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.
'Well, Dick,' says this young limb of Satan, 'so you've took to the Queen's highway agin, as the chap says in the play. I thought you and Jim was a-going to jine the Methodies or the Sons of Temperance at Turon, you both got to look so thunderin' square on it. Poor old Jim looks dreadful down in the mouth, don't he, though?'
'It would be all the better for you if you'd joined some other body, you young scamp,' I said. 'Who told you to come here? I've half a mind to belt you home again to your mother;' and I walked towards him.
'No, you won't, Dick Marston, don't you make any mistake,' says the young bull-pup, looking nasty. 'I'm as good a man as you, with this little tool.' Here he pulled out his revolver. 'I've as much right to turn out as you have. What odds is it to you what I do?'
I looked rather foolish at this, and Moran and Burke began to laugh.
'You'd better set up a night-school, Dick,' says Burke, 'and get Billy and some of the other flash kiddies to come. They might turn over a new leaf in time.'
'If you'll stand up, or Moran there, that's grinning behind you, I'll make some of ye laugh on the wrong side,' I said.
'Come on,' drawls Moran, taking off his coat, and walking up; 'I'd like to have a smack at you before you go into the Church.'
We should have been at it hammer and tongs -- we both hated one another like poison -- only the others interfered, and Billy said we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for quarrelling like schoolboys. We were nice sort of chaps to stick up a gold escort. That made a laugh, and we knocked off.
Well, it looked as if no one wanted to speak. Then Hulbert, a very quiet chap, says, 'I believe Ben Marston's the oldest man here; let's hear what he's got to say.'
Father gets up at once, and looks steady at the rest of 'em, takes his pipe out of his mouth, and shakes the baccy out. Then he says --
'All on ye knows without my telling what we've come here about, and what there's hangin' to it. It's good enough if it's done to rights; but make no mistake, boys, it's a battle as must be fought game, and right back to the ropes, or not at all. If there's a bird here that won't stand the steel he'd better be put in a bag and took home again.'
'Never mind about the steel, daddy,' says one of the new men. 'We're all good for a flutter when the wager's good. What'll it be worth a man, and where are we going to divide? We know your mob's got some crib up in the mountains that no one knows about. We don't want the swag took there and planted. It mightn't be found easy.'
'Did ever a one of ye heer tell o' me actin' crooked?' says father. 'Look here, Bill, I'm not as young as I was, but you stand up to me for three rounds and I'll take some of the cheek out of yer.'
'No fear, daddy, I'd sooner face Dick or Jim. But I only want what's fair between man and man. It's a big touch, you know, and we can't take it to the bank to divide, like diggers, or summons yer either.'
'What's the good of growlin' and snappin'?' says Burke. 'We're all goin' in regular, I suppose, share and share alike?' The men nodded. 'Well, there's only one way to make things shipshape, and that's to have a captain. We'll pick one of ourselves, and whatever he says we'll bind ourselves to do -- life or death. Is that it, boys?'
'Yes, yes, that's the only way,' came from all hands.
'Now, the next thing to work is who we're to make captain of. There's one here as we can all depend on, who knows more about road-work than all the rest of us put together. You know who I mean; but I don't want ye to choose him or any man because I tell you. I propose Starlight for captain if he'll take it, and them that don't believe me let 'em find a better man if they can.'
'I vote for Dan Moran,' says another man, a youngish farmer-looking chap. 'He's a bushman, like ourselves, and not a half-bred swell, that's just as likely to clear out when we want him most as do anything else.'
'You go back to the Springs and feed them pigs, Johnny,' says father, walking towards the young chap. 'That's about what YOU'RE bred for; nobody'll take you for a swell, quarter-bred, or anything else. Howsoever, let's draw lots for it. Every man put his fancy down on a bit of paper, and put 'em into my old hat here.'
This was done after a bit, and the end of it was ten votes for Starlight and two or three for Moran, who looked savage and sulkier than ever.
When this was over Starlight walked over from where he was standing, near me and Jim, and faced the crowd. He drew himself up a bit, and looked round as haughty as he used to do when he walked up the big room at the Prospectors' Arms in Turon -- as if all the rest of us was dirt under his feet.
'Well, my lads,' he said, 'you've done me the great honour to elect me to be your captain. I'm willing to act, or I shouldn't be here. If you're fools enough to risk your lives and liberties for a thousand ounces of gold a man, I'm fool enough to show you the way.'
'Hurrah!' said half-a-dozen of them, flinging up their hats. 'We're on, Captain. Starlight for ever! You ride ahead and we'll back up.'
'That will do,' he says, holding up his hand as if to stop a lot of dogs barking; 'but listen to me.' Here he spoke a few words in that other voice of his that always sounded to me and Jim as if it was a different man talking, or the devil in his likeness. 'Now mind this before we go: you don't quite know me; you will by and by, perhaps. When I take command of this gang, for this bit of work or any other, my word's law -- do you hear? And if any man disputes it or disobeys my orders, by ----, I'll shoot him like a dog.'
As he stood there looking down on the lot of 'em, as if he was their king, with his eyes burning up at last with that slow fire that lay at the bottom of 'em, and only showed out sometimes, I couldn't help thinking of a pirate crew that I'd read of when I was a boy, and the way the pirate captain ruled 'em.