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.
Mr. Dawson drove pretty near the stand then, and they all stood up in the drag. I went back to Aileen and Gracey Storefield. We were close by the winning post when they came past; they had to go another time round.
The Sydney horses were first and second, the diggers' favourite third; but old Rainbow, lying well up, was coming through the ruck hard held and looking full of running. They passed close by us. What a sight it is to see a dozen blood horses in top condition come past you like a flash of lightning! How their hoofs thunder on the level turf! How the jockeys' silk jackets rustle in the wind they make! How muscle and sinew strain as they pretty near fly through the air! No wonder us young fellows, and the girls too, feel it's worth a year of their lives to go to a good race. Yes, and will to the world's end. 'O you darling Rainbow!' I heard Aileen say. 'Are you going to win this race and triumph over all these grand horses? What a sight it will be! I didn't think I could have cared for a race so much.'
It didn't seem hardly any time before they were half-way round again, and the struggle was on, in good downright earnest. One of the Sydney horses began to shake his tail. The other still kept the lead. Then the Turon favourite -- a real game pebble of a little horse -- began to show up.
'Hotspur, Hotspur! No. Bronzewing has it -- Bronzewing. It's Bronzewing's race. Turon for ever!' the crowd kept yelling.
'Oh! look at Rainbow!' says Aileen. And just then, at the turn, old Jacob sat down on him. The old horse challenged Bronzewing, passed him, and collared Hotspur. 'Darkie! Darkie!' shouts everybody. 'No! Hotspur -- Darkie's coming -- Darkie -- Darkie! I tell yer Darkie.' And as old Jacob made one last effort, and landed him a winner by a clear head, there was a roar went up from the whole crowd that might have been heard at Nulla Mountain.
Starlight jumps off the drag and leads the old horse into the weighing yard. The steward says 'Dismount.' No fear of old Jacob getting down before he heard that. He takes his saddle in his lap and gets into the scales. 'Weight,' says the clerk. Then the old fellow mounts and rides past the judge's box. 'I declare Mr. Benton's horse Darkie to be the winner of the Turon Grand Handicap, Bronzewing second horse, Hotspur third,' says he.
Well, there was great cheering and hollering, though none knew exactly whose horse he was or anything about him; but an Australian crowd always likes to see the best horse win -- and they like fair play -- so Darkie was cheered over and over again, and old Jacob too.
Aileen stroked and petted him and patted his neck and rubbed his nose, and you'd raly thought the old horse knew her, he seemed so gentle-like. Then the Commissioner came down and said Mrs. Hautley, the police magistrate's wife, and some other ladies wanted to see the horse that had won the race. So he was taken over there and admired and stroked till old Jacob got quite crusty.
'It's an odd thing, Dawson,' says the Commissioner, 'nobody here knows this horse, where he was bred, or anything about him. Such a grand animal as he is, too! I wish Morringer could have seen him; he's always raving about horses. How savage he'll be to have missed all the fun!'
'He's a horse you don't see every day,' says Bill Dawson. 'I'll give a couple of hundred for him right off.'
'Not for sale at present,' says old Jacob, looking like a cast-iron image. 'I'll send ye word when he is.'
'All right,' says Mr. Dawson. 'What a shoulder, what legs, what loins he has! Ah! well, he'll be weighted out now, and you will be glad to sell him soon.'
'Our heads won't ache then,' says Jacob, as he turns round and rides away.
'Very neat animal, shows form,' drawls Starlight. 'Worth three hundred in the shires for a hunter; if he can jump, perhaps more; but depends on his manners -- must have manners in the hunting-field, Dawson, you know.'
'Manners or not,' says Bill Dawson, 'it's my opinion he could have won that race in a canter. I must find out more about him and buy him if I can.'
'I'll go you halves if you like,' says Starlight. 'I weally believe him to be a good animal.'
Just then up rides Warrigal. He looks at the old horse as if he had never seen him before, nor us neither. He rides close by the heads of Mr. Dawson's team, and as he does so his hat falls off, by mistake, of course. He jumps off and picks it up, and rides slowly down towards the tent.
It was the signal to clear. Something was up.
I rode back to town with Aileen and Gracey; said good-bye -- a hard matter it was, too -- and sloped off to where my horse was, and was out of sight of Turon in twenty minutes.
Starlight hails a cabby (he told me this afterwards) and gets him to drive him over to the inn where he was staying, telling the Dawsons he'd have the wine put in ice for the dinner, that he wanted to send off a letter to Sydney by the post, and he'd be back on the course in an hour in good time for the last race.
In about half-an-hour back comes the same cabman and puts a note into Bill Dawson's hand. He looks at it, stares, swears a bit, and then crumples it up and puts it into his pocket.
Just as it was getting dark, and the last race just run, back comes Sir Ferdinand and all the police. They'd ridden hard, as their horses showed, and Sir Ferdinand (they say) didn't look half as good-natured as he generally did.
'You've lost a great meeting, Morringer,' says the Commissioner. 'Great pity you had to be off just when you did. But that's just like these infernal scoundrels of bush-rangers. They always play up at the most inconvenient time. How did you get on with them?'
'Get on with them?' roars Sir Ferdinand, almost making a hole in his manners -- he was that tired out and done he could hardly sit on his horse -- 'why, we've been sold as clean as a whistle. I believe some of the brutes have been here all the time.'