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.
'Great God!' Starlight cries out, 'what's that?' and he pointed to a small sloping bit of grass just underneath the bank. 'Who are they? Can they be asleep?'
They were asleep, never to wake. As we stood side by side by the dead men, for there were four of them, we shook so, Jim and I, that we leaned against one another for support. We had never seen a sight before that like it. I never want to do so again.
There they lay, four dead men. We didn't know them ourselves, but guessed they were Hagan and his lot. How else did they come there? and how could dad have shot them all by himself, and laid them out there? Were Daly and Moran with him? This looked like Moran's damnable work.
We looked and looked. I rubbed my eyes. Could it be real? The sky was dark, and the daylight going fast. The mountain hung over us black and dreadful-looking. The wind whimpered up and down the hillside with a sort of cry in it. Everything was dark and dismal and almost unnatural-looking.
All four men were lying on their backs side by side, with their eyes staring up to the sky -- staring -- staring! When we got close beside them we could see they had all been shot -- one man through the head, the rest through the body. The two nearest to me had had their hands tied; the bit of rope was lying by one and his wrist was chafed.
One had been so close to the man that shot him that the powder had burnt his shirt. It wasn't for anything they had either, for every man's notes (and one had four fives and some ones) were pinned to them outside of their pockets, as if to show every one that those who killed them wanted their blood and not their money.
'This is a terrible affair, boys,' said Starlight; and his voice sounded strange and hoarse. 'I never thought we should be mixed up with a deed like this. I see how it was done. They have been led into a trap. Your father has made 'em think they could catch him; and had Daly and Moran waiting for them -- one on each side of this hole here. Warrigal' -- for he had tied up his horse and crept up -- 'how many bin here?'
Warrigal held up three fingers.
'That one ran down here -- one after one. I see 'em boot. Moran stand here. Patsey Daly lie down behind that ole log. All about boot-nail mark. Old man Ben he stand here. Dog bite'm this one.'
Here he stooped and touched a dead man's ankle. Sure enough there was the mark of Crib's teeth, with the front one missing, that had been kicked down his throat by a wild mare.
'Two fellow tumble down fust-like; then two fellow bimeby. One -- two -- three fellow track go along a flat that way. Then that one get two horses and ridem likit Fish River. Penty blood tumble down here.'
This was the ciphering up of the whole thing. It was clear enough now. Moran and Daly had waited for them here, and had shot down the two first men. Of the others, it was hard to say whether they died in fair fight or had been taken prisoners and shot afterwards. Either way it was bad enough. What a noise it would make! The idea of four men, well known to the Government, and engaged in hunting down outlaws on whose head a price was set, to be deliberately shot -- murdered in cold blood, as there was some ground for thinking to be the case. What would be the end of it all?
We had done things that were bad enough, but a deliberate, cold-blooded, shameful piece of bloodshed like this had never been heard of in New South Wales before.
There was nothing more to be done. We couldn't stay any longer looking at the dead men; it was no use burying them, even if we'd had the time. We hadn't done it, though we should be sure to be mixed up with it somehow.
'We must be moving, lads,' said Starlight. 'As soon as this gets wind there'll be another rush out this way, and every policeman and newspaper reporter in the country will be up at Black Gully. When they're found everybody will see that they've been killed for vengeance and not for plunder. But the sooner they're found the better.'
'Best send word to Billy the Boy,' I said; 'he'll manage to lay them on without hurting himself.'
'All right. Warrigal knows a way of communicating with him; I'll send him off at once. And now the sooner we're at the Hollow the better for everybody.'
We rode all night. Anything was better than stopping still with such thoughts as we were likely to have for companions. About daylight we got to the Hollow. Not far from the cave we found father's old mare with the saddle on and the reins trailing on the ground. There was a lot of blood on the saddle too, and the reins were smeared all about with it; red they were to the buckles, so was her mane.
We knew then something was wrong, and that the old man was hard hit, or he'd never have let her go loose like that. When we got to the cave the dog came out to meet us, and then walked back whining in a queer way towards the log at the mouth, where we used to sit in the evenings.
There was father, sure enough, lying on his face in a pool of blood, and to all appearances as dead as the men we'd just left.
We lifted him up, and Starlight looked close and careful at him by the light of the dawn, that was just showing up over the tree tops to the east.
'He's not dead; I can feel his heart beat,' he said. 'Carry him in, boys, and we'll soon see what's the matter with him.'
We took his waistcoat and shirt off -- a coat he never wore unless it was raining. Hard work we had to do it, they was so stuck to his skin when the blood had dried.
'By gum! he's been hit bad enough,' says Jim. 'Look here, and here, poor old dad!'
'There's not much "poor" about it, Jim,' says Starlight. 'Men that play at bowls must expect to get rubbers. They've come off second best in this row, and I wish it had been different, for several reasons.'