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.
Our first try-on in the coach line was with the Goulburn mail. We knew the road pretty well, and picked out a place where they had to go slow and couldn't get off the road on either side. There's always places like that in a coach road near the coast, if you look sharp and lay it out beforehand. This wasn't on the track to the diggings, but we meant to leave that alone till we got our hand in a bit. There was a lot of money flying about the country in a general way where there was no sign of gold. All the storekeepers began to get up fresh goods, and to send money in notes and cheques to pay for them. The price of stock kept dealers and fat cattle buyers moving, who had their pockets full of notes as often as not.
Just as you got nearly through Bargo Brush on the old road there was a stiffish hill that the coach passengers mostly walked up, to save the horses -- fenced in, too, with a nearly new three-rail fence, all ironbark, and not the sort of thing that you could ride or drive over handy. We thought this would be as good a place as we could pick, so we laid out the whole thing as careful as we could beforehand.
The three of us started out from the Hollow as soon as we could see in the morning; a Friday it was, I remember it pretty well -- good reason I had, too. Father and Warrigal went up the night before with the horses we were to ride. They camped about twenty miles on the line we were going, at a place where there was good feed and water, but well out of the way and on a lonely road. There had been an old sheep station there and a hut, but the old man had been murdered by the hut-keeper for some money he had saved, and a story got up that it was haunted by his ghost. It was known as the 'Murdering Hut', and no shepherd would ever live there after, so it was deserted. We weren't afraid of shepherds alive or dead, so it came in handy for us, as there was water and feed in an old lambing paddock. Besides, the road to it was nearly all a lot of rock and scrub from the Hollow, that made it an unlikely place to be tracked from.
Our dodge was to take three quiet horses from the Hollow and ride them there, first thing; then pick up our own three -- Rainbow and two other out-and-outers -- and ride bang across the southern road. When things were over we were to start straight back to the Hollow. We reckoned to be safe there before the police had time to know which way we'd made.
It all fitted in first-rate. We cracked on for the Hollow in the morning early, and found dad and Warrigal all ready for us. The horses were in great buckle, and carried us over to Bargo easy enough before dark. We camped about a mile away from the road, in as thick a place as we could find, where we made ourselves as snug as things would allow. We had brought some grub with us and a bottle of grog, half of which we finished before we started out to spend the evening. We hobbled the horses out and let them have an hour's picking. They were likely to want all they could get before they saw the Hollow again.
It was near twelve o'clock when we mounted. Starlight said --
'By Jove, boys, it's a pity we didn't belong to a troop of irregular horse instead of this rotten colonial Dick Turpin business, that one can't help being ashamed of. They would have been delighted to have recruited the three of us, as we ride, and our horses are worth best part of ten thousand rupees. What a tent-pegger Rainbow would have made, eh, old boy?' he said, patting the horse's neck. 'But Fate won't have it, and it's no use whining.'
The coach was to pass half-an-hour after midnight. An awful long time to wait, it seemed. We finished the bottle of brandy, I know. I thought they never would come, when all of a sudden we saw the lamp.
Up the hill they came slow enough. About half-way up they stopped, and most of the passengers got out and walked up after her. As they came closer to us we could hear them laughing and talking and skylarking, like a lot of boys. They didn't think who was listening. 'You won't be so jolly in a minute or two,' I thinks to myself.
They were near the top when Starlight sings out, 'Stand! Bail up!' and the three of us, all masked, showed ourselves. You never saw a man look so scared as the passenger on the box-seat, a stout, jolly commercial, who'd been giving the coachman Havana cigars, and yarning and nipping with him at every house they passed. Bill Webster, the driver, pulls up all standing when he sees what was in Starlight's hand, and holds the reins so loose for a minute I thought they'd drop out of his hands. I went up to the coach. There was no one inside -- only an old woman and a young one. They seemed struck all of a heap, and couldn't hardly speak for fright.
The best of the joke was that the passengers started running up full split to warm themselves, and came bump against the coach before they found out what was up. One of them had just opened out for a bit of blowing. 'Billy, old man,' he says, 'I'll report you to the Company if you crawl along this way,' when he catches sight of me and Starlight, standing still and silent, with our revolvers pointing his way. By George! I could hardly help laughing. His jaw dropped, and he couldn't get a word out. His throat seemed quite dry.
'Now, gentlemen,' says Starlight, quite cool and cheerful-like, 'you understand her Majesty's mail is stuck up, to use a vulgar expression, and there's no use resisting. I must ask you to stand in a row there by the fence, and hand out all the loose cash, watches, or rings you may have about you. Don't move; don't, I say, sir, or I must fire.' (This was to a fidgety, nervous man who couldn't keep quiet.) 'Now, Number One, fetch down the mail bags; Number Two, close up here.'
Here Jim walked up, revolver in hand, and Starlight begins at the first man, very stern --
'Hand out your cash; keep back nothing, if you value your life.'