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.
Next day, late, they rode in with their horses regularly done and knocked up, leading his horse, but no Warrigal. He had got clear away from them in the scrub, jumped off his horse when they were out of sight, taken off his boots and made a straight track for the West Bogan scrub. There was about as much chance of running him down there as a brumbie with a day's start or a wallaroo that was seen on a mountain side the week before last. I didn't trouble my head that much to think whether I was glad or sorry. What did it matter? What did anything matter now? The only two men I loved in the world were dead; the two women I loved best left forsaken and disgraced; and I -- well, I was on my way to be hanged!
I was taken along to Turon and put into the gaol, there to await my trial. They didn't give me much of a chance to bolt, and I wouldn't have taken it if they had. I was dead tired of my life, and wouldn't have taken my liberty then and there if they'd given it me. All I wanted was to have the whole thing done and over without any more bother.
It all passed like a dream. The court was crowded till there wasn't standing room, every one wanting to get a look at Dick Marston, the famous bush-ranger. The evidence didn't take so very long. I was proved to have been seen with the rest the day the escort was robbed; the time the four troopers were shot. I was suspected of being concerned in Hagan's party's death, and half-a-dozen other things. Last of all, when Sub-Inspector Goring was killed, and a trooper, besides two others badly wounded.
I was sworn to as being one of the men that fired on the police. I didn't hear a great deal of it, but 'livened up when the judge put on his black cap and made a speech, not a very long one, telling about the way the law was set at naught by men who had dared to infest the highways of the land and rob peaceful citizens with arms and violence. In the pursuit of gain by such atrocious means, blood had been shed, and murder, wilful murder, had been committed. He would not further allude to the deeds of blood with which the prisoner at the bar stood charged. The only redeeming feature in his career had been brought out by the evidence tendered in his favour by the learned counsel who defended him. He had fought fairly when opposed by the police force, and he had on more than one occasion acted in concert with the robber known as Starlight, and the brother James Marston, both of whom had fallen in a recent encounter, to protect from violence women who were helpless and in the power of his evil companions. Then the judge pronounced the sentence that I, Richard Marston, was to be taken from the place whence I came, and there hanged by the neck until I was dead. 'And might God have mercy upon my soul!'
My lawyer had beforehand argued that although I had been seen in the company of persons who had doubtless compassed the unlawfully slaying of the Queen's lieges and peace officers, yet no proof had been brought before the court that day that I had wilfully killed any one. 'He was not aware,' would his Honour remark, 'that any one had seen me fire at any man, whether since dead or alive. He would freely admit that. I had been seen in bad company, but that fact would not suffice to hang a man under British rule. It was therefore incumbent on the jury to bring in a verdict for his client of "not guilty".'
But that cock wouldn't fight. I was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to death by the judge. I expect I was taken back without seeing or hearing to the gaol, and I found myself alone in the condemned cell, with heavy leg-irons -- worn for the first time in my life. The rough and tumble of a bush-ranger's life was over at last, and this was the finish up.
For the first week or two I didn't feel anything particular. I was hardly awake. Sometimes I thought I must be dreaming -- that this man, sitting in a cell, quiet and dull-looking, with heavy irons on his limbs, could never be Dick Marston, the shearer, the stock-rider, the gold-miner, the bush-ranger.
This was the end -- the end -- the end! I used to call it out sometimes louder and louder, till the warder would come in to see if I had gone mad.
Bit by bit I came to my right senses. I almost think I felt sharper and clearer in my head than I had done for ever so long. Then I was able to realise the misery I had come down to after all our blowing and roving. This was the crush-yard and no gateway. I was safe to be hanged in six weeks, or thereabouts -- hanged like a dog! Nothing could alter that, and I didn't want it if it could.
And how did the others get on, those that had their lives bound up with ours, so that we couldn't be hurt without their bleeding, almost in their hearts? -- that is, mother's bled to death, at any rate; when she heard of Jim's death and my being taken it broke her heart clean; she never held her head up after. Aileen told me in her letter she used to nurse his baby and cry over him all day, talking about her dear boy Jim. She was laid in the burying-ground at St. Kilda. As to Aileen, she had long vowed herself to the service of the Virgin. She knew that she was committing sin in pledging herself to an earthly love. She had been punished for her sin by the death of him she loved, and she had settled in her mind to go into the convent at Soubiaca, where she should be able to wear out her life in prayer for those of her blood who still lived, as well as for the souls of those who lay in the little burying-ground on the banks of the far Warrego.
As for Gracey, she sent me a letter in which she said she was like the bird that could only sing one song. She would remain true to me in life and death. George was very kind, and would never allow any one to speak harshly of his former friends. We must wait and make the best of it.
So I was able, you see, to get bits of news even in a condemned cell, from time to time, about the outside world. I learned that Wall and Hulbert and Moran and another fellow were still at large, and following up their old game. Their time, like ours, was drawing short, though.
Well, this has been a thundering long yarn, hasn't it? All my whole life I seem to have lived over again. It didn't take so long in the telling; it's a month to-day since I began. And this life itself has reeled away so quick, it hardly seems a dozen years instead of seven-and-twenty since it began. It won't last much longer. Another week and it will be over. There's a fellow to be strung up before me, for murdering his wife. The scoundrel, I wonder how he feels?
I've had visitors too; some I never thought to see inside this gaol wall. One day who should come in but Mr. Falkland and his daughter. There was a young gentleman with them that they told me was an English lord, a baronet, or something of that sort, and was to be married to Miss Falkland. She stood and looked at me with her big innocent eyes, so pitiful and kind-like. I could have thrown myself down at her feet. Mr. Falkland talked away, and asked me about this and that. He seemed greatly interested. When I told him about the last fight, and of poor Jim being shot dead, and Starlight dying alongside the old horse, the tears came into Miss Falkland's eyes, and she cried for a bit, quite feeling and natural.
Mr. Falkland asked me all about the robbery at Mr. Knightley's, and took down a lot of things in his pocket-book. I wondered what he did that for.
When they said good-bye Mr. Falkland shook hands with me, and said 'he hoped to be able to do some good for me, but not to build anything on the strength of it.'
Then Miss Falkland came forward and held out her beautiful hand to me -- to me, as sure as you live -- like a regular thoroughbred angel, as she always was. It very nigh cooked me. I felt so queer and strange, I couldn't have spoken a word to save my life.
Sir George, or whatever his name was, didn't seem to fancy it over much, for he said --
'You colonists are strange people. Our friend here may think himself highly favoured.'
Miss Falkland turned towards him and held up her head, looking like a queen, as she was, and says she --
'If you had met me in the last place where I saw this man and his brother, you would not wonder at my avowing my gratitude to both of them. I should despise myself if I did not. Poor Jim saved my life on one occasion, and on another, but far more dreadful day, he -- but words, mere words, can never express my deep thankfulness for his noble conduct, and were he here now I would tell him so, and give him my hand, if all the world stood by.'
Sir George didn't say anything after that, and she swept out of the cell, followed by Mr. Falkland and him. It was just as well for him to keep a quiet tongue in his head. I expect she was a great heiress as well as a great beauty, and people of that sort, I've found, mostly get listened to when they speak. When the door shut I felt as if I'd seen the wings of an angel flit through it, and the prison grew darker and darker like the place of lost souls.