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 and his brother worked for my father at Boree,' she said, quite stately. 'His brother saved my life.'
If anything could have given a man's heart a turn the right way that would have done it. I felt again as if some one cared for me in the world, as if I had a soul worth saving. And people may talk as they like, but when a man has the notion that everybody has given him up as a bad job, and has dropped troubling themselves about him, he gets worse and worse, and meets the devil half-way.
She said --
'Richard Marston, I cannot tell how grieved I am to see you here. Both papa and I were so sorry to hear all about those Momberah cattle.'
I stammered out something or other, I hardly knew what.
She looked at me again with her great beautiful eyes like a wondering child.
'Is your brother here too?'
'No, Miss Falkland,' I said. 'They've never caught Jim yet, and, what's more, I don't think they will. He jumped on a bare-backed horse without saddle or bridle, and got clear.'
She looked as if she was going to smile, but she didn't. I saw her eyes sparkle, though, and she said softly --
'Poor Jim! so he got away; I am glad of that. What a wonderful rider he was! But I suppose he will be caught some day. Oh, I do so wish I could say anything that would make you repent of what you have done, and try and do better by and by. Papa says you have a long life before you most likely, and might do so much with it yet. You will try, for my sake; won't you now?'
'I'll do what I can, miss,' I said; 'and if I ever see Jim again I'll tell him of your kindness.'
'Thank you, and good-bye,' she said, and she held out her hand again and took mine. I walked away, but I couldn't help holding my head higher, and feeling a different man, somehow.
I ain't much of a religious chap, wasn't then, and I am farther off it now than ever, but I've heard a power of the Bible and all that read in my time; and when the parson read out next Sunday about Jesus Christ dying for men, and wanting to have their souls saved, I felt as if I could have a show of understanding it better than I ever did before. If I'd been a Catholic, like Aileen and mother, I should have settled what the Virgin Mary was like when she was alive, and never said a prayer to her without thinking of Miss Falkland.
While I was dying one week and getting over it another, and going through all the misery every fellow has in his first year of gaol, Starlight was just his old self all the time. He took it quite easy, never gave any one trouble, and there wasn't a soul in the place that wouldn't have done anything for him. The visiting magistrate thought his a most interesting case, and believed in his heart that he had been the means of turning him from the error of his ways -- he and the chaplain between them, anyhow. He even helped him to be allowed to be kept a little separate from the other prisoners (lest they should contaminate him!), and in lots of ways made his life a bit easier to him.
It was reported about that it was not the first time that he had been in a gaol. That he'd 'done time', as they call it, in another colony. He might or he might not. He never said. And he wasn't the man, with all his soft ways, you'd like to ask about such a thing.
By the look of it you wouldn't think he cared about it a bit. He took it very easy, read half his time, and had no sign about him that he wasn't perfectly satisfied. He intended when he got out to lead a new life, the chaplain said, and be the means of keeping other men right and straight.
One day we had a chance of a word together. He got the soft side of the chaplain, who thought he wanted to convert me and take me out of my sulky and obstinate state of mind. He took good care that we were not overheard or watched, and then said rather loud, for fear of accidents --
'Well, Richard, how are you feeling? I am happy to say that I have been led to think seriously of my former evil ways, and I have made up my mind, besides, to use every effort in my power to clear out of this infernal collection of tombstones when the moon gets dark again, about the end of this month.'
'How have you taken to become religious?' I said. 'Are you quite sure that what you say can be depended upon? And when did you get the good news?'
'I have had many doubts in my mind for a long time,' he said, 'and have watched and prayed long, and listened for the word that was to come; and the end of it is that I have at length heard the news that makes the soul rejoice, even for the heathen, the boy Warrigal, who will be waiting outside these walls with fresh horses. I must now leave you, my dear Richard,' he said; 'and I hope my words will have made an impression on you. When I have more to communicate for your good I will ask leave to return.'
After I heard this news I began to live again. Was there a chance of our getting out of this terrible tomb into the free air and sunshine once more? However it was to be managed I could not make out. I trusted mostly to Starlight, who seemed to know everything, and to be quite easy about the way it would all turn out.
All that I could get out of him afterwards was that on a certain night a man would be waiting with two horses outside of the gaol wall; and that if we had the luck to get out safe, and he thought we should, we would be on their backs in three minutes, and all the police in New South Wales wouldn't catch us once we got five minutes' start.
This was all very well if it came out right; but there was an awful lot to be done before we were even near it. The more I began to think over it the worse it looked; sometimes I quite lost heart, and believed we should never have half a chance of carrying out our plan.