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 XL

Chapter XL.

I will now give a slight outline of Randel Howden's career, as I subsequently learnt it from his brother Charles, whom I shortly afterwards met in Dunedin.

Their family was well connected, but owing to their father's dissipated habits—he died after having led a wild and riotous life—their mother was left in very straitened circumstances. She had had a numerous family, but owing to the prevalence of some epidemic whilst she was with her husband in India, shortly before his death, her family of five sons and four daughters were all swept away save her eldest, Charles, then a boy of eleven years of age. Six months after this sad event the dissipated father died also, and six months after his death the widow, who had meanwhile removed from India to Scotland, gave birth to a posthumous son—Randal—who, in his seventh year had the misfortune to lose his mother also.

page 285

The child was then taken in charge by a maternal uncle, who had once been in affluent circumstances, but, owing to reverses of fortune, chiefly incurred on account of his brother-in-law's ruinous extravagance, his income was now considerably reduced, By his influence, several years before his sister's death, a situation had been found for his elder nephew in the counting-house of a friend in Glasgow.

Charles, who even as a lad had shown a disposition of singular nobility and purity, had early made a vow to endeavour to redeem his father's unpaid liabilities and with them the honour of the family, and in his situation, such was the assiduity, the steadiness of his character, and the intelligence of his mind, that at the age of twenty-four he had so entirely won the confidence of his employer, that, on an opening offering for the establishment of a smaller business on similar lines in the neighbouring town of Greenock, this gentleman had of his own accord proffered his assistance to establish Charles Howden in it. This offer was most gratefully accepted, and his patron had indeed no occasion for afterwards regretting this act of generosity.

In three years, such was the success that attended the young merchant's efforts that his business was not only able to dispense with all further support from his patron, but the latter had the pleasure of seeing his young protégé on a sure road towards wealth and honour.

Thus it was with Charles until his younger brother had grown up into a tall, promising youth. With singular inconsistency, however, Charles, while devoting himself unsparingly to his business, and working like a galley-slave for the attainment of his first great object, to wit, the payment of his father's debts, cherished the desire of seeing his family restored to its former standing by his younger brother.

For this object, instead of inciting him to work as he did himself, he rather encouraged him to foster the fatal ambition of one day occupying the same position in society as his father had once done. A person of a like noble disposition with himself such encouragement would have merely incited to a meritorious ardour for properly acquitting himself in such a sphere. But, to a nature like Randal's, this was indeed a fatal mistake, as Charles subsequently found out. He sent his brother to college, however, and afterwards found the means for purchasing a commission in the army, that through the help of family influence was readily granted to him.

Finding himself, in spite of his unremitting industry and personal economy impoverished by these serious expenses, he entered into partnership with a young man of the name of page 286 Carmichael, who was of equally industrious habits as himself, and whose acquaintance he had made some years previously. It was then he made the acquaintance also of his partner's sister, Mary, who came to Greenock occasionally to stay with her brother. Between this young lady and Charles Howden a warm friendship soon sprang up, with the result of which the writer is already familiar.

As for Randal Howden, the object of so many hopes and fears, it would seem as if all the benefits heaped upon him went merely to feed a nature self-willed and selfish from the first.

Whilst his dashing manners made him a general favourite with all, he seemed to be utterly unconscious of his proper position towards the brother who had done so much for him. Instead of gratefully accepting all his brother's kindness, he looked upon it as his right, due to his own superior merits.

Although he rose in his profession, yet in the end his intemperate habits of gambling and drinking compelled him to leave the army, after having already been once guilty of forgery. For this offence he was, however, pardoned by his superior officer, on whom he had forged the cheque, for the sake of Howden's family, with whom this officer was well acquainted. This friend, also, on Howden's promise of reform, furnished him with letters of recommendation to several of the leading merchants in Melbourne. In view, however, of the excesses which Howden had been guilty of in the army, these letters of recommendation were made out in an assumed name so as to give Howden a better opportunity for turning over a new leaf. The name thus given him had been that of Howden's mother.