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.
You never saw a man in such a funk. He was a storekeeper, we found afterwards. He nearly dropped on his knees. Then he handed Starlight a bundle of notes, a gold watch, and took a handsome diamond ring from his finger. This Starlight put into his pocket. He handed the notes and watch to Jim, who had a leather bag ready for them. The man sank down on the ground; he had fainted.
He was left to pick himself up. No. 2 was told to shell out. They all had something. Some had sovereigns, some had notes and small cheques, which are as good in a country place. The squatters draw too many to know the numbers of half that are out, so there's no great chance of their being stopped. There were eighteen male passengers, besides the chap on the box-seat. We made him come down. By the time we'd got through them all it was best part of an hour.
I pulled the mail bags through the fence and put them under a tree. Then Starlight went to the coach where the two women were. He took off his hat and bowed.
'Unpleasant necessity, madam, most painful to my feelings altogether, I assure you. I must really ask you -- ah -- is the young lady your daughter, madam?'
'Not at all,' says the oldest, stout, middle-aged woman; 'I never set eyes on her before.'
'Indeed, madam,' says Starlight, bowing again; 'excuse my curiosity, I am desolated, I assure you, but may I trouble you for your watches and purses?'
'As you're a gentleman,' said the fat lady, 'I fully expected you'd have let us off. I'm Mrs. Buxter, of Bobbrawobbra.'
'Indeed! I have no words to express my regret,' says Starlight; 'but, my dear lady, hard necessity compels me. Thanks, very much,' he said to the young girl.
She handed over a small old Geneva watch and a little purse. The plump lady had a gold watch with a chain and purse to match.
'Is that all?' says he, trying to speak stern.
'It's my very all,' says the girl, 'five pounds. Mother gave me her watch, and I shall have no money to take me to Bowning, where I am going to a situation.'
Her lips shook and trembled and the tears came into her eyes.
Starlight carefully handed Mrs. Buxter's watch and purse to Jim. I saw him turn round and open the other purse, and he put something in, if I didn't mistake. Then he looked in again.
'I'm afraid I'm rather impertinent,' says he, 'but your face, Miss -- ah -- Elmsdale, thanks -- reminds me of some one in another world -- the one I once lived in. Allow me to enjoy the souvenir and to return your effects. No thanks; that smile is ample payment. Ladies, I wish you a pleasant journey.'
He bowed. Mrs. Buxter did not smile, but looked cross enough at the young lady, who, poor thing, seemed pretty full up and inclined to cry at the surprise.
'Now then, all aboard,' sings out Starlight; 'get in, gentlemen, our business matters are concluded for the night. Better luck next time. William, you had better drive on. Send back from the next stage, and you will find the mail bags under that tree. They shall not be injured more than can be helped. Good-night!'
The driver gathered up his reins and shouted to his team, that was pretty fresh after their spell, and went off like a shot. We sat down by the roadside with one of the coach lamps that we had boned and went through all the letters, putting them back after we'd opened them, and popping all notes, cheques, and bills into Jim's leather sack. We did not waste more time over our letter-sorting than we could help, you bet; but we were pretty well paid for it -- better than the post-office clerks are, by all accounts. We left all the mail bags in a heap under the tree, as Starlight had told the driver; and then, mounting our horses, rode as hard as we could lick to where dad and Warrigal were camped.
When we overhauled the leather sack into which Jim had stowed all the notes and cheques we found that we'd done better than we expected, though we could see from the first it wasn't going to be a bad night's work. We had 370 Pounds in notes and gold, a biggish bag of silver, a lot of cheques -- some of which would be sure to be paid -- seven gold watches and a lot of silver ones, some pretty good. Mrs. Buxter's watch was a real beauty, with a stunning chain. Starlight said he should like to keep it himself, and then I knew Bella Barnes was in for a present. Starlight was one of those chaps that never forgot any kind of promise he'd once made. Once he said a thing it would be done as sure as death -- if he was alive to do it; and many a time I've known him take the greatest lot of trouble no matter how pushed he might be, to carry out something which another man would have never troubled his head about.
We got safe to the Murdering Hut, and a precious hard ride it was, and tried our horses well, for, mind you, they'd been under saddle best part of twenty-four hours when we got back, and had done a good deal over a hundred miles. We made a short halt while the tea was boiling, then we all separated for fear a black tracker might have been loosed on our trail, and knowing well what bloodhounds they are sometimes.
Warrigal and Starlight went off together as usual; they were pretty safe to be out of harm's way. Father made off on a line of his own. We took the two horses we'd ridden out of the Hollow, and made for that place the shortest way we knew. We could afford to hit out -- horse-flesh was cheap to us -- but not to go slow. Time was more than money to us now -- it was blood, or next thing to it.
'I'll go anywhere you like,' says Jim, stretching himself. 'It makes no odds to me now where we go. What do you think of it, dad?'
'I think you've no call to leave here for another month anyhow; but as I suppose some folks 'll play the fool some road or other you may as well go there as anywhere else. If you must go you'd better take some of these young horses with you and sell them while prices keep up.'