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.
The breath was hardly out of him when a horse comes tearing through the scrub on to the little plain, with a man on his back that seemed hurt bad or drunk, he rolled in his saddle so. The head of him was bound up with a white cloth, and what you could see of it was dark-looking, with bloodstains on it. I knew the figure and the seat on a horse, though I couldn't see his face. He didn't seem to have much strength, but he was one of those sort of riders that can't fall off a horse, that is unless they're dead. Even then you'd have to pull him down. I believe he'd hang on somehow like a dead 'possum on a branch.
It was Warrigal!
They all knew him when he came close up, but none of the troopers raised their pieces or thought of stopping him. If a dead man had rode right into the middle of us he'd have looked like that. He stopped his horse, and slipped off on his feet somehow.
He'd had a dreadful wound, any one could see. There was blood on the rags that bound his head all up, and being round his forehead and over his chin it made him look more and more like a corpse. Not much you could see, only his eyes, that were burning bright like two coals of fire.
Up to Starlight's body he goes and sits himself down by it. He takes the dead man's head into his lap, looks down at the face, and bursts out into the awfullest sort of crying and lamenting I ever heard of a living man. I've seen the native women mourning for their dead with the blood and tears running down their faces together. I've known them sit for days and nights without stirring from round a corpse, not taking a bite or sup the whole time. I've seen white people that's lost an only child that had, maybe, been all life and spirits an hour before. But in all my life I have never seen no man, nor woman neither, show such regular right-down grief as Warrigal did for his master -- the only human creature he loved in the wide world, and him lying stiff on the ground before him.
He lifts up the dead face and wipes the blood from the lips so careful; talks to it in his own language (or leastways his mother's) like a woman over a child. Then he sobbed and groaned and shook all over as if the very life was going out of him. At last he lays the head very soft and gentle down on the ground and looks round. Sir Ferdinand gives him his handkerchief, and he lays it over the face. Then he turns away from the men that stood round, and got up looking that despairing and wretched that I couldn't help pitying him, though he was the cause of the whole thing as far as we could see.
Sudden as a flash of powder he pulls out a small revolver -- a Derringer -- Starlight gave him once, and holds it out to me, butt-end first.
'You shoot me, Dick Marston; you shoot me quick,' he says. 'It's all my fault. I killed him -- I killed the Captain. I want to die and go with him to the never-never country parson tell us about -- up there!'
One of the troopers knocked his hand up. Sir Ferdinand gave a nod, and a pair of handcuffs were slipped over his wrists.
'You told the police the way I went?' says I. 'It's all come out of that.'
'Thought they'd grab you at Willaroon,' says he, looking at me quite sorrowful with his dark eyes, like a child. 'If you hadn't knocked me down that last time, Dick Marston, I'd never have done nothing to you nor Jim. I forgot about the old down. That brought it all back again. I couldn't help it, and when I see Jimmy Wardell I thought they'd catch you and no one else.'
'Well, you've made a clean sweep of the lot of us, Warrigal,' says I, 'poor Jim and all. Don't you ever show yourself to the old man or go back to the Hollow, if you get out of this.'
'He's dead now. I'll never hear him speak again,' says he, looking over to the figure on the grass. 'What's the odds about me?'
I didn't hear any more; I must have fainted away again. Things came into my head about being taken in a cart back to Cunnamulla, with Jim lying dead on one side of me and Starlight on the other. I was only half-sensible, I expect. Sometimes I thought we were alive, and another time that the three of us were dead and going to be buried.
What makes it worse I've seen that sight so often since -- the fight on the plain and the end of it all. Just like a picture it comes back to me over and over again, sometimes in broad day, as I sit in my cell, in the darkest midnight, in the early dawn.
It rises before my eyes -- the bare plain, and the dead men lying where they fell; Sir Ferdinand on his horse, with the troopers standing round; and the half-caste sitting with Starlight's head in his lap, rocking himself to and fro, and crying and moaning like a woman that's lost her child.
I can see Jim, too -- lying on his face with his hat rolled off and both arms spread out wide. He never moved after. And to think that only the day before he had thought he might see his wife and child again! Poor old Jim! If I shut my eyes they won't go away. It will be the last sight I shall see in this world before -- before I'm ----
The coroner of the district held an inquest, and the jury found a verdict of 'justifiable homicide by Sir Ferdinand Morringer and other members of the police force of New South Wales in the case of one James Marston, charged with robbery under arms, and of a man habitually known as "Starlight", but of whose real name there was no evidence before the jury.' As for the police, it was wilful murder against us. Warrigal and I were remanded to Turon Court for further evidence, and as soon as we were patched up a bit by the doctor -- for both of us looked like making a die of it for two or three weeks -- we were started on horseback with four troopers overland all the way back. We went easy stages -- we couldn't ride any way fast -- both of us handcuffed, and our horses led.
One day, about a fortnight after, as we were crossing a river, Warrigal's horse stopped to drink. It was a swim in the middle of the stream, and the trooper, who was a young chap just from the depot, let go his leading rein for a bit. Warrigal had been as quiet as a lamb all the time, and they hadn't a thought of his playing up. I heard a splash, and looked round; his horse's head was turned to the bank, and, before the trooper could get out of the river, he was into the river scrub and away as fast as his horse could carry him. Both the troopers went after him, and we waited half-an-hour, and then went on to the next police station to stop till they came back.