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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XLIII

Chapter XLIII.

I was intently watching an exhibition of Highland dancing. This dance was the reel, and the manner of its execution, by four stalwart Highlanders, was exciting my admiration. I thought it a most gallant entertainment, and it gave me a vivid impression of the prowess of old Caledonia's sons. For such exercises as this, methought, could only have been the expression of the genius of a stalwart and active race.

I was thus absorbed when I suddenly felt a hand upon my shoulder. On turning round, in obedience to this claim upon my attentions, to my equal surprise and pleasure, I saw the tall form, with the usually pale, pensive countenance, of Charles Howden—now lightened up with a smile of pleasant recognition. We shook hands with that cordial grasp that only mutual esteem can give.

Turning away in instant forgetfulness of the scene that had been engrossing my attention, I walked on with my friend till we got free of the crowd, when we slackened our pace for the sake of greater conversational convenience. What the topic of our conversation was the reader can doubtless guess. With all the events of his brother's capture and death, and the active parts, taken in connection with them, by Lilly and myself, Charles was already acquainted. This much from the newspaper's reports he had already learned.

For the news of my interview with his brother in the gaol, he was, however, wholly unprepared. His brow, whose wonted gravity had deepened into sadness when we began to talk, now looked sadder still as I faithfully detailed to him my conversation with his brother, and that brother's last message to himself. Yet he thanked God, in a tone of inexpressible fervour, when he understood that he had hitherto been wronging him by the suspicions of his complicity with Morgan and Wilson's attack upon himself.

That evening I took Charles to the “Highland Home” to tea, page 302 and introduced him to Mrs. Howden. On learning his name, Rachel shook hands with him with great feeling. With his name and disposition, she was, indeed, well acquainted already, as at times, when in his better moods, Howden had spoken to her about this brother, in terms that, coming from her husband, had given her a very exalted idea of what her brother-in-law's character must really be.

On Charles' part, Rachel's appearance, with features so worn, and yet so sweet, and still refined, in spite of all the terrible experience of the last few years, appeared to make the most favourable impression. During all that evening, what remarks he made to her were addressed in a tone of most marked respect, whilst he appeared to give the most studious heed to her slightest word his fine, intellectual countenance being strongly marked with an air of compassionate tenderness as he seemed to realise the full depth of the misery that a person of her disposition and accomplishments must have suffered in the life that her romantic attachment to his brother had entailed upon her. He was, indeed, a man of a rare excellence of spirit, and, as I watched him then, with his attitude of chivalrous respect towards her who had been so degraded and crushed, I felt as if I could have taken him to my heart.

At length the pleasant evening came to a close, and bidding Rachel a kind farewell, Charles took his leave. Lilly retired to his own room, but I went out with Charles to accompany him a part of his way home. On my signifying my intention of doing this, he remarked that he wished to speak to me about something, anyhow.

This something turned out to be a very liberal offer on his part to assist me with means that would enable me to start again in business for myself. For, with my present fortunes prospects, he had, of course, been made pretty well acquainted by the necessity I had been placed under of applying to him for assistance before; and, although I had repaid him in full all that I had then received from him, he shrewdly conjectured from his knowledge of my character, and his acquaintance with the extent of my monetary obligations to my kinsman, what the probable state of my finances were.

He now informed me that he had several thousands of pounds saved, and in safe keeping. That it was his intention, within a week or two at the furthest, to proceed to Melbourne, and thence to sail for Britain. In the home country, it was his intention to invest his money safely, and to spend the remainder of his days quietly. Said he:—

“I have no ambition for the further heaping up of money. I am the last of the family, and my connections are but few, page 303 and these few are personally strangers to me. This £1000 I can easily spare to you until such time as you are able to refund it to me. Interest from you I neither require, nor will accept. You will, by this means, moreover, be able to pay off your debt to your cousin, for, from what I have seen of you, my opinion, Mr. Farquharson, is, that the thought of that debt presses as much upon your sense of independence, as in a similar case, it would, I know, upon mine.

“Were I not convinced that my poor sister-in-law will shortly be placed under the protection of her wealthy father, whom you tell me is even now on his way from Melbourne, I would have entrusted you with another £1000 for her future settlement in life—for in this matter at least I should look upon myself as being heir to my poor brother's moral obligations, and should desire to make her some amends for all the bitter wrong she has endured through her devoted attachment to him. But you will, however, accept of this sum from me.”

That I was deeply moved at such generosity I need not say, but strong as the temptation was, in the prospect that such a sum at my command opened up, I hesitated to accept it. I had had drilled into me from childhood, by my mother, a perfect horror of debt, and the lesson had been impressed upon me by the example of my father, whose views on this subject had been only too lax. The difficulties that had been brought upon the family by his weakness, had caused my mother to be peculiarly careful to impress all her children with the necessity of scrupulous honesty in money matters.

On the former occasion when I had accepted a loan from Charles, the case had been different, for then I had had a well defined plan in my mind that I knew would, if properly carried out, realise a handsome profit. Apart from this view of the matter, moreover, I was not without hope of being able to dispense with the necessity for any more capital to enable me to make a fresh start in life. I felt morally convinced that if it lay within his power, Mr. Rolleston would, through his influence, find me some such situation as I had formerly occupied under him. This would be to me a much more agreeable, if slower mode of freeing myself from the difficulties of my present situation, and perhaps yet enable me to occupy a respectable position in life.

With this thought I deemed it best to decline Charles Howden's kind and noble offer till such time as Mr. Rolleston would arrive in Dunedin, when, failing Mr. Rolleston's ability (for I made no doubt of his will) to find such a post for me, I frankly agreed to accept it most gratefully, with this understanding, and wringing his hands with the warmth that such page 304 disinterested kindness would naturally inspire, I parted with him, and retraced my steps rapidly to the “Highland Home,” with a spirit considerably lightened.