Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XXXIII

Chapter XXXIII.

As we were rowing, I asked Howden, who by this time was perfectly recovered, the particulars of his late encounter with his assailants. He replied that he had been reading when they suddenly entered the hut. On looking up at their entrance he at once recognised Hennesy, whom he had formerly seen, and whom he knew to be a most desperate character. It scarcely needed the latter's fierce demand that he should turn out his money, to acquaint Howden with the object of his sudden intrusion. On Howden's attempting to snatch up a sheath knife that was lying on the table they both flung themselves upon him, while Hennesy seized him by the throat, just as an irrepressible cry of terror burst from his lips; the despairing cry that a strong desire of life will wring from the bravest men page 229 at the prospect of violently losing it. He shortly afterwards lost consciousness, and only recovered whilst being borne by me towards the boat. His first impression on reviving was that he was in the arms of one of his murderers, who was carrying him away with the intention of casting his body into the lake, but hearing some words that I chanced to mutter, he recognised my voice, and with it his own security.

“You have met this Hennesy before, then?” I demanded.

“Yes, to my sorrow, though then under the name of Morgan, which I believe to be his right name. I knew him, not from personal acquaintance with him, but from his association with one with whom he was only too intimate.”

“And this other person was, I presume, a friend of yours?”

“A friend,” he replied, sadly, “well, he should have been a friend, for he was a brother.”

“A brother!” I ejaculated in some surprise.

“Ah! that surprises you, Mr. Farquharson; if you knew all you would be still more surprised. He was a man who seemed fated by his own mad folly and unbridled passions to set at naught every prospect of honourable distinction that the possession of undoubted talents and influential friends once seemed to place within his reach, for, as if the path of rectitude were too straight for the demands of his vaulting ambition, gambling and horse racing were the means by which he sought to win life's prizes. The narrow straits of necessity that these hazardous dealings forced him into not agreeing with his high spirits, it being a matter of pride with him to be unfettered in his progress through life by any of the ordinary laws of society, from dice to forgery was with him but a step. Then came the jail, from which with his fierce spirit he soon broke away, and the felon's career—but why should I thus dwell on a brother's infamy? To me it is a theme bitterly degrading, for he was still a brother whom I could have loved. May the Lord remember him!”

As Howden was speaking—we had both considerably remitted our labour at the oars—a flash of memory, first I believe inspired by Howden's incidental reference to Hennesy's true name of Morgan, led up to a train of ideas in my mind, which, setting aside as too fanciful, I did not then give utterance to. There was something in his description of his brother that somehow at once suggested the idea of Marsden to me; a suggestion strengthened by the remembrance of the disguised ruffian who had formerly bailed me up, and whom Marsden had then so sternly addressed by the name of Morgan. So strongly was I impressed by this, that I involuntarily keenly gazed into Howden's face to confirm my suspicions by any page 230 possible brotherly likeness there might be between Howden and Marsden. But Howden's features, of a calm, thoughtful cast, positively negatived any such idea, and I at once dismissed it from my mind as altogether unlikely.

After a short pause, Howden continued: “For years, when he was in jail, or at large, have I kept my eyes upon him, though for his own selfish ends, he occasionally made me acquainted with his movements voluntarily; and I have even at times met him at his desire, and have then done my best to move him.

“‘Abandon your vile courses and give proofs of your sincerity of purpose in doing so, and I will still help you to regain, at least in another land, the paths of virtue and honour that you have so far departed from.’ But he seemed hardened in his depravity, and the seed sown by a holy mother appeared to have got corrupted within him. Yet still with me, however turbulent with others, he has always seemed to be repentant and humbled. But what can this new thing mean? That wretch must have had my present address from him, or he would not have found me out in this out-of-the-way locality.”

“Surely you do not imagine your brother to have been fiend enough to have sent these wretches here to rob and murder you?” I asked involuntarily.

“Not to murder,” he answered quickly, “that might be a gratuitous addition to his commission on Morgan's part, from his own natural villainy and pride in his professional dexterity at such work. But as to rob! Although I have offered to help him if he would reform, beyond just assisting him to a very limited extent, on the few occasions when he has sought me out, I have sternly refused to advance him money on any other conditions. My last information regarding him was, that he was again in jail, but the presence of this ruffian here seems to imply that he has again broken away, and is perhaps even now in this country.”

We now resumed our former more vigorous use of the oars, and in a short time had reached the shore. Instead of being absent for half an hour or so as I had expected, upwards of an hour and a half had elapsed ere I had recrossed the lake, and a good deal of surprise had begun to be felt at home at my unaccountable absence, as the sheep had been secured for some considerable time; and the men on their return, on being interrogated, had denied having seen me at all whilst penning the sheep in the shed, and among the alarmists, as I afterwards understood, no one appeared to be so palpably uneasy as Jessie; for calmly, as I imagined, I had veiled my feelings, yet, with the penetration of her sex she had marked my page 231 distress at her pleasure in Mr. M‘Gilvray's attentions during the dancing. Moved by this, she, in her increasing anxiety at my unaccountably prolonged absence, was beginning to conjure up in her excited mind all sorts of desperate fears concerning me, which gained in colour by the close proximity of the lake—a suspicion on her part that did not credit me with much strength of mind, and which, considering that for such hair-brained tragedies I had ever expressed the most profound contempt, did me no small injustice.

“Ho, ho, Mr. Truant,” she joyfully exclaimed, as soon as her quick glance detected my entrance in company with Howden, “it is a fine way indeed of showing respect for your company, to run away and leave them to look after themselves! give an account of yourself, sir!”

“Willingly, Miss Campbell,” I replied in the same lively tone—so thoroughly had my adventure succeeded in diverting my mind into a more natural channel—“and when I have done so, you may probably acknowledge that I have been guided by a divine impulse which has enabled me to render a great service to this gentleman here, however rude and unceremonious my action may in your eyes at present appear. For this impulse has moved me to no less an act than to row with all my strength across the lake, to the farther side of which I arrived just in time to prevent two murderous villains from robbing this gentleman of his life.”

In answer then to the exclamations of startled surprise from all the company, I described the whole scene to them, and the simple cause and intention, that moved me at first to enter the boat, or at least as much of that cause as, for certain reasons, I thought good to state. But Jessie was not to be hoodwinked by this caution. By the keen manner with which she regarded me, when referring to the feeling of dullness that had prompted me at first to enter the boat, it was plain to me that she understood all that was implied in that vague term. She, however, made no comment upon the matter, though perhaps, like Mary in the gospel, “she pondered all these things in her heart”.

On concluding, I formally introduced the subject of the narrative to the general company as Mr. Charles Howden, at the same time mentioning his occupation.

Hereupon, on the mention of Howden's name, Mrs. Campbell, usually so orderly and composed in her manner, suddenly exhibited signs of the deepest emotion, by first a violent, nervous start, then by her usually pale countenance assuming a more deathlike hue as she fixed her eyes earnestly upon Howden. Then murmuring “My God, is it possible?” she rose page 232 from her seat and advanced towards Howden, and stretching out her right arm towards him, in an eager, importunate, nay, almost threatening manner, she exclaimed: “Tell me, where is my brother? you know, you must know where he is now—tell me, I adjure you, for His sake, whose fatherly mercy you have just experienced so great an instance of!”

On Howden's part the effects of Mrs. Campbell's sudden exclamation seemed to be equally emotional. Shading his eyes with one hand, as he returned her gaze with equal earnestness, he muttered: “Mary Carmichael! who would have thought of meeting with her here!” Then in answer to her question he replied coldly: “Why ask me about your brother, Madam? am I your brother's keeper that you should thus charge me? I know what you would say,” he continued bitterly, “it was my action that involved him in that ruin that caused him to abscond from creditors, whose claims he was powerless to satisfy. It was my action, my villainy you would say rather. No, Madam. It was through no conscious villainy of mine that that disaster happened, though it was my mistake, the consequence of which has sent me, too, an exiled wanderer, through the world ever since. It was the mistake of wishing to save from ruin that brother of whom you so often heard me speak, but whom you never saw, that induced me to commit the fatal rashness of putting my name to a bill without consulting my partner. This step I was induced to take as not wishing to bring the disreputable state of my brother's affairs under his notice, and through him to yours. At the time I honestly believed that the transaction would be safe, and its negotiation easy. I knew that though our over-draft at the bank was already serious, yet that, though increasing it by another £1000, within the specified time I could count with certainty upon the returns of our business more than covering this deficit. But the sudden collapse of a business in which we had allowed ourselves to become largely involved, at once turned the tide of these hopes, and exposed my dishonest financing: dishonest only in appearance, but not as regards any benefit to myself; I fell through my too great love for my brother. Any hope that we might have had of surviving our financial ruin and of regaining our credit, vanished through the shadiness of my action at such a critical point in our affairs. From the consequence of this ruin, with a debtor's prison staring us in the face, flight was our only remedy. Your brother fled, a victim of circumstances over which he had absolutely no control, but I, oppressed with the double guilt of having brought reproach on my own hitherto stainless name and of being the unwitting cause of disgrace and ruin to another.

page 233

“We did not go together, but by different vessels. We both reached America, I with the stern determination of there regaining, if possible, with the payment of all claims against me, the character I had lost; and then returning and claiming the affianced bride I had left behind.

“Within twelve months, however, I heard that she, doubtless convinced of my villainy, had become the bride of another.

“Yes, sir,” said Howden, addressing Mr. Campbell, who was listening to all this in silent surprise. “Your wife was at one time my betrothed bride; and yet with you and her children she has doubtless been happy without me. Whilst I, in return for my zeal for the honour of an unhappy brother, am at this day a friendless and a joyless man.

“Do I know where your brother is now, Madam? well, yes, partly. We met when the Californian mines were at the zenith of their fame. I was doing well then; and there, in conjunction with him, forwarded home to our bank creditors all money due by our late firm; I, however, paying, in addition to my own share of the business responsibilities, the £1000 of the bill that had occasioned sudden ruin to us both. I advanced on Mr. Carmichael's account indeed (who was not then in such flourishing circumstances as I was), a considerable sum of his share of the responsibility, he agreeing, when in a position to do so, to repay me. This he subsequently did rather more than ten years ago, for Malcolm Carmichael was an honourable man.

“He was at that time in flourishing circumstances, he informed me, at Valparaiso, where I understand he still is, and his address then I have with me, and you can now have it.” And taking out his pocket book, and tearing a leaf therefrom, Howden handed it to Mrs. Campbell, who received it with a fervent “Thank you, Mr. Howden”.

As Howden ceased speaking, I gazed upon him with admiration. There appeared to be something truly noble in his manner, as, with his simple eloquence, he thus vindicated his character before the woman whom he once had so deeply loved, and from whom he was so unhappily separated; revealing as he spoke, a view of his past life, that so well corresponded with my own instinctive and preconceived opinion of him.

To me he had always appeared to be a man of superior parts with his high, intellectual-looking forehead, and thoughtful manner.

Whatever effect on Mrs. Campbell the revulsion of feeling occasioned by this clearance of the long-clouded character of the man she once loved may have had, the presence of her husband and daughters prevented her from showing it. But that she was not unmoved was plain by the softened expression of her countenance. page 234 But, that she now felt regret at the circumstances that had for ever parted her from a man whom she once loved, it would be quite unfair to suppose; indeed, her long union with a man, who, however inferior in mental parts both to herself and to Howden, still had treated her with uniform kindness and respect, and was moreover the father of her children, forbade the idea.

“My poor, afflicted friend,” she said compassionately; “truly yours has been a suffering and thankless life. But God is wise in all His ways, and what He orders must be for the best. Yet the consequences of error He will not always avert, even though He sees the pure intention with which that error was committed. And you doubtless committed a great error, and a most unwise action, that even your love for your brother could not palliate in the eyes of the law. Thus you have entailed much suffering both upon yourself and me; for we are, however guiltless our intention, forbidden to expect that God will interfere to remedy the consequence of a violated law. Yet, though by this act you involved me in the same suffering with yourself, God has given me a kind husband and these two daughters to comfort my declining days, and doubtless, my friend, He will yet compensate you for all the suffering that, by that one imprudent act of your life you have had to bear so long. Still look up and put your trust in Him.

“But you say my brother is in America? Is he not then in New Zealand? Yet what you state I believe, for of old you were ever sincere and truthful. But it is strange—surely it must have been Malcolm that sent all that money to us when we were in Australia, advising us to come over and settle where we are. How should he in America have known anything about this country, and especially of this very district, that he should have been warranted in advising us as we were advised, to settle here?”

“Mr. Farquharson,” said Howden, at this point turning hastily to me as if desirous of escaping from the subject under discussion. “I'll wish you a good night, I think. I'll go out to the men's quarters, and perhaps may even return to my own hut.”

“To your own hut!” I repeated in surprise. “You surely, after your narrow escape, cannot think of going back to-night with these murderous ruffians perhaps still hovering about.”

“Oh, I don't think they will show their faces there again in a hurry! I guess they are now making tracks for the safety of their necks, and will be miles away in the bush by this time, making their way as best they can towards the coast. But I will go to the men's hut anyhow, and if I can persuade one of page 235 them to come across the lake with me to-night I will, for I have reasons for wishing to go. Do not keep me, please; I wish to go,” he whispered earnestly.

“But surely you could sleep with Lilly here, in the kitchen, till morning at least? No? Well, if you will persist in going I will see that one of the shepherds goes along with you to keep you company.” I said this as I saw that he had some powerful motive for wishing to be off, and that no persuasions of mine would move him. Seeing this, I sent word for one of the shepherds at the hut to take my revolver with him and accompany. Howden back to his hut, from which he could return early on the following morning.

There was a good deal to discuss, both in what had just occurred and what had been revealed by his words, after Howden's departure.

“The cut-throat looking villain!” cried Lilly in reference to the blackguard Hennesy. “I knowed him as soon as my eyes lit upon him, and so did he me, for he took precious good care to keep out of my sight ever after.”

I here, for the amusement of the party, related the scene of Lilly's exploit with Hennesy, in which that worthy came to such signal grief by Lilly's hands; as also Lilly's other exploits on that memorable occasion, all of which afforded no small amusement to my auditors. Young M‘Gilvray, in especial, was so tickled at my description of Lilly's manner of assisting the police in quelling the riot, in which service he contrived to inflict considerably more damage on the Queen's servants than the rioters did, that he fairly held his sides with laughter.

From this subject to our late scene of operations on the Darling Station was an easy transition, and I asked Lilly when he had last heard from his friend Lampiere and how he was getting on. I have until now omitted stating the information I had had from Lilly on my first meeting with him. It appeared that ere Lilly had left the Darling, Lampiere received sudden word from some well-to-do relative who had just come out from home and had established some wholesale business in the provision trade in Melbourne, and who had kindly invited Lampiere to come down and take a situation as confidential clerk with him, for which office Lampiere had had some previous training ere he left home. On this proposal being submitted by Lampiere to Lilly, as in all his emergencies was Lampiere's invariable custom, Lilly very prudently advised him to at once take advantage of his kinsman's very considerate offer. Although town life was never to Lilly's taste, he still considered that, on the whole, Lampiere was more adapted for that than for a bush life. “Besides which,” as he very page 236 characteristically informed Lampiere, “you now have had a very fair bush training, and are able, if you like, to do things for yourself, and will not be like these town greenhorns, who are only fit to put on their ironed shirts without knowing however the shirt was either ironed or washed.”

Lampiere's last letter, received by Lilly about two months ago, stated that Lampiere's friend Burrel, who till then had remained on the station shepherding, was contemplating a move to Melbourne, and, in conjunction with Lampiere, was thinking of starting a paper, a sort of ordinary news and literary journal combined: Lampiere to be merely a sleeping partner in the concern.

Lilly's opinion now of Burrel's own poetical powers had been very considerably enhanced by the perusal of a poem that Lampiere had enlosed in his last letter, entitled: “My Old Quart Pot”. Unfortunately I am not able to give my readers a specimen of this poem to exercise their judgments upon, as I omitted to take a copy of it from Lilly, and I have not since seen it; but of the merits of this poem Lilly entertained almost as high an opinion as of Lampiere's “Hutkeeper's Address”.

“I'll not say it is just as good as Bill's poem,” said he, “but still it is a really good production for all that. He is a smart, keen customer that. But about this paper—I don't know what to think of it. I hope these two chaps ain't going to drop all their money over the concern. I am glad that Bill is sticking to his situation in his cousin's office. He tells me he gets £5 10s. a week there, and I know he won't spend his money foolishly, so that he is bound to lay some by, if he doesn't lose it in that paper.

“What is the journal to be called, do you know?” I asked.

The Australian News and Literary Journal,” was the reply.

“Rather a long title, I think; however, I trust they will both do well, as they are both very deserving young men.”

It was now time to retire for the night, the ladies all in one room, on ample beds, provided by Mrs. Campbell's foresight, on the floor, and the male part of the company in the kitchen in the same manner.

“It seems to me, Mrs. Campbell,” I took occasion to say as, with a more than usually thoughtful countenance, she sat by the fire, while the other ladies were assisting Mrs. Munro with the arrangements for the gentlemen on the kitchen floor, “that what is engaging your mind at the present moment is an attempt to solve the problem as to who forwarded you the money to Australia—a problem whose solution, to my thinking, is not a matter of such very great difficulty after all.”

page 237

“Indeed, Mr. Farquharson, do you think so? for, to tell you the truth, I have been perplexing my mind about that very matter.”

“Then I will take the liberty of affirming that your sex's vaunted instinct is at fault this time at least.”

“How, Mr. Farquharson? I scarcely understand you.”

“Has not Mr. Howden stated that you and he were once engaged to marry one another?”

“Which statement is perfectly true,” she replied sadly; “poor Charles Howden and I were to have been married within a fortnight of the unhappy event to which he referred.”

“And is it difficult to imagine, madam, that the love of a person of so highly organised and sensitive a temperament as this Mr. Howden appears to be, would still survive the wreck of those hopes, even after the lapse of all these years, and even take such an extraordinary method of showing his undying affection for her who had once been the cherished idol of his soul?”

As I spoke a sudden light overspread and chased away the thoughtful expression that till then had rested on Mrs. Campbell's countenance.

“Surely you do not think that this was Charles Howden's work? How can he have such means at his command and leading a life, too, of labour in order to earn his own living?”

“I see nothing so very improbable in it for all that. Remember, Mr. Howden has been actively engaged in the gold-fields during the very best days of California, Australia, and New Zealand, and he is intelligent and of very sober habits, all points sufficient in themselves to account for the possession of no inconsiderable fortune.”

“But why, if this is so, should he prefer to lead the life of privation and isolation that he does? Why, indeed, should he labour at all?”

“Such a choice is not easily to be accounted for, especially in a person of his intellectual tastes, and I cannot conceive him to be actuated by the mere grovelling desire to facilitate the hoarding of wealth. Yet many things might bias him in favour of this life away from society, for which, perhaps, he has lost all taste. Disappointed hopes such as he has been the victim of might sufficiently account for such a preference. What particularly roused my suspicions as to Howden's knowledge of this money was his sudden determination to return to his own hut on your reference to the matter, which at the time seemed most extraordinary to me.”

“I see it all,” replied Mrs. Campbell; “poor dear Charles, how much disappointment and misapprehension has he had to suffer! Yet he comes out of it after all these long years the page 238 same noble-hearted, unselfish man as of old. May God reward him for it all, it is more than I ever can.”

With these words we separated for the night.