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.
It was child's play now, as far as the driving went. Jim and I walked along, leading our horses and yarning away as we used to do when we were little chaps bringing in the milkers.
'My word, Dick, dad's dropped into a fine road through this thundering mountain, hasn't he? I wonder where it leads to? How high the rock-walls are getting above us!' he says. 'I know now. I think I heard long ago from one of the Crosbies of a place in the ranges down towards behind the Nulla Mountain, "Terrible Hollow". He didn't know about it himself, but said an old stockman told him about it when he was drunk. He said the Government men used to hide the cattle and horses there in old times, and that it was never found out.'
'Why wasn't it found out, Jim? If the old fellow "split" about it some one else would get to know.'
'Well, old Dan said that they killed one man that talked of telling; the rest were too frightened after that, and they all swore a big oath never to tell any one except he was on the cross.'
'That's how dad come to know, I suppose,' said Jim. 'I wish he never had. I don't care about those cross doings. I never did. I never seen any good come out of them yet.'
'Well, we must go through with it now, I suppose. It won't do to leave old dad in the lurch. You won't, will you, Jim?'
'You know very well I won't,' says Jim, very soberlike. 'I don't like it any the more for that. But I wish father had broke his leg, and was lying up at home, with mother nursing him, before he found out this hell-hole of a place.'
'Well, we're going to get out of it, and soon too. The gully seems getting wider, and I can see a bit of open country through the trees.'
'Thank God for that!' says Jim. 'My boots'll part company soon, and the poor devils of calves won't have any hoofs either, if there's much more of this.'
'They're drawing faster now. The leading cattle are beginning to run. We're at the end of the drive.'
So it was. The deep, rocky gully gradually widened into an open and pretty smooth flat; this, again, into a splendid little plain, up to the knees in grass; a big natural park, closed round on every side with sandstone rockwalls, as upright as if they were built, and a couple of thousand feet above the place where we stood.
This scrub country was crossed by two good creeks; it was several miles across, and a trifle more in length. Our hungry weaners spread out and began to feed, without a notion of their mothers they'd left behind; but they were not the only ones there. We could see other mobs of cattle, some near, some farther off; horses, too; and the well-worn track in several ways showed that this was no new grazing ground.
Father came riding back quite comfortable and hearty-like for him.
'Welcome to Terrible Hollow, lads,' says he. 'You're the youngest chaps it has ever been shown to, and if I didn't know you were the right stuff, you'd never have seen it, though you're my own flesh and blood. Jump off, and let your horses go. They can't get away, even if they tried; they don't look much like that.'
Our poor nags were something like the cattle, pretty hungry and stiff. They put their heads down to the thick green grass, and went in at it with a will.
'Bring your saddles along with you,' father said, 'and come after me. I'll show you a good camping place. You deserve a treat after last night's work.'
We turned back towards the rocky wall, near to where we had come in, and there, behind a bush and a big piece of sandstone that had fallen down, was the entrance to a cave. The walls of it were quite clean and white-looking, the floor was smooth, and the roof was pretty high, well blackened with smoke, too, from the fires which had been lighted in it for many a year gone by.
A kind of natural cellar had been made by scooping out the soft sandstone behind a ledge. From this father took a bag of flour and corn-meal. We very soon made some cakes in the pan, that tasted well, I can tell you. Tea and sugar too, and quart pots, some bacon in a flour-bag; and that rasher fried in the pan was the sweetest meat I ever ate in all my born days.
Then father brought out a keg and poured some rum into a pint pot. He took a pretty stiff pull, and then handed it to us. 'A little of it won't hurt you, boys,' he said, 'after a night's work.'
I took some -- not much; we hadn't learned to drink then -- to keep down the fear of something hanging over us. A dreadful fear it is. It makes a coward of every man who doesn't lead a square life, let him be as game as he may.
Jim wouldn't touch it. 'No,' he said, when I laughed at him, 'I promised mother last time I had more than was good for me at Dargo Races that I wouldn't touch it again for two years; and I won't either. I can stand what any other man can, and without the hard stuff, either.'
'Please yourself,' said father. 'When you're ready we'll have a ride through the stock.'
We finished our meal, and a first-rate one it was. A man never has the same appetite for his meals anywhere else that he has in the bush, specially if he has been up half the night. It's so fresh, and the air makes him feel as if he'd ate nothing for a week. Sitting on a log, or in the cave, as we were, I've had the best meal I've ever tasted since I was born. Not like the close-feeling, close-smelling, dirty-clean graveyard they call a gaol. But it's no use beginning on that. We were young men, and free, too. Free! By all the devils in hell, if there are devils -- and there must be to tempt a man, or how could he be so great a fool, so blind a born idiot, as to do anything in this world that would put his freedom in jeopardy? And what for? For folly and nonsense. For a few pounds he could earn with a month's honest work and be all the better man for it. For a false woman's smile that he could buy, and ten like her, if he only kept straight and saving. For a bit of sudden pride or vanity or passion. A short bit of what looks like pleasure, against months and years of weariness, and cold and heat, and dull half-death, with maybe a dog's death at the end!