Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand
I attended the exhibition of games on the second day also, though for but a short time only, for, feeling by that time pretty well satiated with the spectacle, I left early.
It was well on in the afternoon, and I was strolling along the pavement in Princes Street, in a fit of deep meditation, and the central figure of all my thoughts was the same that had at one time held supreme control there, to wit—Rachel Rolleston, now Mrs. Howden. The advantageous position that fortune had now placed me in, towards her who had at one time been the object of my devoted love, and whom I still deeply respected, was also very apparent to my mind. And with it the magnificent prospect of worldly advantages, that the possession of her hand as sole heiress of her father's immense wealth opened up. What need indeed for further toil, or chafing over future prospects, with such a means to fortune, almost within my grasp? These were thoughts that I should have been more than human to have pretended to ignore, but when it came to deliberately acting upon them, there were two distinct bars to the vision.
Firstly, as regarded Mrs. Howden herself, I felt convinced that, though all that respect could give and gratitude bestow were already freely mine, yet there was that in her present condition that would have made the idea of an offer for her hand a matter of simple indelicacy, and especially so in face of the advantages that I should gain, which would at once stamp my action as wholly mercenary.
Secondly, there was an even greater bar to such a proposition on my part, in my still smouldering passion for Jessie Campbell.
But Jessie had deliberately refused me already. Then why take further account of her? It was true that she had done so. Yet it was none the less true that her image still reigned supreme within my heart, to the exclusion of her once potent rival.
My thoughts reverted to the time when Rachel Rolleston was all in all to me; Jessie nowhere, by comparison. How little then did her manners please me, when held captive by Rachel's charms. To what, then, could the change be due? page 305 It was not that I thought that Rachel had degenerated, either through her sorrows or, especially, her marriage with another. I could still imagine my old love surviving the last, whilst my compassion would have been enlisted for the first. Nor could it be that Rachel, by her preference for another, had deliberately abdicated her throne in my heart, for Jessie had done the same.
Thus engrossed in my own thoughts, I slowly sauntered along, when my eyes were attracted by a carriage and pair of peculiarly showy horses that were prancing by. Whilst my eyes were directed towards it, it was suddenly stopped and the window let down, and a lady's hand extended eagerly towards me.
Wondering who in fortune's name it could be who could be claiming acquaintanceship with me, I stepped across to the side of the carriage, and, to my intense astonishment, recognised the laughing countenance of Mary Campbell, although she was so richly and tastefully attired and adorned with jewellery that I almost doubted the evidence of my own senses.
“Ah, ha! you naughty man, we have found you at last!” she laughed, as I stood gazing in a sort of bewildered way at the unexpected apparition. “Now, don't stand staring there as if you could not believe it was me, for it is me and no one else. Jump in, and you shall soon learn all about what is evidently now such a source of surprise to you.”
On complying with her request, I was rather disconcerted on finding myself suddenly in the presence of her sister, of whom, little dreaming of her whereabouts, I had just been so intently thinking. Jessie's cheeks coloured slightly as our eyes met, while she shook me kindly and warmly by the hand. I had never before seen her so reserved. I, too, felt inclined to be reticent towards her—not, of course, from annoyance, but from confusion—so I continued to address my remarks to Mary.
I should mention that Jessie was dressed with the same elegance as her sister. Both ladies looked superb. Mary was now in the full bloom of womanhood; and, as I gazed on her dimpled cheeks, her graceful proportions, and her bright, blue eyes, I marvelled at the blindness of all her bachelor acquaintances in letting her go free so long. “But bide a wee,” as kind, garrulous old Mansie Waugh would have said. I very soon learned that Mary was not quite so free as I had imagined.
Mary, who did all the talking—for Jessie said never a word—now let me into the secret of all their grandeur. It was owing to the sudden reappearance of their long-lost uncle, an immensely wealthy man. Their mother, on receiving his address from Charles Howden, had lost no time in writing to him, when at once determining on putting a period to his career of page 306 money-making, he, as soon as he was able to wind up his business, had obeyed his sister's earnest injunction, to set sail for Dunedin, at which place, on his arrival, he at once took steps for settling down for life.
“And nothing would do for him,” said Mary, “but we must come and stay with him, and mother has been down since Christmas. And you must never leave us again, for my uncle has more money than he knows what to do with, and I am sure that he will help you to do something better than going wandering about the country. We often wondered where you had got to—Jessie and I were always talking about you and Selim and Lilly. But we were on the look-out for you to-day, for, you see, Mr. M‘Gilvray called upon us last night, and told us you were in town, and that he had seen you at the games: and he told us all about your terrible bushranging battles. Why, Duncan, but you are quite a hero now!”
Here Mary stopped, not so much from want of something to say, as for want of breath.
“It is strange,” I said, “that Mr. M‘Gilvray made no mention of your being in town, when I saw him yesterday, but then I was not in his company more than a minute or so, as he turned round to speak to some one else, and we got separated in the crowd, so I saw no more of him.”
“Just like the idle fellow,” replied Mary, with a pretty pout. “He never seems to think of anyone but himself, or he would have told you where we were at once. I have a good mind not to speak to him again for that.”
In reality, as I very soon learnt, Mary had a good mind to do nothing of the sort. By this time I saw the carriage turning into the drive, and made an effort to get out, but here Jessie joined her sister in resolutely preventing my doing so, and, constrained by their wishes, I accompanied them into the house.
“But why had I made such a silly pretence of reluctance to do that which one would have thought I would have done out of common politeness?”
The truth was, reader, that my feelings in Jessie's presence were so painful that the tumultuous surging of my blood through my veins had made a coward of me and, with or without reason, I was desirous of beating a speedy retreat from her presence.
The thought of my rejection, when asking for her hand, on the last occasion of our meeting, was still bitter to my memory, and the humiliation of it was the more intense, because of the unabated loyalty of my heart for her still.
With these feelings strong upon me, I accompanied the page 307 ladies into the house, resolved firmly not to let my feelings master me.
But when ushered into the handsome sitting-room, the sudden exclamation, in a tone of genuine gladness and surprise, of—“Duncan Farquharson, is it possible! how glad I am to see you again”—as Mrs. Campbell took my extended hand, almost put all my prudent resolutions to the rout. As a sort of compromise with myself, however, I took care, when seating myself, to select a chair on the side of the room opposite to where Jessie was seated.
But to maintain even the semblance of reserve in the presence of Mrs. Campbell and her two daughters, who showed such a warm, eager interest in my welfare, seemed to be so hopeless, that I foresaw at once that an inglorious surrender would be inevitable.
I had also here the pleasure of shaking hands with another acquaintance, in the person of Mrs. Ayson, who had been one of my Christmas guests the year before, and on whom I had laid such strict injunctions to bring her husband with her, when she repeated the visit next year. Here, too, was her husband, a mild, blue eyed, cherry-cheeked, gentlemanly looking man; and thus meeting within such a few days of the time fixed by my invitation, though in such a manner, and in a place so little dreamt of by me when I gave it, occasioned no little merriment at the time. But to be sure, we were feeling so generally happy, that it took very little to arouse our laughter. The first greetings over, the conversation turned upon the events in which I had so lately taken part, and then at once I thought of Rachel, who, till then, through my confusion, occasioned by my sudden meeting of Jessie, had been forgotten. With this thought came also the reflection of the absurdity of my boggling at entering the house of my newly-found friends, when I had such joyful news to give them, of the recovery of her who had once been so dear to them all.
I had given some particulars about the manner of Howden's capture, at the ladies' request, though they had already from Mr. M‘Gilvray received a circumstantial account of the whole thing. When Mrs. Campbell remarked, “But Duncan, whatever could have induced you and Lilly and Mr. M‘Gilvray to join in this desperate affair? or what possible interest could you have had about this man Butler's capture?”
I stared at Mrs. Campbell in some surprise at this question, when I suddenly recollected how much she had yet to learn about the matter. I forgot to state before that Howden was only known to the police by the name of Butler, and that when John M‘Gilvray had agreed to make one of our party in the page 308 attempt to capture him, I had not informed him of my motives for my strong interest in this man, beyond the remark that I had the most powerful reasons for desiring his capture, and I had not seen John again until I met him at the Dunedin games.
Consequently from his ignorance of Butler's real name, in his narrative to the Campbells, of the circumstances attending the capture, it was only by the name of Butler that he had referred to the prisoner. All this I suddenly recollected now, and said with a smile: “You consider my action quixotic I see, Mrs. Campbell, but I have only to pronounce one word to cause you to change your views on that point. Then, instead of calling Lilly and me rash for our conduct in venturing into that affair, you will praise us, nay, I venture to say, that you will thank God for having permitted us to render such assistance as we did in effecting that man's capture.”
“Indeed,” said Mrs. Campbell, looking at me intently, “and what word is it pray, that is to have such a wonderful effect upon me?”
“This man Butler, alias Howden, might possibly have had another alias that would sound more familiar to you,” I answered.
“Whatever can you mean, Duncan?” she replied, turning slightly pale, as if thinking that something horrible was about to be revealed; “what alias can that be?”
“Merciful heaven,” cried Mrs. Campbell, springing to her feet, as that name aroused a train of most painful thoughts. “And that girl in the tent —”
“None other than Rachel Rolleston.”
“My poor, lost darling!” exclaimed Mrs. Campbell, in a tone and manner of the keenest anguish, as she clasped her hands together at my answer, and both girls joining in an exclamation of sorrow.
“No; not lost, Mrs. Campbell,” I said, hastily, springing at the same time to my feet, in the eagerness of my feeling to disabuse the minds of these friends of such unpleasant suspicions concerning Rachel's character. “Not lost, though recovered without one stain of shame upon her brow, save that of the folly of her first step in believing the plausible representations of a thorough villain. Though, heaven knows, a deeper stain than that might well have been effaced by the sea of suffering through which she has since passed.”
I then gave them the whole history of Rachel's experience. The silent tears that flowed from the eyes of her friends at the story bore ample testimony to the depth of their sympathy with Rachel in this sudden eclipse of her happiness. Even Mr. Ayson page 309 wiped his eyes, and blew his nose with extraordinary vigour, to the danger of the healthful condition of that organ. On learning where Rachel then was staying, it was at once decided to go and fetch her in the carriage. The mother and both daughters were unanimous in their desire to proceed with me to the “Highland Home,” but it was at length settled that Jessie should wait at home and see to the preparation of tea, as the hour for that meal was now at hand, whilst Mary and her mother should accompany me in the carriage.
“Oh! Duncan,” Mrs. Campbell feelingly remarked, “both you and Lilly have indeed acted bravely in what you did, and deep is my gratitude to the Almighty Being who made you both the providential means of this great deliverance.”
I in voluntarily here glanced towards Jessie. Our eyes met, but, applying her handkerchief to her face, she hastily left the room.
On reaching the “Highland Home,” I sprang out of the carriage, and, preceding the ladies, bounded up the stairs and knocked at Rachel's door. On her opening it, I seized her hand, saying, in a low, earnest tone:
“Courage, dear friend. There are those coming upstairs whom you love well, and who love you. They are Mary Campbell and her mother. I accidentally discovered this afternoon that they were in town. Keep up your courage now, as you always do, and do not let this shock of happiness overpower you altogether.”
By this time the ladies, who had been shown the way by the landlady, were on the landing. For a moment Mrs. Campbell and Rachel and Mary looked earnestly at each other, as if curious to note the changes that had taken place in the time that had elapsed since they had parted. Then, extending her arms, Mrs. Campbell exclaimed, in a broken voice:
“My own darling, have I found you at last?” when, bounding forward, Rachel threw her arms round the neck, and laid her head on the bosom, of her who had been a second mother to her. Mary also rushed forward, and the three were locked in one another's arms. Feeling that this was no place for me, I turned and hastily descended the stairs.
As we were entering the carriage to return, Lilly, who had been absent from the house when we arrived, just then chanced to come up; and great was his astonishment when, in the occupants of the carriage, he recognised his old friends.
Regarding the handsome equipage with astonishment, Lilly bluntly remarked: “Why, Mrs. Campbell, you seem to have got on in the world since I last saw you?”
“Not much up, Lilly,” replied Mrs. Campbell, with a smile, page 310 “although well enough, and thankful for many things. This carriage belongs to the brother you may have heard me speal about sometimes. He has turned up at last: and turned up, I am also happy to say, a wealthy man. Jessie and Mary have been staying with him for some time, but I have only been down since the holidays began. But jump in; you must come with us too. My brother has often heard us speak of you, and I know he will be very glad to see you. I have heard how nobly you acted in concert with Mr. Farquharson towards our former mistress here; but jump in.”
“Tiny is with us, Lilly,” Mary put in, archly, on seeing him hesitate. The hint about Tiny had the effect, however, of instantly allaying his fears of compromising his independence by taking his place among company with whom he could not feel at home; and he accordingly took a seat in the carriage, when we drove swiftly to Mr. Carmichael's house. To avoid witnessing another scene when Jessie and Rachel met, I allowed the ladies to enter the house, whilst I stood watching the groom take the horses to the stable.
As for Lilly: on leaving the carriage, he was for striding straight off to the kitchen, when I called after him that he had better come into the house with me, as I knew that he would be expected there.
“No, thank'ee, Mr. Farquharson,” he answered, bluntly; “what should I do among the parlour mob, I should like to know?”
I smiled to myself as I shrewdly conjectured it was less his aversion to the “parlour mob” than the magnetic attraction of Tiny's presence in the kitchen that influenced him to move so promptly in that direction.
On entering the house, I met Mr. Carmichael, Mr. John M‘Gilvray, and a precise-looking, elderly man, to whom I was introduced as Mr. M‘Gilvray, senior. Mr. Carmichael was a bluff-looking gentleman of frank manners and intelligent countenance. He looked considerably older than his sister, although they were twins; but this was no doubt due to the harassing cares of a business life, as well as to the effects of long residence in a sultry climate.
The evening that followed was a most pleasant one. We all engaged in a well-sustained conversation, and “fought our battles o'er again,” during which I could not help thinking that I looked very much like a hero, as I realised the fact that there were three people then present whose lives I had at one time saved.
There was Mary, whom, with the help of Selim, I had some years before saved from a watery grave in the Murray, and page 311 Rachel, who, on the Darling, I had probably been the means of preserving from the horns of an infuriated bullock, besides the prominent part I had so lately been enabled to play in the scene by which she was ultimately rescued from a miserable state of existence; and, lastly, there was John M‘Gilvray, whom I had preserved from strangulation.
I observed, with some surprise, that, contrary to what I had expected, John M‘Gilvray attached himself to Mary during the evening, and well did this charming young lady now look with her vivacity and dimpling cheeks as she parried some thrust from her companion, with a quiet counter sally of wit, that generally had the effect of unexpectedly turning the tables upon him, when the merry-hearted fellow signalled his defeat by a hearty laugh.
Jessie was consequently seated by me at the tea-table, and afterwards seemed to prefer to have her chair by mine, though she spoke but little. As for Rachel, she kept her place close by Mrs. Campbell during the whole evening, and I observed that the elder lady's eyes, as if moved by a feeling of maternal solicitude, scarcely ever left the face of her long-mourned friend.
The evening was considerably advanced, when some reference chanced to be made to Lilly as being in the kitchen.
“Eh, what's that? what's that?” cried Mr. Carmichael, quickly, and starting from his seat as he spoke. “Do you mean to say that your friend, Lilly, has been in the kitchen all the evening? Why let him remain there? Bring him in here instantly.”
“I am afraid, Malcolm,” replied Mrs. Campbell with a smile. “You will find that Lilly has his own peculiar notions about what he thinks to be his proper place, and these notions you will find it a vain task to try to knock out of his head. Knowing this peculiarity of his, I took no pains to disturb him where I knew he was perfectly contented to be.”
“Then,” said Mr. Carmichael impetuously, “if he won't come to where we are, I will go to where he is. Come with me, Mary, and introduce me to him. Come along M‘Gilvray, and get yourself introduced to this man: after what I have so often heard my sister and niece say of him, and what his conduct has lately been in the bushranger exploit, I am sure he is worth knowing.”
We all, that is, all save Mrs. Howden and Jessie, rose and adjourned to the kitchen, where we found Lilly, apparently happy as a king, “spinning,” as he himself termed it, “cuffers” to Tiny about old times, and late times, too, and all the adventures he had had since he had last seen her.
“Lilly,” said Mrs. Campbell, as we all entered the kitchen, page 312 “this is my dear brother, Malcolm; he wishes to be introduced to you.”
“Wishes to be introduced to me?” replied Lilly, bluntly; “that's easily done, for here I am at his service, and I am glad to know your brother, Missis; for if he is anything like you, I know he is worth knowing.”
“Thanks, Mr. Lilly,” said Mr. Carmichael, laughing. “I hope I deserve some part of this compliment at least. But why, man, should you be content to stay in the kitchen? My sister's friends are surely worth inviting to sit where she and I sit.”
“I thank you for thinking that much of me, sir, but Mrs. Campbell knows my way, and it is my way to think that a working man should keep among working men, and a ‘swell’ among ‘swells’. Now, I am no ‘swell,’ and I don't think I am ever likely to be one. Not but that I think myself as good as any ‘swell’ for all that, for, on that point, I am like Bobbie Burns, who said that—
“The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that’.”
“Right, Lilly! I honour you the more for sticking to such sentiments as these, and there is no man that I more truly respect than an independent, upright, and down straight working man; I have risen in the world myself, but I have known what it is to turn my hand to a hard day's work with pick and shovel, and it is for that reason that I have learned to respect a man as a man only, in whatever sphere I find him.”
With a few more remarks, Mr. Carmichael shook hands heartily with Lilly—the elder Mr. M‘Grilvray following suit in an equally frank and pleasant way—and Mr. Ayson in a more genteel though none the less sincere fashion. On our return to the sitting-room, spirits and some supper were laid on the table. Having taken of the former sparingly, I rose to depart, to Mr. Carmichael's great surprise, who had taken it for granted that I was to pass the night under his hospitable roof. But although Mrs. Campbell and Mary joined vigorously with Mr. Carmichael in trying to overrule my decision, Jessie said nothing, though she looked as if she would have liked to very much, so I thought best to be firm on this point. For although I had ingloriously surrendered my position of composed reserve, in front of Jessie, and had, I fear, become as chatty and frankly communicative as if I had never suffered the heroic grief of slighted love, there was still that much of the spirit of pride left in me as to cause me to preserve at least some appearance page 313 of consistency towards what I conceived should have been my line of action.
Both Mr. Carmichael and Mr. M‘Gilvray, senior, accompanied me to the door, after I had shaken hands warmly with all in the room. When at the door, Mr. M‘Gilvray remarked, “You are not thinking of going away from town for a few days, at least, I hope. I have a particular reason for desiring you not to leave Dunedin at present.”
I replied that I should most likely be in town for a week anyhow, and perhaps longer—as it depended entirely on the nature of any opening that might offer for my future employment.
“Just so,” replied Mr. M‘Gilvray. “But anyhow, whatever crops up, be sure and let us—that is, Mr. Carmichael and myself—see you before you take any steps for the future.”
“Surely Mr. Farquharson will do so, for I expect nothing less than that he will, at anyrate, pass his evenings with us, even if he is determined not to take up his quarters in my house whilst in town. You will certainly do this, won't you, Mr. Farquharson?”
“I'll not actually promise that I will do so, Mr. Carmichael; so much must depend on other things.”
“Mr. Rolleston, on his arrival, will, of course, stay with us, and I believe that the ‘Tararue’ is expected to-morrow evening at Port Chalmers; you must certainly come up when he does arrive.”
“I most certainly will, Mr. Carmichael, not only because of my natural pleasure in seeing him, but for other reasons as well.”
“That is right, we will expect you to tea then to-morrow evening.”
“If the ‘Tararue’ should have arrived in time to allow Mr. Rolleston to reach Dunedin by that time, I will be there.”
“Then that is settled. I will send the carriage to the wharf, to meet Mr. Rolleston when he lands, and have him driven to my house at once.”
With this understanding and a cordial exchange of hand-shakes we parted. Lilly, who had been warned of my departure, I found waiting outside at the gate, and together we strode off in high feather to the “Highland Home”.