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.
'All right,' said I, 'he must have got there a day before his time. It is a big mob and no mistake. I wonder where they're taking them to.' Aileen shrugged her shoulders and walked in to mother with a look of misery and despair on her face such as I never saw there before.
She knew it was no use talking to me now. The idea of going out to meet a large lot of unknown cattle had strongly excited us, as would have been the case with every bush-bred lad. All sorts of wonders passed through our minds as we walked down the creek bank, with our bridles in our hands, towards where our horses usually fed. One was easy to catch, the other with a little management was secured. In ten minutes we were riding fast through the dark trees and fallen timber towards the wild gullies and rock-strewed hills of Broken Creek.
It was not more than an hour when we got up to the cattle. We could hear them a good while before we saw them. 'My word,' said Jim, 'ain't they restless. They can't have come far, or they wouldn't roar so. Where can the old man have "touched" for them?'
'How should I know?' I said roughly. I had a kind of idea, but I thought he would never be so rash.
When we got up I could see the cattle had been rounded up in a flat with stony ridges all round. There must have been three or four hundred of them, only a man and a boy riding round and wheeling them every now and then. Their horses were pretty well knocked up. I knew father at once, and the old chestnut mare he used to ride -- an animal with legs like timbers and a mule rump; but you couldn't tire her, and no beast that ever was calved could get away from her. The boy was a half-caste that father had picked up somewhere; he was as good as two men any day.
'So you've come at last,' growled father, 'and a good thing too. I didn't expect to be here till tomorrow morning. The dog came home, I suppose -- that's what brought you here, wasn't it? I thought the infernal cattle would beat Warrigal and me, and we'd have all our trouble for nothing.'
'Whose cattle are they, and what are you going to do with them?'
'Never you mind; ask no questions, and you'll see all about it tomorrow. I'll go and take a snooze now; I've had no sleep for three nights.'
With our fresh horses and riding round so we kept the cattle easily enough. We did not tell Warrigal he might go to rest, not thinking a half-caste brat like him wanted any. He didn't say anything, but went to sleep on his horse, which walked in and out among the angry cattle as he sat on the saddle with his head down on the horse's neck. They sniffed at him once or twice, some of the old cows, but none of them horned him; and daylight came rather quicker than one would think.
Then we saw whose cattle they were; they had all Hunter's and Falkland's brands on, which showed that they belonged to Banda and Elingamah stations.
'By George!' says Jim, 'they're Mr. Hunter's cattle, and all these circle dots belong to Banda. What a mob of calves! not one of them branded! What in the world does father intend to do with them?'
Father was up, and came over where we stood with our horses in our hands before we had time to say more. He wasn't one of those that slept after daylight, whether he had work to do or not. He certainly COULD work; daylight or dark, wet or dry, cold or hot, it was all one to father. It seems a pity what he did was no use to him, as it turned out; for he was a man, was old dad, every inch of him.
'Now, boys,' he said, quite brisk and almost good-natured for him, 'look alive and we'll start the cattle; we've been long enough here; let 'em head up that gully, and I'll show you something you've never seen before for as long as you've known Broken Creek Ranges.'
'But where are you going to take 'em to?' I said. 'They're all Mr. Hunter's and Mr. Falkland's; the brands are plain enough.'
'Are the calves branded, you blasted fool?' he said, while the black look came over his face that had so often frightened me when I was a child. 'You do what I tell you if you've any pluck and gumption about you; or else you and your brother can ride over to Dargo Police Station and "give me away" if you like; only don't come home again, I warn you, sons or no sons.'
If I had done what I had two minds to do -- for I wasn't afraid of him then, savage as he looked -- told him to do his own duffing and ridden away with Jim there and then -- poor Jim, who sat on his horse staring at both of us, and saying nothing -- how much better it would have been for all of us, the old man as well as ourselves; but it seemed as if it wasn't to be. Partly from use, and partly from a love of danger and something new, which is at the bottom of half the crime in the bush districts, I turned my horse's head after the cattle, which were now beginning to straggle. Jim did the same on his side. How easy is it for chaps to take the road to hell! for that was about the size of it, and we were soon too busy to think about much else.
The track we were driving on led along a narrow rocky gully which looked as if it had been split up or made out of a crack in the earth thousands of years ago by an earthquake or something of that kind. The hills were that steep that every now and then some of the young cattle that were not used to that sort of country would come sliding down and bellow as if they thought they were going to break their necks.
The water rushed down it like a torrent in wet winters, and formed a sort of creek, and the bed of it made what track there was. There were overhanging rocks and places that made you giddy to look at, and some of these must have fallen down and blocked up the creek at one time or other. We had to scramble round them the best way we could.
When we got nearly up to the head of the gully -- and great work it was to force the footsore cattle along, as we couldn't use our whips overmuch -- Jim called out --