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.
We had one bit of luck in having to be tried in an out-of-the-way place like Nomah. It was a regular outside bush township, and though the distance oughtn't to have much to say to people's honesty, you'll mostly find that these far-out back-of-beyond places have got men and women to match 'em.
Except the squatters and overseers, the other people's mostly a shady lot. Some's run away from places that were too hot to hold 'em. The women ain't the men's wives that they live with, but somebody else's -- who's well rid of 'em too if all was known. There's most likely a bit of horse and cattle stealing done on the quiet, and the publicans and storekeepers know who are their best customers, the square people or the cross ones. It ain't so easy to get a regular up-and-down straight-ahead jury in a place of this sort. So Starlight and I knew that our chance was a lot better than if we'd been tried at Bargo or Dutton Forest, or any steady-going places of that sort.
If we'd made up our minds from the first that we were to get into it it wouldn't have been so bad; we'd have known we had to bear it. Now we might get out of it, and what a thing it would be to feel free again, and walk about in the sun without any one having the right to stop you. Almost, that is -- there were other things against us; but there wasn't so much of a chance of their turning up. This was the great stake. If we won we were as good as made. I felt ready to swear I'd go home and never touch a shilling that didn't come honest again. If we lost it seemed as if everything was so much the worse, and blacker than it looked at first, just for this bit of hope and comfort.
After the bull had been sworn to by Mr. Hood and another witness, they brought up some more evidence, as they called it, about the other cattle we had sold in Adelaide. They had fetched some of the farmers up that had been at the sale. They swore straight enough to having bought cattle with certain brands from Starlight. They didn't know, of course, at the time whose they were, but they could describe the brands fast enough. There was one fellow that couldn't read nor write, but he remembered all the brands, about a dozen, in the pen of steers he bought, and described them one by one. One brand, he said, was like a long-handled shovel. It turned out to be --D.* TD -- Tom Dawson's, of Mungeree. About a hundred of his were in the mob. They had drawn back for Mungeree, as was nearly all frontage and cold in the winter. He was the worst witness for us of the lot, very near. He'd noticed everything and forgot nothing.
'Do you recognise either of the prisoners in the dock?' he was asked.
'Yes; both of 'em,' says he. I wish I could have got at him. 'I see the swell chap first -- him as made out he was the owner, and gammoned all the Adelaide gentlemen so neat. There was a half-caste chap with him as followed him about everywhere; then there was another man as didn't talk much, but seemed, by letting down sliprails and what not, to be in it. I heard this Starlight, as he calls hisself now, say to him, "You have everything ready to break camp by ten o'clock, and I'll be there tomorrow and square up." I thought he meant to pay their wages. I never dropped but what they was his men -- his hired servants -- as he was going to pay off or send back.'
'Will you swear,' our lawyer says, 'that the younger prisoner is the man you saw at Adelaide with the cattle?'
'Yes; I'll swear. I looked at him pretty sharp, and nothing ain't likely to make me forget him. He's the man, and that I'll swear to.'
'Were there not other people there with the cattle?'
'Yes; there was an oldish, very quiet, but determined-like man -- he had a stunnin' dorg with him -- and a young man something like this gentleman -- I mean the prisoner. I didn't see the other young man nor the half-caste in court.'
'That's all very well,' says our lawyer, very fierce; 'but will you swear, sir, that the prisoner Marston took any charge or ownership of the cattle?'
'No, I can't,' says the chap. 'I see him a drafting 'em in the morning, and he seemed to know all the brands, and so on; but he done no more than I've seen hired servants do over and over again.'
The other witnesses had done, when some one called out, 'Herbert Falkland,' and Mr. Falkland steps into the court. He walks in quiet and a little proud; he couldn't help feeling it, but he didn't show it in his ways and talk, as little as any man I ever saw.
He's asked by the Crown Prosecutor if he's seen the bull outside of the court this day.
'Yes; he has seen him.'
'Has he ever seen him before?'
'Never, to his knowledge.'
'He doesn't, then, know the name of his former owner?'
'Has heard generally that he belonged to Mr. Hood, of Momberah; but does not know it of his own knowledge.'
'Has he ever seen, or does he know either of the prisoners?'
'Knows the younger prisoner, who has been in the habit of working for him in various ways.'
'When was prisoner Marston working for him last?'
'He, with his brother James, who rendered his family a service he shall never forget, was working for him, after last shearing, for some months.'
'Where were they working?'
'At an out-station at the back of the run.'
'When did they leave?'
'About April or May last.'
'Was it known to you in what direction they proceeded after leaving your service?'
'I have no personal knowledge; I should think it improper to quote hearsay.'
'Had they been settled up with for their former work?'
'No, there was a balance due to them.'
'To what amount?'
'About twenty pounds each was owing.'
'Did you not think it curious that ordinary labourers should leave so large a sum in your hands?'
'It struck me as unusual, but I did not attach much weight to the circumstance. I thought they would come back and ask for it before the next shearing. I am heartily sorry that they did not do so, and regret still more deeply that two young men worthy of a better fate should have been arraigned on such a charge.'
'One moment, Mr. Falkland,' says our counsel, as they call them, and a first-rate counsellor ours was. If we'd been as innocent as two schoolgirls he couldn't have done more for us. 'Did the prisoner Marston work well and conduct himself properly while in your employ?'
'No man better,' says Mr. Falkland, looking over to me with that pitying kind of look in his eyes as made me feel what a fool and rogue I'd been ten times worse than anything else. 'No man better; he and his brother were in many respects, according to my overseer's report, the most hard-working and best-conducted labourers in the establishment.'