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 think I'll take Locket after all,' says he, after thinking about it best part of an hour. 'She's very fast and a stayer. Good-tempered too, and the old horse has taken up with her. It will be company for him.'
'If you come to that, Rainbow is not an every-day horse, and I can't leave him behind, can I? I'll ship him, if I can, that's more. But it won't matter much, for we'll have to take back tracks all the way. You didn't suppose we were to ride along the mail road, did you?'
'I didn't suppose anything,' says I, 'but that we were going to clear out the safest way we could. If we're to do the swell business we'd better do it apart, or else put an advertisement into the "Turon Star" that Starlight, Marston, and Co. are giving up business and going to leave the district, all accounts owing to be sent in by a certain date.'
'A first-rate idea,' says he. 'I'm dashed if I don't do it. There's nothing like making one's exit in good form. How savage Morringer will be! Thank you for the hint, Dick.'
There was no use talking to him when he got into this sort of humour. He was the most mad, reckless character I ever came across, and any kind of checking only seemed to make him worse. So I left him alone, for fear he should want to do something more venturesome still, and went on with my packing and getting ready for the road.
We fixed up to start on the Monday, and get as far away the first couple of days as we could manage. We expected to get a good start by making a great push the first day or two, and, as the police would be thrown off the scent in a way we settled -- and a good dodge it was -- we should have all the more time to be clear of New South Wales before they regularly dropped that we were giving them leg bail for it.
The Sunday before Starlight started away by himself, taking a couple of good horses with him -- one he led, and a spare saddle too. He took nothing but his revolver, and didn't say where he was going, but I pretty well guessed to say good-bye to Aileen. Just as he started he looked back and says --
'I'm going for a longish ride to-day, Dick, but I shall be here late if I'm back at all. If anything happens to me my share of what there is I give to her, if she will take it. If not, do the best you can with it for her benefit.'
He didn't take Warrigal with him, which I was sorry for, as the half-caste and I didn't hit it well together, and when we were by ourselves he generally managed to do or say something he knew I didn't like. I kept my hands off him on account of Starlight, but there was many a time my fingers itched to be at him, and I could hardly keep from knocking some of the sulkiness out of him. This day, somehow, I was not in the best of tempers myself. I had a good lot on my mind. Starting away seems always a troublesome, bothering sort of thing, and if a man's at all inclined to be cranky it'll come out then.
Next day we were going to start on a long voyage, in a manner of speaking, and whether we should have a fair wind or the vessel of our fortune would be wrecked and we go down with it no one could say. This is how it happened. One of the horses was bad to catch, and took a little trouble in the yard. Most times Warrigal was quiet enough with 'em, but when he got regular into a rage he'd skin a horse alive, I really believe. Anyhow, he began to hammer the colt with a roping-pole, and as the yard was that high that no beast could jump it he had him at his mercy. I wouldn't have minded a lick or two, but he went on and on, nearly knocking the poor brute down every time, till I could stand it no longer, and told him to drop it.
He gave me some saucy answer, until at last I told him I'd make him. He dared me, and I rushed at him. I believe he'd have killed me that minute if he'd had the chance, and he made a deuced good offer at it.
He stuck to his roping-stick -- a good, heavy-ended gum sapling, six or seven feet long -- and as I came at him he struck at my head with such vengeance that, if it had caught me fair, I should never have kicked. I made a spring to one side, and it hit me a crack on the shoulder that wasn't a good thing in itself. I was in at him before he could raise his hands, and let him have it right and left.
Down he went and the stick atop of him. He was up again like a wild cat, and at me hammer and tongs -- but he hadn't the weight, though he was quick and smart with his hands. I drew off and knocked him clean off his pins. Then he saw it wasn't good enough, and gave it best.
'Never mind, Dick Marston,' says he, as he walked off; and he fixed his eyes on me that savage and deadly-looking, with the blood running down his face, that I couldn't help shivering a bit, 'you'll pay for this. I owe it you and Jim, one a piece.'
'Confound you,' I said, 'it's all your own fault. Why couldn't you stop ill-using the horse? You don't like being hit yourself. How do you think he likes it?'
'What business that of yours?' he said. 'You mind your work and I'll mind mine. This is the worst day's work you've done this year, and so I tell you.'
He went away to his gunyah then, and except doing one or two things for Starlight would not lift his hand for any one that day.
I was sorry for it when I came to think. I daresay I might have got him round with a little patience and humbugging. It's always a mistake to lose your temper and make enemies; there's no knowing what harm they may do ye. People like us oughtn't to throw away a chance, even with a chap like Warrigal. Besides, I knew it would vex Starlight, and for his sake I would have given a trifle it hadn't happened. However, I didn't see how Warrigal could do me or Jim any harm without hurting him, and I knew he'd have cut off his hand rather than any harm should come to Starlight that he could help.
So I got ready. Dad and I had our tea together pretty comfortable, and had a longish talk. The old man was rather down in the mouth for him. He said he somehow didn't expect the fakement to turn out well. 'You're going away,' he said, 'from where you're safe, and there's a many things goes against a man in our line, once he's away from his own beat. You never know how you may be given away. The Captain's all right here, when he's me to look after him, though he does swear at me sometimes; but he was took last time. He was out on his own hook, and it's my belief he'll be took this time if he isn't very careful. He's a good man to fight through things when once he's in the thick of 'em, but he ain't careful enough to keep dark and close when the play isn't good. You draw along steady by yourself till you meet Jim -- that's my advice to ye.'
'I mean to do that. I shall work my way down to old George's place, and get on with stock or something till we all meet at Cunnamulla. After that there ain't much chance of these police here grabbing us.'
'Unless you're followed up,' says the old man. 'I've known chaps to go a deuce of a way, once they got on the track, and there's getting some smart fellows among 'em now -- native-born chaps as'll be as good at picking up the tracks as you and Jim.'
'Well, we must take our chance. I'm sorry, for one thing, that I had that barney with Warrigal. It was all his fault. But I had to give him a hardish crack or two. He'd turn dog on me and Jim, and in a minute, if he saw his way without hurting Starlight.'
'He can't do it,' says dad; 'it's sink or swim with the lot of you. And he dursn't either, not he,' says father, beginning to growl out his words. 'If I ever heard he'd given away any one in the lot I'd have his life, if I had to poleaxe him in George Street. He knows me too.'
We sat yarning away pretty late. The old man didn't say it, but I made out that he was sorry enough for that part of his life which had turned out so bad for us boys, and for mother and Aileen. Bad enough he was in a kind of way, old dad, but he wasn't all bad, and I believe if he could have begun again and thought of what misery he was going to bring on the lot of us he would never have gone on the cross. It was too late, too late now, though, to think of that.
Towards morning I heard the old dog growl, and then the tramp of a horse's feet. Starlight rode up to the fire and let his horse go, then walked straight into his corner and threw himself down without speaking. He had had a precious long ride, and a fast one by the look of his horse. The other one he had let go as soon as he came into the Hollow; but none of the three would be a bit the worse after a few hours' rest. The horses, of course, were spare ones, and not wanted again for a bit.
Next morning it was 'sharp's the word', and no mistake. I felt a deal smarter on it than yesterday. When you've fairly started for the road half the journey's done. It's the thinking of this and forgetting that, and wondering whether you haven't left behind the t'other thing, that's the miserablest part of going a journey; when you're once away, no matter what's left behind, you can get on some way or other.
We didn't start so over and above early, though Starlight was up as fresh as paint at sunrise, you'd thought he hadn't ridden a yard the day before. Even at the very last there's a lot of things to do and to get. But we all looked slippy and didn't talk much, so that we got through what we had to do, and had all the horses saddled and packed by about eight o'clock. Even Warrigal had partly got over his temper. Of course I told Starlight about it. He gave him a good rowing, and told him he deserved another hammering, which he had a good mind to give him, if we hadn't been starting for a journey. Warrigal didn't say a word to him. He never did. Starlight told me on the quiet, though, he was sorry it happened, 'though it's the rascal's own fault, and served him right. But he's a revengeful beggar,' he says, 'and that he would play you some dog's trick if he wasn't afraid of me, you may depend your life on.'
'Now,' says he, 'we must make our little arrangements. I shall be somewhere about Cunnamulla by the end of this month' (it was only the first week). 'Jim knows that we are to meet there, and if we manage that all right I think the greatest part of the danger will be over. I shall get right across by Dandaloo to the back blocks of the West Bogan country, between it and the Lachlan. There are tracks through the endless mallee scrub, only known to the tribes in the neighbourhood, and a few half-castes like Warrigal, that have been stock-riding about them. Sir Ferdinand and his troopers might just as well hunt for a stray Arab in the deserts of the Euphrates. If I'm alive -- mind you, alive -- I'll be at Cunnamulla on the day I mean. And now, good-bye, old fellow. Whatever my sins have been, I've been true to you and your people in the past, and if Aileen and I meet across the seas, as I hope, the new life may partly atone for the old one.'