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.
He did not wish to reflect upon this or any other jury, but he could not help recalling the fact that a jury in that town once committed the unpardonable fault, the crime, he had almost 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, so glaring was the miscarriage 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, was perfectly convinced in his own mind that no impropriety of this sort was likely to be committed by the 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 confidently in their hands, again impressing upon them that they could only find one verdict if they believed the evidence.
The jury all went out. Then 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 sit down, and we waited till they came back. I really believe that waiting is the worst part of the 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. No wonder some of 'em can't stand it, but keeps twitching and shifting and getting paler and turning faint when the jury comes back, and they think they see one thing or the other written in their faces. I've seen 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 jury said 'Not guilty.' One chap, he was an innocent up-country fellow, in for his first bit of duffing, like we was once, he covered his face with his 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 judge 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, and a regular right down cruel murder it was (only men 'll kill women and one another, too, for some causes, as long as the world lasts); and he just leaned over the dock rails, as if he'd been going to get three months, and said, cool and quiet, 'No, your Honour; not as I know of.' He'd made up his mind to it from the first, you see, and that makes all the difference. 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 sit and look at him then just to see how he took it, but he didn't make 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 the 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 up with the evidence and the rest of the trial; all long, dragging hours of a hot summer's day. The sun had been blazing 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 bullied, 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 on for ever and never stop, and the day and it 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 twilight began to get dimmer and grayer. There isn't much out there when the sun goes down. Then the judge ordered the lamps to be lighted.
Just at that time the bailiff came forward.
'Your Honour, 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 Honour and we are both being done out of our dinners.'
I said nothing. I was looking at the foreman's face. I thought I knew the word he was going to say, and that word was 'Guilty.' Sure enough I didn't hear anything more for a bit. I don't mind owning that. Most men feel that way the first time. There was a sound like rushing waters in my ears, and the courthouse and the people all swam before my eyes.
The first I heard was Starlight's voice again, just as cool and leisurely as ever. I never heard any difference in it, and I've known him speak in a lot of 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 said 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 less say anything.
Now he said, 'That means five years of Berrima, Dick, if not seven. It's 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 herself, and crying out loud, and Aileen with a set dull look on her face as if she'd never speak or smile again. I 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 Honour, I submit that it can answer no good purpose to disclose my alleged name. There are others -- I do not speak for myself.'
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, Marston, 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 promptings 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. But 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 his confinement with submission and repentance, and to lead during his remaining 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' imprisonment; the prisoner Richard Marston to five 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 courthouse to the lock-up. The air was fresh and cool. The sun had gone down; so had the sun of our lives, never to 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 as a living tomb, and the sooner the better. Mind you, I only felt this way the first time. All men do, I suppose, that haven't been born in gaols and workhouses. Afterwards they take a more everyday view of things.
'You're young and soft, Dick,' Starlight said to me as we were rumbling along in the coach next day, with hand and 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 horse's with a red-hot iron you'll find the flesh hard and callous ever after. My heart was seared once -- ay, twice -- and deeply, too. I have no heart now, or if I ever feel at all it's for a horse. I 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? If you 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 afterwards. 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 surprisin' thing out where he's got to. They've been all round him, reg'lar cordon-like, and he must have disappeared into the earth or gone up in a balloon to get away.'