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'd regular chalked it out about entering Rainbow for the Grand Turon Handicap, we sent Warrigal over to Billy the Boy, and got him to look up old Jacob. He agreed to take the old horse, the week before the races, and give him a last bit of French-polish if we'd keep him in steady work till then. From what he was told of the horse he expected he would carry any weight he was handicapped for and pull it off easy. He was to enter him in his own name, the proper time before the races. If he won he was to have ten per cent on winnings; if he lost, a ten-pound note would do him. He could ride the weight with some lead in his saddle, and he'd never wet his lips with grog till the race was over.
So that part of the work was chalked out. The real risky business was to come. I never expected we should get through all straight. But the more I hung back the more shook on it Starlight seemed to be. He was like a boy home from school sometimes -- mad for any kind of fun with a spice of devilment in it.
About a week before the races we all cleared out, leaving father at home, and pretty sulky too. Warrigal led Rainbow; he was to take him to Jonathan Barnes's, and meet old Jacob there. He was to keep him until it was time to go to Turon. We didn't show there ourselves this time; we were afraid of drawing suspicion on the place.
We rode right into Turon, taking care to be well after dark. A real pleasure it was to see the old place again. The crooked streets, the lighted-up shops, the crowd of jolly diggers walking about smoking, or crowding round the public-house bars, the row of the stampers in the quartz-crushing machines going night and day. It all reminded me of the pleasant year Jim and I had spent here. I wished we'd never had to leave it. We parted just outside the township for fear of accidents. I went to a little place I knew, where I put up my horse -- could be quiet there, and asked no questions. Starlight, as usual, went to the best hotel, where he ordered everybody about and was as big a swell as ever. He had been out in the north-west country, and was going to Sydney to close for a couple of stations that had been offered to him.
That night he went to the barber, had his hair cut and his beard shaved, only leaving his moustache and a bit of whisker like a ribbon. He put on a suit of tweed, all one colour, and ordered a lot more clothes, which he paid for, and were to be left at the hotel till he returned from Sydney.
Next day he starts for Sydney; what he was going to do there he didn't say, and I didn't ask him. He'd be back the day before the races, and in good time for all the fun, and Bella's wedding into the bargain. I managed to find out that night that Kate Mullockson had left Turon. She and her husband had sold their place and gone to another diggings just opened. I was glad enough of this, for I knew that her eyes were sharp enough to spy me out whatever disguise I had on; and even if she didn't I should always have expected to find her eyes fixed upon me. I breathed freer after I heard this bit of news.
The gold was better even than when we were there. A lot of men who were poor enough when we were there had made fortunes. The field never looked better, and the hard-driving, well-paid, jolly mining life was going on just the same as ever; every one making money fast -- spending it faster -- and no one troubling themselves about anything except how much the washdirt went to the load, and whether the sinking was through the false bottom or not.
When I first came I had a notion of mating in with some diggers, but when I saw how quiet everybody took it, and what thousands of strangers there were all over the place, I gave myself out for a speculator in mining shares from Melbourne. So I shaved off most of my beard, had my hair cut short, and put on a tall hat. I thought that would shift any sort of likeness there might be to my old self, and, though it was beastly uncomfortable, I stuck to it all the time.
I walked about among the stables and had a good look at all the horses that were in training. Two or three good ones, as usual, and a lot of duffers. If Rainbow wasn't beat on his condition, he had pace and weight-carrying for the best of them. I hardly thought he could lose it, or a bigger stake in better company. I was that fond of the horse I thought he was good enough for an English Derby.
Well, I kept dark, you be sure, and mooned about, buying a share at a low price now and then just to let 'em see I had money and meant something. My name was Mr. Bromford, and I lived at Petersham, near Sydney.
The day before the races there was a lot of excitement in the town. Strangers kept pouring in from everywhere round about, and all the hotels were crammed full. Just as I was wondering whether Starlight was going to turn up till next day I saw a four-in-hand drag rattle down the street to the principal inn, and a crowd gather round it as three gentlemen got out and went into the inn.
'You'll see after all our luggage, will you, ostler?' says one of them to the groom, 'and whatever you do don't forget my umbwella!'
Some of the diggers laughed.
'Know those coves?' I said to a man that stopped at the same house as I did.
'Don't you know? Them's the two Mr. Dawsons, of Wideview, great sporting men, natives, and ever so rich. They've some horses to run tomorrow. That's a new chum from England that's come up with 'em.'
I hardly knew him at first. His own mother wouldn't, I believe. He'd altered himself that wonderful as I could hardly even now think it was Starlight; and yet he wasn't a bit like the young Englishman he gammoned to be last year, or the Hon. Frank Haughton either. He had an eyeglass this time, and was a swell from top to toe. How and when he'd picked up with the Mr. Dawsons I couldn't tell; but he'd got a knack of making people like him -- especially when they didn't know him. Not that it was worse when they did. It wasn't for that. He was always the same. The whitest man I ever knew, or ever shall -- that I say and stick to -- but of course people can't be expected to associate with men that have 'done time'. Well, next day was the races. I never saw such a turn-out in the colony before. Every digger on the field had dropped work for the day; all the farmers, and squatters, and country people had come in for miles round on all sides. The Commissioner and all the police were out in full uniform, and from the first moment the hotels were opened in the morning till breakfast time all the bars were full, and the streets crowded with miners and strangers and people that seemed to have come from the ends of the earth. When I saw the mob there was I didn't see so much to be jerran about, as it was fifty to one in favour of any one that was wanted, in the middle of such a muster of queer cattle as was going on at Turon that day.