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 took us a week's travelling or more to get to Berrima. Sometimes we were all night in the coach as well as all day. 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 convicts 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 of it if we'd had a chance, but we never had, night nor day, not half a one. The police were civil, but they never left us, and slept by us at night. That is, one watched while the other slept. We began to sleep soundly ourselves and to have a better appetite. Going through the fresh air had something to do with it, I daresay. And then there was no anxiety. 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 of all the prisons in New South Wales. It had leaked out the day before, somehow, that the famous Starlight and the other prisoner in the great Momberah cattle robbery were to be brought 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 pickaninnies 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 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 ground. That makes no change in them -- not much, I mean. If they sleep it's 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 now 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 wasn't 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 could. We had a goodish spell of fighting over it, but he gave in at last. Not 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 ladies and gentlemen came to be shown over the gaol. There was a lot of us passing into the exercise yard. I 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 Falkland, and, by the change that came into her face, that she knew me again, altered as I was. I wondered how she could have known me. I was a different-looking chap from when she had seen me last. With a beastly yellow-gray 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 in gaol beats me. Whether or no, she knew me. I suppose 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. I 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 soft and sweet, too. How sweet it sounded to me then!
'I 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 gentleman, who had brought them all in to look at the wonderful neat garden, and the baths, and the hospital, and the unnatural washed-up, swept-up barracks that make the 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! certainly, my dear young lady. Is Richard Marston an acquaintance of yours?'