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 months went on till I began to think it was a long time since anything had been heard of father. I didn't expect to have a letter or anything, but I knew he must take a run outside now and again; and so sure as he did it would come to my ears somehow.
One day I had a newspaper passed in to me. It was against the regulations, but I did get it for all that, and this was the first thing I saw: --
STRANGE DISCOVERY IN THE TURON DISTRICT.
A remarkable natural formation, leading to curious results, was last week accidentally hit upon by a party of prospectors, and by them made known to the police of the district. It may tend to solve the doubts which for the last few years have troubled the public at large with respect to the periodical disappearance of a certain gang of bush-rangers now broken up.
Accident led the gold miners, who were anxious to find a practicable track to the gullies at the foot of Nulla Mountain, to observe a narrow winding way apparently leading over the brow of the precipice on its western face. To their surprise, half hidden by a fallen tree, they discovered a difficult but practicable track down a gully which finally opened out into a broad well-grassed valley of considerable extent, in which cattle and horses were grazing.
No signs of human habitation were at first visible, but after a patient search a cave in the eastern angle of the range was discovered. Fires had been lighted habitually near the mouth, and near a log two saddles and bridles -- long unused -- lay in the tall grass. Hard by was stretched the body of a man of swarthy complexion. Upon examination the skull was found to be fractured, as if by some blunt instrument. A revolver of small size lay on his right side.
Proceeding to the interior of the cave, which had evidently been used as a dwelling for many years past, they came upon the corpse of another man, in a sitting posture, propped up against the wall. One arm rested upon an empty spirit-keg, beside which were a tin pannikin and a few rude cooking utensils. At his feet lay the skeleton of a dog. The whole group had evidently been dead for a considerable time. Further search revealed large supplies of clothes, saddlery, arms, and ammunition -- all placed in recesses of the cave -- besides other articles which would appear to have been deposited in that secure receptacle many years since.
As may be imagined, a large amount of interest, and even excitement, was caused when the circumstances, as reported to the police, became generally known. A number of our leading citizens, together with many of the adjoining station holders, at once repaired to the spot. No difficulty was felt in identifying the bodies as those of Ben Marston, the father of the two bush-rangers of that name, and of Warrigal, the half-caste follower always seen in attendance upon the chief of the gang, the celebrated Starlight.
How the last members of this well-known, long-dreaded gang of freebooters had actually perished can only be conjectured, but taking the surrounding circumstances into consideration, and the general impression abroad that Warrigal was the means of putting the police upon the track of Richard Marston, which led indirectly to the death of his master and of James Marston, the most probable solution would seem to be that, after a deep carouse, the old man had taxed Warrigal with his treachery and brained him with the American axe found close to the body. He had apparently then shot himself to avoid a lingering death, the bullet found in his body having been probably fired by the half-caste as he was advancing upon him axe in hand.
The dog, well known by the name of Crib, was the property and constant companion of Ben Marston, the innocent accomplice in many of his most daring stock-raids. Faithful unto the end, with the deep, uncalculating love which shames so often that of man, the dumb follower had apparently refused to procure food for himself, and pined to death at the feet of his dead master. Though the philanthropist may regret the untimely and violent end of men whose courage and energy fitted them for better things, it cannot be denied that the gain to society far exceeds the loss.
When the recesses of the Hollow were fully explored, traces of rude but apparently successful gold workings were found in the creeks which run through this romantic valley -- long as invisible as the fabled gold cities of Mexico.
We may venture to assert that no great time will be suffered to elapse ere the whole of the alluvial will be taken up, and the Terrible Hollow, which some of the older settlers assert to be its real name, will re-echo with the sound of pick and shovel; perhaps to be the means of swelling those escorts which its former inhabitants so materially lessened.
With regard to the stock pasturing in the valley, a puzzling problem presented itself when they came to be gathered up and yarded. The adjoining settlers who had suffered from the depredations of the denizens of the Hollow were gladly expectant of the recovery of animals of great value. To their great disappointment, only a small number of the very aged bore any brand which could be sworn to and legally claimed. The more valuable cattle and horses, evidently of the choicest quality and the highest breeding, resembled very closely individuals of the same breed stolen from the various proprietors. But they were either unbranded or branded with a letter and numbers to which no stock-owners in the district could lay claim.
Provoking, as well as perplexing, was this unique state of matters -- wholly without precedent. For instance, Mr. Rouncival and his stud-groom could almost have sworn to the big slashing brown mare, the image of the long-lost celebrity Termagant, with the same crooked blaze down the face, the same legs, the same high croup and peculiar way of carrying her head. She corresponded exactly in age to the date on which the grand thoroughbred mare, just about to bring forth, had disappeared from Buntagong. No reasonable doubt existed as to the identity of this valuable animal, followed as she was by several of her progeny, equally aristocratic in appearance. Still, as these interesting individuals had never been seen by their rightful owners, it was impossible to prove a legal title.