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.
This bit of a barney, of course, made bad blood betwixt us and Moran's mob, so for a spell Starlight and father thought it handier for us to go our own road and let them go theirs. We never could agree with chaps like them, and that was the long and short of it. They were a deal too rough and ready for Starlight; and as for Jim and me, though we were none too good, we couldn't do some of the things these coves was up to, nor stand by and see 'em done, which was more. This time we made up our mind to go back to the Hollow and drop out of notice altogether for a bit, and take a rest like.
We hadn't heard anything of Aileen and the old mother for weeks and weeks, so we fixed it that we should sneak over to Rocky Flat, one at a time, and see how things were going, and hearten 'em up a bit. When we did get to the Hollow, instead of being able to take it easy, as we expected, we found things had gone wrong as far as the devil could send 'em that way if he tried his best. It seems father had taken a restless fit himself, and after we were gone had crossed Nulla Mountain to some place above Rocky Flat, to where he could see what went on with a strong glass.
Before I go further I might as well tell you that, along with the whacking big reward that was offered for all of us, a good many coves as fancied themselves a bit had turned amateur policemen, and had all kinds of plans and dodges for catching us dead or alive. Now, men that take to the bush like us don't mind the regular paid force much, or bear them any malice. It's their duty to catch us or shoot us if we bolt, and ours to take all sorts of good care that they shan't do either if we can help it.
Well, as I was sayin', we don't have it in for the regulars in the police; it's all fair pulling, 'pull devil pull baker', some one has to get the worst of it. Now it's us, now it's them, that gets took or rubbed out, and no more about it.
But what us cross coves can't stand and are mostly sure to turn nasty on is the notion of fellows going into the manhunting trade, with us for game, either for the fun of it or for the reward. That reward means the money paid for our blood. WE DON'T LIKE IT. It may seem curious, but we don't; and them as take up the line as a game to make money or fun out of, when they've no call to, find out their mistake, sometimes when it's a deal too late.
Now we'd heard that a party of four men -- some of them had been gaol warders and some hadn't -- had made it up to follow us up and get us one way or the other if it was to be done. They weren't in the police, but they thought they knew quite as much as the police did; and, besides, the reward, 5000 Pounds, if they got our lot and any one of the others, was no foolish money.
Well, nothing would knock it out of these chaps' heads but that we were safe to be grabbed in the long run trying to make into the old home. This was what made them gammon to be surveyors when they first came, as we heard about, and go measuring and tape-lining about, when there wasn't a child over eight years old on the whole creek that couldn't have told with half an eye they wasn't nothing of the sort.
Well, as bad luck would have it, just as father was getting down towards the place he meets Moran and Daly, who were making over to the Fish River on a cattle-duffing lay of their own. They were pretty hard up; and Moran after his rough and tumble with Jim, in which he had come off second best, was ready for anything -- anything that was bad, that is.
After he'd a long yarn with them about cattle and horses and what not, he offered them a ten-pound note each if they'd do what he told them. Dad always carried money about with him; he said it came in handy. If the police didn't take him, they wouldn't get it; and if they did take him, why, nothing would matter much and it might go with the rest. It came in handy enough this time, anyhow, though it helped what had been far better left undone.
I remember what a blinded rage father got into when he first had Aileen's letter, and heard that these men were camped close to the old house, poking about there all day long, and worrying and frightening poor Aileen and mother.
Well, it seems on this particular day they'd been into the little township, and I suppose got an extra glass of grog. Anyhow, when they came back they began to be more venturesome than they generally were. One chap came into the house and began talking to Aileen, and after a bit mother goes into her bedroom, and Aileen comes out into the verandah and begins to wash some clothes in a tub, splashing the water pretty well about and making it a bit uncomfortable for any one to come near her.
What must this fool do but begin to talk about what white arms she'd got -- not that they were like that much, she'd done too much hard work lately to have her arms, or hands either, look very grand; and at last he began to be saucy, telling her as no Marston girl ought to think so much of herself, considerin' who and what she was. Well, the end of it was father heard a scream, and he looked out from where he was hidden and saw Aileen running down the garden and the fellow after her. He jumps out, and fires his revolver slapbang at the chap; it didn't hit him, but it went that close that he stopped dead and turned round to see who it was.
'Ben Marston, by all that's lucky, boys!' says he, as two of the other chaps came running down at the shot. 'We've got the ould sarpint out of his hole at last.' With that they all fires at father as quick as they could draw; and Aileen gives one scream and starts running along the track up the hill that leads to George Storefield's place.
Father drops; one of the bullets had hit him, but not so bad as he couldn't run, so he ups again and starts running along the gully, with the whole four of them shouting and swearin' after him, making sure they got him to rights this time.
'Two hundred a man, boys,' the big fellow in the lead says; 'and maybe we'll take tay with the rest of 'em now.'