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.
I got to Bates's paddocks about daylight, and went straight up to the hut where the man lived that looked after it. Most of the diggers that cared about their horses paid for their grass in farmers' and squatters' paddocks, though the price was pretty high. Old Bates, who had a bit of a good grassed flat, made a pretty fair thing out of it by taking in horses at half-a-crown a week apiece. As luck would have it, the man in charge knew me; he'd seen me out with the Yankees one day, and saw I was a friend with them, and when I said I'd come for Bill's sorrel he thought it likely enough, and got out the saddle and bridle. I tipped him well, and went off, telling him I was going to Wattle Flat to look at a quartz-crushing plant that was for sale. I accounted for coming up so early by saying I'd lost my road, and that I wanted to get to Wattle Flat sharp, as another chap wished to buy the plant. I cut across the range, kept the sun on my right hand, and pushed on for Jonathan's. I got there early, and it's well I did. I rode the sorrel hard, but I knew he was pretty tough, and I was able to pay for him if I killed him. I trusted to leaving him at Jonathan's, and getting a fresh horse there. What with the walk over the bluff and the forest, having no sleep the night before, and the bother and trouble of it all, I was pretty well used up. I was real glad to see Jonathan's paddock fence and the old house we'd thought so little of lately. It's wonderful how soon people rise grand notions and begin to get too big for their boots.
'Hello, Dick, what's up?' says Jonathan. 'No swag, 'lastic-side boots, flyaway tie, new rifle, old horse; looks a bit fishy don't it?'
'I can't stop barneying,' I said. 'Have you a decent horse to give me? The game's up. I must ride night and day till I get home. Heard anything?'
'No; but Billy the Boy's just rode up. I hear him a-talkin' to the gals. He knows if anybody does. I'll take the old moke and put him in the paddock. I can let you have a stunner.'
'All right; I'll go in and have some breakfast. It's as much as I dare stop at all now.'
'Why, Dick Marston, is that you? No, it can't be,' said both girls together. 'Why, you look like a ghost. He doesn't; he looks as if he'd been at a ball all night. Plenty of partners, Dick?'
'Never mind, Dick,' says Maddie; 'go and make yourself comfortable in that room, and I'll have breakfast for you while you'd let a cow out of the bail. We don't forget our friends.'
'If all our friends were as true as you, Maddie,' I said, rather down-like, 'I shouldn't be here to-day.'
'Oh! that's it, is it?' says she; 'we're only indebted to somebody's laying the traps on -- a woman of course -- for your honour's company. Never mind, old man, I won't hit you when you're down. But, I say, you go and have a yarn with Billy the Boy -- he's in the kitchen. I believe the young imp knows something, but he won't let on to Bell and I.'
While the steaks were frying -- and they smelt very good, bad as I felt -- I called out Master Billy and had a talk with him. I handed him a note to begin with. It was money well spent, and, you mark my words, a shilling spent in grog often buys a man twenty times the worth of it in information, let alone a pound.
Billy had grown a squarish-set, middle-sized chap; his hair wasn't so long, and his clothes were better; his eye was as bright and bold-looking. As he stood tapping one of his boots with his whip, he looked for all the world like a bull-terrier.
'My colonial oath, Dick, you're quite the gentleman -- free with your money just the same as ever. You takes after the old governor; he always paid well if you told him the truth. I remember him giving me a hidin' when I was a kiddy for saying something I wasn't sure of. My word! I was that sore for a week after I couldn't button my shirt. But ain't it a pity about Jim?'
'Oh, that's it. What about Jim?'
'Why, the p'leece grabbed him, of course. You fellers don't think you're going on for ever and ever, keepin' the country in a state of terrorism, as the papers say. No, Dick, it's wrong and wicked and sinful. You'll have to knock under and give us young uns a chance.'
Here the impudent young rascal looked in my face as bold as brass and burst out laughing. He certainly was the cheekiest young scoundrel I ever came across. But in his own line you couldn't lick him.
'Jim's took,' he said, and he looked curiously over at me. 'I seen the p'leece a-takin' him across the country to Bargo early this morning. There was poor old Jim a-lookin' as if he was goin' to be hanged, with a chap leading the screw he was on, and Jim's long legs tied underneath. I was gatherin' cattle, I was. I drew some up just for a stall, and had a good look.'
'How many men were with him?'
'Only two; and they're to pass through Bargo Brush about sundown to-night, or a bit earlier. I asked one of the men the road; said I'd lost myself, and would be late home. Ha! ha! ha!'
And how the young villain laughed till the tears came into his eyes, while he danced about like a blackfellow.
'See here, Billy,' I said, 'here's another pound for you, and there'll be a fiver after if you stick well to me to-day. I won't let Jim be walked off to Berrima without a flutter to save him. It'll be the death of him. He's not like me, and he's got a young wife besides.'
'More fool he, Dick. What does a cross cove want with a wife? He can't never expect to do any good with a wife follerin' of him about. I'm agin marrying, leastways as long as a chap's sound on his pins. But I'll stick to you, Dick, and, what's more, I can take you a short cut to the brush, and we can wait in a gully and see the traps come up. You have a snack and lie down for a bit. I seen you were done when you came up. I'll have the horses ready saddled up.'
'How about the police? Suppose they come this way.'