The Bushrangers: A play in five acts

And other poems

The Bushrangers


Charles Harpur

SCENE I.—A Garden.

Enter ADA and LUCY.

Lucy. So it is fixed—and we must mind to call you
Mistress next week. ’Tis a well-sounding title;
Fuller than Miss; and yet I think withal
’Tis dearly bought, and that one’s liberty
Were worth a score such titles.

Ada.        Fie, you scoffer!
Twenty indeed were not worth what you term
The purchase—liberty. But one, with Abel,
Were worth my hand and it, were these together
Worth all the world besides.

Lucy.        You think so now.
With every maudlin lass, about to wed,
A lover is the pink of all perfection.
But ask them ere they be a twelvemonth wedded,
What proves their lord? Answer: a Jack-in-office!
Yes; that’s the sequel: howsoe’er in name
They chance to vary—Cain or Abel—all
Are Jacks in disposition. Faith, they are;
I speak a truth that came into the world
With Adam, and that fretted Eve herself;
And you—even you shall yet approve it.

Ada.        No:
I shall not. And, believe me, you are wrong,
If your quick words are loyal to your thoughts,
And not mere rebels to them. But if they
Do absolutely picture forth your mind,
Then am I sorry that you do opine
So ill of men; the more, that knowing one
Like Abel, you should thus confound them all.
Oh, there’s no tyranny in hearts like his,
More than there’s poison in the dews which lie
Within a folded rose; more than there’s error
In the bright visitations of the stars,
Or woe in angels’ songs! Yon orange there,
Teems not with golden fruitage, more than he
With generous sentiments and kindly thoughts;
Nor moves more gracefully in the dreaming wind
Than he in all his actions. Nothing, Lucy,—
Nothing could make me for a moment doubt
My Abel’s manliness, and least of all
The temper of his love.

Lucy.        At all events,
Your admiration of the lucky fellow
Hath made your tongue more eloquent than a brook
After a plenteous rain. And so you think
You really shall be happy with him?

Ada.        Yes;
Even blest. The happiest warbler of the wood
Shall not be happier than I with Abel:
For still his constancy of heart I’ll hold
Unquestioned, like a creed; while, for my love,
I feel ’tis blended with my heart’s existence,
And all that heart is his.

Lucy.        Well, I believe you.
But when starts Abel for the capital,
To buy the garnish of your wedding-day?

Ada.        This evening.

Lucy.        What! and has he not yet come
To claim a parting kiss?

Ada.        I do expect him
Every moment.

Lucy.        Then expect no more.
For see the old adage once more verified: Talk of the Old One and Sir Grim appears.
I’ll vanish, lest my giddiness should mar
The big solemnity of parting lovers.

(Exit. Enter ABEL.)

Abel. See, my sweet Ada, I’m equipt, and need
But the glad energy a smile of thine
Can ever wing my spirit with, to speed me
At once upon my way.

Ada.        Go not this evening.
I strangely dread some peril from this journey.
Besides, the sun is steeping in the west,
And ere you can attain the nearest inn
Whereat the wearied traveller rests, he’ll hang
His golden robes upon the mountain tops,
And seek his ocean bed. And well you know
The road before you’s storied thick with deeds
Of nightly robbery and violence;
The brood, ’tis thought, of that ungrateful man
We once relieved. Now should you meet with him
Prowling upon your path, I fear the blow
You dealt him once would only be remembered.
Wait till to-morrow then.

Abel.        Pshaw! my sweet girl,
These are vain fears. Cruel indeed were Fortune,
If she could find it in her heart to be
Unkind to us just now.

Ada.        But do you go
Alone? I hope not.

Abel.        No, a fellow traveller
Awaits me even now. Dismiss all fear;
And come, my sweet one, see me to the gate.


SCENE II.—Before the Cave. Sunset.

Enter from it STALWART and the rest of the Bushrangers.

Stalwart. Mac and I are enough: more would only excite suspicion.

Rackroad. But are you sure the landlandy doesn’t know you?

Stalwart. I have been at her house before, but she will hardly remember me thus disguised. She is a fat lump of folly and prate; and by being so polite, forsooth, as to drink good store of paid-for liquor, we may gather from her by a few well put questions, who lodges there, whom she expects, whether rich or poor, and so forth; and from all this reckon where to pounce for the best booty. And should we find no success in this way, we’ll even bring consolation back with us in some of her best brandy, and make a roaring night of it.

Desperate. Aye: fail not bring some of the balm o’ Gilead back with you, let what will betide.

Several Bushrangers. If you do, we’re out—

Macblood. Of swipe-luck and God’s blessing.

Stalwart. We’ll bring enough. Come Mac.

(Exit with Macblood.)

Filch. Let’s in, lads, and while away the time betwixt this and their return with a good story.

Desperate. Or with a Trial out o’ the Kalendar.


SCENE III.—A Room in a Road-side Inn.

Enter Landlady. I can’t think what a plague’s the matter with all the travellers now-a-days. There’s two within, who the moment they’ve had a snack and a glass or so, are for pushing on, as they wulgarly call it, and at this time o’ night too. It’s no manner o’ use telling ’em the road beyond is full o’ robbers—no; they must push on, the beasts! (Knocking at the outer door.) I’m coming. (She opens the door.) Come in, gentlemen; you must be famished o’ cold:


and the best thing in the varsal world to drive out cold is good brandy.

Macblood. A couple of stiff glasses then. (Exit Landlady.) An empty house, it seems.

Stalwart. No. There’s company within: so have your pistols ready in case of traps.

Macblood. The caution’s needless.

Re-enter Landlady with liquors, followed by ABEL, and WALTHAM his fellowtraveller.

Stalwart. (pressing his hat over his eyes.) Abel! as I live. But he’ll scarcely recollect me thus smutted and disguised. This is well.—(aside). Here’s a health to ye, sirs, (aloud and altering his voice).

Abel. Thank you.— I would we might reach Sydney to-night.—(to Waltham). It were not too late even yet.

Landlady. ’Lord love ye! it’s a merrikul you’ve ’scaped as ’tis; seeing Stalwart’s howdacious gang’s about, and—

Stalwart. I have heard much of this Stalwart: what sort of a looking fellow may he be, landlady?

Landlady. Any body might know for the matter o’ looks: he’s a hugheous great man, with a beard to’s middle, and some say he deals with Helzebub! I can’t say for that; but it’s certain he’s got no more marcy for travellers than a Yaho o’ the wilderness: that’s certain, that it is!

Stalwart. Ha, ha! say you so? Though he were the devil himself I must into Sydney to-night, if I go alone.

Macblood. Why, as I am bound for the same place, and in a desperate hurry too, I’ll even bear you company, friend—if you have no objection.

Abel (to Waltham). Here’s an excellent opportunity of company:—let us then go with them.

Waltham. If you will have it so.

Abel. If it please you, friend, we two will also accompany you thither.

Stalwart (eagerly). With all my heart.

Landlady. ’Lord ha’ mercy on yous! You’ll repent, when it’s too late, for not stopping o’nights where there’s clean and smart and civil ’commodations, and the very best o’ liquors.

Abel. I’m afraid we delay you.

Macblood. Not at all. Here, landlady, fill me two bottles of brandy, to fight the cold with on the way.—I mustn’t forget that! (aside.)

Abel. And take what is due you out of this.

Landlady. Come this way and I’ll settle with you.

(Exeunt all but STALWART into an inner room.)

Stalwart. He has quite forgotten me:
And ’tis a sore thing for him that he has,
Since I remember well the stunning blow
His boyish scorn once lent me. But, at length,
I have him in my power, to be revenged
Even as I please. ’Tis very well:—but—silence!

Re-enter all the persons of the scene.

Come, friends—and now we halt not, till we find
The end of our journey.

(Exeunt all but the LANDLADY.)

Landlady. Well, I do hope they may be all right well robbed, as a warning to night travellers; ’specially that black-whiskered fellow;—the Lord forgive me for it!


SCENE IV.—A Chamber.

Enter ADA, with a lighted taper. I fear I have alarmed the house (listening).
I heard the garden echo, uttering back
The cry I gave when starting from my dream:—
Oh, ’twas a fearful dream! Methought a voice
Came distantly, as out of the dark forest,
Wailing my name:—and when, at length, I thought
’Twas Abel’s, and that I had hurried forth
Through dreary shades, and under hanging rocks,
To succour his distress, a shadowy form,
Like one I knew too well, came staggering by,
His hands all dripping blood—which thus (elevating her own) aloft
He shook, as in despair! I shrieked and woke.

(She opens the lattice and looks out.)

The night is dark as death. One long black cloud
Broods ominously, like a mighty raven,
Over the way that, even now, perchance,
My Abel treads. O God! may these my fears
Prove phantoms only—not presentiments!
My own—my absent one—may safety walk
Thy fellow-traveller, and thy loved return
Give speedy contradiction to my dream!
—Some one is stirring! Let them not observe me!

(Exit timidly.)

SCENE V.—A gloomy part of the Road.


Macblood. Shall it be here? (apart to Stalwart.)

Stalwart. Aye.

Abel.        We have made good speed.

Stalwart. Have we? then halt awhile. Mac! to your work!

Macblood. Well, gentlemen, what think you;—is not this
A very pretty spot to play a robbery in:
A one act piece: eh, sirs?

Abel.        Were I a robber,
I well might think so; for the place, indeed,
Is singularly dreary.

Macblood.        Now, sir, we
Being robbers, know it is.

(He and Stalwart draw their pistols.)

Abel.        What mean you, men?

Macblood. Only to rob you, if you take it quietly,
And with a decent feeling of the fitness
Of place and time.

Stalwart.        Am I unknown to you? (pushing up his hat.)
Regard me well: for, whip me if I am used
So soon to be forgotten. Heed me well, I say!
Ha! even by this light you know me now!

Abel. The voice!—’tis he! Indeed I know you now,
And know you for a villain!

Stalwart.        Aye, before;
But now you’ll feel me one.

Abel.        We’ll try that!—so!

(He strikes Stalwart from him.)

Waltham! down with your man, and follow!

(he runs off.)

Stalwart.        What!
Another blow? Now shall my vengeance have
No boundary short of death!

(He pursues him.)

Macblood.        His life will pay for’t.

Waltham. Alas! I hope not.

Macblood.        Yes! and thine as well.
My deed must cover his.

(A shot is fired within.)

There! the thing’s settled.

Waltham. Merciful God! Here, take you all I have,
But spare my life!

Macblood.        To let thee live to tell
The manner of this dark night’s darker deed,
Would bring the whole country out against us. No!
Go up, accuse in heaven, or down in hell:
But no where else.

Waltham.        Nay, pause awhile and think!
For heaven’s great sake—

Macblood.        Tush! what have I to do
With heaven?

Waltham.        Yet, as you may need yourself
Some pity in misfortunes yet to come,
Think now, and spare me!

Macblood.        What have I to do
With pity?

Waltham.        Yet, reflect a moment!

Macblood.        See,
It were as well to ask yon driving cloud
To be thy horse, and carry thee hence, as strive
To melt a man like me!

Waltham.        ’Tis even so!
A tiger, matched with thee, were merciful!
Murder’s red phrenzy glares within thine eye:
’Tis worse than death by such a wretch to die!

Macblood. Well; be it so.

(As MACBLOOD levels his pistol at WALTHAM, STALWART rushes in and arrests his arm, so that it is discharged upwards).

Stalwart.        Forbear! No more of blood.
Traveller, if thou wouldst live, away with thee!

(WALTHAM runs off—MACBLOOD struggles to follow him.)

Dare, and thou diest!

Macblood.        What damned folly is this?

Stalwart. Oh, horrible deed!

Macblood.        Art frightened?

Stalwart.        Is it strange,
Who hath his hands thus red with innocent blood,
That such a man should shudder?

Macblood.        ’Tis not thy
First deed of the kind?

Stalwart.        No; but it is the worst
That ever damned a soul! You have heard me tell
How that, when lately wandering wounded, I
Was rescued from a misery worse than death,
Though to death leading, by the charity
Of a young maiden and her lover: this
I told you, but I told not all;—no! shame
Forbad the rest.

Macblood.        But how does that tale bear
On this night’s doings?

Stalwart.        Listen, and thou’lt hear.
I was an ingrate to my benefactress;
And, as the wild-dog robs the innocent ewe
Of her white lamb, I, in return, had spoiled
Her young life of its purity; but that he—

Macblood. Who?

Stalwart.        He that yonder welters in his blood,
And stares at the cold heaven with sightless eyes,
Her lover—he came suddenly to her aid,
And held me at his mercy: but, obeying
The impulse of a fatal generosity,
He let me escape.

Macblood.        Then you were not aware,
Till dead, who was your victim?

Stalwart.        Not aware?
I knew him in the inn, at the first glance;
Yea, even before the fulness of his form
Broke from the flickering shadows that the lamp
Threw round him, coming from the inner room—
So lynx-eyed is the memory of hate—
And him I hated: for the wounds of scorn
Never would heal in me, and he had once
Tongue-scourged me with his scorn. Yet, being sick
Of wrong-shed blood, finding the curse of it,
Even in sleep, to smite me on the brain
As with a fire-brand, I had limited
The scope of my revenge to plundering him,
With bitter taunts—until he struck me. Then,
Then all the rage of my inhuman heart
Woke like an evening storm! In vain he fled—
For hell had shodden my pursuing feet
With its own vengeful lightning, so to help
More surely to the deed that damns me utterly!
Methinks I feel the vapours of perdition
Breathed in my face! Oh, I am filled with horror!
Devils are howling in my imagination,
And mock me to madness!—Let us fly
This horrible place!

Macblood.        Not yet awhile—the body
Must first be rifled. And besides, methinks,
As in this case you have acted somewhat wrongly—
Slaying a man you should not—it were fit
We placed the corpse within some hollow log,
Secure from the hungry wild-dogs.

Stalwart.        No, no, no!
I’ll touch him not again! How could I? What!
Do you take me for the devil? See these hands!
How, as it is, shall I feed my mouth with them?
They’ll taint with murder every thing they touch!
The relish of the grave will hang about them
Like putrefaction! (distant thunder) I thought as much.

Macblood. Tush! you’re quite shaken, man.

Stalwart.        Because I like
Not that same muttering yonder.
(showing symptoms of distraction.)
        What if God,
Upon the dark page of this desolate night,
Be writing it in thunder? (nearer thunder.)

Macblood.        Ha, ha, ha!

Stalwart. Laugh you at me? And am I then a coward?

Macblood. I do not say you are a coward.

Stalwart.        No!
Well knowing I would beat the scurvy lie
Back on your very lungs, boy! When I said
I feared yon roar, I babbled in a dream:
I sometimes talk in my sleep. (louder thunder). Crack louder! Good!
Outdare me now! Defy it! spit at it!
Nay, follow: and should we chance to meet the devil,
We’ll see who’ll charge him home. Dost know him, friend?
They say he dances hornpipes. So!


Macblood.        His wits
Are playing at blindman’s buff. Now, there’s a fellow,
That for a trifle, when his blood is up,
Will risk his life;—that in his wrath would slay
His very brother, did he stand between
Him and the object of his wish, and yet
He’s superstitious; and, by times, as weak
And sickly in his thoughts of afterclaps,
As they who pray by the hour. Yes! and these
His moody glooms, just now, have touched me also:
Or else, how comes it that I dare not now
Rifle the body, as I purposed?—Ho!
More to the right, ho!—this way, this way, ho!


SCENE VI.—A distant view of the Cave.

(Thunder and Lightning.) Enter RACKROAD and DESPERATE groping their way among the rocks and trees.

Rackroad. Whiew! There’s a rare game in the tennis-court above. There was a crack!

Desperate. If they’re nailed now, there’s an end.

Rackroad. Aye, a rope’s end.

Desperate. Well, he that’s down can fall no lower.

Rackroad. Unless the rope break.

Desperate. Rope me no rope! Wilt ever croak like a raven?

Rackroad. No. But let’s on towards the inn: and do you keep giving the regular howl, lest we pass them in the dark.

(DESPERATE imitates the cry of the wild-dog, and is answered from within.

’Tis them, lad! That’s Mac’s howl: I’d swear to it.

Macblood (within). Cheer up, man. What, ho!

Desperate. This way, ho!

(Thunder and lightning.)

Enter STALWART nnd MACBLOOD, while the cry as above is heard in various directions within.

Macblood. Ha, ye wolves! Why, what has put you all on the tramp in this fashion?

Rackroad. Why, fearing from your long stay, that something amiss had happened, we were all posting for the inn, with a wide spread, do you see, to prevent our missing you.

(Thunder and lightning. Enter FILCH, and the rest of the Bushrangers, dispersedly.)

Bushrangers. What success? What success?

Macblood. Nothing to speak of. But here’s that will warm you, my bloods!
(showing the liquor).

Filch. Trusting to your being so provided when we met, we even brought our cans in our pockets.

Macblood. Well, fill ’em, and let the toast be—Success to all Bushrangers!

Stalwart. Damn them!


Rackroad. Why, he’s gone?

Macblood. Only, I suppose, to enjoy, undisturbed and alone, the pleasures of imagination. Come—the toast.

All. Success to all Bushrangers.

(Thunder and lightning.)

Macblood. Now stand round for the Bushrangers’ Glee. In a midnight scene like this, with an accompaniment of thunder, it will be gloriously diabolical.

When the lonely owl cries,     Perch’d like a ghost in the old forest gum, Then couch we each one as a tiger lies,     Where the night-caught travellers come. The gale moans o’er us,     And the whisper passes round; While the crickets chirp in chorus Under the ground.             Thunder, &c. First, one hears a distant tramp;     All catch the sound as it comes more near;— At once we start from out our camp,     And thunder in the victim’s ear,             Stand! Thunder, &c. Here an evil hour hath led thee—             Stand! Thunder, &c. For the sons of plunder bid thee.

The Scene closes as the Bushrangers retire towards the Cave.

The Bushrangers - Contents    |    Act V

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