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.
One day I was told that a lady wanted to see me. When the door of the cell opened who should walk in but Aileen! I didn't look to have seen her. I didn't bother my head about who was coming. What did it matter, as I kept thinking, who came or who went for the week or two that was to pass before the day? Yes, the day, that Thursday, when poor Dick Marston would walk over the threshold of his cell, and never walk over one again.
The warder -- him that stopped with me day and night -- every man in the condemned cell has to be watched like that -- stepped outside the door and left us together. We both looked at one another. She was dressed all in black, and her face was that pale I hardly knew her at first. Then she said, 'Oh, Dick -- my poor Dick! is this the way we meet?' and flings herself into my arms. How she cried and sobbed, to be sure. The tears ran down her cheeks like rain, and every time the leg-irons rattled she shook and trembled as if her heart was breaking.
I tried to comfort her; it was no use.
'Let me cry on, Dick,' she said; 'I have not shed a tear since I first heard the news -- the miserable truth that has crushed all our vain hopes and fancies; my heart has nearly burst for want of relief. This will do me good. To think -- to think that this should be the end of all! But it is just! I cannot dare to doubt Heaven's mercy. What else could we expect, living as we all did -- in sin -- in mortal sin? I am punished rightly.'
She told me all about poor mother's death. She never held up her head after she heard of Jim's death. She never said a hard word about any one. It was God's will, she thought, and only for His mercy things might have gone worse. The only pleasure she had in her last days was in petting Jim's boy. He was a fine little chap, and had eyes like his father, poor old Jim! Then Aileen broke down altogether, and it was a while before she could speak again.
Jeanie was the same as she had been from the first, only so quiet they could hardly know how much she felt. She wouldn't leave the little cottage where she had been so happy with Jim, and liked to work in the chair opposite to where Jim used to sit and smoke his pipe in the evenings. Most of her friends lived in Melbourne, and she reckoned to stay there for the rest of her life.
As to father, they had never heard a word from him -- hardly knew whether he was dead or alive. There was some kind of report that Warrigal had been seen making towards Nulla Mountain, looking very weak and miserable, on a knocked-up horse; but they did not know whether it was true or false.
Poor Aileen stopped till we were all locked up for the night. She seemed as if she couldn't bear to leave me. She had no more hope or tie in life, she said. I was the only one of her people she was likely to see again, and this was the last time -- the last time.
'Oh, Dick! oh, my poor lost brother,' she said, 'how clearly I seem to see all things now. Why could we not do so before? I have had my sinful worldly dream of happiness, and death has ended it. When I heard of his death and Jim's my heart turned to stone. All the strength I have shall be given to religion from this out. I can ease my heart and mortify the flesh for the good of my soul. To God -- to the Holy Virgin -- who hears the sorrows of such as me, I can pray day and night for their souls' welfare -- for mine, for yours. And oh, Dick! think when that day, that dreadful day, comes that Aileen is praying for you -- will pray for you till her own miserable life ends. And now good-bye; we shall meet on this earth no more. Pray -- say that you will pray -- pray now that we may meet in heaven.'
She half drew me to my knees. She knelt down herself on the cold stone floor of the cell; and I -- well -- I seemed to remember the old days when we were both children and used to kneel down by mother's bed, the three of us, Aileen in the middle and one of us boys on each side. The old time came back to me, and I cried like a child.
I wasn't ashamed of it; and when she stood up and said, 'Good-bye -- good-bye, Dick,' I felt a sort of rushing of the blood to my head, and all my wounds seemed as if they would break out again. I very near fell down, what with one thing and another. I sat myself down on my bed, and I hid my face in my hands. When I looked up she was gone.
After that, day after day went on and I scarcely kept count, until somehow I found out it was the last week. They partly told me on the Sunday. The parson -- a good, straight, manly man he was -- he had me told for fear I should go too close up to it, and not have time to prepare.
Prepare! How was a man like me to prepare? I'd done everything I'd a mind to for years and years. Some good things -- some bad -- mostly bad. How was I to repent? Just to say I was sorry for them. I wasn't that particular sorry either -- that was the worst of it. A deal of the old life was dashed good fun, and I'd not say, if I had the chance, that I wouldn't do just the same over again.
Sometimes I felt as if I ought to understand what the parson tried to hammer into my head; but I couldn't do anything but make a jumble of it. It came natural to me to do some things, and I did them. If I had stopped dead and bucked at father's wanting me and Jim to help duff those weaners, I really believe all might have come right. Jim said afterwards he'd made up his mind to have another try at getting me to join with George Storefield in that fencing job. After that we could have gone into the outside station work with him -- just the thing that would have suited the pair of us; and what a grand finish we might have made of it if we ran a waiting race; and where were we now? -- Jim dead, Aileen dead to the world, and me to be hanged on Thursday, poor mother dead and broken-hearted before her time. We couldn't have done worse. We might, we must have, done better.