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.
Dad was glad enough to see us; he was almost civil, and when he heard that Rainbow had won the 'big money' he laughed till I thought he'd do himself mischief, not being used to it. He made us tell him over again about Starlight and I going to the ball, and our seeing Aileen and Gracey there; and when he came to the part where Starlight made the bride a present of a diamond ring I thought he never would have done chuckling to himself. Even old Crib looked at me as if he didn't use to think me much of a fellow, but after this racket had changed his mind.
'Won't there be a jolly row in the papers when they get all these different characters played by one chap, and that man the Captain?' says he. 'I knew he was clever enough for anything; but this beats all. I don't believe now, Captain, you'll ever be took.'
'Not alive!' says Starlight, rather grim and gloomy-looking; then he walks off by himself.
We stabled Rainbow, of course, for a week or two after this -- being in training it wouldn't do to turn him out straight at once. Hardy as he was, no horse could stand that altogether; so we kept him under shelter in a roughish kind of a loose box we had knocked up, and fed him on bush hay. We had a small stack of that in case we wanted to keep a horse in -- which we did sometimes. In the daytime he was loose in the yard. After a bit, when he was used to the weather, he was turned out again with his old mob, and was never a hair the worse of it. We took it easy ourselves, and sent out Warrigal for the letters and papers. We expected to knock a good bit of fun out of them when they came.
Sure enough, there was the deuce and all to pay when the big Sydney papers got hold of it, as well as the little 'Turon Star' and the 'Banner'.
Was it true that the police had again been hoodwinked, justice derided, and the law set at defiance by a gang of ruffians who would have been run down in a fortnight had the police force been equal to the task entrusted to them? Was the moral sentiment of the country population so perverted, so obliterated, that robbers and murderers could find safe harbourage, trustworthy friends, and secret intelligence? Could they openly show themselves in places of public resort, mingle in amusements, and frequent the company of unblemished and distinguished citizens; and yet more, after this flagrant insult to the Government of the land, to every sacred principle of law and order, they could disappear at will, apparently invisible and invulnerable to the officers of the peace and the guardians of the public safety? It was incredible, it was monstrous, degrading, nay, intolerable, and a remedy would have to be found either in the reorganisation of an inefficient police force or in the resignation of an incapable Ministry.
'Good for the "Sydney Monitor",' says Starlight; 'that reporter knows how to double-shot his guns, and winds up with a broadside. Let us see what the "Star" says. I had a bet with the editor, and paid it, as it happened. Perhaps he'll temper justice with mercy. Now for a start: --
That we have had strong casts from time to time and exciting performances at our local theatres, no one will deny; but perhaps the inhabitants of Turon never witnessed a more enthralling melodrama than was played during the first two days of our race meeting before a crowded and critical audience, and never, we can state from a somewhat extended experience of matters dramatic, did they gaze on a more finished actor than the gentleman who performed the leading part. Celebrated personages have ere now graced our provincial boards. On the occasion of the burning of the Theatre Royal in Sydney, we were favoured with the presence in our midst of artists who rarely, if ever before, had quitted the metropolitan stage. But our "jeune premier" in one sense has eclipsed every darling of the tragic or the comic muse.
Where is there a member of the profession who could have sustained his part with faultless ease and self-possession, being the whole time aware of the fact that he smiled and conversed, danced and diced, dined and slept (ye gods! did he sleep?), with a price upon his head -- with the terrible doom of dishonour and inevitable death hanging over him, consequent upon a detection which might occur at any moment?
Yet was there a stranger guest among us who did all this and more with unblenching brow, unruffled self-possession, unequalled courtesy, who, if discovered, would have been arrested and consigned to a lock-up, only to be exchanged for the gloom and the manacles of the condemned cell. He, indeed, after taking a prominent part in all the humours of the vast social gathering by which the Turon miners celebrated their annual games, disappeared with the almost magical mystery which has already marked his proceedings.
Whom could we possibly allude to but the celebrated, the illustrious, we grieve to be compelled to add, the notorious Starlight, the hero of a hundred legends, the Australian Claude Duval?
Yes, almost incredible as it may seem to our readers and persons at a distance imperfectly acquainted with exceptional phases of colonial life, the robber chief (and, for all we know, more than one of his aides-de-camp) was among us, foremost among the betting men, the observed of all observers in the grand stand, where, with those popular country gentlemen, the Messrs. Dawson, he cheered the winners in the two great races, both of which, with demoniac luck, he had backed heavily.
We narrate as a plain, unvarnished truth that this accomplished and semi-historical personage raced a horse of his own, which turns out now to have been the famous Rainbow, an animal of such marvellous speed, courage, and endurance that as many legends are current about him as of Dick Turpin's well-known steed. He attended the marriage, in St. Matthew's Church, of Miss Isabel Barnes, the daughter of our respected neighbour, Mr. Jonathan Barnes, when he presented the bride with a costly and beautiful diamond ring, completing the round of his vagaries by dining on invitation with the Commissioner at the camp mess, and, with that high official, honouring our race ball with his presence, and sunning himself in the smiles of our fairest maidens.
We are afraid that we shall have exhausted the fund of human credulity, and added a fresh and original chapter to those tales of mystery and imagination of which the late Edgar Allan Poe was so masterly a delineator.
More familiarly rendered, it seems that the fascinating Captain Starlight -- "as mild a mannered man" (like Lambre) "as ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat," presented himself opportunely at one of the mountain hostelries, to the notice of our good-hearted squires of Wideview, Messrs. William and John Dawson. One of their wheelers lay at the point of death -- a horse of great value -- when the agreeable stranger suggested a remedy which effected a sudden cure.
With all their generous instincts stirred, the Messrs. Dawson invited the gentleman to take a seat in their well-appointed drag. He introduced himself as Mr. Lascelles, holding a commission in an Indian regiment of Irregular Horse, and now on leave, travelling chiefly for health.
Just sufficiently sunburned, perfect in manner, full of information, humorous and original in conversation, and with all the "prestige" of the unknown, small wonder that "The Captain" was regarded as a prize, socially considered, and introduced right and left. Ha! ha! What a most excellent jest, albeit rather keen, as far as Sir Ferdinand is concerned! We shall never, never cease to recall the humorous side of the whole affair. Why, we ourselves, our august editorial self, actually had a bet in the stand with the audacious pretender, and won it, too. Did he pay up? Of course he did. A "pony", to wit, and on the nail. He does nothing by halves, "notre capitaine". We have been less promptly reimbursed, indeed, not paid at all, by gentlemen boasting a fairer record. How graciously he smiled and bowed as, with his primrose kid gloves, he disengaged the two tenners and a five-pound note from his well-filled receptacle.
The last time we had seen him was in the dock at Nomah, being tried in the great cattle case, that "cause celebre". To do him justice, he was quite as cool and unconcerned there, and looked as if he was doing the amateur casual business without ulterior liabilities.
Adieu! fare thee well, Starlight, bold Rover of the Waste; we feel inclined to echo the lament of the ancient Lord Douglas --
"'Tis pity of him, too," he cried; "Bold can he speak, and fairly ride; I warrant him a warrior tried."
It is in the interests of justice, doubtless, that thou be hunted down, and expiate by death-doom the crimes which thou and thy myrmidons have committed against society in the sight of God and man. But we cannot, for the life of us, take a keen interest in thy capture. We owe thee much, Starlight; many a slashing leader, many a spicy paragraph, many a stately reflection on contemporary morals hast thou furnished us with. Shall we haste to the slaughter of the rarest bird -- golden ovaried? We trow not. Get thee to the wilderness, and repent thee of thy sins. Why should we judge thee? Thou hast, if such dubious donation may avail, an editor's blessing. Depart, and "stick up" no more.
Well done, the "Turon Star"!' says Starlight, after he read it all out. 'I call that very fair. There's a flavour of good feeling underneath much of that nonsense, as well as of porter and oysters. It does a fellow a deal more good than slanging him to believe that he's human after all, and that men think so.'
'Do you reckon that chap was sober when he wrote that?' says father. 'Blest if I can make head or tail of it. Half what them fellows puts down is regular rot. Why couldn't he have cut it a bit shorter, too?'