Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand
Although I had exacted a promise from Mary to write to me occasionally, I was certainly surprised when, in a fortnight's time after reaching home, on sending for the fortnightly page 138 mail to Menindie, I received a letter from her. This Menindie, by the way, was a small township whose only pretention to that distinction at that time, was a modern hotel of sun-dried bricks, and another smaller building—a wooden one, if I remember rightly—in which stores were retailed.
I at first thought it might be in reference to my letter to Mrs. Campbell, and this was partly true, but I quickly found it charged with tidings of a far more startling nature than even my worst fears would have dared to anticipate, for the villain Marsden had actually succeeded in abducting Rachel Rolleston; but I will let Mary give the information in her own words.
Dear Mr. Farquharson,—
“When I promised to write to you I had no idea that such a sad necessity would oblige me to take up my pen in fulfilment of that promise so soon, as that which impels me to make you acquainted with the sad event that has just befallen poor dear Rachel. Both mother and Mr. Rolleston received your kind warning letters revealing that vile Marsden's true character, though he certainly was very kind in saving your life, as you mentioned, and for which both mother and Jessie and I are very thankful. But, dear friend, your warning came too late. Poor Rachel had gone away with him two days before we got your letter, and, indeed, we are surprised that you did not see her that night at Marsden's camp; but perhaps he was keeping her in some other place then. But let me tell you all that I know of this strange event.
“You remember how he and Rachel rode on together just before we reached Menindie the day that we left, and how, when we came on afterwards, we found her alone and looking sad? I believe that it must have been then that that wicked man had succeeded in persuading the poor, foolish girl to consent to go away with him. All the way down—and we were delayed for more than a day through the steamer getting fixed on a snag—Rachel looked very dull, and she just seemed to get angry with us if we tried to find out what was the matter with her.
“Well, when we reached Wentworth who should be there but that Marsden again, and he was leading a beautiful black horse with a side-saddle, and said he had come to take Miss Rolleston home, as it would be much nicer for her to ride than to be kept cramped up so long in that little steamer. Whether Rachel really knew at that time what that man's true character was or not, of course I do not know, but I hope she did not, for although the poor dear girl had always some romantic notions of having a bold bushranger for a lover, yet I don't think she page 139 could have been so deceitful as to have kept from our knowledge such a deliberate purpose of going away from all her friends in that strange manner, with us all about her all the long time we were going down the river. But mother thinks that this man had perhaps only partially revealed his character to her as well as his desire some day to get her to go along with him, and it was this that made her look so sad, and that he had really deceived her as to his intentions when he persuaded her to mount and ride away home with him, and that afterwards, he then having her in his power, when they got out of sight of the people and houses he compelled her to go with him. I, too, think this was very likely the way in which he accomplished his purpose.
“We were all in a state of great consternation on arriving at the station when we could hear no tidings of her, and so we continued till your letter put the certainty of the step she had taken beyond a doubt. Mr. Rolleston was like to go out of his mind, and he immediately sent word for the police, and he has been away with them ever since. As for the rest of us, we have been all distracted with sorrow over our dear girl's dreadful misfortune; however, we can do no good now, but pray that the Lord may help her wherever she is.
“Now, dear friend, whilst I know well that you too will be greatly afflicted at the news about Rachel, I have some other strange news to tell you. Mother has received a letter from some anonymous friend enclosing a bank draft for £2000, and in the letter the writer recommends father to come over to New Zealand, where, near some lake, whose name I now forget, but which is in a province called Southland, there is some good unoccupied land, well adapted for sheep, that could at present be easily obtained. And father is so pleased at the idea of having a run of his own that he says he will go at once. Mother is greatly excited about the contents of this letter, for although the writing is in a strange hand, she is sure that it must have come from her dear, long lost brother Malcolm, whom you may remember we once told you had disappeared so mysteriously many years ago, before I was born.
“And so, dear Mr. Farquharson, we are all going away next month, and I feel so sorry, and so do mother and Jessie, that we may perhaps never be able to see you again. And I shall never have the chance of patting dear Selim again, tho' he has saved my life twice. But I hope to write to you and tell you what sort of a country New Zealand is. I am afraid I shall not like it, for I am told it is very cold there. We are taking Tiny with us, at her own desire, as her parents are settled somewhere in Southland, and she wants to go over and be near them.page 140
“And now, dear Mr. Farquharson, we all join in wishing you good-bye, but with the hope that sometime hence we may meet you over in New Zealand. We also particularly desire you to give all our kind loving remembrances to Lilly.
“And ever believe me to be,,
“Your affectionate friend
I believe that the contents of the latter part of this startling letter, though I read it all mechanically at the time, I only understood some hours afterwards, after a careful re-perusal, so much was I confounded by what I had read at the beginning. But on re-reading where it mentioned about Marsden taking Miss Rolleston away on a black horse, there flashed through my disturbed mind three visions, viz., the black handsome animal I had noticed before being ordered to “bail up”; Marsden's keen glance towards the direction of his camp as he ordered me to mount my horse and come away from where we had been standing; and the peculiar, sarcastic, expression of his countenance, when recommending me to write at once to Mr. Rolleston, as delays were proverbially dangerous.
“Good heavens!” I ejaculated, “can it be possible that I was then within a hundred yards of that unfortunate girl, for whose sake I would have gladly gone a hundred miles and laid down my life to save her from dishonour?” I was on the point of starting to my feet and hurrying across the river with my dismal tidings to Lilly, so as to obtain some relief by giving vent in words to my thoughts that almost maddened me, when Lilly himself chanced to enter the house. Seeing my perturbed countenance and the open letter still in my hand, he inquired,
“You seem put out with that letter, Mr. Farquharson. Nothing gone wrong, I hope?”
I looked at him for a moment ere I was able to rally my scattered senses, and then replied,
“That villain Marsden has accomplished his object after all!”
“What's that?” cried Lilly excitedly, “what's that? What do yon mean?”
“I mean simply that in this letter Mary Campbell says that he has persuaded Rachel Rolleston to go away with him.”
Lilly responded with a tremendous oath, “The murdering villain! Oh! but that I could have guessed that he would have tried that game on, either he or I should never have left that scrub alive, that last day by ——! How did he get her away?”page 141
I told him, as also the discovery I had just made, that she must have been in Marsden's camp and within a hundred yards of where I had been standing, when I was attacked. Nay, very likely might have wondered what the noise of the struggle—that she must have heard—was about.
“And to think, Lilly, that I was so near her, and not to know it, whilst talking to that polished villain.”
“Yes, it is bad enough to think of; yet, after all, what could you have done against him with his revolver, if you had known?”
“What could I have done, Lilly? I could have hurled my whip handle in his face.”
“And he would have shot you like a crow, as he did the black fellow in the scrub. Yon man is no blanderer with a revolver, you may be sure, So, after all, although the thought is bad enough, that you have been so near her and not known it, when you might have tried to save her, yet it is better as it is; you would only have been shot, and that wouldn't have made matters any better for her, but only worse, if she were to know that you had lost your life in trying to save her. But what could have possessed that girl to go away with a man like that, I and chuck away all thoughts of home and respectability at the same time, when she could have made—with her good looks and money—one of the best matches in the colony?”
“I am afraid with all her fine qualities, Lilly, that Miss Rolleston was flighty, and I believe that even her knowledge of the fact of Marsden being a bushranger would only have been an added incentive to the self-willed girl, to cast in her lot with him, if fully persuaded in her own mind that the man really loved her.”
“Flighty or not,” replied Lilly warmly, “a sweeter or a better-hearted girl than Rachel Rolleston there is not in all the colony, and a lady too at that. But of pride she had none, perhaps not enough for her own good for that matter; many's the poor, hard-up man she has given five shillings, and ten shillings, and a pound, to help him along his weary way; and she was never I such a proud lady as to ride past a poor swagger without giving him a kind smile and a tender word; and many's the poor traveller who has blessed her in his heart for the same bright smile and kind welcome that was always there for him, if she happened to be at the door when he came up; it was always the same word with her, no matter what the time of day, ‘You must be tired, stop where you are and rest for the day’. And if ever I come across that unprincipled, two-faced villain, who managed to get round the trustful nature of that sweet girl, and seduced her into leaving her pleasant home to go along with him, and if he has injured her honour by so much as the breath of reproach, it will be my life or his. I swear it by ——.”page 142
Lilly uttered these words with a passionate earnestness that betokened how truly he meant what he said.