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 knew he had it in for me,' said I; 'but I depended on his not doing anything for fear of hurting you.'
'So I thought, too; but he expected you'd be trapped at Willaroon before there would be time for you to catch me up. If he hadn't met that Jemmy Wardell, I daresay he wouldn't have thought of it. When he told me I was in such an infernal rage that I fired point blank at him; didn't wait to see whether he was dead or alive, and rode straight back here to warn you. I was just in time -- eh, Jim, old man? Why, you look so respectable they'd never have known you. Why didn't you stay where you were, James?'
'I wish to God I had!' says poor old Jim. 'It's too late to think of that now.'
We hadn't over much time for talking, and had to range up close to do it at all at the pace we were going. We did our best, and must have ridden many a mile before dark. Then we kept going through the night. Starlight was pilot, and by the compass he carried we were keeping something in a line with the road. But we missed Warrigal in the night work, and more than once I suspected we were going round and not keeping a straight course.
We didn't do badly after all, for we struck the main road at daylight and made out that we were thirty miles the other side of Cunnamulla, and in the right direction. The worst of it was, like all short cuts and night riding, we'd taken about twice as much out of our horses as we need have done if we'd been certain of our line.
'This ought to be Murrynebone Creek,' says Starlight, 'by the look of it,' when we came to a goodish broad bit of water. 'The crossing place is boggy, so they told me at the hotel. We may as well pull up for a spell. We're in Queensland now, that's one comfort.'
It took us all we knew to get over; it was a regular quicksand. Rainbow never got flustered if he was up to his neck in a bog, but my horse got frightened and plunged, so that I had to jump off. Jim's horse was a trifle better, but he hadn't much to spare. We weren't sorry to take the bridles out of their mouths and let them pick a bit on the flat when we got safe over.
We didn't unsaddle our horses -- no fear; we never did that only at night; not always then. We took the bits out of their mouths, and let them pick feed round about, with the bridle under their feet, stockhorse fashion. They were all used to it, and you'd see 'em put their foot on a rein, and take it off again, regular as if they knew all about it. We could run full pelt and catch 'em all three in a minute's notice; old Rainbow would hold up his head when he saw Starlight coming, and wait for him to mount if there was a hundred horses galloping past. Lucky for him, he'd done it scores of times; once on his back there was no fear of any other horse overhauling him, any more than a coolie dog or a flying doe kangaroo.
Pretty well settled it came to be amongst us that we should be well into Queensland before the police were handy. Starlight and Jim were having a pitch about the best way to get aboard one of these pearling craft, and how jolly it would be. The captains didn't care two straws what sort of passengers they took aboard so long as they had the cash and were willing to give a hand when they were wanted.
We were just walking towards the horses to make a fresh start, when Starlight puts up his hand. We all listened. There was no mistaking the sound we heard -- horses at speed, and mounted men at that. We were in a sort of angle. We couldn't make back over the infernal boggy creek we'd just passed, and they seemed to be coming on two sides at once.
'By ----! they're on us,' says Starlight; and he cocks his rifle, and walks over quite cool to the old horse. 'Our chance, boys, is to exchange shots, and ride for it. Keep cool, don't waste your fire, and if we can drop a couple of them we may slip them yet.'
We hadn't barely time to get to our horses, when out of the timber they came -- in two lots -- three on each side. Police, sure enough; and meeting us. That shook us a bit. How the devil did they get ahead of us after the pace we'd ridden the last twenty-four hours, too? When they came close we could see how it was, Sir Ferdinand and three troopers on one side; Inspector Goring, with two more, on the left; while outside, not far from the lead, rode Sir Watkin, the Braidwood black tracker -- the best hand at that work in the three colonies, if you could keep him sober.
Now we could see why they took us in front. He had kept out wide when he saw the tracks were getting hot, so as to come in on the road ahead of us, and meet us full in the teeth.
He had hit it off well this time, blast him! We couldn't make back on account of the creek, and we had double our number to fight, and good men too, before we could break through, if we could do that.
Our time was come if we hadn't the devil's own luck; but we had come out of as tight a place before, and might do it again.
When they were within fifty yards Sir Ferdinand calls out, 'Surrender! It's no use, men,' says he; 'I don't want to shoot you down, but you must see you're outnumbered. There's no disgrace in yielding now.'
'Come on!' says Starlight; 'don't waste your breath! There's no man here will be taken alive.'
With that, Goring lets drive and sends a bullet that close by my head I put my hand up to feel the place. All the rest bangs away, black tracker and all. I didn't see Sir Ferdinand's pistol smoke. He and Starlight seemed to wait. Then Jim and I fires steady. One trooper drops badly hit, and my man's horse fell like a log and penned his rider under him, which was pretty nigh as good.
'Steady does it,' says Starlight, and he makes a snap shot at the tracker, and breaks his right arm.
'Three men spoiled,' says he; 'one more to the good and we may charge.'
Just as he said this the trooper that was underneath the dead horse crawls from under him, the off side, and rests his rifle on his wither. Starlight had just mounted when every rifle and pistol in the two parties was fired at one volley. We had drawn closer to one another, and no one seemed to think of cover.