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.
Where he'd come from, of course, we were not to know then. He had a small private sort of brand that didn't belong to any of the big studs; but he was never bred by a poor man. I afterwards found out that he was stolen before he was foaled, like many another plum, and his dam killed as soon as she had weaned him. So, of course, no one could swear to him, and Starlight could have ridden past the Supreme Court, at the assizes, and never been stopped, as far as this horse was concerned.
Before we went away father and Starlight had some terrible long talks, and one evening Jim came to me, and says he --
'What do you think they're up to now?'
'How should I know? Sticking up a bank, or boning a flock of maiden ewes to take up a run with? They seem to be game for anything. There'll be a hanging match in the family if us boys don't look out.'
'There's no knowing,' says Jim, with a roguish look in his eye (I didn't think then how near the truth I was), 'but it's about a horse this time.'
'Oh! a horse; that alters the matter. But what's one horse to make such a shine about?'
'Ah, that's the point,' says poor old Jim, 'it's a horse worth talking about. Don't you remember the imported entire that they had his picture in the papers -- him that Mr. Windhall gave 2000 Pounds for?'
'What! the Marquis of Lorne? Why, you don't mean to say they're going for him?'
'By George, I do!' says Jim; 'and they'll have him here, and twenty blood mares to put to him, before September.'
'They're all gone mad -- they'll raise the country on us. Every police trooper in the colony'll be after us like a pack of dingoes after an old man kangaroo when the ground's boggy, and they'll run us down, too; they can't be off it. Whatever made 'em think of such a big touch as that?'
'That Starlight's the devil, I think,' said Jim slowly. 'Father didn't seem to like it at first, but he brought him round bit by bit -- said he knew a squatter in Queensland he could pass him on to; that they'd keep him there for a year and get a crop of foals by him, and when the "derry" was off he'd take him over himself.'
'But how's he going to nail him? People say Windhall keeps him locked up at night, and his box is close to his house.'
'Starlight says he has a friend handy; he seems to have one or two everywhere. It's wonderful, as father told him, where he gets information.'
'By George! it would be a touch, and no mistake. And if we could get a few colts by him out of thoroughbred mares we might win half the races every year on our side and no one a bit the wiser.'
It did seem a grand sort of thing -- young fools that we were -- to get hold of this wonderful stallion that we'd heard so much of, as thoroughbred as Eclipse; good as anything England could turn out. I say again, if it weren't for the horse-flesh part of it, the fun and hard-riding and tracking, and all the rest of it, there wouldn't be anything like the cross-work that there is in Australia. It lies partly between that and the dry weather. There's the long spells of drought when nothing can be done by young or old. Sometimes for months you can't work in the garden, nor plough, nor sow, nor do anything useful to keep the devil out of your heart. Only sit at home and do nothing, or else go out and watch the grass witherin' and the water dryin' up, and the stock dyin' by inches before your eyes. And no change, maybe, for months. The ground like iron and the sky like brass, as the parson said, and very true, too, last Sunday.
Then the youngsters, havin' so much idle time on their hands, take to gaffin' and flash talk; and money must be got to sport and pay up if they lose; and the stock all ramblin' about and mixed up, and there's a temptation to collar somebody's calves or foals, like we did that first red heifer. I shall remember her to my dying day. It seems as if I had put that brand on my own heart when I jammed it down on her soft skin. Anyhow, I never forgot it, and there's many another like me, I'll be bound.
The next morning Jim and I started off home. Father said he should stay in the Hollow till Starlight got round a bit. He told us not to tell mother or Ailie a word about where we'd been. Of course they couldn't be off knowin' that we'd been with him; but we were to stall them off by saying we'd been helping him with a bit of bush-work or anything we could think off. 'It'll do no good, and your mother's quite miserable enough as it is, boys,' he said. 'She'll know time enough, and maybe break her heart over it, too. Poor Norah!'
Dashed if I ever heard father say a soft thing before. I couldn't 'a believed it. I always thought he was ironbark outside and in. But he seemed real sorry for once. And I was near sayin', 'Why don't ye cut the whole blessed lot, then, and come home and work steady and make us all comfortable and happy?' But when I looked again his face was all changed and hard-like. 'Off you go,' he says, with his old voice. 'Next time I want either of you I'll send Warrigal for you.'
And with that he walked off from the yard where we had been catching our horses, and never looked nigh us again.
We rode away to the low end of the gully, and then we led the horses up, foot by foot, and hard work it was -- like climbing up the roof of a house. We were almost done when we got to the tableland at the top.
We made our way to the yard, where there were the tracks of the cows all round about it, but nothing but the wild horses had ever been there since.
'What a scrubby hole it is!' said Jim; 'I wonder how in the world they ever found out the way to the Hollow?'
'Some runaway Government men, I believe, so that half-caste chap told me, and a gin* showed 'em the track down, and where to get water and everything. They lived on kangaroos at first. Then, by degrees, they used to crawl out by moonlight and collar a horse or two or a few cattle. They managed to live there years and years; one died, one was killed by the blacks; the last man showed it to the chaps that passed it on to Starlight. Warrigal's mother, or aunt or something, was the gin that showed it to the first white men.'