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.
Rainbow rears up, gives one spring, and falls backward with a crash. I thought Starlight was crushed underneath him, shot through the neck and flank as he was, but he saved himself somehow, and stood with his hand on Rainbow's mane, when the old horse rose again all right, head and tail well up, and as steady as a rock. The blood was pouring out of his neck, but he didn't seem to care two straws about it. You could see his nostril spread out and his eye looking twice as big and fiery.
Starlight rests his rifle a minute on the old horse's shoulder, and the man that had fired the shot fell over with a kick. Something hits me in the ribs like a stone, and another on the right arm, which drops down just as I was aiming at a young fellow with light hair that had ridden pretty close up, under a myall tree.
Jim and Sir Ferdinand let drive straight at one another the same minute. They both meant it this time. Sir Ferdinand's hat turned part round on his head, but poor old Jim drops forward on his face and tears up the grass with his hands. I knew what that sign meant.
Goring rides straight at Starlight and calls on him to surrender. He had his rifle on his hip, but he never moved. There he stood, with his hand on the mane of the old horse. 'Keep back if you're wise, Goring,' says he, as quiet and steady as if he'd been cattle-drafting. 'I don't want to have your blood on my head; but if you must ----'
Goring had taken so many men in his day that he was got over confident-like. He thought Starlight would give in at the last moment or miss him in the rush. My right arm was broken, and now that Jim was down we might both be took, which would be a great crow for the police. Anyhow, he was a man that didn't know what fear was, and he chanced it.
Two of the other troopers fired point blank at Starlight as Goring rode at him, and both shots told. He never moved, but just lifted his rifle as the other came up at the gallop. Goring threw up his arms, and rolled off his horse a dying man.
Starlight looked at him for a minute.
'We're quits,' he says; 'it's not once or twice either you've pulled trigger on me. I knew this day would come.'
Then he sinks down slowly by the side of the old horse and leans against his fore leg, Rainbow standing quite steady, only tossing his head up and down the old way. I could see, by the stain on Starlight's mouth and the blood on his breast, he'd been shot through the lungs.
I was badly hit too, and going in the head, though I didn't feel it so much at the time. I began to hear voices like in a dream; then my eyes darkened, and I fell like a log.
When I came to, all the men was off their horses, some round Goring -- him they lifted up and propped against a tree; but he was stone dead, any one could see. Sir Ferdinand was on his knees beside Starlight, talking to him, and the other saying a word now and then, quite composed and quiet-like.
'Close thing, Morringer, wasn't it?' I heard him say. 'You were too quick for us; another day and we'd been out of reach.'
'True enough. Horses all dead beat; couldn't raise a remount for love or money.'
'Well, the game's up now, isn't it? I've held some good cards too, but they never told, somehow. I'm more sorry for Jim -- and -- that poor girl, Aileen, than I am for myself.'
'Don't fret -- there's a good fellow. Fortune of war, you know. Anything else?'
Here he closed his eyes, and seemed gone; but he wakes up again, and begins in a dreamy way. His words came slowly, but his voice never altered one bit.
'I'm sorry I fired at poor Warrigal now. No dog ever was more faithful than he has been to me all through till now; but I was vexed at his having sold Dick and poor Jim.'
'We knew we should find you here or hereabouts without that,' says Sir Ferdinand.
'How was that?'
'Two jockey-boys met you one night at Calga gate; one of them recognised Locket by the white patch on her neck. He wired to us at the next station.'
'So you were right, after all, Dick. It was a mistake to take that mare. I've always been confoundedly obstinate; I admit that. Too late to think of it now, isn't it?'
'Anything else I can do?' says Sir Ferdinand.
'Give her this ring,' he pulls it off his finger, 'and you'll see Maddie Barnes gets the old horse, won't you? Poor old Rainbow! I know she'll take care of him; and a promise is a promise.'
'All right. He's the property of the Government now, you know; but I'll square it somehow. The General won't object under the circumstances.'
Then he shuts his eyes for a bit. After a while he calls out --
'Dick! Dick Marston.'
'I'm here,' says I.
'If you ever leave this, tell Aileen that her name was the last word I spoke -- the very last. She foresaw this day; she told me so. I've had a queer feeling too, this week back. Well, it's over now. I don't know that I'm sorry, except for others. I say, Morringer, do you remember the last pigeon match you and I shot in, at Hurlingham?'
'Why, good God!' says Sir Ferdinand, bending down, and looking into his face. 'It can't be; yes, by Jove, it is ----'
He spoke some name I couldn't catch, but Starlight put a finger on his lips, and whispers --
'You won't tell, will you? Say you won't?'
The other nodded.
He smiled just like his old self.
'Poor Aileen!' he says, quite faint. His head fell back. Starlight was dead!