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.
When we got to Barnes's place he and the old woman seemed ever so glad to see us. Bella and Maddie rushed out, making a great row, and chattering both at a time.
'Why, we thought you were lost, or shot, or something,' Bella says. 'You might have sent us a letter, or a message, only I suppose you didn't think it worth while.'
'What a bad state the country's getting in,' says Maddie. 'Think of them bush-rangers sticking up the bank at Ballabri, and locking up the constable in his own cell. Ha! ha! The police magistrate was here to-night. You should have heard Bella talking so nice and proper to him about it.'
'Yes, and you said they'd all be caught and hanged,' said Bella; 'that it was settin' such a bad example to the young men of the colony. My word! it was as good as a play. Mad was so full of her fun, and when the P.M. said they'd be sure to be caught in the long run, Maddie said they'd have to import some thoroughbred police to catch 'em, for our Sydney-side ones didn't seem to have pace enough. This made the old gentleman stare, and he looked at Maddie as if she was out of her mind. Didn't he, Mad?'
'I do think it's disgraceful of Goring and his lot not to have run them in before,' says Starlight, 'but it wouldn't do for us to interfere.'
'Ah! but Sir Ferdinand Morringer's come up now,' says Maddie. 'He'll begin to knock saucepans out of all the boys between here and Weddin Mountain. He was here, too, and asked us a lot of questions about people who were "wanted" in these parts.'
'He fell in love with Maddie, too,' says Bella, 'and gave her one of the charms of his watch chain -- such a pretty one, too. He's going to catch Starlight's mob, as he calls them. Maddie says she'll send him word if ever she knows of their being about.'
'Well done, Maddie!' says Jim; 'so you may, just an hour or two after we're started. There won't be much likelihood of his overhauling us then. He won't be the first man that's been fooled by a woman, will he?'
'Or the last, Jim,' says Bella. 'What do you say, Captain? It seems to me we're doing all the talking, and you're doing all the listening. That isn't fair, you know. We like to hear ourselves talk, but fair play is bonny play. Suppose you tell us what you've been about all this time. I think tea's ready.'
We had our innings in the talking line; Jim and Maddie made noise enough for half-a-dozen. Starlight let himself be talked to, and didn't say much himself; but I could see even he, that had seen a lot of high life in his time, was pleased enough with the nonsense of a couple of good-looking girls like these -- regular bush-bred fillies as they were -- after being shut up in the Hollow for a month or two.
Before we'd done a couple of travellers rode up. Jonathan's place was getting a deal more custom now -- it lay near about the straight line for the Turon, and came to be known as a pretty comfortable shop. Jonathan came in with them, and gave us a wink as much as to say, 'It's all right.'
'These gentlemen's just come up from Sydney,' he said, 'not long from England, and wants to see the diggings. I told 'em you might be going that way, and could show 'em the road.'
'Very happy,' says Starlight. 'I am from Port Phillip last myself, and think of going back by Honolulu after I've made the round of the colonies. My good friends and travelling companions are on their way for the Darling. We can all travel together.'
'What a fortunate thing we came here, Clifford, eh?' says one young fellow, putting up his eyeglass. 'You wanted to push on. Now we shall have company, and not lose our way in this beastly "bush", as they call it.'
'Well, it does look like luck,' says the other man. 'I was beginning to think the confounded place was getting farther off every day. Can you show us our rooms, if you please? I suppose we couldn't have a bath?'
'Oh yes, you can,' said Maddie; 'there's the creek at the bottom of the garden, only there's snakes now and then at night. I'll get you towels.'
'In that case I think I shall prefer to wait till the morning,' says the tall man. 'It will be something to look forward to.'
We were afraid the strangers would have spoiled our fun for the evening, but they didn't; we made out afterwards that the tall one was a lord. They were just like anybody else, and when we got the piano to work after tea they made themselves pleasant enough, and Starlight sang a song or two -- he could sing, and no mistake, when he liked -- and then one of them played a waltz and the girls danced together, and Starlight had some champagne in, said it was his birthday, and he'd just thought of it, and they got quite friendly and jolly before we turned in.
Next day we made a start, promising the girls a nugget each for a ring out of the first gold we got, and they promised to write to us and tell us if they heard any news. They knew what to say, and we shouldn't be caught simple if they could help it. Jim took care, though, to keep well off the road, and take all the short cuts he knew. We weren't quite safe till we was in the thick of the mining crowd. That's the best place for a man, or woman either, to hide that wants to drop out of sight and never be seen again. Many a time I've known a man, called Jack or Tom among the diggers, and never thought of as anything else, working like them, drinking and taking his pleasure and dressing like them, till he made his pile or died, or something, and then it turned out he was the Honourable Mr. So-and-So, Captain This, or Major That; perhaps the Reverend Somebody -- though that didn't happen often.
We were all the more contented, though, when we heard the row of the cradles and the clang and bang of the stampers in the quartz-crushing batteries again, and saw the big crowd moving up and down like a hill of ants, the same as when we'd left Turon last. As soon as we got into the main street we parted. Jim and I touched our hats and said good-bye to Starlight and the other two, who went away to the crack hotel. We went and made a camp down by the creek, so that we might turn to and peg out a claim, or buy out a couple of shares, first thing in the morning.