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.
We rode along the old track very quiet, talking about old times -- or mostly saying nothing, thinking our own thoughts. Something seemed to put it into my head to watch every turn in the track -- every tree and bush by the roadside -- every sound in the air -- every star in the sky. Aileen rode along at last with her head drooped down as if she hadn't the heart to hold it up. How hard it must have seemed to her to think she didn't dare even to ride with her own brother in the light of day without starting at every bush that stirred -- at every footstep, horse or man, that fell on her ear!
There wasn't a breath of air that night. Not a leaf stirred -- not a bough moved of all the trees in the forest that we rode through. A 'possum might chatter or a night-owl cry out, but there wasn't any other sound, except the ripple of the creek over the stones, that got louder and clearer as we got nearer Rocky Flat. There was nothing like a cloud in the sky even. It wasn't an over light night, but the stars shone out like so many fireballs, and it was that silent any one could almost have fancied they heard the people talking in the house we left, though it was miles away.
'I sometimes wonder,' Aileen says, at last, raising up her head, 'if I had been a man whether I should have done the same things you and Jim have, or whether I should have lived honestly and worked steadily like George over there. I think I should have done so, I really do; that nothing would have tempted me to take what was not my own -- or to -- to -- do other things. I don't think it is in my nature somehow.'
'I don't say as you would, Ailie,' I put in; 'but there's many things to be thought of when you come to reckon what a boy sees, and how he's brought up in the bush. It's different with girls -- though I've known some of them that were no great shakes either, and middling handy among the clearskins too.'
'It's hard to say,' she went on, more as if she was talking to herself than to me; 'I feel that. Bad example -- love of pleasure -- strong temptation -- evil company -- all these are heavy weights to drag down men's souls to hell. Who knows whether I should have been better than the thousands, the millions, that have fallen, that have taken the broad road that leads to destruction. Oh! how dreadful it seems to think that when once a man has sinned in some ways in this world there's no turning back -- no hope -- no mercy -- only long bitter years of prison life -- worse than death; or, if anything can be worse, a felon's death; a doom dark and terrible, dishonouring to those that die and to those that live. Oh that my prayers may avail -- not my prayers only, but my life's service -- my life's service.'
Next morning I was about at daybreak and had my horse fed and saddled up with the bridle on his neck, ready all but slipping the bit into his mouth, in case of a quick start. I went and helped Aileen to milk her cows, nine or ten of them there were, a fairish morning's work for one girl; mothering the calves, bailing up, leg-roping, and all the rest of it. We could milk well, all three of us, and mother too, when she was younger. Women are used to cattle in Ireland, and England too. The men don't milk there, I hear tell. That wouldn't work here. Women are scarce in the regular bush, and though they'll milk for their own good and on their own farms, you'll not get a girl to milk, when she's at service, for anybody else.
One of the young cows was a bit strange with me, so I had to shake a stick at her and sing out 'Bail up' pretty rough before she'd put her head in. Aileen smiled something like her old self for a minute, and said --
'That comes natural to you now, Dick, doesn't it?'
I stared for a bit, and then burst out laughing. It was a rum go, wasn't it? The same talk for cows and Christians. That's how things get stuck into the talk in a new country. Some old hand like father, as had been assigned to a dairy settler, and spent all his mornings in the cowyard, had taken to the bush and tried his hand at sticking up people. When they came near enough of course he'd pop out from behind a tree in a rock, with his old musket or a pair of pistols, and when he wanted 'em to stop 'Bail up, d---- yer,' would come a deal quicker and more natural-like to his tongue than 'Stand.' So 'bail up' it was from that day to this, and there'll have to be a deal of change in the ways of the colonies and them as come from 'em before anything else takes its place, between the man that's got the arms and the man that's got the money.
After we'd turned out the cows we put the milk into the little dairy. How proud Jim and I used to be because we dug out the cellar part, and built the sod wall round the slabs! Father put on the thatch; then it was as cool and clean as ever. Many a good drink of cold milk we had there in the summers that had passed away. Well, well, it's no use thinking of those sort of things. They're dead and gone, like a lot of other things and people -- like I shall be before long, if it comes to that.
We had breakfast pretty comfortable and cheerful. Mother looked pleased and glad to see me once more, and Aileen had got on her old face again, and was partly come round to her old ways.
After breakfast Aileen and I went into the garden and had a long talk over the plan we had chalked out for getting away to Queensland. I got out a map Starlight had made and showed her the way we were going to head, and why he thought it more likely to work than he had done before. I was to make my way down the Macquarie and across by Duck Creek, George's station, Willaroon; start from there with a mob of cattle to Queensland as drover or anything that would suit my book.
Jim was to get on to one of the Murray River boats at Swan Hill, and stick to her till he got a chance to go up the Darling with an Adelaide boat to Bourke. He could get across from there by Cunnamulla towards Rockhampton, and from there we were safe to find plenty of vessels bound for the islands or San Francisco. We had hardly cared where, as far as that goes, as long as we got clear away from our own country.