Chapter 161925524

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Chapter NumberXVIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161925524
Full Date1882-10-14
Page Number638
Corrections0
Word Count4402
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)
Trove TitleRobbery Under Arms
article text

Fiction.

Robbery Under Arms,

[By Rolf Boldrewood.]

Chapter XVIII. — ( Continued .)

After tbe witnesses bad said all they knew, our lawer goi up and made a stunning speech. He made us out such first rate chaps that it looked aB if we ought to get off flying. He blew up the squatters in a general way for taking all the counfiy, and not giving the poor man a chance— for neglect ing their immense herds of cattle and suffering them to roam all over the country, putting temptation in the way of poor people, and causing confusion and recklessness of all kinds. Some of these cattle are never seen from the time they are branded till they are mustered, every two or three years apparently. They stray away hundreds of miles probably — n fTinnfconrJ — nrhn in to know ? — nossiblv thev are sold. It

was admitted by the prosecutor that he had sold 10,000 head of cattle during the last six years, and none had been rebranded to his knowledge. What means had he of knowing whether these cattle that so much was said about had not been legally sold before ? It was a moBt monstrous thing that men like hie clients — men who were an honour to the land they lived in — should be dragged up to the veiy centre of the continent upon a paltry charge like this — a charge which rested upon the flimsiest evidence it had ever been his good fortune to demolish. With regard to the so-called imported bull, the case against his clients was apparently stronger, but he placed no reliance upon tbe statements of the witnesses, who averred tbat tbey knew him so thoroughly that they could not be deceived in him. He distrusted their evidence and believed the jury would distrust it too. The brand was as different as possible from the brand seen to have been on the beast originally. One shorthorn was very like another. Ho would not undertake to swesr positively in any such case, and he implored the jury, aB men of the world, as men of experience, in all transactions relating to stock (here somo of the people in the court grinned) to dismiss from their minds everything of the nature of prejudice, and looking solely at the miserable, incomplete, unsatisfactory nature of the evidence, to acquit the prisener. It sounded all very pleasant after everything before had been bo rough on our feelings, and the jury looked as if they'd more than half made up their minds to let us off. Then the Judge put on his glasses and began to go all over the evidence, very grave and steady like, and read bits out of the notCB which he'd taken very careful all the time. Judges don't have such an easy time of it as some people thinks they have. I've often wondered as they take so much trouble, and works away so patient trying to find out tbe rights and wrongs of thingB for people that they never saw before, and won't Eee again. However, they try to do heir best, all as I've ever seen, and they generally get Bome where near, the right and j ustice of things. So the Judgo began and read— went over the evidence bit by bit, and laid it all out before the jury, so as they couldn't but see it where it told against us, and again, where it was a bit in ouv favour. As for tbe main body of the cattle, he mado out that there was strong grounds for thinking as we'd taken and sold them at Adelaide, and had the money, too. The making of a stockyard at tbe back of Moinberah was not the thing honest men would do. But neither of us prisoners had been seen there. There was no identification of the actual cattle, branded HOD, alleged to have been stolen, nor could Mr. Hood swear positively that they were his cattle ; had never been sold, and were a portion of his herd. It was in the nature of these cases that identification of live stock, roaming over the immense solitudes of the interior, should be difficult, occasionally impossible. Yet he trusted that the jury would give full weight to all the circumstances which wont to show a continuous posses sion of the animals alleged to be stolen. The persons of both prisoners bad been positively sworn to by several wit nesses a-t having been seen at the sale of the cattle referred to. They were both remarkable-looking men, and such as if once seen would be retained in the memory of the beholder. But the most important piece of evidenco— (here the Judge stopped and took a pinch of snuff)— was that afforded by the shorthorn bull, Fifteenth Duke of Cambridge ; he had been informed that was his name. That animal,, in the first place, was sworn to most positively by Mr. Hood, and claimed as his property. Other credible witnesses testified also to his identity, and corroborated the evidence of Mr. Hood in all respects ; tbe ownership and identity of the animal are thus established beyond all doubt. Then there was the auctioneer, Mr. Runnimall, who swore tbat this animal had been, with other cattle, placed in his hands for sale by the older prisoner. The bull is accordingly sold publicly by him, and in the prisoner's presence. He subsequently receives from the witness the price, about £270, for which the bull was sold. The younger prisoner was there at the same time, and witnessed the sale of the bull and the other cattle, giving such assistance as would lead to tbe conclusion that he was concerned in the transaction. Be did not wish to reflect upon this or any other j ury, but I could not help recalling the fact that a jury in that town once committed the unpardonable fault, the crime he had almoBt said, of refusing to find a prisoner guilty against whom well confirmed evidence had been brought. It had been his advice to the Minister for Justice, bo glaring was the mis carriage of justice to which he referred, that the whole of the jurymen who had sat upon that trial should be struck off the roll. This was accordingly done. He, the Judge, waB perfectly convinced in his own mind that no impropriety of this sort was likely to be committed by tbe intelligent, respectable jury whom he saw before him ; but it was his duty to warn them that, in his opinion, they could not bring in any verdict but ' guilty ' if they respected their oaths. He should leave the case confi dently in their hands, again impressing upon them that tbey could only find one verdict if they believed the evidence. ***** The jury all went out. Then another another case was called on, 'and a fresh jury sworn in for to try it. We sat in the dock. The Judge told Starlight he might down, and we waited till they came back. I really believe that waiting is the worst part of tbe whole thing, the bitterest part of the punishment. I've seen men when they were being tried for their lives. Haven't I done it, and gone through it myself ? — waiting there an hour — two hours, half through the night, not knowing whether they was to be brought in guilty or not. What a hell they must have gone through in that time — doubt and dread, hope and fear, wretchedness and despair, over and over and over again. i No wonder some of 'em can't stand it, but keeps twitching and shifting and getting paler and turning faint when the i jury comes back, and they think they see one thing or the other written in their faces. 1 see a strong man drop down like a dead body when the Judge opened his mouth, to pass sentence on him. I've seen 'em faint, too, when the foreman of the juiy said not ' not guilty.' One chap, _ he was an innocent up-ceuntrv fellow, in for hie first bit of duffing, like we was once, he covered his face with lus hands when he found he was let off, and cried like a child. All sorts and kinds of different ways men takes it. I was in court once when the Jndge asked a man who'd just been found guilty, if he'd anything to say why he shouldn't pass sentence of death upon him. He'd killed a woman, cut her throat, andaregular right down cruel murder it was (only men *11 kill women | and one another, too, for some causes as long as the world last) ; and he just leaned over the dockraile, as if he'd been going to get three months, and said, cool and quiet, ' No, your Honor ; not as I know of.' He'd made up his mind to it from the first, you see, and that makes all the differ » ence. He knew he hadn't the ghost of a chance to get out of it, and when his time came he faced it. I remember seeing his worst enemy come into the court, and Bit and look at him then juBtto see how he took it, bnt he didn't make - t the least sign. That man couldn't have told whether he seen him or not. Starlight and I wasn't likely to break down — not much whatever tbe jury did or the Judge said. All the same after an hour had passed, and we still waiting there ; it

began to be a sickening kind of feeling. The day had been all taken tip with the evidence and the rest of the trial ; all long, dragging hours of a hot summer's day. The enn had been biasing away all day on the iron roof of the courthouse and the red dust of the streets, that lay inches deep for a mile all round the town. The flies buzzed all over the courthouse, and round and round while the lawyers talked and wrangled with each other ; and still the trial went on. Witness after witness was called, and cross examined and bulbed, and confused and contradicted till he was afraid to say what he knew or what he didn't know. I began to think it must be some kind of performance that would go cn for ever and sever stop, and the day and it I never could end. At last the sun came shining level with the lower window, and we knew it was getting late. After a while the twi light began to get dimmer and grayer. There is'nt much out there when the sun goes down. Then the Judge ordered the lamps to be lighted. Jnst at that time the bailiff came forward. 'Your Honor, the jury has agreed.' I felt my teeth shut hard ; but I made no move or sign. I looked over at Starlight. He yawned. He did, as I'm alive. ' I wish to heaven they'd make more haste,' he said quietly, ' his Honor and we are both being done out of our dinners.' I said nothing. I was looking at the foreman's face. ! I thonght 1 knew the word he was going to say, and that word was 'guilty.' Sure enough 1 didn't hear anything i more for a bit. I don't mind owning that. Most men feel I tbat way the first time. There was a sound like rushing waters ui my ears, the Courthouse and the people afl swarm before my eyes. The first I heard was Starlight's voice again, just as cool j and leisurely as ever. I never heard any difference in it, i and I've known him speak in a lot ot different situations. ] If you shut your eyes you couldn't tell from the tone of his voice whether he was fighting for his life or asking you to hand him the salt. When he sttfd the hardest and fiercest thing— and he could be hard and fierce— he didn't raise his voice ; he only seemed to speak more distinct like. His eyes were worse than his voice at such times. There weren't many men that liked to look back at him, much lesB say anything. Now, he said, ' that means five years of Berrima, Dick, if not seven. It's a cooler than these infernal logs, that's one comfort.' I said nothing. I couldn't joke. My throat was dry, and I felt hot and cold by turns. I thought of the old hut by the creek, and could see mother sitting rocking her self, and crying out loud, and Aileen with a set dull look.on her face as if she'd never speak or smile again. 1 thought of the days, months, years that were to pass under lock and key, with irons and shame and solitude, all for company. I wondered if the place where they shut up mad people was like a gaol, and why we were not sent there instead. I heard part of what the Judge said, but not all — bits here and there. The jury had brought in a most righteous verdict: just what he should have expected from the effect of the evidence upon an intelligent, well- principled Nomah jury. (We heard afterwards that they were six to six, and then agreed to toss up how the verdict was to go.) ' The crime of cattle and horse stealing had assumed gigantic proportions. Sheep, as yet, appeared to be safe ; but then there were not very many within a few hundred miles of Nomah. It appeared to him that the prisoner known as Starlight, though from old police records his real name appeared to be ? ' Here he drew himself up and faced the Judge in defiance. Then like lightning he seemed to change, and said, ' Your Honor, I submit that it can answer no good purpose to disclose my alleged name. There are others— 1 do not speak for my self.' The Judge stopped a bit— then hesitated. Starlight bowed. 'I do not— a— know whether there is any necessity to make public a name which many years since was not better known than honoured. I say the — a — prisoner known as Starlight has, from the evidence, taken the principal part in this nefarious transaction. It is not the first offence, as I observe from a paper I hold in my hand. The younger prisoner Marsden has very properly been found guilty of criminal complicity with the same offence. It may be that he has been concerned in other offences against the law, but of that we have no proof before this Court. He has not been previously convicted. I do not offer advice to the elder criminal, his own heart and conscience, the prompt ings of which I assume to be dulled not obliterated, I feel convinced, have said more to him in the way of warning, condemnation, and remorse than could the most impressive rebuke, the most solemn exhortation from a judicial bench. Eut to the younger man, to him whose vigorous frame has but lately attained the full development of early manhood, I feel compelled to appeal with all the weight which age and experience may lend. I adjure him to accept the warning which the sentence I am about to pass will convey to him, to endure bis confinement with submission and repentance, and to lead during his remain ing years, which may be long and comparatively peaceful, the free and necessarily happy life of an honest man. The prisoner, Starlight, is sentenced to seven years' im prisonment ; the prisoner, Richard Marston, to live years' imprisonment ; both in Berrima gaol.' I heard the door of the dock unclose with a snap. We were taken out ; I hardly knew how. I walked like a man in his sleep. Five years, Berrima gaol ! Berrima gaol ! kept ringing in my ears. The day was done, the stars were out, as we moved across from the court-house to the lockup. The air was fresh and cool. The sun had gone down ; so had the sun of our liveB, and would never rise again. Morning came. Why did it ever come again, I thought. What did we want but night ?— black as our hearts— dark as our fate — dismal as the death which likely would come quick, in a living tomb, and the sooner the better. Mind you, I only felt this way the first time. All men do, I suppose, that havn't been born in gaols and workhouses. Afterwards they take a more everyday view of things. 'You're young and soft, Dick,'' Starlight Baidtome as we were rumbling along in the coach next day, with hand find leg irons on, and a trooper opposite to us. ' Why don't I feel like it? My good fellow, I have felt it all before; but if you sear your flesh or your horses with a red-hot iron, you'll find the flesh hard and callous ever after. My heart waB seared once— ave, twice — and deeply, too. I have no heart now; or, if 1 ever feel at all, it's for a horse. 1 wonder how old Rainbow gets on.' ' You were sorry father let us come in the first time,' I said. ' How do you account for that, if you've no heart?' 'Really! Well, listen, Richard. Did I? Ifyou guillotine a man, cut off his head,as they do in France, with an axe that falls like the monkey of a pile-driver, the limbs quiver and stretch, and move almost naturally for a good while after wards. I've seen the performance more than once. So I suppose the internal arrangements immediately surrounding my heart must have performed some kind of instinctive motion in your case and Jim's. By the way, where the deuce has Jim been all this time ? Clever James ! ' ' Better ask Evans here if the police knows ; it is not for want of trying if they don't.' ' By the Lord Harry, no !' said the trooper, a young man, who saw no reason not to be sociable. ' It's the most sur prisin' thing out where he's got to. They've been all round him, reg'lar cordonlike, and he must have disappeared into the earth or gone up in a balloon to get away.' Chatter XIX. It tcok us a week's travelling or more to get to Berrima. Sometimes we were all night in the coach as well as all dav. There were other passengers in the coach with us— Two or three bushmen, a station overseer with his wife and daughter, a Chinaman and a lunatic that had come from Nomah, too. I think it's rough on the public to pack madmen and con victs in irons in the same coach with them. But it saves the Government a good deal of money, and the people don't seem to care. They stand it, anyhow. We would have made a bolt cf it if we'd had a chance ; bnt we never had night nor day, not half a one. The police were civil, but they never left ns, and slept by us at night. That is, one watched while the other slept. We began to Bleep soundly ourselves and to have a better appetite. Going through the fresh air had something to do with it, I dare say. And then, there teas no anxhiy. We had played for a big stake and lost. Now we had to pay and make the best of it. It was the tenth day (there were no railways then to shorten the journey), when we drove up to the big gate and looked at the high walls and dark, heavy lines of Berrima gaol ; the largest, the most severe, the most dreaded ot all j the prisons in New South Wales. It had leaked out the day

before, somehow, that the famous Starlight and the other Erisoner in the great Momberah cattle robbery, were to be rought in this particular day. There was a fair-sized crowd gathered as we were helped down from the coach. At the side of the crowd was a small mob of blacks with their dogs, spears, 'possum rugs and all, complete. They and their gins and piccaninnies appeared to take great notice of the whole thing. One tallish- gin, darker than the others, and with her hair tucked under an old bonnet, wrapped her 'possum cloak closely round her shoulders and j pushed up close to us. She looked hard at Starlight, who appeared not to see her. As she drew back, some one staggered against her, an angry scowl passed over her face, so savage and bitter that I felt quite astonished. I should have been astonished I mean if I had not been able by that very change to know again the restless eyes and grim set mouth of Warrigal. It was only a look, and he was gone. The lock creaked, the great iron door swung back, and we were swallowed up in a tomb. A stone vault where men are none the less buried because they have separate cells. They do not live, though they appear to be alive ; they move, and sometimes speak, and appear to hear words. Some have to be sent away and buried outside. They have been dead a long time but have not seemed to want putting in the grounds That makes no change in them, not much I mean. If they sleep its all right ; if they don't sleep, anything must be happiness after the life they have escaped. 'Happy are the dead' is written on all prison walls. What I suffered in that first time no tongue can tell. I can't bear sow to think of it, and put it down. The solitary part of it was enough to drive any man mad that had been used to a free life. Day after day, night after night, the same and the same and the same over again. Then the dark cells. I got into them for a bit. I was'nt always as cool as I might be — more times that mad with myself that I could have smashed my own skull against the wall, let alone any one else's. There was one of the warders I took a dislike to from the first, and he to me, I don't doubt. I thought he was rough and surly. He thought I wanted to have my own way ; and he made it up to take it out of me, and run me every way he oould. We had a goodish spell of fighting over it, but he gave in at last. Mot but what I'd had a lot to bear, and took a deal of punishment before he jacked up. I needn't have had it. It was all my own obstinacy and a sort of dogged feeling that made me feel I couldn t give in. I believe it done me . good, though I do really think I should have gone mad else, thinking of the dreadful long months and years that lay before me, without a chance of getting out. Sometimes I'd take a low fit and refuse my food, and very near give up living altogether. The least bit more, and I'd have died outright. One day there was a party of ladieB and gentlemen came to be shown over the gaol. There was a lot of us pasting into the exercise yard. 1 happened to look up for a minute, and saw one of the ladies looking steadily at us, and oh ! what a pitying look there was in her face. In a moment I saw it was Miss Falk land, and, by the change that came into her face, that she knew me again, altered as I was. 1 wondered how she could have known me. I was a different-looking chap from when she. had seen me last, with a beastly yellow-grey suit of prison clothes. His face scraped smooth every day, like a fresh-killed pig, and the look of a free man gone out of his face for ever. How any woman, gentle or simple, ever can know a man again in gaol beats me. Whether or no, she knew me. 1 sup pose she saw the likeness to Jim, and she told him, true enough, she'd never forget him nor what he'd done for her. I just looked at her, and turned my head away. I felt as if I'd make a fool of myself if I didn't. All the depth down that I'd fallen since I was shearing there at Boree rushed into my mind at once. I nearly fell down, I know. 1 was pretty weak and low then ; I'd only just come out of the doctor's hands. I was passing along with the rest of the mob. I heard her voice quite clear and firm, but softand sweet, too. How svreet it sounded to me then ! '1 wish to speak a few words to the third prisoner in the line— the tall one. Can I do so, Captain Wharton ?' ' Oh ! certainly. Miss Falkland,' said the old gentle man, who had brought them all in to look at the wonderful neat garden, and the baths, and the hospital, and the un natural washedup sweptup barracks, that make tho cleanest gaol feel worse than the roughest hut. He was the visiting magistrate, and took a deal of interest in the place, and believed he knew all the prisoners like a book. ' Oh, cer tainly, my dear young lady. Is Richard Marston an ac quaintance of yours?' 'He and his brother worked for my father at Boree,' she said quite stately. ' His brother saved my life.' 1 was called back by the warder. Miss Falkland stepped out before them all, and shook hands with me. Yes, she shook hands with me, and the tears came into her eyes as she did so.