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.
'Good gad!' says Starlight, 'you don't say so! Poor girl! What a most extraordinary country! You meet with surpwises every day, don't you?'
'It's a pity Sir Ferdinand isn't here,' said the Commissioner. 'I believe she's an acquaintance of his. I've always heard she was a splendid girl, though, poor thing, frets to death about her family. I think you seem to have cheered her up, though, Lascelles. She doesn't look half so miserable as she did an hour ago.'
'Naturally, my dear fellow,' says Starlight, pulling his moustache; 'even in this savage country -- beg your pardon -- one's old form seems to be appreciated. Pardon me, I must regain my partner; I am engaged for this dance.'
'You seem disposed to make the most of your opportunities,' says the Commissioner. 'Dawson, you'll have to look after your friend. Who's the enslaver now?'
'I didn't quite catch her name,' says Starlight lazily; 'but it's that tall girl near the pillar, with the pale face and dark eyes.'
'You're not a bad judge for a new chum,' says one of the goldfield subs. 'Why, that's Maddie Barnes. I think she's the pick of all the down-the-river girls, and the best dancer here, out-and-out. Her sister's to be married tomorrow, and we're all going to see her turned off.'
'Really, now?' says Starlight, putting up his eyeglass. 'I begin to think I must write a book. I'm falling upon adventures hourly. Oh, the "Morgen-blatter". What a treat! Can she valse, do you think?'
'You try her,' says the young fellow. 'She's a regular stunner.'
It was a fine, large room, and the band, mostly Germans, struck up some outlandish queer sort of tune that I'd never heard anything like before; whatever it was it seemed to suit most of the dancing people, for the floor was pretty soon full up, and everybody twisting round and round as if they were never going to stop. But, to my mind, there was not a couple there that was a patch on Maddie and Starlight. He seemed to move round twice as light and easy as any one else; he looked somehow different from all the others. As for Maddie, wherever she picked it up she went like a bird, with a free, springy sort of sliding step, and all in time to the music, anybody could see. After a bit some of the people sat down, and I could hear them passing their remarks and admiring both of 'em till the music stopped. I couldn't make out whether Aileen altogether liked it or not; anyhow she didn't say anything.
About an hour afterwards the camp party left the room, and took Starlight with them. Some one said there was a little loo and hazard at the Commissioner's rooms. Cyrus Williams was not in a hurry to go home, or his young wife either, so I stayed and walked about with the two girls, and we had ever so much talk together, and enjoyed ourselves for once in a quiet way. A good crowd was sure to be at Bella Barnes's wedding next day. It was fixed for two o'clock, so as not to interfere with the races. The big handicap was to be run at three, so we should be able to be at the church when Bella was turned off, and see Rainbow go for the great race of the day afterwards. When that was run we intended to clear. It would be time for us to go then. Things were middling straight, but it mightn't last.
Next day was the great excitement of the meeting. The 'big money' was all in the handicap, and there was a big field, with two or three cracks up from Sydney, and a very good local horse that all the diggers were sweet on. It was an open race, and every man that had a note or a fiver laid it out on one horse or another.
Rainbow had been entered in proper time and all regular by old Jacob, under the name of Darkie, which suited in all ways. He was a dark horse, sure enough; dark in colour, and dark enough as to his performances -- nobody knew much about them. We weren't going to enter him in his right name, of course.
Old Jacob was a queer old fellow in all his ways and notions, so we couldn't stable him in any of the stables in Turon, for fear of his being 'got at', or something. So when I wanted to see him the day before, the old fellow grinned, and took me away about a mile from the course; and there was old Rainbow, snug enough -- in a tent, above all places! -- but as fine as a star, and as fit as ever a horse was brought to the post.
'What's the fun of having him under canvas?' I said. 'Who ever heard of a horse being trained in a tent before? -- not but what he looks first-chop.'
'I've seen horses trained in more ways than one,' says he, 'and I can wind 'em up, in the stable and out of it, as mighty few in this country can -- that is, when I put the muzzle on. There's a deal in knowing the way horses is brought up. Now this here's an excitable hoss in a crowd.'
'Is he?' I said. 'Why, he's as cool and steady as an old trooper when ----'
'When powder's burning and bullets is flying,' says the old chap, grinning again; 'but this here's a different crowd. When he's got a training saddle and seven or eight stone up, and there's two or three hundred horses rattling about this side on him and that, it brings out the old racehorse feeling that's in his blood, and never had a chance to show itself afore.'
'I see, and so you want to keep him quiet till the last minute?'
'That's just it,' says he; 'I've got the time to a second' -- here he pulls out a big old turnip of a silver watch -- 'and I'll have him up just ready to be weighed out last. I never was late in my life.'
'All right,' I said, 'but don't draw it too fine. Have you got your weight all right?'
'Right to a hounce,' says he, 'nine stun four they've put on him, and him an untried horse. I told 'em it was weighting him out of the race, but they laughed at me. Never you mind, though, he can carry weight and stay too. My ten per cent's as safe as the bank. He'll put the stuns on all them nobs, too, that think a racehorse must always come out of one of their training stables.'