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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand


page 265

Chapter XXXVIII.

On the next morning, urgent business obliged me to start early on a journey as far as the Grey township, about twenty-five miles distant. I rode away without mentioning to Lilly my discovery of Rachel and Marsden on the previous evening. This I intended to do immediately upon my return, when I intended, if I could, to secure his co-operation in the service that I determined upon volunteering to the police, to assist them in the capture of the bushrangers.

I took care to have my revolver carefully loaded and stuck conspicuously in my belt, for I was disquieted at the idea of two such desperadoes as Morgan and Wilson being at large in the neighbourhood; to say nothing of Marsden himself, from whose scruples of generosity I had now, from my late view of his appearance, considerably less hope in case of a second rencontre with him. Besides my fears from Marsden, there were at that time some terrible rumours floating about of some atrocious murders recently committed by another gang of desperadoes.

Whether it was that the nervousness engendered by these rumours tended to make me exercise more watchfulness or no, I know not, but the sudden growl of my dog, in a peculiarly lonely part of the road, caused me to at once be in readiness for action with my hand on my revolver. At the same moment I imagined I heard a rustling among the bushes on my right hand, and glancing quickly round, I just caught a glimpse of two men hurriedly retreating through them.

I had ridden about half a mile further when I espied a horseman riding towards me, in whom on a nearer view I, to my great surprise, recognised Mr. John M‘Gilvray.

Equally astonished on his part at this sudden meeting, the young gentleman shook me heartily by the hand, inquiring at the same time what had become of me for such a length of time. But with all his unaffected heartiness of manner, I could not avoid regarding him with some stiffness, as, to his handsome person alone I attributed the miscarriage of my suit with Jessie Campbell. I accordingly replied to his friendly inquiries after my welfare in the dry and commonplace manner of one who desires to shorten an unavoidable conversation. Seeing, my reserve, the spirited young fellow at once took offence, and after a few more remarks bade me good day, and rode away at a canter.

As I rode away from him I felt some qualms of conscience for the silliness of my behaviour. “The girl has given you up fairly,” I reflected, “then why grieve further about her? Mr. page 266 M‘Grilvray has done you no harm in taking, in all fairness, what you could not get.” Reasoning with myself in this way I resolved, on my return to Hokitika—if not that evening, yet to-morrow perhaps—to seek him out and make the amende honorable for my boorishness to him now. Thus thinking, I had proceeded at a walking pace for about two hundred yards further, when a spirit seemed suddenly to whisper in my ear—whilst with my mind's eye I beheld the loneliness of the road I had just come along, and into which Mr. M‘Gilvray would be at this moment entering— “and these two men” Those four words, and no more, seemed, as I have said, to be just whispered in my ear as if by the voice of some warning spirit; but so sudden and powerful was the magnetic influence that they seemed to exercise upon me, that I at once wheeled Selim round and literally tore back in the direction I had just come; nor, as the result proved, was the impulse on my part either a mistaken one or too soon timed. Just as I had entered the thick, dense scrub that here deeply shaded the road, and through which Selim came tearing in at a stretching gallop, I saw poor John M‘Gilvray on the ground, with two fiends on either side of him, each pulling with all his strength at the end of a Chinese sash that was twined at the middle round their victim's throat, who was by this time almost black in the face. What words I uttered as I came upon this fiendish scene, I do not now remember, but a bullet that went singing past one of their heads, as I galloped frantically up, sent both wretches, like hunted wolves, back into the scrub, where they at once disappeared. I did not attempt to follow them. It would have been impracticable for me on horseback to have done so, owing to the impervious nature of the scrub through which they had darted. Yet quickly as they had disappeared, they did not do it soon enough to prevent me recognising the bullet head and flaxen hair of Morgan, as a second shot from my revolver knocked the ruffian's hat off ere he managed to vanish from my sight.

Mr. M‘Gilvray, who it seems had been totally unarmed, had been bailed up, and sternly ordered to dismount, with which order, under the threat of two revolvers levelled at his head, he had been obliged to comply. He was then seized and placed in the position from which I had so providentially been enabled to rescue him. His consciousness had not quite forsaken him at the moment when I had come up. Consequently, after a minute or so of spasmodic gasping, during which I could do nothing to assist him save to loosen his collar, he quickly recovered; and, being naturally of a hardy and courageous temperament, his sole sense of the greatness of the danger he had just escaped was expressed by an exasperated oath at his utter unreadiness for page 267 such an encounter, which had caused him to fall so easily into the clutches of the miscreants; in contrast to the lively account he would have given of himself had he been armed with so much as a stick at the time.

Securing his horse, that in the meanwhile had not strayed very far, we both remounted and rode rapidly back to the Grey, and, dispatching my business there, as hastily returned to Hokitika, which we reached at about four o'clock in the afternoon. Immediately on reaching Hokitika, we rode straight to the police camp and informed them of our adventure on the way to the Grey, and at the same time volunteered our services in the event of their attempting to secure the bushrangers that night, John M‘Gilvray adding in a determined tone that he would like to get a chance of settling accounts with either of the ruffians who had come so very near strangling him.

On the chance of the bushrangers eluding the police at the place where the latter hoped to surprise them, and of their pouncing upon the bank while the police were absent for this object, it was resolved to divide their force; one half to be retained to watch the bank, whilst the other (under the guidance of Duval, the Victorian detective), proceeded to attempt to surprise and capture the gang in their own tent.

The accession to their divided strength, by the tender of our voluntary assistance, was therefore received with great satisfaction by the police; and this satisfaction was increased, when I informed them of the nature and efficiency of a further ally I could promise to procure them, in the person of Mr. Benjamin Lilly, whose zeal in a cause in which the rescue of the long-lost Rachel Rolleston was concerned, I felt perfectly sure we could firmly rely upon.

With these preconcerted arrangements for the capture of the bushrangers at their tent, three policemen well armed were thought amply sufficient, as, by the accession of three volunteers, they would thus be exactly two to one. The remaining police, amounting to two men, were left to guard the bank against a surprise in case the bushrangers had changed their plans. As eleven o'clock had been the hour arranged for surprising the bushrangers at their tent, we laid our plans so as to reach the scene of action at that hour.

We then—that is, Mr. M‘Gilvray and I—went back to the hotel, where I was then putting up, and at which Lilly was also staying.

On reaching the hotel and shortly afterwards falling in with Lilly, who happened to be out at the time of our arrival, I called him aside and told him all that I had seen on the previous evening, as also the nature of the duty in which Mr. page 268 M‘Grilvray and I were shortly to be engaged, and in which I had ventured to promise for him that he would also take a willing share.

On hearing all that I had to say, which, however, was not done without some strongly worded interruptions on his part, as would have been expected by all who knew Lilly thoroughly, the great-hearted fellow pulled out the beautiful gold watch that, on an occasion already related, Rachel Rolleston had given him, and that ever since he had carefully worn in a fob inside his waistcoat, and putting it to his lips and kissing it, said, “If ever I prayed in my life to God, it was for the purty young lady that gave me this watch, and that I might some day have the chance of paying off the cold-blooded villain who induced her to leave her home to spend a life of shame and misery with him. And now, may God help me this night to keep the vow that I swore to Him then, that if ever I was to come across him, that it should be my life for his. And if I get that satisfaction, I shall part with my life this night content.”

Within the hour, we were all at the appointed place of rendezvous, from which we instantly rode forth to the scene of action. About one hundred yards above the place where we had lost sight of Rachel in the scrub, that is, about one hundred yards from the tent, we dismounted and secured our horses at the bottom of the steep ridge.

Some passing fancy while securing Selim to a tree branch, over which I simply threw his bridle, induced me to look up and to mentally gauge the probable height of this ridge; and I thought at the time that, though too steep to attempt to ride up with any ordinary horse, yet it appeared to be not a whit more steep than a ridge up which I had been obliged to force Selim to scramble, with me on his back, a few days before. This I had been compelled to do in order to intercept the flight of a perverse bullock, that seemed determinedly bent on breaking away from the others, and that, unless I had contrived to intercept him on the top of that ridge, would from there have got down into a wild ravine, from which there would have been but little probability of again recovering him.

I also took occasion to observe another distinct feature of this ridge—an observation that was of service to me in the scene that followed very shortly afterwards. This observation was that the spur, at whose foot among the tangle wood scrub the bushrangers' tent was situated, was a continuation of this same ridge. There was no gully between them. I noticed, moreover, that the side of this ridge was tolerably bare of timber. So much for these preliminary observations.

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We had all stalked on our stomachs—to use a game phrase—to within a few feet of the tent, where, however, we had to remain for about an hour, ere events began to develop. I at first felt my heart beating loudly with nervous anticipation. Marsden appeared to be within, and stalking rapidly to and fro, as if impatiently awaiting some arrival. He at times addressed a few words to Rachel, stopping whilst doing so, and then abruptly resuming his hurried stride.

“What the—can be keeping them?” I heard him at one time mutter; “they should have been here long before this.”

“Ah, here they are!” he at length exclaimed, as steps were heard hurriedly descending the ridge apparently by a cleared track—for there was no sound that could come from contact with intervening bushes—and in a few moments, Morgan and Wilson, almost brushing by where I was lying, entered the tent, when, immediately afterwards, the stern voice of Marsden was heard demanding, “Well, what has kept you coves so long? I suppose you have been up to some of your old treacherous games, Morgan, and have been trying to do something on your own quiet lay, that you keep such bad time!”

“What the—is that to you what we've been up to? we ain't your servants, I suppose!”

“You are not my servants, no, certainly you are not; but according to our contract while this lay is on, that I have found for you, you are bound to obey me as your Captain, and I am the man, Morgan, that will make you stand to your word with me, or if you don't, will send a bullet whistling through your thick skull, you common blockhead!” He continued, after a pause, the other answering not, “Can you not see that it is to your own selfish interest to take notice of what I have to say to you. I have the head to plan how to do a thing clean, like what we are about to do this night; and for this half hour I have been kept waiting by you, when we ought to start at once, to take time by the forelock, so as to be able to do our work deliberately, without being hurried over it. All your ideas, on the other hand, are to knock people on the head, and by that original means to get your own worthless neck into a halter. Take time, man, take time, your neck will be there soon enough, I warrant; but now I merely want you to be smart and steady, and to keep by me this night, when, if we succeed—as I doubt not but we shall—you can both go your own silly ways, and get hung up as soon as you like.”

“How do you know that there is money in that place at all?” Morgan here asked sullenly.

“How do I know? Because I was inside there getting a cheque cashed, and saw enough to convince me that there is no page 270 small amount of gold, to say nothing of notes, within that bank at this very moment.”

“Well, that's good news anyhow,” remarked Wilson, with villainous cheerfulness.

“You are all ready then,” demanded Marsden, “and prepared to obey all my orders to-night?”

“Yes, yes,” both worthies eagerly replied, for the news of the certainty of gold being in the building that they were about to break into, had caused even Morgan's sullenness to give way to one of cheerfulness.

This kind of work always afforded him the pleasure common to all experts at the exercise of their own peculiar talents.

“That's right. Now, Rachel, put the bottle on the table, and we will have a mouthful of something to eat, and then start at once.”

“Surrender in the Queen's name,” sounded at this pleasing juncture of the bushrangers' plans, in the stern voice of Duval, by whose whispered orders we had by this time quietly risen to our feet and approached the tent door, whose flap at the same moment one of the officers drew aside, whilst we all simultaneously presented ourselves, with revolvers levelled at those inside.

“Douse the glim,” was that freebooter's reply, as in instant action to our threatening demonstration, he snatched up a loaded revolver that was lying beside him on the table, and fired it at the foremost of the intruders. As his shot exploded, I observed Lilly, who had been impetuously advancing, suddenly reel to one side and fall half stunned against the side of the tent; but, as it proved, his weakness was but temporary, the bullet having only grazed his temple. Another shot from Marsden next stretched one of the policemen with a broken arm on the ground. At this moment, instead of supporting Marsden by a display of equally resolute behaviour, the ruffian Morgan, with a cowardly concern for his own safety only, and trusting amid the confusion and smoke to his bull strength, made a desperate rush to break his way out between us; but meeting his charge with the firmness of a rock, Duval, against whom he came in contact, seized him by the collar with his left hand, and his waist with his right, retaining his own revolver as he did so, and, with a sudden exertion of his powerful muscles assisted by athletic skill, he lifted him clean off his legs, when both men came to the ground with a shock that—even amid that scene of confusion—seemed to make the ground vibrate beneath our feet

In the meanwhile my position, as we attempted to force our way in a body into the tent, chanced to be on the side where page 271 the table with the light stood; and seeing Rachel, in obedience to Marsden's command, rush forward to extinguish the light, I too darted forward to prevent her object, and seizing hold of her hand—that hand that at one time even to touch had caused the blood to thrill through my veins—I roughly thrust her back from the table.

It was no time then for ceremonious considerations: the whole scene that I am now attempting to describe began and ended in about a minute. As the wounded policeman fell, John M‘Gilvray, slightly built but wiry, sinewy, and an excellent light-weight wrestler, sprang in, and grappling with Marsden, attempted to trip him. A blow from the butt end of Marsden's revolver on the head, however, and his spirited young assailant lay senseless on the ground. This occurred as I had thrust Rachel from the table. I then sprang across Marsden's path as he was in the act of bounding over M‘Gilvray's senseless body, and striking up the muzzle of his revolver just in time to cause the bullet that was intended for my head to pass through the roof of the tent, I threw my arms around him and endeavoured to detain him. In physique I was at that time a well-built man, and one whom it would have taken a man of more than ordinary strength to overthrow; but, in the iron grasp of him, against whom I now pitted myself, I felt as if held in a vice. Lifting me from off my feet he fairly dashed me to the ground, and with a wild shout, the bushranger leapt out of the tent and escaped into the scrub. I sprang to my feet shouting excitedly, and fearless of danger instantly rushed in pursuit, followed by Lilly, who, now recovered from his stun, with an imprecation of fury and despair, saw the man against whom he had sworn life for life, now likely to escape his vengeance after having been almost within his reach.

I was also at the same moment followed by Duval, who, with revolver pointed to Morgan's head, had compelled the coward to let the handcuffs be slipped upon his wrists. Wilson too had, in the meanwhile, been secured, and was then in the hands of the remaining policeman.

On rushing out from the tent, I made instinctively for my horse, as the conformation of the spur that I had already noted flashed through my mind and struck me as the probable route that Marsden would pursue. The hundred yards between I must have traversed in a few seconds. Tearing the reins from the branch to which they were hung and flinging them over my horse's head, I vaulted into the saddle.

“Up, Selim, up,” I shouted, forcing him straight up the face of the ridge before me. My gallant horse refused nothing that I put him to. Stretching himself out, clambering and page 272 clinging, he fairly seemed to drag himself up the face, I standing high in my stirrups and leaning over his wither to help his equilibrium. Snorting, panting, but never hesitating, while my “On, Selim, on,” still urged him to more strenuous exertions, on and up he went for about two hundred yards, till he gained and passed the brow of the hill. From there, glancing behind me, I observed Lilly on foot, dragging his horse desperately after him by the bridle, and Duval doing the same, though somewhat further behind.

On reaching the top, to my great joy I just caught a glimpse of Marsden, going at an easy sweeping canter, about twenty yards ahead. This I could easily observe, as it was a beautiful moonlight night, and the ground for some little space about here was comparatively free of timber. He was mounted on a tall chestnut horse (a pure blood) that, as I afterwards understood, he had assisted himself to from some squatter's stable, down on the plains, about a week before. He was evidently unconscious that he was being pursued, or was possibly under the belief, from the nature of the ground, that active pursuit was impracticable, so for some minutes after I had headed Selim upon his track he kept going at the same easy pace. On my part, as a matter of policy, I refrained from attempting to undeceive him on this point by instantly pressing upon him, as I was desirous, by a short continuance of this easy pace, to allow Selim to recover somewhat from the exertion of scrambling up the ridge that had so severely blown him.

This for a few minutes I was enabled to do, till Selim's impatient snort in his desire to press on after the horse he saw he was in pursuit of, betrayed my proximity to the bushranger. I saw him turn his head round suddenly to discover the meaning of the noise he heard behind him, when, with a savage imprecation, he urged his horse to the top of his speed. Selim by this time, however, had somewhat recovered his wind.

That in a flat race he would have been a match with his blood opponent is more than I could deliberately affirm. Selim was not a pure blood, yet his speed was by no means contemptible. But here, though a little winded, the chances were altogether in my horse's favour. Marsden's thoroughbred on plain ground might possibly in a mile race have come in a full neck ahead of Selim, but where he was, the scrub confused and handicapped him, whilst Selim was a scrub horse. He had been bred amongst it, and had subsequently been trained to muster cattle from such ground, and was therefore now in his natural element, and the manner in which he dashed straight through thickets, or under low spreading boughs when he almost had to crouch, or with his fierce snort, darted to either page 273 side according as the direction of the animal he was pursuing was changed in the slightest degree, or cut off angles to intercept him when this unpractised courser swerved aside from any obstacle, was such as would have boded ill for the safe seat of a greenhorn or unpractised rider, had such then chanced to have been on his back. The old stock horse knew his duty, and I knew that while his breath lasted he would never lose sight of the object he was following.

Circumstances, however, favoured the pursuit. Whether Marsden knew the country or no, I know not; probably, however, he did not. Heading his horse for the heart of the bush, his career was suddenly checked by a steep gully with precipitous sides. This occasioned him to swerve up along the side of it to the left which brought him in a course trending somewhat in the direction from which he had just come, but which he followed with the probable hope of finding a place of descent down the terrace. This direction was unfortunate for him, for, as it turned out, it brought him in a manner up broadside with his pursuer, whom, by taking the opposite direction along the gully, he might still have kept straight in his rear, and as sailors say, a stern chase is a long chase.

Following Marsden closely, I now cooeyed loudly to apprise Lilly and his companion of this change in our direction. It was, as I have already said, a clear moonlight night. As Marsden advanced, he found that the gully swerved so much in the direction that he had just come from that he would now gladly have gone straight back on a line with his former direction, but the appearance of Lilly and Duval advancing through the trees towards him—Lilly, hatless, his bleeding temple bandaged with his handkerchief, and in a voice, hoarse as a boatswain's call, shouting out to Duval who was behind him, to incline farther off so as the better to hem “the dog” in—showed him that by so doing he would have to run the gauntlet of a fire from the three of us.

Firing his revolver again at Lilly, who fortunately escaped being hit, Marsden now wheeled his horse directly for the terrace which here was not more than twenty feet in height, and without a moment's hesitation instantly leapt his horse over. The poor animal lay at the bottom with her two forelegs smashed, and Marsden, springing off her back, could be seen running off into the bush on foot. Lilly was now on his heels like an avenging fury. Riding furiously to the edge of the terrace, he would have recklessly followed Marsden's example, but Coleena, less blooded or more sensible, baulked and reared. Springing from her back, her fearless rider impetuously took the bank himself. Clinging with nervous hands to projecting page 274 roots or branches of trees that grew up from the terrace's side, he let himself down to the bottom with the rapidity of a squirrel.

Marsden could be still plainly discerned running about one hundred and fifty yards ahead.

The report of Lilly's revolver was then suddenly heard, and Marsden was seen to stagger, but he instantly replied with the remaining loaded chamber of his revolver; that also told, though with less effect upon his antagonist. This, however, did not stop the latter from rushing up, and, with a fierce shout, springing on to Marsden, receiving, as he did so, on the barrel of his own revolver that he refrained from using, a desperate blow that the other had aimed at his head with his now empty weapon.

Lilly was a nervous and muscular man, yet I question if in sheer muscular power he would have been equal to Marsden, but that the latter was more seriously wounded than himself, a fact that somewhat equalised their strength as they rolled upon the ground with all the ferocity of tigers, locked in each others' arms.

Meanwhile both Duval and I had also dismounted, and were attempting to descend the terrace, where Lilly and Marsden had fired at each other. Duval accomplished this quickly, but I missed my foothold when near the bottom and rolled down heavily, considerably bruising one of my shoulders. “Yield, Howden; the game is up !” cried Duval, sternly, as soon as he reached the scene of the struggle, whilst he knelt upon the body of the bushranger.

“Ha ! hell-hound; what sent you here? Strike, dog, I yield to none.”

With a stroke from the butt end of his revolver, Duval instantly reduced the furious man to a state of partial insensibility, during which he bound his hands with his belt, and then still more firmly secured him with the reins that I fetched from the maimed horse, putting the poor groaning brute out of pain at the same time with a shot in the forehead. Duval, then, with Lilly's assistance, led their now securely bound prisoner to the tent, that in reality was not much more than a mile away from where we then were, while I returned up the terrace, and, mounting Selim, drove the other two horses before me down the same ridge that we had ascended in such haste. Ere starting, however, Duval, who had formerly been in the army, and had there seen something of surgery, did what he could in a rough and ready way to staunch the wounds of both Lilly and Marsden.

Marsden, now conquered and passive, submitted to what conditions were imposed upon him, but maintained a stern silence all the time.

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We found Mr. M‘Gilvray feeling rather sick, but otherwise unhurt, his consciousness having returned some time before. As for Rachel, she had left the tent, no one objecting to her doing so.

While returning however to Hokitika that night with our prisoners, one idea kept constantly exercising my mind, “Howden,” I kept muttering, “what name is this? Is this man Marsden, then, after all, poor Charles Howden's wild brother that he once told me of? Surely it can be none other than he? Yes, now I remember his remark in the tent; while defending his conduct to Rachel, he said then, that there was one other who had been good to him, but that he was always too stern and strait-laced for him. This just agrees with what Howden said of himself, with reference to his views of his brother's conduct. And yet in features there is no family resemblance between these brothers; certainly there is none in their minds ! Poor Charles Howden ! how grieved he will be to hear of this sad ending of his brother's mad career. For be sure this will be the end of it, as the civil authorities will now make too sure of his custody to give him a third chance of escape.”