The Bushrangers: A play in five acts

And other poems

The Bushrangers


Charles Harpur

SCENE I.—Near the ruined House.

Enter ABEL and ADA.

Ada. Our patient mends apace; and when restored,
If he shall keep his promise of reform,
Strictly and truly, as I trust he will,
How often may we draw, in years to come,
A silent satisfaction from the view
Of these our singular charities, which snatched
A fellow-being from the jaws of death,
And paths that lead to hell?

Abel.        Perhaps. But, Ada,
If, on the other hand, he again become
Aught like what he has been—nay, should he but
Make one transgression against justice, thus
Diverted from its course, I fear me, then,
These charities would darken into crimes.
And tell me, while these promises are made
Tow’rds a repentant future, even then,
Do you not mark that his impatient eye
Seems fretting inwardly, and struggling hard
To smother down its scornful fire?

Ada.        At times,
His looks, indeed, seem fearfully conflicting.
And this ——

Abel.        Contrasting with those promises,
Is even too like some wild-dog lurking near
A flock of lambs, and waiting so, the time
Convenient for destruction.

Ada.        Yet, bethink you;
This wildness may but be the mixed expression
Of sorrow and shame, induced by every glance
His memory pours o’er an unlovely past;
Or the unrest of a yet doubtful struggle
’Twixt hope and fear, for mastery contending
Over the unknown future.

Abel.        Oh, this guilt!
How terrible a thing it needs must be!
The criminal, who from his height of place
May laugh at human law, or from his mere
Obscurity evade it—goeth he
Unpunished therefore? No: he is his own
Sure punishment, and in his being bears
About with him the worst of penalties,
A wounded conscience.—Still, my Ada, be
The case of our strange patient as it may,
You have a generous wisdom (shall I call it?)
And a confiding goodness, which would charm
My heart to love you, though their precious meanings
Distilled, like dews from the blue heavens, from eyes
Less glowing in their gentleness than thine;
Spake from a mouth less richly set with pearls,
Less stored with musical balm; or throbbed aloud
In the dear billows of a less soft bosom,
Than that which I with hearted love as pure
As gold entreasured in some Indian lake,
And warm as light, and fond as infancy,
Now clasp to mine. (embracing her.)

Ada.        Abel, you make me blush!

Abel. Pardon me, dearest!—nay, but pardon me!—
Now let us wander by the shining river,
And I will sing you there, aided by Echo,
A loving ditty of the olden time,
Before the whiteness of our simplest terms
Was soiled by evil use;—of such ’Tis framed:
And yet so thick is it with love, so rich
In dainty poesy, that ‘twould pall the sense
But for its innocent simplicity,
And earnest strength of purpose. Then, my fairest,
We’ll mark the spangled fishes throng about
In happy revel, and compare them well
To swarms of brilliant love-lights flashing through
The silver vision of some glorious Bard,
When, flowing forth in everlasting verse,
It greens the course of Time. Give me your hand.


SCENE II.—A High Road through the Forest.

Enter BOMEBARD armed, and singing.


O I’m a Soldier bold,
    Brimful of fun and rattle;
An angel with the ladies—but
    A devil in the Battle!
There’s nothing that I fear
    Upon the earth or under,
And my name is Whiskerandos Cannon—
    Bullets, blazes, blood and thunder!

We’ve beat the roads every day this fortni’t now, without a partingal
o’ success. Some people says as how the Bush is the place as we
ought to look for ’em, but I says the roads is the place.

(He sings again.)

Achilles, whose great deeds
    First set Dan Homer writing;
Brave Hector, and huge Ajax too,
    Had just my style of fighting!
This horrid arm of mine
    Can smite a foe asunder:
And my name is Whiskerandos Cannon—
    Bullets, blazes, blood and thunder!

That’s a song I l’arned from one o’ the old Wit’rans: a rale army song, about Capt’in Cannon.—How them there fellows o’ mine does l’iter sure-ly! I heer’d ’em a-talking about my wallor in the late haction, and so walked a-head o’ purpose—that they mout do it with the more delekissy.—Ha! I smell a prize. (looking out.) By the crown o’ the rel-am, it’s him! and without any implements o’ war either.

Enter CANT and two others.

I say, Tim Baton and Jack Catchpole, trot off both of yous to the Court: the Justices are busy, and may want you to sarve summonses.
Presto! lift your legs!

(Exeunt the two Constables.)

Can you think, my old dymon o’ the Injun mines, why I packed them two coves off?

Cant. (shaking his head solemnly) I can’t, then. Bomebard. Doesn’t the shares of a re-ward weigh some’at heavier ’twixt two than they does ’twixt four? I rayther think they does, consid’rin’ the p’int. (smiling grimly).

Cant. Yes, neighbour; by two-fourths, ’cording to my ’rithmatic.

Bomebard. Your ’rithmatic says right. Ha! my old waryer, there’s sense as well as fury in this here consarn (tapping his forehead). But what o’ that? says you: why, this here, says I:—Turn your eagle eye yonder. Are you blind, or do you see some’at of importance?

Cant. Right away here, towards old Spaulding’s?

Bomebard. Yes, that’s the p’int o’ the compass. Are you blind yet?

Cant. God has blessed me with good eyesight, neighbour; and if that’s the way you mean, I do even seem to see a poor man limping this way very badly: as if he was hipped, like.

Bomebard. And what strikes your eager compacity in consekence—Eh, my old dollar o’ Spain?

Cant. Why nothing, neighbour: only that I ought to thank God I’m not so lame as he seems to be, poor man!

Bomebard. Well! arter that I’m done! Tell you what, Cant; your mind’s a sleeping toad o’ the rock! Tell me this here: is it forgot that a willan called Stalwart was hipped in a certain late haction by this here werry arm—though Jack Dreadnought says ’twas his’n? Does some’at o’ nat’ral sense strike you now?

Cant. There does! (slapping his thigh.) Providence might ha’ sent him in our way in this same crippled man.

Bomebard. It’s him! It’s him, my gynny o’ goold! Let’s plant awhile, and twig his dirty hactions unbeknowns to him.

(They retire up the Stage.)
Enter a Farmer limping.

Farmer. See what it is to be careless! I ought to ha’ known, being up’ards o’ forty, that stacking is slippery work of a day, an’ so ha’ laid my fork down in a workman-like manner, instead of up agin the stack: then I shouldn’t been a-going to the doctor with a ripped thigh, I reckon.

(Bomebard and Cant having stolen forward during his speech, now rush upon the Farmer and seize him.)

Murder! Oh, my thigh! Mind my thi—

Bomebard. What! have we napt you at last, then? Oh, you wild ’Rabian o’ the desert! Hold on, Cant, my hayro; and let the com-u-nitty re-joice, for Stalwart’s capt’red.

Farmer. God forgive you then for taking me for Stalwart! I’m John Crabtree, a poor settler that hurted himself this forenoon very badly.

Cant. Thou hast named God, friend; of what Faith art thou?

Farmer. Why a Christian man, in course.

Cant. Dost believe i’ the Bible; the Testament, and the Prayer Book?

Farmer. Sartanly; in course.

Cant. And that Tom Paine was the true and lawful son o’ the devil, God keep us! sent i’ the world to torment the Faith?

Farmer. Eh?—oh, yes! sartanly.

Cant. I say, friend Bomebard;—if this be Stalwart, his wound has brought him to repentance, seeing he has all the sensual qualities of a good Christian.

Bomebard. An ’ily tongue’s rayther smooth, but he won’t git over me with it: leastways, I’m ’clined that ’ere opinion, under the warious p’ints o’ this here case. (smiling grimly.) Off with him!

Farmer. I tell you again, I’m John Crabtree of the Kerrijong!1

Bomebard. In course you air: yes, and you’ll soon git kerrijonged, and no mistake! (making signs significant of his being hanged.) Hold on Cant! Kerrijong? no, but good English hemp, my cricket. Off to limbo with the scorpiant. I’ll pull out your mortal tongue by the roots, if you says another sinnable! I ’spose you dont know who I am? You will when I gives you a poke in the guts though!—there! I’m the ragin’ lion o’ the Windsor Constab’lary! Hold on Cant, my hayro! Off with him.


SCENE III.—The skirt of the Forest. The ruined House in the distance.

Enter STALWART, speaking. Ingratitude is mean as it is vile,
I must allow that. But I ever was,
And ever shall be, the accursed slave
Of lawless passion!—She has given me health
And liberty, but with those gifts evoked
Desires iniquitous, that from their dark
Impulsive depths, like monstrous sea-swells, keep
Blindly upworking,—but to find at length
Their end in worst designs: so true it is,
That heaping benefits upon a villain
Is bargaining for curses. Now, methinks,
Could I but see my villain face, it were
Enough to shame me hence. They think me gone
Since yesterday: and verily I would
The time invited not. But she and Abel
Were by appointment much upon this hour
To meet here;—now, an unexpected matter
To my chance knowledge will detain him hence.
She knows not this, and so will come. What then?
I’ve gold; I’ll try her with it: it will work
The wrong way mightily even with the best.
Ruffian forbear! She comes! ’Twere best to fly!
No—I will meet her. How beautiful she is,
How lovely, and as good. Her innocence
Appals me;—never did I feel before
How terrible is virtue in itself
To him who would assail it.

Enter ADA, speaking.

Ada. He ever till now was punctual. I’m not pleased,
Nor will I look so when he comes, if I
Can meanwhile school mine eyes to veil the light
That breaks in gladness outward from my heart
Whene’er they see him coming.—Ha! our patient?
What holds him here?

Stalwart.        Think it not strange, that I
Could not depart without—my villany chokes me! (Aside.)

Ada. What would you have?

Stalwart.        But leave to kiss your hand.

Ada. Well do so—and depart; for here you walk
In jeopardy.

Stalwart.        When do you wed with Abel?

Ada. Why am I questioned thus?

Stalwart.        Is Abel rich?

Ada. Not rich: Why do you ask?

Stalwart.        Because I know
That matrimony is a field, the soil
Of which inclineth more to weeds than fruit,
Unless it first be well prepared, and stocked
With many appliances that riches only,
To some extent, can buy.

Ada.        I think not so.
Besides I care not now to talk of this,
Nor do I think it seemly. Why not go?
You much forget yourself in loitering here.

Stalwart. (feigning to muse.) ’Tis pity he is poor. It might be otherwise.—
And so you value riches lightly? Ah!
To want them, Maiden,—that is, money,—is still
To know the curse of servitude in one
Or more of its vile shapes:—to ’bate the voice—
To mask all natural majesty of eye—
To crimp the cheek with fawning smiles, and smooth
To an unfelt humility the brows,
Before the scornful scrutiny of some
Rich landlord:—rich, and powerful therefore, should
He take offence, even to the damming up
Each source of thy well-being. And to evince,
In presence of a money-god like this,
A thought!—no! but a dream of self-dependence,
Is to offend,—as indirectly slighting
What he considers—or at least would have
Thee to consider, thee and thine, as being
The outward sign of Nature’s darlings;—yea,
The very gift of grace!—and such indeed,
In a worldly sense, is Money. Oh! to want
The eloquent dross, is still to have the wings
Of the most humble wish, most guarded hope
A Father’s manly bosom knows, and all
The clasping tendrils of a Mother’s love,
Shorn to the bleeding quick! See! I have Money.

(He shows a purse of Money.)

Ada. This is not well! indeed it is not well
That you will thus insist, in pouring forth
To ears that would be otherwise employed,
These sour opinions: for even were they sound
In fact, as they are specious, yet they were
Neither acceptable nor proper, urged
In such a place, by such a person. And
If, as I shrewdly guess, that purse you show
Has a more rightful owner, I advise you
To seek some mode by which you may restore it.
But pray, begone! and I would have you mind
To bear your promise with you.

Stalwart. (aside)        Tush! a pie-crust!—
This purse of gold, my sweet one, shall be thine!
And all that I require in barter for it,
Is one of thy rubious kisses.

Ada.        Get you gone!
I fear those ugly looks! Leave me, I say!
You go not!—then I must. (going.)

Stalwart.        Not yet—not yet!
Since you will neither give nor sell your kisses,
My lips must play the bandit—thus.

He attempts to seize her; she shrieks; and, on the instant,
Abel rushes in and strikes him down with the stock end of a pistol.

Abel. What meant the villain?

Ada.        Ah, I fear he meant
Much harm to me!

Abel.        How fortunate then my coming!
Detained by matters I had not foreseen,
The shadow of some threatened evil kept
So darkening over me, that I perforce
Excused myself, to hurry hither—armed!
And now, thou execrable dog, what else
But thy accurs’ed life can satisfy
For this thy baseness?

Stalwart.        Spare thy speech, and take it.

Abel. (after an internal struggle.)        No!—
Since we have given it once before—now take
Again thy worthless life. And if thou hast
The feelings even of a godless savage,
The sin of this ingratitude shall hang
A mountainous burthen on thy life, through all
Thy days to come! ’Twill sting thee in thy food,
And be a fiery hell-drop in each draught
That parts thy perjured lips. Then live, wretch!—live
Even for meet punishment!—And now, my Ada,
Let us away, lest breathing the same air
With such a miscreant, taint our moral health.

Exeunt ABEL and ADA.

Stalwart. (rising.) Scorned, trampled on, brow-beaten, flogged with words!
But he may thank the grief of recent sickness,
Together with a sudden sense of shame,
That ran at first, like a consuming fire,
Through all my veins, and withered up my strength,
For such an easy conquest as I proved.
How he be-lectured me!—a beardless boy!
And how she seemed to admire her valiant bully,
And to scorn me how deeply? Aye! and scorn,
Whether deserved or not, did ever stamp
An inexpungable hatred in my soul!—
Down gratitude! and come thou atheist spirit,
Revenge!—come smother all I feel of shame!
Look to it, ye happy ones! (looking after and clenching
his hand at them.)
’Twill ask you skill:
For though you walked invisible, I would yet
Be found upon your path for misery!
Till then, farewell!—for henceforth with the happy
I wage my war, being myself in hell,
And thence a devil.—Now to the cave, wherein
’Tis likely that my fellows house themselves;
The likelier if,—as goes the news,—suspicion
Of harbouring them hath glanced upon the Fences.


SCENE IV.—A Room in the Windsor Police Office.


Tunbelly. Are any of my brother Magistrates
Within, sir?

Doorkeeper. (shaking his head.) No.

Tunbelly. Is that the way you answer
A Justice of the Peace? No! Are you sick
Of your situation—a most easy one?
Or have you, sir, so soon forgot the lesson
I gave you yesterday, touching respect
And carefulness? and which was then elicited,
You most unmannerly dog you! by your treading
With awkward hoof on this my sorry toe?—
Answer me instantly, you ragged-headed,
Tobacco-tainted, dirty-shirted sot you!

Doorkeeper. I humbly axes your Worship’s noble pardon,
And do dispise my barber-rarious herror.

Tunbelly. The scamp’s no fool! A good apology ’faith!
Well worded,—yes, and pithy too,—for him.
Well! see that you offend no more, and let
Your last thoughts, night by night, and first o’ mornings,
Be all employed in graining as it were
Into yourself, some proper and continent mode
Or system of behaviour, when you stand
Before the Justices.—Come here; and now,
As you hope ever to rise in the police,
Mark well, and treasure up, sir, in your memory
Every word that I shall condescend
To speak for your instruction. First then, mark you!
Always appear before superiors
With cleaner hands and face, and with your hair—
Which, by the bye, is heinously neglected,—
With your hair, I say, combed straight, so as to give
A meek cast to your countenance, do you see.
And mark this well too, never bear yourself
So bolt uprightly—thus, whilst in their presence,
Lest you appear forgetful of your great
Inferiority—a thing unpardonable!
But above all, be sure you never smile,
Or look vexatiously facetious, should
A twitch of gout, or indegestion, give
A comical expression to their features;
But seriously respect it, as indicative
Of gentlemanly living, sir, and habits.
And lastly, mark! whenever you may have
Occasion to address them, open thus,
In a subdued voice,—May it please your Worships;
Concluding every answer to a question
From any one of them with the same title:
As—No, your Worship, Yes, your Worship, or
I cannot tell, your Worship; with, do you see,
A reverential dropping of the head
And eye while uttering it.—There, purse up these
My precepts, in that rough colt’s head o’ thine,
And you will rise, mark that! And now, sir, take
This letter to ——

Doorkeeper.        I knows, your Worship, to
Your little ——

Tunbelly.        Hush, you savage you! You must
Be diffident of conjecture if you’d rise,
Mark that! But can’t you carry it in your hand?
Your pocket may be rent.

Doorkeeper. No, your Worship: I never lets any holes grow in my pockets; leastways, not now. I’ve had losses that way, but not lately; the last teach’d me to darn. ’Twas as this—

Tunbelly. Zounds! tell me none o’ your vile stories.
There! be off with the letter.

Doorkeeper. Oh, your Worship, it’ill be worth your while to hear; it’s full o’ humour. Twas—

Tunbelly. Begone, you unteachable log you!

(drives him off.)

That thwack, I’ll warrant, made his hard head buzz a bit!
What a mere colt it is! he, he! but I
Bear with him, inasmuch as the correction
Of his stupidity affords me, here,
A little wholesome exercise at times.
But, seriously, these underlings are all
A-wanting in respect: and I have heard
It hinted somewhere, that much corpulence
Is even a moral emetic, as it were,
To outward difference. Zounds! if—But soft,
Mere starvelings will of course console the dry,
Forlorn condition of their own anatomy,
By railing at a—a—gentlemanly
Rotundity of figure. Rotundity?
Ah, then! the truth will out: I would I had
A porter’s load less of this same rotundity!
For, on my conscience, I can never take
A peep in the old pierglass that is placed
Within my study—I mean my lunching room,—
Without some thought of a high tilted cart
Set up on end, shafts downward.

Enter CANT running.

Cant. We have reprehended Pharoah, your Worships! We have reprehended Pharoah!

Tunbelly. Apprehended Pharoah? I was in the belief that the Red Sea had apprehended him some little time since.

Cant. Ah, your Worship takes me amiss! I speak by types and shadows and s’militudes; seeing we have laid hands on one who is no better than a heathen of Egypt, or Gath, or Askelon, or—

Tunbelly. There! tell me now in plain terms whom you have nabbed;—never mind being so learned about it.

Cant. How can I be plain, your Worship; seeing me and the deputy have ‘rested that son o’ Belial and scourge in the hand of Satan,—Stalwart!

Tunbelly. What?

Cant. I have said it.

Tunbelly. And where is he?

Cant. Bomebard is bringing him up George Street.

Tunbelly. What! by himself? Why did you leave him? Though Ned is brave as a lion, he’ll get away from him! I know he’ll get away! Eh?

Cant. Oh, no, your Worship; the man hath repented, (save in the matter of denying himself in toto,) and cometh along even like a lamb to the slaughter.

Tunbelly. Say you so? Well done, my fine fellows! Let me see the black dog: let me see him. Lead on!


SCENE V.—A Street in Windsor.

Enter BOMEBARD dragging in the FARMER, with a Rabble at his heels.

Bomebard. Stand off! Do you want to rescue him? Wouldn’t you like to go snacks in the hundred pounds reward? Hey, hey, hey!

Farmer. The Justice ’ill know at once, you’ll see.

Bomebard. Do you want that there tongue o’ your’n pulled out by the roots?— Here comes the worthy ruler.

Enter TUNBELLY and CANT hastily.

Tunbelly. Where is the villain? Ha, my worthy fellow, Ned, have you nabbed him at last? Which is he?

Bomebard. Behold the scorpiant.

Tunbelly. Why, who have you brought me here for Stalwart?

Bomebard. Himself, I’ll take a Bible oath on’t.

Tunbelly. The devil you will! What! this is John Crabtree.

Farmer. So I told ’em, your Worship; and how I had hurted myself. But they were too wise to heed the truth, I reckon.

The Rabble set up a shout in derision of BOMEBARD.

Bomebard. Mocked? for being mistook by reason o’ fate! and by a com-unitty that I ha’ watched over for nine long rugged rolling years, like Washintub the ’Merican patr’ot?

Tunbelly. Never mind their jeers, Ned. Though you have been mistaken, yet your zeal is to be commended. Never mind them, my worthy fellow.

One of the Rabble. He needn’t swear after this that it was he who shot down Stalwart, seeing he didn’t know him from old Farmer Crabtree. Hoo, hoo!

(The Rabble shout again.)

Bomebard. Oh, you roaring crocodiles o’ the wilderness!

Tunbelly. Do not let them make you forget yourself. Come away! Lend me your shoulder. Come away, I command you!


One of the Rabble. Mind he doesn’t take your Worship for Stalwart. Hoo, hoo!

(The Rabble shout again.)

SCENE VI.—Night. A Cave in which torches are burning.

MACBLOOD, RACKROAD, DESPERATE, FILCH, and a number of others, discovered drinking, &c.

Macblood. See you; it is as necessary that one of us should be commissioned to rule the whole, as that I should have a hand to direct this to my mouth. (drinks.) I don’t propose myself in particular: each vote freely.

Desperate. I’ll ne’er follow a worse leader than our last; and have no hope of finding so good a one. So let’s e’en drop the subject with a toast to his memory.

Macblood. Toasting a ghost ever and anon is stale work: however, here’s to his—

(As they are about giving the toast, STALWART enters. They start together in alarm, &c.

Stalwart. Dismiss your foolish terrors! Trust me, I am flesh and blood, and look to be welcomed as such.

Several Bushrangers. Hurra! we’re men again!

Rackroad. Tell us to what we owe your life?

Stalwart. ’Tis a long story, and you shall have it another time. Come, Mac, fill me a bumper; and let all give me the song of welcome.


Each lift a bumper to his lip,
But ere he dares a drop to sip
Let him sing—Welcome, welcome!

(They drink.)

Now over head the tankard fling,
And make the mountain cavern ring,
With—Welcome, welcome, welcome!

Again—again your voices lift,
Till dell and gully, cave and clift,
Repeat the Ranger’s welcome.

The Scene closes as the Glee ends.

1. KERRIJONG is the name of a wild, hilly district, a few miles beyond Richmond; so called, from the tree of the same name having been there found in unusual abundance. It is from the inner bark of this tree that the Aborigines are wont to twist the cordage with which they form their nets. It was also used by the early Settlers for tether-ropes, bag-ties, &c. And, moreover, it was said that, during the Croppy outbreak, several of the insurgents were hanged with halters twisted out of the bark of the kerrijong; they being executed in the Bush, under martial law—and the tree which furnished the rope being also the gallows. So, at least, ran an old Colonial tradition;—and to this Mr. BOMEBARD is to be supposed to allude, in playing off the above inuendo, after his own very peculiar fashion of dealing in sarcasm.    [back]

The Bushrangers - Contents    |    Act IV

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