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.
'All right,' says Jim. 'I'll give you and Bell a pair each, if you're good girls, when we sell the horses, unless we're nailed at the Turon. What sort of a shop is it? Are they getting much gold?'
'Digging it out like potatoes,' says Bella; 'so a young chap told us that come this way last week. My word! didn't he go on about the coach being stuck up. Mad and I nearly choked ourselves laughing. We made him tell it over twice. He said a friend of his was in it -- in the coach, that is -- and we could have told him friends of ours was in it too, couldn't we?'
'And what did he think of it all?'
'Oh, he was a new chum; hadn't been a year out. Not a bad cut of a young feller. He was awful shook on Mad; but she wouldn't look at him. He said if it was in England the whole countryside would rise up and hunt such scoundrels down like mad dogs; but in a colony like this people didn't seem to know right from wrong.'
'Did he, indeed?' says Starlight. 'Ingenuous youth! When he lives a little longer he'll find that people in England, and, indeed, everywhere else, are very much like they are here. They'll wink at a little robbery, or take a hand themselves if it's made worth their while. And what became of your English friend?'
'Oh! he said he was going on to Port Phillip. There's a big diggings broke out there too, he says; and he has some friends there, and he thinks he'll like that side better.'
'I think we'd better cut the Sydney "side", too,' says Starlight. 'What do you say, Maddie? We'll be able to mix up with these new chum Englishmen and Americans that are coming here in swarms, and puzzle Sergeant Goring and his troopers more than ever.'
'Oh! come, now! that would be mean,' says Maddie. 'I wouldn't be drove away from my own part of the country, if I was a man, by anybody. I'd stay and fight it out. Goring was here the other day, and tried to pick out something from father and us about the lot of you.'
'Ha!' says Starlight, his face growing dark, and different-looking about the eyes from what I'd ever seen him, 'did he? He'd better beware. He may follow up my trail once too often. And what did you tell him?'
'We told him a lot of things,' says the girl; 'but I am afeared they was none of 'em true. He didn't get much out of us, nor wouldn't if he was to come once a week.'
'I expect not,' says Jim; 'you girls are smart enough. There's no man in the police or out of it that'll take much change out of you. I'm most afraid of your father, though, letting the cat out of the bag; he's such an old duffer to blow.'
'He was nearly telling the sergeant he'd seen a better horse lately here than his famous chestnut Marlborough, only Bella trod on his toe, and told him the cows was in the wheat. Of course Goring would have dropped it was Rainbow, or some well-bred horse you chaps have been shaking lately.'
'You're a regular pearl of discretion, my dear,' says Starlight, 'and it's a pity, like some other folks, you haven't a better field for the exercise of your talents. However, that's very often the way in this world, as you'll perhaps find out when you're old and ugly, and the knowledge can't do you any good. Tell us all you heard about the coach accident.'
'My word! it was the greatest lark out,' says Maddie. She'd twice the fun in her the other had, and was that good-tempered nothing seemed to put her out. 'Everybody as come here seemed to have nothing else to talk about. Those that was going to the diggings, too, took it much easier than those that was coming away.'
'How was that?'
'Well, the chaps that come away mostly have some gold. They showed us some pretty fair lumps and nuggets, I can tell you. They seemed awfully gallied about being stuck up and robbed of it, and they'd heard yarns of men being tied to trees in the bush and left there to die.'
'Tell them for me, my fair Madeline, that Starlight and Company don't deal with single diggers; ours is a wholesale business -- eh, Dick? We leave the retail robbery to meaner villains.'
We had the horses that quiet by this time that we could drive them the rest of the way to the Turon by ourselves. We didn't want to be too big a mob at Barnes's house. Any one might come in accidental, and it might get spread about. So after supper Warrigal was sent back; we didn't want his help any more, and he might draw attention. The way we were to take in the horses, and sell them, was all put up.
Jim and I were to drive them the rest of the way across the ranges to the Turon. Barnes was to put us on a track he knew that would take us in all right, and yet keep away from the regular highway. Starlight was to stay another day at Barnes's, keeping very quiet, and making believe, if any one came, to be a gentleman from Port Phillip that wasn't very well. He'd come in and see the horses sold, but gammon to be a stranger, and never set eyes on us before.
'My word!' said Barnes, who just came in at the time, 'you've made talk enough for all the countryside with that mail coach racket of yours. Every man, woman, and child that looks in here's sure to say, "Did you hear about the Goulburn mail being stuck up?" "Well, I did hear something," I says, and out it all comes. They wonder first whether the bush-rangers will be caught; where they're gone to that the police can't get 'em; how it was that one of 'em was so kind to the young lady as to give her new watch back, and whether Captain Starlight was as handsome as people say, and if Mrs. Buxter will ever get her watch back with the big reward the Government offered. More than that, whether they'll stick up more coaches or fly the country.'
'I'd like to have been there and see how Bill Webster looked,' says Maddie. 'He was here one day since, and kept gassin' about it all as if he wouldn't let none of you do only what he liked. I didn't think he was that game, and told him so. He said I'd better take a seat some day and see how I liked it. I asked him wasn't they all very good-looking chaps, and he said Starlight was genteel-lookin', but there was one great, big, rough-lookin' feller -- that was you, Jim -- as was ugly enough to turn a cask of beer sour.'