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.
Old Jim stood up by the fireplace after that, never stirring nor speaking, with his eyes fixed on Miss Falkland, who had got back her colour, and though she panted a bit and looked raised like, she wasn't much different from what we'd seen her before at the old place. The two Misses Whitman, poor girls, were standing up with their arms round one another's necks, and the tears running down their faces like rain. Mrs. Whitman was lying back in her chair with her hands over her face cryin' to herself quiet and easy, and wringing her hands.
Then Starlight moved forward and bowed to the ladies as if he was just coming into a ballroom, like I saw him once at a swell ball they gave for the hospital at Turon.
'Permit me to apologise, Mrs. Whitman, and to you, my dear young ladies, for the rudeness of one of my men, whom I unhappily was not able to restrain. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Whitman, and I hope you will express my regret that I was not in time to save you from the great annoyance to which you have been subjected.'
'Oh! I shall be grateful all my life to you, and so, I'm sure, will Mr. Whitman, when he returns; and oh! Sir Ferdinand, if you and these two good young men, who, I suppose, are policemen in plain clothes, had not come in, goodness only knows what would have become of us.'
'I am afraid you are labouring under some mistake, my dear madam. I have not the honour to be Sir Ferdinand Morringer or any other baronet at present; but I assure you I feel the compliment intensely. I am sure my good friends here, James and Richard Marston, do equally.'
Here the Misses Whitman, in spite of all their terror and anxiety, were so tickled by the idea of their mother mistaking Starlight and the Marstons for Sir Ferdinand and his troopers that they began to laugh, not but what they were sober enough in another minute.
Miss Falkland got up then and walked forward, looking just the way her father used to do. She spoke to Starlight first.
'I have never seen you before, but I have often heard of you, Captain Starlight, if you will allow me to address you by that title. Believe me when I say that by your conduct to-night you have won our deepest gratitude -- more than that, our respect and regard. Whatever may be your future career, whatever the fate that your wild life may end in, always believe there are those who will think of you, pray for you, rejoice in your escapes, and sorrow sincerely for your doom. I can answer for myself, and I am sure for my cousins also.'
Here the Misses Whitman said --
'Yes, indeed, we will -- to our life's end.'
Then she turned to Jim, who still stood there looking at her with his big gray eyes, that had got ever so much darker lately.
'You, poor old Jim,' she said, and she took hold of his brown hand and held it in her own, 'I am more sorry than I can tell to hear all I have done about you and Dick too. This is the second time you have saved me, and I am not the girl to forget it, if I could only show my gratitude. Is there any way?'
'There's Jeanie,' just them two words he said.
'Your wife? Oh yes, I heard about her,' looking at him so kind and gentle-like. 'I saw it all in the papers. She's in Melbourne, isn't she? What is her address?'
'Esplanade Hotel, St. Kilda,' says Jim, taking a small bit of a letter out of his pocket.
'Very well, Jim, I have a friend who lives near it. She will find her out, and do all for her that can be done. But why don't you -- why don't all of you contrive to get away somehow from this hateful life, and not bring ruin and destruction on the heads of all who love you? Say you will try for their sake -- for my sake.'
'It's too late, Miss Falkland,' I said. 'We're all thankful to you for the way you've spoken. Jim and I would be proud to shed our blood for you any time, or Mr. Falkland either. We'll do what we can, but we'll have to fight it out to the end now, and take our chance of the bullet coming before the rope. Good-night, Miss Falkland, and good luck to you always.'
She shook hands heartily with me and Jim, but when she came to Starlight he raised her hand quite respectful like and just touched it with his lips. Then he bowed low to them all and walked slowly out.
When we got to the public-house, which wasn't far off, we found that Moran and the other two had stayed there a bit till Wall and Hulbert came; then they had a drink all round and rode away. The publican said Moran was in an awful temper, and he was afraid he'd have shot somebody before the others got him started and clear of the place.
'It's a mercy you went over, Captain,' says he; 'there'd have been the devil to pay else. He swore he'd burn the place down before he went from here.'
'He'll get caught one of these fine days,' says Starlight. 'There's more risk at one station than half-a-dozen road scrimmages, and that he'll find, clever as he thinks himself.'
'Where's Mr. Whitman, Jack?' says I to the landlord (he wasn't a bad sort, old Jack Jones). 'What made him leave his place to the mercy of the world, in a manner of speaking?'
'Well, it was this way. He heard that all the shepherds at the lower station had cut it to the diggings, ye see; so he thought he'd make a dart up to the Castlereagh and rig'late the place a bit. He'll be back afore morning.'
'How d'ye know that?'
'Well, he's ridin' that famous roan pony o' his, and he always comes back from the station in one day, though he takes two to go; eighty-five miles every yard of it. It's a big day, but that pony's a rum un, and can jump his own height easy. He'll be welcome home to-night.'
'I daresay he will, and no wonder. The missus must ha' been awful frightened, and the young ladies too. Good-night, Jack;' and we rattled off.
It wasn't so very late after all when we got back to Jonathan's; so, as the horses wanted a bit of a rest and a feed, we roused up the girls and had supper. A very jolly one it was, my word.
They were full of curiosity, you bet, to know how we got on when they heard Moran was there and the others. So bit by bit they picked it out of us. When they heard it all, Maddie got up and threw her arms round Jim's neck.
'I may kiss you now you're married,' she says, 'and I know there's only one woman in the world for you; but you deserve one from every woman in the country for smashing that wretch Moran. It's a pity you didn't break his neck. Never mind, old man; Miss Falkland won't forget you for that, you take my word. I'm proud of you, that I am.'
Jim just sat there and let her talk to him. He smiled in a serious kind of way when she ran over to him first; but, instead of a good-looking girl, it might have been his grandmother for all he seemed to care.
'You're a regular old image, Jim,' says she. 'I hope none of my other friends 'll get married if it knocks all the go out of them, same as it has from you. However, you can stand up for a friend, can't you? You wouldn't see me trod upon; d'ye think you would, now? I'd stand up for you, I know, if you was bested anywhere.'
'My dear Maddie,' says Starlight, 'James is in that particular stage of infatuation when a man only sees one woman in the whole world. I envy him, I assure you. When your day comes you will understand much of what puzzles you at present.'
'I suppose so,' said Maddie, going back to her seat with a wondering, queer kind of look. 'But it must be dreadful dull being shut in for weeks and weeks in one place, perhaps, and with only one man.'
'I have heard it asserted,' he says, 'that a slight flavour of monotony occasionally assails the honeymoon. Variety is the salt of life, I begin to think. Some of these fine days, Maddie, we'll both get married and compare notes.'
'You'll have to look out, then,' says Bella. 'All the girls about here are getting snapped up quick. There's such a lot of young bankers, Government officers, and swells of all sorts about the diggings now, not to reckon the golden-hole men, that we girls have double the pull we had before the gold. Why, there was my old schoolmate, Clara Mason, was married last week to such a fine young chap, a surveyor. She'd only known him six weeks.'
'Well, I'll come and dance at your wedding if you'll send me an invite,' says Starlight.
'Will you, though?' she said. 'Wouldn't it be fun? Unless Sir Ferdinand was there. He's a great friend of mine, you know.'
'I'll come if his Satanic Majesty himself was present (he occasionally does attend a wedding, I've heard), and bring you a present, too, Bella; mind, it's a bargain.'
'There's my hand on it,' says she. 'I wonder how you'll manage it, but I'll leave that to you. It mightn't be so long either. And now it's time for us all to go to bed. Jim's asleep, I believe, this half hour.'