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 couldn't have believed at first that he'd be so mad. But after a bit I saw that, like a lot of his reckless doings, it wasn't so far out after all.
All the papers had taken it up as usual, and though some of them were pretty wild at the insult offered to the Government and so on, I could see they'd most of them come to think it was a blind of some sort, meant to cover a regular big touch that we were going in for, close by home, and wanting to throw the police off the scent once more. If we'd really wanted to make tracks, they said, this would be the last thing we'd think of doing. Bit by bit it was put about as there should be a carefully laid plot to stick up all the banks in Turon on the same day, and make a sweep of all the gold and cash.
I laughed when I saw this, because I knew that it was agreed upon between Aileen and Gracey that, about the time we were fairly started, whichever of them saw Sir Ferdinand first should allow it to be fished out of her, as a great secret, that we were working up to some tremendous big affair of this sort, and which was to put the crown on all our other doings. To make dead sure, we had sent word to Billy the Boy (and some money too) to raise a sham kind of sticking-up racket on the other side of the Turon, towards Bathurst way. He was to frighten a few small people that would be safe to talk about it, and make out that all the bush-rangers in the country were camped about there. This was the sort of work that the young villain regularly went in for and took a pleasure in, and by the way the papers put it in he had managed to frighten a lot of travellers and roadside publicans out of their senses most.
As luck would have it, Wall and Hulbert and Moran had been working up towards Mudgee lately and stuck up the mail, and as Master Billy thought it a great lark to ride about with them with a black mask on, people began to think the gangs had joined again and that some big thing, they didn't know what, was really on the cards. So a lot of police were telegraphed for, and the Bathurst superintendent came down, all in a hurry, to the Turon, and in the papers nothing went down but telegrams and yarns about bush-rangers. They didn't know what the country was coming to; all the sober going people wishing they'd never got an ounce of gold in Australia, and every little storekeeper along the line that had 100 Pounds in his cash-box hiding it every night and afraid of seeing us ride up every time the dogs barked.
All the time we were heading for Cunnamulla, and leaving New South Wales behind us hand over hand.
The cattle, of course, couldn't travel very fast; ten or twelve miles a day was enough for them. I could have drowned myself in the creeks as we went crawling along sometimes, and I that impatient to get forward. Eighty miles it was from Cunnamulla to the Queensland border. Once we were over that we'd have to be arrested on warrant, and there were lots of chaps, like us, that were 'wanted', on the far-out north stations. Once we sighted the waters of the Warrego we should feel ourselves more than half free.
Then there was Jim, poor old Jim! He wrote to say he was just starting for Melbourne, and very queer he felt about leaving his wife and boy. Such a fine little chap as he'd grown too. He'd just got his head down, he said, and taken to the pulling (he meant working) like our old near-side poler, and he was as happy as a king, going home to Jeanie at night, and having his three pounds every Saturday. Now he was going away ever so far by land and sea, and God knows when he might see either of 'em again. If it wasn't for the fear he had of being pitched upon by the police any day, and the long sentence he was sure to get, he'd stay where he was. He wasn't sure whether he wouldn't do so now.
After that Aileen had a letter, a short one, from Jeanie. Jim had gone. She had persuaded him for the sake of the boy, though both their hearts were nearly broken. She didn't know whether she'd done right. Perhaps she never might see him again. The poor fellow had forfeited his coach fare once, and come back to stay another day with her. When he did go he looked the picture of misery, and something told her it was their last parting.
Well, we struck the river about ten miles this side of Cunnamulla, where there was a roadside inn, a small, miserable kind of place, just one of those half-shanties, half-public-houses, fit for nothing but to trap bushmen, and where the bad grog kills more men in a year than a middling break-out of fever.
Somewhere about here I expected to hear of the other two. We'd settled to meet a few miles one side or the other of the township. It didn't much matter which. So I began to look about in case I might get word of either of 'em, even if they didn't turn up to the time.
Somewhere about dinner time (twelve o'clock) we got the cattle on to the river and let 'em spread over the flat. Then the man in charge rode up to the inn, the Traveller's Rest, a pretty long rest for some of 'em (as a grave here and there with four panels of shickery two-rail fence round it showed), and shouted nobblers round for us.
While we was standing up at the bar, waiting for the cove to serve it out, a flash-looking card he was, and didn't hurry himself, up rides a tall man to the door, hangs up his horse, and walks in. He had on a regular town rig -- watch and chain, leather valise, round felt hat, like a chap going to take charge of a store or something. I didn't know him at first, but directly our eyes met I saw it was old Jim. We didn't talk -- no fear, and my boss asked him to join us, like any other stranger. Just then in comes the landlady to sharpen up the man at the bar.
'Haven't you served those drinks yet, Bob?' she sings out. 'Why, the gentlemen called for them half-an-hour ago. I never saw such a slow-going crawler as you are. You'd never have done for the Turon boys.'