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.
Well, the day went over at last, and all of them that liked a little fun and dancing better than heavy drinking made it up to go to the race ball. It was a subscription affair -- guinea tickets, just to keep out the regular roughs, and the proceeds to go to the Turon Jockey Club Fund. All the swells had to go, of course, and, though they knew it would be a crush and pretty mixed, as I heard Starlight say, the room was large, the band was good, and they expected to get a fair share of dancing after an hour or so.
Starlight and the Dawsons dined at the camp, and were made a good deal of -- their health drunk and what not -- and Starlight told us afterwards he returned thanks for the strangers and visitors; said he'd been told Australia was a rough place, but he never expected to find so much genuine kindness and hospitality and, he might add, so much refinement and gentlemanly feeling. Speaking for himself, he had never expected, considering his being a total stranger, to be welcomed so cordially and entertained so handsomely, more particularly at the mess of her Majesty's goldfields officials, whose attention on this occasion they might be assured he would never forget. He would repeat, the events of this particular day would never be effaced from his memory. (Tremendous cheering.)
After dinner, and when the champagne had gone round pretty reasonable, the Commissioner proposed they should all adjourn to the ball, when, if Mr. Lascelles cared about dancing, he ventured to think a partner or two could be found for him. So they all got up and went away down to the hall of the Mechanics' Institute -- a tremendous big room that had been built to use as a theatre, and to give lectures and concerts in. These sort of things are very popular at diggings. Miners like to be amused, and have plenty of money to spend when times are good. There was hardly a week passed without some kind of show being on when we went there.
I walked down quietly an hour or so before most of the people, so as to be in the way to see if Aileen came. We'd asked her to come on the chance of meeting us there, but we hadn't got any word, and didn't know whether she could manage it nor whether George would bring her. I had a sort of half-and-half notion that perhaps Gracey might come, but I didn't like to think of it for fear of being disappointed, and tried to make believe I didn't expect her.
I gave in my ticket and walked in about eight o'clock, and sat down pretty close to the door so that I could see the people as they came in. I didn't feel much up to dancing myself, but I'd have ridden a thousand miles to have had the chance of seeing those two girls that night.
I waited and waited while one after another came in, till the big hall was pretty near filled, and at nine o'clock or so the music struck up, and the first dance began. That left the seats pretty bare, and between listening to the music and looking at the people, and thinking I was back again at the old claim and passing half-an-hour at a dance-house, I didn't mind the door so much till I heard somebody give a sort of sigh not very far off, and I looked towards the door and saw two women sitting between me and it.
They were Aileen and Gracey sure enough. My head almost turned round, and I felt my heart beat -- beat in a way it never did when the bullets were singing and whistling all about. It was the suddenness of it, I expect. I looked at them for a bit. They didn't see me, and were just looking about them as I did. They were dressed very quiet, but Gracey had a little more ornament on her, and a necklace or something round her neck. Aileen was very pale, but her beautiful dark hair was dressed up a bit with one rosebud in it, and her eyes looked bigger and brighter than they used to do. She looked sad enough, but every now and then Gracey said something that made her smile a bit, and then I thought she was the handsomest girl in the room. Gracey had just the same steady, serious, kind face as ever; she'd hardly changed a bit, and seemed pleased, just like a child at the play, with all that was going on round about.
There was hardly anybody near the corner where they were, so I got up and went over. They both looked at me for a minute as if they'd never seen me before, and then Aileen turned as pale as death, and Gracey got altogether as red, and both held out their hands. I sat down by the side of Aileen, and we all began to talk. Not much at first, and very quiet, for fear notice might be taken, but I managed to let them know that the police had all been called off in another direction, and that we should be most likely safe till tomorrow or next day.
'Oh dear!' says Gracey, 'wasn't it awfully rash of you to come here and run all this risk just to come to Bella Barnes's wedding? I believe I ought to be jealous of that girl.'
'All Starlight's fault,' I said; 'but anyhow, it's through him we've had this meeting here. I was dead against coming all the time, and I never expected things to turn out so lucky as they have done.'
'Will he be here to-night?' Aileen says, very soft and timid like. 'I almost wished I'd stayed away, but Gracey here would come. Young Cyrus Williams brought us. He wanted to show his wife the races, and take her to the ball. There they are, dancing together. George is away at the races.'
'You will see Starlight about ten or eleven o'clock, I expect,' I said. 'He's dining with the Commissioner and the camp officers. They'll all come together, most likely.'
'Dining at the camp!' says Aileen, looking regularly perished. 'You don't mean to say they've taken him?'
'I mean what I say. He's here with the Mr. Dawsons, of Wideview, and has been hand-and-glove with all the swells. I hardly think you'll know him. It's as much as I did.'
Poor Aileen gave another sigh.
'Do you think he'll know me?' she says. 'Oh! what a foolish girl I was to think for a moment that he could care about a girl like me. Oh! I wish I had never come.'
'Nonsense,' says Gracey, who looked a deal brighter on it. 'Why, if he's the man you say he is, this will only bring him out a bit. What do you think, Di-- I mean Mr. Jones?'
'That's right, Miss Storefield,' says I. 'Keep to the company manners to-night. We don't know who may be listening; but I'm not much afraid of being bowled out this particular night. Somehow I feel ready to chance everything for an hour's happiness like this.'
Gracey said nothing, but looked down, and Aileen kept turning towards the door as if she half hoped and was half afraid of seeing him come in. By and by we heard some one say, 'Here comes the Commissioner; all the camp will be here now,' and there was a bit of a move to look at them as they came in.