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.
Except the Hollow it was the safest place in the whole country just now, as we could hear that every week fresh people were pouring in from all the other colonies, and every part of the world. The police on the diggings had their own work pretty well cut out for them, what with old hands from Van Diemen's Land, Californians -- and, you may bet, roughs and rascals from every place under the sun. Besides, we wanted to see for ourselves how the thing was done, and pick up a few wrinkles that might come in handy afterwards. Our dodge was to take a few notes with us, and buy into a claim -- one here, one there -- not to keep together for fear of consequences. If we worked and kept steady at it, in a place where there were thousands of strangers of all kinds, it would take the devil himself to pick us out of such a queer, bubbling, noisy, mixed-up pot of hell-broth.
Things couldn't have dropped in more lucky for us than they did. In this way. Starlight was asked by the two swells to join them, because they wanted to do a bit of digging, just for the fun of it; and he made out he'd just come from Melbourne, and hadn't been six months longer in the country than they had. Of course he was sunburnt a bit. He got that in India, he said. My word! they played just into his hand, and he did the new-chum swell all to pieces, and so that natural no one could have picked him out from them. He dressed like them, talked like them, and never let slip a word except about shooting in England, hunting in America and India, besides gammoning to be as green about all Australian ways as if he'd never seen a gum tree before. They took up a claim, and bought a tent. Then they got a wages-man to help them, and all four used to work like niggers. The crowd christened them 'The Three Honourables', and used to have great fun watching them working away in their jerseys, and handling their picks and shovels like men. Starlight used to drawl just like the other two, and asked questions about the colony; and walk about with them on Sundays and holidays in fashionable cut clothes. He'd brought money, too, and paid his share of the expenses, and something over. It was a great sight to see at night, and people said like nothing else in the world just then. Every one turned out for an hour or two at night, and then was the time to see the Turon in its glory. Big, sunburnt men, with beards, and red silk sashes round their waists, with a sheath-knife and revolvers mostly stuck in them, and broad-leaved felt hats on. There were Californians, then foreigners of all sorts -- Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, Spaniards, Greeks, Negroes, Indians, Chinamen. They were a droll, strange, fierce-looking crowd. There weren't many women at first, but they came pretty thick after a bit. A couple of theatres were open, a circus, hotels with lots of plate-glass windows and splendid bars, all lighted up, and the front of them, anyhow, as handsome at first sight as Sydney or Melbourne. Drapers and grocers, ironmongers, general stores, butchers and bakers, all kept open until midnight, and every place was lighted up as clear as day. It was like a fairy-story place, Jim said; he was as pleased as a child with the glitter and show and strangeness of it all. Nobody was poor, everybody was well dressed, and had money to spend, from the children upwards. Liquor seemed running from morning to night, as if there were creeks of it; all the same there was very little drunkenness and quarrelling. The police kept good order, and the miners were their own police mostly, and didn't seem to want keeping right. We always expected the miners to be a disorderly, rough set of people -- it was quite the other way. Only we had got into a world where everybody had everything they wanted, or else had the money to pay for it. How different it seemed from the hard, grinding, poverty-stricken life we had been brought up to, and all the settlers we knew when we were young! People had to work hard for every pound they made then, and, if they hadn't the ready cash, obliged to do without, even if it was bread to eat. Many a time we'd had no tea and sugar when we were little, because father hadn't the money to pay for it. That was when he stayed at home and worked for what he got. Well, it was honest money, at any rate -- pity he hadn't kept that way.
Now all this was changed. It wasn't like the same country. Everybody dressed well, lived high, and the money never ran short, nor was likely to as long as the gold kept spreading, and was found in 10, 20, 50 pound nuggets every week or two. We had a good claim, and began to think about six months' work would give us enough to clear right away with. We let our hair grow long, and made friends with some Americans, so we began to talk a little like them, just for fun, and most people took us for Yankees. We didn't mind that. Anything was better than being taken for what we were. And if we could get clear off to San Francisco there were lots of grand new towns springing up near the Rocky Mountains, where a man could live his life out peaceably, and never be heard of again.
As for Starlight he'd laid it out with his two noble friends to go back to Sydney in two or three months, and run down to Honolulu in one of the trading vessels. They could get over to the Pacific slope, or else have a year among the Islands, and go anywhere they pleased. They had got that fond of Haughton, as he called himself -- Frank Haughton -- that nothing would have persuaded them to part company. And wasn't he a man to be fond of? -- always ready for anything, always good-tempered except when people wouldn't let him, ready to work or fight or suffer hardship, if it came to that, just as cheerful as he went to his dinner -- never thinking or talking much about himself, but always there when he was wanted. You couldn't have made a more out-and-out all round man to live and die with; and yet, wasn't it a murder, that there should be that against him, when it came out, that spoiled the whole lot? We used to meet now and then, but never noticed one another except by a bit of a nod or a wink, in public. One day Jim and I were busy puddling some dirt, and we saw Sergeant Goring ride by with another trooper. He looked at us, but we were splashed with yellow mud, and had handkerchiefs tied over our heads. I don't think mother would have known us. He just glanced over at us and took no notice. If he didn't know us there was no fear of any one else being that sharp to do it. So we began to take it easy, and to lose our fear of being dropped on at any time. Ours was a middling good claim, too; two men's ground; and we were lucky from the start. Jim took to the pick and shovel work from the first, and was as happy as a man could be.
After our day's work we used to take a stroll through the lighted streets at night. What a place it had grown to be, and how different it was from being by ourselves at the Hollow. The gold was coming in that fast that it paid people to build more shops, and bring up goods from Sydney every week, until there wasn't any mortal thing you couldn't get there for money. Everything was dear, of course; but everybody had money, and nobody minded paying two prices when they were washing, perhaps, two or three pounds' weight of gold out of a tub of dirt.
One night Jim and I were strolling about with some of our Yankee friends, when some one said there'd been a new hotel opened by some Melbourne people which was very swell, and we might take a look at it. We didn't say no, so we all went into the parlour and called for drinks. The landlady herself came in, dressed up to the nines, and made herself agreeable, as she might well do. We were all pretty well in, but one of the Americans owned the Golden Gate claim, and was supposed to be the richest man on the field. He'd known her before.
'Waal, Mrs. Mullockson,' says he, 'so you've pulled up stakes from Bendigo City and concluded to locate here. How do you approbate Turon?'
She said something or other, we hardly knew what. Jim and I couldn't help giving one look. Her eyes turned on us. We could see she knew us, though she hadn't done so at first. We took no notice; no more did she, but she followed us to the door, and touched me on the shoulder.
'You're not going to desert old friends, Dick?' she said in a low voice. 'I wrote you a cross letter, but we must forgive and forget, you know. You and Jim come up tomorrow night, won't you?'
'All right, Kate,' I said, and we followed our party.