullet-hole, and made him as comfortable as he could. 'I must take your horse, mate,' he says; 'but you know it's only the fortune of war. A man must look after himself. Some one'll come along the road soon.' He mounted the trooper's horse, and we slipped through the trees -- it was getting dark now -- till we came to our horses. Then we all rode off together. We took Billy the Boy with us until he put us on to a road that led us into the country that we knew. We could make our own way from there, and so we sent off our scout, telling him to ride to the nearest township and say he'd seen a trooper lying badly wounded by the Bargo Brush roadside. The sooner he was seen to, the better chance he'd have.
Jim brightened up considerably after this. He told me how he'd gone back to say good-bye to Jeanie -- how the poor girl went into fits, and he couldn't leave her. By the time she got better the cottage was surrounded by police; there was no use being shot down without a chance, so he gave himself up.
'My word, Dick,' he said, 'I wished for a bare-backed horse, and a deep gully, then; but it wasn't to be. There was no horse handy, and I'd only have been carried into my own place a dead man and frightened the life out of poor Jeanie as well.'
'You're worth a dozen dead men yet, Jim,' I said. 'Keep up your pecker, old man. We'll get across to the Hollow some time within the next twenty-four hours, and there we'll be safe anyhow. They can't touch Jeanie, you know; and you're not short of what cash she'll want to keep her till this blows over a bit.'
'And what am I to do all the time?' he says so pitiful like. 'We're that fond of one another, Dick, that I couldn't hardly bear her out of my sight, and now I'll be months and months and months without a look at her pretty face, where I've never seen anything yet but love and kindness. Too good for me she always was; and what have I brought her to? My God! Dick, I wish you'd shot me instead of the constable, poor devil!'
'Well, you wasn't very far apart,' I says, chaffing like. 'If that old horse they put you on had bobbed forward level with him you'd have got plugged instead. But it's no use giving in, Jim. We must stand up to our fight now, or throw up the sponge. There's no two ways about it.'
We rattled on then without speaking, and never cried crack till we got to Nulla Mountain, where we knew we were pretty safe not to be followed up. We took it easier then, and stopped to eat a bit of bread and meat the girls had put up for me at Jonathan's. I'd never thought of it before. When I took the parcel out of the pocket of my poncho I thought it felt deuced heavy, and there, sure enough, was one of those shilling flasks of brandy they sell for chaps to go on the road with.
Brandy ain't a good thing at all times and seasons, and I've seen more than one man, or a dozen either, that might just as well have sawed away at their throats with a blunt knife as put the first glass to their lips. But we was both hungry, thirsty, tired, miserable, and pretty well done and beaten, though we hadn't had time to think about it. That drop of brandy seemed as if it had saved our lives. I never forgot it, nor poor Maddie Barnes for thinking of it for me. And I did live to do her a good turn back -- much as there's been said again me, and true enough, too.
It was a long way into the night, and not far from daylight either, when we stumbled up to the cave -- dead beat, horses and men both. We'd two minds to camp on the mountain, but we might have been followed up, hard as we'd ridden, and we didn't like to throw a chance away. We didn't want the old man to laugh at us, and we didn't want to do any more time in Berrima -- not now, anyhow. We'd been living too gay and free a life to begin with the jug all over again.
So we thought we'd make one job of it, and get right through, if we had to sleep for a week after it. It would be slow enough, but anything was better than what we'd gone through lately.
After we'd got down the mountain and on the flat land of the valley it rested our feet a bit, that was pretty nigh cut to pieces with the rocks. Our horses were that done we dursn't ride 'em for hours before. As we came close, out walks old Crib, and smells at us. He knew us in a minute, and jumped up and began to try and lick Jim's hand: the old story. He just gave one sort of sniff at me, as much as to say, 'Oh! it's you, is it?' Then he actually gave a kind of half-bark. I don't believe he'd barked for years, such a queer noise it was. Anyhow, it woke up dad, and he came out pretty sharp with a revolver in his hand. As soon as he saw the old dog walking alongside of us he knew it was right, and begins to feel for his pipe. First thing father always did as soon as any work or fighting or talking was over was to get out his pipe and light it. He didn't seem the same man without it.
'So you've found your way back again, have ye?' he says. 'Why, I thought you was all on your way to Californy by this time. Ain't this Christmas week? Why, I was expecting to come over to Ameriky myself one of these days, when all the derry was over ---- Why, what's up with the boy?'
Jim was standing by, sayin' nothing, while I was taking off the saddles and bridles and letting the horses go, when all of a sudden he gives a lurch forward, and if the old man hadn't laid hold of him in his strong arms and propped him up he'd have gone down face foremost like a girl in a dead faint.
'What's up with him, Dick?' says father, rather quick, almost as if he was fond of him, and had some natural feeling -- sometimes I raly think he had -- 'been any shooting?'
'Yes; not at him, though. Tell you all about it in the morning. He's eaten nothing, and we've been travelling best part of twenty-four hours right off the reel.'
'Hold him up while I fetch out the pannikin. There's plenty of grub inside. He'll be all right after a sleep.'
A drop of rum and water brought him to, and after that we made ourselves a cup of tea and turned in. The sun was pretty high when I woke. When I looked out there was the old man sitting on the log by the fire, smoking. What was a deal more curious, I saw the half-caste, Warrigal, coming up from the flat, leading a horse and carrying a pair of hobbles. Something made me look over to a particular corner where Starlight always slept when he was at the Hollow. Sure enough there was the figure of a man rolled up in a cloak. I knew by the way his boots and things were thrown about that it could be no other than Starlight.