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.
About eleven o'clock every one went out to the course. It wasn't more than a mile from town. The first race wasn't to be run till twelve; but long before that time the road was covered with horsemen, traps of every kind and sort, every horse and mare in the whole district.
Most of the miners went in four-horse coaches and 'buses that were plying all day long from the town and back; very few walked. The country people mostly drove in spring-carts, or rode on horseback. Any young fellows that had a good horse liked to show him off, of course; the girls in habits of their own make, perhaps, and now and then a top hat, though they looked very well too. They could ride, some of them, above a bit, and it made me think of the old days when Jim and I and Aileen used to ride into Bargo races together, and how proud we were of her, even when she was a little thing, and we used to groom up the old pony till we nearly scrubbed the hide off him.
It was no use thinking of that kind of thing, and I began to wonder how Starlight was getting on with his friends, when I saw the Dawsons' drag come up the straight, with four upstanding ripping bay horses in top condition, and well matched. There was Starlight on the box seat, alongside of Jack Dawson, the eldest brother, who could handle the ribbons in style, and was a man every inch of him, only a bit too fast; didn't care about anything but horses and dogs, and lived every day of his life. The other brother was standing up behind, leaning over and talking to Starlight, who was 'in great form', as he used to say himself, and looked as if he'd just come out of a bandbox.
He had on a silk coat buttoned round him, a white top hat with a blue silk veil. His eyeglass was stuck in his eye all the time, and he had kid gloves on that fitted his hands like wax. I really couldn't hardly take my oath he was the same man, and no wonder nobody else couldn't. I was wondering why Sir Ferdinand wasn't swelling about, bowing to all the ladies, and making that thoroughbred of his dance and arch his neck, when I heard some one say that he'd got news that Moran and the rest of 'em had stuck up a place about forty miles off, towards Forbes, and Sir Ferdinand had sworn at his luck for having to miss the races; but started off just as he was, and taken all the troopers but two with him.
'Who brought the news?'
'Oh! a youngster called William Jones -- said he lived out there. A black boy came with him that couldn't hardly speak English; he went with 'em to show the way.'
'Well, but how did they know it was true?' says I. 'It might have been only a stall.'
'Oh, the young fellow brought a letter from the overseer, saying they might hold out for a few hours, if the police came along quick.'
'It's a good thing they started at once,' says I. 'Them boys are very useful sometimes, and blackfellows too.'
I went off then, and had a laugh to myself. I was pretty middling certain it was Billy the Boy and Warrigal. Starlight had wrote the note before we started, only I didn't think they'd be game to deliver it themselves.
Now the police was away, all but a couple of young fellows -- I went and had a look to make sure -- that didn't know any of us by sight, I thought we might enjoy ourselves for once in a way without watching every one that came nigh us. And we did enjoy ourselves. I did, I know; though you'd think, as we carried our lives in our hands, in a manner of speaking, the fun couldn't have been much. But it's a queer world! Men like us, that don't know what's to happen to them from one day to another, if they can only see their way for a week ahead, often have more real pleasure in the bit of time they have to themselves than many a man has in a year that has no call to care about time or money or be afraid of anybody.
As for Starlight, if he'd been going to be hung next week it would have been all one to him. He'd have put off thinking about it until about an hour before, and then would have made all his arrangements and done the whole business quietly and respectably, without humbug, but without any flashness either. You couldn't put him wrong, or make him do or say anything that was out of place.
However, this time nobody was going to be hung or took or anything else. We'd as good as got a free pardon for the time being, now the police was away; no one else would have meddled with us if we'd had our names printed on our hats. So we made the most of it, I expect. Starlight carried on all sorts of high ropes. He was introduced to all the nobs, and I saw him in the grand stand and the saddling-paddock, taking the odds in tens and fifties from the ringmen -- he'd brought a stiffish roll of notes with him -- and backing the Dawson stable right out.
It turned out afterwards that he'd met them at an inn on the mountains, and helped them to doctor one of their leaders that had been griped. So they took a fancy to him, and, being free-hearted sort of fellows, asked him to keep them company in the drag, and let one of the grooms ride his horse. Once he started he kept them alive, you may be sure, and by the time they got to Turon they were ready to go round the world with him, and swore they'd never met such a man in their lives -- very likely they hadn't, either. He was introduced to the judge and the stewards and the Commissioner and the police magistrate, and as much fuss made over him as if he was the Governor's son. It was as good as a play. I got up as near as I dared once or twice, and I couldn't hardly keep from bursting out laughing when I saw how grave he talked and drawled and put up his eyeglass, and every now and then made 'em all laugh, or said something reminded him of India, where he'd last come from.
Well, that was a regular fizzer of a spree, if we never had another. The racing was very fair, and, as luck would have it, the Dawson horses won all the big money, and, as they started at longish odds, they must have made a pot of money, and Starlight too, as he'd gone in a docker for their stable. This made them better friends than ever, and it was Dawson here and Lascelles there all over the course.