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.
It was an old-fashioned house for that part of the world, built a good many years ago by a rich settler, who was once the owner of all that side of the country. The staircase was all stone, ornamented every way it could be. Three or four people could walk abreast easy enough.
Just about half-way up was a broad landing, and on this, all of a sudden, appeared four people, inclined by their ways to come down to where we were, while we were all wondering, for a reason you'll see afterwards.
It was Mr. Knightley who took the lady's arm -- it was his wife, and she had been there all the time, firing at us as like as not, or at any rate helping. The others followed, and they all walked quite solemn and steady-like down the stairs together.
It was a strange sight. There we were standing and leaning about the dark hall, staring and wondering, and these people walking down to meet us like ghosts, without speaking or anything else.
Mr. Knightley was a tall, handsome man, with a grand black beard that came down to his chest. He walked like a lord, and had that kind of manner with him that comes to people that have always been used to be waited on and have everything found for them in this world. As for his wife, she was given in to be the handsomest woman in the whole countryside -- tall and graceful, with a beautiful smile, and soft fair hair. Everybody liked and respected her, gentle and simple -- everybody had a good word for her. You couldn't have got any one to say different for a hundred pounds. There are some people, here and there, like this among the gentlefolk, and, say what you like, it does more to make coves like us look a little closer at things and keep away from what's wrong and bad than all the parsons' talk twice over. Mrs. Knightley was the only woman that ever put me in mind of Miss Falkland, and I can't say more than that.
So, as I said before, it was quite a picture to see them walk slowly and proudly down and sweep into the hall as if they'd been marching into a ballroom. We had both seen them at the ball at the Turon, and everybody agreed they were the handsomest couple there.
Now they were entering their own hall in a different way. But you couldn't have told much of what they felt by their faces. He was a proud man, and felt bitterly enough that he had to surrender to a gang of men that he hated and despised, that he'd boasted he could run down and capture in a month. Now the tables were turned. He and his beautiful wife were in our power, and, to make matters worse, one of our band lay dead, beside the inner wall, killed by his hand.
What was to be his doom? And who could say how such a play might end?
I looked at our men. As they stepped on to the floor of the hall and looked round Mrs. Knightley smiled. She looked to me like an angel from heaven that had come by chance into the other place and hadn't found out her mistake. I saw Starlight start as he looked at her. He was still leaning against the wall, and there was a soft, sorrowful look in his eyes, like I remember noticing once before while he was talking to Aileen about his early days, a thing he never did but once. Part of her hair had straggled down, and hung in a sort of ringlet by her face. It was pale, but clear and bright-looking, and there was a thin streak of blood across her forehead that showed as she came underneath the lamp-light from the landing above.
I looked over at Moran. He and Wall sat in a corner, looking as grim and savage as possible, while his deadly black eyes had a kind of gloomy fire in them that made him look like a wild beast in a cage.
Mr. Knightley was a man that always had the first word in everything, and generally the best of an argument -- putting down anybody who differed from him in a quiet, superior sort of way.
He began now. 'Well, my men, I have come down to surrender, and I'm sorry to be obliged to do so. But we have fired our last cartridge -- the doctor thought we had a thousand left -- in which case, I may as well tell you, you'd never have had this pleasure. Captain Starlight, I surrender my sword -- or should do so if I had one. We trust to receive honourable treatment at your hands.'
'I'm sure the Captain will never permit any harm to come to me,' says Mrs. Knightley, with a look in her eyes that, in spite of herself, said a deal more than words. 'Why, I danced "vis-a-vis" to him in a quadrille at the Turon ball.'
'I shall never forget the honour,' says Starlight, walking forward and bowing low. 'Permit me to offer you a chair, madam; you look faint.'
As he did so she sank down in it, and really looked as if she would faint away. It wouldn't have been much wonder if she had after what she'd gone through that night.
Then Mr. Knightley began again. He wanted to know how he stood. He didn't like the look of Moran and Wall -- they were a deal too quiet for him, and he could read men's faces like a book. The other two prisoners were the German Dr. Schiller -- a plucky old chap, who'd been a rebel and a conspirator and I don't know what all in his own country. He'd seen too much of that kind of thing to trouble himself over much about a trifle of this kind. The old woman was a family servant, who had been with them for years and years. She was a kind of worshipper of theirs, and was ready to live or die with her mistress.